[Marxism] Defend the Australian Bruderhof!

Clinton Fernandes cfer at deakin.edu.au
Sat Mar 5 08:03:25 MST 2005

Amish 'cousins' fight deportation
By Alex Mitchell
The Age, 6 March 2005 


Members of a Christian-based religious community are being threatened with deportation by the Federal Government.
The 80-strong Bruderhof community, founded at Inverell, NSW, in 1999 and now a thriving part of the local business community, has appealed for help to stop deportations.
Northern Tablelands independent MP Richard Torbay has called on Prime Minister John Howard and Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson to halt the Immigration Department's "wrong-headed" attitude to "these model citizens".
About 30 Bruderhof members have already been deported to their original homes in the US and Britain after their entry visas expired and their applications for permanent residency were refused. "Our members don't fit the very restrictive criteria being operated by the immigration authorities," said Randy Gauger, a Pennsylvanian who co-founded the Inverell community six years ago. "We love Australia and want to make it our home," he said. "We would like the authorities to give us a fair go and we would like them to consider a mechanism for a group like ours.
"It is doable. It just needs political will."
He complained that Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone had declined to meet a deputation from the community despite months of letter-writing and lobbying...



The Lessons of the Community of Brethren

By Joel Kovel

There are, in the Eastern United States as well as the Dakotas, adjacent Canada and England, communities of Christian followers of Jakob Hutter (d. 1536), founder of the pacifist branch of the Anabaptists. This offshoot of the Radical Reformation, having endured the persecutions attendant upon their kind, found their way to the New World, where they built agricultural communes and prospered. In the 20th century, a similar branch arose in Germany under the leadership of Eberhard and Emmy Arnold, first as a Christian pacifist collective, then as a Hutterite intentional community. Persecuted by the Nazis, they fled to Paraguay and built an agricultural commune. In the 1950s they came to the United States, where, under the name of "Bruderhof," they settled in Rifton, a town in New York's Hudson River Valley. By now, the Bruderhof (a Hutterite term for "community of brethren") had separated from the original Hutterites, who found them too much in the world. The worldliness of the Bruderhof included a shift from agricultural to industrial production, with an associated embrace of technology. 


They entered the business of making high-value learning aids for schools and disability centers. While the commodities so produced never captured more than a small share of this market, the realized profit was considerable and enabled the community to grow. Once a Bruderhof community reaches a certain size, say 300-400, it "hives," dividing and forming a new unit elsewhere. In this way, there have now arisen six Bruderhofs in the United States and two more in England, linked by dedicated phone lines, so that all eight communities can be placed in instant contact with each other simply by picking up a receiver and pressing a button. They have their own publishing house as well, Plough Books, through which their ideas can be disseminated; and I am also told that they possess a small fleet of aircraft, bought with the profits from their business.


There are a number of interesting things to be said about the Bruderhof - whom, it should be added, I have visited on a number of occasions, and worked with on several projects: 


First, the Bruderhof thrive in the capitalist market. They make fine and useful objects, using sophisticated machinery, computers and a functioning distribution and sales network, including catalogues, trucks, and so on. In short, they are successfully integrated into the economy. 


Second, Bruderhof are radically non-capitalist. The "value" added onto and extracted from their learning aids derives from the capitalist market at large. Surplus-value from the point of production does not figure into this picture. No value is added from their own labor, for the plain reason that the Bruderhof are communists. In the enterprises from which their money is made, they are all paid the same amount: nothing. Nor is there any hierarchy within the factory; there is division of labor, of course, but no boss. The plant managers have no particular authority beyond their differentiated task. A vistor to the plant is greeted with a starkly different scene from what obtains in the standard capitalist workplace. Workers self-direct, come and go at different hours, punch no time-clocks. Time is not bound, nor is work dominated by considerations of productivity. Octogenarians and seven-year-old children work side by side as they please, sharing in the labor. There is no contradiction between this relatively indifferent productivity and the profitability of their factories, because the Bruderhof are not driven to accumulate and increase market share, but are content with sufficient incremental profit to meet their needs, which is made possible by the technology at their disposal. Work is driven by the desire to make fine objects and the larger ends to which the work is put. 


Third, being communists, the Bruderhof hold "all things in common." Beyond a few minor personal possessions, they have no individual property - no cars, no DVD players, no designer jeans, no subscriptions to Self and Connoisseur magazines. The community takes care of all their needs with its collective profits: communal meals, education and health care, for there are schools on the premises for the young, and Bruderhof physicians to care for most problems. What has to be done outside, such as tuition for advanced study - say, of their doctors - is likewise paid for by the revenues of their factories. By the same token, the material needs of the Bruderhof are considerably lighter than the typical American, both because they share in most things - including the ownership of a few motor vehicles for going here and there - and because everything about their world radically denies the culture of consumerism. Thus the ecological load imposed by Bruderhof (per capita) is substantially less than that of the population at large, and if we could somehow figure out a way to get all the people of the industrialized nations to live so lightly on the earth, there would be no crisis of anywhere near the present scale to worry about. 


