Karl Kautsky

Communism in Central Europe in the Time of the Reformation

Chapter 5
The Anabaptists

V. The Anabaptists in Moravia

Moravia offered very favourable conditions for the development of the Baptist power. Being under the same rulers as Bohemia, the Margravate had shared the fate of that country during and after the Hussite Wars. The conflicts which rent Germany asunder in the first decade of the sixteenth century had long ago been fought out in the countries under the Bohemian Crown, and had led to a compromise between the old and new faiths, and to the consequent prevalence of religious toleration. Side by side with the Catholics and Utraquists the sect of the Bohemian Brethren had arisen, without in the slightest degree endangering the State or society, and to the great economic advantage of the barons in whose districts they dwelt.

In Bohemia and Moravia a new sect did not need the protection of government to secure its toleration. Since the Hussite Wars the sovereigns had been powerless, while the higher nobility enjoyed almost complete independence. If a sect had gained the good graces of a baron, it might settle quietly in his domain, let the sovereign think what he might. This condition of things was not changed until Bohemia and Moravia fell into the hands of the Catholic Hapsburgs (1526).

In spite of these favourable circumstances, the Anabaptists never gained a firm foothold in Bohemia. This is explained by the relations between the nationalities composing the population of that country. In the sixteenth century the national antagonism which had attained to such a height in the previous century was still very strong, and Germans could have hardly felt quite at ease among the Czech population. In Moravia, on the contrary, national antagonisms had never been so intense, and Germans could more easily find a home there.

Early in the autumn of 1526 Hubmeier, with a large following, went from Augsburg to Moravia, and was hospitably received at Nikolsburg, in the domain of Baron Leonhard von Lichtenstein, who himself received baptism. A community was there organised, and-this is particularly significant-a printing house immediately established, in which Hubmeier’s works were printed.

The fame of the new “Emmaus” soon spread on all sides among the Brethren, and led many a one to escape persecution by a flight to the promised land. Freedom and prosperity however tended only to increase the already existing schism. The antagonism between the strict and moderate parties, which had previously appeared in Germany, but had been forced into the background by the persecution, came to its full development in Moravia. The respective leaders of the two parties were Hubmeier and Hut, both refugees from Germany.

The impending war with Turkey made the rupture wider. A war-tax was levied to carry on the war with the unbelievers. Should the Baptists pay this? They deprecated war, and the strengthening of the Imperial power against the Turks accorded ill with Hut’s plans, as he expected to derive benefit for his sect from the invasion of the infidels. A series of discussions on this subject took place at Nikolsburg.

The chronicles of the Anabaptists inform us that: “After the cry went forth in 1527 that the Turks intended laying siege to Vienna, the Brethren and elders of the community assembled in the courtyard of the parsonage at Pergen, near Nikolsburg ... to hold a conference on the above-mentioned matters, but did not arrive at a unanimous decision.” And in another place: “Hans Hut and others met in the castle of Lichtenstein at Nikolsburg, to take counsel concerning the sword; whether or not they were to use or to wear it, and whether the war-tax should be paid, besides other mandates; but they could not come to an agreement, and consequently separated.

“As Hut could not and would not agree with Baron Leonhard von Lichtenstein that the sword was necessary, he was detained against his will in the castle. Some well-wisher, however, who had his interests at heart, managed to lower him from his prison window in a net. The following day great murmuring and complaint arose among the townfolk against Baron Leonhard and his adherents, because he had violently detained Hut in his castle. This induced Balthasar Hubmeier and his colleagues to deliver a public discourse in the hospital, explaining why they had been unable to come to an agreement touching the sword and tax.” [19]

Thus it appears that affairs among the peaceable Brethren had at that time reached a very critical stage.

Hans Hut did not remain in Moravia. In the autumn of 1527 we find him once more at Augsburg, where he was seized, and, as already related, put to death. Hubmeier, however, continued his campaign against the more severe tendencies. His publication, Concerning the Sword, is devoted exclusively to polemics against his opponents among the Brethren.

At the same time he published controversial treatises against Zwingli and his followers, and one of these shows that his communism was of a mild type. In his Discourse upon Master Ulrich Zwingli’s Pamphlet concerning Infant Baptism he says, in reply to the reproach that he advocated “the community of goods”, [20]i.e., communism: “I have always, and in every way, taught that community of property means that one man should have compassion on another; that he should feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked; for in truth, we are not masters of our possessions, but stewards or dispensers only. Certainly none could think that we ought to take from another what belongs to him, and make it common property, but rather give the cloak in addition to the coat.” It is not very satisfactory, however, that Hubmeier, when he was arrested, sought in his Account to recommend himself to the favour of King Ferdinand by particularising his sharp opposition to Hans Hut. He there speaks of “the Day of judgment”, which in the language of that age meant nothing less than revolution. “Although Christ has given us many signs by which to recognise how near at hand is the day of His coming, still no one knows this day but God alone. I have been almost severe against Johannes Hut and his adherents, because they have fixed a definite time for the last day – viz., next Whitsuntide; because they have preached to the people, and induced them to sell houses and property, to forsake wife and child; and have prevailed upon the foolish to leave their work and run after him – an error which has arisen from a great want of right comprehension of the Bible.” Out of the three and a half years spoken of in Daniel, Hut had made four ordinary years, which was a great mistake. According to Hubmeier’s calculation, one day of Daniel’s year equals one of our ordinary years; therefore these three and a half years would amount to 1277 ordinary years. “What I laid before him plainly and earnestly was that he had persuaded and misled the poor people, and for this I reproved him.” The revolutionary who awaited a revolution only after 1277 years was, at any rate, not a dangerous member of society.

