Updated Jan 2006












1. The actors: states, capital and peoples' movements
2. The stage: the world
3. Peoples' movements before the world market system
4. Local communities' defence against the world market system
5. Wage labourers' defence against capital owners
6. System peripheries' defence against the center
7. Agriculturalists' defence against the food markets
8. Marginalized peoples' aspiration for equality
9. The self-defence of civil society
10. The peoples' movement system
In Swedish

The Carriers of Democracy

The global peoples' movement system


Chapter 3: Peoples' movements before the world market system


The author will appreciate corrections of language as well as content.

by Jan Wiklund

Late medieval peoples' movements


During the era of the world market system, most social movements of any importance are directed against instances of the "development" or "modernization" of this system. Most social movement scientists seem to agree about that [1].

But there have been categories struck by exploitation, repression or discrimination in all class societies. Therefore, there have been bases for peoples' movements in different systems. Some of these have attained such an intense identity that they still live as traditions and identities, and their languages can be used by present peoples' movements, as well as their adversaries. The difficulties they have met are not unlike the difficulties met by contemporary peoples' movements.


Peoples' movements against the classical empires


During the last millennium before our era, great empires appeared on the Eurasian continent. Small, independent peasant republics with a strong tribal solidarity were victims of centralised, bureaucratically ruled empires, around the Mediterranean, in West Asia, in India and in China. A cosmopolitan city culture replaced the local rural cultures. The political centralization and the new metropolitan economies reduced violently the influence of local collectives over their lives and favoured great floods of wealth, accentuating the division of people into classes. The national political pattern - the good city, maintained by citizens in the spirit of the locally developed tradition - was turned meaningless as answer to the new issues of mass misery.

The task to protect people and civil society against these empires was settled differently in different parts of the Eurasian continent.

In the west, around the Mediterranean, the Jewish-Christian movements took upon itself to protect human dignity in a society ravaged by political projects. Christianity grew successively out of four concrete conflicts [2].

The first conflict, the one that created the Jewish people as a collective, was fought between the Egyptian cities in what is today Palestine and the exploited country people. In a period of weakness for the Egypt state, the latter succeeded in destroying the cities and establish a society built on equality and collective security, in a conscious contrast to the hierarchical rule of the surrounding empires. It was this equality thatlater reform movement up to Jesus defended.

The second conflict arose with an increasing trade and class differentiation, between on the one hand the proletarized Jewish peasants and artisans, on the other the merchants of the cities in the eastern Mediterranean. The merchants argued that economic growth was the aim of society, and that class differentiation was necessary. Against this the prophets, representatives of the peasants and artisans, maintained that wealth was meaningless without justice. From that position, the Jewish people could for some time force through a national social policy and a protection against impoverishment.

The third conflict occurred between the Jewish society and the Assyrian empire in the sixth century BOE. The state ideology of the empire was social-darwinist: might is right, and development is inevitable. As a self-defence as a small nation the Jews formulated the position that nobody needs any particular excuse for his existence. Life is given by a principle, higher than both empire and development. From that position they were able to offer resistance against the claims of the empire.

The fourth conflict arose when the Jewish national state once more had perished for an empire, the Roman. This was the time Jesus appeared. He broke with the nationalists, those who maintained that solidarity only was valid within the collective, and asserted the solidarity and equal value of all, irrespectively of nationality. Furthermore, he maintained that the aim of life could not be a political project, or to build the perfect state to protect justice, or to maintain the perfect routines. Instead, Jesus insisted contrary to those who waited for a political "saviour", the good life can only be uphold through the practical solidarity of all, in everyday life.

Around this program, a strong movement grew, primarily based in the urban lower classes, and in women who used Christianity as a way of escaping the Mediterranean patriarchy. The movement differed from competing movement in that it asserted universality: it was no association comprising members and excluding non-members; all humans were implicated in principle, and all had an equal value. Contrary to other movements the didn't claim any particular secrets or knowledge. Solidarity in practice was placed at the core. Communes created a nucleus. Together, they constituted parishes. The model of action was organising of common, non-bureaucratical friendly societies, safeguarding security, and organising a public: to eat together, to keep festivals and rites marking the equality of all, and to reflect over the principles of the movement through telling stories to eachother.

With time, a need for functionaries appeared. The first functionaries were the deacons who run the friendly societies and social works. Next category was the supervisors, or episkopos in Greek, as the chairman of the parish. Finally aldermen - presbyter in Greek - were appointed among those who were considered particularly skilled in interpreting the common ideology. Originally all these were elected by the members.

From the first centuries, the dynamic Christian movement attracted many of the most competent intellectuals of the Roman empire. It was considered natural that these took on to be ideological interpreters and external representatives for the movement. After some hundred years, this layer had liberated itself from the restraints of being elected by the members, and replenished themselves through cooption. Kippenberg suggests that this power concentration in the movement as a whole depended on their control over the welfare bureaucracy and its resources.

When the movement grew and more and more categories joined it, internal conflicts appeared, conflicts that sometimes turned violent.

One conflict, that runs through the whole history of the church, is the conflict between those who interpret the demand for solidarity as justice for the poor, and those more wealthy members who don't make any such demands.

This conflict is intersected with the conflict between functionaries and intellectuals who like to imagine that the core of the movement is the perfect ideology, and those, primarily laymen, who primarily are interested in practice.

The first great conflict was won by the laymen. This was the struggle about gnosticism, a tremendously elaborated system of theory, which during the late second century got popular among many intellectuals, among other things because of its insistence on knowledge as a criterion for human value. Against this theoretical system, laymen set up tradition as conclusive; only what had been tried in practice and in discussion could have any significance.

But the victory had a price. It forced through an argumentation along the opposite party's, the intellectual elite's conditions. Instead of being marked off in practical solidarity, philosophical doctrines became what signified Christians from their opponents. For that reason, the power of the intellectuals got a long-run boost; their issues got more marked in the self-understanding of the church.

Another price had to be paid; the victory for the laymen had to be paid by the lay women. They had to a great extent stood by the gnostic knowledge hierarchies as an alternative to the patriarchy of the Roman world; they set power of the mind against male power. The defeat of gnosticism was also a defeat for women, and the functionaries fortified their position in building a patriarchal hierarchy of male bishops [3].

The conflicts between rich and poor tended to be played out about the demands for devotion, a puritan way of life, and collectivism, where the poor made tougher demands than the rich who had their privileges to defend. This conflict was constantly smouldering but flared sometimes up violently.

The first of these conflicts, dividing the movement, was the struggle about donatism, which concerned how functionaries should deal with the state.

The attitude of the state towards the Christian movement had varied according to circumstance. The Roman state was tolerant in principle, as long as people paid their taxes and obeyed the laws. But the regime liked control. For that reason it demanded now and then that the Christian functionaries should register name-lists and protocols. Some did so, and got their names on the list. Others refused; they were sent to the quarries and some of them were killed.

Donatism was a refuser's front centered on North Africa, which emphasized devotion and a puritan way of life. They had support from rebellious peasants warring against Roman tax-collectors. But had also a substantial support in the whole church. When it was finally defeated on a bishop's meeting in 411, it was defeated with the figures 286-279, under government pressure.

The struggle between donatists and compromisers played a crucial part for the Christian movement's "assumption of power" in the 310s.

Behind the alliance between state and church was the government's need for organised support. Fewer and fewer were inclined to pay for the top-heavy Roman empire, and the whole system run risk of falling to pieces in civil wars and rebellions. But there was one strong organisation covering the whole empire, with 15-25 percent of the population involved: the Christian movement. It was not sectarian, it claimed all humans to implicated. The Roman imperial candidate Constantine concluded that the Christian church was an effective power-base, and this was correct.

The church, in Constantine's mind, was the compromising functionaries, and he cooperated intimately with them. Since their names were listed, it was easy for the government, when Constantine had won, to begin paying subsidies to them, subsidies they used to strengthen their hold in the internal power struggle [4].

