The Art of Maintaining Good Vibes

The Art of Maintaining “Good Vibes:” lessons on practices and skills from two egalitarian communities

from the P2P Foundation

If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Egalitarian communes create an alternative to capitalist individualist lifestyle and values. The add communal organization of life and sharing living space to the self-managed enterprises that they operate to generate income. Living in such setting means agreeing to be challenged and confronted with the conditioning of modern upbringing. They developed practices that help to create an alternative to the socialization in the capitalist system. Maintaining “good vibes” does not come naturally as we may assume but requires structure, regular practices, and group effort. In a community, a two-person conflict is a community affair because the entire community may be affected.

Creating an alternative economy and organization of production implies a transformation of the relations and ways of inter-personal functioning that have been inculcated into hierarchy culture and the capitalist system. The following analysis will give some insights into intentional ways of creating a new culture that can serve as an inspiration for the organizations that want to create an alternative to the mainstream. We can learn from these advanced forms of cooperation for other co-operative projects.

I interviewed dozens of members of two egalitarian communities (also called communes), rural Acorn community in Virginia, US (consisting of 30 adults and one child at the time of research in 2014) and suburban Kummune Niederkaufungen near to Kassel in Germany (consisting of 60 adults and 20 teens and children in 2016). Egalitarian communities constitute a more advanced version of experimenting with alternative economy than ecovillages. They share labor, land, and resources according to one’s needs and everyone contributes in a chosen way to reproductive and income-producing endeavors. They apply the principle of consensus to their decision-making.

How the communes maintain good vibes?

In both communities, there are weekly meetings to discuss and make decisions. They are also an occasion to get updates on the lives of individual members and communal affairs. In Niederkaufungen, there is a general meeting once a week and working groups that discuss specific topics meet according to their own schedules. In Acorn, another weekly meeting is scheduled to discuss a proposed topic with a moderator. This may serve as a preparation for decision-making during weekly General Assembly.

In both communes, all kinds of conflicts, all kinds, including romantic breaks-ups are seen as a communal affair. There are several people who volunteer to be mediators in such cases and help the conflicted to communicate. One of Niederkaufungen’s enterprises is a training center for non-violent communication (it is a method and theory developed by Marshall B. Rosenberg1). Therefore, the community has experienced trainers and many of the members are familiar with the method. This, however, does not mean that there are no conflicts. Some people have not talked to each other for years as a consequence of a conflict. Some resentments are held for a long time, which is often caused by not knowing and understanding the other. They may avoid the resented person and gossip. Some people feel frustrated because decisions and changes in the life of the commune take such a long time. Discussions in groups to understand different standpoints on an issue causing a conflict also may take time.

Living in a commune is not easier than in the mainstream society – it is challenging in a different way. It involves a lot of talking: in assembly, in smaller groups, informal exchanges. Gossiping is a form of dealing with frustration. Talking seems to be a crucial factor in maintaining togetherness and self-insight.

Both communities recognize that being closer and more inter-dependent than it is usually the case in the relationships outside one’s family is a challenge. The communes have developed their own ways of maintaining community spirit and good relations among communards.

Acorn:

  • regular personal updates, so called “clearness process” : “This measure consists of weekly check-ins – short sharing of how one feels during a weekly meeting, presenting one’s wellbeing and plans towards the community once a year, and obligation to talk with each community member in a one-on-one conversation at least once a year. The latter one is reported during the weekly community meeting. For example, someone shared that the obligatory conversation made her realize that she had a lot in common with someone she hardly talked to all the year.” (Gajewska 11 October 2016)
  • principle of no “withholds”: “The principle of “no withholds” bases on the premise that long-term frustration may result in explosion or bad atmosphere. Members schedule an appointment to share their frustration. The addressee of this revealing is supposed to abstain from responding during certain time and integrate the feedback.” (Gajewska 11 October 2016).

Niederkaufungen:

  • therapy groups: Some members choose to meet regularly in meetings, for example, men’s group, to provide each other support and more insight. There is no leader or expert. Meeting and exchanging in the group aims at therapeutic effect.
  • individual therapy: Some of my interviewees participated in individual psychotherapy sessions during their stay in the community. One of them reduced working hours to allow time for processing the insights from the therapy. They considered it to be helpful to change their functioning in the group. One of my interviewees observed that thanks to individual intense therapy, which was made possible by lowering work load for this period, this person started to perceive other members differently, with less projections and blaming others.
  • practicing non-violent communication: the members that I interviewed seemed to have internalized the principles of Rosenberg’s method. They process their emotions and ask what is behind a conflict. Also other members may step in to talk about a disagreement and help conflicted parties understand their needs better.
  • rules regarding the use of mobile phones and similar devices: they are allowed only in private spaces and they shall not be used in the common area such as communal dining room.

Cultivating communal skills in the mainstream world

Creating an alternative reality to the one imposed by neoliberal agenda requires capacity to organize, be part of a group, commitment to collective efforts. These skills are a base for cooperative enterprises, consumer self-organizing, and other forms of collective autonomy. Many of my interviewees mentioned that work is different in their communes because they can show up the way they are. There is less pretending. I am convinced that culture can be shaped despite our conditionings. It is an interesting human adventure to look into the mystery of inter-personal relations. Many of the communards that I interviewed revealed intentional personal and group work on this very aspect. They undertook practical steps to make it work. So can we.

Short description of Acorn and Niederkaufungen

Acorn community is a farm based, anarchist, secular, egalitarian community of around 32 folks, based in Mineral, Virginia. It was founded in 1993 by former members of neighboring Twin Oaks community. To make their living, they operate an heirloom and organic seed business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (“SESE”), which tests seeds in the local climate and provides customers with advice on growing their own plants and reproducing seeds. They work with about 60 farms that produce seed for them, which they test for good germination, weigh out, and sell or freeze for future use. The seeds are chosen according to their reproduction potential so that gardeners can reproduce seeds from the harvest instead of buying them every season. The enterprise conducts and publishes research on the varieties so that customers take less risks when planting them. Acorn is affiliated to the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, a US network of intentional communities that commit to holding in common their land, labor, resources, and income among community members.

