Antecedants of Socialism and anarchism in the middle ages

History and Historical European Martial Arts in the Codex Martialis

Antecedants of Socialism and anarchism in the middle ages

Postby Galloglaich » Thu May 25, 2017 7:53 pm

Moved this from the other thread to maintain flow.

And because this subject deserves a thread of it's own.

Aside from the observations of Kropotkin, I think you can say that quasi-anarchist societies seem to spring up frequently throughout the medieval period, usually lasting a while before either being taken over by some other entity or just changing form.

So in the Late Medieval alone you could look for example as the Ditmarschen in Northern Saxony / East Frisia as a kind of rural anarchist commune or a "peasant republic" as this book describes them (written by one of the most well known historians of the Teutonic Order), same for the Gray League and some of early Swiss rural confederations like in Uri, Glarus or Zug, or Schwyz, and the Samogitians in Lithuania. All of which to some extent or another were sort of self-consciously anarchist though they did not have text book perfect anarchist societies, they had functional societies which were pretty close (no strong central government) and were able to remain stable for generations, in some cases for centuries. Swiss style peasant republics were called "Landsgemeinde".

In Glarus in Switzerland they still use direct-democracy to this day, and up until the 1970's you still had to bring a sword to vote. They have been voting in this same town square since the 13th Century. Most recently to ban nude hiking ;)


There are also some smaller examples of this in Poland and Bohemia, mostly people like highlanders who lived in the border areas.

The more radical among the Hussites also had some anarchist tendencies but you could probably call them communist and socialist as well. They had varying shades of different ideological systems which competed and fought wars against each other. Some of the more radical factions were defeated by the moderates (who were kind of socialist leaning monarchists) and then formed quasi-communist or anarchist militia bands who eventually settled down in what is today Slovakia (then Northern Hungary).

The various city-states and Free Cities also passed through different political phases, some of which could be described as anarcho-syndicalist. For example the cities of Liege, Cologne, Augsburg, Zurich and Strasbourg were all taken over by their craft guilds (who defeated the elite merchants) during uprisings in the 14th-15th Centuries and were ruled by something a bit like labor unions for at least a period of several decades, which was gradually undermined by the growth of new hierarchies and political / economic elites. However their constitutions remained in some cases for centuries. This from the wiki on Liege: ... ern_Period

The strategic position of Liège has made it a frequent target of armies and insurgencies over the centuries. It was fortified early on with a castle on the steep hill that overlooks the city's western side. In 1345, the citizens of Liège rebelled against Prince-Bishop Engelbert III de la Marck, their ruler at the time, and defeated him in battle near the city. Shortly after, a unique political system formed in Liège, whereby the city's 32 guilds shared sole political control of the municipal government. Each person on the register of each guild was eligible to participate, and each guild's voice was equal, making it the most democratic system that the Low Countries had ever known. The system spread to Utrecht, and left a democratic spirit in Liège that survived the Middle Ages.[8]

You could call that something like radical democracy but it's also basically anarcho-syndicalism.

To a lesser extent most of the Free Cities and City-States went through shorter phases like this or had elements of this as part of their political makeup in some kind of hybrid, due to the power sharing arrangements which were so common after political compromises between the estates which were called "Rezess" in the German towns. A good example of that is the incident which led to the first Hamburg constitution. Hamburg is an example of a good city to study since they were a Republic for nearly 1000 years.

There were also anarchistic pirate bands like the Victual Brothers and the Likedeelers, who also had communist or class-war overtones.

Even a lot of mercenary companies had kind of anarchistic or socialistic political structures and it was not unusual to for example vote to elect the leaders. When the Germans decided to consciously emulate the Swiss mercenary bands (Reislauffer) they included this practice of having their own elections and courts and etc. in the Landsknecht companies.

A lot of the political reform movements in the 15th and 16th Centuries were very communist leaning as were several of the religious movements. The Franciscans tended toward Communism or Socialism, as did the Hussites who I already mentioned, and many of the peasant uprisings and so forth. Of course this all gets mixed together with religious sects and religious- sectarian conflict.

The example of the 16th Century Anabaptist uprising and revolution in Munster is kind of the classic story arc of the Communist uprising that turns into a sort of Maoism or Stalinism. That was not particularly unusual either, but that one is particularly well documented.
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