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--DRAFT-Rural Hutterite Colonies: How does an isolated egalitarian community thrive in a postmodern, post-industrial society?

Here’s the deal. You will likely live longer, have better health, never go hungry, enjoy the company of family and close friends round the clock, you will worship in an all engaging religious community, your welfare will be assured from birth to death, you will be bilingual, you will not need to worry about paying the bills, you won’t need the latest gadgets, and loud noises will emanate from a cappella choir practice, farm equipment and thunder, but from nowhere else. The downside? Your work on a farm will be determined by your sex and your age, so you may have no vote in colony decisions, and you will be expected to produce and raise a large family. Because you know of little outside the colony, and you were raised within a strict religious village dominated by an old guard patriarchy, you will have no choice. Having a high school education, you will possess few skills marketable on the outside. You will be stuck. Is it worth the trade? Would you be willing to give up your individualism and the right to make your own choices for a guarantee of having your basic needs met for the rest of your life? Is the security and certainty worth it? The growth of bureaucracy and the problems associated with the structure of large scale human service organizations (HSO’s) have long been an issue among social work scholars. The rise of alternative institutional forms that might be considered at the other end of the organizational continuum, such as food coops, neighborhood gardens, and the like, have been of more recent interest (Kanter 1976, Morris and Hess 1975, Rothchild-Whitt 1978). While some have championed the development of smaller, more local and cooperatively owned agencies (Zwerdling 1978), published studies have focused on small local agencies within a largely hostile neighboring bureaucratic environment. Hence, discussions in the literature tend to compare and contrast two ends of a continuum. Those involved in such ‘counter-culture’ agencies are constantly faced with competing demands from established systems. Competition for scarce funding and difficulties obtaining supportive resources are mentioned as reasons that alternative smaller organizational forms do not survive. Neighborhood Help Groups---------------------------------------------------------Large Bureaucratic HSOs Hutterite colonies, on the other hand, represent an example of extreme alternative that may form another branch, which has gone relatively unnoticed. Neighborhood Help Groups---------------------------------------------------------Large Bureaucratic HSOs | | | | | Hutterite Brethren This chapter examines the social organization of Hutterian Brethren, a communal agricultural community who have outlasted many other groups that attempted communal cooperative living in the US. Having engaged in communistic form of separatist culture for the past several hundred years, communal Hutterites of the north central plains in the US and Canada have survived by combining their ideology of a religious community with strict norms and a commitment to a form of separatist fundamentalism since immigrating to the US from Russia in the 1870’s. A central question to be considered is: What can we learn from ‘third way’ rural communities that have survived by largely avoiding the surrounding social, cultural, political and economic environments, using rural isolation to buffer the demands of postmodern, mass society

by sharing everything equally among members? This chapter describes the typical Hutterite Colony organization, examines how members solve a number of key social welfare concerns, and considers what lessons might be learned from these communal groups for those of us unable and unwilling to make the trade. One of the many Anabaptist groups that arose directly out of the Protest Reformation of the 16th century, the Hutterian Brethren have survived as one of the few true communal groups in the US. Their history includes a century in Moravia (formerly Czechoslovakia), two centuries in Hungary and nearly 100 years in Russia (3). The modern Hutterites derive their name from Jacob Hutter, who took his concept of ‘gelassenheit’ (the peaceful submission of individuals s to the larger group of believers, together forsaking private property) from Hubmaier (4). According to Hostetler “It was Hutter, who, regarding himself as an apostle appointed by God, firmly established the practice of communal living a means of salvation. The source of Hutter’s concept of Bruderhof (colony) is not known…but it is known that the practice of communal living was nothing new in Hutter’s time; there were other pacifistic communal groups in Bohemia and Moravia.” (5). Hutterites had lived in several different locations from the 1600’s to the mid 1800’s when they moved to Russia. In 1871, while farming in the Ukranian frontier, an edict was issued which nullified the Hutterian grant of exemption form military service. As had been their pacifist tradition, the Hutterites fled this region and immigrated to the US. After spending several years visiting other communal groups in the US seeking a common arrangement, approximately one hundred families settled in the first Hutterite colony in the US, near Yankton, SD, establishing the Bon Homme colony. The Hutterites who formed colonies along the James River basin in South Dakota belong to a subgroup known as the Schmiedeleut (or ‘smiths’ people). They have opened 35 colonies in South Dakota. Two other Hutterite groups, somewhat more conservative are the Lederleut (‘leaders’ people) and the Dariusleut (Darius’ people), who are more numerous in North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota and have established over fifty colonies in Canada. The Hutterites familiar to the author settled in South Dakota in the 1870’s and had