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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Igor Shafarevich : The Socialist Phenomenon (A)


Igor Shafarevich

The Socialist Phenomenon

TRANSLATED FROM THE RUSSIAN BY William Tjalsma
Foreword by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
[iii]


Contents



Foreword     vii
Preface     xi

     PART ONE
     CHILIASTIC SOCIALISM

Introduction     2
I. The Socialism of Antiquity     7
II. The Socialism of the Heresies     18
1. General Survey     18
            Appendix: Three Biographies     46
2. Chiliastic Socialism and the Ideology of the Heretical Movements     67
III. The Socialism of the Philosophers     80
1. The Great Utopias     80
2. The Socialist Novel     101
3. The Age of Enlightenment     106
4. The First Steps     120
    Summary     129

     PART TWO
     STATE SOCIALISM

IV. South America     132
1. The Inca Empire     132
2. The Jesuit State in Paraguay     142



[v]




V. The Ancient Orient     152
1. Mesopotamia     152
2. Ancient Egypt     161
            Appendix: Religion in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia     166
3. Ancient China     168
            Appendix: Was There Such a Thing as an "Asiatic Social Formation"?     185
    Summary     189

     PART THREE
     ANALYSIS

VI. The Contours of Socialism     194
1. The Abolition of Private Property     195
2. The Abolition of The Family     195
3. The Abolition of Religion     195
4. Communality or Equality     196
VII. Survey of Some Approaches to Socialism     202
VIII. The Embodiment of the Socialist Ideal     236
1. Economy     239
2. The Organization of Labor     241
3. Family     243
4. Culture     248
5. Religion     251
IX. Socialism and Individuality     258
X. The Goal of Socialism     270
XI. Conclusion     286

Bibliography     301

Index     309

[vi]


Foreword
It seems that certain things in this world simply cannot be discovered without extensive experience, be it personal or collective. This applies to the present book with its fresh and revealing perspective on the millennia-old trends of socialism. While it makes use of a voluminous literature familiar to specialists throughout the world, there is an undeniable logic in the fact that it emerged from the country that has undergone (and is undergoing) the harshest and most prolonged socialist experience in modern history. Nor is it at all incongruous that within that country this book should not have been produced by a humanist, for scholars in the humanities have been the most methodically crushed of all social strata in the Soviet Union ever since the October Revolution. It was written by a mathematician of world renown: in the Communist world, practitioners of the exact sciences must stand in for their annihilated brethren.
But this circumstance has its compensations. It provides us with a rare opportunity of receiving a systematic analysis of the theory and practice of socialism from the pen of an outstanding mathematical thinker versed in the rigorous methodology of his science. (One can attach particular weight, for instance, to his judgment that Marxism lacks even the climate of scientific inquiry.)
World socialism as a whole, and all the figures associated with it, are shrouded in legend; its contradictions are forgotten or concealed; it does not respond to arguments but continually ignores them--all this stems from the mist of irrationality that surrounds socialism and from its instinctive aversion to scientific analysis, features which the
[vii]


author of this volume points out repeatedly and in many contexts. The doctrines of socialism seethe with contradictions, its theories are at constant odds with its practice, yet due to a powerful instinct--also laid bare by Shafarevich--these contradictions do not in the least hinder the unending propaganda of socialism. Indeed, no precise, distinct socialism even exists; instead there is only a vague, rosy notion of something noble and good, of equality, communal ownership, and justice: the advent of these things will bring instant euphoria and a social order beyond reproach. The twentieth century marks one of the greatest upsurges in the success of socialism, and concomitantly of its repulsive practical manifestations. Yet due to the same passionate irrationality, attempts to examine these results are repelled: they are either ignored completely, or implausibly explained away in terms of certain "Asiatic" or "Russian" aberrations or the personality of a particular dictator, or else they are ascribed to "state capitalism." The present book encompasses vast stretches of time and space. By carefully describing and analyzing dozens of socialist doctrines and numerous states built on socialist principles, the author leaves no room for evasive arguments based on so-called "insignificant exceptions" (allegedly bearing no resemblance to the glorious future). Whether it is the centralization of China in the first millennium B.C., the bloody European experiments of the time of the Reformation, the chilling (though universally esteemed) utopias of European thinkers, the intrigues of Marx and Engels, or the radical Communist measures of the Lenin period (no wit more humane than Stalin's heavy-handed methods)--the author in all his dozens of examples demonstrates the undeviating consistency of the phenomenon under consideration.
Shafarevich has singled out the invariants of socialism, its fundamental and unchanging elements, which depend neither on time nor place, and which, alas, are looming ominously over today's tottering world. If one considers human history in its entirety, socialism can boast of a greater longevity and durability, of wider diffusion and of control over larger masses of people, than can contemporary Western civilization. It is therefore difficult to shake off gloomy presentiments when contemplating that maw into which--before the century is out--we may all plunge: that "Asiatic formation" which Marx hastened to circumvent in his classification, and before which contemporary Marxist thought stands baffled, having discerned its own hideous countenance
[viii]


in the mirror of the millennia. It could probably be said that the majority of states in the history of mankind have been "socialist." But it is also true that these were in no sense periods or places of human happiness or creativity. Shafarevich points out with great precision both the cause and the genesis of the first socialist doctrines, which he characterizes as reactions: Plato as a reaction to Greek culture, and the Gnostics as a reaction to Christianity. They sought to counteract the endeavor of the human spirit to stand erect, and strove to return to the earthbound existence of the primitive states of antiquity. The author also convincingly demonstrates the diametrical opposition between the concepts of man held by religion and by socialism. Socialism seeks to reduce human personality to its most primitive levels and to extinguish the highest, most complex, and "God-like" aspects of human individuality. And even equality itself, that powerful appeal and great promise of socialists throughout the ages, turns out to signify not equality of rights, of opportunities, and of external conditions, but equality qua identity, equality seen as the movement of variety toward uniformity.
Even though, as this book shows, socialism has always successfully avoided truly scientific analyses of its essence, Shafarevich's study challenges present-day theoreticians of socialism to demonstrate their arguments in a businesslike public discussion.
ALEKSANDR I. SOLZHENITSYN


