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Among the Socialists at Edison

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
May 15, 1898

"To the Editor:
Having recently visited Equality Colony of the Brotherhood of the Co-operative Commonwealth, located on Puget Sound, near Edison, Skagit County, I am able to state some of the interesting features of that new socialistic colony, and what has been accomplished so far by this brotherhood to better the condition of its members, economically and socially.

This movement was begun by N.W. Lermond, a farmer, residing at Warren, Mo., who, in the autumn of 1895 organized the first local union of the brotherhood at his home. During 1896 two more locals were added, and the columns of the "Coming Nation," a socialist paper published at Ruskin, Tenn., secured to further the plan. With rapid strides the movement progressed, locals being stablished in nearly every state and a paying membership of over 2,200 secured by September, 1897, when a national organization was effected and a colony site secured near Edison by the purchase of 280 acres of rich, fertile land. An option was taken on 160 acres more adjoining.

To this has since been added five acres in the village of Edison, making 445 acres in all. Most of this land has got to be cleared, but enough improved property has been leased in the neighborhood to grow large crops this year. The site selected for the city is upon high ground laying about two miles from the Edison Wharf, and commands a fine view of Puget Sound.

Adjoining this are the present buildings of Equality, consisting of two large three-story frame buildings and five smaller log houses. All of these have been erected since last November and are designed only for temporary use, or until permanent houses are built on the site proper. These are now crowded and more will be built as rapidly as possible.

The largest log house is used for a dining room, to which all come for their meals. The laundry, stables, blacksmith shop, saw mill, planer and shingle mill are not far away. Twenty-one horses, twenty cows and six hogs comprise the livestock. A nursery in which are planted 25,000 one-year-old fruit trees, 15,000 berry bushes and a large assortment of rose bushes, etc., is in the charge of a horticulturist who has had ten years' experience at that business in this state.

This year the socialists will plant eighty acres in oats, fifteen in potatoes, ten acres in garden vegetables, five acres in root crops for stock and raise about 50,000 heads of cabbage. Sixty acres of meadow will be cut for hay.

At present there are about 225 persons in the colony. Of this number 150 are residing at Equality and the remainder in tented houses in the village of Edison, at which point the office of the national board of trustees is located with N.W. Lermond as secretary; Miss Helen M. Mason as treasurer; C.H. Swigart as master workman, and E.H. Nolan as purchasing agent and distriutor, all busily employed in their respective duties.

Here also is located the printing establishment of the Brotherhood, consisting of a large double-cylinder Hoe press, capable of printing 3,000 seven-column quarto papers per hour; a smaller press, cutter, and a full supply of type. The organ of the brotherhood, "Industial Freedom", will soon be issued weekly. At this point also the manufacture of furniture for the colonists, gardening, etc., gives employment to those members residing there not otherwise engaged.

The national board of trustees, consisting of eight members, is elected annually by a majority vote of the entire membership. Deeds to the land were made to the persons comprising the first board of trustees, and their successors in office, the land to be held in trust for the brotherhood, never to be mortgaged, nor sold as long as there are members left to co-operate. Personal property is held in the same manner. The society is not an incorporated body, hence owns all property in common, excepting articles for personal use.

In addition to living apartments, food, furniture, medicine and medical attention, each person, including the national officers, receives a weekly allowance of colony script, receivable at its stores for clothing and luxuries, as follows: Those over 18 years of age, 50 "fractions"; between 12 and 18, 35 "fractions"; between 6 and 12, 20 "fractions"; and under 6 years of age, 5 "fractions". The value of colony script is expressed in units and fractions, corresponding in purchasing power to dollars and cents.

This rule was recently adopted by a majority vote of the colonists to relieve the brotherhood, as a whole, from accruing indebtedness to its individual members while passing through the pioneer stages of its existence, and will be superseded by more liberal measures as soon as circumstances will permit. Previously, the allowance was forty fractions per day of eight hours to working members and free board to all, credits for the same being entered in the colony books.