The strife between the two opinions was in no way ended by the death of both the great adversaries, even though it died down for a time – i.e., when the transitory persecution of the Baptists extended to Moravia itself, and public attention was at the time drawn to the Turkish invasion.

Many Brethren set forth from Germany for Moravia during these troubles, and a “people” settled down at Rossitz under Gabriel Ascherham, after whom they were called the Gabrielists. Finding themselves too circumscribed there, a portion, chiefly inhabitants of the Palatinate, withdrew to Auspitz under the leadership of Philip Flener, and were in consequence called Philippists. Being opposed to the more severe views, both communities had joined the milder sect, but they could not agree among themselves. Among the Nikolsburg townsmen, the dispute between the two parties continued to be carried on, and the stricter faction now received the nickname of Communists (Gemeinschaftler) or Stafists (Stäbler), and their opponents that of Swordists (Schwertler).

On the side of the latter was Leonhard von Lichtenstein; but when the quarrel became too bitter even for him, he compelled the strict communists, now risen to two hundred strong, to quit the district (1524). – The moment the latter turned their backs on the old community, they gave free play, to their communism. “At that time these men spread out a mantle before the people, and every one laid down his possessions on it for the support of the needy, under no compulsion or pressure, but with hearty willingness, according to the teaching of the Prophets and Apostles.” [21]

They withdrew to Austerlitz, where the Picards had settled themselves as early as 1511. Here they were received with open arms by the lords of Kaunitz, in whose territories Austerlitz lay, and were soon followed by numerous partisans, this town becoming the capital of the Baptists in Moravia.

Disputes, however, could not be avoided even among the people of Austerlitz. Wilhelm Reublin of Auspitz gives us a graphic description of this in a letter to his friend, Pilgram Marbeck (the above mentioned mine-magistrate), written January 26, 1531; wherein he relates how and why he and his adherents were driven out of Austerlitz (January 8th). Among other things, he reproaches those who remained behind with “managing the community of temporal and personal property dishonestly and fraudulently ... They were respecters of persons, permitting the rich to have their own little houses, so that Franz and his wife led a life like the nobles. At meals the ordinary Brethren had been content with peas and cabbages, but the elders and their wives had roast meat, fish, fowls, and good wine; many of their wives I have never seen at the common table. While some might be in want of shoes and shirts, they themselves must have good breeches, coats, and furs, in abundance.” [22]

Reublin and his adherents withdrew to Auspitz, and there formed a community of their own; but having kept back forty gulden which he had brought with him from Germany, instead of paying them into the common fund, Reublin was soon declared to be a “lying, unfaithful, malignant Ananias”, and was accordingly expelled. In 1531, the disturbances in Baptist localities in Moravia reached their culminating point. Franck, who published his Chronik at that time, characterises the position of the Moravian Brethren very exactly in the passage already quoted (p.164), in which he points out that a great many in their community were anathematised, and expresses his doubts as to whether there was “just distribution” in Austerlitz.

“The Fraternity have proceeded from one carnal license to another,” relates the Baptists’ historian in Moravia of those times: “They have become exactly like the world.” [23]

But what appeared to be a process of dissolution was in reality one of fermentation, which produced clear and lasting results.

The effect of all these contests was a communistic organisation which maintained itself for nearly a whole century, and which was only ultimately crushed by superior force. The chief merit of the definitive Baptist organisation is due to the Tyrolese immigrants, who flocked by hundreds into Moravia in 1529, and impressed their stamp on the movement there. Prominent among their leaders was the hatter Jakob, called after his trade Huter (frequently confounded with Hans Hut). His influence upon the organisation was so great that a community in Moravia was called after him, being known as the Huter Fraternity. How far Huter’s genius alone impressed itself upon the new organisation, or how far he was the executor of the will of the numbers who stood behind him and lent him their strength, it is very difficult in these days to determine.

In the autumn of 1529 Jakob Huter and Schützinger with their adherents came from the Tyrol to Austerlitz, and entered into close connection with the community there. Perceiving that circumstances were favourable to their party in Moravia, Jakob returned to the Tyrol in order to despatch “one small community after another” to the land of his adoption. These new-comers brought enthusiasm, self-sacrifice, and discipline with them, and formed the kernel of the communistic communities which fused the other internal elements into a peaceful and steady harmony.

In August, 1533, Huter himself returned with numerous followers, for in Tyrol “tyranny had reached to such a height that it was impossible for the faithful to remain any longer.” Such was the opinion of the Brothers who were assembled at the Congress in the district of Gufidaun (Tyrol) in the July of that year. The real work of the organisation now began, and must have been carried on with the greatest energy and with the fullest consciousness of the aim for which they were working. We may judge so at least from the fact that the peculiar characteristics of the Baptist community remained unchanged up to the time of their rising in Münster. This insurrection spurred on the sharpest persecution of the Anabaptists, which horrified for a time even a portion of the Moravian nobility, so that they withdrew their protection from the Baptists. The first great persecution began in Moravia, the result of which was that the Baptist community was obliged to dissolve itself, and its members were banished. We learn through this circumstance how large the Fraternity had grown at that time, its numbers amounting, as it was estimated, to from three thousand to four thousand.