[ix]


Preface
This book is inspired by the conviction that the cataclysms which humanity has experienced in the twentieth century are only the beginning of a much more profound crisis--of a radical shift in the course of history. To characterize the scope of this crisis, I had thought of comparing it to the end of ancient civilization or to the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern period. But later I became acquainted with a bolder and, it seems to me, more penetrating approach. For example, F. Heichelheim in his fascinating An Ancient Economic History expresses the supposition that the present period of history, which has lasted over three thousand years, is coming to an end. It had its beginnings in the Iron Age, when tendencies rooted in the free development of personality led to the creation of the spiritual and cultural values upon which contemporary life is based:
It is quite possible that the economic state controls of the last decades, produced by immanent trends of our Late Capitalist Age of the twentieth century, mean the end and conclusion of the long development in the direction of economic individualism, and the beginnings of a novel organization of labor which is closer to the Ancient Oriental models of five thousand years ago than to the ideals for which the foundations were laid at the beginning of the Iron Age. (90: pp. 115-116)*
It is hardly necessary to demonstrate that one of the basic forces influencing the developing crisis of mankind is socialism. It both promotes

* Throughout this work, Arabic numbers within parentheses refer to entries in the bibliography beginning on page 301. Roman numerals indicate volume numbers.

[xi]


this crisis, as a force destroying the "old world," and undertakes to show a way out. Therefore the attempt to comprehend socialism--its origins, its driving forces, the goal toward which it leads--is dictated quite simply by the instinct for self-preservation. We fear the possibility of finding ourselves at the crossroads with blinders on, at a time when choosing which road to take may determine the whole of mankind's future. But it is precisely such attempts to understand which seem to curtail all discussion. The fact that the adherents of socialism themselves have expressed so many contradictory views ought to put us on guard. In addition, notions about the nature of socialism are as a rule strikingly vague, and yet they do not elicit doubt and are perceived as truth needing no verification. This is especially apparent in attempts to make critical evaluations of socialism. Pointing out the tragic facts that so frequently have accompanied the socialist experiments of the twentieth century usually evokes the objection that an idea cannot be judged by the unsuccessful attempts at its implementation. The task of rebuilding society is so immeasurably complicated, it is said, that in the initial stages errors are inevitable; they are, however, due to the shortcomings of certain individuals or the heritage of the past; in no sense do they follow from the fine principles enunciated by the founders of the doctrine. The fact that even in the earliest declarations of socialist doctrine there are schemes which in their cruelty far exceed any real system is dismissed as insignificant. It is argued that the determining factor is real life and hardly the constructions of theoreticians or the fantasy of utopian thinkers. Life, it is said, has its own laws. It will temper and smooth out the extremes of the fanatics and create a social structure which, even if it does not quite correspond to their original plans, will be at least viable, and in any case closer to perfection than that which now exists.
In attempting to break out of this vicious circle, it is useful to compare socialism to some other phenomenon which has had an influence of similar magnitude on life; for example, religion. Religion may have a social function, supporting or destroying social institutions; it may have an economic function (as the temples of the ancient East did with their landholdings, or as in the case of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages); or it may have a political role, and so on. But this is possible only because there are people who believe in God and because there is a striving for a union with God which religion creates.
[xii]


Without taking this fundamental function of religion into account, it is impossible to understand how it influences life generally. It is this aspect that must be clarified before one can examine the question of how it interacts with other spheres of life. It is natural to suppose that socialism, too, contains a fundamental tendency which makes possible its phenomenal influence on life. But it is unlikely to be identified by studying, for example, the Western socialist parties, in which basic socialist tendencies are hopelessly entangled with practical politics. It is necessary, first, to study this phenomenon over a sufficiently long time span in order to ascertain its basic characteristics and, second, to examine its most striking and consistent manifestations.
In pursuing this method we shall be astonished to find that socialism (at least at first sight) turns out to be a glaring contradiction. Proceeding from a critique of a given society, accusing it of injustice, inequality and lack of freedom, socialism proclaims--in the systems where it is expressed with the greatest consistency--a far greater injustice, inequality and slavery! Noble Utopias and golden dreams about the City of the Sun usually evoke nothing more than a reproach for their "utopian" nature, for their ideals that are too high for mankind at present. But it is enough merely to open these books to be astonished by the scene: disobedient citizens turned into slaves; informers; work and life in paramilitary detachments and under close supervision; passes that are needed even for a simple stroll, and especially the details of general leveling, depicted as they are with great relish (identical clothing, identical houses, even identical cities). A work entitled "The Law of Freedom" describes an ideal society where in each small commune there is a hangman and anyone who has been remiss or disobedient is flogged or turned into a slave and where each citizen is considered a soldier. The revolutionaries who drew up the "Conspiracy of Equals" understood equality in such a way that they alone formed the government, while others were to obey implicitly--and those who did not were to be exiled to certain islands for forced labor. In the most popular work of Marxism, the Communist Manifesto, one of the first measures of the new socialist system to be proposed is the introduction of compulsory labor. And it is predicted that this will lead to a society in which "the free development of each will be the condition of the free development of all"!
Attempts to establish the happy society of the future by means of
[xii]