few problems adapting to the agricultural economy or difficult winters as they were familiar with both from their most recent home in the Ukrane. The Hutterites were greeted upon their arrival in the Midwest as a hardworking group, the Yankton Press and Dakotan said “…give this class of immigrants the best chance possible, for we have seen enough of their thrift and enterprise to convince us that they will make most desirable citizens” Local resentment arose however after the outbreak of World War I. Hutterites refused to buy war bonds, participate in public celebrations or consent to the military draft, and discontent soon followed. A protest group known as the State Council for the Defense lobbied the SD state attorney general’s office to bring legal action to revoke the Hutterites’ articles of incorporation. This was a successful strategy as anti-Hutterite sentiment was increasing. Hutterites were now described as a menace to society for depriving their children of the right to mingle with outsiders. Most of the existing Hutterites colonies sold their land and emigrated to Canada, where they remained until 1937, when they returned to SD. In 1930’s the South Dakota legislature revised the legal code to allow for the return of communal farming….as the Great Depression had take a heavy toll on the regional economy, and Hutterites were welcomed back. Since 1936, the Schideleut have built 42 colonies (or Bruderhofs) in SD. Each colony consists of approximately 5000 acres of farm land, a central complex of dwelling units (some families live in their own homes and others in duplexes or apartments), and livestock pens, barns and other outbuildings, a school house a common dining hall and kitchen and church form the typical community. Only a limited number of families reside on a colony with perhaps between seventy and one hundred a fifty people spread throughout ten to fifteen families. The average family might consist of a couple with ten children. Hutterites have found from their experience that they maximum number of members per farm is about one hundred and fifty. Therefore, each colony plans on splitting or branching into two colonies whenever a Bruderhof reaches it’s maximum capacity. This division makes up a major portion of colony time planning as suitable land must be located and purchased, buildings erected, sewage and utilities installed, equipment

purchased. Funds for these efforts must therefore be saved, helping to account for the fact that little is left over for personal consumption. If colony members agree on who will leave to begin a new settlement, families will plan to elect new members to a council and new work roles will be allocated. If members cannot agree, names will be drawn from a hat to determine who will move and who will remain. The new, or daughter, colony will receive considerable financial support from those remaining in the mother colony, and workers from nearby settlements will assist with the production of new crops. A new colony typically moves through several stages after leaving the mother farm. For the first several years a colony typically has little additional income to invest in modern farm machinery. The use of up to date agricultural equipment is one of the key ways Hutterites differ from other Anabaptist separatist groups that have settled in the United States. Hutterites derive the largest share of their corporate income from the sale of farm produce. The second stage may begin relatively early on during a daughter colonies’ life cycle, or it may take several years before a colony is financially secure enough to stand on its own. Work on the farm, while arduous, is not necessarily backbreaking and modern equipment and the ability to bring a large labor force together on fairly short notice means that barns, bridges and other buildings can be construct with maximum efficiency. During the third stage, which may span a few years up to a maximum of twenty years, a typical colony prospers, relatively speaking. For these last years before the next branching the colony enjoys the benefits of more efficient mechanization and income and profits may accrue. During this period money and resources are acquired and saved for the next splitting. Typically Hutterites grow most or all of their own food and only occasionally need to acquire preservatives for preparing or storing food. Their canned supplies are intended to see them successfully through the winter. They purchase large quantities of material for making their own clothes. Most colonies have access to electricity, gas and other resources needed to provide heat. While the Hutterite Brethren shun the accumulation of material wealth, they are careful to purchase sufficient supplies so as to keep members healthy and rested. As with some rural farming communities, some Hutterites colonies have outdoor toilet facilities. The average couple may have as many as a dozen children. Hutterian religious beliefs place emphasis on large families and pressures for reproductive success assure that colonies will grow in preparation for branching. Until a child is old enough to enter kindergarten, she or he attends the colony ‘German’ school. Here the child is taught to read and write in German, learns Hutterite traditions and church history, and is socialized into the Hutterite Brethren way of life. The child is raised to be God-fearing, to obey elders and eschew personal wealth or luxury. Hard work is thought to be the essential ingredient to salvation, and time on earth is but a temporary hardship. The influences of the external world are generally in absence, with newspapers, television, radio, and the internet in short supply. Contact with outsiders, other than during colony visits or trips to town, are to be avoided. A child lives at home with his or her parents, but is taught for the first several years by the ‘German’ teachers, typically one couple selected for this purpose. Children in German school typically