The alliance with the state was favourable for the movement's functionaries. The got huge privileges: tax exemptions, exemption from conscription, legal immunity, and government support in internal conflicts. Their position within the movement was strengthened.

However, the conflicts went on. Within the church as ruling party, there was a marked tendency for national conflicts, masked as doctrinary ones. Opposition tended to concentrate in Syria and Egypt, regions that by custom were bitter over Roman or Byzantine sovereignty and taxation.

The privileges for the church had to be bought at a price. Firstly, the church had to subordinate its policy to government dictates, as long as the Roman empire survived. Secondly, the distance in interest between members and functionaries grew.

The core of the first Christian movement had consisted in parish members living in communes. When the curch grew, and also rich people joined, these communes lost their importance. But with the increasing corruption in the Christian leadership an aspiration arouse among many Christians to revive the old spirit, to get away from the mundane world and create alternative societies, new communes founded in a puritan way of living and devotion for the cause. The first monastery was established in Egypt in 321, less than ten years after Constantine's alliance with the church.

The monastery movement soon manifested itself as extremely successful. It was supported by the state and by the Christian leadership, insofar that it was the only lawful way of expressing one's discontent with the growing social disparities within the church. But the monasteries were also, thanks to their puritanism, their devotion, and their collective, disciplined work, much more effective as producers than others in the Roman empire. For that reason, they were soon, apart from being cultural centers in the Christian world and distributors of new effective technologies, very rich. And for that reason they soon lost their appeal as utopias for the poor; they began to limit their recruitment to the upper classes and even hire labour, which wasn't better treated than other labourers in the Roman world.

Through a thousand years, this remained a typical problem. Through a thousand years, demand for new, more severe monastic rules remained the standard remedy, despite its constant failures. In such a way were established the Benedictines in the sixth century, the Cluniacs in the tenth, the Cartusians in the twelfth and finally the mendicant orders in the thirteenth century.

Despite the fact that the monasteries were established and replenished by the most devoted laymen within the movement, they were the base for the final functionary takeover of the church in Western Europe during the tenth century. The means was a monastery reform like the ones mentioned above, with the aim of strengthening the discipline among the functionaries [5].

The backdrop was discontent with upper class power within the church. The church was, in the ninth century, not an organisation in our sense - a juridical person with a clear identity, clear limits and clear lines of command. It was, according to Henry Cöster "a function within society" [6], a part or an aspect of civil society. But for that reason nobody had enough authority to speak for it; the usual powers tended to take that function.

Against this reacted the monks in the Cluny monastery in France in the early tenth century. They presumed that if the church was organised as a particular juridical person where only the clergy had power to decide, it could liberate itself from the egotistic power of great landowners. They succeeded in realizing this aim, this "bolshevization" of the church in a hundred years, in alliance with peasants and towns that opposed the land owners. In particular, a radical reform movement in the North Italian towns, the "Pataria", created a tradition later reform movements would link up with [7].

The result was a huge boost to the power of professional functionaries. They used the power to enrich their organisation, which increasingly acted like a private business, carrying with it privileges for the functionaries. This power was guarded jealously. In the twelfth century they began to ask for university grades to new applicants to their ranks. The vigilance against unauthorised competitors was run as lawsuits against heretics; only now the stakes began to lit Europe [8].

The result was popular, anti-clerical or anti-functionary movements, both as reform movements within the church and as competing organisations. Typically, what began as a reform movement was forced into a sect by the jealous vigilance of the clerics.
One example may be the Valdensians, a lay movement that in 1179 asked for permission to agitate for Christianity in Lyon. But instead they were mocked by the church leaders because they couldn't talk correct Latin, and didn't even get an answer to their request. When the Valdensians went out agitating all the same, they were expelled from the church, persecuted and killed for six hundred years. Only after the French revolution they appeared from their hide-outs - with their disdain for intellectual conceit intact [9].

Similar movement with similar destiny were Beguines, Lollards, Hussites and the movements spearheading the Reformation in the sixteenth century.

There were also movements that for a long time succeeded to balance on the border between exclusion and absorption. One of these was the Franciscans. Francis also, like the Valdensians, asked for permission to agitate in 1210. But this time, the attitude of the church leaders was more tolerant: Francis got his permission, provided that he established a monastery order under the leadership of the Pope. Despite this disciplining trick, the Franciscans remained for four or five generations, thanks to the participation of laymen, a radical and saucy organisation that the church hierarchy looked upon with distrust and often tried to break. They seem to have succeded about 1320 [10].

Other movements dissociated themselves fiercely from the church and articulated their own ideologies, sometimes founded in gnostic ideas about the impurity of the material world, as with the Cathars [11].

Yet other popular Christian movements played down the theoretical debates and concentrated on solidarity in practice. The most famous was the peace movement. It was founded officially at clerical initiative in a meeting in Charroux in Western France, July 1, 989, and the aim was to prevent landowners' and great lords' internal feuds. In the beginning, the movement had a support from the church hierarchies, but soon it went its own way. The activists soon could see that an organised power was needed to force the robber barons to keep peace. One faction saw the answer in authoritarian hierarchies and worked for strengthening the king as a counterpoise to the aristocracy, while another saw it in popular power and organised peasants and artisans to pull down the barons' castles and strip them of their resources [12].

This faction gave rise to the communal movement when it in 1077 gathered all inhabitants in Cambrai in Flanders around a vow to prevent, in solidarity with eachother, the aristocratic fighting in the vicinity of the town. The communal movement spread and took on more and more responsibility in the service of peace. So much that the established church hurried to excommunicate it - but it couldn't prevent the movement to establish a tradition where equality and citizenry challenged the super- and subordination of feudal society.

The anti-clerical movement grew, participating in the late medieval democratic revival. Anti-clerical thought kept together the democratic movements. Hussites won military successes against the powers in East Germany on an anti-clerical and radically democratic platform, and beat the imperial armies repeatedly during twenty years. The church was forced on the retreat and promised to reform during a series of crisis meetings in the early fifteenth century.

Not much come out of these reforms. The leading clerical hierarchy, completely adapted to be a ruling hierarchy like all the others to survive as a juridical person according to the Cluniac prescription, was too far removed from their members.

During the revolutionary era when the world market system rose to power, the anti-clerical movements organised popular opposition against the new order. Wherever the Spanish armies didn't held sway, they also triumphed momentarily or permanently, in the form of Reformation which stripped the clergy of much of its power.

In both the Netherlands and England, Christian egalitarianism, built on lay power, tied together the movements that overthrew the royal military dictatorships and begun the integration of the direct producers (see the part Tax rebellions and Puritans below). In the regions which the world market system converted into backwaters and peripheries - Germany, Scandinavia - the anti-clerical and reformatory peoples' movements were exploited by the states as a nationalist ideology of defence against the center states.

Christian churches still have a potential, that has exposed itself in liberation theology among shanty-town dwellers and rural workers in Latin America, and in struggles against dictatorships in Poland, South Africa, the Philippines and Korea. The potential is the Christian insistence in human equality, an equality founded in the view of life as given equally to all, by a principle above all human hierarchies and class differences.
But there are obvious weaknesses. Through the Christian history an over-emphasis on ideology have always been the functionaries' and the intellectuals' power source.

Even in reform movements, aiming at abolishing the power of functionaries, this fixation at ideology has in the end created new functionarian power. And when ideology and language are the core of a movement, and not the concrete conditions of a social category, this easily makes a foundation for false solidarities.


Peoples' movements of the drybelt

The Islamic movement was, like the Christian, born to assert equal human value. But contrary to the Christian movement, directed against political projects, Islam itself was a political project. To build the Good State has for fourteen hundred years been the unattainable goal of the movement. But meanwhile, and casually, the movement has created a civil society of great resilience.