executions may perhaps be explained by the discrepancy between vision and reality, by the distortion that the idea undergoes in being put into practice. But how to understand a teaching which in its ideal version includes both an appeal to freedom and a program for the establishment of slavery? Or how to reconcile the impassioned condemnation of the old order and quite justified indignation at the suffering of the poor and the oppressed with the fact that the same teachings envisage no less suffering for these oppressed masses as the lot of whole generations prior to the triumph of social justice? Thus Marx foresees fifteen, perhaps even fifty years of civil war for the proletariat, and Mao Tse-tung is ready to accept the loss of half of humanity in a nuclear war for the sake of establishing a socialist structure in the world. A call for sacrifices on this scale might sound convincing on the lips of a religious leader appealing to a truth beyond this world. But not from convinced atheists.
It would seem that socialism lacks that feature which, in mathematics, for example, is considered the minimal condition for the existence of a concept: a definition free of contradictions. Perhaps socialism is only a means of propaganda, a set of several contradictory conceptions, each of which appeals to a given group? The entire history of socialism speaks against such a view. The monumental influence it has had on mankind proves that socialism is in essence an internally consistent view of the world. One needs only to uncover the true logic of socialism and to find that vantage point from which it can be seen as a phenomenon without contradiction. The present book is an attempt to accomplish such a task.
In the search for this vantage point, I propose to treat the works of socialist ideology not as the writings of supermen to whom the past and the future of mankind are known, nor as mere journalistic propaganda. One ought not accept all their pretensions as truth, but on the other hand, one need not deny the accuracy of their views in areas where they may well be competent--first of all, in pronouncements bearing on themselves. If, for example, Marx repeatedly expresses the thought that man exists only as a representative of the interests of a definite class and has no existence as an individual, of course we are not obliged to believe that the essence of man was revealed to Marx. But why not accept that he is describing a view of the world inherent in certain people, himself in particular, who regard man not as a personality having an independent significance in the
[xiv]


world but merely as a tool of forces outside his control? If we read that society (and the world) must be destroyed, "razed to the ground," that life cannot be improved or corrected and that history may be assisted only by its midwife Violence, it would be incautious to trust the prophetic gift of the authors of such predictions. But it is quite possible that they are conveying a view of life in which the entire world evokes malevolence, loathing and nausea (as in Sartre's first novel, Nausea). Life reeks of death and by force of a strange dualism is just as loathsome as death and decay under normal circumstances. The perception of the world that may be inferred in this way from the study of socialist ideology appears to be accurate and true to life. And it is natural to aSsume that this is precisely what moves the adherents of socialist ideology. Furthermore, since socialism is capable of inspiring mass movements, it follows that many are subject to the influence of such a world view, perhaps even all people are to a greater or lesser degree. If socialism is viewed as the ultimate truth about man, then it unquestionably disintegrates into contradictory elements. But if we consider it to be a manifestation of only one of the tendencies in man and mankind, then it appears possible to remove the contradictions and to understand socialism as a basically cohesive and consistent phenomenon. Only then may the question be raised as to the role of socialism in history. The considerations set forth in the last paragraphs of this book do not constitute a definitive answer to this question. Rather, they indicate the direction in which, so it seems to me, the answer should be sought.
In the present work, the problem is considered in its most abstract form: What are those basic features of socialism which, interwoven as in each case they are with the individual peculiarities of various countries and epochs, engender the multiplicity of its manifestations? Therefore, although a considerable number of facts and concrete historical situations are examined, we shall abstract from the specific nature of these situations in order to delineate basic features common to all of them. As a result, the conclusions to which this discussion leads are not directly applicable to any concrete situation--not until socialist ideals find their absolute and unconstrained realization. In all existing historical realizations of the socialist ideal, we are dealing not with a pure phenomenon but with a fusion of socialist and many other tendencies. Therefore, in order to apply our views to a specific historical situation, it would be necessary to take the opposite approach:
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to elucidate how the general tendencies of socialism singled out by us are reflected in the peculiarities of historical epochs and national traditions. Such is not the purpose of this book. However, it seems to me that without making a distinction between the phenomenon in its general aspect and the specifics generated by concrete historical conditions, all attempts at understanding are hopeless. Parts One and Two of the book are an exposition of concrete facts from the history of socialist teachings and socialist states. Only in Part Three is there an attempt to analyze these facts and to draw certain conclusions. This structure entails a number of difficulties for the reader. If he does not wish to go into the details of the various historical epochs, he may simply skim Parts One and Two and move quickly into Part Three. For the convenience of such a reader, several summaries review those conclusions from the historical sections which are of special importance for the subsequent discussion.
Working on this book without official permission, under the conditions prevailing in our country, I encountered constant difficulties in obtaining the necessary literature. Given this situation, I am aware of the likelihood (and perhaps even the inevitability) of error in certain specific questions and of the shortcomings of my arguments, which may have been presented earlier and more effectively by others. My only justification is the urgency of the theme and the special historical experience of our country.
The latter circumstance was the basic stimulus for my work, inspiring me with a certain hope of success. Russia's experience in the twentieth century has been unique among modern nations; perhaps there are few precedents in the whole of world history. We became witnesses to events and changes which we would hardly have thought possible before this time. A new field of phenomena, formerly attainable only through artistic or mystical intuition, now became open to rational investigation, based on a study of facts and their logical analysis. We have had the opportunity of seeing history in a new aspect--an advantage that can outweigh many difficulties.
This book would never have been written were it not for the assistance rendered me by numerous people. At the moment, it is not possible for me to name them all and to express to each my debt of gratitude. But I can thank two of them here: A. I. Solzhenitsyn, under whose influence I undertook to write this book, and V. M. Borisov, whose criticism was invaluable.
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PART ONE
CHILIASTIC SOCIALISM


