Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Llano Del Rio: Socialism Failed in California, part 2

Llano Del Rio ruins as of 2009
Continued from Part 1

The political stability of Llano was threatened by internal power struggles between the Board of Directors, which was composed of seven (and eventually nine) members and the General Assembly, which was composed of all of the Llano Company’s stockholders, the members of the colony. Though the Board was efficient, it caused political dissent. Llano’s “Declaration of Principles” proclaimed: “‘equal ownership, equal wage, and equal social opportunities’”. However, Llano was not run in a democratic manner. The Board dictated all rules and regulations. Eventually groups developed, such as the “Brush Gang”, opposing the authoritarian rule of the Board (Shor 167). Some members also believed that Harriman lacked strong socialist principles. One of the founders of the “Brush Gang,” Frank Miller, believed Harriman to be “Czar-like” and against the democratic election of Llano’s leadership. Additionally, many “Brush Gang” members believed that not only the political, but also the economic layout of Llano was counter to socialist ideals.

However, rule by the General Assembly was also problematic. Its decisions were influenced by personal disputes, which created an ineffective political environment. Resolutions were disputed for hours, made, and then rebuked at the next meeting. In response to dissenters, one of Harriman’s supporter’s, R.K. Williams wrote, “‘Newcomers arrived here filled with idealism and notions of a weird form of democracy that are utterly out of place in an institution dealing with…practicalities. It must be insisted that if this colony is to exist we must allow the well tried and wrought out formulas of corporations organized under capitalism…We are not attempting an Utopian phantasmagoria’”. Supporters felt that unseating the Board would result in anarchy and chaos, and that central control was essential to the formation of a flourishing socialist colony.

World War I
Although Llano supported the Socialist Party’s pacifism, the threat of the draft was real. Llano attempted to ensure that all members were conscientious objectors, still the colony lost young men to the draft. WWI also posed an economic threat, because the wartime industry created jobs with greater wages and many less committed members of Llano left to work in the newly booming economy.

During the early period of Llano, Harriman had secured large amounts of water for the growing colony. Though in theory Llano had enough water to sustain itself and to grow, much of the water could only be accessed by building a dam. Llano applied to California for a permit to build a dam. However, California Commissioner of Corporations denied Llano’s application to construct a dam saying, “‘Your people do not seem to have the necessary amount of experience and maybe the sums of money it will involve’”. Though planners were aware of Llano’s water shortage, they continued to deny the crisis to potential buyers until May of 1917.

The move
During November of 1917 The Western Comrade newspaper announced that the majority of the colony was going to relocate to an alternative site in New Llano, Louisiana. Despite the impending relocation of Llano, Harriman asserted that Llano had, “progressed from a ‘Utopian, chimerical idea’ to a concrete practicality— from a dozen dreamers to a thousand determined doers”. New Llano never attained the same size or level of productivity as the original colony. This failure was most likely due to cultural clashes with the greater culture of Louisiana and the Great Depression. The remaining Llano community in California ended due to faulty legal maneuvers. During 1918, Llano filed for bankruptcy.

Llano is given tribute at Twin Oaks, a contemporary intentional community of 100 members in Virginia. All Twin Oaks' buildings are named after communities that are no longer actively functioning, and "Llano" is the name of one of the communal kitchens.

Ruins images are the property of Binksternet and are used via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license and were obtained from Wikimedia Commons. Historical information on the commune was obtained from Wikipedia.

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