When this indebtedness amounted, in the aggregate, to 1,400 "units", heroic measures were adopted by voting to wipe this all out and adopt the present plan, which is calculated to carry the colony on the most economical basis possible without creating a debt until such time as returns from colony products begin to come in. As one good turn deserves another, those members depending on earning enough colony script to complete payment of their membership fees, had such obligations cancelled and were placed on the same footing with those who had paid their fees in full. The membership fee for single men and women and heads of families is $160, wives and children are admitted free. The rule now is that this amount must be paid in cash, or property, before joining the colony. All adults, regardless of sex, are entitled to vote on all questions and the majority voting decides all matters, excepting the admission of members, when a two-thirds vote is necessary.

In addition to membership fees, many members have contributed, in cash or property, varing amounts, ranging from $100 to $1,000 and the following articles have also been donated by sympathizers, but not yet received: One 75 horse-power engine with boiler; four-foot screw and shaft for steamboat; one 10 x 10 marine engine with boiler; two telephones and two miles of wire; one evaporating plant; and $1,700 worth of Eastern city lots, the proceeds from which are to be used in purchasing land.

The colony already owns a fishing sloop, and intends to build a steamboat, also an electric car and telephone line between Equality and Edison, and a fish cannery, woolen mill, and other manufacturing industries as soon as possible.

The national treasurer's books show that up to April 1 there was received, in round numbers, cash amounting to $12,000; disbursed, $10,000; on hand, $2,000, and no debts exist.

The present weekly income from the "reserves," consisting of advance payments of membership fees and donations, ranges from $300 to $800, to continue for an indefinite period. To this income will be added subscriptions to the paper, and will probably be sufficient to meet all demands on an economical basis until the colony can place its products on the market.

The intelligence of the members, taken as a whole, is above the average. At least four-fifths of the adult members are between 21 and 50 years of age, strong and vigorous. Among them are many who are expert in the mechanical trades, agriculture and horticulture, and there are also a few representives of the learned professions, arts and sciences, among them. Several are proficient in music and a string band is soon to be organized.

The esprit de corps, if I may so term it, is excellent, but few seemingly are inclined to shirk their eight hours per day of toil, while many work overtime. Each member is on six months' probation. If at the end of that period his conduct has been satisfactory to two-thirds of the members he is elected to full membership. If he is rejected his fee is returned and he is told to leave. All are on their good behavior at all times and expected, when able, to work where their services are most needed.

There are ten departments of labor, and each member selects the department in which he desires to work, subject, however, to being transferred to another department if his services can be better employed there. Each department selects its own foreman, who keeps the time of each member and reports it so all may see how each worker is performing his duty. This has a good effect on those inclined to shirk and the foreman's record will be a guide in determining whether an applicant is desired as a permanent member.

A kindergarten is already in existence and a district school will soon be established on the colony site. The colonists are mostly Americans and come from nearly every state in the Union. More members with families are not desired this year, as children would be consumers and not producers and be a burden on the community as long as it must buy its provisions. Single men, who are good socialists and workers and have their membership fees in hand will be welcome, expecially a few shoemakers, tanners, tinners and all-around farmers and woodsmen.

At present the outside membership numbers over 3,000 attached to local unions, scattered all over the country. Each member pays 10c per month dues to the national treasury and as much more as he is able, as advance payments on membership fees, or as a donation outright, previous to joining the colony.

These are known as the "reserves", and are relied on to furnish the funds required until the colonists become self-supporting.

The only "ism" a colonist is required to adhere to is socialism. They have no "fads" as regards food, drink, clothing, or personal habits, but all are expected to conform as nearly as they can to the rules of good society and do nothing offensive to their associates. Profane and vulgar or obscene remarks are seldom, if ever, heard. A hall is provided where any member may preach or lecture, if he so desires, and can obtain an audience to listen.

As stated in their constitution, "the objects of the brotherhood shall be to educate the people in the principles of socialism; to unite all socialists in one fraternal association; to establish co-operative colonies and industries, and so far as possible, concentrate these colonies and industries in one state until said state is 'socialized'."

Washington was selected as the state offering the best conditions for carrying into effect these objects, and other colonies of the brotherhood will be established at other points within the state as soon as Equality is well established; and the colonists predict that the time is not far distant when these colonies will become so numerous and their membership so large, that by uniting their votes with other socialists they will be enabled to convert the whole state of Washington into a co-operative commonwealth along the lines set forth by Edward Bellamy in "Looking Backward" and "Equality."

A.L.WHITESIDE

 

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