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Great Ideas That Were Around Long Before Karl Marx

by John Spritzler

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Karl Marx was born May 5, 1818. His first major piece of writing was his doctoral thesis in 1841. Here are some great ideas that were around long before Marx began writing about his very wrong and harmful so-called "scientific" theory of social change (about which, see the end of this article). Loving these great ideas that were around long before Karl Marx does NOT mean you are a Marxist.


#1 Class Conflict

Gerrard Winstanley, born in 1609 and a leader of the English Diggers, wrote the "Declaration of the Poor Oppressed People of England" in which he said the following:

“And we look upon that freedom promised to be the inheritance of all, without respect of persons; And this cannot be, unless the Land of England be freely set at liberty from proprietors, and become a common Treasury to all her children.”

“So long as the earth is intagled and appropriated into particular hands and kept there by the power of the sword……so long the creation lies under bondage.”

“For though you and your Ancestors got your Propriety by murther and theft, and you keep it by the same power from us, that have an equal right to the Land with you, by the righteous Law of Creation, yet we shall have no occasion of quarrelling (as you do) about that disturbing devil, called Particular propriety: For the Earth, with all her Fruits of Corn, Cattle, and such like, was made to be a common Store-house of Livelihood to all Mankinde, friend, and foe, without exception.”

Here is the "property is theft" idea, long before Karl Marx was born.

#2 From each according to ability, to each according to need

As early as 1775 in his Code de la Nature ou le Veritable esprit de Ses Lois a Frenchman named Morelly wrote that his aim was "To distribute work according to capacity; products according to needs." The same idea appears even earlier, in the Bible (Acts, 4:34-35): "Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostle's feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need."

Note that while Marx used the phrase, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" in his Critique of the Gotha Program, his point was that society could NOT be based on this principle until far FAR in the future. Here are his exact words:

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

#3 The need to abolish buying and selling and commodification of things

Gerrard Winstanley (born 1609) wrote:

"Money must not any the great god that hedges in some and hedges out others, for money is but part of the Earth; and after our work of the Earthly Community is advanced, we must make use of gold or silver as we do of other metals but not to buy or sell."

"Buying and Selling is an Art, whereby people endeavour to cheat one another of the Land.......and true Religion is, To let every one enjoy it."

#4 The need to abolish wage slavery

Gerrard Winstanley (born 1609) wrote:

"This declares likewise to all Labourers, or such as are called Poor people, that they shall not dare to work for Hire, for any Landlord, or any that is lifted up above others; for by their labours, they have lifted up Tyrants and Tyranny; and by denying to labor for Hire, they shall pull them down again. He that works for another, either for Wages or to pay him Rent, works unrighteously, and still lifts up the Curse; but they that are resolved to work and eat together, making the Earth a Common Treasury, doth joyn hands with Christ, to lift up the Creation from Bondage, and restores all things from the Curse."

#5 International working class solidarity

In 1676 Bacon's Rebellion broke out in the Virginia Colony. During this rebellion bonded (indentured or slave) laborers--both Africans and British--united against the upper class large property owners and rulers of the Colony. A British naval ship captain, Thomas Grantham, in his report of how he fought the rebels, indicated the solidarity between the African and British laborers this way:

"I there met about four hundred English and Negroes in Arms who were much dissatisfied at the Surrender of the Point, saying I had betrayed them, and thereupon some were for shooting me and others were for cutting me in peeces: I told them I would willingly surrender myselfe to them, till they were satisfied from His Majestie, and did engage to the Negroes and Servants, that they were all pardoned and freed from their Slavery: And with faire promises and Rundletts of Brandy, I pacified them, giving them severall Noates under my hand that what I did was by the order of his Majestie and the Governor....Most of them I persuaded to goe to their Homes, which accordingnly they did, except about eighty Negroes and twenty English which would not deliver their Armes...."113 [reference: ; source 113 is: Grantham's "Accompt of my Transactions," The Henry Coventry Papers, at the Longleat estate of the Marquis of Bath, reproduced on micro-film by the American Council of Leaarned Societies British Manuscript Project deposited at the Library of Congress; loc cit., vol. LXXVIII, ff. 301-2.]