Like Christianity, Islam was born in the disintegration of an old society; in this case the dissolution of the Arab clan society faced with Byzantine and Persian empires and their increasing trade. Like Christianity, Islam was an answer to class stratification and the increasing uncertainty caused by the new order [13].

Islam was founded as a community to replace the degenerated clans, a community founded in equality, justice and integrity as the clans of the desert had been. Like in Christianity, which has provided much to the language of Islam, equality had its motivation in the life given without coutergifts in return, by a principle above everything else.

In the politically fragmented Arabia, Islam got state power in less than ten years. In 622, their leader Muhammed was elected mayor in Yathrib, the Medina of today, which was going to pieces in internal feuds. Here, Islam got a chance to practice its principles in a position of power.

From the beginning, Islam was a brilliant success. Out of the shattered Yathrib, a successful army was created. In 630, Mecca was conquered. The success bred enthusiasm and within a few years Syria and Iraq were annexed, while their inhabitants greeted Islam as a liberator from the Byzanthie and Persian empires, respectively.

The easily captured state power has impressed Islam ever since. Social revolution was the aim, and the government power strategy, to be in government and carry out reforms from there, was seen as reasonable way to the goal. The good state remained an object for a long time, and has now been revived in the Islamist movements. This has come handy to a movement that has tended to see maintenance of the Islamic law, or the perfect routines for human action, as the ultimate goal. While the Christian movement in principle was sceptic to regulation, the Islamic movement considered rules as inevitable tools for maintaining the good society.

The first serious conflict within Islam thus immediately caused civil war and revolution. A hundred years after the conquest of Syria and Iraq, these lands were governed by an Arab tribal aristocracy, descendants of the first conquerors. They considered late-comers to Islam as worth less than themselves and discriminated them in many ways, regardless of the egalitarian principles of Islam. The natural reaction among the discriminees was to appeal to "real" Islam, organise in sects like shi'a and kharij, and revolt against the aristocracy. In 750 they contributed to a new regime, the Abbasids.

This pattern was repeated through a few hundred years. The Abbasid regime couldn't live up to the Islamic principles either. New Islamic sects were constituted by peasants, workers, slaves and other repressed within the empire, with the aim to resurrect the good Islamic state. These sects - the muqanna, the Babak, the Zanj and the most successful of them, the Ismaili movement - had all the same characteristics as Muhammed's original community; equality and justice between the members, but no obligation to outsiders. All principles only applied within the sect. The Zanjs, for example, a revolutionary movement of slaves in the salines south of Basra 869-883, kept slaves themselves; this was permissible since they were infidels and didn't belong to the movement.

Most of these movements never went beyond being challengers, revolt movements that could keep a part of the empire for a while. But the Ismaili movement, a breakaway from the shi'a that maintained that only a Communist community of property would guarantee equality, founded a stable government in Yemen, Bahrein and Tunisia just after 900, and in Egypt a few generations after. The Ismaili state, a rigidly centralized and hierarchic bureaucracy with the aim of creating the good society through administration, degenerated gradually into a military dictatorship as the movement that created it collapsed.

The greatest Muslim social scientist, Abd-ar-Rahman Ibn Khaldûn, has described how Maghreb during the thirteenth and fourteenth century went through several similar waves: a peoples' movement, ideologically fortified in an Islamic revival, captures state power and establises itself as a military bureaucracy. After a generation it has been corrupted, and a new peoples' movement, ideologically fortified in an Islamic revival, revolt and capture state power [14]. To establish the perfect routines for social life turned out to be self-defeating.

After a few hundred years the pattern changed. The perfect Islamic state appeared impossible to achieve through the state - each government turned inevitably corrupt and saw more to the own clique's interest than to the interest of the Muslim congregation. So the Muslim activists withdrew their support for the Caliphate, which had two consequences.

Firstly, the opportunity opened for warlords to occupy state power, since the state hadn't any Islamic legitimacy to protect it. Iran was governed by military dictatorships from the tenth century, Iraq, Syria and Egypt from the eleventh. They didn't just take power over the provinces of the empire, they also shattered its ruling classes - landowners and merchants - and created chaos in the civil society.

Secondly, the common people was forced to organise in the midst of confusion. Only now, a majority of people in West Asia and North Africa turned Muslims. The groups that took the part of organising the civil society - and most of redistribution - were the Muslim activists, of which there were two kinds.

One kind was the academically educated, 'ulama. They developed the legal parts of Islam and took on to regulate the principles of civil society in villages and town quarters. They had great success with that; even today criminality is low in Islamic countries. But they left politics and social structures aside. As far as the power holders protected the people against conquerors and bandits, politics was allowed to be as it was; it was to be perceived as beyond the Islamic law. Meanwhile, they gave up Islam's egalitarian spirit as unattainable. "Thus, all Sunnis accepted the world as it was, yet abandoning their full acceptance as they refused to take part in politics", Lapidus sums up their attitude.

The 'ulama's legalist way of looking at things was a strong support for the intellectualization of the movement, laying latent in the same way as in Christianity - when ideology, language, focuses on the nature of existence instead of the practice of the movement, the result is likely to be a demobilisation of the laymen and more power to the intellectuals. Conflicts between classes and interests were increasingly expressed as conflicts between legal schools which organised the laymen behind themselves.

There appeared however no real cleavage between functionaries and laymen, since the functionaries never organised any unitary and disciplinary organisation to defend their power. They remained linked to local legal schools, madrasa, and local traditions, often in dispute between themselves. These disputes could be exploited by peoples' movements who allied with one or the other of the legal schools. From the fifteenth century they were also exploited by the Ottoman empire into an increasingly fraudulent government bureaucracy in the Muslim core region in Western Asia and Northern Africa.

The other kind was the engaged laymen. They organised in Sufian brotherhoods where the spirit was more important than the legal forms, not unlike the European radical Christian movements. The Sufian brotherhoods were the communities that organised all popular movements which went beyond the local within Islam. They organised sick-care, education, hotels and support for the poor, a kind of alternative society which never challenged the official one. The informalist approach didn't imply that Sufism was heretic in religious terms. Within Islam, lay initiatives were always possible, since the professionals couldn't agree on protecting any monopoly on interpretation.

In Iran, a Sufi brotherhood, the Safavids, made a last attempt to realize the idea of the perfect Islamic society through a peasant-supported revolution in 1501. The Safavids were close to Shi'ism and eager to support this tendency they contributed to an organised clergy, which is otherwise missing in Islam. The Shi'ite 'ulama got resources to establish an independent hierarchy, an independent financing, and an independent power. But like all earlier attempts, the Safavids failed to live up to their pretentions of "the perfect state" and turned increasingly corrupt. The 'ulama were however, thanks to their independence, able to keep their prestige while the Safavid state collapsed.

In Sahel, south of Sahara, Islam was also used as a language for peoples' movements. Islam was taken there by merchants who established trade towns for intercontinental trade during the trade boost of the high middle age, and was adopted by local upper classes who wanted to keep up with the development. Only when the clan societies were exposed to pressure from European slave trade, Islam turned into a concern for the majority. Particularly, threatened cattle-raising and farming communities used Islamic language to express their demands for justice, against traditional aristocracies which they branded as un-Islamic. They established Sufian brotherhoods, which sometimes were successful. They sometimes established states, sometime able to carry through real reforms to the benefit of the majority, but as often they degenerated into new elites, exploiting peasants and cattle-raisers.

When the world market system spread in the Islamic region, Islam was the organising force in what there was of resistance. The resistance was organised as reform movements, where the aim was to weed out later corruption of Islamic practice, like the Christian reform movements in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The ability to resist was greatest in the Islamic peripheries, in Maghreb, in Sahel and in Indonesia, and least in West Asia. The explanation is, according to Lapidus, that the 'ulama in the Ottoman empire allowed themseves to be used as state authorities and lost their popular legitimacy. In the periphery they kept it, and with it their popular base. Expressed the other way, in the Ottoman empire, the popular Sufi movements didn't get any support from the functionaries when they tried to resist, and found it more difficult to use Islam as a mobilizing power. See further in chapter 4 [15].

