Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

"Neither Mine nor Thine": Communist Experiments in Hussite Bohemia

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

"Neither Mine nor Thine": Communist Experiments in Hussite Bohemia

Article excerpt

"Henceforth, at Hradiste and Tabor there is nothing which is mine or thine. Rather, all things in the community shall be held in common for all time and no one is permitted to hold private property. The one who does commits sins mortally ... No longer shall there be a reigning king or a ruling lord; for there shall be servitude no longer. All taxes and exactions shall cease and no one shall compel another to subjection. All shall be equal as brothers and sisters."

Taborite articles 1420(1)

"Also in material concerns some have come to a common decision to renounce such things, to hold nothing of their own, neither private property nor money nor any other thing, according to the example given by the first Christian leaders, about whom it is written that they held all things in common, having nothing of their own but sharing everything with those in need ... And whichever among them possess worldly wealth, let them do with it as the gospels ordain: give to the poor, and having shared their goods out among them, let them earn their bread by the labour of their hands, for this is, indeed good ... If after that anything still remains over, let them share it with their nearest. But if, on the other hand, they are unable to supply their own material wants, let them take from their brethren, who have concurred in this decree."

Synodal decree of the Unitas Fratrum 1464(2)

I

Experiments with communist ideas in late medieval and early modern Europe represent one dimension in the pursuit of utopianism.(3) Communalism and the implementation of communism frequently were allied with reformation tactics. Such reforms were sometimes socially, but more often religiously motivated. The religious dimension of utopianism consistently drew on the volatile traditions of apocalypticism, eschatology, antichrist, and millenarianism. From the end of the eleventh century movements guided by beliefs in these motifs occurred with some regularity. Joachite prophecy and its derivatives played no small role. The twelfth-century Calabrian abbot and hermit Joachim of Fiore ostensibly had perceived the coming end of the world. Flagellant groups in Italy, French and German territories and the Low Countries, Brethren of the Free Spirit and the Lollards in England all shared a belief in the imminent end of the world.(4) Heiko Oberman has described the eve of the European reformations in terms of a "nascent apocalyptic mood" predicated upon the apocalyptic texture of late medieval thought. These traditions and convictions spurred forward groups such as the Hussites in their urge to purge in preparation for the day of the Lord. The calamitous social situation in some contexts, together with the fervent conviction in the parousia, frequently created a situation of near desperation.(5)

Because of such circumstances the intoxicating influence of idealism and utopia continued to be pressed forward. One pervasive ideal was communism. The quotations above support this notion. Apocalyptic utopianism forced eschatological expectations into a variety of concrete historical settings. The idea of communal living and the sharing of goods likewise became an historical reality, consistently in theory and sporadically in practice, for much of the fifteenth century. The idea and practice emerged in Bohemia around 1419 and cannot be considered moribund until the death of Jan Kalenec in 1547. Thereafter, the communist ideas of the Hussites passed over into the communities of the Anabaptists, Habrovany Brethren, and Bruderhofe of the Hutterites in Moravia, where they remained an historical issue for a full century until 1622.(6) Similarly these communities had contact with others of like persuasion later established in Poland, Transylvania, and the Carpathians. The axiom "neither mine nor thine" became the watchword for the Hussite attempt at realizing a viable and practical utopian society.

II

The forces unleashed in Bohemia in the context of the early Czech reformation coincided with various other influences and events both in the lands of St. …

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