Have you ever thought about what it really means to have "all things common? Does it mean we have to give up our private property rights and surrender our stuff to a common storehouse? If so, who would control the storehouse? Who would be in charge of doling out the goods? If there is to be no central governing authority in Zion than how would this process work? I'm not sure what this would like look, but again, there are some clues in scripture. In 1831, Joseph Smith received a revelation called "the laws of the church of Christ," in which some interesting guidelines are given. This is what it says in regard to consecration:
And behold, you shall consecrate all your properties, unto me, with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken, and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church and two of the elders, such as he shall appoint and set apart for that purpose. And it shall come to pass that the bishop of my church, after that he has received the properties of my church that it cannot be taken from the church, he shall appoint every man a steward over his own property, or that which he has received, inasmuch as it shall be sufficient for himself and family.
And the residue shall be kept and administered to him that has not, that every man may receive according as he stands in need. And the residue shall be kept in my storehouse to administer to the poor and needy as shall be appointed by the elders of the church and the bishop, and for the purpose of purchasing land and the building up of the New Jerusalem, which is hereafter to be revealed, that my covenant people may be gathered in one in the day that I shall come to my temple. And this I do for the salvation of my people. (T&C 26:8)
The Saints during Joseph’s time failed to live the Law of Consecration, but we can still use this scripture to predict what a future scenario may look like. At first glance it seems like we are required to give all of our property to the "church" under the direction of the bishop. But, the Lord has clarified that His church is not a worldly organization ran by men, but a spiritual entity that exists whenever there are two or more that gather in His name. And giving control of the communal goods to one man, the bishop, seems like an unrighteous dominion disaster just waiting to happen. So what are these versus really telling us?
If the church is not a hierarchical entity, then who is supposed to assist the bishop in doling out goods to the poor? Well, that'd be us, the stewards. Notice that the bishop is to "appoint every man a steward over his own property." Wait, does the concept of private property still apply here? The word steward, used during the middle ages in England and Scotland, was used in reference to an officer "who manages the affairs of an estate on behalf of his employer." It was also used in reference to an "overseer or workman," and an "officer on a ship in charge of provisions and meals." From this derived the Scottish name Stewart and the French name Stuart, which became associated with royalty. A steward then, is not one who manages his own property, but the property of another. In the context of the scripture above the "employer" is God, not the bishop. It is God that owns everything because He created it all. The bishop is just a man, a common judge in Israel whose job is to help solve disputes between stewards. He is supposed to be a servant, not a master, and in the future Zion, there may not be such a title as a bishop anyway. Maybe that was purely a creation of the New Testament-style Church that Sidney Ridgon and others pressured Joseph into setting up.
God, being the owner of everything, makes us stewards over our "own property," meaning He gifts the property to us, with His only stipulation being that after we have sufficient for our needs and the needs of our families, we give the rest back to Him. Ideally this surplus of goods goes into a storehouse and is reserved for the poor, with the ultimate goal of eradicating the class distinctions between rich and poor. However, the storehouse always seems to get commandeered by religious leaders, who make sure that the wealth gap is maintained. The famous scripture in Malachi about robbing God of tithes and offerings is NOT directed to the ordinary saints who give tithes. It is directed at the priests who collect and hoard those tithes and refuse to give them back to the poor; they are the robbers. Anciently they were the Pharisees, modernly they are Church leaders who invest tithing funds in real estate, shopping malls, and pharmaceutical stock.
Scores of societies, both ancient and modern, have endeavored to live such a communal existence, sharing all goods and property in common, but all of them fail. In fact, the only successful societies we know about are the ones recorded in scripture: the cities of Enoch and Melchizedek, and the Nephites at Bountiful. The common denominator of communism failing, whether voluntary or coerced, is centralization under hierarchical leadership. The leaders of these societies always seem to capitulate to the temptation to abuse power, some of them going so far as to equate themselves with the Divine. A little detour into history will illustrate what I'm talking about, so find your favorite chair, make yourself comfortable, and open your mind as we head down yet another rabbit hole. This one will be a blast from the past.
The Origins of Messianic Communism
Thomas Muntzer and the Munster Debacle
Holy, holy God!... we believe thou has elected us to be thy holy children..., and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast, by thy wrath, down to hell... (Alma 16:18, RE)
The Anabaptists broke into two branches: the nonviolent sect reminiscent of the Amish, and the revolutionary sect that wanted to "seize power in the state" by establishing an "ultra-theocracy." The first leader of the violent sect was Thomas Muntzer (1489-1525), a student of theology and German mysticism who studied at the universities of Leipzig and Frankfurt. He was a contemporary and follower of Martin Luther, who recommended him for the pastorate in the city of Zwickau, located on the Bohemian border. Luther later regretted this, as Muntzer grasped onto the old creeds of the Taborites, and began propagating theocratic communism, stamping out sinners through violence, and the idea of spiritual wifery. Muntzer soon began calling himself a prophet, and added the sacrilege that the "living Christ had permanently entered his own soul," going so far as to claim that he "himself was becoming God." As you will see, this guy was a real nut case.