If the Bruderhof are any example, we can affirm that neither industrialization nor technology can be the efficient causes of the ecological crisis. They are immersed in both and consume lightly, nor show any compulsion to grow. The reason is the social organization of labor, which under these communistic conditions causes the withering of capital's rage to accumulate. But these findings open up new questions. What are the conditions, both inner and outer, that enable so radical a shift to occur? What does this imply for markets in an ecologically sane society? And what does this say about socialism? Can we in fact get all the people to live this way? Should we? As for the first question, there is no mystery. The Bruderhof are deeply Christian, which they interpret as Christian-Communist. The "holding all things in common" does not derive from Karl Marx, but from the Biblical record of the first Christians, Acts 2:44-45: "And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need." No matter that it has been perennially betrayed, the notion of communism remains foundational for Christianity. It has a long and intricate history, within which Marx himself (who included in his bestknown definition of communism, the phrase, "to each according to need") belongs.


The Bruderhof are simply being orthodox when they affirm communism. However, it needs to be added that they take this quite a distance. For they do not only practice Christian Communism, but preach it with a vengeance, and this makes them of special interest to us. There is probably no more militant group on the left today than these descendants of the Radical Reformation. They have gone on pilgrimages against the death penalty, have sent their children in solidarity to blockaded Cuba and Iraq, and have become spiritual counselors to Mumia Abu-Jamal. The theme of these activisms is always to counter a persecution, as Jesus was persecuted, and as they themselves have been. That is the Christian Logos playing itself out in historical actuality, creating a new history to which their communism integrally belongs. Communism for the Bruderhof is not an economic or a political doctrine but one aspect of a universalizing spiritual force. The community does not tell others to be communists because they believe in its economic or even social superiority, but because being communist is part of the "good news" they wish to spread as Christians. It is an integral element of a spiritual totality. They do not want people to be communists for the sake of communism; they want them to be as Jesus, for which end communism is an essential practice. We would say, then, that the Bruderhof have found a way to offset the capitalist market by inserting a spiritual moment into their worldly practice. Markets, the economists tell us, are powerful signaling systems, generating the prices that serve to tie together all economic agents. But this assumes that all agents are equivalently tuned to prices and monetary values and that they all obey the same logic and reason - or in terms of our discussion, that they are not Bruderhof. For when the market, into which all economic actors are inserted, issues the signal, "maximize profit and market share!" these economic actors do not hear the command, as they are marching to a different drum. Their practical faculties no longer resonate to the force field of capital. They simply do not "value" their business that much. I have been told by Bruderhof that if it ever came down to a choice - if, for example, their political activity required that they all go to jail, or if the pursuit of their enterprise became too contradictory for whatever reason - then they would give up the business gladly. I am sure this is true. For Brud erhof, the meaning of productivity, and the labor arrangements necessary for this to be maximized, are only dimly lit points on the screen of a world-view where faith shines more brightly. The Bruderhof are an intentional community, and intentions, properly understood, can be material forces. 


It must be that an important reason co-operatives, organic farms, et al., succumb to capital's force field is the lack of an offsetting beliefsystem which enables them to renounce profitability. But this needs to be taken to another plane, if only to avoid the conclusion that our coops need to convert to radical Christianity in order to enter the promised land of ecosocialism. Such is clearly not the case, first, because an ecosocialist society must be fully democratic, and not the province of any religious interpretation; and more specifically, because the Bruderhof are not actually ecological in their orientation. They neither espouse particularly ecological concerns, nor is their practice compatible with ecocentrism, especially in the sphere of gender, where a highly patriarchal structure clashes fundamentally with the values of ecological transformation*.





*Bruderhof are very strongly homophobic, for example, having gone out of their way to try to close gay bars in their vicinity, and refusing to join coalitions against the death penalty in which gay rights groups participate. Within the commune, though women have a definite voice, there is also distinct inequality, for example, in dress code, where the men can wear what they please while the women must wear traditional calico. Furthermore, divorce is forbidden. Moreover, the moral authority of the community devolves from the paternal voice of the Arnold family. There are signs that the generation coming up may see things differently; it will be interesting to follow this development. But in general, it seems to be harder for radical religions to give up patriarchal than class domination.




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