Not until the late twentieth century, Islam has become a mobilizing force in a big way against the power pretensions of the center. One reason may be that states usually haven't got any pretensions of using Islam for their needs. So the Islamists are free to recall the original Islamic strategy, to capture state power to change the world. But since the state in the world market system primarily is a guarantor of stability, this is a rather ambiguous strategy if change is what you want. More of this in chapter 6.


Indian local communities

The social movements which shattered the empire in India in the eighth and ninth centuries differed from the western movements in a crucial way: they had a much weaker focus on equality and equal value. They struggled for autonomy from the state for the existing civil society and didn't care about that this civil society was built up around class relations, client networks and status hierarchies [16].

To be sure, as early as about the year zero there appeared a close parallel in India to the Christianity and Islam of West Asia. This was the Bhakti movements, broad lay movements among the urban lower classes, based in traditional popular religiosity.

The Bhakti movements were directed against the class and status hierarchies of civil society as much as against the officials of the empire. They condemned for example the traditional rituals which emphasized the importance of the hereditary guild of intellectuals, the brahmins, and which the poor in any case couldn't afford. They were also hostile to the powerful and state supported Buddhist orders which had detached themselves from civil society to organise trade with China or exploit peasants [17].

Buddhism was in itself originally a gnostic protest movement against class and power. But it let itself be coopted early by the state with gifts and authority positions; this was easy because it in the gnostic way emphasized knowledge instead of equality.

The Bakti movements succeeded less well than Christianity and Islam to keep intellectuals' shadow movements in check. I suppose this is because the Indian intellectuals had a strong internal coherence within the brahmin guild, which their western counterparts lacked. The Bhakti movements also didn't dissociate itself as strongly as Christianity and Islam from the tradition where these intellectuals were rooted. For that reason, the brahmins had a comparatively easy task to join the movements in a superficial way, and use their status and traditional powers to take control. They did this emphasizing two elements on the Bhakti program: struggle against the imperial bureaucracy, and suspicion against the Buddhist monasteries. Of course they rejected the Bhakti movements' egalitarianism. Instead, they emphasized the local community's and the group's right against the state and even against society - all to keep the existing hierarchies in place.

The brahmins organised the civil society through the castes, a complex and pragmatic combination of clans and guilds, that now was systematized for the first time. Those who the brahmins couldn't use were excluded, as were those who wouldn't accept the brahmins' hierarchic organising. They were declared casteless and refused citizenship in the civil society of the brahmins.

The Bhakti tradition has, in spite of its relative failure, remained alive and functioned through Indian history as a popular form of organising, like the radical Christian movements in medieval Europe and the Sufi movements in the Islamic belt [18].

The Bhakti movements organised aorund a personal experience of God, like modern Christian nonconformism. Organisatorily, they were sects, and made a sharp distinction between "within" and "without" the organisation. Most of them rejected brahmin claims of superiority, as they rejected caste, or at least refused to acknowledge it. Many Bhakti movements got openly political under pressure, like what developed into Sikhism in Punjab under presure of struggle against the Moghul bailiffs in the sixteenth century, or what developed into the Mahrata Federation in Maharashtra for the same reasons a hundred years later.

Hinduism succeeded with its immediate goal. It succeeded in shattering the empire in India, its taxations and bureaucratic control. After the seventh century, power was local in India, and was exercised through the civil society's reciprocity rather than through bureaucratic hierarchies - though it was the brahmins who manipulated reciprocity in a blatantly unequal way.

But the lack of interest in equality in Hinduism and popular control over overarching social processes would have dire consequences for Indian culture.

The Indian society the brahmins wanted to protect proved unable to resist or even control imperial projects carried through by foreign occupation armies, Central Asian from the eleventh century, and European from the eighteenth. The focus was on the local community; state violence was seen as irrelevant and unimpressionable, like the weather, something for others to care about.

The Indian civil society also developed to one of the most class-ridden in world history. European visitors in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries - when equality wasn't very developed in Europe either - were amazed at the contrasts between rich and poor and the non-existent public spirit in Indian guilds and castes which readily sold out their countrymen to the occupants [19].

Not until during the common resistance against the British empire during the twentieth century, movements transgressing caste and guild could be built up, see chapter 6. And Indian politics is still dominated by extremely violent group competition, "communalism", which doesn't consider any overarching interests or even principles, since such things have a low standing in the Hindu tradition [20].

Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, like the anti-bureaucratic Chinese Taoism, are all called religions, universal ideologies, ideologies about the totality of the world. They are examples of peoples' movements with great aims, which have been forced to answer the ultimate questions to formulate a language forceful enough to meet the oppressors of their time and their self-righteousness with, or in a traditional language express themselves in religious terms [21].

They are also examples of the way heavily ideologized movements easily lose their own focus, are caught by unessentials and knit irrelevant bonds of solidarity with new oppressors because of an ideological rather than a social identity.

The tensions between the need for a total language and the danger of false solidarities have continued to guide the peoples' movements after a somewhat straying course, and no solution to the problem has been formulated so far, what I know. The Marxists of the labour movements tried a hundred years ago to come to terms with the trap of false solidarities, with scant success, and for the present it seems that the old ingrained total ideologies are advancing again. Perhaps the problem is insoluble. Perhaps it is necessary for a social movement to use so strong ideologies that they defeat the movements themselves - as it may be necessary to use so strong organisations to protect the civil society that they destroy parts of the civil society. Perhaps liberation always carries a cost. But this is nothing compared to the cost of the alternative.


Late medieval democracy movements

The centuries preceding the world market system was an era with very powerful peoples' movement mobilization. One may say that the world market system organised as an answer or reaction to this mobilization.

From the ninth century an international trade economy developed on the Eurasian continent, with the trade routes protected by the great Islamic empires. The economy had four cores: China, India, West Asia/Egypt, and Europe. China was the most advanced, technologically and organisationally; Europe, which was a part of the system only in the twelfth century, was the most backward [22].

Both merchant and industrial capital accumulated. Primarily, the trade dealt with expensive goods like spices and gems which weren't too bulky for the available transport means. But meanwhile, there developed a more voluminous trade in textiles, and in China there was also an industrial production of metals and porcelain.

The traditional kind of power based in ownership of land in this way got a competitor, and a support. New hierarchical structures supplemented the old ones. To the aristocratic warlords' claims for day-works, tribute and jurisdiction was added merchants' new, and in the eyes of the people strange ability to make tricks with prices and interests.

Those who suffered from this development were primarily the peasants. While the nodes of trade routes, the cities, grew in affluence, and the surplus was built to cathedrals and mosques, misery increased among the direct producers. Land with decreasing yield was increasingly used for commercial production for solvent markets, for example to graze sheep or cultivate wine, and decreasingly for food for the growing population of poor people. In Europe, mass undernourishment began to appear in the early fourteenth century [23]. In the cities the budding mass production for export led to proletarization of the direct producers; in the textile towns of Flanders and North Italy no longer independent artisans wove and span, but propertyless workers. China's and West Asia's artisans made it better according to Abu-Lughod.

The economic growth was accompanied by a more authoritarian pattern of power. In West Asia and India warlords took power. China was occupied by Mongols for whom trade and protection of their own privileges were the foremost interest. In Europe state and church began to centralise their power. It was now the church began to burn heretics, almost always poor people who tried to find explanations to and salvation from the misery they had fallen into [24].

In the mid fourteenth century this international structure perished and the trade was broken. Why? There are several theories.

Political theories point to the fact that the trade route over Central Asia couldn't be supported when the Mongol empire split between warring clans and bands of robbers. But there were other trade routes which also dried up without any internal Mongol controversies to explain it.

