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Utopias and Communistic Experiments: Socialistic Fallacies, Part One

Yves Guyot surveys the long history of utopian socialism, from Plato’s lofty speculations to the Jesuits’ brutal exploitation of Paraguay.

Editor’s Note

Yves Guyot was born in Brittany, France and spent his entire lifetime studying the social sciences. Hopping in between public and private life, Guyot dabbled in journalism and academic editorial work and held a variety of political offices. He founded and participated in voluntary academic societies including the School of Anthropology and the Political Economy Society. Guyot was a staunch liberal, a firm anti-socialist, and even lent his support to feminism. By his death in February 1928, he had written dozens of books on economic policy, theory, politics, social thought, history, current events, imperialism, and even a few novels. In the current series, we will explore Guyot’s excellent book Socialistic Fallacies in six parts.

We begin with ancient Greece and proceed forth to the Spanish conquest of the Americas. In these sections, a major theme is established: socialism is really a misguided project in Utopia. While Marx and his cohort of German empiricists might have us believe socialism is a fact of history, entirely unavoidable, Guyot forcefully suggests that what few true attempts at socialism or communism have been made resulted in such catastrophic failure and decay that it has hitherto discouraged emulation. Despite Plato’s diligence in sculpting the ideal Republic, our author notes that virtually no one ever implemented the ideas. Thomas More’s utopianism, by contrast, was implemented when the radical Anabaptists controlled Munster, Germany in 1535-1536. The city practically consumed itself. In the New World, the Inca and Paraguayan natives suffered under theocratic regimes in which the state owned and controlled all property and could regulate any behavior. Guyot argues that the Incan brand of state socialism resulted in a true anarchy and easy pickings for Spanish conquistadors. Centuries later, the Jesuits owned and operated Paraguay as a state socialistic enterprise (if you’ll pardon the expression). In many ways, the Jesuit operation is a wonderful representation of what socialism actually produces when put into practice—those subject to the body corporate are relegated to slavery producing for those who operate the state. The conditions of that slavery may be better or worse, but the class relationship remains so long as the state remains. When socialists empower the state by forcing reality into compliance with their own private utopia, the dreamy visions quickly retreat and nightmares manifest.

Anthony Comegna, PhD
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History

Socialistic Fallacies

By Yves Guyot. New York: The MacMillan Company. 1910. 27-45 (Excerpts).

Book I. Utopias and Communistic Experiments.

Chapter I: Plato’s Romance

Von Kircheheim…has traced the history of politico-economic romances after Sudre, Reybaud, Moll and others. These works all present a family likeness and are founded on the ancient conception of a golden age, an Eden, an ideal existing in a far distant past—a conception which survives in such writers as Karl Marx, Engels and Paul Lafargue, who would have all the ills of humanity date from the moment when the communism of primitive societies came to an end. All these conceptions seek to confer the governing power upon the wisest: Plato gives it to the philosophers, and the same idea reappears in Auguste Comte. They are all founded upon the suppression of private interest as the motive of human actions, and the substitution of altruism (to use the word coined by Auguste Comte), to attain which their authors abolish private property, and those among them who are logical set up the community of women.

Nearly all these writers constitute castes. Plato proclaims the necessity of slavery and declares that the occupations of a shoemaker and a blacksmith degrade those who follow them. Labourers, artisans, and traders form a caste whose duty it is to produce for warriors and philosophers and to obey them. In the “Republic” the caste of warriors only possesses property collectively, the abolition of private property being in Plato’s opinion the best means of preventing the abuse of power. The annual unions between men and women are to be decided by lot, controlled by expert magistrates, careful to ensure the most favourable conditions for the reproduction of the species, the army being treated like a stud.

We saw a caste organization of this kind for three centuries in Egypt, a college of Ulemas and a corps of Mamelukes recruited from among children with no family ties, all exploiting the miserable fellahs until they were completely exhausted.

In his “Laws,” in which he attempts to work out his conception in detail, Plato fixes the number of citizens at 5,040, each with a share in the public lands, the equal produce of which is sufficient to support one family. These lands are indivisible and inalienable, and are transmitted by hereditary succession to the son who is appointed to receive them. The State is divided, in honour of the twelve months of the year, into twelve districts, in which numerous officials, as well as the councils, reside. The police enter into the minutest details of the life of every individual; until the age of forty travelling is forbidden. The police must see to it that the number of citizens shall neither increase nor diminish. The industrial occupations are followed by slaves controlled by a class of free labourers without political rights; commerce is left to strangers. A citizen of the Platonic city may not possess precious metals or lend out money at interest. Moreover, if Plato, in order to put his conceptions of the State into practice, reverts to individual property, he continues to proclaim that “the community of women and children and of property in which the private and the individual is altogether banished from life” is the highest form of the State and of virtue.

