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Religious communism

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Religious communism is a form of communism that incorporates religious principles. Scholars have used the term to describe a variety of social or religious movements throughout history that have favored the common ownership of property.[1][2] There are many historical and ideological similarities between Religious communism and Liberation Theology.


The term religious communism has been used to describe a variety of social or religious movements throughout history. The "commune of early Christians at Jerusalem" has been described as a group that practiced religious communism.[1][3] The teachings of Mazdak, a religious proto-socialist Persian reformer, have also been referred to as early communism.[4] According to Ben Fowkes and Bulent Gokay, Bolshevik Mikhail Skachko stated at the Congress of the Peoples of the East that "the Muslim religion is rooted in principles of religious communism, by which no man may be a slave to another, and not a single piece of land may be privately owned."[5]


T. M. Browning described religious communism as a form of communism that "springs directly from principles native to a religion",[1] and Hans Hillerbrand defined religious communism as religious movements that advocated the "communal ownership of goods and the concomitant abrogation of private property".[2] Browning and Hillerbrand distinguished religious communism from political communism,[1] as well as from economic socialism.[2] Additionally, Hillerbrand contrasts religious communism with Marxism, which he describes as an ideology that called for eliminating religion.[2] Donald Drew Egbert and Stow Persons argued that "[c]hronologically, religious communism tended to precede secular [communism]."[6] Other scholars suggested that the traditional political communism, or Marxism, has always been a variety of religion.[7]

In Christian Europe, communists were believed to have adopted atheism. In Protestant England, communism was too close to the Catholic communion rite, and socialist was the preferred term.[8] Friedrich Engels argued that in 1848, when The Communist Manifesto was published, socialism was respectable in Europe while communism was not. The Owenites in England and the Fourierists in France were considered respectable socialists, while working-class movements that "proclaimed the necessity of total social change" denoted themselves as communists. This branch of socialism produced the communist work of Étienne Cabet in France and Wilhelm Weitling in Germany.[9]


Some scholars have used religious communism to describe some 17th-century Protestant movements that "disavow[ed] personal property".[2][10] Bhabagrahi Misra and James Preston described the "religious communism of the Shakers" as a "community in which all goods are held in common".[11] Larry Arnhart described "religious communism in the Oneida Community" as a system where "[e]xcept for a few personal items, they shared all their property".[12] Albert Fried wrote that "American religious communism reached its apogee" in the 1850s "[w]ith the rise of the Oneida community".[13]

According to Rod Janzen and Max Stanton, the Hutterites believed in strict adherence to biblical principles and "church discipline" and practiced a form of communism. The Hutterites "established in their communities a rigorous system of Ordnungen, which were codes of rules and regulations that governed all aspects of life and ensured a unified perspective. As an economic system, Christian communism was attractive to many of the peasants who supported social revolution in sixteenth century central Europe" such as the German Peasants' War and "Friedrich Engels thus came to view Anabaptists as proto-Communists".[14]

Other scholars have used the term religious communism to describe a communist social movement that developed in Paris in the 1840s, which was organized by "foreign-born, primarily German-speaking, journeyman-artisans who had settled there".[15] In the early 20th century, before the rise of Bolshevism in Russia, some intellectuals advocated for implementing a form of communism that incorporated Christian ideology "as an alternative to Marxism".[16] Additionally, some Catholic theologians organized groups in the late 20th century to create a dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Communist Party of Italy.[17]

Christian communism[edit]

The Masses, 1917 political cartoon by the socialist cartoonist Art Young.

The teachings of Jesus are frequently described as communist by religious Christian communists and other communists.[18] Acts 4:35 records that the early church in Jerusalem, "[n]o one claimed that any of their possessions was their own"; the pattern would later disappear from church history except within monasticism.[19] Christian communists view the early Christian Church, as described in the Acts of the Apostles, as an early form of communism and religious socialism. The view is that communism was just Christianity in practice, and Jesus was the first communist. This link was highlighted in one of Karl Marx's early writings, which stated that "[a]s Christ is the intermediary unto whom man unburdens all his divinity, all his religious bonds, so the state is the mediator unto which he transfers all his Godlessness, all his human liberty."[20] Thomas Müntzer led a significant Anabaptist communist movement during the 16th-century German Peasants' War, which Friedrich Engels analyzed in The Peasant War in Germany. The Marxist ethos that aims for unity reflects the Christian universalist teaching that humankind is one and that there is only one god who does not discriminate among people.[21]