Demographic theories points to the Black Death, which itself followed the new trade routes, and which killed 25-30 percent of the Asian and European population and hit the trade centers worst. This is the explanation Abu-Lughod prefers. But the great crash was in 1340, nine years before the Black Death [25].

Perhaps it was also economically untenable in the long run with an international economy which couldn't export its costs to a periphery but had to be paid by the direct producers in each center separately. Perhaps the increasingly impoverished agriculture couldn't carry such a dazzling superstructure any longer.

Irrespectively of the cause, the lively trade dried up in the mid fourteenth century and the system fell. Immediately, a struggle for the inheritance broke out.

Among the upper classes there was bitter fighting for the shrinking surplus, particularly in the earlier most commercialized areas. In France and Flanders the so called hundred years war broke out between rival groups of aristocrats. In North Italy heavily armed mobs made war to each other with cities as booty.

In the short run - about 150 years - the peoples' movements got the best of it.
The exploitation that followed in the tracks of the international trade had given rise to a popular resistance that grew through the whole middle age. The resistance turned successful as soon as the economy had crashed and the upper classes had lost their instruments of power. The late middle age was an era of democratization, carried by peoples' movements, and an economic resurgence for the direct producers, particularly in Europe and China.

In Europe, the movements were divided but succeeded al the same to maintain a contemporaneousness where the parts strengthened eachother. From a scattered beginning in the early fourteenth century they grew to a wave in the mid-century, another one generation later, and a third that lasted the whole fifteenth century with the Husite movement as a climax [26].

For technical reasons I will break up the narrative in peasant rebellions, urban movements, and radical Christian movements.


Villages against landowners

Peasants are, according to for example Eric Wolf "cultivators whose surplus is transferred to dominant ruling groups who use the surplus both to support their own living standard and to redistribute the rest to groups in society who doesn't cultivate but have to be supported for the sake of their particular goods and services". In a social movement perspective it is quite as rewarding to to define them as members in agricultural villages or parishes. As villagers or parishioners they are interested in deciding collectively over the rules for work, life and consumption, but they regularly come into conflict with others who think they have the right to do this, particularly the groups of rulers Wolf talks about, for example aristocrats, states and capital wanting to push forth the positions for their exploitation [27].

The villages or parishes - villages are more important in densely populated agricultural districts and parishes in more sparsely populated stock-raising districts - give the peasants access to a public and an organizing with a huge symbolic strength and coherence. Since the peasant is dependent on his village for survival, it is literally impossible for him to desert the village in a conflict with outsiders. But the organisation form has also limitations: it is often difficult for villages to cooperate.

The conflict between villages and outsider upper class elites or routinized institutions always concerns each village separately. Only in a few, but well-told cases, villages have been united over regions or countries in a struggle against a common enemy; this has exclusively happened because the enemies have behaved in consort, or because other movements have created a foundation for contemporaneousness for the villages' struggles.

Since peasant movements are defences of the village agaist the demands of outsiders, they are always led by the villages' greatest and wealthiest members. These peasant leaders have often been described as rich. But to be rich according to the principles of peasant law is to exercise representative power and have commitments to the village. According to peasant law every right implies a duty, and ownership implies a trust, like power within a peoples' movement in general. For the authorities, on the other hand, ownership and position is just rights, without any claim for returns. The conflict between these two principles, peasant law's ownership-as-a-duty and Roman law's ownership-as-a-right, the struggle goes on up to this day.

During the middle age, the conflict was primarily between the peasants and the aristocrats or nobility; armed mobs who considered they had the right to seize the villages' surplus and decide over their matters as a reward for the "protection" they offered. During the whole middle age there were constant, strictly local, conflicts between villages and aristocrats about the limits between the autonomy of the villages and the self-assumed rights of the aristocrats. The conflicts were often violent, because there were few institutionalised forms to settle conflicts. The peasants were often successful, by force of their numbers, to keep the aristocrats' claims at an endurable level, but they succeeded less and less well during the trade boom of the thirteenth century.

After the mid-fourteenth century crisis, the conflicts turned more manifest, since the aristocrats tried to compensate for the losses they suffered through overexploitation of the land, through decreasing trade, and through the Black Death, and they increased their demands on the villages. The villages answered with rebellions which in total were rather successful [28].

The demands of the peasants were right to the commons, low and fixed leases, and abolishments of capricious fees. These demands were linked to "freedom ", that is legal equality and right to negotiate. The demands were founded in what some have ccalled moral economy, that is, the right for all to at least subsistence and the duty of the society, the village and external elites, to observe this right [29]. The methods were primarily occupation of commons, and sacking and burning of the aristocrat's manor or at least his archives where the duties of the peasants were registered - all local. Of course, the peasants didn't always have to use violence, an implicit threat was sometimes enough to make an agreement of some kind. Often, the peasants also resorted to lawsuits but they were not very successful with this.

Another demand that grew in importance was reduction of the state's taxes. This was the main reason for one of the most bitter peasant rebellions of the whole middle age, the one in Flanders 1323-1328, where the peasants in the end lost the issue although they united over the whole country and even allied with the towns' artisans.

A new tax was also one of the triggers of the most well-written peasant rebellion, the English rebellion of 1381. Another was a new law, "Statute of labourers", which gave government support to land-owners who cut down wages and increased burdens. This rebellion was one in a revolutionary wave in Europe that in about 1380 stroke terror in the authorities. Although this rebellion was defeated after having besieged London it is by tradition considered as the driving force behind the freeing of the English peasants from serfdom [30].

In other cases capricious treatment was the trigger. The Jacquerie, the rebellion in Ile de France in 1358, was triggered by military ravages during the Hundred Years War, when the villages' attempts to defend themselves were escalated to a mutual war of annihilation.

The model and source of inspiration for the late medieval peasant rebellions was the South German mountaineers, who had as early as in the early fourteenth century succeeded in beating off the new aristocratic claims. The mountaineers had, contrary to most peasants, resources since they controlled the passes of the alps, and they were considered by trading towns like Zurich and Bern as valuable allies. When they in 1315 annihilated an aristocratic cavalry, this resounded in all Europe. After that, the mutual movement of peasants and towns were able to liberate the alp valleys from aristocrats and were spared of royal military dictatorships in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. With time however, conflicts grew betwen villages and towns, the latter's burghers willingly invested in land and considered peasants to be lawful subjects to exploit, so the movement subsided after a while [31].

The Swedish agro-historian Janken Myrdal has mapped where and when the most successful peasant rebellions occurred. The countries in Europe that stand out are Scandinavia, the Alp countries, the countries around the North Sea, and Catalonia. No common criteria tie together these countries. To be sure, peasants have appeared strong and effective in lands where aristocratic war technology was at a disadvantage, for example in the swamps of Ditmarsken and the forests of Sweden. But primarily, says Myrdal, it's about successively developing traditions. In some lands, people came to conceive it as necesary to rebel, while in the others theyonly conceived it as dangerous [32].

The organisatorically best developed peasant movement, and also one of the most successful, was the Catalan Remensa between 1448 and 1483. It began as a collective negotiation about redeeming some aristocratic caprices, partly using a conflict between the king and the aristocracy. When the aristocracy ruptured the negotiations, the peasants forced their view with arms, supported by country-wide peasant meetings, elected representatives and general conscriptions "one soldier per three families".

The last and biggest peasant rebellion of the era was the German Peasant War, which in 1525 spread from Baden over the whole South Germany. It was the climax of a series of peasant rebellion and it was contemporaneous with radical Christian artisan movements in the towns, which was a reason why they spread over such a large area. Another reason was the fact that it was directed against the government and not only against aristocratic encroachments. For at this time, the German princes were busy creating mercenary armies, imposing Roman law, rising taxes and abolishing the peasant representative concept of ownership. The peasants' demands, as they are summed up in The Twelve Articles, were autonomy of the villages, i.e. right to the commons, right to elect representatives, right to their own law, and freedom from unilateral duties [33].

