by Raven Cotyledon
I have sometimes described some of the communes as a combination of a housing co-op and a worker co-op. There are certainly elements of both in the Virginia communes. In fact, if you buy Twin Oaks tofu you will see that Twin Oaks Community Foods describes itself as “A Worker-Owned Cooperative!”
I have lived in three different Boston area co-op houses. Co-op houses (also known as collective houses–especially in NYC where there is something very different called cooperative apartments which are more like condos) are great, but communes involve even more sharing. In fact, you could say that communes are an even more cooperative form of cooperative.
Communes cooperate in almost every way I can think of. Income-sharing, in particular, involves a lot of cooperation between the people who are doing it. We cooperate in sharing the work of maintaining and cleaning where we live, in feeding each other, in planning together, and in supporting one another. We care for each other in many ways and we depend on each other.
Many co-ops are organized around the Seven Cooperative Principles, adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance. I believe that in many ways, communes meet or exceed all of these principles.
First, a voluntary and open membership. Voluntary, absolutely. Communes are not cults. No one will keep you there. Open is a little more tricky. Communes, like co-op houses, involve living together. A consumer co-op is easy. Anyone should be able to join. Cooperative businesses have to be a little more selective–not everyone can do every job. Living together means you have to be able to live in your home with each person, so co-op houses and communes need to be more selective still. That said, there is a large push for diversity in the communes. Membership decisions are made about the ability to get along, not about a person’s race or religion or sexual orientation.
Democratic member control–phrased in early documents as “One man, one vote.” Here the communes do a lot better than that. They are even more democratic. First, they are open to all genders–not even just men and women, but trans folks, genderqueer, non-binary, two-spirit, and more. And most communes don’t vote. The majority use consensus, which I believe is more democratic and more cooperative than voting.
Members economic participation is next, called distribution of surplus in the older documents. This is where income-sharing communities really exceed and excel. Everyone in a commune shares in the economic surplus which is distributed as equally as possible. All the members of a commune get to participate economically as much as they want.
The fourth principle is “Autonomy and Independence” which is absolutely part of the commune scene. This is the problem that the FEC faces. No one is in charge in the communes. This is the “Egalitarian” part of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.
The fifth principle of the Cooperative Principles is “Education, Training and Information”. This is as needed in the communes as it is in the co-ops. One of the biggest requests in the FEC budget is for one type of training or another.
The sixth principle is “Cooperation among Cooperatives” and this is as desirable and sought after in the communes as it is with the co-ops. In fact, this could be the very purpose of the FEC.
Finally, “Concern for Community” seems almost too self evident in the communes whose very nature is about building community.
All this is not to knock co-ops, but to point out that if you have done co-ops, especially co-op houses, and you want even more cooperation, maybe you should look at the communes.
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