The religio-economic constructions known collectively as the United Order are a curious anomaly in U.S. history. They have long been compared to socialism and communism—despite the obvious disparities between the practices of the United Order and any of the definitions or conceptions of socialist thought according to Marx. Perhaps the best examples of the spectrum of United Orders were Brigham City and Orderville. They were at opposite ends of that spectrum as far as practical application is concerned—statistically speaking, they were in fact outliers. Neither Brigham City nor Orderville were driven by socialist ideology (it may even be argued that its ideology isn’t compatible with common capitalist arguments either). This paper will not discuss the superiority or inferiority of ideologies, but only the discrepancies between the practices of United Order’s of Brigham City and Orderville, as well as comparisons to Karl Marx’s ideas.
First, let us define Marx’s goals clearly. Marx argued that as capitalism had replaced fuedalism, so naturally would socialism replace capitalism. Socialism would be an intermediary state, where political power would be wielded exclusively by the common working man. This is the means to escape economic and political oppression by the bourgeois, or those owning capital that employ the majority or entirety of the working class. This would be accomplished largely by state-owned industries, and thus a redistribution of wealth. Communism would not come to pass in actuality until after the Socialist state. The Communist utopia would eliminate the need of government, and the socialist state would wither away.
When looked at closely, even Orderville fails to fit the ideology, or the actual practices of socialism or communism. Brigham City is far different than Orderville from a practical perspective, but is based on the same primary motivations.
Brigham City was among the least socialist of the United Orders, functioned much like a corporate conglomerate in miniature. It was also the most successful. By the time the United Order was incorporated into the existing community, the Brigham City Manufacturing and Mercantile Association (hereafter referred to as the BCMMA) was in its 11th year, and already ran much of the community’s business (note: The BCMMA changed names several times). The area had been settled in the early 1850’s, first by a small group of 6 families or so, or approximately 150-250 people. In the next year, another 39 families gathered there. Later, Lorenzo Snow moved there with 50 more families in 1853 and 54.
At the time of its creation, the BCMMA was a general store, with stock that could be bought and invested in. It began with four stockholders—one of them Lorenzo Snow—and $3,000, and proved very successful, expanding by 1866 in the construction of a tannery at the cost of $10,000. Those that helped construct the tannery were compensated in stock in the company, with only a few of them being paid any wages.
This was followed by a boot and shoe shop, and a saddle and harness shop, as well as the woolen mills that were built in 1870-71. By this time, there were now 126 stockholders, and the population of Brigham City had reached 1315.
Because the area was so cash-poor, services and products created by the Manufacturing & Mercantile Association were given instead of cash dividends. This was achieved by the use of scrip, or notes issued by the BCMMA. The notes weren’t paid to outside organizations or people; they were internal, and mostly used for items actually produced by the BCMMA.
The cooperative was so successful that “When the depression of 1873 hit Utah, many communities experienced unemployment, low prices, and poverty—but not Brigham City.” In 1873 was the greatest expansion of any year the BCMMA existed.
The centralized means of production seems so far to be the only similarity to socialism, but this isn’t far different from large corporations today, either. Perhaps the largest difference between the cooperative in Brigham City and typical corporate organizations is this: the goal was not profit, innovation, or survival of the company. Instead, the goal was to provide for the entire community both employment and sustenance. To that end, those running the cooperative were not excessively paid, nor did they seek to expand their market.
Not all the citizens of Brigham City shared equal amounts of the stock, and they were paid wages similar to those in the same profession elsewhere in the U.S., so economic equality was not achieved, since dividends paid to some stockholders were much larger than others. Lorenzo Snow himself made a comment indicating, that aside from the large dividends that he got from his stockholdings, he worked for free. Much of the direction and organization of the company can be—and often is—attributed to his guidance.
It was about this point that Brigham Young began trying to create similar institutions in the rest of the territory. Brigham Young called on many communities to create their own orderly establishments, calling these all by the same name: ‘The United Order.’ He asked for an end to competition between the saints, and called for each community to be self-sufficient. In the next year, the BCMMA was altered to meet Brigham Young’s requests. An addition of a council of sixty prominent citizens to the current board of seven directors was the most notable change—other than that, the BCMMA continued just as before. An interesting note: in a report compiled from many of the United Orders, the detail of the report from Brigham City was perhaps matched only by the Bountiful United Order. This may be indicative of the corporate nature of the cooperative venture there—or it may simply fall in line with the otherwise meticulous records that the BCMMA kept; the report notes that the capital stock is now $20,000.