[1]


Introduction
The word "socialism" often implies two quite different phenomena:
  1. A doctrine and an appeal based on it, a program for changing life, and
  2. A social structure that exists in time and space.
The most obvious examples include Marxism as contained in the "classic" writings of Marx and others and the social structure that exists in the U.S.S.R. and the People's Republic of China. Among the fundamental principles of the state doctrine in these countries is the assertion that the connection between the two phenomena is very simple. On the one hand, it is asserted, there is a scientific theory which proves that after achieving a definite level in the development of productive forces, mankind will pass over to a new historic formation; this theory points the way to the most rational paths for such a transition. And on the other hand, we are assured, there is the embodiment of this scientific prognosis, its confirmation. As an example of quite a different point of view we cite H. G. Wells, who visited Russia in 1920 and, though infected by the worship of socialism, fashionable then as now, nevertheless almost instinctively refused to accept Marxism, in this sense reflecting the antipathy toward all scholastic theories typical of an Englishman. In his book Russia in the Shadows, Wells writes: "Marxist Communism has always been a theory of revolution, a theory not merely lacking in creative and constructive ideas but hostile to creative and constructive ideas." (1: p. 60) He describes the communism that governed Russia as "... in so many matters like a conjurer who has left his
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pigeon and his rabbit behind him and can produce nothing whatever from the hat." (1: p. 64) From this point of view, Marxism does not set itself any goal other than that of preparing for the seizure of power. The state system established as a result is therefore defined and shaped by the necessity of holding power. Since these tasks are entirely different, the official theory and the actual implementation have nothing in common.
It would be incautious to take either of these assertions on faith. On the contrary, it would be desirable, first, to study both "socialisms" independently, without any a priori hypotheses, and only then attempt to come to conclusions about the connections that exist between them.
We shall begin with socialism understood as a doctrine, as an appeal.
All such doctrines (and as we shall see, there were many of them) have a common core--they are based on the complete rejection of the existing social structure. They call for its destruction and paint a picture of a more just and happy society in which the solution to all the fundamental problems of the times would be found. Furthermore, they propose concrete ways of achieving this goal. In religious literature such a system of views is referred to as belief in the thousand-year Kingdom of God on earth--chiliasm. Borrowing this terminology, we shall designate the socialist doctrines of this type as "chiliastic socialism."
In order to give some sense of the scale of this phenomenon and of the place it occupies in the history of mankind, we shall examine two doctrines that fit the category of chiliastic socialism, as they are described by their contemporaries. In doing so, we shall attempt to extract a picture of the future society envisaged, leaving to one side for the moment the motivation as well as the concrete means recommended for achieving the ideal.
The first example takes us to Athens in 392 B.C. during the great urban Dionysia, when Aristophanes presented his comedy Ecclesiazusae or The Congresswomen. Here he depicts a teaching fashionable in the Athens of the time. The plot is as follows: The women of the city, wearing beards and dressed in men's clothing, come to the assembly and by a majority vote pass a resolution transferring all power in the state to women. They use this power to introduce a series of measures, which are expounded in a dialogue between Praxagora, the leader of the women, and her husband, Blepyros. Here are several quotations.
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PRAXAGORA:
Compulsory Universal Community Property is what I propose to propose; across-the-board Economic Equality, to fill those fissures that scar our society's face. No more the division between Rich and Poor. ...
...We'll wear the same clothes, and share the same food. ...
...My initial move will be to communalize land, and money, and all other property, personal and real.
BLEPYROS:
But take the landless man who's invisibly wealthy...because he hides his silver and gold in his pockets. What about him?
PRAXAGORA:
He'll deposit it all in the Fund. ...
...I'll knock out walls and remodel the City into one big happy household, where all can come and go as they choose. ...
...I'm pooling the women, creating a public hoard for the use of every man who wishes to take them to bed and make babies.
BLEPYROS:
A system like this requires a pretty wise father to know his own children.
PRAXAGORA:
But why does he need to? Age is the new criterion: Children will henceforth trace their descent from all men who might have begot them. ...
BLEPYROS:
Who's going to work the land and produce the food?
PRAXAGORA:
The slaves. This leaves you just one civic function: When the shades of night draw on, slip sleekly down to dinner. ...
...The State's not going to stint. Its hand is full and open, its heart is large, it'll stuff its menfolk free of charge, then issue them torches when dinner's done and send them out to hunt for fun.
   (2: pp. 43-51)
The reader will of course already have noticed many of the features of a familiar doctrine. Let us attempt to specify the associations that arise by considering a second example--the classic statement of the Marxist program contained in the Communist Manifesto. Here are some quotations characterizing the future society as the authors imagine it: "...the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property. ..." (3: V: p. 496) " Abolition of the family! Even the most radical Hare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists. ...On what foundation is the present
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family, the bourgeois family based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form, this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution. "The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital.
"But, you will say, we destroy the most hallowed of relations when we replace home education by social.
"And your education! Is not that also social, and determined by the social conditions under which you educate? ..." (3: V: p. 499)
That last thought is somewhat clarified in "Principles of Communism," a document written by Engels in the course of preparing the Communist Manifesto.
Among the first measures to be taken after the revolution, we find:
"8. The education of all children, from the moment that they can get along without a mother's care, shall be at state institutions and at state expense." (3: V: p. 475)
The Communist Manifesto again:
"But you Communists would introduce communality of women, screams the whole bourgeoisie in chorus." (3: V: p. 499)
Answered by: "The Communists have no need of introducing communality of women; it has existed almost from time immemorial.
"Our bourgeois, not content with having the wives and daughters of proletarians at his disposal, not to speak of Common prostitutes, takes the greatest pleasure in seducing each other's wives.
"Bourgeois marriage is in reality a system of wives in Common and thus, at the worst, what the Communists might possibly be reproached with is that they desire to introduce, in the place of a hypocritically concealed, an openly legalized communality of women." (3: V: p. 500)
In the Communist Manifesto there is no reference to the other material aspects of life. In "Principles of Communism" we find:
"9. The building of large palaces in the national estates as common dwellings for the Communes, whose citizens will be busy in industry, agriculture; these structures will combine the merits of urban and rural life and avoid their defects." (3: V: p. 475)
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We see concealed in Marx's Hegelian phraseology and Aristophanes' buffoonery almost the same program:
1. Abolition of private property.
2. Abolition of the family--i.e., communality of wives and disruption of the bonds between parents and children.
3. Purely material prosperity.
It would even be possible to say that both programs coincide perfectly, were it not for one place in the Ecclesiazusae. In answer to Blepyros's question as to who will do the plowing, Praxagora replies: "Slaves!" Here she proclaims the fourth point of the program, and a most significant one--liberation from the necessity of work. Interestingly enough, on this point Herbert Marcuse, the best-known of the neo-Marxists and one of the leaders of the New Left in the U.S.A., differs from Marx.
For instance, in his essay "The End of Utopia," Marcuse says that "it is no accident that for modern avant garde left intellectuals the works of Fourier have become relevant again. Fourier did not flinch where Marx was insufficiently bold. He spoke of a society where work would become play." And elsewhere in the same essay: "New technical potentialities lead to oppression unless there develops a vital need for the abolition of alienating work." (4: pp. 75, 77)
Supplementing the program of the Communist Manifesto in this fashion, we obtain a description of the ideal which fully coincides with what had been the object of Aristophanes' derision on the stage of the Athenian theater in 392 B.C.
We are confronted by a set of ideas with certain strikingly durable features which have remained almost unchanged from antiquity to our day. The term "chiliastic socialism" will be applied to such ideas. Below, we shall attempt to outline this concept more precisely, to point out the main stages of its historical development and to take note of the broader ideological framework within which the doctrines of chiliastic socialism came into being.
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I.The Socialism
of Antiquity

