IN 1884 THE JOURNALIST Edward Bellamy, struggling with an idea for a utopian novel, visited the only actually-existing Communist society on earth: Utah. More precisely, he spent a week in Brigham City, seat of Box Elder County, where Apostle Lorenzo Snow (who would later become fifth LDS president and the last to have personally known Joseph Smith) showed him the workings of a dynamic community based on pooled wealth, producer and consumer cooperatives, and the use of labor scrip instead of money.
(more Mike Davis on Mormon socialism)
‘He emphasizes, for instance, that while “the nexus of American evangelicalism was individual salvation, Young’s theology, like that of Joseph Smith, centered around extended families.” “For Brigham Young, like Joseph Smith, the chief end of humankind was eternal fellowship and familial glory. ‘[If] men are not saved together, they cannot be saved at all.’” And Smith famously vowed that he would rather go to hell with the Saints than to heaven without them.’
‘After three generations of persecution, migration and backbreaking labor to achieve an egalitarian Zion, the conservative reformation in Salt Lake City was deeply disorienting to many Mormons. As original research for Utah Radicalism has established, at least 40 percent of the Socialist Party membership in Utah before 1920 were Mormons, most of them devout.
Many were the children of the United Order, like Lillie Engle who grew up in Orderville and became a Socialist candidate in Emery County in 1912. (In a poignant reminiscence, she equated the “sorrows that only the domestic servant, the widow, the ‘Mormon,’ the unpopular socialist, and the poor oppressed of the world know.”)’
Of course, like the more famous kibbutz, these sorts of experiments have to be seen in the context of settler-colonialism and “manifest destiny”. Something that Mike Davis’ account of the “beehive socialism” of early Mormonism shares with non-leftist laments of lost elements of Mormon culture is a focus on the flight from sometimes admirable weirdness to a desperate Americanism under US government and capitalist pressure.