Historic Failures of Applied Socialism in Ohio by Daniel J Ryan 1920
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Of the Socialist communities none will interest us as much as those established in Ohio, and a brief review of their foundation cannot fail to be of interest and value. The Yellow Springs community was established through the influence and enthusiasm of Robert Owen about 1824, at Yellow Springs, now the site of Antioch college. Located in one of the most delightful regions of the state, it became a community of a people who honestly desired to effect a great social and moral reform. The community as finally organized consisted of about 100 families, the heads of which were professional men, teachers, merchants, mechanics, farmers and a few laborers. Everybody entered into the spirit of the mission with great sincerity, and it had an auspicious opening, and yet it lasted but three months. A writer who was familiar with the facts of its history says that it fell a victim to individuality. The doctrine of social equality could not obtain against the education and human nature of its members. It whispered to the lowly maiden who occupied an inferior position before entering the society: "You are as good as the formerly rich and fortunate; insist upon your equality." It reminded the former favorites of their lost social superiority. The industrious, the skillful, and the strong, saw the product of their labor enjoyed by the indolent, the unskilled, and the improvident; and self love arose against benevolence. A band of musicians insisted that their brass harmony was as necessary to the common happiness as bread and meat, and declined to enter the harvest fields or the work shops. A lecturer upon natural science insisted on talking only, while others worked. Mechanics whose day's labor brought two dollars into the common fund, insisted that they in justice work only half as long as the agriculturist whose day's work brought but one. A member of the community, speaking of his associates, says: "They admitted the favorable circumstances which surrounded its commencement; the intelligence, devotion and earnestness which were brought to the cause by its projectors, and its final total failure. And they rested-ever after in the belief that man, though disposed to philanthropy, is essentially selfish; and that a community of social equality and common property is impossible."
The Kendal community, near Canton, Stark county, was the second attempt to carry out the socialistic views of Mr. Owen. It had about 200 members, settled upon 200 acres of land, and lasted two years. Inefficiency of management, which saddled them with a debt, brought discouragement and dissension, and after a duration of two years the project was abandoned.
Many years had passed, and the ideas of Robert Owen had come to naught in every community which was established to carry out his ideas of socialism, and then Fourierism fastened itself upon the State of Ohio in the early forties. The Clermont Phalanx was established at Cincinnati the 22nd pf February 1844, under the urgent recommendation of Horace Greeley, Albert Brisbane and Wm. E. Channing. Thirty miles above Cincinnati, in Clermont county, on the beautiful Ohio, 900 acres of land were selected, and on the 9th of May the believers in the new idea chartered a steamer from Cincinnati and took possession of their idyllic domain. The association numbered 120 persons. It lived two years. The demon Individuality was its destroyer, and he took women, litigation and debt as his instruments.
There is one of these Phalanxes known as the Columbian Phalanx concerning which I have not been able to secure any facts, except that it was located in Franklin county in 1845. There are no particulars of its existence.
The Marlboro Association was located in Clinton county, with a membership of 24. Inefficiency and debt caused its dissolution at the end of four years.
The Ohio Phalanx was located upon 2200 acres of land in Belmont county, on the Ohio river, seven or eight miles below Wheeling, in 1844. It had 100 members and lasted just ten months. The organ of the association stated the difficulty in the Ohio Phalanx to be as follows: "Want of experience; too much enthusiasm; unproductive members, and want of means." One of the members writing says, referring to the troubles of the association: "Much space might be occupied in endeavoring to show the right and the wrong of these parties and proceedings, which to the reader would be quite unprofitable. The broad results we have before us, namely, that certain supposed-to-be great and important principles were tried in practice, and through a variety of causes failed. The most important causes of failure were said to be deficiency of wealth, wisdom and goodness; or if not these the falsity of the principles."
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Prairie Home was located near West Liberty, in Logan county, Ohio. The property of this Phalanx consisted of over 500 acres, and the members numbered about 130. It lasted just one year, and its abandonment was caused by debt and dissension.