In classical Greece we encounter the concept of chiliastic socialism in its full-fledged, one might even say ideal, form. Plato's enunciation of this concept in itself had an enormous influence on the subsequent history of chiliastic socialism. Two of Plato's dialogues are devoted to this theme: The Republic and Laws. In the former, Plato depicts what he considers an ideal state structure, while the latter shows the best practical approximation of this ideal. The Republic was written during the middle years of Plato's life, Laws in his old age. It seems possible that the failures Plato experienced trying to put his views into practice are reflected in these works.
We begin with an overview of the picture of the ideal society that is given in The Republic, a work that Sergius Bulgakov calls "wondrous and perplexing." Indeed, the ten books of this dialogue reflect almost all aspects of Plato's philosophy--his conception of being (the world of ideas), cognition (the visual world, the world accessible to the mind), the soul, justice, art and society. The Republic may at first sight seem too narrow a title for such a work. Nevertheless, it is fully justified, since the question of the structure of society is the center around which Plato's many-sided philosophy revolves, as well as serving as the principal illustration of his teaching. Understanding the concepts of Good and Beauty is essential for ruling a state. The doctrines of the immortality of the soul and of retribution after death promote the development of the spiritual qualities essential for rulers, the state must be founded on justice, and art is one of the major instruments for the education of citizens.
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Plato expounds on the possible forms of a state (he names five structures) and speaks about the corresponding spiritual qualities. All the states that existed contemporary to him he classifies as belonging to four corrupt types. Division, hostility, discord, willfulness and striving for riches reign in these states.
"...such a city should of necessity be not one, but two, a city of the rich and a city of the poor, dwelling together, and always plotting against one another." (5:551d)*
The fifth form of state structure is, according to Plato, the perfect state. Its basic quality is justice, which permits it to partake of virtue. In answer to the question what constitutes justice in a state, Plato says:
"...what we laid down in the beginning as a universal requirement when we were founding our city, this I think, or some form of this, is justice. And what we did lay down, and often said, if you recall, was that each one man must perform one social service in the state for which his nature was best adapted." (433a)
On the basis of this proposition, the population of the state is divided into three social groups; we may even call them castes. They are: philosophers, guardians or soldiers, artisans and peasants. The children of artisans and peasants belong to the same group as their parents and may never become guardians. The children of guardians as a rule inherit their fathers' occupation, but if they show negative inclinations they are made into either artisans or peasants. But the philosophers may supplement their numbers from the best of the guardians, but not until the latter reach the age of fifty.
Plato's conception is not at all materialistic: his concern is not with the manner in which production is organized in his state. Thus he speaks very little about the daily life of the artisans and peasants. He believes that the life of the state is determined by its laws, hence he is concerned above all with the life of those castes that create and guard the law.
The philosophers have unlimited power in the state. (Bulgakoveven suggests that the word "philosophers" should be translated "the righteous men" or "saints.")
They are the people "...enamored of the kind of knowledge which reveals to them something of that essence which is eternal, and is not wandering between the two poles of generation and decay." (485b)

* In subsequent references to Plato's Republic, only the marginal sigla will be quoted.