Kommune Niederkaufungen consists of about 60 adults and 20 teenagers and children. It was founded in the late 1986, after three years of preparing and campaigning. Meanwhile other income-sharing communities have been established in the region of Kassel. They are a left wing group, with positions that range from radical and social feminist, through green/ecologist standpoints, over Marxism and communism, to syndicalist and anarchist positions. Many communards are active in political groups and campaigns in Kaufungen and Kassel. Nowadays, they are economically autonomous. Their enterprises include elderly daycare, child daycare, training in non-violent communication, a seminar center, catering and food production, carpentry. Some members are salaried outside of the commune. To become a member, one needs to give all the property and savings to the commune. However, it is possible to negotiate a sum of money in case of exit from the commune to start a new life. The commune is a member of German network Kommuja. To read more about the commune, see: https://www.kommune-niederkaufungen.de/english-informations/

Authors’s articles on both communities (you can find references included in this article)

  1. Gajewska, Katarzyna (Autumn 2018): Practices and skills for self-governed communal life and work: examples of one US and one German egalitarian community. Journal of Co-operative Studies 51(2): 67-72.
  2. Gajewska, Katarzyna (25 June 2018). How to Start and Maintain a Micro-Revolutionary Project. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO). http://geo.coop/story/how-start-and-maintain-micro-revolutionary-project
  3. Gajewska, Katarzyna (2017): Kommune Niederkaufungen – jak się żyje w 60-osobowej wspólnocie. [Kommune Niederkaufungen – on living in a 60-person commune], quarterly Nowy Obywatel [New Citizen].
  4. Gajewska, Katarzyna (9 October 2017): Raising children in egalitarian communities: An inspiration. Post-Growth Institute Blog http://postgrowth.org/raising-children-in-egalitarian-communities-an-inspiration/
  5. Gajewska, Katarzyna (11 October 2016): Egalitarian alternative to the US mainstream: study of Acorn community in Virginia, US. PostGrowth.org http://postgrowth.org/egalitarian-alternative-acorn-community/ , first published in Bronislaw Magazine
  6. Gajewska, Katarzyna (21 July 2016): An intentional egalitarian community as a small-scale implementation of Post-Capitalism. P2P Foundation Blog https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/an-intentional-egalitarian-community-as-a-small-scale-implementation-of-postcapitalist-peer-production-model-of-economy-part-i-work-as-a-spontanous-voluntary-contribution/2014/12/27
  7. Gajewska, Katarzyna (10 January 2016): Case study: Creating use value while making a living in egalitarian communities. P2P Foundation Blog, http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/an-intentional-egalitarian-community-as-a-small-scale-implementation-of-postcapitalist-peer-production-model-of-economy-part-ii-creating-use-value-while-making-a-living/2016/01/10
  8. Gajewska, Katarzyna (27 December 2014): An intentional egalitarian community as a small-scale implementation of postcapitalist, peer production model of economy. Part I : Work as a spontanous, voluntary contribution. P2P Foundation Blog, http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/an-intentional-egalitarian-community-as-a-small-scale-implementation-of-postcapitalist-peer-production-model-of-economy-part-i-work-as-a-spontanous-voluntary-contribution/2014/12/27
    This is a shortened and modified version of the article : Katarzyna Gajewska (Autumn 2018): Practices and skills for self-governed communal life and work: examples of one US and one German egalitarian community. Journal of Co-operative Studies 51(2): 67-72.
    This article contains excerpts of already published texts in Creative Commons and is under Creative Commons licence.

Katarzyna Gajewska, PhD, is an independent scholar, workshop leader, and transformational guide. She has published on alternative economy, universal basic income, non-digital peer production, collective autonomy, food and health. You can contact her at: k.gajewska_comm(AT)zoho.com.
List of publications here
Facebook: Katarzyna Gajewska – Independent Scholar

1 Marshall B. Rosenberg was the founder and director of educational services for The Center for Nonviolent Communication.

Header image: “The Poop Deck is a humanure toilet with two seats. The sign adjusts that way in case you want company while you do your business.” – The picture was taken in Twin Oaks egalitarian community. Picture and picture description by Raven Cotyledon from Commune Life (creative commons)

WRITTEN BY Katarzyna Gajewska

Katarzyna Gajewska is an independent scholar and a writer. She has a PhD in Political Science and has published on alternative economy and innovating the work organization since 2013. She is also interested in preventive health and emotional and psychological aspects of economic change. You can find her non-academic writing on such platforms as Occupy.com, P2P Foundation Blog, Basic Income UK, Bronislaw Magazine and LeftEast. For updates on her publications, you can check her Facebook page or send her an e-mail: k.gajewska_commATzoho.com. If you would like to support her independent writing, please make a donation to the PayPal account at the same address.