The German peasants were defeated, but in the lands of the rebellion many of their demands were realized all the same, until the great disaster of the sixteenth century befell also them some generation later.


Artisans against merchants

The communal movement of the towns had two aims. Like the peasants' movements they aimed at maintaining the autonomy of the municipalities against outsider authorities, against aristocrats and against the state. But the same movements also aimed at asserting the internal equality of the municipalities, to maintain the artisans' and workers' position against the rich merchants [34].

The communal movements of the towns had an origin in the radical Christian peace movement. The core of this movement was the egalitarian treaty between townsmen mutually guarding their town. But during the boom after 1150, the rich merchants were able to usurp increasingly more of the power of the towns. Town after town fell under domination of a few rich families who monopolized the municipal offices and used them to exempt themselves from taxes and give themselves advantages. Instead, they laid the burdens on artisans and wage labourers, of which the latter grew in numbers.

The urban movements were organised in guilds and was strongest and most successful in the most urbanized regions of Europe, in Flanders and North Italy, where the proletarization was most developed. As early as in the early thirteenth century, Franciscans had to mediate between merchants and artisans in Parma, Bologna, Vicenza, Verona and Milano, resulting in tax reforms. In mid-century the labourers stroke in Douai, Rouen, the Brabant towns, and primarily Liège which developed into the revolutionary center of the north Sea coast for fifty years. In the late thirteenth century the movement spread to the towns at the Rhine and to South France. About 1290 the artisans of Flanders rose at one time and demanded democratic rights and egalitarian taxes. This time they were defeated militarily.

Twenty years later, the weavers of Brugge took the initiative to a common Flemish urban rebellion against the French king, resulting in admission to the town councils for the Flemish artisan masters. About the same time, the artisans made revolution in several Italian towns, for example Florence and Siena, and won a place in the council at the side of the merchants. In the mid fourteenth century, the Rhine towns followed.

These partly very successful movements favoured the artisan masters, the urban middle class, who after some fifty years of strife reached their goal in great parts of Europe: power sharing with the merchants. A possible explanation is that the merchant aristocracy had to yield for a strong movement through coopting the moderate part of it. The labourers were left out; they led in the mid fourteenth century as miserable a life as ever and hadn't got more from the artisans masters than these had been forced to give. Their struggle for equality filled the rest of the middle age. Journeyman companionships began to separate themselves from the guilds that so far had organised the movement for the artisan cause.

In two waves, about 1350, and about 1380, the journeymen of Western Europe rebelled against high prices and poll-taxes, and assaulted the town-halls. They had the advantage that the Black Death had reduced their numbers and the supply of labour. Their identity as a separate group had been accentuated by attempts from the masters to close the guilds to new members and made it impossible for journeymen without family connections to get a master's certificate.

A revolt that usually serves as example of worker's rebellion was the Ciompi rebellion in Florence in 1378, a general workers' rebellion against poll-tax, food prices and wage ceilings. In Florence, the merchants had not invited the artisan masters into the council. When they onesidedly raised taxes and prices after a war, the masters hurried to get support from the journeymen to oppose the merchants; these came armed to the hustings of June 18 and turned it into a rebellion.

The palaces were burned, the monasteries were sacked, the prisoners were liberated and the town council was forced to let the masters in. Two weeks later, the journeymen and general workers demanded representation, and when the council refused, the workers sacked the town hall, burned the archives, hanged the executioner and added that the debtors' prison should be closed and the forced loans should be abolished. The council yielded and left power to representatives of the rebels. These introduced a moderate reform policy and demobilized the movement that had brought them to power.

A month later, the general workers led a demonstration to the new council to demand the fulfilment of the program. After a few days of negotiations the reformists let the army loose on the demonstrators. Therewith, they shattered their own power base and the merchant aristocracy took back their power. To avoid repetitions, however, they were careful ever after to keep good relations to at least the more prosperous artisans through a welfare program.

Between 1378 and 1382, the artisans revolted in all urbanized areas of Europe, in Italy and Flanders, and even in peripheral towns like Montpellier and Braunschweig; in Swabia the towns united against the princes, and it was now the Swiss union turned effective. The backdrop was the ruin of trade which made revolts both necessary and possible to carry through, but the triggers were always local.

In Flanders, the confrontation was provoked by a struggle between Brugge and Ghent which threatened the work of Ghent's dockers. They revolted, carried along the textile workers, burned the bailiff's castle, and the local conflict was converted into a struggle between upper and lower classes in both Ghent and Brugge and surrounding towns.

The tie was the solidarity of Flemish weavers. But the exclusivity of the weavers' guild was also the greatest weakness of the movement. Nevertheless, Ghent's artisans were able to reach a compromise in 1358, meanwhile setting an example for other workers and other towns in Netherlands and northern France. The demands were higher wages and lower food prices, taxes weren't paid, in Rouen the merchants, the bishop and the bailiffs were attacked, in Saint-Ouen feudal titles were abolished, in Paris tax collectors and officers were killed, and even small towns refused to pay taxes.

In every town, the movement was spearheaded by journeymen, who forced more wealthy artisan masters and merchants to choose side - but the more the movement went beyond Flanders, the more the focus was on the municipalities' struggle against foreign powers and the less it was on the journeymen's struggle againt the burghers. Everywhere, except in Ghent, the burghers succeeded in making themselves leaders of the rebellion to make it into a tool for their own interest. This in its turn disillusioned the journeymen who tended to desert the movement and make it easier for the state to choke it. But the journeymen's struggle for the egalitarian commune went on during the fifteenth century, to conclude in due time in the labour movement - see chapter 5.


The ideological cement - Christian equality

The ideological motivation for the struggles of the late medieval lower classes was given by Christian egalitarianism and was most lucidly expressed in the radical Christian movements [35].

The core of the radical Christian movements was a protest against the separation of the church from society into a privileged caste. From the twelfth century Cathars and Valdensians, through the thirteenth century Minorites, the fourteenth century Begards, fifteenth century Husites into the sixteenth century Protestants, what gave the identity and popular strength to the movements was the resistance to the luxury and affluence of the clerical hierarchies. As an ideal and an alternative was posed apostolic poverty.

The radical Christian movements were often born within the organisatorical center of the church. Serious Christians, often people within the hierarchy, reacted against the egotistic praxis of the church and expressed seeking for alternatives. Their initiatives caused debates on reforms, provoking response from lay people who were shocked about the clerical exploitation, life of luxury and siding with temporal powers. The laymen supported the quests for reform, engaging in lay movements for a more serious life, but the more success these movements had, the more they provoked hostility within the clerical hierarchy, which answered with bans and stakes. Standpoints which were answered with canonization when they were expressed by St Francis were answered with death sentences when they were expressed by his imitators. What was considered heretical was not theories but practice: the independent action, the refusal to bow down to the hierarchy.

The stigmatization as heresy usually forced the heretics into growing opposition and radicalism, to forging of radical democratic ideologies and refusal to recognize the authority of the clerical hierarchies in any form. Instead, they raised old documents as authority, primarily the Bible. Some movements, like the Cathars of the twelfth century, cherished gnostic thoughts, while the Franciscan opposition of the thirteenth hunted up alternative revolutionary authorities, for example Joachim of Fiore who talked about the New Era of spirituality and supremacy of the poor which was to break out in 1260.

