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Introduction Utopian Literature Dystopian Literature Utopian Communities


Karl Marx Tree

The Karl Marx Tree

Colonists pose before one of the largest trees in the world, which the colonists nicknamed the “Karl Marx Tree.” It is now known as the General Sherman Tree.

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Inspired by Edward Bellamy's novel Looking Backward, 2000-1899, and the Nationalist movement, the Kaweah Cooperative Colony was organized in 1886. Located on the Kaweah River, Tulare County, California, it began as a tent settlement operated on the principle of equal work and equal compensation for men and women. The Beinecke holds most of the original papers from the formation and founding of Kaweah, allowing a rare, intimate look at the struggles and intrigue of forming a utopian commune.

Kaweah grew out of the International Workers Association (IWA) in San Francisco, a city that has spawned more utopian movements than any other location in America (especially during the 1960’s). The IWA was a Marxist/socialist progressive labor group, largely influenced by Das Kapital, the Communist Manifesto, and Looking Backward, 2000–1899. Although Bellamy distanced himself from Kaweah and, like Marx and Engels, believed that social revolution was only viable on a national level and not through small communes, he did direct his most zealous disciples to Kaweah.

Most of the original members were skilled laborers and trade union representatives. One visitor said of the membership: “They are all perhaps without exception, intelligent, thoughtful, earnest, readers of books and journals, alive to the great economic and social questions of the day.”

Kaweahans organized their economy on a time-check system with checks in denominations ranging from ten minutes to 20,000 minutes. They could be exchanged for money: five cents for ten minutes, 100 dollars for 20,000. All work was considered of equal value and healthcare was free.

The members set up a complicated system of government with hundreds of divisions to carefully divide work responsibilities. But it was this meticulous attention to rather inessential detail that proved to be Kaweah’s demise. The people of Kaweah spent more time debating the finer points of Marxism then building the buildings and roads that would allow Kaweah to prosper.

The founders of Kaweah, Burnette G. Haskell and James J. Martin, envisioned a commune that supported itself by logging the sequoia forests. But the Kaweah Colony never got a chance to take advantage of this certain capital – in 1890 the United States government declared Kaweah part of the Sequoia National Park in an abrupt eviction of dubious legality.