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A philosopher possesses "...a mind habituated to thoughts of grandeur and the contemplation of all time and all existence. ...such a man will not suppose death to be terrible." (486b) Once the philosophers have understood their high mission, they will structure their lives in accordance with it, "...devoting the greater part of their time to the study of philosophy, but when the turn comes for each, toiling in the service of the state and holding office for the city's sake, regarding the task not as a fine thing but a necessity. And so, when each generation has educated others like themselves to take their place as guardians of the state, they shall depart to the Islands of the Blessed and there dwell." (540a, b)
The guardians are under the philosophers' command. Plato's favorite image in describing the guardians is that of the dog. Thus, as with pure-bred canines, the guardians' "...natural disposition is to be most gentle to their familiars and those whom they recognize, but the contrary to those whom they do not know." (375e) Their children should be taken on campaigns in order to accustom them to war... "give them a taste of blood as we do with whelps." (537a) Youthful guardians possess the qualities of pure-bred pups: "...each of them must be keen of perception, quick in pursuit of what it has apprehended, and strong too if it has to fight it out with its captive." (375a) Women are to enjoy equal rights with men and are to have the same obligations, allowing only for the fact that they have less physical strength than men. Plato argues by analogy: "Do we expect the females of watchdogs to join in guarding what the males guard and to hunt with them and share all their pursuits, or do we expect the females to stay indoors. ...?" (451d) The whole of the guardian caste is compared with a pack of hard and wiry hounds. (422d)
But a guardian should also possess other, higher qualities: "And does it seem to you that our guardian-to-be will also need, in addition to being high-spirited, the further quality of having the love of wisdom in his nature?" (375e) And: "...never by sorcery nor by force can be brought to expel from their souls...this conviction that they must do what is best for the state." (412e)
These qualities are attained by means of a carefully thought-out system of education guided by the philosophers and lasting until age thirty-five. A fundamental role in education is reserved for art, which, for the benefit of the state, is subjected to strict censorship. "We must begin, then, it seems, by a censorship over our story-makers, and what
[9]


