Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

Utopia and the Critique of Political Economy

Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

Utopia and the Critique of Political Economy

Article excerpt

Utopian experiments in Philadelphia and Victoria

In 1845, the Philadelphia Industrial Association established a Fourierist Phalanx on a farm in the northwestern corner of what is now South Bend (the city where I teach), in the U.S. state of Indiana. The Association became an officially recognized society consisting of 50 members, and described as a joint-stock company, on 13 January 1845. Its first official act was on 3 April of that year, when William McCartney sold 230 acres of land to the association for $5,000. The association seems to have had no relationship to the city of Philadelphia but took its name from the same roots of 'brotherly love'. Already in the second year of its operation, the Philadelphia Industrial Association fell on hard times, apparently as the result of a dispute between the president and other members of the society. Undeterred, the Association then proceeded to purchase another plot of land. But even then, it was not able to survive-- and all the land was sold toward the end of 1846, thus ending the short life of the Philadelphia Industrial Association.

We don't know much more about the Association than that. But we are informed that, more than a decade after its demise, a Workingmen's Institute was formed in the area, part of a group of 114 public libraries established in Indiana.

I'll admit I'm interested in the short-lived Philadelphia Industrial Association because I've worked in the same area for over 30 years now. Even more, when I teach my Notre Dame students about capitalism and alternatives to capitalism, I enjoy pointing out that, not only has the United States over the course of its history featured hundreds of communist societies, at least one of them (the Shakers) having endured much longer than the Soviet Union--and some of them existed in Indiana, a state where they spend four years and yet is the last place in the world where they expect to find a history of living, breathing, practicing communists.

Around the same time (in 1853), Johann Frederick Krumnow and his Moravian followers-- farmers, carpenters, blacksmiths, saddlers, masons and other craftspeople--purchased 1600 acres of Crown Land between Penshurst and Hamilton in Western Victoria and proceeded to establish Herrnhut, Australia's first commune. (The name of the commune is the same as the town in Saxony Germany, where the Moravians established a commune for refugees in the early eighteenth century.)

Apparently, in the wider community, the people at Herrnhut were often referred to as 'The Peculiar People' because of their strange beliefs. Not only were members not allowed to seek medical help (medical problems could only be treated with prayer), but--perhaps even stranger at the time--all money and property belonged to the collective.

Various bluestone buildings were constructed over the years (the ruins of which can still be visited). These included a house for Krummnow, a church, a communal kitchen and dining room, and a dormitory. Other works included a dairy complex, various dams and wells, a mill, quarries, an orchard and vineyard. The commune was intended to be self-sufficient, with all excess produce sold to nonmembers. Over the years, the commune was very successful, although markets for its wool, wheat, and other produce were limited and distant. The communards also put their religious principles to practical purpose to support others--including local Aborigines, women in distress, and homeless or destitute men. People were taken in, housed, and fed but they were required to work and pray together with the communards.

By the 1870s, Herrnhut was increasingly in debt and Krummnow was losing his absolute hold over the commune. The crisis was averted when Herrnhut absorbed the 60 members of another utopian commune established by Maria Heller at Pine Hills in northern Victoria. But Heller eventually defected to the nearby community of Tabor and, by the late 1870s, Herrnhut was in grave financial difficulty. …

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