By Telos, adapted from a zine I once made called “Betty Crocker’s Tiny Commune Cookbook.” A printable copy of the cookbook can be found here.
A good commune is like marinated tempeh. It’s like spicy peanut (or even cashew) sauce, or deliciously chewy fruit leather. A good commune is like a pig roast. Or maybe it’s like a beautiful bunch of asparagus, made better by the fact that it was recovered from a local dumpster. When well prepared, an income-sharing community can meet your life needs- dietary and otherwise.
While there’s a lot of room for variation, there are a few common elements that make communes an especially scrumptious dish…
They meet each member’s needs: You don’t want a muffin where all the blueberries are concentrated in one spot. Likewise, you don’t want a society where all the wealth is concentrated in one spot! When income is shared, resources are distributed roughly equally, or according to need. Excess is enjoyed together, reinvested, or shared with the wider community. Everybody gets blueberries in their muffin!
They reduce collective expenses, through resource sharing: Part of what makes communes delicious is that they reduce consumption. By collectivizing resources, communes avoid the need for everyone to buy their own car, tablesaw, bike, etc. Collectivizing labor also allows income-sharing communities to meet more of their needs in-house, by growing their own food, for example. The resultingly reduced consumption translates to lower expenses and a smaller ecological footprint. Yum
They make all work valuable: Income-sharing decouples the value of labor from the income it produces, because each member has equal access to resources, no matter how much money they individually earn. This separation of “value” from money makes it easy to appreciate all types of labor, even so-called “women’s work” and other labor that is chronically underpaid. Income sharing is as tasty for those cooking, cleaning, farming, and answering phones as it is for those running businesses.
They make life well-rounded and interesting: Income-sharing usually eliminates the need to work for pay full time, making it possible to pursue a variety of work, instead of just one type. The resulting freedom to nourish a diversity of skills and passions gives life a well-balanced flavor profile. Communes help create well-rounded people, who are more versatile and interesting to be around.
Communes are not an easy recipe to attempt, and it’s an unfortunate truth that many of them come out either burnt or undercooked. They often turn out tough, and it’s difficult to get them to rise properly. Still, this should not discourage the cook, because a well-prepared commune is perhaps one of the flakiest, juiciest, most delicious dishes there is to be tasted.
Part of what makes communes so difficult is that there’s no sure-fire recipe that will guarantee success. Still, there are certain ingredients that pretty much all communes will need. If you have experience living or working cooperatively, many of them may already be available in your pantry. Make sure to include a healthy portion of each ingredient listed below. Mix well, marinate, adjust proportions as needed, and add copious amounts of tenacity and mutual trust- starting a commune is a commitment that requires hard work and persistence. Prepared properly, commune life can strengthen your relationships, create a deep sense of belonging, provide an exit from industrial capitalism, reduce your carbon footprint, and more.
Who will be in the commune? How will membership be decided? It’s important for new communes to have a group of founding members with a strong shared vision and the commitment to manifest it. Once off the ground, they will need a process for determining which new members to accept into the community. Making this process fair and equitable is an important and challenging task. Strive for a process that does not discriminate on the basis of race, class, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc, even in subtle ways. Still, the membership process must also ensure that accepted members are able to contribute fairly to the community (in whatever way they do), that their needs can be met by the community, and that they will not be destructive to the community.
In order to share income, you’ll need…income! How much money is required to meet the commune’s needs? Will the community buy most necessities, or will it find ways to meet some needs without money (by growing its own food, or by scavenging, for example)? Once members determine how much money they need to collectively earn, they need to figure out where it will come from. Will they pool the income from jobs outside the community? If so, do all members need jobs, or do some members make enough money to support others? Or should the community launch a cooperatively owned business that all members can work in and share income from? What type of business? Does the commune have other income sources available until the business begins to turn a profit? Launching a cooperative business will affect the tax status that best fits your community, as well as other legal details, so don’t forget to do your research!
Life is full of decisions. How will the commune make them? In an egalitarian community, it’s important to have a governance structure that allows decisions to be made in a timely manner while ensuring that all voices are heard and that no individual or faction is allowed to exercise constrictive power over others. The most popular model for egalitarian decision making is consensus, in which proposals are continually modified until all members can agree upon a course of action. Most forming communes use consensus, but many forms of collective governance are possible. There are communes that use supermajority vote, some that delegate responsibilities to various managers, and some that elect committees or empowered to make certain decisions.
Starting and maintaining a commune takes work! Each commune will need a labor system ensuring that each member contributes equitably and is accountable to others. Some members might contribute by working an income producing job, or in a collectively owned business, while others might garden, keep community facilities clean and repaired, cook meals, or build community infrastructure. Are a set number of work hours expected from each member, or will accountability come from conversation, instead of numbers? Is work assigned, or self-determined? How is it ensured that each member contributes effectively and has the opportunity to be fulfilled in their work?
Communication and Conflict Resolution
Sharing income is a big commitment, and it’s important for each commune to have a healthy communication culture. Communities function best when everybody is on the same page, not just about responsibilities, but also about relationships. There are many ways to facilitate effective communication among community members, like providing a space in community meetings to discuss interpersonal dynamics, or hosting regular meetings exclusively for this purpose. Another very useful tool is “clearnesses”- regular one on one meetings between every possible pair of community members, providing space to address any clutter in their relationship, and kill gossip. Consider these various forms of regular communication as “interpersonal hygiene.” When it comes to serious conflicts, it’s important to have a plan for dealing with them before they arise. Don’t wait to design a conflict resolution process until you need it!
Legal and financial details
If you want your commune to be recognized by the government as a legal entity (and not just a band of weirdos), then you’ll need to set up a tax and corporate identity for the community. Different tax and legal statuses will place different constrictions on what a community can legally do, so research thoroughly and choose according to your community’s needs! Communes are commonly listed as non-stock, non-profit corporations with a 501(d) tax status, but there are several options that may best meet a community’s needs. Besides tax and legal status, it’s important to familiarize yourselves with zoning regulations for the area where the commune will be located, financing options for the purchase of land, and other relevant legal details.
It’s probably safe to assume that those interested in starting communes want to live differently than most people do. In what specific ways? Are there cultural taboos that you would like to normalize, like female toplessness? What about “normal” behaviors that we’d be better off without, like conspicuous cell phone use? What do members of the community do for fun? What is the community’s shared sense of purpose? How will your commune rewrite the social code? Each commune has it’s own culture, whether or not it was intentionally adopted. Take the opportunity to redesign culture in a healthy way!
*Never consider your commune finished, or it may stagnate and spoil. Serves roughly 5, potentially up to thousands. Never to be enjoyed alone.