He was soon expelled from Zwichau, and began wandering around Germany looking for Taborite remnants, and calling himself "Christ's messenger." He settled in Allstedt, became a minister and amassed a small following, eventually forming a group called "The League of the Elect." News of the preacher spread to Duke John, a prince of Saxony, who being alarmed by rumors requested to hear him preach. Muntzer took advantage of the opportunity, and thundered out an aggressive ultimatum that the Saxon princes would have to choose between God and the devil, "God" of course being the choice of joining the Anabaptists. The Saxon princes didn't take him seriously, nor did they take any punitive action against him, and he continued amassing impoverished followers who were ready to take the communal leap. Rothbard describes his proposed utopia as thus:
The poor were the elect, and would establish a rule of compulsory egalitarian communism, a world where all things would be owned in common by all, where everyone would be equal in everything and each person would receive according to his need. (Volume, I, p. 148)
In 1524 Muntzer left Allstedt and moved to the Thuringian city of Muhlhausen, where after failed efforts to incite revolution, he went to Nuremberg, where, after distributing revolutionary pamphlets, was expelled again. As luck would have it, a sympathetic revolutionary group had seized Muhlhausen, and upon his return, they imposed their communist pipe dream. But, as Rothbard recounts, it didn't work, because well, no one wanted to work. He writes:
The monasteries were seized, and all property was decreed to be in common, and the consequence, as a contemporary observer noted, was that "he so affected the folk that no one wanted to work". The result was that the theory of communism and love quickly became in practice an alibi for systematic theft. (Ibid, p. 149)
Whilst Muntzer was enjoying his communist reprieve, the Peasant's War broke out in Germany as a response to the excessive taxation and totalitarian rule of the German Princes. The Princes' armies were sweeping through Germany and brutally exterminating peasant armies without much resistance. Muntzer responded by declaring that God would protect them, and while giving his speech a rainbow appeared in the heavens which the peasants took as a sign. But, it was all in vain, for the princes easily crushed their tattered armies, captured Muntzer, and subsequently tortured and executed him. However, Muntzer's legacy continued on, with disciples endeavoring to the pick up the pieces he left behind, until the perfect opportunity presented itself in the northwestern German city-state of Munster.
Northwestern Germany was ruled by an ecclesiastical aristocracy, with each province electing its own secular bishop. These bishops, representing the clergy who theocratically ruled the city-states, would bargain over taxes with the Princes of Germany. They were able to exempt themselves from taxes, and run their cities through "an oligarchy of guilds, which used government power to cartelize their various professions and occupations." In other words, corrupt local government. The city of Munster had a population of around 10,000, and during the Peasant's War, the bishops lost their stronghold, but regained it later after crushing a rebellion. However, a grass roots movement of common people rose up and re-took Munster, forcing its bishop to relent and recognize it "as a Lutheran city."
The Anabaptists took advantage of this instability, and began sallying forth to Munster in droves, anticipating the establishment of the New Jerusalem. A young minster, Bernt Rothmann, became an Anabaptist convert, and began preaching that messianic communism was part of the primitive Christian Church, that they held all things common among them, "with no Mine and Thine and each giving according to his need." Thousands of peasants began flocking into Munster seeking reprieve from their abject poverty, while others joined at the prospect of "plundering and robbing the clergy and the richer burghers." Another preacher of communalism, Melchior Hoffman of the Netherlands, moved to Munster, bringing thousands of converts with him, who, calling himself the prophet Elias, was promptly put in jail by the Bishop. But the movement was gaining teeth, and a new prophet rose up, a baker from Haarlem named Jan Matthys, who would become the new leader of the coercive Anabaptist wing.
He commissioned apostles to go out and baptize new converts, and re-baptize old ones. One of Matthys' converts who would prove influential was one Jan Bockelson, a troubled young man who would be instrumental in the Anabaptist take-over of Munster. After running wildly through the streets of Munster, having "apocalyptic visions," writhing and seething on the ground, and calling on everyone to repent, Bockelson helped the Anabaptists gain enough leverage to seize the town. The wealthy Lutherans, realizing that their worldly goods were on the chopping block, promptly exited, leaving Munster in the hands of the communists. The zealots began preaching that the entire world would be destroyed in less than two months, except of course for the city of Munster, which resulted in another inpouring of converts, this time to the tune of thousands. An Anabaptist majority was soon won in the city council, and Matthys relocated to Munster and assumed absolute, dictatorial control of the town, with the help of his new right-hand man, Bockelson. The stars had aligned for the Anabaptists, and as Rothbard opined, "The Great Communist Experiment could now begin."
The first order of business was a plan to exterminate the "unclean and the ungodly." This was to be done first in Munster, to prepare the city for the advent of the New Jerusalem, and from thence stamp out sin throughout the rest of the world. However, instead of killing, the zealots decided upon driving out the heretics, who consisted of Catholics and Lutherans. This was done in February, and many women and children were forced to face the remaining winter with no warmth, no food, and no provisions. Eerily, this compulsory exodus is reminiscent of General Sherman's burning of Atlanta, Georgia during the Civil War, who, after killing scores of men, drove the women and children out of their homes and into the wilderness at the onset of winter. The Anabaptists caught the chagrin of the Bishop, who launched what would become a long siege of the city, but despite his onslaughts, the zealots established their communist regime.
The first property cast into the common storehouse was that of the expelled "heretics," from which the poor were encouraged to take what they needed. However, the "needs" were interpreted by seven deacons appointed to oversee the redistribution. When Matthys met resistance from a Blacksmith who baulked at this new social order, the dictator made an example of him by publicly stabbing, shooting, and killing the poor soul. Other protesting miscreants were thrown in jail, and the loyal Anabaptist rank and file sang a hymn to honor the ritual killing by their new leader. With dissent crushed and fear instilled in the populace, Matthys declared that having private money was un-Christian, and after two months the city government had confiscated all currency from its citizens. All food was seized from the homes of the people, which were declared public, meaning that everyone was "permitted to quarter themselves anywhere," and Rothbard adds, "it was now illegal to close, let alone lock, doors." If citizens wanted to eat they had to meet in "communal dining-halls," where they enjoyed rationed meals while listening to readings from the Old Testament.
With the communist experiment in full sway, the Anabaptists next attacked the freedom to read, and began a campaign against education and learning. They surmised that since the Bible equated the "unlearned" with the elect of the world, they should destroy every book they could and make possessing them a crime. To celebrate this ignorance, a mob of zealots erected a great bonfire and burned every "book and manuscript in the cathedral library," as well as every book they could lay their hands on from every private home. The only book allowed to be read was the Bible. And of course, this was all designed as a propaganda scheme to create intellectual dependence on the leaders of the Anabaptists, to ensure that their interpretations of scripture were above scrutiny and criticism.
