Book of Mormon Socialism: The Marxist Gadianton Robbers

Some LDS proponents of Socialism like to compare capitalism to the infamous Gadianton Robbers in the Book of Mormon. It seems a simple line to draw between the “Profit Motive” of Capitalism and the secret combination of the Gadiantons to “get gain.” Too simple in fact. A more careful reading shows that in some ways the Gadianton Robbers seem to be more like Marxist Revolutionaries.

Chapter 3 of the book of 3rd Nephi in the Book of Mormon is interesting in that it is one of the few sections of the text which purports to give us a glimpse of how the Gadianton Robbers viewed themselves, rather than how they were viewed by Mormon and his Nephite protagonists. Verses 2 through 10 are the record of an epistle written to the governor of the Nephites, Lachoneus, from the leader of the Gadianton Robbers, Giddianhi:

“2. Lachoneus, most noble and chief governor of the land, behold, I write this epistle unto you, and do give unto you exceedingly great praise because of your firmness, and also the firmness of your people, in maintaining that which ye suppose to be your right and liberty; yea, ye do stand well, as if ye were supported by the hand of a god, in the defence of your liberty, and your property, and your country, or that which ye do call so.

“3. And it seemeth a pity unto me, most noble Lachoneus, that ye should be so foolish and vain as to suppose that ye can stand against so many brave men who are at my command, who do now at this time stand in their arms, and do await with great anxiety for the word—Go down upon the Nephites and destroy them.

“4. And I, knowing of their unconquerable spirit, having proved them in the field of battle, and knowing of their everlasting hatred towards you because of the many wrongs which ye have done unto them, therefore if they should come down against you they would visit you with utter destruction.

“5. Therefore I have written this epistle, sealing it with mine own hand, feeling for your welfare, because of your firmness in that which ye believe to be right, and your noble spirit in the field of battle.

“6. Therefore I write unto you, desiring that ye would yield up unto this my people, your cities, your lands, and your possessions, rather than that they should visit you with the sword and that destruction should come upon you.

“7. Or in other words, yield yourselves up unto us, and unite with us and become acquainted with our secret works, and become our brethren that ye may be like unto us—not our slaves, but our brethren and partners of all our substance.

“8. And behold, I swear unto you, if ye will do this, with an oath, ye shall not be destroyed; but if ye will not do this, I swear unto you with an oath, that on the morrow month I will command that my armies shall come down against you, and they shall not stay their hand and shall spare not, but shall slay you, and shall let fall the sword upon you even until ye shall become extinct.

“9. And behold, I am Giddianhi; and I am the governor of this the secret society of Gadianton; which society and the works thereof I know to be good; and they are of ancient date and they have been handed down unto us.

“10. And I write this epistle unto you, Lachoneus, and I hope that ye will deliver up your lands and your possessions, without the shedding of blood, that this my people may recover their rights and government, who have dissented away from you because of your wickedness in retaining from them their rights of government, and except ye do this, I will avenge their wrongs. I am Giddianhi.”

I hadn’t noticed this until recently, but it is remarkable how much Giddianhi sounds like a Marxist Revolutionary:

The works of the Gadiantons are “good.” They have been alienated by the wickedness of the Nephites who have withheld from them their rights, their rights of government, and done many wrongs to them. Significantly, in order to recover those rights they demand that the Nephites relinquish all their properties (“cities”, “lands”, “possessions”). They invite the Nephites to join them and become partners in all of their collective substance. If they refuse, they will be violently destroyed, with the implication that their possessions will be taken into the collective by force anyway, but that they will be killed instead of being able to enjoy them collectively.

Over the last few years there has been an effort among some liberal Mormons to legitimize the view that Socialism is compatible with the Restored Gospel. They sometimes cite Book of Mormon and other scriptural descriptions of an ideal, Zion society in which the people have “all things in common” and “no poor among them” as well as injunctions to care for the poor and needy, and condemnations of the “love of money” and those who “covet their own property.”

