The State: Its Historic R6le.
This movement which is hardly just beginning to be understood, was
for many years travestied by State and ecclesiastical historians.
The absolute liberty of the individual—who must only obey the commandments of his conscience—and Communism, were the watchwords
of this revolt. And it was only later, when Church and State succeeded
in exterminating its most ardent defenders, and juggled with it to
their own profit, that this movement, diminished and deprived of its
revolutionary character, became Luther's Reformation.
It began by Communist Anarchism preached, and in some places,
practised. And if we set aside the religious formulae, which are a tribute to that epoch, we find in it the very essence of the current of ideas
which we represent to-day: the negation of all law, both State or divine ; the conscience of each individual thus being his one and only law;
the commune—absolute master of its destinies, retaking its lands from
feudal lords, and refusing all personal or monetary service to the State.
In fact, Communism and equality put into practice. Moreover when
Denck, one of the philosophers of the Anabaptist movement, was asked
if he did not at least recognise the authority of the Bible, he answered
that the only obligatory rule of conduct is the one that each individual
finds, for himself, in the Bible. And yet these very formulae, so vague,
borrowed from ecclesiastical slang,—this authority " of the book " from
which it is so easy to borrow arguments for and against Communism,
for and against authority, and so uncertain when it comes to clearly
define what liberty is,—these very religious tendencies of the revolt, did
they not already contain the germ of an unavoidable defeat ?
Originating in towns, the movement soon spread to the country. The
peasants refused to obey anybody, and planting and old shoe on a pike
by way of a flag, they took back the lands which the lords had seized
from the village communities; they broke their bonds of serfdom, drove
away priest and judge, and constituted themselves into free communes.
And it was only by the stake, the wheel, the gibbet—it was only by
massacring more than a hundred thousand peasants in a few years, that
royal or imperial power, allied to the papal or reformed church,—
Luther inciting to massacre peasants more violently even than the Pope,
—put an end to these risings that had for a moment threatened the
constitution of nascent States.
Born of popular Anabaptism, the Lutheran Reformation, leaning on
the State, massacred the people and crushed the movement from which
it originally had derived its strength. The survivors of this immense
wave of thought took refuge in the communities of the " Moravian
Brothers," who, in their turn, were destroyed by Church and State.
Those among them who were not exterminated, sought shelter, some in