The Art of Maintaining Good Vibes

Work as a spontanous, voluntary contribution

Full title:

An intentional egalitarian community as a small-scale implementation of postcapitalist, peer production model of economy. Part I : Work as a spontanous, voluntary contribution

by Katarzyna Gajewska

from P2P Foundation

In this article, I will present egalitarian communities, mainly Acorn community in Virginia, to examine whether the postcapitalist mode of production in the physical world can be introduced by establishing intentional communities. It should be noted that the opinions presented here are not necessary those of the founders or members of the community where I have done research. I interpret my findings with regard to their significance for this economic change and their reflection on the postcapitalist mode of production. Acorn community does not define itself as a peer production project so the following analysis is not an evaluation of the implementation of peer production theory into practice. It is instead an extrapolation from the practice to how peer production organizations in the physical world could operate in the current system and in the future.

acorn_01

The term peer production refers to various ways of organizing production that are distinct from the state and market logics. The main characteristics of this form of production are: 1) Self-selected spontaneous contribution of participants in the production process;1 2) creation of use value rather than exchange or market value, which results in free access to public goods;2 3) non-delegation and distributed coordination, in contrast to hierarchical state and market providers. While much is known about peer production in the domain of creative and intellectual work – both of which require a high level of intrinsic motivation – it is not obvious that physical work could be organized in this way.3 In this article, I will examine how these principles can be translated in production in the physical world. What kind of adjustments are needed to make this logic happen in the current capitalist system? What are the chances of expanding the model of peer production through a strategy of self-organizing from below? In this article, I will analyze one element of peer production in Acorn community, namely the self-selected spontaneous contribution of participants. What are the consequences of organizing work as voluntary, spontaneous involvement, and freely chosen self-selection?

External boundaries

An intentional community is usually exclusive in some way. One can only become a member of Acorn after a one-year trial period, for instance. Besides that, even if a community has a very inclusive policy regarding membership, as is the case in Longo Mai (a network of European intentional communities, similar to Acorn) where one can simply drop in and stay, being a live-in member of an intentional community requires a radical change in one’s lifestyle and often requires moving to a remote place, which is not an option for all. Most of the communities host visitors who can contribute to the work of the community without permanently changing their lives. However, one cannot simply drop by at Acorn or East Wind or Twin Oaks. Contrary to online production projects, physical world production imposes a certain degree of exclusivity by its nature. Especially when the working and living spaces are merged, allowing spontaneous contributions from a broader community seems difficult. Considerations for safety and the personal well-being of community members may impose exclusionary practices. Acorn community has low tolerance for loud people (according to an interviewee) and those unable to respect the personal space of members (BB’s post on their blog that cannot be retrieved anymore). If someone is unable to work for an extended period of time without a clear reason (such as a medical condition) it can lead to upset and resentment on the part of other members. People who have not worked have often decided to leave without being expelled.

A framework for spontaneous contributions

While currently it is difficult to implement peer production logic in the physical world, the question can be posed whether inside the boundaries of an intentional community it is possible to organize production so that it is based on voluntary, spontaneous involvement, and freely chosen self-selection. Acorn does not have many regulations regarding work involvement. The community agrees that currently members should work 42 hours per week on average. However, the actual number of hours worked are not carefully tracked or recorded and individual members are free to choose from a very broad collection of work areas to satisfy their labor obligation to the community. Acorn’s seed business and agricultural work have their own seasonal rhythm and members adjust their schedules to accommodate the needs of the business and the garden. The definition of work within the community, which evolves through long term community conversation, also determines the range of activities that can be undertaken as work. For instance, one of the interviewees wanted such activities as riding a bike (and thus saving fuel) or artistic creation to be counted in the labor quota. Some of the interviewees took the 42-hour work week seriously and resented those who do not do the quota, whereas some others saw the labor quota as a flexible measure for orientation only. Some members I have interviewed did not support the labor quota concept at all and many defined the ideal amount of working hours to be thirty hours per week. So while a frame for work is defined (the 42 hours per week labor quota and what is considered to be work) a spontaneous, self-chosen contribution is possible within this requirement. More on the labor quota at Acorn can be read here: http://funologist.org/2013/04/28/tell-him-it-is-labor-creditable/ .

Usually members undertake a couple of projects to which they are committed and the rest of the working time, they help out with the projects of others. Some tasks are announced by a person in charge of a project to which everyone can contribute spontaneously, such as preparing seeds for shipping or weeding in the garden. There is a dry erase white board where domestic tasks like cooking or cleaning can be signed up for in a weekly chart. Many of my interviewees enjoyed the time flexibility at Acorn a lot. Office work, for instance, can be pursued in a fragmented way. Some like to start working in the seed office very early in the morning and some prefer working in the evening. In this way, a lot of work in the community is organized in a decentralized system composed of short blocks of time on which contributors work at a chosen time. This is considered to be a particularly inclusive way of organizing production according to the peer production theorists.4There are some constraints to the spontaneity of involvement that are imposed, for instance, by the dates of events that the business attends or by deadlines for shipping. Taking care of animals also imposes certain time schedules. However, even business tasks that impose time schedules are completed in a voluntary and spontaneous way.

Some obstacles for full inclusion

The personality of a (self-appointed) project leader may define the inclusivity of participation. For instance, I liked to do prep work in the kitchen as my work contribution but not every cook would want me to help and I would not want to work with every cook. These little differences cannot be regulated. Some of the interviewees observed that some people once they decide to work in a certain area do not want to include others in their work. For example, the seed storage is organized in a way that is difficult for others to understand. The person in charge has been involved in this domain for a long time and knows it very well. It is also knowledge that is difficult to transfer quickly because of the huge number of varieties stocked by the business.

Expertise and finding one’s way takes its time and can be discouraging for the newcomers. One of the interviewees found it challenging at first to find her areas of activity. Before joining Acorn, she was employed in a very structured working environment. It took her one year to define her contribution to the community, learn to be an active member, and pursue her interests within the labor quota. Two newcomers still were not self-confident in their work contribution and in taking initiative after their first six months. One of them meets regularly with a more experienced member to get coaching. A welcoming atmosphere and tolerance for mistakes constitute community culture at Acorn. One can acquire various skills being in the community and perfection is not expected. For instance, another member mentioned that it [gender-neutral form chosen by the interviewee] did not know how to cook when it came to the community but it wanted to work as one of the cooks. Other members complained when they did not like its cooking but it continued to cook and learned from others to improve. This exemplifies a different relation between consumer and producer than in the employment system. It seems for this that if the peer production model were a dominant one, we would have less quality assurance but more voice in the production process.

