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Life in Community

Is the Bruderhof Socialist?

March 14, 2019 by

Is the Bruderhof socialist? Mmphf. Mumble mumble. Inasmuchaswhich. Totally depends who you ask. Fine, since you asked me, no it’s not. Absolutely not. What rubbish. Socialism is horrible. Hard left socialism is making something of a comeback anymore though. The idea that we can get rid of the fat cats, throw out the whole rotten system and replace it with something new, clean, efficient, and shining remains amazingly resilient. One could say it’s a testament to the power of optimism over experience, the salient point being that it is almost impossible to learn from anything other than personal experience. Reading about the devastation caused by communist experiments in the USSR, China, North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela doesn’t help.

If you take the Sermon on the Mount seriously, if you believe that Jesus actually meant what he said, then the next step is to start doing what he said.

I wonder though, if the resurgence in popularity of this tried and true method of distributing misery has more to do with personal identity than it does with trying to change the world. I suspect that many middle class people see themselves as the type who would have been ripping up cobblestones and bunging them through the windows of the Big House, or mucking about with Che Guevara with an AK-47 dangling from their shoulder. It sort of allows one to feel OK about holidays abroad and private education for one’s kids because one identifies with the downtrodden. It’s the next best thing to being downtrodden, and evidently is pretty much mandatory if one wants to work for the BBC. There’s even a UK expression for this: “champagne socialism” – which sums it up very well indeed.

This is not to say that socialist aims are bad; they are in fact laudable. It’s just an ideology that solves the problems of capitalism by creating worse problems. Kind of like solving your hunger problem by eating your foot. To oversimplify: capitalists don’t like rules, they want less government and the freedom to send little boys up chimneys, while socialists want more government, with rules about everything from how much you are allowed to earn to where your dog can pee. Of course, socialism can be applied in different degrees, and a lot of European countries practice a sort of socialism-lite. I don’t have time to comment on this other than to beg you not to trumpet the success of this model unless you actually live somewhere it’s being applied.

Our primary aim is discipleship of Jesus, not the creation of a better society.

So back to the question we started with, there are many aspects about our community life that would have Bernie Sanders and John McDonnell jumping for joy. We don’t have rich or poor people. People with greater needs get greater care. We work because we want to. We share our assets. We don’t have a gulag though, shame. Still, most of the other stuff matches up, and there are a number of people here who would say yes, absolutely, we are a living, breathing example of Christian socialism.

A community lunch at the Beech Grove Bruderhof

Ultimately for me it’s a question about aims and intent. Our primary aim is discipleship of Jesus, not the creation of a better society. I’ve heard it argued that the two go together, and I concede the justice of this statement, but from my observation it is impossible to build a just society without Jesus. Why? I think it’s because following Jesus is a bottom-up proposition, rather than top-down. For a Christian, the change in life starts with me and moves outward; for a socialist it starts with (forcefully) educating everybody else. And people don’t like being educated. In fact, the more determined socialists have found people so resistant to education that it became necessary to get rid of quite a lot of them. If one takes the Sermon on the Mount seriously, if one believes that Jesus actually meant what he said, then the next step is to start doing what he said. For the first Christians this led to full community of goods, and it is a way of life that has continued through the millennia in one form or another; the monastics, the radical Anabaptists, the Shakers, and many other movements are all part of this. We like to see ourselves as part of this continuum. Call yourself a socialist? Come and see.


About the author


Ian Barth

Ian lives at the Darvell community in East Sussex, UK with his wife Olivia and their four boys.

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  • Since I knew your community months ago, I cannot help holding uprising curiosity to your whole life. Jesus maybe really proud of you. God bless you! Hope Jesus guide me to visit you as soon as possible.

  • I disagree with your statement, "Our primary aim is discipleship of Jesus, not the creation of a better society." I believe that the discipleship of Jesus LEADS to the creation of a better society! Eberhard Arnold, who founded the Bruderhof movement became a religious socialist after reading the book "They Must!" by Hermann Kutter - a positive evaluation of socialism and its agenda from a Christian viewpoint. Kutter did not let himself be repulsed by the aggressive atheism of the socialists but recognized that social democracy shared the same goals as did Jesus’ commandments – commandments that in Kutter’s view had been watered down and misinterpreted by the churches. Others, Kutter concluded, now had to preach what the church ought to be preaching and had to carry out the tasks that the church should have been doing. While God's Kingdom and the discipleship of Christ lie beyond any political system or party, I believe that Christ came to change society. He did not just care for people's souls; he healed their bodies and preached a way of life that leads to sharing and caring for each other: "Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same" (Luke 3:11). That is why I joined the Bruderhof, where the discipleship of Christ means a transformation of both the spiritual and practical aspects of life.

    Rebekah Domer
  • Always encouraging to get responses. Although there is a wide divergence of political opinion at the Bruderhof we are united in the expectation of the kingdom of God as the only hope for creation. As I tried to point out, certain aspects of applied Christianity do look like socialism but this is not to be confused with faith in any political system or ideals.

    Ian Barth
  • To say you are not communist or socialist is totally disingenuous. Of course you are.

    cyndi feigenbaum
  • Socialism leads too often to dictatorship even the socialism lite practiced in Europe comes with a high taxes. They both lead to big government controlling everything. But more importantly they take away personal responsibility for one’s neighbor and leave that to the state- unlike Catholic Social Teaching and the Catholic Worker philosophy.

    Kevin Cushing
  • My father said that the difference between capitalism and socialism was in capitalism man exploits man in socialism it was the other way around!!! yup

    Wyatt Shane Welch