When the ancient scriptures describe Zion societies, with all things in common and no poor, they are curiously silent about the specifics. They describe the ends, but do not explain the means other than that it has to do with the righteousness of the people.

But Giddianhi’s epistle illustrates that not every society in which the participants are equal partners and have all property in common is a Zion Society, even if they do use the rhetoric of rights and justice. Sometimes those who propose to share all substance in common really are just robbers, even if in their own minds they think they are justified by the wickedness of others.

Some LDS advocates for Socialism cite the ends as if that alone were sufficient argument for the political means they propose to achieve them. And when someone disagrees, rather than defend the means they propose, they insinuate that those who disagree do so because they are opposed to the ends. But it is the means by which Socialists propose to create such a society that are the sticky point.

Are the means moral and compatible with the principles of the Restored Gospel?

Are the means capable of really accomplishing the ends they claim?

Do the means have unintended consequences that undermine their ends?

Do the means achieve the spiritual and moral objectives associated with the ends or just a superficial physical, material equality?

Do they create a Zion in the hearts of the people which then flows outward into society or do they create an artificial outward appearance of Zion, externally imposed on still covetous, wicked hearts?

Does it create a society of “shared substance” like the Gadianton Robbers or a Zion society of “all things in common”?

Are the means capable of really accomplishing the ends they claim?
Do the means have unintended consequences that undermine their ends?
Do the means achieve the spiritual and moral objectives associated with the ends or just a superficial physical, material equality?
Do they create a Zion in the hearts of the people which then flows outward into society or do they create an artificial outward appearance of Zion, externally imposed on still covetous, wicked hearts?
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3 Responses to Book of Mormon Socialism: The Marxist Gadianton Robbers

  1. You’ve made an interesting observation. I’m curious if your interpretation wouldn’t be improved by looking at ancient models of government rather than two very recent political models. In my mind this oversight weakens any modern applications that your argument might have, since the law of consecration has only superficial similarities to either Communism or free market Capitalism. As far as I can tell, neither is of God, but democratically regulated Capitalism just happens to make Babylon function better for more people, and democracy protects religious freedom better than autocracy.

    I’m curious about how influential a group LDS Socialists are? Who needs to be protected from them, and what do you think the most effective way to do this is? If these questions interest you, I’d read your thoughts on the topic anytime you posted them.

  2. James

    I agree with your post completely JMax. The difference between a Zion community and a tyrannical communist one is fairly simple. On the surface it makes sense how people could confuse the two even though they’re completely different in how they arrive at the end goal.

    A Zion society comes from people purifying their hearts through the atonement and caring about their neighbor or the guy suffering that they pass on the street. Socialism on the other hand is heavy-handed government doing what it does best: you obey or I kill you, throw you in jail or take away your money. I have a hard time seeing Christ ruling or celestial beings being guided by such a principle.

    One thing that I see as an interesting question related to this topic is can we really trust people who lie, cheat, murder and sell their souls for money and power to exhibit enough character to keep any of their promises. I for one doubt it.

    I imagine the quality of life the Nephites would have been given if they gave in to the demands of the Gaddianton’s as being parallel with how the general population was treated in Atlas Shrugged, i.e. there was plenty of money for all of the ruling politicians as they ground the face of the poor, but somehow money, food and supplies ran out before they were able to equally bless the common man under that system.

  3. nathan000000

    Jonathan is right that free-market Capitalism is not consecration and is definitely not perfect. I think the important difference between Capitalism and Socialism is that in Capitalism, while a society may never reach an attitude and practice of consecration, it’s at least an option. There is nothing in a free-market economy that prevents people from voluntarily adopting consecrated practices. But in Socialism, by definition, any practices that might appear consecrated are not voluntary. Capitalism cannot guarantee a consecrated society, but it creates the space in which one can possibly develop.

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