dine in a separate room, and spend a good bit of time learning to live as a group member. By the time a child reaches school age, s/he is already familiar with Hutterian subculture. An elementary school is located on the colony and is maintained by the settlement. A public school teacher instructs children in a format typical of a one room rural school. Children are encouraged to continue their education only until age 15 or so, at which time they are expected to take on adult responsibilities. Children of school age have daily chores and participate as apprentices in adult work roles. Children for the most part are not exposed to radio, television or other electronic media. They have learned from their various teachers what Hutterites consider to be appropriate knowledge of the larger world. An occasional trip to a nearby colony or local market is the only official contact children have with life on the outside. After completing school, a young male will be given a seat in the adult dining hall. He will sit with the men on one side of the room. When he is judged by the elder members to be competent in the ways of the

Bruderhof, he will be baptized as a full adult member of the colony. He will be expected to participate fully in the affairs of the colony while working at one or two jobs. He may be a mechanic, teacher, business manager or he may be put in charge of pigs, cattle or chickens. Although he will be capable of handing many of the adult male work roles, he will likely specialize in one or two tasks. If he is put in charge of crops, he will manage planning and harvesting, attend inter-colony meetings to learn of new developments, and he will be expected to experiment himself. Innovation in matters pertaining to agriculture is rewarded, where the latest developments are welcomed. He will received much help from his elders and their advice will weight heavily in his decisions. A young Hutterite woman in school will be expected to be learning adult female roles. She will tend to the young children, learn to cook in the colony kitchen and begin thinking about finding a mate. She will be expected to marry a young man from a nearby colony as most Hutterites are endogamus within the Hutterite Brethren as a whole but exogamous within leuts. Thus a young woman of Scheideleut heritage will likely marry someone also of Scheideleut background. When she marries she will follow her partner back to his colony as patrilocal residence and family building is traditional in Hutterite colonies. She will receive a small hope chest when she marries. She will not wear jewelry, there will be no engagement or wedding rings. Her husband will grow a bread as a sign he is married. She will be in her early twenties when she married and will be expecting to raise a large family. This Hutterite woman will take her place in a large contingent of women whose roles in the colony, like those of her husband, reflect the age and gender obligations found in folk societies. She will rise early in the morning, help to prepare breakfast in the dining hall, and she will have completed many of her morning chores fairly early on. Her duties on any give day include tending to the gardens, sewing and mending, shopping at a local store. She, like others in the community will receive a small monthly allowance, perhaps as little as a few dollars. The guiding communal principle is that material wealth leads to invidious comparison and is ultimately the root of all evil. She will not vote in formal matters but is likely to wield influence through her partner. She will sit with the other women on the right side of the church, and because services are held every day she will spend a good bit of her time there. She will likely sing with her age cohorts in a local or inter-colony combined choir, as singing is an important part of Hutterite worship as well as daily life. As younger women enter church age, she will move toward the back of the church with other older female members, in time, reaching the back rows. She will of course recognize if someone is being punished, as someone under penalty may be required to stand up in church, and with daily church services, such punishment is rarely necessary. This Hutterite woman will likely never divorce nor will she remember a case of a Hutterite couple splitting up. She will experience fewer illnesses, live longer and healthier than her age cohorts who do not live on colonies or in rural areas in general. Like all colony members she will not smoke or drink, although she may have an occasional glass or wine or beer, save for special colony gatherings such as a wedding. This woman will teach her children about Hutterite tradition with special emphasis on the life and persecution of Jacob Hutterite, the colony’s namesake. She will know mostly oral tradition surrounding Hutterite move to the US, and will be largely ignorant of political and economic issues. She will want the lives of her children to differ in no way from her own. She will dress her children in traditional black clothing with bonnets for women and hats for men. Her daughters will learn that women cannot hold elective office within the colony or vote on colony matters, but rather hope to effect change from behind the scenes. All adult members of the colony participate in many of the decision making processes. Adults elect a preacher, who is the spiritual and corporate leader of the Bruderhof. The preacher usually represents the colony in the official matters of the region, with non-Hutterite communities, and within the larger Leut structure. The minister is often the chief arbiter and disciplinarian. A council consists of 5-7 men who are elected by the other member to serve in an executive capacity. The council sits facing the larger colony during meetings and makes practical day to day decisions. A council usually consist of a minister, the business manager or steward, various farm bosses who serve generally for life terms.

