Crises In European History

Below are pages 20-23 from the booklet Crises in European History put out by the Socialist Labor Party. The full booklet can be found at http://slp.org/pdf/others/crises_eh.pdf. I found the author had very keen insight as to what early Christianity was all about. Too bad Marxism had such an anti-God and anti-Bible bias to it. Marxists could be insightful about political, social and historical conditions at times.

EARLY CHRISTIANITY: RELIGION OF THE OPPRESSED
We see how the necessary elements for the spread of Christian teachings
had been created through the intellectual, religious and moral currents,
each of which with logical necessity sprang from the social
changes at the end of antiquity. The “fullness of time,” as it graphically
was called, had arrived. When Christianity in the first centuries of our
era spread among those colonies of Jews, scattered throughout the
Roman Empire, it found their minds prepared. It gave definite form to
those conceptions which had taken hold of the consciousness of the population,
particularly the proletariat. And it was not only its religious
and moral ideas which met with sympathy, but also its social ideas.
Christianity, in its first and purest form, was a religion for the proletariat,
for the poor, suffering and oppressed in society. These were the
people to whom Christ spoke. Immediately before his first appearance
as a teacher, he read in the synagogue of Nazareth the prophecy of
Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me
to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted,
to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to
the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,…” (St. Luke 4:18—
Isaiah 61:1.) In his foreboding the nature of his activity is outlined. And
what he later says coincides: “…Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom
of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled.
Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.” (St. Luke 6:20–21.)
“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give
you rest.” (St. Matt. 11:28.)
It was also the common people that gathered around him and listened
to him. His apostles were poor fishermen and artisans, and great
was the anger and indignation of the pillars of society, the pharisees and
scribes, because “publicans and sinners kept close to him to hear him.”
It was just the miserable and despised people who sought refuge with
him, and found not only consolation for the soul but also practical
defense against those who were hard on them. The story of the woman
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caught in adultery is in its sublime simplicity the most scathing expression
of contempt for the existing moral hypocrisy, and the answer he
gave applies as strongly today: “…He that is without sin among you, let
him first cast a stone at her.” (St. John 8:7.)
Thus his message was one of compassion and leniency for the poor
and outcast in society; but for the rich he had but hard and threatening
words. The rich man suffered grievously in hell, not because he was so
very wicked and sinful, but simply because he was rich and enjoyed his
wealth, “clad in purple and costly linen and lived every day in magnificence
and joy,” while Lazarus slept at his door and ate the crumbs from
his table. Again and again is the same conception of wealth expressed.
His is an absolute denunciation of any society where there are rich and
poor, affluence and want. “…woe unto you that are rich! for ye have
received your consolation.” (St. Luke 6:24) “…Verily I say unto you,
That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven….It is
easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man
to enter into the kingdom of God.” (St. Matt. 19:23–24.) And when the
wealthy man, who has kept all the commandments from his youth, asks
what he must further do to inherit eternal life, Jesus answers: “…If
thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and
thou shalt have treasure in heaven….” (St. Matt. 19:21.)
In the proclamations of the disciples the same rejection of all wealth
is repeated, and particularly in the James letter the rich are denounced
because of the exploitation and suppression to which they subjected the
poor: “Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment
seats?” (St. James 2:6.) [Emphasis added.] “Go to now, ye rich men, weep
and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are
corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is
cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall
eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the
last days. Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your
fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: [emphasis added] and
the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the
Lord of Sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton;
ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.” (St. James
5:1–5.)
It was, accordingly, a decided proletarian tendency which dominated
Christianity in the first centuries of our era, a tendency which theology
of later times only succeeded in misrepresenting by sophistically exercising
a most reckless violence against the old traditions. And just as
proletarian was the positive social ideal which Christianity proclaimed.
CHRISTIAN COMMUNISM
It was the communism of property and consumption, the communistic
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form of society which was the natural expression of the social longings
of the ancient proletariat, and which in the first Christian congregations
was not only proclaimed but practiced. It was as yet impossible to
form a social ideal of productive socialism—the cooperative commonwealth—
because the historical conditions for such an order of society
were wholly lacking; the consumptive communism, the enjoyment of
things in common, became the ideal of the proletarians of those days.
This principle is prominent in the Gospels, and particularly in the
“Acts.” He who would follow Christ had to give up all his property,
donate it to the congregation, and the congregation lived in a common
household, maintained through common ownership. It was not a voluntary
matter whether or not one should place his belongings at the disposal
of the congregation. On the contrary, it was considered a mortal
sin to neglect. Ananias and his wife Sapphira were punished with death
because they had withheld part of their wealth for their private benefit
(Acts 5). The Christian was to be personally propertyless, and could
only be co-sharer of the common possessions. In the “Acts” we find a
description of the original Christian congregations, and find them constructed
in accordance with the commands of Christ, based upon the
ideas of an absolute communistic relation of property and consumption.
“And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And
sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every
man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple,
and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with
gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favor with
all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be
saved.” (Acts 2:44–47.)
“Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were
possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the
things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution
was made unto every man according as he had need.” (Acts
4:34–35.)
It is conceivable how such a communistic society would absorb the
great mass of the starved and oppressed proletarians, not only in
Palestine, but also throughout the vast Roman Empire. But it will also
be seen that its duration, of necessity, would be short. The number of
destitute people to be kept satisfied grew rapidly, but the amount of
wealth at disposal increased very slowly. Soon the bottom would be
reached. At the beginning they rested content with the idea that Christ
would soon return and that the end of the world was at hand. But as
time went on the difficulties increased. From the letters of the apostles,
particularly those of Paul, we receive a vivid impression of the sharp
admonitions which were administered in order to obtain necessaries for
the support of the poor in the community. Very early, in the course of but
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a few decades, pure communism disappeared, as in the nature of things
it had to, because the class interests which there found expression,
those of the proletariat and petty bourgeoisie, had as yet no future
before them. It was changed to a decrepit charity for the support of the
clergy at the expense of the congregation; to the sacrament of the Lord’s
supper as a last remnant of the old-time meals, in which all participated;
here and there also to a monastic life and semi-caricatures of the
days of the early Christians.
The wealth which was collected for the community was more and
more used for the support of that upper class of ecclesiastics who gradually
raised themselves above the rest of Christian society, and the clergy
made ever greater demands for personal contributions from the
members of the congregation. Thus the old Christian communism was
gradually transformed into the medieval, exploiting church. Theology
simultaneously became active, explaining away and misinterpreting
the expressions and statements of the New Testament regarding wealth
and poverty, to rob them of their “salt” and adjust the Christian teachings
to suit the ruling class in society.
But still, long after, there were sects trying to carry the program of
ancient Christianity into effect. As late as the close of the Middle Ages
the old Christian ideals played their role in the class struggle. And even
today the accounts given in the “Acts” are condemnatory of the
hypocrisies of our time, of the hypocrites who endeavor to show, Bible in
hand, the right and justification for private property, whereas no socialist
agitator has used stronger language against nor more mercilessly
denounced this right than did Christ and his disciples.
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