To recap: the organization of work and production as a spontaneous voluntary contribution is possible within an intentional community and is practiced at Acorn. The labor quota and the resentments towards free-riders limit the true spontaneity in the contributed work. Similarly to digital peer production, the inclusiveness may be limited in some aspects of production that require expertise and experience. Another limiting factor may be the personality of some of the co-producers. If this organization were to be generalized in the physical world on a wider scale, it would require a culture of understanding and patience on the side of consumers so that peers can learn by doing. Whether labor quotas are necessary is not evident and needs further testing.

What is Acorn community?

Acorn community is a farm based, anarchist, secular, egalitarian community of around 32 folks, based in Mineral, Virginia. It was founded in 1993 by former members of neighboring Twin Oaks community. To make their living, they operate an heirloom and organic seed business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (“SESE”) (http://www.southernexposure.com/about-us-ezp-18.html ), which tests seeds in the local climate and provides customers with advice on growing their own plants and reproducing seeds. Acorn is affiliated to the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (http://thefec.org/ ), a US network of intentional communities that commit to holding in common their land, labor, resources, and income among community members.

Information on sources

I spent three weeks in August 2014 at Acorn community in Virginia where I conducted interviews with 15 inhabitants of this community (accounting for about half of the membership). The interviews will be used in my book analyzing a scenario of a postcapitalist mode of production from a personal perspective. It will be published in Creative Commons license. My research trip has been co-financed by a Goteo crowdfunding campaign. Some inspiration comes from four public meetings with a member of East Wind community (http://eastwind.org/ ), which I organized in October 2014, in Strasbourg, France. In total, 47 people participated in these events.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my interviewees, Couchsurfing hosts, and Acorn community for their hospitality and their time. The following people have contributed to the Goteo crowdfunding campaign: pixocode, Daycoin Project, Olivier, Paul Wuersig, María, Julian Canaves. I would like to express my gratitude to these and eight other co-financers. I would like to thank for the editing and suggestions from Paxus Calta (http://funologist.org) and GPaul Blundell, both from Acorn community.

Further publications

Another article on a Montreal-based enterprise where I conducted interviews for the book in progress can be found here: “There is such a thing as a free lunch: Montreal students commoning and peering food services,” (http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/there-is-such-a-thing-as-a-free-lunch-montreal-students-commoning-and-peering-food-services/2014/06/30 ). A longer article on the same enterprise is published by a closed-access academic journal. Gajewska, Katarzyna (2014): Peer Production and Prosumerism as a Model for the Future Organization of General Interest Services Provision in Developed Countries Examples of Food Services Collectives. World Future Review 6(1): 29-39. http://wfr.sagepub.com/content/6/1/29

Please, do not hesitate to ask me for an electronic version at the address: k.gajewska_comm AT zoho.com

I have also published other articles related to peer production and unconditional basic income:

Gajewska, Katarzyna, “Technological Unemployment but Still a Lot of Work: Towards Prosumerist Services of General Interest,” Journal of Evolution and Technology, http://jetpress.org/v24/gajewski.htm

Gajewska, Katarzyna, “How Basic Income Will Transform Active Citizenship? A Scenario of Political Participation beyond Delegation,” Paper for 15th International Congress of the Basic Income Earth Network, June 27th to 29th, 2014, Montreal, Quebec, http://biencanada.ca/congress/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/BIEN2014_Gajewska.pdf

For updates on my publications, you can check my Facebook page or send me an e-mail to the above address to get updates by e-mail:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Katarzyna-Gajewska-Independent-Scholar/1424563094446010

About the Author

Katarzyna Gajewska is an independent (unpaid) writer and social activist. In her book in progress, she explores potential psychological consequences of transformation towards a postcapitalist mode of production in the physical world. Formerly an academic (precarious) researcher, she builds upon her scientific background in industrial relations and political science and incorporates other lenses in the analysis of a scenario of a potential future. She focuses on personal and daily life in order to stimulate collective imagination and democratic debate.

1Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, Expanded Edition (London: Athlantic Books, 2008), 36. Pekka Himanen, The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age (Random House, 2002).

2Michel Bauwens and Sussan Rémi, Le peer to peer : nouvelle formation sociale, nouveau modèle civilisationnel, Revue du MAUSS, 2005/2 no 26, p. 193-210.

3This is the subject of one book but the book does not describe or examine the implementation of the theory, see Christian Siefkes, From Exchange to Contributions: Generalizing Peer Production into the Physical World. (Berlin: Edition C. Siefkes, 2008).

4 Yochai Benkler, Practical Anarchism: Peer Mutualism, Market Power, and the Fallible State, Politics and Society 41 (June 2013): 213-251. Clay Shirky, Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality. In Reformatting Politics: Information Technology and Global Civil Society, edited by J. Dean, J. W. Anderson, and G. Lovink, 35–41. (New York: Routledge, 2006). Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody. (New York: Penguin Press, 2008).

 

Work as a spontanous, voluntary contribution

A Detailed FEC History: Part Three, the 1990s

by Raven Cotyledon

(This is part three of a series. Part one is here and part two is here.)

In 1995 I helped found a community that became in dialogue with the FEC. So the FEC history of the nineties is more personal for me because I was involved and remember details, not only about our community’s involvement (we were Common Threads), but also what was going on for other communities at the time.

It was a busy decade, with lots of communities popping in and out. Our community lasted five years. Just after it fell apart, I saw an article in Communities Magazine that suggested five years was the average lifespan of a community. (I plan to publish a piece next week about longer lasting communities.) So here is my detailed history of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, Part Three, focusing on the 1990s and starting with the year 1990.

