Another Rainbow Flag, Another Time
Thomas Muntzer with rainbow flag in Stolberg.
He carried a rainbow flag with a peasant’s boot on it. He sided with the peasants and with the working class. Convinced that God had willed the overthrow of the old society he promoted the establishment of a new egalitarian society which would practice the sharing of goods. Thomas Muntzer, (1489-1525) connected social revolution by the oppressed classes within his preaching of the gospel. The rainbow flag with a peasants boot was used as the sign of a new era, hope and social change.
A VERY INTERESTING HISTORY
Muntzer began his anti-establishment career early in his life when at 15 he organized a secret union against the Archbishop and the Roman Church in general. At school he received his doctors degree in theology and became the chaplain there. During this period he began to treat the dogmas,rites and rituals of the church with the greatest contempt. In 1520 Muntzer became a preacher in the city of Zwickau. In the city there was a sect of Anabaptist’s lead by Nicolas Storch. Storch and his group were among the growing opposition made up of the lower ranks of society who were against the Roman Church. By 1522 this group and their supporter Muntzer were thrown out of the city and moved to Allstedt. It was while Muntzer was at Allstedt that he as a preacher abolished the use of the Latin Language and ordered that the entire bible be read to the people in their own language. Allstedt became the center of a popular anti-priest movement. Muntzer’s thinking at this time was still that of a preacher and he had not yet developed his radical social revolutionary thinking. He was anti-priest and anti-Roman Church. He called for the Princes to join the rebellion against the priests and the church telling them, “What can you, the princes of Saxony do with the sword? You can only do one thing. If you wish to be servants of God you must drive out and destroy the evil ones who stand in the way of the Gospel.” (1) Muntzer called for the destruction of the churches and monasteries by quoting the fifth book of Moses, “Thou shalt not show mercy unto the idolaters, but ye shall break down their altars, dash in pieces their graven images and burn with fire.” The sermons and appeals to the Princes did no good, but the revolutionary fever among the people grew. The common people in great numbers came to Allstedt to hear him preach. At this time Muntzer relinquished the middle-class reformation and became a political agitator. He religious philosophy touched on “the speculative mode of contemplation and at times open atheism.” (2) His political program touched upon communism. He wrote of the emancipation of the proletarian element and demanded that there be a society without class differences without private property, all work and all property must be shared in common, complete equality must be introduced and all state powers that were opposed to the members of society must be destroyed. Any and all who did not join this new union were to be killed. (3) A coalition was again formed with the Anabaptist’s who moved about Germany announcing the new gospel preparing the way for Muntzer and others. The Anabaptist’s were persecuted where-ever they went and hundreds were tortured and murdered. Luther the reformer considered the Anabaptist’s to be anti-Christian and those who would not recant were to be executed. “Drowning was called the third baptism and the “best antidote to Anabaptism” according to King Ferdinand. “It was also claimed that any 16th century man who did not drink to excess, curse, or abuse his workmen or family could be suspected of being an Anabaptist and thus persecuted.” (http://ctlibrary.com/6274) Interesting how that idea still holds some sway in this century in its many un-manners and form. We should expand on it in the gay sense and see what we come up with. Oh, what does it take to be a man? Can I be one too? But then again I wouldn’t want to be like that!
The Anabaptist’s were early promoters of a free church and freedom of religion. This was what we know as the separation of church and state. This idea was unthinkable to both clerical and governmental leaders. Religious liberty was equated with anarchy and anarchist thought in Europe can be traced to these early Anabaptist communities. (3) This will be the next historical essay on the early Christian Anarchists.
THE TWELVE ARTICLES OF THE PEASANTS
The full articles can be found in Frederick Engels book, “The Peasant War in Germany.” For this writing I will only do a summary of the demands of those who were the lowest strata of society. The Peasant, taxed and then taxed again supported all other parts of society and was the property of whomever he was subject to. The peasant could not hunt or fish or chop wood freely as the Lords had recently taken commonly held lands for their own purposes.
Article 1- called for the power and authority of each community to be able to appoint a pastor and have the right to depose of him. It also called for preaching pure and simple.
Article 2-called for the peasants to pay only a fair tithe of grain as according to the word of god, and distributed to the pastor as required. What remained should be given to the poor. The peasants also stated that they would not pay farther an unseemly tithe to which is of man’s invention.
Article 3-called for the release of the peasants from serfdom and that they shall no longer be held as property.
Article 4- called for allowing the peasants to catch venison, wild fowl or fish in flowing water.
Article 5- called for the allowance of the peasants to cut wood and that all woods should revert back to the community.
Article 6- called for the end of excessive services demanded of the peasant.
Article 7- called for the payment for any and all services by the lord or monastery for work by the peasant.