In 1875, a letter from Lorenzo Snow to a stockholder reports the state of affairs of the BCMMA, reporting $140,000 in stock, apparently a sevenfold increase from the report less than a year before. In the same letter, Snow says that the woolen mills can’t keep up with the demand. By 1877, most of the United Orders had failed, yet the BCMMA was stronger than ever. It was at this time that Lorenzo Snow sent a letter to Brigham Young, reporting the current state of the cooperative, as well as expressing worries over the monopolistic nature of the enterprise. From his letter:
“We have gradually, imperceptibly, and without calculation or previous design, drifted into possession of all the principle channels, and main arteries of business, trades, manufacture, and all industries which are carried on in Brigham City and in many of the surrounding settlements. Most of these, however, have been created by the energy of the Institution, or very greatly improved and enlarged, an this in a manner that could not have been done by allowing things to have gone on in the old way of private enterprise, everyone doing in his own way what seemed right in his own eyes. If it could have been done in some other settlement, it could not in Brigham City, for the men with the necessary ability and capital were not here. But this amalgamation, absorption monopolizing and gathering into one, and centralizing of all our industries, thrown upon myself, is a responsibility that I should never dared to have assumed. In fact I never anticipated such a result, though I have felt it gradually approaching, but yet could not see how to escape and be justified.”
Lorenzo felt a heavy weight, being so responsible for so many. It was perhaps as early as 1874 that Lorenzo felt a need to rearrange, dissolve, or sell off parts of the cooperative.
In 1878, the city suffered a major blow when the woolen mills burned down. Snow was worried for the future of the United Order they had formed, but was pleasantly surprised when the resolute citizens rebuilt the mills in less than six months. In the next year, the cooperative would suffer several misfortunes. Eliza R. Snow attributed most of the failure of the cooperative to these few things, including: the loss of the woolen mills, a failed contract to provide railroad ties to the Utah Northern Railroad due to interference from an anti-Mormon judge in Idaho, loss of crop due to crickets, and an unjust assessment of a U.S. official from the IRS, which resulted in a $10,200 payment to the U.S. This was later returned in 1884, but by that time the cooperative was in pieces, and it was used largely to pay off remaining debts.
The $10,200 was an assessment of back-taxes that the O.J. Hollister declared due, this was based on the use of scrip, or the coupons which the BCMMA distributed to their employees—almost excluding the use of cash entirely. The assessment was based on treating the scrip as cash—which was illegal, as the use of the scrip was entirely internal and therefore did not have to be declared as cash transactions.
But the dwindling of the Brigham City cooperative was due to other factors as well. In 1869, the transcontinental railroad had been completed. As extending railroad lines were built all the way south into Salt Lake Valley, goods from the east had become a good deal cheaper. By its nature, the BCMMA as a cooperative venture couldn’t compete with a number of products delivered by rail—in addition, the BCMMA was ill-equipped with the sort of capital necessary to compete in an environment without the monopoly which it had once obtained. Finally, the aforementioned monopoly, and accompanying weight on Snow’s shoulders were signs of an infrastructure insufficient to support such a large centralization of production.
The Gini coefficient is a measure of inequality of wealth– the higher the coefficient, the greater the inequality of wealth distribution. If one looks at the Gini coefficient of the Brigham City cooperative, and the similarly modeled St. George cooperatives, one notices that these did not bring equality of income to the populace—in fact, they decreased it. The Gini indexes of each of these communities is usually higher than the current U.S. Gini index, which is measured at a coefficient of less than .47 by most standards. The Gini coefficient of Orderville registers at .29 in the only year of enough available data (1880), showing a bit of contrast.
At the other end of the range of United Orders was Orderville—an unusual experiment, and it seems that through poor communication during 1870’s and 1880’s from church authorities, it fostered some confused ideologies.
Henry B.M. Jolley was the first Mormon to explore and settle in the Long Valley area, home to three communities: Mount Carmel, Orderville, and Glendale. Orderville was separated from the the other communities early on, in the spring of 1875. This was due to a split in the United Order there, which had been established the previous March. Due to the split factions of people in Long Valley, it was at Brigham Young’s recommendation that they create a new community. The Mt. Carmel community would continue to practice a different version of the United Order—and Orderville went on to a more communal lifestyle.
Kent Huff suggests that reason for the practices of the more rural United Orders was not one based on some them of anti-capitalist sentiment, or social equality. Instead he says that there was a need for an almost militaristic organization. The Mormon leaders of the area were the only authorities, and there was little enough dissidence when the community’s survival was at stake. Arrington confirms some of this militaristic life-style.
This perhaps has a measure of truth to it, but it seems from Orderville accounts quoted in Huff’s own book, that the people of Orderville were striving for some measure of economic equality—albeit seemingly contrary to statements and directions from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Even Dean May, in his account of the United Order in the Utah History Encyclopedia remarks that Orderville was perhaps above and beyond what Joseph Smith had envisioned.
Unlike the more urban cooperatives, the Orderville establishment did not pay dividends to those that had joined. The records of what people brought with them, or contributed to the order aren’t detailed. When joining the order, it was not uncommon to be rebaptized, to show one’s dedication; over 300 people are recorded baptized in 1875. The growth of the community continued on and off throughout its existence, but tapered off toward the end
Most of Orderville remained relatively poor—but they weren’t destitute. There came to the community a decision to not allow more to join the order, and there were some who were disappointed by this. Often those joining the order were very poor, and this contributed to the necessity of limiting newcomers.
