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Karl Marx saw primitive communism as the original, hunter-gatherer state of humankind from which it arose. For Marx, only after humanity was capable of producing surplus, did private property develop.
The idea of a classless, stateless society based on communal ownership of property and wealth stretches far back in Western thought long before The Communist Manifesto. Some have traced communist ideas back to ancient times, such as in Pythagoreanism and Plato's The Republic; or (perhaps with more justification) to the early Christian Church, as described in the Acts of the Apostles (see Christian communism). Other attempts to establish communistic societies were made by the Essenes and by the Judean desert sect. The medieval Roman Catholic church tried to end war by promoting communes (see Medieval commune#Medieval Christianity).
In the 16th century, the English writer Sir Thomas More portrayed a society based on common ownership of property in his treatise Utopia, whose leaders administered it through the application of reason.
Several groupings in the English Civil War supported this idea, but especially the Diggers, who espoused clear communistic but agrarian ideals. (Cromwell and the Grandees' attitude to these groups was at best ambivalent and often hostile – see Bernstein's classic book Cromwell and Communism). Criticism of the idea of private property continued into the Enlightenment era of the 18th century, through such thinkers as the deeply religious Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Raised a Calvinist, Rousseau was influenced by the Jansenist movement within the Roman Catholic Church. The jansenist movement originated from the most orthodox Roman Catholic bishops, who tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church in the 17th century to stop secularization and Protestantism. One of the main jansenist aims was democratizing to stop the aristocratic corruption at the top of the church hierarchy.[page needed] "Utopian socialist" writers such as Robert Owen are also sometimes regarded as communists.
Maximilien Robespierre and his reign of terror, aimed at exterminating the nobility and conservatives, was greatly admired among communists. Robespierre was in his turn a great admirer of Rousseau.1 The Shakers of the 18th century practiced communalism as a sort of religious communism.
Some believe that early communist-like utopias also existed outside of Europe, in Native American society, and other pre-Colonialism societies in the Western Hemisphere. Almost every member of a tribe had his or her own contribution to society, and land and natural resources would often be shared peacefully among the tribe. Some such tribes in North America and South America still existed well into the twentieth century.
Karl Marx saw communism as the original state of mankind from which it rose, through classical society, and then feudalism, to its current state of capitalism. He proposed that the next step in social evolution would be a return to communism.
In its contemporary form, the ideology of communism grew out of the workers' movement of 19th-century Europe. As the Industrial Revolution advanced, socialist critics blamed capitalism for creating a class of poor, urban factory workers who toiled under harsh conditions, and for widening the gulf between rich and poor.
- Daniel Roche, La France des Lumières (Paris 1993).