Article 8- called for a fixed rent in according to any holdings that the peasant may have.
Article 9- called for the end of unjust making of new unjust laws, the end of judgment by ill will and the return to the old law.
Article 10- called for the release of meadows and fields from the church and the lords and such land be returned to the community.
Article 11-called for the abolishing of the due called “Todfall”. (Todfall was a law where on the death of a head of the family the lord had the right to take from the widow the most valuable article her husband left. Any peasant under the ownership of the monastery was required to hand over a half of the estate. (3) How Christian of the lord and monastery.
Article 12- stated that if any of these article should be found not in agreement with the word of God the said articles shall be found null and void. And that if any more articles be discovered based on truth and the Scripture and relate to the offenses against us that these too shall be presented.
The Twelve articles can be found at www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1850/peasant-war-germany/index.htm. This site contains Engels book, The Peasant War in Germany.
In February of 1534 Muntzer returned to the central city of Muhlhausen an Imperial City that had an elected town council since the early 1300’s. In March the citizens voted out the old council and a new “Eternal League of God” was formed composed of a wide cross section of the adult male population. Muntzer and his associate Heinrich Pfeiffer succeeded in taking over the town council and set up a communistic theocracy in its place.
Martin Luther, ever the reformer, while sympathizing with the peasants 12 articles, reminded them to obey the authorities. He became enraged at the burning and looting of the convents, monasteries, bishops palaces and libraries. Luther wrote, “Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants”in 1525. Luther by taking a social conservative position was then able to convert secular rulers as he proved that converting to Lutheranism would not threaten their positions. With out Luther’s support many peasants felt betrayed and laid down their arms. I will include Luther’s reasons of being against the Peasant war as these: 1. they had violated their oaths of loyalty to their rulers and were therefore subject to temporal punishment; 2. they had robbed, plundered and murdered and were subject to death in body and soul; and 3. they had committed their crimes under the cover of Christ’s name, thereby shamefully blaspheming god. The peasants were like a mad dog which had to be destroyed. Luther stated that the government had to subdue the rebels with force and “whoever joined to suppressed the rebellion would be a martyr according to the gospel.” I wonder what Luther thought of the ruthless treatment of the peasants. Their day in and day out misery. The taking of everything that could be taken from them. It always troubled me the line from Jesus that stated, “Slaves obey your masters.” The Christian idea that humans should be content in whatever state they are in also smacks of the ruling class (extend the idea maybe all the way up to the sky if you want or dare to) holding us all with a tight thumb, attempting to shackle us in misery and superstition while on earth, with promises of someday, sometime, later, so we must be good poor little ba, ba, lambs.
From where I sit the peasants had every right to strike back with whatever they had or how ever they could. It has long interested me how the liberals and the reformers always denounce the radicals. Like Luther it usually comes from self as the center, their wants and need and a fear that something of theirs will be lost. I wonder as far as Luther is concerned was it a matter of ”that’s their lot in life”, a early “you’ll get pie in the sky when you die”, a “render unto Caesar that which is Caesars”, even if it was your whole being, your humanness, your every waking hour of the day. But we see the Lords and the priests, the monasteries couldn’t kill the peasants mind and soul. The peasant knew which way the wind blew and stood up to correct the life that was forced on them. I blame Luther, and the middle class, and his followers for the unsuccessful revolt of the peasants, for the 100,000 dead and for this great wrong against humanity. Those in the Roman Church, Luther,the middle class, the lords, nobles and priests certainly enjoyed their freedom but never recognized their crimes against humanity. May they not rest in peace, but enjoy what life has to offer in hell.
Thomas Muntzer lead a battle at Franenhausen on May 15, 1525. This force of about 8,000 peasants were defeated. He was executed on May 27, 1525 and his head and body were displayed as a warning to all who may preach freedom from oppression. The Peasant War left over 100,000 dead and was the largest and most widespread popular uprising before the 1789 French Revolution.
Wonder with me, what our world would be like had the peasants been victorious in their noble fight against the ruling classes and the church?
To Socialists, Thomas Muntzer was a symbol of early class struggle due to his promotion of a new society which would practice the sharing of goods and property held in common. Engels describes Muntzer as a revolutionary leader.
(1) Revelation and Revolution:Basic Writings of Thomas Muntzer, Translated and Edited by Michael Baylor, Lehigh University, 1993.
(2) The Peasant War in Germany, Frederick Engels, London 1850
(3) Social Reform and Reformation, Jacob Salwyn Schapiro. Dissertation for a degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Columbia University.
This article first appeard on the blog, Punkpink is a Bandits Tip and then on the blog, A Few Queers On The Prowl. It is reissued in the spirit of rebellion and hope that folks will not consider that to be under the thumb of the state and the reformists that our problems and the problems of the poor will go away.