Plato’s speculations exercised no influence upon the legislation and the politics of antiquity. Xenophon, on the contrary, set forth the conception of an ideal monarchy in the Cyropaedia, everything being conceived upon a utilitarian basis.

Three centuries after Christ, Plotinus, who was ashamed of having a body, and desired to free the divine element which was in him, dreamed of founding in Campania a State upon the model conceived by Plato—this desire remained in the region of dreams.

Communism was only carried out in monasteries, whose existence was based upon the two principles of separation of the sexes and contributions of the faithful.

Chapter II. The Kingdom of the Incas

In South America an organization existed for several centuries in which true Socialists still point as an ideal. In the sixteenth century Garcilaso de la Vega, a Spaniard, wrote a history of the Incas, so full of admiration for them that he made their power extend back for thousands of years, whereas at the time of the landing of the Spaniards their empire only dated back for five hundred years. They are looked upon as a clan of the race of Aymara, which has left the great ruins of Tiahuanaco on the shores of Lake Titicaca. They created the legend of Inti, the sun-god, who, out of pity for the savage denizens of the mountains of Peru sent them his son Manco Capak and his sister and wife, Mama Ocllo. These taught men to build houses and women and girls to weave. At first their power did not extend beyond the kingdom of Cuzco, confined within narrow limits. The fourth of the Inca kings, Maita Capak, was the conqueror of Alcaziva, a descendant of the vassal-chiefs of Cuzco. His three successors extended their dominions by conquest. They constituted a warrior caste with the combatants from the conquered peoples whom they dispossessed, and in order to employ it their successors added to their conquests. They did not fall upon their enemies: they demanded their submission, and frequently on obtaining it they made a vassal of a conquered chief. They secured their authority by means of garrisons and established large victualling depots for their soldiers. The rule of the Incas was not preserved from trouble; in spite of all their efforts their power met with resistance and provoked revolt.

One of its characteristics was that it was a military theocracy. The Inca, son and priest of the sun, was the absolute master of person and of property, of act and of will. He was the sole holder of property, but he had divided the soil into three portions between sun, Inca and subjects. He was also the sole owner of the flocks of llamas. Officials collected the wool and distributed it among those who were charged with stapling it; they slaughtered sufficient llamas to support the Inca. The mines of gold and silver were developed for the benefit of the Inca, but, inasmuch as there was no commerce, the precious metals were used only for ornament.

There were no taxes, the entire labour of each individual being due to the State. A piece of land was allotted to each family, which consisted by one half at the birth of each son and by a quarter at the birth of a daughter. It constituted the administrative unit, and an official was told off for the purpose of taking care of it and of supervision. Ten families formed a group of one hundred occupiers and of ten officials under the supervision of a chief. Next came ten times a hundred families and ten times a hundred officials, and ten thousand families, with a like number of officials, constituted a province. The governors of a province, who were, as far as possible, members of the family of the Incas, and the principal overseers of the smaller groups were bound to appear at the court of the Inca from time to time and to transmit reports regularly. They were under the constant supervision of inspectors, and when a family was in default, it was punished, as were also its overseers of different degrees who had failed to exact its obedience.

Everyone, both male and female, was compelled to work. At the age of twenty-five it became the duty of the young Peruvian to marry, a day in each year being consecrated to this ceremony. The officials pointed out to each youth the maiden whom they decided to bestow upon him; a piece of land with a house was already too populous, they were sent to new territories. The young men were liable to military service, while a number of young girls were selected to work in monasteries in which they were bound over to chastity under penalty of death. The lands of the sun and of the Inca were cultivated in common as State lands. The overseers conducted those over whom they had jurisdiction to labour as though to a festival, but they first flogged and afterwards hanged them if they refused to perform their share of the work. The same punishment was inflicted upon anyone who ventured to cease work without permission; old men and children were obliged to supply their contingent. Yet the Incas made no attempt to introduce this system in all the provinces which they had conquered.