Huter also was forced to take refuge in flight. The protest against the persecution of the Brethren which he sent on May 1, 1535, to the Governor-General of Moravia, shows the exceeding boldness of the man. “Alas and woe!” he exclaimed, among other things, “and again eternal woe to you, ye Moravian lords, that you should have promised and agreed to the demands of the tyrant and enemy of divine truth, Ferdinand, to drive the pious and god-fearing out of the country, and that you should dread mortal, vain man more than the Almighty and the Lord.” [24]

This protest could produce but one result, that of making the pursuit after Huter more keen. “The authorities have hunted down Brother Jakob in a most determined manner, often exclaiming ‘If we only had Jakob Huter!’ as though they wished to imply that if he could be got rid of, everything would return to the old condition.” [25]

Huter managed, however, to escape to the Tyrol, though has no safer there than he had been in Moravia, being finally taken prisoner in Klausen, November, 1535. Of his treatment the Brethren relate: “They made him sit in ice cold water, and afterwards led him into a hot room and beat him with rods. They also wounded him in the body, and after pouring brandy into his wounds, set him alight and let him burn,” &c., &c. He was burnt early on a morning of March 1536 with great secrecy, for fear of the people.

Though their leader had fallen, the community possessed sufficient internal strength to enable it to surmount this and many another blow. In 1536 the Baptists were again allowed to assemble in Moravia, as the lords upon whose properties they had settled had recognised the economic importance of these industrious and skilful workmen during the persecution, and were glad to summon them back. Forth they came, therefore, out of all their hiding-places, and before long were able not only to repair the old injuries, but to take measures for the founding of fresh communities.

Far from doing the Baptists any harm, the persecution seemed on the contrary to have strengthened them, as it had eliminated all doubtful elements from among them. Their unanimity was much greater after the year 1536 than it had been before that date, and they thenceforth made great strides, all the other branches being finally absorbed into the Huter community.

The strictest communism was now the basis of the organisations of Moravian Baptists. To possess even the most trifling things as personal property was considered a sin. “On being condemned to death, Hans Schmidt sent his earpick to his Magdalena as a remembrance, provided the Brothers had no objection. This same Hans Schmidt paid for his faith in the community of property with his head.

“Whosoever joins himself to the Baptists is obliged to relinquish all his possessions, and give them over to the appointed directors. The communities consist chiefly of poor people, work-people, and trades-people; but we learn from the public records in the Tyrol that, quite apart from a few isolated members of the nobility, some really opulent peasants turned towards the new teaching.” [26]

Whatever a member might present to the community belonged to it absolutely, and was not merely capital advanced. Even should the donor retire or be expelled, he could not receive the contribution back.

In State and military affairs the stricter doctrines remained triumphant; the regulation being that in all equitable things the authorities were to be submitted to, but that God was to be obeyed rather than man, i.e., the Baptists reserved to themselves the right to decide the cases in which obedience was justifiable. They continued, therefore, to repudiate any share in the executive power, such as the carrying on of war, or even the payment of a war tax.

“If any man require of us something which God has not commanded, such as a tax for war, or an executioner’s wages, or other things which are not becoming to a Christian, and which are not authorised by Scripture, we must in no wise consent.” Such was the declaration of the Baptists in 1545, in a memorial to the Moravian Diet.

The development among the Baptists was different from that among the Bohemian Brethren. Among the latter the moderate side triumphed in the battle between the two conflicting opinions, while among the former the strict faction gained the mastery.

The causes for these differences must be sought in the circumstances in the midst of which the two sects lived.

The Bohemian Brethren worked among their own nation, and as soon as their community began to thrive and spread, the possibility naturally occurred to them (accompanied by the desire) of gaining the whole nation to their cause. Every attempt of practical efficacy in this direction led, however, in those days of rising commercialism, to a modification of their communistic tendencies and their abstention from politics.

The Baptists in Moravia, on the contrary, were Germans in the midst of a Czech population, and chose to remain so. They felt themselves strangers in a foreign land and could reconcile themselves without effort to remaining a small sect; a tiny circle of the “elect” and “godly” in the midst of the heathen. They had but few points of sympathy with their surroundings, and even these had no attractions for them, but drew them closer to each other.

It is a familiar phenomenon that even without communistic organisation, people of similar origin or similar language, living in the midst of a foreign population, experience a greater sense of solidarity than they feel while in their own homes.

Hence still another condition of things arose. Among the Bohemian Brethren, the advance of moderate views went hand in hand with the admission of men of letters into the Brotherhood. The learned men thus admitted within the community formed the most determined champions of the moderate opinions, perhaps because their views were broader, perhaps because they felt most keenly the loss of social status which the sect had suffered.

The learned men among the Anabaptists also were, in the majority of cases, holders of the moderate opinions. But the first persecution in Germany, which began in 1527 and lasted till the commencement of the Thirty Years’ War, swept away nearly all of them, and they have had no followers. From that time no men of letters are to be found among the Baptists, nearly all the persons of consequence being thenceforth simply working people. The hatred of learning, which had always been perceptible in most of the communistic sects during the Middle Ages and the period of the Reformation, could now display itself among them unhindered.