While the core always was opposition against the privileges and luxury of the organised clergy, many radical Christian movements developed ideologies of their own as legitimation for their opposition, ideologies that set them in a conflict with eachother which was as great as their conflict with the established church. The Cathars of southern France and northern Italy considered everything material as sinful and thought that only sacraments administered by sinfree priests were valid - which caused a growing headache since sinfreeness always may be doubted by anyone. The Franciscan Minorites, which succeeded them as a movement, thought that all should be poor since Jesus and the Apostles had been poor - which caused embarassment when somebody pointed out that the Bible spoke of their "common money fund". The Lollard turned against the Holy Communion as being a needless magic, while the Husites thought it to be necessary. Only the Valdensians avoided hair-splitting theories and kept to the core: the harm and needlessness of a privileged clergy.

The highlight of radical Christian movements was the Husites in Bohemia during thirty years in the early fifteenth century.

The material foundation of the Husite movement was that the church owned half the land in Bohemia, thus challenging both peasants and aristocracy. Another source of conflict was the privileges of the German minority.

The reform movement in Bohemia originally refrained from all extreme standpoints, concentrating on condemning some of the most obvious abuses of the church. This created a broad support but didn't reduce the hostility of the church, particularly since the movement encouraged lay participation. When Jan Hus, the most prominent leader of the movement, was burnt at the stake [36], almost the whole society was thus united in breaking with the pope and organise a church of their own.

The Husite alliance consisted by four actors: the aristocracy, the reformist church hierarchy organised in the Prague University, the artisans of Prague, and the two internally divided lay movements Taborites and Orebites. What gave the Husite movement its explosive power was the lay movements, offsets of the Valdensian tradition that had been strong for a few hundred years in southern Bohemia. Their disciplined organisation was well suited for violence; four times it slaid the imperial armies dispatched to repress them, and once they slaid their equivocal aristocratic allies. For the alliance was brittle. That the aristocrats and university dignitaries in their own interest wanted to check the abuses of the church didn't mean that they favoured the demands of the Taborite artisans: abolition of the hierarchy and nationalisation of the church's land.

In 1433 the emperor and the pope capitulated to the Husite movement and accepted the demands of the moderates. The Taborites were politically isolated and could be repressed a year later by the moderates. With that, the core of the movement was gone, and the position of the moderates was successively undermined to the benefit of the imperial power and other hierarchies.

The late medieval radical Christian laymen were primarily artisans. In France for example, tixerant, weaver, was turned into a synonym of heretic, and in Germany, artisans were also drawn into the radical movements of the Reformation. Only townsmen could create new collectivities and formulate new ideologies to keep these together. This didn't mean that peasants passively adjusted themselves to the views of the hierarchies. Peasant movements referred as enthusiastically as artisans to Christian equality and refused as merrily as artisans to pay tithes. But their tight village communes didn't need any new ideologies to single out and survive, so they didn't need to engage in particular lay movements.

While the radical Christian movements of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries trusted internal or popular reforming of the church, the movements of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries tended to place their trust in the king, i.e. the state, which should carry through the reform. This was the program Marsilio de Padova put forth for the radical Franciscans in the early fourteenth century, this was the demand Wyclif raised for the Lollards in England in the 1380s, which was taken over by the Husites in the 1410s. And this was the demand that Luther raised in Germany in the 1510s, as if the demand had become a routine at that time. Partly, it was a reasonable conclusion, given that the church should be a function of society and a congregation of all Christians, instead of a separate self-interested corporation. But raising the demand, the movement opened the road to its own political ruin; the royal dictatorships could easily exploit the demand of the movement to create resources for its own self-assertion in the new world market system, without having to care about the egalitarian part of the movement's program.

The late medieval rebellions in Europe were successful for a long time, although they were almost all superficially beaten. Economically - the wages were raised relative the prices of necessities, favouring artisans and workers, while leases were reduced, favouring peasants. Culturally - the popular dialects prevailed over Latin in most of Europe, as the written language of the church and other public institutions. Politically - the notion that the authorities are a representative of the people was increasingly contemplated even among the authorities themselves, and aristocratic birth was not any longer an imperative of higher offices. And most importantly: the aristocratic claim of owning the peasants was shattered in western Europe. The peasants were acknowledged as legitimate negotiation partners and legally independent persons. For the movements were strong enough for the direct producers to make themselves respected. In Sweden for example, the peasant movements were a necessary ally for any political party aiming at state power - but Sweden was admittedly one of the countries where the peasants were strongest [37]. During one hundred years, the authorities were disposed to compromise, rather than risking violence - until they found the catastrophically effective new strategy that made it possible for it to establish its supremacy anew: the world market economy.

We may speculate about what may have happened if the late medieval movements had been strong enough to resist this social disaster. And we may speculate about what they had needed to do to succeed. But we still suffer from their final failure.


The Chinese revolution

The most successful and unitary movement during the late middle ages however, was Chinese: the Ming revolution of 1368. It chased away the Mongol occupants, it gave back the land to the peasants, it repaired the irrigation systems and planted a billion trees. It discontinued the Chinese participation in international trade - it was a peasant revolution that didn't need such luxuries! - and gave the death-blow to the international trading system. Instead, it initiated reclamation of the Chinese land, and increased farmed land with 200 percent [38].

Thus it is not unreasonable to say that the successful rebellion of the Chinese peasants liberated the peasants and artisans of Europe and made the late medieval democratization possible.

The backdrop of the Ming rebellion was the hard and racist exploitation the Mongol aristocrats exposed the Chinese to, in the interest of themselves and of the international trade. But the crisis around 1350 also hit the Mongol government, which reacted with increased taxes for the peasants, and harder surveillance of their villages. In addition, high prices had ravaged China for half a century.

The opposition came together in secret societies. The secret society is the traditional of Chinese conflict organizing, that may be followed back to the third century. The secret society was an egalitarian, anti-state organisation where not only peasants but also marginal local notabilities and labourers took part, it organised mutual aid, smuggled salt and other highly taxed necessities, and in times of tension it was a recruitment base for peasant rebellion. The inspiration was Buddhist or Taoist as well as democratic and often anti-sexist. The secret society that led the rebellion against the Mongols was named The Red Turban [39].

The Red Turban was however never a centralised organisation; it was an ideological movement which encouraged all to rebel against an evil government, and it took part in local rebellions. Many followed its calling and established themselves as social bandits in more or less organised cooperation with the villages [40]. Some of these were more successful than others and took control over whole regions while internal conflicts paralysed the Mongol government; one band based on the coerced irrigation workers of Hoangho took control over Honan in 1351, another conquered Jiangsi and Hunan the same year, another took Sichuan three years later.

The bandit armies were increasingly centralised by the most effective ones. Zhu Yuanzhang, who would established the Ming dynasty, begun as a soldier in one of them, and gained trust within the movement due to military prowess and an uncommon ability to communicate with both peasants and intellectuals. The former were won for the movement with methods copied by the People's Liberation Army six hundred years later - respect for the rights of the villages and for the peasants' work. The latter were recruited as tightly controlled administrators over the growing dominion of the bandit armies.

With the transition to a regime in 1368, the movement was petrified. The leading Ming functionaries' anxiety for a takeover by the intellectuals resulted in a centralised and distrustful terror regime, which paralysed the government within two generations. While the court cliques watched and fought eachother, local strongmen strengthened their power at the peasants' expense - while the peasants resorted to their rebellious tradition again. But yet - of all the Chinese regimes, Ming taxed the peasants least. Also for that reason, the peasant rebellion was successful.

Until the failure of the European social movements stroke them a few hundred years later, in the form of a takeover by the world market system in the nineteenth century.




[1] According to Veit Michael Bader, Kollektives Handeln, Leske & Budrich 1991.

[2] The history builds on research accounted for in Ulrich Duchrow, Alternatives to global capitalism - drawn from Biblical history designed for political action, International Books 1995. Other sources are Henry Cöster, En levande själ är alltid en kropp, in Bröd men också rosor, Rabén & Sjögren 1985, and Skriften i verkligheten, Verbum 1987, and Kyrkans historia och historiens kyrka, Symposion 1991, and H.G. Kippenberg, The role of Christianity in the depolitization of the Roman Empire, in S.N. Eisenstadt (ed), The origins and diversity of axial age civilizations, SUNY Press 1986. Finally I have looked in two old books for inspiration, Max Beer, Socialismens historia, Fram 1926 and Hjalmar Holmquist, Kyrkohistoria, P A Norstedt & sönder 1928.