The Trumbull Phalanx was organized by the socialistic enthusiasts of Pittsburg, and commenced its operations in the spring of 1844. It was very orthodox from a Christian standpoint, its members being Presbyterians, Disciples, Baptists and Methodists. It lasted two and one-half years, and again individuality caused its destruction, this time religious individuality, which they refused to surrender to the general rule of socialism. Another phase of discontent is described by one who was a member, thus: "Some came with the idea that they could live in idleness at the expense of the projectors of the estate, and this idea they practically carried out; while others came with good hearts for the cause. There were one or two designing persons who came with no other intent than to push themselves into situations in which they could impose upon their fellow members; and this to a certain extent they succeeded in doing."
These Ohio socialistic associations, based upon the ideas of Robert Owen and Charles Fourier, were entirely secular. They were based upon philosophic socialism, and had for their motives the happiness and progress of their members from a purely temporal standpoint. There were others established in this state from entirely different motives. These were the communities founded by religious sects. They all played an important part in the history of this state, and while they were the longest lived of all the socialistic centers, they too fell in time, from the same reason as those which we have just discussed, namely, the suppression of the individual motive. These organizations were the Shakers, the Separatists of Zoar, and the Mormons.
The Shaker community of Warren county was located near Lebanon, Ohio, by a sect established by Ann Lee, an English woman who came to this country in 1774. Their purity, individual life and industry, and their implicit faith in their mission, gave them life for nearly one hundred years. They believed in the non-marriage state, community of goods, non-resistance and peace. Their extinction is due to the operation of the laws of nature, having no source of increase except the addition of members, they fell into a condition of apathy and decrease as the years went by. They have been wound up in the courts, their property passed out of their hands, and from four thousand Shakers in the United States in 1823, there are now less than three hundred. Their failure was due to the lack of individual energy and to their abnormal ideas concerning marriage.
While the alleged revelations of Mormonism occurred in New York, it was really founded at Kirtland, Ohio, in June 1831, where the first "Stake of Zion" was established. Here, under the leadership of Joe Smith, the Prophet, was first established in concrete form the Mormon church. Its cornerstone was socialism, the common ownership of all property, both real and personal, and the surrender of all individual action in religious, social and business life to the church, which was controlled by what was known and is known yet, as the Twelve Apostles. Thus the individual unit was eliminated, and there were no personal rights of any sort left to the individual Mormon. A large acreage of land was purchased and divided by the church; factories and store houses, and even a bank, were made a part of the Mormon regime. But all individualism was not suppressed; in the disposition of the real estate and in the transaction of the financial affairs of the church the Prophets, Joseph Smith and his family, and Brigham Young and his associates, took an unusual and large share of the profits, both of the business and of the bank. The bank was established contrary to the laws of the state of Ohio, and upon the issue of an illegal currency prosecutions were commenced by the state. Having no substantial basis of specie payment, the bank crumbled in bankruptcy, the entire community left the state, its leaders fleeing in the night to escape criminal prosecution. The socialistic management of the Mormon church was retained for many years, until a revolt among the strong-minded young men of the second generation, who desired to assert their personal right to their own earnings, resulted in its abolition. Nevertheless it caused revolts and dissensions in the church, and a division into two bodies.