“The profound contempt of the Anabaptists for all literary subjects,” says Loserth, “for universities and learned individuals, has astonished their contemporaries.” Fischer, a Catholic priest, and a bigoted enemy of the Anabaptists, exclaims: “Are not these Anabaptists then chiefly vine-dressers, peasants, tradesmen; uncouth, coarse, ignorant, illiterate people, scarcely distinguishable from the common rabble? Do they not despise all the liberal arts as well as the Holy Scriptures, i.e., when the latter are of no use to them? Do they not contemn all the universities? Do they not hinder the influence of all the learned? Do they not repudiate all history?” There is much truth in what Fischer asserts. In the numerous judicial trials, and in the epistles to the communities in Moravia, they expressed unhesitatingly their contempt for the learned professions; nay, they even treated their learned judges and the missionary priests of the different Confessions somewhat disrespectfully for the same reason. [27]

The fact that after the first persecution no more learned men joined the Baptists is chiefly attributable to the circumstances which this persecution called into existence. From 1527 every one who professed the faith of the Baptists was outlawed from respectable society. If he could not make up his mind to become a peasant among peasants, a workman with workman, or to banish himself to the limits of the civilised world, then it was wiser for him, however strong his convictions of the truth of the Baptist faith, to keep them closely concealed within his own breast.

Next to these circumstances another point comes into consideration which explains the triumph of the stricter opinions among the Baptists.

The same persecution which exterminated literary men in the Baptist movement drove the great mass of the Tyrolean Brethren into Moravia; amongst them were numerous miners, who had passed through the school of capitalistic exactions, and had learnt systematic discipline and co-operation in that industry. About the same time the weavers appeared, among whom communistic enthusiasm had always been particularly strong. Thus it is chiefly due to the pressure of these circumstances that the stricter communism of the Moravian Fraternities gained the upper hand.

Like all the various kinds of Fraternities hitherto considered, the fundamental principle of this sect was the association of the consumers and the community of the means of consumption. With this was necessarily combined the abolition of the private family; but the Moravian Baptists certainly never arrived at the abolition of individual marriages. One form of this abolition – celibacy – was forbidden to them in consequence of the practice being a tenet of the Romish Church, which they opposed on the ground that it would have placed them on a level with the monks, the most detested of all the defenders of the Papacy, and the champions of the worst sort of exactions and corruptions of those times. The free intercourse of the sexes was even more opposed than celibacy to the convictions of the petty citizens, and that small peasant world, in whose sphere of thought the proletariat of that time also moved.

Greater freedom in love or marriage was more appreciated by the upper revolutionary classes – the princes, merchants, and humanist savants of the sixteenth century – than by the elements from which the Baptists were recruited. Happiness and the consciousness of their position in life were possible among the upper classes, and all the conditions of society only engendered self-satisfaction more strongly and actively, encouraging individualism and a hatred of every kind of restraint. The communists among the ill-used and downtrodden classes, on the other hand, could only hold their ground in the conflicts of their times (to some extent, at all events) by sinking their personality in a great association. These communists, with their gloomy asceticism, looked upon sexual pleasures as upon every other sort of pleasure, as something unworthy a thought; and they considered the self -assertion of individualism to be also sinful, rejecting it the more carefully in that it appeared to them to be united with wantonness and arrogance among the upper classes. The modern conception of individual sexual affection was at that time in its infancy, and its preliminary conditions were to be found rather among some of the upper classes than among the lower.

Thus in the Reformation the courtiers of the princes were the very ones who urged the easier dissolution of marriage. Luther and Melancthon even held that plurality of wives was permissible, and Luther himself declared that illicit sexual intercourse was more deserving than chastity. “All nuns and monks, who are without faith, and trust in their purity and their order, are not worthy to rock a baptized child, or to make pap for it, even if it be a bastard. Why? Because they have not God’s Word for their Orders or their life; neither may they boast that God is pleased with what they do, a boast which a woman may make even if she bear an illegitimate child.”

Amidst the communists of that time, on the contrary, the greatest strictness with regard to marriage prevailed, with few exceptions. Adultery was a serious crime, and marriage was held to be indissoluble. “What God has joined together let no man put asunder,” said the Baptists. In a case of adultery, not only was the guilty party punished with temporary exclusion, but the guiltless husband also came in for his share of condemnation. He might no longer have anything to do with the guilty party, at all events as long as the latter was not completely absolved. Any lapse with regard to this regulation drew down upon him a relentless sentence of expulsion. Thus, for example, we are told in the Chronicle of the year 1530, of one Jörg Zaunring, the successor of Wilhelm Reublin in the headship of the Auspitz community “When one, to wit Thomas Lindl, had committed adultery with the wife of Jörg Zaunring, they [perhaps the elders] only banished these two secretly; and Jörg, during the time of his wife’s punishment, renounced and withheld himself from her. But as soon as the two were again admitted and had received the pardon of their sins, Zaunring took his wife back again as before; and this being publicly known, the community could not suffer this disgrace of adultery and harlotry to be so lightly punished ... Linhard Schmerbacher, a server of the secular needs, pointed out to the community that Jörg Zaunring had by this transaction participated in the debauch, and the members at once passed sentence unanimously; because the ‘members of Christ cannot be the members of a harlot,’ these two transgressors were justly expelled from the community.” [28]

Expulsion was the severest punishment inflicted by the Baptists.

There is no trace of any community of wives. They were, on the contrary, much stricter on marriage questions than the “heathen.” But there was little of marriage left among the Baptists except the pairing. In consequence of the gloomy, joyless asceticism which interdicted dancing and courtship, individual sexual affection was more strange to them than to the mass of the population of their times: marriages, therefore, were mostly arranged by the elders (the heads of the community) similar to the pairing in Plato’s Republic, and among the Perfectionists of Oneida.