3842028-3x2-700x467
1990  There were two Assemblies held that year, one in May and one in November. It seems like the May Assembly was held at Krutsio.   Metanokit dropped membership because they were no longer income-sharing and Apple Tree was absent. (In his Phylogenetic History of the FEC video, Maximus points out that Metanokit eventually becomes a summer camp and workshop business.) The good news at that Assembly was that the PEACH fund then held $60,000. The Ganas community attended the November Assembly, but Dandelion dropped membership and it seems that Apple Tree did as well. Twin Oaks listed its population as 65, East Wind reported 40, and Sandhill 7.  Ira Wallace made an impassioned speech at the November Assembly where she said, “I’d like to see us participate in a non threatening way with people who are really different… To change our major inflow of white, ‘middle class’ people, it will take things that not everyone wants to do, but which the FEC theoretically supports. Having contact with other communities not qualifying or ‘not’ interested in FEC membership. It’s not our differences but our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences, that really comes up for me. I think being around different people will challenge us.”

1991   There was one Assembly in November, but it was very well attended. Besides Twin Oaks (population then 76), East Wind (45), Sandhill (9), Krutsio, and Ganas, Veiled Cliffs (population 7), Tekiah (5), Moon and Stars Farm, Community Evolving, Alpha, and the Communes Network all apparently were there. Sandhill was certified organic and the Nashoba building was completed at Twin Oaks. Someone also noted that Pam joined Twin Oaks. (Tekiah, which joined that year, was in Floyd, VA, and apparently was home to several former Twin Oakers.)

1992     This was an important year. There were two Assemblies (April and November). The April Assembly was sparsely attended (only four communities were listed), but the delegates listed the reasons  communities fail and talked about Twin Oaks considering splitting. Twin Oaks, indeed, split, in the sense that it gave birth to a new community. A core group was formed at the Twin Oaks Communities Conference and with the help of a large loan from Twin Oaks and a lot of assistance from the FEC, Acorn came into being, just seven miles down the road from Twin Oaks. The November Assembly was very well attended, including Twin Oaks, East Wind, Sandhill, Acorn, Veiled Cliffs, north woods community, Community Evolving, Kerista, Krutsio, and Tekiah.

acorn_beginners
Acorn in 1993–note Ira Wallace in the middle back and Kat Kinkade on the far right

There didn’t seem to be an Assembly in 1993.

1994     There was one Assembly that year, in November.  Attending were Twin Oaks (population 76), East Wind (50), Sandhill (5), Acorn (16), Ganas, and Tekiah (2). It was noted that the nutbutter warehouse was completed at East Wind.

1995     There was an April Assembly that year, with Twin Oaks, East Wind, Sandhill, Acorn, and Tekiah attending. There were no notes left.

1996    This was a busy year. There were two Assemblies in May and December. In May, the Assembly was held at Tekiah and the FEC celebrated its 20th anniversary.  In December, Krutsio left and Terra Nova came in, and Dancing Rabbit and Common Threads became Communities in Dialogue. Dancing Rabbit folks were being housed at Sandhill. It was noted that Dancing Rabbit was not planning to be an income-sharing community, but would contain Skyhouse, with 6 adults, that would do income-sharing.  The Heartwood building was completed at Acorn and the tofu business at Twin Oaks was reported as being stable.  (Common Threads was, as I said, a community that I helped form, and I attended the December Assembly, which was held at Twin Oaks.  I think that it was my first time visiting there.)

tour_skyeast
Skyhouse

1997     It looked like there were three Assemblies that year, in June, October, and December. Tekiah was absent at the June Assembly, and in October it was reported that Terra Nova was no longer income-sharing (although they continued to attend the Assemblies), and Shakti reported doing outreach at the Rainbow Gathering. There was also a discussion about violence at the October Assembly. At this point, Skyhouse was the Community in Dialogue attending the Assemblies. (The original intention of Dancing Rabbit was to be a community formed of several sub-communities.  Skyhouse was the only sub-community that emerged. Dancing Rabbit eventually filled up with families and houses where individuals lived.)

1998     There was only one Assembly, in April. Two new communities attended, Beacon Hill House and the Jolly Ranchers, in Seattle.  At this point, the FEC was dealing with a new problem. Up until now, all the FEC members were rural communes. With Common Threads in Cambridge, MA, and Beacon Hill House and the Jolly Ranchers in Seattle, the FEC had urban members, and wasn’t quite sure what to do with them.  (It was also noted that Acorn community lacked the funds to attend the Assembly that year.)

1999         Again, only one Assembly, this one in May.  There was no other information listed for that year, not even who attended.

And with that, the nineties end. Next month, the ‘Oh-oh’ decade.

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  • Michael Hobson
  • Sasha Daucus
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

 

A Detailed FEC History: Part Three, the 1990s

Creating use value while making a living in egalitarian communities

sese-team-picutre

“If one wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment … all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The House of the Dead

I observe a lot of suffering related to senseless work. David Graeber describes the entire system of “bullshit” jobs that causes emotional suffering. The quest for sense and usefulness has attracted many to peer production projects and to intentional communities. It is one of the elements of the postcapitalist mode of production to enable people to contribute in a meaningful way, to produce use value.

In this article, I will present egalitarian communities, mainly Acorn community in Virginia to examine whether the postcapitalist mode of production in the physical world can be introduced by establishing intentional communities. It should be noted that the opinions presented here are not necessary those of the founders or members of the community where I have done research. I interpret my findings with regard to their significance for imagining the postcapitalist mode of production. Acorn community does not define itself as a peer production project so the following analysis is not an evaluation of the implementation of peer production theory into practice. It is instead an extrapolation from the practice to how peer production organizations in the physical world could operate in the current system and in the future. The main characteristics of this form of production are: 1) Self-selected spontaneous contribution of participants in the production process;{1} 2) creation of use value rather than exchange or market value, which results in free access to public goods; {2} 3) non-delegation and distributed coordination, in contrast to hierarchical state and market providers. The first article of this four-part series focused on the consequences of self-selected spontaneous contribution as a model of organizing production.