they do well we must pass and what not, reject." (377c) "What they do well" applies here not to the esthetic qualities of stories and myths but to their educational function, Bad stories are those "that Hesiod and Homer and the other poets relate to us," (377d) Furthermore, "Shall we, then, thus lightly suffer our children to listen to any chance stories fashioned by any chance teachers and so to take into their minds opinions for the most part contrary to those that we shall think it desirable for them to hold when they are grown up?" (377b) All stories that might inspire a false impression of divinity are forbidden, as well as those that describe the cruelty of the gods, their quarrels or love adventures, and stories which suggest that gods may be the cause of misfortune. "...we must contend in every way that neither should anyone assert this in his own city if it is to be well governed, nor anyone hear it, neither younger nor older, neither telling a story in meter or without meter." (380b) All poetic works that speak about the horrors of the nether world and of death are to be eliminated, as well as those that involve any manifestation of fear or sorrow--all that hinders the development of courage. Guardians should see nothing frightening about death. It is forbidden to speak about the injustice of fate--that righteous people can suffer misfortune and unrighteous ones can lead happy lives. It is forbidden to criticize the leaders or to write about any manifestation of fear, grief, famine or death. "We will beg Homer and the other poets not to be angry if we cancel those and all similar passages, not that they are not poetic and pleasing to most hearers, but because the more poetic they are, the less are they suited to the ears," (387b)
Other arts are also to be kept under surveillance. "It is here, then, I said, in music, as it seems, that our guardians must build their guard-house and post a watch." (424d) Polyphony and the combining of various scales are forbidden. There are to be no flutes or makers of flutes in the state; only the lyre and the kithara are permitted. Plato expands on these principles: "Is it, then, only the poets that we must supervise and compel to embody in their poems the semblance of the good character or else not write poetry among us, or must we keep watch over the other craftsmen, and forbid them to represent the evil disposition, the licentious, the illiberal, the graceless, either in the likeness of living creatures or in buildings or in any other product of their art, on penalty, if unable to obey, of being forbidden to practice their art among us? ..." (401b) The answer is obvious for Plato.
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On the other hand, new myths are created, with the purpose of instilling in the guardians a spirit necessary to the state, For instance, to inculcate in them love for one another and the state, they are told that they are all brothers, sons of the single mother earth of their land. But to reinforce the idea of castes, it is stressed that in the process philosophers received an admixture of gold, guardians of silver, peasants and artisans of iron.
The entire education of the guardians, beginning with children's games, is supervised by the philosophers, who subject them to various tests, checking their memory, endurance, moderation and courage. Adults, as well as children, are severely punished for lying. But lying is permitted the philosophers. "It seems likely that our rulers will have to make considerable use of falsehood and deception for the benefit of their subjects." (459d)
It has already been noted that Plato perceives the major defect of faulty states in the absence of unity among citizens, in animosity and discord. He seeks to find the cause of these phenomena,
"And the chief cause of this is when the citizens do not utter in unison such words as 'mine' and 'not mine,' and similarly with regard to the word 'alien'?
"Precisely so,"
"That city, then, is best ordered in which the greatest number use the expression 'mine' and 'not mine' of the same things in the same way." (462c)
The guardians' life is regulated accordingly. They possess "nothing in private possession but their bodies, but all else in common." (464e)
"Secondly, none must have any habitation or treasure house which is not open for all to enter at will. Their food, in such quantities as are needful for athletes of war sober and brave, they must receive as an agreed stipend from the other citizens as the wages of their guardianship, so measured that there shall be neither superfluity at the end of the year nor any lack, And resorting to a common mess like soldiers on campaign they will live together." (416d)
"...for these only of all the dwellers in the city it is not lawful to handle gold and silver and to touch them nor yet to come under the same roof with them, nor to hang them as ornaments on their limbs nor to drink from silver and gold," (417a)
Guardians live in their own state as hired guard detachments. "... and what is more, they serve for board wages and do not even receive
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pay in addition to their food as others do, so that they will not even be able to take a journey on their own account, if they wish to, or make presents to their mistresses, or spend money in other directions according to their desires like the men who are thought to be happy." (420a) Property, however, is only one of the things by which private interests may distract the guardians from their duty. Another factor that could set them apart is the family; therefore it is also eliminated.
"These women shall all be common to all these men, and that none shall cohabit with any privately, and that the children shall be common, and that no parent shall know its own offspring nor any child its parent." (457d) Marriage is replaced by a temporary union of sexes for purely physiological satisfaction and propagation of the species. This aspect of life is carefully regulated by the philosophers, which permits the introduction of a perfect system of sex selection. The union of couples is conducted solemnly and is performed to the accompaniment of songs composed by poets especially for these occasions. Who is to be joined to whom is decided by lot so that no one can blame anyone but fate. But the leaders of the state carefully manipulate the process to achieve the desired results.
As could be expected, the education of children is in the hands of the state. "...the children...will be taken over by the officials appointed for this. ..." (460b)"...but the offspring of the inferior, and any of those of the other sort who are born defective, they will properly dispose of in secret, so that no one will know what has become of them." (460c) As for a child born of unregulated sexual union, the following is indicated: "...to dispose of it on the understanding that we cannot rear such an offspring." (461c) Parents ought not know their children: "...conducting the mothers to the pen when their breasts are full, but employing every device to prevent anyone from recognizing her own infant." (460c) As to the question how parents and children shall recognize one another, the answer is as follows: "They won't ...except that a man will call all male offspring born between the seventh and the tenth month after he became a bridegroom his sons, and all female, daughters, and they will call him father." (461d)
Deprived of family, children and all property, the guardians live exclusively for the benefit of the state. Any violation of the interests of the state is punished. Soldiers who show cowardice are turned into
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artisans or peasants; prisoners taken are not to be ransomed out of slavery. Medicine is also used as a means of control. Physicians and judges "...will care for the bodies and souls of such of your citizens as are truly well-born, but those who are not, such as are defective in body, they will suffer to die, and those who are evil-natured and incurable in soul they will themselves put to death." (410a) Why would the guardians undertake such a life? One of the participants in the dialogue says: "What will be your defense, Socrates, if anyone objects that you are not making these men very happy, and that through their own fault? For the city really belongs to them and yet they get no enjoyment out of it as ordinary men do." (419a)
However, from Plato's point of view happiness is not determined by material well-being. II) discharging their duties, the guardians will achieve the respect and love of other citizens, as well as the hope for reward after death. He says:
"...they will live a happier life than that men count most happy, the life of the victors at Olympia.
"How so?
"The things for which those are felicitated are a small part of what is secured for these. Their victory is fairer and their public support more complete. For the prize of victory that they win is the salvation of the entire state, the fillet that binds their brows is the public support of themselves and their children--they receive honor from the city while they live and when they die a worthy burial.
"A fair guerdon, indeed, he said." (465e)