Matthys took courage at his new dictatorship, being both feared and adorned by his faithful subjects, he decided that God had "ordered" him to take the Bishop's armies on headlong. But, to his misfortune, God did not protect him, and as he "and a few others rushed out of the gates at the besieging army," they "were literally hacked to pieces." With Matthys out of the way, the young and ambitious Bockelson was free to pursue his politico-theocratic ascension, preaching to the people that "God will give you another Prophet who will be more powerful." And one might add more despotic, cruel, and sycophantic. After running naked through the streets of Munster, he collapsed on the ground and remained there for three days, after which he "rose again," feigning to have received visions from God directing him to head a new dispensation. This was enough to fool the trusting masses, and Bockelson was handed the reigns of the city. His first act was to restructure the city council by abolishing all the old positions and appointing a new order in their stead: a council of twelve elders who "were given total authority over life and death." Virtually every act of defiance to Bockelson and the order was now grounds for capital punishment.
The new order conscripted the citizenry into forced labor and military service, no one was paid for anything, the economic guilds were jettisoned, and consequently, less and less was being produced. Bockelson, facing the prospect of food stores running low, turned his attention to women, and passed a law making polygamy compulsory. The ratio of women to men was three to one, as many of the expelled heretics had left their wives and daughters behind. Bockelson, like so many spiritual wifery proponents after him, cited the patriarchs of the Old Testament for justification of polygamy, and those who would not comply with the new marriage system, were of course, executed. Faithfully putting into practice his new credo, Bockelson soon amassed a harem of over a dozen wives, with his favorite one being Divara, the beautiful widow of the deceased Jan Matthys. The men in town submitted cheerfully to the new order, but many of the women baulked, and it was made a capital crime for wives to complain or quarrel over their husbands taking on new brides. But Bockelson met strong resistance and was forced to relent by allowing divorce, but after seeing his new marital system fail, he decided to scrap the whole business, outlawing marriage altogether and declaring a new system of "compulsory free love." Rothbard describes the irony of the whole matter: "And so, within the space of only a few months, a rigid puritanism had been transmuted into a regime of compulsory promiscuity."
Bockelson was a skilled organizer. His men were more regimented than the bishops irregularly paid mercenaries who were besieging the city. Skilled in rhetorical persuasion, Bockelson offered them money (remember that money was outlawed for the Munsterian citizenry) to desert and join the ranks of the Anabaptists. Many of them came under his employ, and the bishop becoming desperate had pamphlets dropped offering amnesty for the city if Bockelson surrendered. But, if any one was caught reading them, they were punished by death. The bishop, out of resources, was forced to relent on the siege, and Bockelson responded by declaring himself "king and Messiah of the Last Days." His kingship would extend to the entire world, and he was touted as a heir of king David, descending from a line whose right it was to rule (this is also where the Illuminati claims their ruling authority from). This was all confirmed by "revelation," and Bockelson ranted that God had "given him power over all nations of the earth." Despite Jesus coming before him, Bockelson asserted that he was the prophesied Messiah from the Old Testament, and anyone who dared defy him "shall without delay be put to death with the sword." If Matthys was a nutcase, Bockelson was a psychotic sociopath. There was not enough power in the world to satisfy his lusts.
Exempt from living the forced communism of his subjects, he was free to revel in the fast declining store of goods controlled by his theocratic state. Rothbard explains that he wore the:
finest robes, metals, and jewellery... appointed courtiers and gentleman-at-arms... appearing in splendid finery... this luxurious court of some two hundred people was housed in fine mansions requisitioned for the occasion. A throne draped with a cloth of gold was established in the public square, and King Bockelson would hold court there, wearing a crown and carrying a sceptre. A royal bodyguard protected the entire procession... (Volume I, p. 157)
Bockelson and his ruling elite further ravished the impoverished citizens of Munster, confiscating 83 wagon-loads of bedding and clothing. As starvation and cold settled upon the dejected population, they began to murmur against their overlords who were enjoying luxury at their expense. But Bockelson explained this away, by declaring that since he was the Messiah he was already dead and therefore his sumptuous and riotous living didn't count. But he assured his duped subjects that they too would be enjoying the same luxury at the dawn of the millennium, which would come as soon as king Bockelson had subjugated the entire world. But as dissent ramped up, so did Bockelson's totalitarian terror, and the death penalty was enacted against any who would merely "disagree" with the divine king. Instead of conquering the rest of the world, he used the rapidly depleting treasury to send missionaries, apostles, and pamphlets to surrounding areas, but to no avail. The princes of Europe had had enough of Bockelson's antics, and "all the states of the Holy Roman Empire agreed to supply troops to crush the monstrous and hellish regime at Munster." The city was totally blockaded from the outside, and starvation become a real prospect for the elite, who confiscated the last vestiges of food and provisions from the already-starved citizenry. Rothbard writes that "the masses ate literally everything, even inedible, they could lay their hands one."
But Bockelson fed them more lies, declaring that God would save them by Easter, but when Easter came and went, he recanted and said that he meant spiritual salvation. His violence was ramped up again. Anyone caught trying to leave was beheaded, as well as those who criticized the king. Meanwhile, the Bishop once again dropped leaflets promising amnesty to those who left, and Bockelson was running out of time. Rothbard explains how the saga ends:
Bockelson would undoubtedly have let the entire population starve to death, rather than surrender; but two escapees betrayed weak spots in the town's defence, and on the night of 24 June 1535, the nightmare New Jerusalem at last came to a bloody end. The last several hundred Anabaptist fighters surrendered under an amnesty and were promptly massacred, and Queen Divara was beheaded. As for ex-King Bockelson, he was led about on a chain, and the following January, along with Knipperdollinck, was publicly tortured to death, and their bodies suspended in cages from a church tower. (Ibid, p. 159)
I think only one verse from the Book of Mormon can sum up the sacrilege and sheer hubris of the Anabaptist debacle. It's surely mind boggling how the antics of one or two leaders can cause so much death, misery, and injustice to transpire among a group of people, especially when they base their iniquity on righteous principles found in God's word. Here is how Mormon summed up what happened with Korihor, which can be easily applied to both Matthys and Bockelson:
And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the Devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell. (Alma 16:15, RE)
Early Communist Experiments in Colonial America
Furthermore, many of the indentures were compulsory and not voluntary - for example, those involving political prisoners, imprisoned debtors, and kidnapped children of the English lower classes. The children were kidnapped by professional "spirits" or "crimps" and sold to the colonists. (Conceived in Liberty, p. 48)
The colony arrived in Virginia in May of 1607, and by that fall over 70% were dead. This alarmingly high death rate continued for several years. The owners of the company were the overlords of the settlers, even though each one was promised a grant of 100 acres of land and a portion of the company stock by the end of the seven years. As the coerced communism failed, the charter would slowly add more incentives to the settlers, but this was a slow process, and Rothbard explains that by 1609:
The colony was still being run on "communist" principles - each person contributed the fruit of his labor according to his ability to a common storehouse run by the company, and form this common store each received produce according to his need. And this was a communism not voluntarily contracted by the colonists themselves, but imposed upon them by their master, the Virginia Company, the receiver of the arbitrary land grant for the territory.