In this article, I will examine how producing use value can be translated into production in the physical world in the context of the constraints imposed by the capitalist system. I will describe how structuring production via intentional communities can generate use value at different scales: for members, for the communities movement, and for society at large. I also explore how the production of use value can be accomodated within the necessity to make a living in the present system and what role communities can play in the transition towards a system where work/working produces use value rather than exchange value? How to navigate the pressure to make a living? – this is the dilemma of many in the peer-to-peer movement. Some have already contributed to this subject: Las Indias in their blog post on the fear of selling out or Lars Zimmermann in his post on Sensorica. I hope that the examples described below will widen the range of possibilities that can be imagined.

The main tenet of the peer production model is that one’s self-selected contribution is motivated by the opportunity to pursue public interest. There is no expectation of reciprocity (access is not dependent on involvement in the production process) and the results are distributed for free. {3} According to Benkler and Nissenbaum, peer production is based on and will inculcate a new set of virtues such as self-selection and volunteerism, gift culture, and the will to contribute to a broader community. {4} Currently, most of the peer production projects in which use value is created in the form of open source and open access products results from the involvement of peers who have other sources of income than their involvement in peer production. However, the motivation behind the contribution to open source projects may be also influenced by the fact that many peers can expect a postponed monetary reward because their participation in digital peer production builds their reputation in the domain of software development. Skills development can be another reward. As long as remunerated work is necessary to sustain public benefit work, it will be difficult to see a pure example of peer production in which peers are solely motivated by the production of use value. Ignoring the material bases of survival for the contributors in a peer production project may have dangerous consequences for the entire project because it may induce motivations to overtake the project by its most active contributors. Therefore, organization models that make the for benefit contribution sustainable and meet the logic of survival are interesting to explore.

Acorn Community sustains its roughly 30 members through operating an heirloom and organic seed distribution business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (“SESE”), and through subsistence agriculture. The enterprise is an interesting example that integrates profit making into the production of use value.

As I mentioned in the previous post, the contribution to production is not entirely spontaneous because the members are obliged to meet 42-hour labor quota and because some members may resent people that do not contribute and consequently make it difficult for a free-rider to feel socially integrated. Therefore, the work in the community, especially within the labor quota, is motivated by self-interest, although less strictly than in the classical employment system. My interviewees mentioned that escaping the stress and anxieties of having a job in the capitalist system and sufferings related to having a boss and pursuing senseless activities were one of their main motivations for joining the community. Other individual motivations were to be able to live a healthier life and be part of a community. Many interviewees mentioned that their involvement is part of their pursuit of the struggle against capitalism. As one of them, a former environmental political campaigner, put it, he decided to shift from oppositional to propositional action. Many members see their lifestyle as an experiment that may inspire society to change. One needs to take a selection bias into account, though. The 15 individuals that I have interviewed may have agreed to be interviewed because they consider participating in the community a way of inciting a broader change. Therefore my project of spreading information and further analysis may correspond to their vision and motivation to participate in the community.

Acorn’s members do not receive a salary but rather are granted unconditional access to all the resources and services produced by the members and made available according to their needs (except for tobacco and alcohol). This is supplemented by a small monthly stipend that can cover needs that are not met by the community. All members have the same position in the community. This is one of the reasons why the community calls itself egalitarian. The enterprise produces use value by redistributing its income to all members of the community, even those who do not play a major role in the success of the business in a monetary sense, as is the case in the capitalist mode of production. Although I have not interviewed anyone who does not work for the business at all, in theory it is possible to do only domestic jobs, grow food for the community, and engage in other subsistence-related activities to fulfill one’s labor quota. Since there is no special reward for individual effort or skills, one can define their work as being closer to work for benefit rather than for profit. The system resembles what one could imagine as an advanced form of an unconditional basic income at a group scale with two modifications:

1) Access is conditional on overall conformity with the labor quota (some proponents of an unconditional basic income also are in favor of a social contribution quota).
2) In contrast to a monetary transfer, the same for everyone, almost all goods and services are freely available to all members. Actual consumption varies widely between individuals. The model looks similar to free public services. {5}

This model can be an inspiration in the discussion and imagining of how the production of use value could be imagined at a broader national scale.

Acorn business model: integrating exchange and use value

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, the enterprise run by Acorn community, is an example of how a profit making enterprise can produce a use value. The enterprise sells heirloom seeds and provides services helping gardeners grow and preserve them for the next season. They work with about 60 farms that produce seed for them, which they test for good germination, weigh out, and sell or freezefor future use. The seeds are chosen according to their reproduction potential, by which we mean that gardeners can reproduce seeds from the harvest instead of buying them every season. The enterprise conducts and publishes research on the varieties so that customers take less risks when planting them. The orientation on reproducibility of seeds and increasing food autonomy is certainly an alternative to the major seed distributors who have an interest in generating dependency on their seeds. Instead of creating dependency on their seeds, the enterprise focuses on widening their selection, currently having about 700 varieties in stock. As a result, its promotional activities increase the biodiversity in the region.

One can compare the business model to an open hardware initiative. Expertise and a product that can be reproduced are provided to the customers. However, the customer needs to pay for the material part of the product. This model, being very locally oriented, could be implemented by other enterprises. The promotion of heirloom seeds that is a part of the enterprise’s activity can have broader impact on the environment in the local area.