The Spaniards landed in America during the period when Huacna Capak was occupied in reducing Quito, where he forgot his wife and his son Thrascar and violated the law of the Incas by taking to wife a woman who was not of their race. By her he had a son, Atahualpa, who became his favourite, and to whom he bequeathed the Kingdom of Quito, the Kingdom of Cuzco falling to Thrascar. A quarrel broke out: Atahualpa descended upon Cuzco with his warriors, gained a victory and put the Incas to the sword. When Pizarro landed in Peru he found the country in a state of anarchy, which explains the ease with which he succeeded.

Chapter III. Sir Thomas More’s “Utopia” and Its Applications


Thomas More, Chancellor of England, published his Utopia at Louvain in 1516. The book consists of a critical part dealing with the government of England and contemporary politics, and of a part setting forth forth the organization of a communistic society. More was familiar with the humanists from whom he drew his inspiration as well as with the travels of Columbus, of Peter Martyr and of Amerigo Vespucci. Columbus had spoken of peoples who held everything in common, living under the unlimited authority of a cacique, who spoke in the name of a divinity. Amerigo Vespucci had seen peoples living in a more or less anarchical state of communism, huddled in large barns containing some hundreds of persons.

More proceeded to trace the ideal of what Paul Lafargue calls the return of communism. There are too many poor people in Europe. To abolish property is to abolish the difference between poor and rich. The Utopians conclude that this will be for the benefit of the poor. The inference does not follow, for the abolition of property cannot be a factor in the accumulation of wealth.

More sets out in his comfortable fashion the geography of the Isle of Utopia. He places therein fifty-four cities, all built upon the same plan and with identical institutions; a territory of not less than twenty miles square in extent, the duty of cultivating which is apportioned between a certain number of families, is attached to each town: each family consists of no fewer than forty men and women and of two bondmen. Every year twenty citizens who have spent two years in cultivating the land return to the town and are replaced by twenty others. All the inhabitants of Utopia, both men and women, labour, but only for six hours a day. They have few wants, their clothing is made of leather and skins which will last for seven years. Their meals are taken in common, the women being seated opposite to the men. Travelling is rendered almost impossible. Every town is to contain six thousand families: when a particular family is too rich in children, it bestows some of them upon those which have not enough. Marriage is surrounded with formalities; the community of women is unknown, and adultery involves slavery.

The form of government consists of a prince elected for life and of a body of magistrates and officers elected for on year. The Utopians are men of peace, but they make war at need and employ mercenaries to carry it on. Religious liberty is established, but whosoever does not believe in the existence of Providence and in the immortality of the soul in incapable of receiving employment…


In 1525 Thomas Munzer, a Protestant pastor in Saxony, at the suggestion of his master, Storch, who was inspired by the Bible and by More, attempted to put the “Utopia” into practice. After having attempted to cause a rising in Suabia, Franconia and Alsace, he succeeded in driving out the town council of Muhlhausen and in installing himself in the Johannisterhof on March 17th, 1525. The rich were commanded to feed and clothe the poor and to provide them with seeds and with land upon which they might work: the majority of them fled, as is usual with them at times of crisis. Thomas Munzer spoke as a prophet and dealt out justice with the freedom of a delegate of Heaven. He sought to raise the miners of the Erzebirge by telling them to rise and fight the battle of the Lord. “If you do not slay, you will be slain. It is impossible to speak to you of God so long as a noble or a priest remains upon earth.” Munzer sallied forth from Muhlhausen at the head of a kind of army. He mounted a black charger and was preceded by a white banner, upon which shone a rainbow. His bands laid waste and massacred throughout their career: after an initial defeat at Fulda, they were destroyed at a place which has since been known as the Schlachtberg (Battle Mountain), despite the invocations of Munzer to the Lord. Munzer himself was taken, tortured and beheaded.


Munzer left behind him Anabaptists, who scattered themselves over Switzerland, Moravia, and Low Countries, and North-West Germany. A baker of Haarlem, called Mathias, in a book entitled “La Retaruation,” declared that every human individual must be regenerated by means of a new baptism, that princes, taxes and the administration of justice must be suppressed, and polygamy and the community of goods established. The Anabaptists inaugurated their rule at Munster on February 1st, 1534.  They commenced by demolishing the church towers, for greatness must be laid low, and in burning the holy images. They commanded everyone under pain of death to come and deposit their money and articles of value at a given house. The doors of the houses were to be left open day and night, but they might be protected by a small railing in order to preserve them from invasion by the pigs which swarmed in the streets.