The result of this communism was what we might expect: each individual gained only a negligible amount of goods from his own exertions - since the fruit of all these went into the common storehouse - and hence had little incentive to work or to exercise initiative or ingenuity under the difficult conditions in Virginia. And this lack of incentive was doubly reinforced by the fact that the colonist was assured, regardless of how much or how well he worked, of an equal share of goods from the common store. Under such conditions, with the motor of incentive gone from each individual, even the menace of death and starvation for the group as a whole - and even a veritable reign of terror by the governors - could not provide the necessary spur for each particular man. (Ibid, p. 49)
The settlers were ruled by martial law, as exacted on them by the company. Captain John Smith, the "hero" romanticized by the story of Pocahontas, was one of their virtual dictators, exercising "justice" on them by his own decree. Sir Thomas Gates was another of their punitive masters, appointed governor by the company in 1609. Some of the crimes punishable by death included:
trading with Indians without a license, killing cattle and poultry without a license, escape from the colony, and persistent refusal to attend church. One of the most heinous acts was apparently running away from this virtual prison to the supposedly savage Indian natives; captured runaway colonists were executed by hanging, shooting, burning, or being broken on the wheel. (Ibid, p. 49)
The recalcitrant colonists rebelled, as one might expect in such a harsh environment. And after governor Gates was obliged to appoint bodyguards for his safety, they ramped up the strictness. A new rule forced every man and women to attend Anglican church service twice a day (and I thought once a week in a three-hour block was bad). Consequences for absences increased with each truancy; after the first food was withheld, the second come with a public whipping, and the third sent the troublemaker to work in the galleys for six months. In addition to the threats of violence for playing hookey, the settlers were expected to fully submit to ecclesiastical leaders. Failure to subordinate themselves by "placing themselves under the minister's instructions," resulted in more whipping. And worse yet, if one criticized the "Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England," one could be expect to be tortured to death.
At length, the colony came under the partial Puritan leadership of Sir Edwin Sandys, who in 1619 replaced Sir Thomas Smith as treasurer. Sandys was the same man who had protested taxes and monopoly privilege in Parliament a decade earlier. Sandys began a transformation in Jamestown that led to increased economic freedom and religious tolerance. He also advocated for the abolishment of the "singe plantation" in favor of "private plantations." After a new Puritan governor, Sir George Yeardley was appointed, church attendance requirements decreased to only twice on Sundays, with absences punishable by a small fine of three schillings, and land that was promised at the end of the seven years was immediately granted to the occupants. As one might expect, incentive levels skyrocketed, and as one colonist remarked, their labors were followed with "alacrity and industry, so that":
within the space of three years, our country flourished... the plenty of these times likewise was such that all men generally were sufficiently furnished with corn, and many also had plenty of cattle, swine, poultry, and other good provisions to nourish them. (Ibid, p. 51)
The next great colonial communistic disaster was none other than the Plymouth Colony, inaugurated by a partnership between the South Virginia Company and a few London merchants. The new venture, John Peirce and Associates, received a grant in 1620 from the Virginia Company, and laid out a plan for the pilgrims who signed up with them. Each settler was promised, again at the end of seven years, a share of the joint-stock, along with the opportunity to further invest 10 pounds for each additional share, the profits of which would be divided up among them after the appointed time. Like Jamestown before them, they determined to live in communalism until the seven years was up, "with each settler contributing his all to the common store and each drawing his needs from it - again, a system of from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."
The 100 plus pilgrims sailing across the Atlantic on the Mayflower landed in Plymouth in December of 1620. However, a provisional government had to be establishment while the ship was still at sea, as many of the indentured servants were anxious to shirk their contracts and try their luck at freedom in the new land. In this they were repulsed, as a minority of pilgrims were able to form a "body politic" to control the majority, and thus the "first government of the new world was formed," a government that was in no way independent from England. By the end of the first winter the communistic experiment had claimed over half of the lives of the colonists. And by 1621, John Peirce managed to obtained another patent from the Council of New England, granting each settler 100 acres of land. However, the practice of communism continued until 1623, when the settlers were finally allowed to keep the fruits of working their own land. William Bradford, who had governed the colony since 1621, recounts in his own words the results of allowing this new autonomy:
At length after much debate, the Governor, with the advice of the chief among them, allowed each man to plant corn for his own household, and to trust themselves for that; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. So every family was assigned a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number with that in view... This was very successful. It made all hands very industrious, so that much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been... The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to plant corn, while before they would allege weakness and inability; and to have compelled them would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.
The failure of this experiment of communal service, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times, - that the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in the community, by a commonwealth, would make a state happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For in this instance, community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit and comfort. For the young men who were most able and fit for service objected to being forced to spend their time and strength in working for other men's wives and children, without any recompense. The strong man or the resourceful man had no more share of food, clothes, etc., than the weak man who was not able to do a quarter the other could. This was thought injustice...
