I’m doing a lot of reading on socialism at the turn of the 20th century in the United States, and as is usually the case when taking on a new, major project, I am just beginning to glimpse how complex and multifaceted the history turns out to be, and, consequently how little I know. It’s simultaneously humbling and fascinating. I’m finding Ira Kipnis’s The American Socialist Movement, 1897-1912 (1952) to be particularly useful in helping me “backfill.”
So, here’s an unexpected tidbit that I came across in reading Kipnis. Social Democracy of America, one of many American socialist organizations at the turn of the last century, had as a central plank in its platform a utopian community colonization plan. In essence, the idea was to identify a state out west with a small population and to pepper it with utopian socialist communities peopled, largely, by people from out of state, which would, so the idea went, prosper and demonstrate the value of cooperative organization. Eventually such colonies would spread and a time would come that the communitarians would make up enough of the state population that a constitutional convention might be convened and an entire US state organized on a cooperative, socialist scheme. The idea of reorganizing state economies along socialist lines, backed by such an example, naturally, would spread, until the entire nation could make the switch.
Kipnis identifies an adherence to the colonization scheme as the SDA’s undoing. Many within the SDA could see that it wasn’t going to work out — such communities nearly always failed in a few years — and that throwing all the eggs into this particular basket seemed a waste of effort, money, and time. “Direct action” and political agitation seemed, for these folks, the more productive route.
As for my research, which is looking into the battles over socialism in fiction (the novel, mostly), this curious piece of information explains a title from my primary bibliography: Zebina Forbush’s The Co-opolitan: A Story of the Co-operative Commonwealth of Idaho (1898). Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you, but I think you can guess that it didn’t turn out to be prescient, unless there’s something I don’t know about Idaho.