[3] Riane Eisler, The chalice and the blade, Harper & Row 1988; Jo-Ann McNamara, Mater Patriae, matres ecclesiae, in Renate Bridenthal et al, Becoming visible, Houghton Mifflin 1998.

[4] A.H.M. Jones, Constantine and the conversion of Europe, Macmillan 1948. The state-church alliance was according to Abraham Léon, , Jewish Question : a Marxist Interpretation, Pathfinder Press 1970, a part of a general alliance between non-commercial landowners and lower classes against the traditional Roman upper classes that exploited both. I have not been able to corroborate the contention.

[5] This was restricted to the West, where the church regained its autonomy with the fall of the Roman empire. In the East, the empire lasted, and so did government control over the church.

[6] Henry Cöster, Kyrkans historia och historiens kyrka.

[7] This was the decisive cause for the eastern church to break with the western.

[8] R.I. Moore, The formation of a persecuting society, Blackwell 1987. Moore describes the way the functionaries succeed in pack together "heretics", i.e. free-thinkers, Jews and leprosics in an out-group that was persecuted as "unclean" - the aim was in the beginning to push aside the Jews from the intellectual professions they dominated by force of their better education; later the activity got a dynamic of its own. About the mediavel radical Christian movement, see further Late medieval movements, below.

[9] Amedeo Molnar, Historia del valdismo medieval, Ediciones Aurora 1981.

[10] For novel readers, these struggles are the backdrop of Umberto Eco's novel The name of the rose.

[11] The appeal of gnostic thoughts in lower class movements is worth a footnote. Why are poor people so prone to intellectualist positions? One clue is the core of gnosticism - that theory, ideals and ideas are more important than reality, which may be tempting if reality is repressing. A short account about gnostic thoughts in peoples' movements is Per Frostin, Martin Luther and Thomas Müntzer, a Marxist perspective, in Reformation - frihetskamp och överhet, Folkets Historia 1986

[12] Told by Marc Bloch, Feudal society, Routledge & Kegan Paul 1961, and more extensively by Thomas Head & Richard Landes (ed), The peace of God, Cornell University Press 1992. The link to the communal movement is given by H Platelle, Le mouvement communal de Cambrai de 1077 et ses destinées ultéreures, Société Académique de Saint-Quentin 1980, and Albert Vermeesch, Essai sur les origines et la signification de la commune dans le nord de la France, Heule 1966.

[13] Maxine Rodinson, Muhammad, New York Pantheon Books 1980, and Ira M. Lapidus, A history of Islamic societies, Cambridge University Press 1988.

[14] Abd-ar-Rahman Ibn Khaldûn, An Introduction to History. The Muqaddimah, f.ex. Princeton University Press, 1981.

[15] Bruce Lincoln (eds), Religion, rebellion, revolution, Macmillan Press 1985, and Rudolph Peters, Islam and colonialism, Mouton Publishers, 1979.

[16] John A. Hall, Powers and liberties, Basil Blackwell 1985.

[17] Herman Kulke & Dietmar Rothermund, A history of India, Routledge 1990; Liu Xinru, Ancient India and ancient China, Oxford University Press 1988; Romila Thapar, Ancient Indian social history, Orient Longman 1978.

[18] J.F.T. Jordens, Medieval Hindu devotionalism, and Hew McLeod, Sikhism, both in A.L. Basham (ed), A cultural history of India, Oxford University Press 1975. Arun P. Bali, Organisation of the Virasaiva movement, in M.S.A. Rao, Social movements in India, Manohar Publishers 1979.

[19] Fernand Braudel, The perspective of the world, HarperCollins Publishers, 1984

[20] See for example Atul Kohli, Democracy and discontent, India's growing crisis of governmentability, Cambridge University Press 1990.

[21] S.N. Eisenstadt, The origins and diversities of axial age civilizations; or Ainslie Embree, Utopias in conflict, University of California Press 1990.

[22] Janet Abu-Lughod, Before European hegemony, Oxford University Press 1989.

[23] Perry Anderson, Passages from antiquity to feudalism, New Left Books 1974.

[24] Friedrich Heer, The medieval world.

[25] Accorind to Giovanni Arrighi, The long twentieth century, Verso 1994

[26] The medieval rebellions are described by Miehel Mollat & Philippe Wolff, The popular revolutions of the late middle ages, Allen & Unwin 1973, and George Holmes, Europe - hierarchy and revolt 1320-1450, The Harvester Press 1975. Bernard Guenée, States and rulers in later medieval Europe, Basil Blackwell 1985, has a chapter about rebellions. All books are narratives with not much analyses.

[27] Eric Wolf, Peasants, Prentice-Hall 1966, Victor Magagna, Communities of grain - rural rebellion in comparative perspective, Cornell Univ Press 1990.

[28] About medieval peasant rebellions, see Rodney Hilton, Peasant revolts and disintegration of 'feudalism', in Henry A. Landsberger, Rural protest - peasant movements and social change, Macmillan 1974. A short summary of the methods is given by Mark I. Lichbach, What makes rational peasants revolutionary, in World Politcs 46/3, 1994 - although the article has an absurdly anacronistic economist bias.

[29] The most famous account is E. P. Thompson, The moral economy of the English crowd in the eighteenth century, in Past and Present 1971. Another more exhaustive account is James C. Scott, The moral economy of the peasant, Yale University Press 1976. The concept moral economy has been and is still controversial. For doctrinary liberals it is offensive that people may have other conceptions about economy than the individualist prifit maximising, and for example Samuel Popkins, The rational peasant, University of California Press 1981, denies that moral economy exists. An empirical evaluation, to the benefit of moral economy, is made in Nathan J. Brown, Peasant politics in modern Egypt, Yale University Press 1990.

[30] There is a whole literature about this. For example one may choose R.H. Hilton & T. H. Aston, The English rising of 1381, Cambridge University Press 1984. There is also a chapter in Landsberger, Rural protest about it.

[31] E. Bonjour, H.S. Offler & G.R. Potter, A short hisotyr of Switzerland, Oxford University Press 1952. Michael Howard, Wars in European history, Oxford University Press 1976, confirms the decisive achievement of the Swiss peasants in wrecking chivalry, at which "the moral, i.e. social factors" decided the matter.

[32] Janken Myrdal, Medeltida bonderesningar och bondekrig i Europa, Folkets Historia 2-3/1995.

[33] Victor Magagna, Communities of grain, Cornell University Press 1991.

[34] Holmes, Europe - hierarchy and revolt; Mollat & Wolff, The popular revolutions of the late middle age; Perez Zagorin, Rebels and rulers 1500-1660, Cambridge University Press 1982.

[35] Gordon Leff, Heresy in the later middle age, Manchester University Press 1967; Malcolm Lambert, Medieval heresy, Blackwell 1977.

[36] It is illustrative for the mentality of the clerical hierarchy that Hus was executed for stating that the pope must not be obeyed - by a Church Meeting in Constance in 1415 that just had deposed a pope. Disobeyance as such was not heresy, only when it was practiced by lay people and lower clergy like Hus.

[37] Dick Harrison, Uppror och allianser, Historiska Media 1997.

[38] Jacques Gernet, A history of Chinese civilization, Cambridge University Press 1982; The Cambridge History of China, Cambridge University Press 1988.

[39] Jean Chesneaux (ed), Popular movements and secret societies in China 1840-1950, Stanford University Press 1972.

[40] About social banditism see Eric Hobsbawm, Bandits, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1969, and below chapter 4.


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