As for men's wives who were obliged to do service for other men, such as cooking, washing, their clothes, etc., they considered it a kind of slavery, and many husbands would not brook it... If (it was thought) all were to share alike, and all were to do alike, then all were on an equality throughout, and one was as good as another; and so, if it did not actually abolish those very relations which God himself has set among them, it did at least greatly diminish the mutual respect that is so important should be preserved among them. (William Bradford Of Plymouth Plantation, p. 116, emphasis added)
Despite Bradford's eloquent summation of the failures of such a communistic system, he still believed that it was the people, not the system, that were responsible for its demise. He writes:
Let none argue that this is due to human failing, rather than to this communistic plan of life in itself. I answer, seeing that all men have this failing in them, that God in His wisdom saw another plan of life was fitter for them. (Ibid, p. 116)
This last comment is interesting to say the least, because, as I will reveal later in an ancient text that has been recently published, the Patriarchal Fathers lived successfully in a communal system of shared property. However, I believe the main difference between theirs and the communist experiments I have written about so far boils down to one thing: free agency.
Around the time Joseph Smith was consorting with the angel Moroni (or Nephi depending on what source you read), another communistic experiment was being attempted in the town of New Harmony, Indiana, by socialist advocate Robert Owen. This one was also a failure, but for different reasons than Jamestown and Plymouth; the added ingredient of free agency present in Owen's utopia, was by itself not enough to ensure success. Owen had gained his wealth from investing in and managing a spinning mill in New Lanark, Scotland, which he used to purchase a small town in Indiana along the Wabash river. The town, named Harmony, had been previously owned by George Rapp, a German pietist who founded a religion called the Harmony Society, consisting of Lutheran Separatists who believed in Christian theosophy. Rapp and his followers emigrated from Germany in 1804 and purchased land to build a town in Pennsylvania. They established a religious commune with strict requirements, with celibacy being the main tenet. After a decade of economic prosperity Rapp sold the town and purchased new territory in Indiana, which he sold to Owen in 1825.
Owen had become an advocate for social reform in the early 1800s. He railed against what he considered a tripartite evil: religion, the family, and private property. In his proposed socialistic utopia, he agitated for the abolishment of religion, the rearing of children by the community, or government, and the sharing of all property into one communal pool. He began his social experiment upon the purchase of Harmony, which he redundantly renamed, New Harmony. Owen was not the violent or totalitarian type; those that came to live in New Harmony were not subject to whippings, forced labor or public execution (which would not have been allowed in the state of Indiana). He attracted a cadre of astute intellectuals, artists, and scientists, among them were Thomas Say, Charles-Alexandre Leseur, Madame Duclos Fretageot, and William Maclure, a wealthy Scottish philanthropist who would become Owen's partner. The problem with Owen's society, is that there were too many theorists and not enough laborers. As a result, the experiment ended within two years. But Owen's legacy lived on, and other communal experiments erupted throughout the country, all of them ending with a similar fate. Owen even caught the attention of Karl Marx and Frederic Engels, who mentioned him in their writings.
Even though Owen had never actually seen a communal society succeed, he continued to advocate for socialism throughout his life. After his return to England, he published a personal manifesto in the early 1840s, in which he described the idiosyncrasies of his philosophic socialism. He became more aggressive in advocating for state-sponsored socialism, in contrast to the voluntary kind he attempted in New Harmony. These later writings are imbued with a kind of messianic aura, painting socialism as a mystical institution that would become the harbinger of human hope and happiness. But like many socialistic theorists before and after him, Owen neglected to include himself as part of the broken system in need of fixing. It is easy to insert your theoretical ideas as the answer for what other people should do, while continuing to live an imperfect life like everyone else. Karl Marx was the ultimate example, he hardly worked a day in his life, incessantly borrowing money from the wealthy Engels, which he used to espouse his ideas while neglecting his wife and children to the point that they were starving.
The Book of Mormon has the answers for this theoretical dilemma. The text insists that priests are no better than their listeners. A priest can be anyone, not just a member of Christ's church, who promulgates any idea or philosophy, whatever it may be. The priests, after they are done flapping their jaws on their proverbial soapbox, should return to their labors. In other words, everybody works, both priest and teacher, listener and saint. Thus, at least one magic ingredient in Zion is labor, where rhetoric is put into actual practice. No one will be above hard work. No one will sit and theorize while living on the labors of others. Murray Rothbard would often say that socialism doesn't work, simply because no one is willing to take the proverbial garbage out. There is no incentive to do so. There is no reward. In Owen's society, everyone was so focused on science, art, and philosophy, that they neglected the mundane labor necessary to sustain them. And without proper incentive, that labor will not get done.
God has decreed that labor is a necessary ingredient for Zion. He has explicitly stated that we should not be idle, for the idler "shall not eat the bread, nor wear the garment of the laborer." In socialism, one builds and another inhabits, one sows and another reaps. Zion will not be a socialistic society, the communalism it will embrace will be based on individual labor and incentive. Only after the needs of the individual and his family are satisfied will the extra goods be pooled into a common storehouse, and they will be placed there voluntarily. Isaiah has prophesied that those in Zion will enjoy the fruits of their own labors, the system he is describing is the opposite of socialism. He writes:
And they shall build houses and inhabit them, and they shall plant vineyards and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build and another inhabit, they shall not plant and another eat; for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, my elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them. (Isaiah 24:9, RE)
The Failure of the Early Latter-Day Saints
I will tell you that every man must be his own judge how much he should receive and how much he should suffer to remain in the hands of the Bishop. I speak of those who consecrate more than they need for the support of themselves and their families.
