How Socialism Helped Save the Mormon Church


May 30, 2011 by The Mormon Worker

By William Van Wagenen

When many people think of Mormons, wealthy advocates of capitalism like Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck often come to mind. Because of this, many people are very surprised to learn that Mormons have a long and proud socialist heritage.

The early Mormon settlers in Utah implemented a socialist economic system under the direction of Brigham Young. They never used the word “socialism,” but socialist is the only way it can really be described.

What is even more surprising is that this socialist system helped to save the members of the Church from widespread starvation in 1855. Were it not for a socialist economic system, the Church may not have survived as we know it today.

When a group of new Mormon immigrants arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in the early 1850s, Mormon Church President Brigham Young made it clear what kind of society they were entering:

“Again, with regard to labour – don’t imagine unto your selves that you are going to get rich, at once, by it. As for the poor, there are none here, neither are there any who may be called rich, but all obtain the essential comforts of life.”

Read the rest of this article here.

6 thoughts on “How Socialism Helped Save the Mormon Church

  1. Ron Madson says:

    Nice, well written article. Scarcity sometimes requires such measures. Ideally it would be “democratic” socialism where societies of their own free will and choice advance to the point that they choose to address the basic needs of every single person in their community.

    • Forest Simmons says:

      Many Latter-Day Saints believe that redistribution at the behest of church leaders is OK, but not democratically mandated redistribution. It seems that in their view, there can be no economic justice without a theocracy. I believe that they will be surprised at how democratic the “Kingdom of God” turns out to be during the millennial reign of the Lord. For similar reasons, process theologians translate the New Testament “basilea theou” as “Commonwealth of God,” instead of Kingdom of God, since the word king has been tainted by so many evil dictators using that title, and gives the wrong impression that God will act as autocratic ruler..

      We are big on self-reliance for the individual, but how about enough self-reliance for the community to be able to take care of its own people in a democratic way? Or will we always have to be commanded in these things?

      Brigham Young said (and I paraphrase from memory) that nobody supposes for a minute that the angels of heaven are trafficking [like the capitalists] rather everybody knows that they live like one big family, so why (asks Brigham) cannot we live the same way here on earth? I don’t think he would have accepted the excuse, “Because they have God making all of the decisions, and we don’t.”

  2. Robert Poort says:

    I noticed that folks go to great lenghts to stress that Mormonism never had anything to do with Socialism. (see such a comment on this post at: where someone comments: “We might more aptly call the early Mormon political economy “theocratic agrarian distributism.”
    Socialism clearly is a red(!) flag to many mainstream mormons, and they don’t want to have anything to do with it. However, they do not use constructive critisism, no do they point to any alternatives to capitalism, reason why stressing the connection of early mormonism with socialism remains very useful to show there’s room for improvement in our social-economic approach and to start a dialogue to that effect. I’m sorry, I just used that darned word “social” again ….

    • tariq says:

      I think that part of the reason why so many U.S. Mormons go to such great lengths to put distance between the words socialism and Mormonism, is that, as a result of our education system and our idiotic mainstream media, United Statesers have little to no understanding of the vast diversity of socialist thought. Most are only familiar (vaguely) with the out-dated authoritarian models of the likes of Lenin and Stalin, and most Mormons see no resemblance between those repressive regimes and what they know of the early Church. Another part of the part of the problem is that even leftists shy away from the word socialism, which only reinforces shallow misconceptions: “I believe in universal healthcare and economic equality! But don’t get me wrong, I’m no socialist!”

  3. Rick says:

    I get the feeling that most members use “socialism” as a catch-all to describe things they either don’t like or understand. I doubt many have any idea what socialism really is or what great diversity is found under that huge umbrella. I served a mission in a socialist country, and it was like home only .cleaner and without the poverty. Best of all, the church was thriving. I hold out no hope that American church members will ever face the facts about socialism, but I wonder if the bretheren aren’t moving toward a more inclusive view, given that the church continues to grow and expand in more and more places in the world that aren’t like the U.S. For too many members these days, it can be fairly said that their politics is their religion

  4. LaRae Black says:

    If giving of our time and resources to those who are in need represents socialism I see no reason to apologize for being a Latter Day Saint, (Mormon) In times of world crisis you will find Mormons all over the world immediately involved in humanitarian efforts.helping those who temporarily cannot help themselves.

    It is so easy to bad mouth those who are willingly sacrificing while sitting on a couch. Nothing makes me smile more than hearing a news reporter naively say, “The first two groups to arrive (in a natural disaster) were the Mormons and the Latter Day Saints.”

    Yes, I expect my Church Leaders ask me to redistribute my surplus in times of need. But no one is forced to give a penny or a minute of their time or resources. We have no paid clergy so the church never skips a beat or collapse when a leader dies, like the crystal Palace in California did.

    I am grateful I belong to a church who believes in taking care of my neighbors regardless of color, race or creed. LaRae Black, Blanding, Utah

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