Christian communism is an early form of socialism and pre-Marxist communism based on Christianity. It is a theological and political theory based upon the view that the teachings of Jesus compel Christians to support communism as the ideal social system. Although there is no universal agreement on the exact date when Christian communism was founded, many Christian communists say that evidence from the Bible suggests that the first Christians, including the Apostles in the New Testament, established their small communist society in the years following Jesus' death and resurrection.[22] While critics of socialism including Catholic social teaching propounded by several popes argue that Jesus was more communitarian than communist, many advocates of Christian communism and other communists, including Karl Kautsky, argue that it was taught by Jesus and practiced by the apostles.[23] Several independent historians have supported the latter view.[24]

In the 16th century, English writer Thomas More, venerated in the Catholic Church as a saint, portrayed a society based on common property ownership in his treatise Utopia, whose leaders administered it through reason.[25] Several groupings in the English Civil War supported this idea, especially the Diggers, who espoused clear communistic yet agrarian ideals.[26][27][28] Oliver Cromwell and the Grandees' attitude to these groups was, at best, ambivalent and often hostile.[29] Criticism of the idea of private property continued into the Enlightenment era of the 18th century through such thinkers as the profoundly religious Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Raised a Calvinist, Rousseau was influenced by the Jansenist movement within the Catholic Church. The Jansenist movement originated from the most orthodox 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.[30] The participants of the Taiping Rebellion, who founded the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, a syncretic Christian-Shenic theocratic kingdom, are viewed by the Chinese Communist Party as proto-communists.[31]

Islamic communism[edit]

Researchers have commented on the communistic nature of the society built by the Qarmatians of the Ismaili around Al-Ahsa Oasis from the 9th to 10th centuries.[32] Kenneth Rexroth describes their community as practicing "communism of the urban gang or the roving band of robbers", while Jacques Bidet states that communism is inherent to modernity, and so no example in antiquity or medieval times qualifies as true communism due to a lack of class consciousness in those eras.[33][34][35]