The matter of consecration must be done by the mutual consent of both parties; for to give the Bishop the power to say how much every man shall have, and he be obliged to comply with the Bishop's judgment, is giving the Bishop more power than a king has; an upon the other hand, to let every man say how much he needs, and the Bishop be obliged to comply with his judgment, is to throw Zion into confusion, and make a slave of the Bishop. The fact is, there must be a balance or equilibrium of power, between the Bishop and the people, and thus harmony and good will may be preserved among you. (Documentary History of the Church; 1:749)
By the end of the 1830s, the Saints had abandoned consecration. Many factors led to its demise, ranging from the wealthier families' reluctance to hand over their property to the Church, to the opposition they faced from angry mobs in Kirtland and Missouri. In March of 1840, Joseph Smith announced to the Church that the Lord had rescinded the commandment to practice consecration. The Joseph Smith Papers state:
He said that the Law of consecration could not be kept here, & that it was the will of the Lord that we should desist from trying to keep it, & if persisted in if it would produce a perfect abortion, & that he assumed the wholesale responsibility of not keeping it until proposed by himself. (Quoted on Denver Snuffer's blog here, JS Papers, Documents Vol. 7, p. 215)
I took this quote from Denver Snuffer's blog, who commented that the revelation still applies today, and that "it will require a new command from the Lord to resume the attempt." However, an interesting look into Mormon history reveals that the Brighamite Church attempted to resurrect the Law of Consecration in the 1870s, which became known as the United Order, or the Order of Enoch.
Brigham Young's sudden infatuation with the United Order was accompanied by some interesting "coincidental" economic factors that were coming into play in Utah. Up until the completion of transcontinental railroads, Mormons enjoyed an advantageous position of trade with gold rushers. Anxious to get to California, they sold their Eastern goods low and paid high prices for commodities produced in Utah. But the coming of the railroads changed all that. The diversity of "Gentiles" flooding into the territory brought new competition into Salt Lake valley. Non-Mormon merchants began thriving as they established businesses that catered to both Mormon and Gentile (I use the word sardonically, ironically, the Mormons were also Gentiles) alike. The leaders of the Church began losing their social and economic stronghold on the Latter-Day Saints.
Young began making protectionist efforts to keep money flowing between Mormons and thus into the hierarchy of the Church. In the late 1850s, he commissioned apostle Lorenzo Snow and fifty chosen families to hie up to Box Elder Settlement to establish a system of cooperative living. This would later become Brigham City, and by 1864 Snow had established the Brigham City Mercantile and Manufacturing Association, a company starting out with $3K in working capital and 5 stockholders (Snow one of them) to invest in local manufacturing and home industries. Over time the stockholders grew along with the capital, and the investors could draw on yearly dividends. This created an incentive to keep industry in the hands of Latter-Day Saints, and it worked. However, it wasn't a purely "grassroots" company, as obviously it was financed by tithing funds; Lorenzo snow being a paid apostle. In that sense, the cooperative in Brigham City was centralized, but it served as a precedent for the United Order a decade later.
Another protectionist scheme espoused by Brigham was the creation of ZCMI in Salt Lake City, or Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution, incorporated in 1870. It was established by a vote from the Council of Fifty, funded with tithing funds, and open to Mormon investors who were full tithe payers. Of the 1900 shares of original stock, 1772 were held by just four men, beholden of course to the LDS hierarchy. ZCMI fared sumptuously, and become a market force in the sale of boots, shoes, work clothes, building materials, fabric, needles, food preservation products, furniture, draperies, and even beauty products. Church leaders didn't just encourage Mormons to shop at ZCMI outlets, they demanded it, sometimes with vague spiritual threats. And as you can imagine, this lead to opposition from both Mormons and Gentiles. The leaders were able to stem the tide for a time, but when the Panic of 1873 came they had to raise the ante: it was time to reintroduce the United Order.
In the October 1873 General Conference, a torrent of talks were unleashed on the hapless Mormon listeners lauding the glorious Order of Enoch. Subsequent speaking campaigns were undertaken by apostles and other leaders in St. George and surrounding settlements. Brigham Young went so far as to even threaten the very salvation of the Saints if they failed to comply, asserting that God had again commanded them to live the United Order, which:
superseded the law of tithing. The Order of Enoch was revealed at an early day, and the Saints being unprepared to enter into it at that time, the Lord introduced the law of tithing as a lower principle or law, which had continued to the present, and now God had again revealed the above Order for our observance, to prepare us for the greater things that were close upon us. (Quoted in The Second United Order Among the Mormons, by Edward J. Allen, New York, 1936, p. 96, emphasis added)
Of course, this was in direct defiance of Joseph's revelation to abrogate the practice 40 years earlier, but Brigham was considered a "prophet" by now, and could use his influence to hint to a revelation by God, which by the way, was never written down anywhere. At the end of his life, which came a few years after the order was reintroduced, he lamented that he'd never seen the Savior or received any revelation from God to direct the Church, but that he was a "Yankee guesser." He surmised that perhaps if he held out until he was eighty, like Moses he would finally be allowed to behold the Savior:
If I am faithful until I am eighty years of age, perhaps the Lord will appear to me and personally dictate me in the management of his church and people... (Brigham Young's Telestial Kingdom, Denver Snuffer; 2012)
That personal appearance never came, but Young wasn't above using his clout to persuade Church members to comply to his whimsical and ambitious leadership practices. He also asserted that God would curse the Saints if they weren't "disposed" to enter the Order:
If we are disposed to enter into the Order of Enoch, now is the accepted time and blessed are the Latter-Day Saints. But if we are not disposed to enter this order the curses of God will come upon this people, I cannot help it. I will not curse them. But the time has come for this work to be commenced. (The Second United Order... p. 50-51)
The Saints complied, voluntary orders sprung up all over the Utah territory, varying greatly in scope. Some towns incorporated farming or industrial cooperatives like Brigham City, and others jumped full-on into voluntary communism. Like the Owen experiment, no one was coerced, and some towns experienced success for the first few years, the most famous being Orderville.
Orderville was founded by a group of Saints who desired to go far beyond what Joseph and even Brigham envisioned for the Law of Consecration. They wanted a completely communal society with no private property at all. In 1875, a rift broke out in Kanab and surrounding areas between the communalists and those who supported the less prohibitive cooperative system. The debate become so intense in Mt. Carmel that a group of communal dissenters broke off and traveled two miles northeast to a previously abandoned settlement they renamed Orderville. They wasted no time in establishing their communal order, where they enjoyed a common dining hall and uniform clothing and housing. Every activity in town was regulated by a common board elected by the people. This board oversaw farming, manufacturing, entertainment, clothing production, schooling, and cooking for common meals. The board was controlled by polygamous men, and women no longer had the freedom to run the relief society as they pleased. Their service which included cooking, sewing, etc., had to be limited to assignments issued by the men.