Apparently these bonded laborers possessed the idea of international working class solidarity, in 1676.

Before this, in 1524-1525 peasants rose up in armed revolt against the European aristocracy in what is known as the Great Peasants War or Great Peasants Revolt. The uprising united peasants in what is now modern Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Alsace and the Czech Republic. These peasants seemed to grasp the idea of international working class solidarity.

Quite a bit earlier (73 BCE), the slave Spartacus famously led a slave revolt of tens of thousands of slaves against the slave owners of the Roman Empire. This slave revolt united slaves from Thrace and from Gaul (mentioned specifically in the limited historical record) and no doubt from other regions as well. This too reflected the presence of the idea of international working class solidarity, more than two thousand years ago.

#6 The point is not merely to understand the world but to change it

Gerrard Winstanley (born 1609) wrote:

"..yet my mind was not at rest, because nothing was acted, and thoughts run in me that words and writings were all nothing, and must die, for action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing,"

#7 Communism, meaning a classless society with social wealth held in common (and NOT the Marxist Party dictatorships that have made this the ugly word that it is today)

John Ball, who led the English Peasant Rebellion in 1381 preached that:

"things cannot go right in England...until goods are held in common and there are no more villeins and gentlefolk, but we are all one and the same." [Life in a Medieval Village, by Frances and Joseph Gies, p. 198]

Gerrard Winstanley (born 1609) wrote:

  • A LETTER TO The Lord Fairfax, AND His Councell of War, WITH Divers Questions to the Lawyers, and Ministers: Proving it an undeniable Equity, That the common People ought to dig, plow, plant and dwell upon the Commons, with-out hiring them, or paying Rent to any

  • A Vindication of Those Whose Endeavors is Only to Make the Earth a Common Treasury, Called Diggers (March 4, 1650)

  • "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;" in The True Levellers Standard A D V A N C E D: or, The State of Community opened, and Presented to the Sons of Men

The indigenous people of Africa, Australia and America thousands of years before Karl Marx was born practiced the principles of a classless--i.e., communist--society. Read about this in some detail in "The original egalitarian societies: What human history tells us about human nature." They did not do this because they read Karl Marx!

The idea that Karl Marx DID invent

Marx invented what he viewed as a "science" of social change. This featured the notion (called "materialism") that impersonal economic laws related to the nature of economic production caused--independently of the values and ideas of people, which were, he argued, merely an effect of these impersonal laws--changes in society that would lead to a classless society--communism. This "science" implied that in spite of ordinary working class people having no subjective desire to make a classless society, and in spite of working class people being dehumanized by capitalism and thinking only "with their belly," that society would progress to communism nonetheless.

This "science" gives hope to people who want a classless society but who also have very negative, elitist, views of ordinary flesh-and-blood working class people (as opposed to "the working class" in the abstract, which Marxists love.) The Marxist "science" is just flat out wrong. Contrary to Marx, the values of ordinary working class people are the values that, when they shape all of society, will create a classless society. Furthermore, it is only the subjective aims of ordinary working class people that can make society classless; impersonal economic laws will not do it.

The "science" of Marxism led Marx to defend, as "progressive," the notoriously oppressive British imperialist rule over India. Marx does so in this article by him, in which he concludes with the following:

"England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindostan, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution."

The "science" of Marxism leads to very anti-democratic practice and anti-democratic regimes. This is because Marxists believe that ordinary working class people's values are an obstacle to making society classless, and hence Communists must not let ordinary working class people have the real say in society, at least not until the Communists have changed people into what Che Guevara called "Socialist Man."

Read more about why Marxism leads to anti-democratic practice by Marxists in "Socialism and Communism? NO! Egalitarian Revolution*? Yes!"

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