Mathias having been killed in an attack upon the troops of the Duke of Gueldres, a former innkeeper of Leyden, known as John of Leyden, affirmed that his death was a sign of the grace conferred by God upon his prophet, claimed to be inspired by the Bible, entered into communion with the Spirit of God, and in the first instance nominated twelve judges of the people, following the example of the Judges of Israel; but on encountering some opposition among them he declared that God in a fresh revelation had commanded him to assume absolute power and to become the king of the New Zion. A comrade called Tuschocheirer, perhaps in good faith, declared that God Himself had confirmed to him His command given to john of Leyden to ascend the throne of David, to draw the holy sword against kings, to extend His kingdom throughout the world, giving bread to those who submitted and death to those who resisted. In order to contend with the kings he anointed himself as King of the New Zion, arrayed himself in a robe made out of the silver embroideries of the churches, and a coat picked out with pieces of purple and decorated with shoulder knots of gold, put on a golden crown and a cap studded with precious stones, and displayed upon his breast a magnificent chain supporting a symbolic globe which bore the inscription, “King of justice on earth.” He never appeared without an escort with richly-caparisoned horses, and installed himself on a throne set up in the public square, where he combined the functions of legislator and of judge.

He married fifteen wives. For had not Solomon many wives? And is not the first commandment of God crescite et multiplicamini? How could a monogamist observe this commandment during the pregnancy of his wife? Upon one of his wives failing in respect, he tried, condemned and executed her himself, and danced before her corpse with his other wives in imitation of David, while the rabble followed suit to the cry of “Gloria in excelsis!”

The Anabaptists were defeated and massacred at Amsterdam: Famine raged at Munster; on June 25th, 1535, the troops of the Bishop of Munster entered the town and the orgies of the Anabaptists were succeeded by those of the forces of order. John of Leyden was put to the torture, exhibited in an iron cage, which may still be seen, and was finally executed on January 22nd, 1536. At the end of ten years the Anabaptists, who had proposed to conquer the world, were crushed, massacred and scattered abroad. These communists had found at Muhlhausen and at Munster but one form of government—the absolute rule of a prophet and under him nothing but a mob and a rabble.

After their fall the Anabaptists founded communities in Moravia in true monastic form, although marriage was permitted. They were obliged to labour even on Sundays, and to preserve perpetual silence. These people, surrounded as they were by enemies, found occasion to dispute among themselves: they excommunicated one another, and when they were not disputing they gave way to intoxication, all of them striving to escape from the terrible oppression resulting from their communism…

Chapter V. Paraguay

[In the early 1600s, the Jesuits] had obtained certain privileges from Philip III., but Diego Martin Neyroni, the Governor of the Spanish possessions from 1601 to 1615, drove them back into the countries of Guaycuru and Guarani, where they succeeded in becoming independent of the Spanish viceroys and in refusing to tolerate the presence of any Spaniard. They found there a population accommodating enough to submit to a discipline under which a few hundred Jesuits were enabled to govern a territory extending from the Andes to the Portuguese possessions in Brazil, comprising the valley of Paraguay and part of the valleys of Parana and of Uruguay, and covering an area of four or five times the size of France.

In addition to their central establishment they had thirty-one others, which they called “Reductions.”

According to Alexander von Humboldt, the Jesuits proceeded to the conquest of souls by flinging themselves upon the tribe they selected, setting fire to their huts and taking away as prisoners men, women and children. They then distributed them among their missions, taking care to separate them in order to prevent them from combining. These prisoners were slaves, of whom the house of Cordova possessed three thousand five hundred at the time of the suppression of the Order.

Conversions were effected with great dispatch by touching the converts with damp linen. The baptism being then complete, they sent the certificates to Rome. Each tribe had two rulers, a senior who was concerned with the temporal administration, and a vicar who carried out the spiritual functions.

They did not establish any system of municipal laws, for which there was no necessity, either to regulate the condition of families (for there was no right of succession and all children were supported at the charges of the Society) or to determine the nature and the division of property, all of which was held in common. Neither was there any criminal legislation, the Jesuit fathers correcting the Indians under no rules other than their own wills, tempered by custom.

Although labour in common was the rule, the Jesuits were obliged to make some concession to the desire for private property and to the need for personal service. There therefore granted a small piece of land to each family with liberty to cultivate it on two days in each week. They also gave occasional permission to the men to go hunting or fishing on condition of their making the heads of the mission presents of game or of fish.