Despite centralized control of virtually everything in the town, the Orderville Saints actually prospered economically. They quadrupled the net worth of the town in the first four years, and by 1883 they were worth $80K. But due to external and internal pressures the leaders of the town had to make changes. Wages had to adjusted for sex and age, as some produced more than others. This trend continued, and after a flood destroyed the dining hall in 1880, Erastus Snow advised them to move to a quasi-private system consisting of unequal wages and partial stewardships, which included a plot of land for each family to use for their own economic ends. Orderville began to move from communalism to the cooperative systems that were popular in other Utah towns. And after Church leaders came under the scrutiny of the polygamy banning Edmunds Act of 1882, they counseled members to disband the orders. By 1889, all communal or cooperative ownership in Orderville was ended; the great communal experiment was over.
Edward J. Allen, writing in 1936 from a non-member perspective, offers this analysis of the Orderville success:
Reports of progress in the Order are almost entirely lacking for this period and after 1880 there is no mention of the Order in the Journal of Discourses. Yet the communistic endeavors of the brethren of Orderville were being blessed with prosperity. From its inception to the close of 1882 the community had been operated as a united family. Each drew upon the common fund and all surpluses and indebtedness were cancelled at the end of each year and all began again on equal footing. This arrangement, coupled with an increasing abundance of goods, assured all of economic security. The stimuli for arduous endeavor were the approbation of one's fellow and the reward of one's conscious. This was sufficient for many of the original settlers, but the young men saw and heard of the progress of successful individuals in the competitive outside world. They and others in the community desired the opportunity of receiving rewards in proportion to their productivity. This problem was presented to Erastus Snow in the quarterly conference at Mt. Carmel. He advised the brethren to disband. (The Second United Order Among the Mormons, by Edward J. Allen, New York, 1936, p. 113)
Allen's commentary brings up some interesting questions. Despite Orderville being centrally controlled by a patriarchy, their voluntary communism was a success, at least for the first four years. Up until 1882, the entire town consisted of one "united family," which could have been a key to their initial success. But the outside temptations of capitalistic endeavor were too great for the young men, those who had the strongest backs and could produce the most labor. As Allen suggests, the original altruistic idealism the community began with gave way to the individual avarice that accompanies market systems. This begs the question: what is the correct balance between these two extremes that worked for Enoch and Melchizedek? There has to be incentive for people to produce goods and services, but in a Zion society there has to be a mechanism for caring for the poor.
Indeed, for God to call a place Zion there would have to be no distinction at all between rich and poor. How is such a societal status achieved? What makes sense to me, and what Denver has suggested, is that it will take a new revelation from God to find out how to live this order. But in the meantime, also as Denver has suggested, we can practice by meeting in fellowships and pooling tithing money together to help those with the most pressing temporal needs. This is the first step, and will require those involved to have the attitude of what they can give, rather than what they can get out of the practice. And unlike the structure of the early LDS Church, there will be no centralized authority, i.e., a bishop or an elected board, in charge of redistribution. Every soul who contributes will be part of that process, no one will be a leader, no one will take charge. This will take extreme effort, because let's face it, it's easier to place the burden of leadership on one person rather than sharing equally in it. Most people prefer being told what to do, rather they admit it or not, simply because they don't want the responsibility that autonomy entails.
There is another text we can draw from to learn about how to have "all things common," as prescribed by the Lord. Awhile back a friend of mine recommended that I check out a Christian author named Zen Garcia. He has a YouTube channel and has written over thirty books in the last twenty years, all of which you can find at this website. He is a very humble man, confined to a wheelchair, and is an expert on apocryphal texts. I have to admit, this guy has blown my mind on a number of occasions. I believe he is definitely led by the Spirit, and is making invaluable contributions to the Christian movement. Truth is beginning to poured out on the earth as a flood, and as evil ramps up in preparation for the Beast system, God will bolster His saints with restored knowledge that will increase their faith and steadfastness to resist that system. I believe Zen, Denver, and a host of others are part of that process. Before I close this post, we'll lightly explore one of these ancient texts that mentions having all things common.
The Book of the Order of the Ancients
Zen Garcia has compiled two ancient texts into one book, The Book of the Order of the Ancients (click here for a hard copy and here for the kindle version) consisting of The Book of the Order of Elijah and the Writings of Abraham. I cannot find the source for the book of Elijah but the Writings of Abraham are said to have been discovered as a papyrus scroll in Egypt in 1831. I read the whole book in just a few hours, I couldn't put it down. It resonates considerably with the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible and Mormon theology in general, in fact, some verses are almost identical. Some of the concepts Elijah and Abraham write about are the Holy Order of God, the Patriarchal Fathers, the Melchizedek Priesthood, the Powers of Heaven, the Order of Enoch, the Schools of the Prophets, the Law of Consecration, Zion, seeing the face of God, the Everlasting Covenants, the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn, sons of Perdition, the Atonement, law of witnesses, and more. The language and style of writing is very similar to the Book of Mormon; it is has the feel of a restored gospel text.
The main theme of Elijah's book (by the way, it says that he has a future ministry) is the Holy Order of God. This is the ancient order of the Patriarchal Fathers beginning with Adam and ending with Noah, Shem (who is Melchizedek), and Abraham. For those who have read and studied Denver's talks and writings over the last decade, this material will resonate with what he has taught. The Holy Order is the ancient religion of the Fathers, it is what Joseph Smith was attempting to restore. It is the only true religion, not an organized institution, but rather a practice confined to families and small groups. In my next post I am going to delve deeper into the Holy Order, and how Satan has imitated it with the orders of various secret societies. For now there are just a few references from the text about communal living that I find interesting.