Benevolent investment: earn money to change the world

The profits from the business are invested in projects that have broader social change as an objective. The material and human resources of this thriving enterprise are invested in the replication of the model in different settings. It distinguishes them from charity funding, which often is oriented on short-term goals instead of sustainable structures that would improve quality of life. Examples of investments include expanding the infrastructure of the community and helping other communities expand creating a complementary network of egalitarian communities which have developed an internal system of labour exchange. One current initiative, PointA, which wants to bring the community-organization to urban areas and benefit from urban-rural exchanges illustrates how the community’s resources can serve to increase autonomy from market forces through sharing and exchanging.

Producing exchange value and participating in the market system may actually contribute to the sustainability of the communities, making more use value production possible. A member of East Wind community in Missouri, which runs an enterprise producing peanut butter, observed that the authorities probably do not bother the community because the enterprise is one of the major taxpayers in the locality.

One of my interviewees thinks that a complete withdrawal from the money system would be the ideal final stage in the intentional community movement because as long as the community takes part in money exchanges this sustains the system. Instead, by operating on “zero dollars” and by setting an example, undermining “faith in money” would contribute to its end. Certainly, this long term vision can be achieved by creating prefigurative practices of postcapitalist modes of production. Participation in them, despite being sometimes motivated by the advantages to one’s quality of life and not necessarily the pursuit of a social change, may be an opportunity to inculcate non-hierarchical organizationalstyles and develop skills needed to live outside of the employment system.

Communities may use their resources to have an impact on society outside their network. For example, Acorn has been involved in a lawsuit against Monsanto. The Midden, an urban egalitarian community in Columbus, Ohio, enables its members’ political involvement by sharing their resources and decreasing their costs of living. A member of East Wind community (another egalitarian community located in Missouri) would like to help the local town next to his community become a place where food is grown in public spaces and accessible to all. For this purpose, the community can donate seeds and help in setting up the initiative.

The same person wanted to become a biologist before joining East Wind community but he dropped out of his studies. Now he works on experiments with aquaponics and growing trees. It is a way of continuing his passion outside of the rigidities of science funding and the limitations imposed on researchers in academia (check, for example, the writings by David Graeber). Since the labour quota in this community is 35 hours a week and includes varied activities, some time and energy may still be left for pursuing passions and creating a use value.

Securing basic needs and freeing time for useful activities by organizing into intentional communities may be a response to the dilemma that the p2p movement is facing. When the contribution is directly linked to profit, this may influence the motivation and produce other disadvantages to the final product (see Zimmermann’s post). However, the movement needs to address the subsistence problem if it wants to thrive. So by rearranging the mode of production, the communities may be places for producing knowledge and science to develop more autonomy. That may be their transitional role.


Endnotes
{1} Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, Expanded Edition (London: Athlantic Books, 2008), 36. Pekka Himanen, The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age (Random House, 2002).
{2} Michel Bauwens and Sussan Rémi, Le peer to peer : nouvelle formation sociale, nouveau modèle civilisationnel, Revue du MAUSS, 2005/2 no 26, p. 193-210.
{3} Lakhani, Karim R.; Robert G. Wolf (2005): Why Hackers Do What They Do. In: Joseph Feller, Brian Fitzgerald, Scott A. Hissam, Karim R. Lakhani (eds.), Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. Michel Bauwens and Sussan Rémi, Le peer to peer : nouvelle formation sociale, nouveau modèle civilisationnel, Revue du MAUSS, 2005/2 no 26, p. 193-210.
{4} Yochai Benkler and Helen Nissenbaum, “Commons-based Peer Production and Virtue,” The Journal of Political Philosophy 14 (December 2006): 394-419.
{5} I appreciate the comment of GPaul Blundell that helped me see the distinctions more clearly. The definition of public services in the model of unconditional basic income is one of the problems to be solved by the movement.

What is Acorn community?

Acorn community is a farm based, egalitarian, income-sharing, secular, anarchist, feminist, consensus-based intentional community of around 32 folks, based in Mineral, Virginia. It was founded in 1993 by former members of neighboring Twin Oaks community. To make their living, they operate an heirloom and organic seed business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (“SESE”), which tests seeds in the local climate and provides customers with advice on growing their own plants and reproducing seeds. Acorn is affiliated to the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, a US network of intentional communities that commit to holding in common their land, labor, resources, and income among community members.

Information on sources

I spent three weeks in August 2014 at Acorn community in Virginia where I conducted interviews with 15 inhabitants of this community (accounting for about half of the membership). The interviews will be used in my book analyzing a scenario of a postcapitalist mode of production from a personal perspective. It will be published in Creative Commons license. My research trip has been co-financed by a Goteo crowdfunding campaign. Some inspiration comes from four public meetings with a member of East Wind community, which I organized in October 2014, in Strasbourg, France. In total, 47 people participated in these events.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my interviewees, Couchsurfing hosts, and Acorn community for their hospitality and their time. The following people have contributed to the Goteo crowdfunding campaign: pixocode, Daycoin Project, Olivier, Paul Wuersig, María, Julian Canaves. I would like to express my gratitude to these and eight other co-financers. I would like to thank for the editing and suggestions from GPaul Blundell, communard of Acorn, instigating organizer of Point A DC.

Further publications

Another article on a Montreal-based enterprise where I conducted interviews for the book in progress can be found here: “There is such a thing as a free lunch: Montreal students commoning and peering food services.”A longer article on the same enterprise is published by a closed-access academic journal. Gajewska, Katarzyna (2014): Peer Production and Prosumerism as a Model for the Future Organization of General Interest Services Provision in Developed Countries Examples of Food Services Collectives. World Future Review 6(1): 29-39.

