Was Jesus a Socialist?

The People
February 1997
Vol. 106 No. 11

100 Years Ago in THE PEOPLE

WAS JESUS A SOCIALIST?

(THE PEOPLE, Feb. 14, 1897)

The Terre Haute, Ind., RAILWAY TIMES, in its laudable, but untrained anxiety to promote socialism, is in danger of doing more mischief than good. In its issue of the 1st instant it argues extensively in favor of the claim that "Jesus was a Socialist."

In the language of Comrade Jules Guesde, held in the French Chamber recently, and published a few weeks ago in these columns, all the noble hearts and noble minds of the past who have truly felt pity for the oppressed and strove to improve their lot, and above all, all those among them, who, true to themselves, had the manhood to carry their great ideal to the scaffold, may justly be claimed by the Socialists as their traditional precursors, but not as their intellectual ancestors.

Jesus could not be a Socialist. To understand this is to be proof against the many sidetracking allurements that beset the path of the modern and militant Socialist.

Socialism is not an aim, it is the means to an object. The object is now, as it long has been, to remove popular, undeserved suffering. The means to that end could not be socialism until material conditions engendered socialist thought. The mere existence of misery is not the material condition precedent for socialist thought. The material condition precedent therefore is the existence of such tools of production as compel cooperative labor, and, therefore, compel the collective ownership of these tools as the means to escape a continued and intensified condition of popular degradation. Socialism, while certainly animated by the noblest motives of all times, is an economic-political movement that begins and ends with the demand that the machinery of production, which is necessarily operated collectively shall be as collectively owned. Such a thought could not rise 1,897 years ago for the simple reason that no such machinery of production was then in existence, those being the days, infant days at that, of individual production by small and individual tools.

At that stage of man's career, and so long as the present machine had not yet appeared, popular poverty could not be abolished, for the simple reason that there was not enough producible for all. The best that a feeling heart could then do was to transfer to himself the distress of others. Where there is but one blanket and there are two men, one has to go cold. If A. has the blanket and B. is freezing, A. may pity B. and pass his blanket over to him; but then, the cold that B. suffered is not suppressed; it is passed over to A. Such was the nature of the apostolic communities. It could be none other. Today, however, we no longer need to shift misery about, we can abolish it: instead of there being one blanket for two men, there are now four to two; and this is the result of the cooperative labor of men who are, by the very nature of their tools, compelled to work together.

To maintain that Jesus was a Socialist is to ignore the reason why socialism is today a necessary thing. The center of gravity of the great movement of our day is thereby removed from its intellectual basis, where it belongs, to a purely sentimental basis that exposes it to be wrecked by that most dangerous of all elements: the well meaning but untutored.