In addition, an informal council consists of most adult males in the colony who come together throughout the day for meals and common work tasks. A strong work ethic pervades colony life so seasonal adjustments in work loads assures that everyone stays busy. All baptized members of the colony make up the Gemein or church. The corporate group has the power to exclude and accept members. Women participate in the church service by their presence, praying and singing, but they have no formal voice in church matters. Having no vote, they are not on record formulating colony policy, nor are they eligible for leadership positions. In addition to the Bruderhof authority structure, area colony ministers meet regularly to discuss matters of colony policy. Colony ministers meet on occasion to review regional policy, for example correcting young men who may prefer to wear belts containing embellishments, instead of plain suspenders (Tschetter, p. 300). Hutterites have established a communal form of living that is about as economically self-sufficient as is possible in while situated in the middle of a post-industrial contemporary mass society. Being pacifists, Hutterites depend on their neighboring host environments for permission to engage in their unique economic form. The have encountered opposition on numerous occasions, but their commitment to passivity and/or outright avoidance has subjected them to instances of social and economic sanction. Their elaborate division of economic tasks by age and gener, with a high degree of agricultural sophistication and specialization, coupled with extremely low labor costs, means that they can successfully compete agricultural marketplace. Hutterites have institutionalized the corporate farm organization so that family life revolves around the communal-corporate structure. To survive, Hutterite Brethren continually face the problem of nullifying outside influences that permeate successfully permeate most community and family barriers in the surrounding society. Individual members constantly encounter representatives from the larger world who challenge their way of life by trumpeting the consumptive economy. Those responsible for maintaining the isolation of rural Hutterities colonies constantly struggle with ways to preserve their withdrawn and separatist traditions in the face of chronic uncertainties. A common bond is in evidence in the form of limited and shared income, common dress and signs of membership, and common bi-lingual custom, rigid adherence to codes of conduct that specify nonparticipation, closely monitored and limited access to advertising, and age and gender specific role expectations that do not admit of alternative unexpected behaviors. With various pressures on colony members to maintain allegiance to the colony, a reward system may contribute to releative harmony. Such rewards include: the traditional religious belief that hard work and temporary hardship will be rewarded by eventual inclusion in the chosen group; the relative safety and security offered by the world within the Bruderhof where crime is practically unheard of, sick and elderly are cared for and the family spirit is everywhere apparent; a strong sense of belongingness and integration predominate, and the intimacy and warm that accompanies face-to-face primary relationships may be nice. Internally Hutterite socialization processes work sufficiently well so as to stifle dissent on an informal basis. The gemeinschaft community admits to little internal dissent and most all potentially disruptive matters are quelled by colony or council vote. As older members are informally the most influential, tradition tends to prevail and change is slow. Additionally, external conflict is most often dealt with by simply ignoring the normative and utilitarian threats of neighbors. The rigid commitment to their ideology prevents a violent response to external coercion and historically Hutterites have fled in the face of force. Their willingness to help friendly neighbors through humanitarian assistance may have helped ingratiate themselves to their neighbors. Hutterites may also enjoy positive internal consequences of external conflict. For example, Coser (1956) argued that conflict with out-groups serves to increase internal cohesion and that continuous struggle leads to rigidity within. Hutterites may have found it to their advantage to maintain a certain amount of tension with the larger surrounding community. Hutterites are a separatist group who chose to live in isolation and in many ways in opposition to their host society. As such they suffer from occasional prejudice and differing kinds of discrimination. Stereotypes include beliefs that Hutterites actually suffer from genetic abnormalities due to marriage within their population, that children all look alike and that Hutterites