Two hours of every day were set apart for prayers and seven for work, except on Sundays, when prayers occupied four or five hours. Every morning before daybreak the entire population, including infants who were hardly weaned, assembled at church for hymns and prayers, and the roll was called, after which everyone kissed the hands of the missionary. Some were then taken by native chiefs to labour in the fields and others to the workshops. The women had to roast sufficient corn for the needs of the day and to spin an ounce of cotton.

Every morning during mass broth was made of barley meal, without fat or salt, in large cauldrons placed in the middle of the public square. Rations were taken to the dwellers in each hut in vessels made of bark, and the scrapings were divded among the children who had acquitted themselves best in their catechism. At midday more broth was distributed, a little thicker than that which was supplied in the morning, containing a mixture of flour, maize, peas and beans. The Indians then resumed their work, and on their return kissed the hand of the priest and received a further ration of broth similar to that of which they had partaken in the morning. Although cattle were plentiful, according to some accounts, meat was only distributed in exceptional cases or to men who were at work; according to others it was distributed daily. Probably each “Reduction” followed its own particular system according to the amount of its resources. Salt was scarce, a small bowl being served out to each family on Sundays.

Regulations fixed the amount of cloth, which was given annually, to men at six “varas” (five yards) and to women at five “varas.” This they made into a kind of shirt which covered them very indifferently. They had neither drawers, shoes, nor hats. Children of either sex went naked until they attained the age of nine.

Their huts, which were very small and low, were round. The framework consisted of posts driven into the ground and joined at the tops, trusses of straw being spread upon them to protect the inside. The inhabitants were crowded into them to the number of fifteen for each hut, of which an accumulation formed a town. There were no dwellers in the open country, owing to the difficulties of supervision. In the centre of a town stood the church, and beside it were the college of the fathers, the stores and the workshops. The streets were regularly laid out and planted with trees, and each town was encircled by an impenetrable hedge of cactus. The church was built with the sham elaboration and filled with the tinsel which are the characteristics of Jesuit art. Music was performed in them, choirs organized, and religious exercises practiced, among which self-flagellations, to which women and girls submitted themselves, crowns of thorns, and positions representing crucifixions were to strike the imaginations of the natives.

The Jesuits selected from among their own members corregidors to watch over conduct, to supervise the regular performance of the religious ceremonies and to direct and control labour. These held office for two years. A native was never elevated to the dignity of a priest. The Jesuits solemnized marriages twice a year, but the community of goods had a sinister influence in encouraging the community of women.

The fathers were the guardians of virtue as of everything else. Of their manner of exercising their functions I will only quote from Bougainville, who was at Buenos Ayres at the time of the expulsion of the Jesuits, this passage: “My pen refuses to record the details of what the people allege. The passions aroused are still too recent to allow of the possibility of distinguishing the false charges from the true.” Clearly it was not respect for the native women and girls that could restrain the fathers, and we perceive once again the danger of confounding moral order with that which is imposed by legal institutions. The former had put an end to the latter, and there was no security either for person or for property. Every Jesuit was at one and the same time confessor, legislator and judge, and if he despised the office of executioner he nevertheless superintended the process of execution.

The Jesuits converted every Indian into an informer at the moment when he made confession, and when one of those whose confession had previously been made approached him, the Jesuit found no difficulty in convicting him. Punishments were not of a spiritual nature; they consisted of lashes with leather thongs inflicted upon men in public and upon women in secret, a father or a husband being frequently charged with the office of executioner, the culprit being finally constrained to kiss the hand of the father who had caused him to be chastised. Offences were of two kinds, offences against doctrine, failure to attend a religious ceremony and the like, and offences against economic obligations, such as negligence in work or even losing seed or cattle, which the fathers would replace without objection, but with the addition of a thorough whipping.

Commerce was prohibited and money unknown. There was no trade except with the foreigner, and this was undertaken solely by the Jesuits. It is estimated that they were able to collect from one to two millions of ecus annually, of which one half was remitted to the General of the Order. Naturally the natives had no share in it.

The natives were not allowed the use of horses for fear lest they should depart from their settlements; they were not permitted to go beyond fixed bounds, on pain of the lash if they disobeyed. They worked very badly and very little. Antonio de Ulloa says that seventy labourers were required where eight or ten Europeans of moderate capacity would have sufficed. They lived in a state of wretched and abject inertia. One fact alone proves their condition of stagnation. Although a bell called them nightly to the performance of their conjugal duties, the population failed to increase. When the Jesuits were expelled in 1768, they left a population in a miserable condition such as Bougainville and La Perouse have described…

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