Islamic Marxism attempts to apply Marxist economic, political, and social teachings within an Islamic framework. An affinity between Marxist and Islamic ideals of social justice has led some Muslims to embrace forms of Marxism since the 1940s. Islamic Marxists believe that Islam meets the needs of society and can accommodate or guide the social changes Marxism hopes to accomplish. Islamic Marxists are also dismissive of traditional Marxist views on materialism and religion.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Browning, T.B. (1878). "Communism". The Canadian Monthly and National Review. 13: 577. Retrieved 23 June 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e Hillerbrand, Hans J. (2004). Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Routledge. p. 800. ISBN 978-1135960285.
  3. ^ Montero 2017.
  4. ^ Wherry, E.M. (1896). A Comprehensive Commentary on the Quran and Preliminary Discourse. K. Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Company. p. 66.
  5. ^ Fowkes, Ben; Gokay, Bulent (2014). Muslims and Communists in Post-Transition States. Routledge. ISBN 978-1317995395.
  6. ^ Egbert, Donald Drew; Persons, Stow (2015). Socialism and American Life. Princeton University Press. p. 91. ISBN 978-1400879892.
  7. ^ Kula, Marcin (December 2005). "Communism as Religion". Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions. 6 (3): 371–381. doi:10.1080/14690760500317727. S2CID 145672322.
  8. ^ Williams, Raymond (1976). Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Fontana. ISBN 978-0-00-633479-8.
  9. ^ Engels, Friedrich (2002). Preface to the 1888 English Edition of the Communist Manifesto. Penguin books. p. 202.
  10. ^ Bailey (1909), p. 299; Chase (1938); Guarneri (1994), p. 82
  11. ^ Morgan, John H. (1978). "Eschatological Living: Religious Experience in the Shaker Community". In Bhabagrahi, Misra; Preston, James (eds.). Community, Self and Identity. Walter de Gruyter. p. 175. ISBN 978-3110802658.
  12. ^ Arnhart, Larry (1998). Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature. SUNY Press. p. 92. ISBN 978-0791436943.
  13. ^ Fried, Albert (1993). Socialism in America: From the Shakers to the Third International: a Documentary History. Columbia University Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-0231081412.
  14. ^ Janzen, Rod; Stanton, Max (2010). The Hutterites in North America (illustrated ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. p. 17. ISBN 9780801899256.
  15. ^ Lindemann, Albert S. (1984). A History of European Socialism. Yale University Press. p. 77. ISBN 978-0300032468.
  16. ^ Baird, Catherine (April 1995). "Religious Communism? Nicolai Berdyaev's Contribution to Esprit's Interpretation of Communism". Canadian Journal of History. 30: 29–47. doi:10.3138/cjh.30.1.29.
  17. ^ Girargi, Giulio (Autumn 1988). "Marxism Confronts the Revolutionary Religious Experience". Social Text. 19/20 (19/20): 119–151. doi:10.2307/466182. JSTOR 466182.
  18. ^ Eagleton, Terry (2007). The Gospels: Jesus Christ.
  19. ^ Ball, Terence; Dagger, Richard; et al. (30 April 2020). "Socialism". Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved 15 September 2020. Early Christian communities also practiced the sharing of goods and labour, a simple form of socialism subsequently followed in certain forms of monasticism. Several monastic orders continue these practices today.
  20. ^ Houlden, Leslie; Minard, Antone (2015). Jesus in History, Legend, Scripture, and Tradition: A World Encyclopedia: A World Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 357. ISBN 9781610698047.
  21. ^ Halfin, Igal (2000). From Darkness to Light: Class, Consciousness, and Salvation in Revolutionary Russia. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 46. ISBN 0822957043.
  22. ^ Acts 2:44, 4:32–37 and 5:1–12. Other verses are Matthew 5:1–12 and 6:24, Luke 3:11 and 16:11, 2 Corinthians 8:13–15 and James 5:3.
  23. ^ Kautsky, Karl (1953) [1908]. "IV.II. The Christian Idea of the Messiah. Jesus as a Rebel.". Foundations of Christianity. Russell & Russell. Christianity was the expression of class conflict in Antiquity.
  24. ^ Bang, p. 24; Boer (2009), p. 120; Ehrhardt (1969), p. 20; Ellicott & Plumptre (1910); Guthrie (1992), p. 46; Halteman Finger (2007), p. 39; Lansford (2007), pp. 24–25; The London Quarterly and Holborn Review, Volume 26 (1866), p. 502; Renan (1869), p. 152; von Mises (1981), p. 424; Montero (2017); Unterbrink (2004), p. 92
  25. ^ Davis, J. C. (28 July 1983). Utopia and the Ideal Society: A Study of English Utopian Writing 1516–1700. Cambridge University Press. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-521-27551-4 – via Google Books.
  26. ^ Campbell, Heather M., ed. (2009). The Britannica Guide to Political Science and Social Movements That Changed the Modern World. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 127–129. ISBN 978-1-61530-062-4.
  27. ^ Winstanley, Gerrard (2002) [1649]. Jones, Sandra (ed.). The True Levellers Standard Advanced: Or, the State of Community Opened, and Presented to the Sons of Men. Renascence Editions. Retrieved 11 January 2023 – via Digital Repository Unimib. That we may work in righteousness, and lay the Foundation of making the Earth a Common Treasury for All, both Rich and Poor, That every one that is born in the Land, may be fed by the Earth his Mother that brought him forth, according to the Reason that rules in the Creation. Not Inclosing any part into any particular hand, but all as one man, working together, and feeding together as Sons of one Father, members of one Family; not one Lording over another, but all looking upon each other, as equals in the Creation; ... .
  28. ^ Stearns, Peter; Fairchilds, Cissie; Lindenmeyr, Adele; Maynes, Mary Jo; Porter, Roy; Radcliff, Pamela; Ruggiero, Guido, eds. (2001). Encyclopedia of European Social History: From 1350 to 2000. Vol. 3. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 290. ISBN 0-684-80577-4.
  29. ^ Bernstein, Eduard (1930). Cromwell and Communism. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  30. ^ Roche, Daniel (1993). La France des Lumières [France of the Enlightenment] (in French).
  31. ^ Little, Daniel (17 May 2009). Marx and the Taipings. University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Retrieved 5 August 2020. Mao and the Chinese Communists largely represented the Taiping rebellion as a proto-communist uprising.
  32. ^ Fahes, Fadi A. (2018). Social Utopia in Tenth Century Islam: The Qarmatian Experiment (MA). California State University. Archived from the original on 6 October 2021. Retrieved 13 September 2021.
  33. ^ Hirszowicz, I. (October 1974). "Review: Der arabische Sozialismus und der zeitgenössische Islam: Dargestellt am Beispiel Agyptens und des Iraks by Wolfgang Ule". Middle Eastern Studies. 10 (3). Taylor & Francis: 354–357. JSTOR 4282544. Retrieved 13 September 2021.
  34. ^ Bidet, Jacques (2010). "Communism: Between Philosophy, Prophecy, and Theory". Actuel Marx. 48 (2). Cairn.info: 89–104. doi:10.3917/amx.048.0089. Archived from the original on 7 October 2021. Retrieved 13 September 2021.
  35. ^ Rexroth, Kenneth (1974). Communalism: From Its Origins to the Twentieth Century. Seabury. pp. 159–162. ISBN 978-0816492046.
  36. ^ Esposito, John Louis (2003). "Marxism and Islam". The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195125597. Archived from the original on 5 May 2015. Retrieved 4 May 2015 – via Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, University of Oxford.