Magazine article The Spectator

'Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table', by Ellen Wayland-Smith - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table', by Ellen Wayland-Smith - Review

Article excerpt

There were two communist manifestos of 1848. One had no influence whatsoever on the revolutions of that year, but now symbolises the struggle against bourgeois capitalism. The other secured a small readership, and is almost forgotten today, but it also laid the foundations of a business that catered to bourgeois propriety.

The gestation of Marx's and Engels's Communist Manifesto is fascinating -- notably their attempts to peel socialism away from its roots in Christianity and the 'utopian' theories of Saint-Simon and Fourier. The gestation of John Humphrey Noyes's Bible Communism is astounding.

And gestation is the word. The Perfectionist community that the tyrannical preacher Noyes created at Oneida, New York, in early 1848 didn't only produce cutlery. It also produced people. Oneida's 'stirpiculture' was the first modern eugenic experiment.

Noyes believed that the Second Coming had already occurred, and that it was possible to live without sin. In early 1848, while Engels was finishing his manifesto in London, Noyes and a party of godly swingers settled at Oneida in upstate New York.

Marx claimed that the nuclear family developed as a production unit for capitalism. In his 1848 manifesto Bible Communism, Noyes combined this socialist commonplace with what he called 'free love'. This was a more appealing method of bringing heaven to earth than dialectical materialism, but the love was not free.

Sex was to Noyes as property was to Marx. The root of all evil was 'sticky love'. The private, monogamous bond bred covetousness and without contraception it turned women into baby machines. Noyes devised a system of sexual communism called Complex Marriage. Instead of economics and class solidarity, good sex would hasten the Apocalypse.

Ellen Wayland-Smith writes:

Death would be vanquished and immortality gained once the flow of electric love juice from Christ's divine battery had achieved unobstructed equilibrium throughout the nervous fibres of each and every member of His universal body.

Noyes claimed to be in touch with the spirit of St Paul. Though Wayland-Smith does not mention it, his prescriptions were closer to the epistles of James Graham, the sex doctor who ran the Temple of Health in London in the 1780s, before finding his true calling as a promoter of naked female mud-wrestling. …

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