Apart from the pairing, the essential features of individual marriages were done away with by the community of housekeeping and the education of the children in common. The community was made up of households (Haushalten) scattered over the whole of Moravia. At the time of greatest prosperity there were seventy of these, in each of which from 400 to 600 persons or more lived together, and in the largest of them even 2,000. “They all had but one kitchen, one bakehouse, one brewhouse, one school, one room for women in child-bed, one room in which the mothers and the children were with each other, and so on.

“In such a household there was one who was host and householder, who purchased all the wheat, wine, wool, hemp, salt, cattle and every necessary, out of the money of all the trades and all the incomes, and divided it according to the several needs of all in the house; food for the children, the lying-in women and all other people being brought into one room, the eating-room. Sisters were appointed for the sick, who carried them their food and waited upon them.

“The very old were placed apart; and to them somewhat more was allowed than to the young and healthy, but to all a sufficiency was granted according, to their several wants and the wealth of the community.” [29]

A letter, written to the “Elder Brothers at Wintz,” gives us some details in regard to the food served at these general meals. It was indited at the time of the decline of the communities, when, driven out of Moravia, they dragged on a miserable existence in Hungary (1642). “How we keep our table with food and drink: we have meat at supper every day, and in the mornings once, twice, thrice, or four times during the week, according as the seasons serve. At the other meals we are content with vegetables.”

“Twice every day at meals a luscious drink of wine; otherwise nothing at midday, nor in the afternoon (Marend), nor in the evening; but when we go to evening prayers we receive a drink, and sometimes even have beer.

“With the bread, which is generally to be had in the house, we are quite content, even if we are not permitted to bake anything special during the whole year; this, however, we are permitted to do when there is any peculiar reason, such as for the Day of the Lord’s Remembrance, or the festivals of Easter, Whitsuntide, and Christmas.” [30]

The fare of the Geschwistriget (Brothers and Sisters), as the Baptists called themselves amongst each other, was simple but abundant. There was no fixed rule for it, but, as has been already observed, “every one received according to his needs and the common wealth.” How this was managed is shown us in a food regulation of 1509 (made for a time of famine), which portioned out the food according to age, sex, business, condition of health, &c., &c. Even this rough and primitive community stands far above the “State-kitchens” with their similarity of food and equally large portions for everybody, which Eugene Richter’s fancy has pictured in the democratic State of the Future of the twentieth century.

After the community in housekeeping, the joint training of the Baptist children is specially worthy of remark. Beck speaks of the “Spartan education of the children, who went into the general room from their mother’s breasts, and grew up strangers to their parents and to all feelings of childhood” (Beck’s history, p.17). It would have been more accurate if he had called it the Platonic instead of the Spartan education of the children. Many points put us in mind of Plato’s Republic, and others of More’s Utopia, and it is not impossible that these were borrowed from them, Plato not being unknown to the communists of that time. Münzer refers to him (compare p.121) as well as the Sebastian Franck who was so closely allied to the Baptists. The men of letters who were connected with the Baptist movement at its commencement certainly knew Plato. More’s Utopia was also pondered and discussed in the Humanist circle at Bâle, which gathered round Erasmus of Rotterdam, and influenced so many of the early learned Baptists. It is not impossible – perhaps even very probable – that suggestions from these writings were conveyed even to the uneducated Brethren by the scholars. This fact has not been proved, however, and it is not absolutely necessary to accept it in order to explain the similarity between some of Huter’s institutions and those of Plato and More; as this may have for its basis the fact that the logic of events led the uncultivated proletariat in Moravia to adopt the same course which the Greek philosopher and the English humanist have described as the outcome of their conceptions.

The followers of Huter did not go so far as Plato in taking the child from the mother immediately after its birth, and making it impossible for her to recognise it again. There was a special room for the lying-in women, another of the same kind for women nursing their infants, and the child remained with its mother in the latter. Nevertheless, at eighteen months or two years of age, we find it already at school, in the general institution for education.

This was one of the points which gave the enemies of the Baptists the greatest cause for animadversion. “The perverted Anabaptists act against nature,” wrote Fischer, the priest, in 1607. “They are less intelligent than the little birds, and more unmerciful towards their young than are the wild beasts; for, as soon as the child is weaned, it is taken from its mother and given over to the appointed Sisters. After that, schoolmasters and cross, ill-tempered governesses, who are strangers to it, strike it at times passionately and mercilessly, without love, decency, or pity. Children are thus brought up with the greatest strictness, so that many a mother, after five or six years, neither recognises nor knows her offspring, and much incest springs up from this cause.” The children brought up under such a system are miserably sickly and “swollen”.

Facts proved this not to be the case. Fischer even contradicts himself; for, in other passages, he laments over the circumstance that the well-to-do classes in Moravia preferred to take women from the Anabaptist schools as wet-nurses and children’s maids, which they certainly would not have done if the results of these schools had been so disastrous as he has implied. “God-’a-mercy! It has come to such a pitch that nearly all the women in Moravia must have none but the Anabaptist women as mid-wives, wet-nurses, and children’s maids, as if they alone were the most experienced in these things.” Nothing could testify more highly to the superiority of the communistic education than this admission of a most hostile enemy of communism.

Not only were their women in demand as instructresses for the young, but their schools also enjoyed such an excellent reputation that persons of other faiths gladly sent their children to them.

