Mormon Socialist Voices from the Dust

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June 24, 2014 by Tariq Khan

I have been reading John S. McCormick and John R. Sillito’s fascinating book A History of Utah Radicalism: Startling, Socialistic, and Decidedly Revolutionary.  This book is a must-read for anyone interested in Utah history/politics, Mormon history/politics, and American radical-Left history.  I have an MA in history and I am currently working on a PhD in U.S. history, and yet there is so much in this book that is completely new to me.  I had no idea how widespread socialism was in early-twentieth century Utah and what large a role socialism played in shaping Utah politics.  Particularly interesting to me are some of the voices of Mormon Socialists that this book resurrects from the dead.  Without any further commentary, here are a few of those working-class Mormon socialist voices, speaking to us from the dust:

 

“Our political faith is Socialism, our religious faith is (Mormon) the Latter-day Saints.  We are living under Capitalism and the wealth of the world is privately owned by individuals…but this building is collectively owned by the community and is to be used for high school gymnasium purposes.  It is built by wage slavery as all labor at this point in history is.”  – Andrew Leslie Porter, Mormon Socialist, at the 1913 dedication of the Springville, Utah high school gymnasium.  Source: McCormick and Sillito, A History of Utah Radicalism, p. 110, Utah State University Press, 2011

 

“My own indigent financial condition and that of the majority of the working class in general has caused me to think seriously and study about economic and social questions, and having concluded that socialism is the only political movement that offers a solution and remedy for social ills, political corruption, undue wealth for the capitalist and unjust poverty for the workers, I have embraced socialism for my politics…and now hold the office of secretary of the local branch of that party.  My occupation has always been that of domestic duties.  Having buried a mother and two children and in a general way experienced the few joys and many sorrows that only the domestic servant, the mother, the widow, the ‘Mormon,’ the unpopular socialist, and the poor oppressed workers of the world know.”  – Lillie Engle, Mormon Socialist, 1883-1972.  Source: Ibid., p. 111-112

 

“This year 1908 witnesses the most intense struggle in the whole civilized world, on the part of the money kings, or the Capitalist Class, to stay the awakening of the working class….Their financial institutions are failing and going to pieces.  Their industrial institutions are ceasing operation for lack of market for their products and…millions are walking the streets of our large cities seeking employment.  The capitalists who own the machinery of government are using every means under their control to hold in check the rise of the workers who are beginning to show their strength….The cause of Socialism or the working class movement is gaining ground rapidly.  I am a member in good standing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and among the few workers in that organization who comprehend the class struggle, and are fighting and working for the education of our people along these lines.  But so effective [have] the great money kings done the work of deception among the people that even the Church of Christ is permeated with it pernicious doctrines.”  – George W. Williams Jr., Mormon Socialist, 1908.  Source: Ibid., p. 112-113

 

Though the Church seems to have been hijacked by rich capitalist businessmen who changed it from a Church of Christ into a corporation of Mammon, never forget that socialism is as Mormon as jello-salad covered in melted marshmallows.

4 thoughts on “Mormon Socialist Voices from the Dust

  1. Comrade Mike says:

    I just started reading this book too. Super interesting. For all those who haven’t caught the Troy Williams interview with the authors here’s a link: http://troydwilliams.com/2011/12/08/a-history-of-utah-radicalism/. I’m feeling a Mormon Worker book group coming on….

  2. Tariq this is great!

  3. John says:

    Sounds like an interesting book. I read “Radicalism in the Mountain West” by David R. Berman several years back and the few entries the book had about the Church’s interaction with the worker’s movement were both interesting and disheartening. For example, I was interested to read that the Church actually took part in organizing the first labor unions in Utah, but as more leaders came to own the means of production they also came to abandon any doctrinal emphasis on cooperative enterprise and to outright oppose worker organization. As time carried on, this translated to anti-socialist sentiments and eventually we got the full on reversal on issues of economic and social justice we see prominent among so many in the Church today.

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