The most impressive example of sectarian socialism in Ohio was that of the Separatist Society of Zoar. It was entirely an exotic institution, based upon a religious society that dissented from the Lutheran church in Germany. They came to this country in about 1816, and located at Zoar, in Tuscarawas county, this State, with about eight hundred believers. Their leader was Joseph Bimeler, a German and evidently a man of great personal force, mental and physical. His original associates were men of rather thick-headed disposition, and Bimeler had to do all the thinking, planning, preaching and pulling his associates along. Zoar, named after the little town in Palestine, succeeded amazingly so long as Bimeler had his strength and lived. In the original conception of this sect, they were opposed to the institution of marriage and decided to make celibacy obligatory. Bimeler enforced this decree for the first ten years of the Society, or until he was smitten with the charms of one of the comely maidens who was an inmate of his household, and whose duty it was to wait upon the spiritual and temporal head of the Society. Bimeler was married, and the celibate prohibition of the Society was removed. The Zoarites, as they were called, practiced real socialism, and during the first generation of management under the iron rule of Bimeler progressed in numbers and in wealth. When the young men and young women grew up, and looked over the garden wall that surrounded them, they viewed their own institutions with lukewarm fidelity and waning strength. In the third generation under the withering influence of individualism it died, and the courts received its wreckage for distribution according to law. In its last days, in-1896, the young revolutionists commenced to openly print their objections against Zoar, and one of them said: "Communism may be a good thing in the interior of Africa, but in the center of the highly civilized state of Ohio it is an outrage. Communism, as practicably demonstrated by the Zoar Society, abolishes all distinctions of rank and of fortune. Any casual visitor to Zoar will undoubtedly notice the lack of reverence of inferiors to their superior in age, attainments, or otherwise. This very lack of reverence is a certain means of downfall of all Communistic societies. The smallest child is put on a level with the adult, socially, the toper with the sober, the indolent with the diligent. What other can be expected from such a social order of things, but in the end contentions and ruin." And again: "Theorists may dream of a golden time when the Communism shall prevade this whole earth, but let them go to a Communistic Society and fill the place of a common laborer and they will awake to the fact that Purgatory is a blessing compared with their position. Communism is a curse to any and all communities where it is established. It deadens all push, energy and ambition. It puts a premium on idleness and unfits a person for the battle with the world for an existence when the time comes in which he will be thrown on his own resources, which will sooner or later, come to all members of Communist Societies." Speaking of children, this same writer says: "The secret of the stability of the Society lay in its Children's Institution. In the early history of Zoar, every child when it had attained to the age of three years was taken away from the parents into the Society Children's Institution and left to the tender mercies of its keepers."
If one desires to give a more interesting study and detail to the history and end of Zoar, he will find it in a book entitled Zoar, a Study in Sociological Communism, by the late E. O. Randall, Secretary of the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society. In order to make an accurate human picture of this effort in socialism, he spent one of his vacations among its people, by whom he was received hospitably, and given more information than has ever been disclosed to an outsider. This was about twenty years ago. He has produced a work on Zoar that is an extremely reliable document of historical research concerning the domestic and civil life, the government of the church, its business operations, its living, literary and social affairs. It is one of the most effective answers to socialism ever offered. There is no argument, no disputation, but a moving picture of the hard fact of failure.
I cannot leave this subject of religious socialism without referring to probably what has been the most famous one of all. This was the Oneida Community, founded by John Humphrey Noyes in 1847. It was socialistic to the fullest extent, anticipating Marx and Bebel forty years so far as the community of women was concerned. All the men of the community were considered to be the "husbands" of all the female members, and in turn all the women were considered to be the "wives" of the male members—a combination of polygamy and polyandry. This system was finally abandoned in 1879 under the fierce whiplash of indignant public opinion. Noyes wrote a very comprehensive work fifty years ago, entitled History of American Socialisms and in that he aggressively defends his system of free love. He was evidently a good business man, and he conducted his association with financial success, having the implicit obedience of the dupes who surrounded him. But the community soon lost its flavor as well as its favor, and upon his death it was converted into a bloated corporation, under the name of "The Oneida Community, Limited," and is now a prosperous manufacturing corporation, having a substantial standing among the business concerns of this country. It is the sarcasm of fate that the most successful socialistic venture in the history of America should after an existence of forty years be transformed, in order to save its life, into a corporation.
I have recited here, at the risk of some monotony, a catalogue of the institutions established not only in Ohio, but in this country, under the impulse of socialism. All of these experiments were based upon the common ownership of property, land and personal, as well as the common ownership of the implements of production. They involved in every instance the surrender of the rights and power of the individual to the community. This embodied the very essence of socialism which has been advocated from the philosopher Karl Marx to the agitator Eugene Debs. Thus eliminating individuality in their social life, the result was the same in every single instance; that is failure, and these failures resulted from one or more of the following conditions (1) lack of capital; (2) inefficiency of management; (3) dissensions among its members; (4) looseness of the marriage tie.
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