Like other communists, since the time of the Waldenses, the Huterites laid the greatest stress upon a sound popular education. Their school regulations and their rules for the masters are worthy of notice even in the present day, but they were magnificent performances for the sixteenth century, a period which, probably, represented the lowest level of pedagogism, and exhibited its cruelty and roughness in its schools.

The Baptists declare: “Hard blows will not effect much; children should be worked upon through teaching; if men possessed the fear of God, so that they could control themselves, they would require no schoolmaster.”

The Baptist schools possessed a numerous staff of schoolmasters and “school-sisters,” as well as “children’s maids” under a “school-mother.” These had charge not only of the spiritual, but also of the bodily welfare of the young.

Both training and tuition were regulated by “old customs” which were formulated in 1568, and this school system lays great stress upon the physical well-being of youth. It says, for example: “If a child be brought to school, its state of health must be carefully investigated. Should it have any bad illness, such as putrid fever, syphilis, or the like, it must be separated from the other children during sleep, and while eating and washing.”

“If a school-mother has cleansed the mouth of a sick child, she must not examine the mouth of a healthy one with unwashed fingers, but before doing so must always cleanse her fingers with a clean towel and water.” She is also to instruct the school-sisters how to clean a child’s mouth.

Great importance was universally attached to the maintenance of a most scrupulous degree of cleanliness.

The Sisters had to keep watch over the slumber of the little ones, and to refrain from striking them if they cried out somewhat in their sleep. Should one throw off its coverings, it was to be recovered, lest it should take cold. During the night nothing was to be given to a child to eat, unless it was ill. Without real necessity, no sleeping child was to be roused by force, etc etc.

Children were not to be treated with unnecessary severity. Should it be necessary to blame a child a little at spinning, instructresses were to refrain from impulsive blows. A notice to the schoolmaster was sufficient. The schoolmaster punished the big boys; the school-mother the girls. For such offences as thieving, lying, and other sins, the degree of the penalty was always to be determined with the advice of a Brother, and too severe punishments, like blows on the head or the mouth, were strictly forbidden.

The training of children was to be individual: “In the bringing up of a child, great watchfulness is required, and a fine power of discrimination; for one is best drawn by kindness, another by gifts, while a third requires strict discipline.”

These extracts from the school regulations should be enough to prove that Loserth is correct when he says they contain maxims which would do honour even to schools of modern days.

It is not known what subjects were taught by the instructors beyond reading and writing – in which all the Baptists were fairly skilled. But mental culture appears to have gone hand in hand with productive work, the girls at least being kept at the spinning-wheel from an early age.

To what age the school regulations extended is almost unknown; but on leaving school the children were sent into the various industries, or agriculture, or into the household. The primary duty in all industrial and agricultural work was to provide for the necessities of the community. Before these were supplied, no work could be undertaken for outsiders.

The Baptists, however, were excellent and diligent workmen, and their labour supplied an important surplus. Their achievements were specially prominent in the departments of horse-breeding, mills, brewing, and later on in cutlery and cloth-making as well, which became their most important trade. Here again we find wool-weaving in intimate connection with communism. The great proportion of their produce was sold, thus affording them the opportunity of steadily extending the production of certain commodities far beyond their own needs, and thereby attaining to production on a large scale in some branches of industry.

The household system and that of production had at all times been in close connection, and in earlier ages was even more conspicuous than at the period under consideration, the extent of the industrial or rural establishment determining that of the family. The capitalistic form of production altered all this by separating the workshop from the household, so that there was no longer any interdependence between the two.

The extent of the family, however, did not remain without influence upon that of the industrial establishment.

Communal housekeeping – e.g., that of the monasteries and the Beghard houses – always encouraged the tendency towards the establishment of industries and farms on a large scale. If about twenty weavers shared in a common household, they always bought the raw material in common, and manufactured it together in one place. This tendency, however, had but little opportunity for developing itself. In one of these institutions – the monastery – it was checked, because, sooner or later, these organisations invariably ceased to be associations of workmen, and became communities of idlers. And in the others – Beghard houses and similar institutions – the development was hindered by persecutions. Both of these flourished as associations for work, in an age when, socially and technically, the conditions of wholesale business were not in existence.

This was not the case with the Anabaptists in Moravia. Their institutions were more secure than most of the Beghard houses had been; nevertheless, as strangers who were only tolerated and who had suffered from the constant enmity of the rulers, they were unable to develop their households into communities of idlers, as the monasteries had done. Finally, they began at a period when numerous provisions for cooperative production were already in existence. The mining and smelting houses were already regulated and worked by capitalists on a wholesale scale. At that time the crafts also were striving in many ways to extend themselves into manufactories, and to burst the barriers raised by the guilds. If from one thousand to two thousand persons formed themselves into a common household, that household’s inherent tendency towards the establishment and development of industry and farming on a large scale must have found ample scope.

In the case of the Anabaptists “everything was carried on upon a wholesale basis, and the individual artisans worked into each other’s hands.” It was strictly forbidden to take the raw material elsewhere than from the Anabaptists themselves, always supposing that they possessed what they wanted. Thus with the butchers, the hides of the animals were delivered to the tanners, and by them prepared and handed over to the saddlers, harness-makers, and shoemakers. It was the same with the cotton department, the weavers, cloth-makers, tailors, &c., &c. Only a few raw materials like iron, refined oil, and others were bought from the outside world, and thus connection with people not included in the community was largely due to the fact that some manufactures such as knives, scythes, bolting cloths, cloth, shoes, &c., &c., found eager purchasers, not only among their own Brethren, but also among surrounding neighbours.