Though giving a detailed account of the life of the philosophers and guardians, Plato says almost nothing about the rest of the population--the artisans and peasants. Laws for them are determined by the philosophers in accordance with the basic principles expressed in the dialogue: "Nay, 'twould not be fitting...to dictate to good and honorable men. For most of the enactments that are needed about these things they will easily, I presume, discover." (425d)
Clearly, the entire population is subjected to the philosophers and the guardians. The guardians set up their camp in the city: "...a position from which they could best hold down rebellion against the laws from within." (415e)
Everyone is bound to his profession:
"...we were at pains to prevent the cobbler from attempting to be at the same time a farmer, a weaver, or a builder instead of
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just a cobbler, to the end that we might have the cobbler's business well done, and similarly assigned to each and everyone man one occupation, for which he was fit and naturally adapted and at which he was to work all his days." (374c) The life of the artisans and the peasants is regulated on the basis of a greater or lesser degree of leveling, since for them both poverty and riches lead to degradation, and "the work that he turns out will be worse, and he will also make inferior workmen of his sons or any others whom he teaches." (421e) But it is not clear to what extent the socialist principles that govern the life of the two other groups extend to artisan and peasant. In conclusion, it is interesting to note that religious problems are given a good deal of space in the dialogue, and are clearly connected with the question of the ideal state. However, this linkage is treated in a quite rationalistic fashion--religion does not set the state any goals, but rather plays a protective and educational role. Myths, many of which are specially invented, as Plato says, with this purpose in mind, facilitate the development of characteristics useful to the state.
Almost everyone who has written on Plato's Republic has remarked on the ambiguous impression produced by this dialogue. Plato's scheme for the destruction of the subtlest and most profound features of human personality and the reduction of human society to the level of an ant hill evokes revulsion. And at the same time one cannot help being impressed by the almost religious impulse to sacrifice personal interests to a higher goal. Plato's entire program is founded on the denial of personality--but on the denial of egoism as well. He understood that the future of mankind is not dependent on the victory of this or that contending group in the struggle for material interests, but rather on the changes within people and on the development of new human qualities.
It is difficult to deny that Plato's Republic is morally, ethically and in purely aesthetic terms far superior to other systems of chiliastic socialism. If we can suppose that Aristophanes' Ecclesiazusae is a parody of ideas such as Plato's--presumably widely discussed in Athens at the time--then modern systems like that of Marcuse seem much nearer to the caricature than to the original. Marcuse's "turning work into play," his "socio-sexual protest," the struggle against the "necessity of suppressing one's instincts," are shockingly primitive in comparison with the lofty asceticism described by Plato.
In spite of their unique role in the history of socialist ideas, Plato's
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Republic and his Laws are but one of many expressions of ancient chiliastic socialism. Attic comedy abounds with references to ideas of this kind. For example, out of the eleven surviving comedies of Aristophanes, two (Ecclesiazusae and Plutus) are devoted to socialist themes. During the Hellenistic epoch there came into being an extensive utopian socialist literature, partially serious, in part meant as entertainment, where the ascetic ideal of the Platonic Republic was replaced by "the land of milk and honey" and by the happy state of free love. The plots of a number of these works are known to us from the Historical Library by the first century B.C. writer Diodorus.
One of the most vivid descriptions tells of a traveler to a state situated on "sunny islands" (apparently in the Indian Ocean). This state consists of socialist communes of four hundred people each. Labor is obligatory for all members of society, moreover, with "all serving the others in turn, fishing, engaging in crafts, arts or public service." (6: p. 323) Food is regimented in a similar manner; the menu for each day is regulated by law. "Marriage is unknown to them; instead they enjoy communal wives; children are brought up in common as they belong to the whole of the community and are equally loved by all. Frequently, it so happens that nurses exchange babies they are suckling so that even mothers do not recognize their children." (6: p. 63) Due to the excellent climate, the inhabitants of the islands were much taller than ordinary mortals. They lived to the age of 150. All who were incurably ill or suffered from some physical defect were supposed to commit suicide. Those who reached a certain age were also to kill themselves.
Socialist ideas in one or another form frequently played a role in the movements and sects that arose around emerging Christianity. Even in the first century A.D., the sect of the Nicolaites preached the communality of property and wives. The Christian writer Epiphanes considers the sect's founder to be Nicolas--one of the seven deacons chosen by the community of the disciples of the Apostles in Jerusalem (as recounted in Acts of the Apostles 6: 5).
Irenaeus of Lyons and Clement of Alexandria describe the gnostic sect of Carpocratians which appeared in Alexandria in the second century A.D. The founder of this sect, Carpocrates, taught that faith and love bring salvation and place man above good and evil. These ideas were elaborated by his son Epiphanes, who died at the age of seventeen, having written a work "On Justice." According to Clement of
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Alexandria, he was later worshiped as a god in Samos, where a sanctuary was erected to him. Some quotations from Epiphanes follow:
"God's justice consists in community and equality."
"The Creator and Father of all gave everyone equally eyes to see and established laws in accordance with his justice without distinguishing female from male, wise from humble and in general one thing from any other."
"The private character of laws cuts and gnaws the community established by God's law. Do you not understand the words of the Apostle: 'Through law I knew sin' (Romans 7: 7)? 'Mine' and 'thine' were spread to the detriment of community by virtue of the law."
"Thus, God made everything common for man; according to the principles of communality, he joins man and woman. In the same way, he links all living beings; in this he has revealed justice demanding communality in conjunction with equality. But those begotten in this way deny the community that has created them, saying: 'He who takes a wife, let him possess her.' But they can possess all in common as the animals do."
"It is therefore laughable to hear the giver of laws saying: 'Do not covet' and more laughable still the addition: 'that which is your neighbor's.' For he himself invested us with desires, which moreover must be safeguarded as they are necessary for procreation. But even more laughable is the phrase 'your neighbor's wife,' for in this way that which is common is forcibly turned into private property." (7: p. 117)
The members of this sect, which extended as far as Rome, followed principles of complete communality, including communality of wives.
The appearance of Manicheism gave rise to a great number of sects that professed doctrines of a socialist character. St. Augustine informs us of the existence of such sects at the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth centuries A.D.
The movement inspired by Mazdak, which was widespread at the beginning of the fifth century in Persia, was also of Manichean origin. Mazdak taught that contradictions, anger and violence are all related to women and material things. "Therefore," in the words of the Persian historian Mohammed Ibn Harun, "he made all women accessible and all material wealth common and prescribed that everyone had an equal share, just as each has an equal share of water, fire and pastures." (8: p. 20)
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This movement spread over the entire country, and for a time even King Kawadh I supported it. Another historian, Tabari, writes: "Frequently, a man did not know his son nor the son his own father, and no one possessed enough to be guaranteed life and livelihood." (8: p. 35) In the disturbance which subsequently arose, the followers of Mazdak were defeated. The extent of social dislocation caused by this movement can be appreciated from the information (8: pp. 32-33) that Kawadh's heir issued a law ensuring the welfare of fatherless children and legislating the return of abducted women to their families.
We encounter here the phenomenon of broad masses of people affected by a socialist doctrine. This was unknown in antiquity, although it is typical of the Middle Ages, to which Mazdak's movement brings us chronologically.
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