Thomas Chamberlain was bishop of Orderville during much of the United Order’s existence there; after receiving counsel from Erastus Snow to distinguish between kinds of skilled labor there was a change in the distribution of resources or ‘credit.’ This apparently contributed to some hard feelings and difficulties among the citizens.
When the citizens of Orderville did not receive this change very well, they received further counsel from Erastus Snow indicating clearly that Orderville’s communal practices were not some doctrinal, unchangeable command from a prophet of God, but rather a ‘financial experiment.’
Later, George Q. Cannon told the bishop to revert to the previous method, of giving everyone equal credit for equal time worked. He also counsels him to establish a fund for the youth, who haven’t voluntarily joined the order, some of whom wish to leave. It has been suggested and seems likely that the dealings with those leaving the order wishing funds to start anew elsewhere were too generous, sapping the community of it’s resources. It seems that the community didn’t heed the counsel from Cannon.
Orderville was one of the last in existence of these communal societies, but althought the communal life-style was discontinued in 1895, it wasn’t for another 5 years that the legal entity was dissolved. Ledgers show that when the last community owned structures were sold, and the remaining capital dissolved to the contributers, there were 190 people still on the record, with an average of $570 a piece in capital stock. The plural marital practices and unusual economic practices of the saints were coming under attack from the U.S., furthering the difficulties that the church’s general structure and membership faced. To alleviate some of these difficulties, Orderville was counseled by church leaders to stop their economic practices, which they complied with. By this time many men from the community had already been jailed, making leadership of the community scarce.
The United Order in Orderville was definitely communal, and certainly not like any capitalist ventures we see today, but in order to see what it really was, we must look at it’s driving forces and the ideology behind it.
The goal of Marx’s Socialist state, and the final goal of a Communist utopia is based on a few things. First, the need to alleviate or prevent political oppression of the working class by economic means. The necessity of removing the economic inequalities from the power structure is necessary to accomplish this. Second, the need to reunite the working class with the true value of its labor, from which the workers have been estranged by the nature of corporate capitalism. Without restrictions, capitalist enterprise reduces the workers to resource value, to be used by corporations, or even entire industries.
The ideologies driving both Brigham City and Orderville cannot be these things, as they were not concerns of any urgency. The political oppression of these communities was not internal, nor was it the most pressing of difficulties. There was no oppression based on economic disadvantages, and what oppression there was came from sources generally considered to be outside the economic structure of the territory, namely the U.S. government and its legislators.
Instead, the needs of these communities were to avoid economic oppression from merchants supplying necessary goods from the eastern U.S. The need of survival was first, and being self-sufficient as a territory was the next step. Brigham Young taught that the way to achieve such was to avoid competition with one another, and cooperate instead, pooling their resources. This was emphasized several times before the advent of the complex system instituted across the territory in 1874, but never heeded very well.
Prior to the Federal land office in Utah Territory, the settlers had to cooperate somehow to divide and organize farming efforts, as well as efforts raising cattle, sheep, etc. The options were to try to create legislature themselves– ignoring the United States’ claims on Utah as Territory, or try something outside the legal system, since little of one existed. The extra-legal United Order systems were adjusted when legal means of organizing became available, but the desire for cooperation and for Mormon control of their own economy remained.
Marx distinguishes between personal property and private property. Private Property includes land, capital, factories, etc. Personal property includes things like toothbrushes, boots—basically anything that has little value to anyone but it’s owner. Private property he was against—he taught that the means of production should be publicly owned. While the means of production was publicly owned in the community at first, so was everything else. An alternate system of organizing responsibility usually designated through ownership was instituted, called “stewardship.” Later, the land was divided more traditionally.
It becomes clear that Brigham City was not a socialist organization in the least, although it did accomplish one goal of Marx’s socialism, namely the elimination of poverty. Orderville is a more complex situation, as it had a more drastic change in the last years of it’s existence, the ideologies at work were not clear to those in the community at times, and its characteristics weren’t consistent with Marx’s definitions, although in practical application it did produce a larger leveling effect of the incomes of the populace, and was a very communal society. So, even the most likely of United Order candidates is more economically flexible than, and only superficially resembling Marx’s socialism.
Rosemary Cundiff, Brigham City (Utah). City Council: Agency History #3086, http://www.archives.state.ut.us/research/agencyhistories/3086.html, 2002 (accessed April 3, 2009).
Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census. Database. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2003.(www.ancestry.com : accessed April 2009).
“Gini Coefficient: An Indicator of Income Inequality.” Available from http://www.sustainablemiddleclass.com/Gini-Coefficient.html. (Accessed April 16, 2009), “United States.” Central Intelligence Agency. Available from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html, “US is Outlier in Gini Index.” The Financial Filibuster. Available from http://financialfilibuster.com/2008/12/25/us-is-outlier-in-gini-index/ .
Dean L. May, “The United Order Movement.” Utah History Encyclopedia. Available from http://www.media.utah.edu/UHE/UHEindex.html (Accessed April 17, 2009)
The Inflation Calculator, http://www.westegg.com/inflation/infl.cgi