One of the raw materials which they bought, and which Loserth (to whom we owe these details) ought to have mentioned, was wool, as it was one of their most important commodities. Their cloth manufacture flourished to such a high degree that the Moravian wool was not sufficient to supply the demand, and they were obliged to import it, probably from Hungary.

Every trade possessed its purveyors, its distributors (or cutters-out) and foremen. The first-mentioned bought the necessary raw material wholesale; the others distributed it to the individual workmen, and supervised their systematic cooperation in its manufacture. The regulations for these offices and for production in general occupied the Brethren very much. This is proved by the numerous labour-ordinances which they have left; but, unfortunately, none of those referring to the crafts have been preserved. We have, therefore, no detailed evidence as to the height to which Baptists’ production on a large scale reached; neither do we know to what extent the division of labour and systematic co-operative work was carried in particular industries.

It is certain that they had made a great stride in advance of the guild-crafts of that day towards the manufacture system. They were always careful to stand abreast with their times in technical matters, and for this reason millers, for example, were from time to time sent to Switzerland, in order to study the business methods of that country.

Successful as they were in the handicrafts technically, they were even more so commercially, particularly as they either bought the raw material wholesale, or drew upon their own resources. It was also to their advantage that they were able to surmount the crises of trade more easily than was possible for private producers; but they could not entirely avoid occasional overproduction, since they worked wholesale for the market. Yet the results of overproduction were not very disastrous. It was only necessary for a time to employ the overplus of labour in agriculture instead of the industries, and there work never failed.

To all these advantages of the communistic wholesale trade as compared with the “individualism” of the isolated trader there was naturally joined the fact that the maintenance of each individual in large co-operative households cost much less than in the small private households of the trade-masters. And thus it cannot surprise us that from the time of the organisation of the Huter communities of Moravia, the complaints on the subject of ruinous competition made by the guild-masters against the communists were never silenced.

As early as 1545 the Fraternity declared in their memorial to the Moravian Diet: “Half of the towns, as we hear, complain and lament about us, as if we took the bread out of the mouths of the agriculturalists; but we know only this – that we apply ourselves diligently in everything to honourable work, to pay each one his penny, so that our integrity is well known in nearly all nations. Therefore, if any one unjustly complain of us, we cannot on that account deteriorate our work.”

In the year 1600 the Chronik relates: “During this year a great outcry from our adversaries has gone abroad in Moravia, that the Fraternity increases beyond measure in that country, and by their trade do no small damage and hurt to the commercial interests of the towns and boroughs. For this reason the reigning princes have resolved to forbid us to erect new households, and yet they permit the territorial lords to make use of the Brothers as workmen.” [31]

As in the system of their schools, so in their methods of production, the superiority of the Baptists over their opponents was brought most forcibly to light by the complaints of the latter. We recommend this fact to the consideration of all those who maintain that, under no circumstances, can communism be a sound economic principle.

The same cause which made the town journeymen the enemies of the Huterites, won for them the favour of the great landed proprietors upon whose estates they lived and to whom they paid rent. As it was by and through the Anabaptists that the nobility came to wealth and power, they became economically indispensable to them. Thus the Anabaptists gained economic importance, not only by their own produce, but also by their workmen who were hired by numerous employers. No small number of Sisters were engaged in private service also, as nurses and governesses, as we have already seen. At the same time, the Brothers were active in private agricultural and industrial establishments, such as mills. But they were especially popular as managers; which may probably be explained by the fact that the administration of the large households had highly developed the talent for organisation and management among them. One of their fiercest enemies, Christopher Fischer, wrathfully writes: “You have so far captivated the nobles in Moravia, that they follow your advice and lead in everything, and have given you appointments in all their establishments as cashiers, butlers, borough-stewards, millers, shepherds, masters of fisheries, gardeners, foresters, and bailiffs; you are high in consideration and repute among them, so that you eat and drink with them, and get favours of all kinds from them. Is not this what is meant by ‘to rule and to reign’?”

The staunch Fischer of course exaggerates, but it is true that the Baptists were very much sought after as stewards. Strictly speaking, however, it was not isolated individuals who were in private service, but the whole community. Individuals were employed in private service merely as the deputies of the commune. Not only were they under the discipline of the community, but they were obliged to yield up to it all their earnings; not merely their salaries and wages, but even their gratuities and presents, whether these consisted of money or anything else.

Generally speaking the enforcement of this regulation seems to have given no trouble, except in the case of the doctors. With all their contempt for learning, the Baptists greatly esteemed pharmacology and the use of mineral waters. Their surgeons had not apparently much to do with science; but they must have been very clever practitioners, for they were sought after throughout the whole country; indeed one was sometimes summoned to the Imperial Court, in spite of the horror of communism which prevailed there.

The constitution of the Fraternity was democratic. At its head stood clerical and secular officials; the former, “the Servants of the Word”, were either “apostles”, who wandered about the world to enlist new disciples, or were preachers at home; the secular functionaries, “the Servants of Need”, were the purchasers, foremen, householders and stewards. The chief authority lay with the community itself, but in order that it should not be consulted on every occasion, there was a Council of Elders, with whom the servants of the Fraternity despatched business of minor importance. At the head of the general community was a Bishop. That functionary, however, was not elected; but from among (hose who appeared to be suitable for the post, one was selected by the casting of lots, and was called “Chosen of the Lord”. He could not, however, enter on his office before the community had sanctioned the “Will of God”, and ratified the choice.