have been known to capture local youth for evil purposes. Unlike other minority groups, however, Hutterites have not attempted to assimilate into the dominant culture. This key feature of their community has the possibility of increasing the social distance they struggle with. Their history of flight is also very much a part of their Weltgeist, or spirit of the world. In comparison to most communities in the US, Hutterite colonies are small, isolated, agrarian, homogeneous and economically independent. They have a high degree of group solidarity, their behavior is governed by traditional folkways, and their sense of Gelassenheit (or communalism) has important organizational consequences for welfare. Redfield’s description of a folk society fits the Hutterite situation quite well: “This system, or culture, provides for all recurrent needs of the individual from birth to death….life is one unitary activity, out of which one part may not be separated without affecting the rest. Tradition is viewed as sufficient authority…what is done seems necessarily to flow form the nature of the society and there is no disposition to reflect upon traditional acts and consider them objectively and critically. (21). Hutterite colonies engage their members throughout the entire life cycle, and the personality of a typical member is contained within the boundaries of the community and expressed through village life. Goffman (1959) described all encompassing organizations that totally engross their members in day to day, month to month and even year to year periods as ‘total’ institutions. His examples included asylums, traveling circuses, outposts and organizational systems the utilized members for functional purposes for long periods of time, under the system’s complete control and surveillance. In some ways the typical Bruderhof manifests a total institutional life style as well, involving a continuous monitoring of engrossment of members who work in close proximity to each other. The colony council serves as final arbiter for threats that may arise to the maintenance of colony structure and boundaries. Compliance monitoring is simplified by the fact that the individual is fixed within a constellation of familial relationships wherein most action is highly visible to others. The colony minister and steward have key roles in maintaining both the internal harmony within the colony and regulating relations with the surrounding environment. The minister manages questions which may involve decisions about what rules must be followed, what constitutes a legitimate violation, and changes to permit. Tschetter (1976) contends that Hutterites cope with change by ignoring non-agricultural innovations omnipresent outside the colony. The technological change is accepted, “Relationships to the outside world have not changed…the authoritarian pattern has not changed, the preacher and the council are still in command. By permitting all members to share in agricultural innovation, the relative status of individuals is not changed. No person is made richer or poorer….(23) In this regard, innovations are few and far between as older members are positioned to reflect upon the importance of pattern maintenance. Hutterites manage technological innovation and change only insofar as it does not otherwise disrupt routine. According to Eaton (1952), Hutterites have, by bending with the wind, avoided breaking. (25). As providers of human services, Hutterite colonies are quite small and hence coordination costs within colonies, in terms of time and energy needed to sustain basic needs as well as the pathways of communication, are small. If there is a breakdown of equipment someone can be called in for repairs, or someone else can watch the young children, so that the colony continues to function fairly smoothly. Organizational theorists call this ‘pooled’ interdependency, which is the result that there is a minimum of contingency on variables that the colonists have control over. Problems may arise in the larger task environment, however, which may force a colony to adapt. Changes in markets for farm produce, for example, or extreme weather, may alter the task structure. One strategy Hutterities use regarding their organizational environment is to ignore it, and where they cannot do this they monitor it and partialize their response. Hutterites must provide their children with a basic education, in some states this is minimum of a high school degree or it’s equivalent, in other states a ninth grade education is all that is required. Hutterites pay taxes and obey local laws and ordinances. At the same time, they provide a reliable tax base, they are not a burden on local community support structures as they do not use available services, they do not use public assistance or social security.

Some members of a colony, particularly the minister or steward, function as boundary spanning specialists who monitor uncertainty in the environment. Recruitment is never an issue among Hutterites as they are assured a continuing supply of new members through expectations of large family sizes. Training of new members begins early as small children attend special classes taught by special teachers, socializing new members at an early age as to the ways of the organization and it’s expectations. Coordination and control are therefore reasonably easy to assure. Their system of age-sex differentiation for major work and family roles assures for a division of labor that allocates tasks across various categories of membership. During the early stages after splitting, when a daughter colony leaves, colony work roles may not be as easily filled both for the daughter and mother farms, as the same amount of work needs to be done with only half the workers in either location. Members have access to external resources both before and after branching, as recommended or allocated by the preacher or steward. However the whole question of family allegiance, especially considering the relatively small number of families on any given colony. If the average family size is 6-8, and a colony begins at 70 members after branching, then there may only be 8-10 families after a branch. It is entirely possible that one or two families, especially those headed by a preacher or council member, may come to dominate a colony.

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