Elijah's record is addressed to his son Elisha, and is basically an instruction manual on the requirements to enter into and live the Holy Order of God. One of those requirements is living the Law of Consecration. Elijah writes:
Everyone who desireth to enter the Order of Enoch must be one who loveth the Lord his God with all his heart, might, mind and strength and one who loveth his fellowman as himself, according to the word of the Lord through Moses.
He must covenant to live the law of consecration and to hold all things common with his brethren according to the pattern set by our First Parents, for when they came forth from the garden they divided not up the land but held it in common until their posterity through wickedness began to lay claim to it for themselves.
Behold, this private ownership of the property came to pass through the teachings of that evil combination which was organized by Cain that men might get gain for themselves because the love of God and man is not in them. (The Book of the Order of the Ancients, Kindle version, p. 13, emphasis added)
When I first read that line about private property being a concept derived from Cain and secret combinations, I was shocked. I am a libertarian, to me private property is a foundational tenet of freedom. I must admit that this text is challenging my paradigm, but there is a higher law at play here, and it is not communism, at least not the Marxian type. Elijah goes on to explain that this communal living is a requirement to build Zion:
To live after the order of the ancients means that they must live in the community of God's elect, holding all things common and loving one another as themselves.
Yea, they must unite in one heart and one mind, for only thus can Zion be built up in its perfect order and the name of our God be glorified. (Ibid, p. 13)
Now we already know that holding all things common is a requirement for Zion from the Book of Mormon and the Bible, but Elijah's record is another witness of this, and adds more detail about what it actually means. It has something to do with the land. He says that Adam and Eve did not divide up the land but held it in common for their posterity. Obviously, the land has to be worked by someone to produce its yield, therefore, a person has to be made a steward over a certain parcel of that land, otherwise, chaos would ensue. The revelation Joseph Smith received on the Law of Consecration was probably similar in the methodology to the ancient order. There has to be stewards or no one would know what section of land to work, otherwise, everyone would be tripping over each other.
In the Writings of Abraham it also mentions having all things common. Abraham tells the story of his childhood, which is also told in the Book of Jasher. His father, Terah, was a big-shot in the kingdom of Nimrod, and when Abraham was born the mystics and sorcerers in Shinar predicted that the child would grow and eventually destroy Nimrod's kingdom. Nimrod ordered Terah to bring him the child so he could kill it, but Terah brought a different child and Abraham left with his mother and hid in a cave. After a decade in the cave he went to live with Noah and Shem and was instructed in the Holy Order and the Gospel of Christ for the next thirty-nine years. Eventually, Abraham is commanded by the Lord to leave and go on a mission to Egypt, where he converts Pharaoh and his entire household to the Gospel. That is why, centuries later, the Egyptian Pharaohs had a semblance of the Holy Order but corrupted it into the Egyptian Mystery Schools.
Abraham had twelve wives before he met Sarah, which is another part of the record I struggle with. Hopefully it is a mistranslation or an interpolation. From these wives he had 300 daughters but no sons, which sounds a little ridiculous. Nevertheless, he and his family, and extended family lived in communalism, where they shared their flocks, lands, and cattle. Lot, his nephew, was a part of this group. Abraham explains that Lot left the group to have his own property in Sodom where he built his own house. This grieved Abraham, but Lot was still considered a righteous man even though he wasn't obedient to the Order. In fact, he was the only righteous man found in Sodom, and was the only reason God spared it long enough to save him. Abraham writes:
Now after our departure from Egypt, a faction arose among our people upon seeing the great wealth which Pharaoh had entrusted to us, for they desired property which they could call their own.
Lot also was among them, which thing grieved me greatly, but seeing they would not be reconciled, we gave unto them a portion of the common property and they departed from us under Lot's direction and settled in the Valley of the Jordan River.
They went from place to place as their flocks needed pasture until they reached the city of Sodom where they mingled with the inhabitants and become one with them.
Lot also built a house in Sodom and settled there, but of all that company that went out from us, only Lot maintained his integrity and did not violate the covenants of his priesthood nor bow to heathen idol gods.
Nevertheless, Lot did not walk perfectly in the way of the Fathers for he dwelt not among the people of God but built his own house and he coveted his own property that he should govern it rather than holding all things common with the saints.
Nevertheless, Lot did continue to serve the Lord and the Lord loved him and his family and his property grew very large. (Ibid, p. 141)
This is an example of how one can voluntarily choose to leave the Order of Enoch and still be considered a righteous person. It is purely a higher law, never coerced or compulsory foisted upon the followers of Christ. But it is a requirement for Zion, and unless there is a people gathered together living this law in a place called the New Jerusalem, the whole earth will be utterly wasted at Christ's second coming. I really do not think that the Law of Consecration will diminish freedom or liberty in any significant way. I think the main difference between the Lord's idea of communal living and individualistic private property is that those who enter the Order will choose not let greed and avarice get the best of them. There will still be incentive, those who labor will certainly enjoy the fruits of that labor, as Isaiah has asserted, but the "abundance" that will come will be pooled into a common store to care for the poor. Until eventually, there will be no poor, and no rich, and thoughts of individual pursuit of economic gain will pale in comparison of loving and taking care of each other. Perhaps ultimately, there will be no distinction between his, hers, theirs, and ours, and the very thought of even one person going without will be too much to bear. Maybe the point is that there are no rules of how this system will function, maybe the Lord just wants us to figure it out ourselves.
I want to leave you with one more verse from the book of Elijah. This is about his future ministry to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers. Maybe, just maybe, part of Elijah's mission is to instruct us in how to live the Holy Order, including the Law of Consecration. This is just a hunch, but we know he will be some kind of link between us and the Fathers, and if we want their Zion to come down and meet our Zion, we will have to be living the same law:
For the Lord hath said, behold, my servant Elijah shall not die but shall bear with him the keys of his ministry unto the heavenly city until the last days when I shall send him unto one of his seed whom I shall raise up to bear the fullness of this ministry among the sons of men. (Ibid, p. 11)
Stay turned for Part VII: the Holy Order.