The singular commune here delineated maintained its communal existence in full strength for nearly a century, and finally fell, not from internal deterioration but through external force.

Ever since Bohemia and Moravia had come under the sway of the House of Hapsburg it had been in continual, though sometimes bloodless, war with the independent nobles of these countries. At length there came that decisive struggle which ushered in the Thirty Years’ War, and ended in the complete destruction of the nobles in the Battle of Weiss Berg, near Prague (1620). The nobility were almost annihilated, and with them fell their protégés, the Bohemian Brethren, and the other Huter communities of Moravia.

On the 22nd of February, 1622, Cardinal Dietrichstein issued letters patent by order of Ferdinand, decreeing that “all such as are attached to the Huter Fraternity, be they men or women, are not to be found, or suffered to set foot, in Moravia after the expiration of four weeks from the date notified, under pain of extreme penalty to body and life.”

On this occasion the decree of banishment did not remain on paper only. The organised Baptist community in Moravia came to an end. Many of the Baptists became Catholics, although most of them in their hearts remained true to the old teachings. and sometimes even transmitted them to the younger generation; others perished through fugitive wanderings in winter; but a portion at length succeeded, after losing nearly all their possessions, in reaching Hungary, where, as early as 1546, a branch of the Brotherhood had already established several households. The Hungarian chiefs required colonists, and received them gladly. They organised themselves in their new homes after the old methods, but were never again of any importance. The association never recovered from the frightful blow which had struck it down and robbed it of all its possessions. The state of affairs at that time in Hungary, where Turkish inroads and civil wars alternated with each other, was not such as to allow a poor community to rise to opulence. It therefore declined and perished, and with it perished its communism.

Whether the community would have stood its ground if it had been allowed to develop progressively and unmolested, can neither be positively affirmed nor denied. It is not very probable, however, that it would have succeeded in maintaining its communism permanently uninjured in the midst of the capitalist society with which it was in the closest economic relation by reason of its production of commodities and the hiring out of its labour.

In any case, however, the community of the Huterites in Moravia has the greatest significance in the history of socialism. It is the ripest fruit of heretical communism, and most clearly demonstrates to us the tendencies of the Anabaptists. Its original lines are still the same as those of the monastic system; the household is only a sort of cloister. But it makes some steps beyond this in the direction of modern socialism, because it introduces marriage into monastic communism and develops industrial production on a large scale in such a way that the latter is no longer merely an accessory to communism, but begins to form its basis.

In spite of their importance and singularity, the Anabaptist organisations in Moravia have been lost to remembrance for a long time. “It is an extraordinary thing that even the recollection of the Anabaptists in Moravia should have disappeared so universally from the popular mind, and that their memory should have been revived but a short time ago, and then only by learned historians.” [32] Thus writes a Bohemian historian in 1858. Since then learned investigations have shed a searching light upon them, thanks chiefly to the zeal of Dr. Joseph Beck, who collected extraordinarily extensive material on the subject, and himself partly published the Chronicle of the Anabaptists, which has been so often quoted here, and which appeared in 1883. After the publication, however, his bequest still offered great treasures, which Loserth has admirably brought to light. But beyond this particular history, the Moravian Anabaptists have not yet met with due consideration, while historians of the old communism have almost completely ignored them.

This need not surprise us. These writers were not actuated by a desire to comprehend socialism, but to collect materials which seemed useful for its condemnation. For such a purpose the Moravian Anabaptists were but poorly qualified. The Anabaptist insurrection in Münster appeared much more suited to this design. Hence it is this insurrection which is set forth in the usual books of history as the embodiment of the Anabaptist character. It was referred to by preference when historians wished to point out what horrors communism of necessity involved.

As a rule when one hears of the Anabaptists, he at once thinks of the outbreak in Münster; and whoever mentions them, speaks with bated breath, as of some wild Walpurgis Night.

We will see whether this is justified, and how far it is so.




19. Beck, Die Geschichtsbücher, &c, pp.49, 51.

20. Ein Gesprech Balthasar Huebmörs von Friedberg, Doktors. auff Mayster Ulrich Zwinglens zu Zurich Taufbuechlein von dem Kindertauf, Nikolsburg 1526.

21. Beck, Geschichtsbücher, p.75.

22. The letter has been printed in full as Supplement V. to Cornelius, Münsterischer Aufruhr, vol. ii. p.235.

23. Beck, Geschichtsbücher, p.99.

24. The protest is printed as Supplement XVII. to Loserth’s Anabaptismus in Tyrol bis zum Tode Huters, pp.171-175.

25. T. Beck, Geschichtsbücher, p.117.

26. Loserth, Der Kommunismus der Mährische Wiedertäufer im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert, pp.102, 106.Wien 18.

27. Loserth, Kommunismus der Wiedertäufer, p.144.

28. Beck, Geschichtsbücher, p.101.

29. Andreas Ehrenpreis, A Circular Letter ... concerning brotherly Communion, which is the highest precept of Love, 1650. Quoted by Loserth, Der kommunismus der Mährischen Wiedertäufer, p.115 sqq., Ehrenpreis, a miller who was head of the united Fraternity from 1639 to 1662.

30. Beck, Geschichtsbücher, pp.406, 407.

31. Beck, Geschichtsbücher, pp.171, 331.

32. Gindely, Geschichte derBöhmischen Brüder, vol.ii, p.19.


Last updated on 23.12.2003