Please, do not hesitate to ask me for an electronic version at the address: k.gajewska_comm AT zoho.com

I have also published other articles related to peer production and unconditional basic income:

Gajewska, Katarzyna, “Technological Unemployment but Still a Lot of Work: Towards Prosumerist Services of General Interest,” Journal of Evolution and Technology.

Gajewska, Katarzyna, “How Basic Income Will Transform Active Citizenship? A Scenario of Political Participation beyond Delegation,” Paper for 15th International Congress of the Basic Income Earth Network, June 27th to 29th, 2014, Montreal, Québec.

About the Author

Katarzyna Gajewska is an independent (unpaid) writer and social activist. In her book in progress, she explores potential psychological consequences of transformation towards a postcapitalist mode of production in the physical world. Formerly an academic (precarious) researcher, she builds upon her scientific background in industrial relations and political science and incorporates other lenses in the analysis of a scenario of a potential future. She focuses on personal and daily life in order to stimulate collective imagination and democratic debate.

For updates on my publications, you can check my Facebook pageor send me an e-mail to the address to get updates by e-mail: k.gajewska_comm AT zoho.com

Katarzyna Gajewska is an independent scholar and a writer. She has a PhD in Political Science and has published on alternative economy and innovating the work organization since 2013. She is also interested in preventive health and emotional and psychological aspects of economic change. You can find her non-academic writing on such platforms as Occupy.com, P2P Foundation Blog, Basic Income UK, Bronislaw Magazine and LeftEast. For updates on her publications, you can check her Facebook page or send her an e-mail: k.gajewska_commATzoho.com. If you would like to support her independent writing, please make a donation to the PayPal account at the same address.

Creating use value while making a living in egalitarian communities

Raising children in egalitarian communities: An inspiration

by  Katarzyna Gajewska

from the Post Growth Institute 

9th of October, 2017

I interviewed dozens of members of two egalitarian communities, rural Acorn community in Virginia, US (30 adults and one child at the time of research in 2014) and suburban Kummune Niederkaufungen near to Kassel in Germany (60 adults and 20 teens and children in 2016). You can find links to my four articles on Acorn community below this text. I share observations and insights from interviews that I conducted with some members of these communes. I will demonstrate the similarities between childhood in such communities and the conditions for optimal child development derived from research and theories based on ethnographic studies of indigenous societies.

Egalitarian communities constitute a more advanced version of experimenting with alternative economy than ecovillages. They share labor, land, and resources according to one’s needs and everyone contributes in a chosen way. In Kommune Niederkaufungen, one usually needs to integrate into one of the work collectives to be accepted. Members can spend money according to their needs but in Acorn community there is a monthly pocket money to cover extra expenses such as alcohol or cigarettes, whereas in Niederkaufungen expenses of above 150 Euros need to be announced. Both communities operate enterprises. In Kommune Niederkaufungen, some members are employed outside. In Acorn community, weekly 42-hour work contribution is required but each member decides what activities to do and no checks are in place.

Basic needs

In both communities where I conducted interviews raising children is considered to be a work contribution and is valued in the same way as activities that earn money. Recognition for care and reproductive work is part of the feminist philosophy of these communes and their pursuit of egalitarianism. In this way parents do not need to choose between making a living or raising children. Since work arrangement is quite flexible and many members work in the same place where they live (in Acorn community this is the case for majority of activities), it is easier to combine work with child care. Also non-parents can choose to participate in child care as a work contribution.

Thanks to these conditions parents can respond to a child’s needs without the stress of economic survival. The first three years of life define emotional development and negligence can lead to trauma and behavioural or emotional disorders. Research examining physiology and theories of child development underline the need for constant availability of an adult and touch in early childhood (see articles by such authors as Darcia Narvaez and Jean Liedloff). This is more difficult to organize in the mainstream society.

children-in-forest-e1507523703150
Free play in nature is important for children

Learning environment

Communes provide an environment that makes it easier to pursue homeschooling or unschooling because of the close availability of many adults with diverse skills and knowledge. For example, a member of East Wind, a commune in Missouri, teaches French to one of the children by taking a walk and talking to them in this language. Children in Kommune Niederkaufungen go to school, either a public one in their neighborhood or an alternative school in the city center. However, they can tap on a vast expertise at home having access to many adults with diverse knowledge.  (In Niederkaufungen, some members work in education).

Community skills and multi-age group

Children need multiple attachments, according to Peter Gray, and this is how children have been raised in indigenous communities.1 In the book “Free to Learn,” Peter Gray points to the advantages of being part of a multi-age group and engaging in free play with other children for learning and emotional development. Furthermore, he elaborates on the importance of unstructured play time with other children. Citing survey date, he mentions that one of the main obstacles for limiting such free activities with children in the neighborhood is the concern for safety. Parents prefer to occupy children with extracurricular activities because they are sure that they are taken care of. In a commune, it is easier to establish conditions for children to have free play. The children and their parents know each other and there are many trusted adults around so that children can play in safety.

Peter Gray shows that children learn skills that they observe are crucial in the adults’ world by playing. Growing up in an environment where a lot of discussions and decision-making takes place, this may encourage them to develop related skills. One of the members of Kommune Niederkaufungen said that there is a practice of exercising patience and letting someone express oneself in conflicts, which contrasts with the way his friends treated each other in his life before joining commune. This may also be an example for children.

Disputes among parents

Living in a commune requires a lot more discussions and collective decision-making than living an individualized life. For example, what parents allow to their children may affect other children more directly than in mainstream living. It can become a source of conflict. A father left the commune Niederkaufungen because of the decision of other parents to have satellite television. It was impossible to isolate this child from mainstream media influence. In this commune, at least four people needed to make a veto to block community decision. Parents in this commune gather regularly to talk about their children.

The impact on the society

Certainly the way children are raised shapes their personalities. Aggregated, it results in the human relations and values of society. Jean Liedloff considers touch deprivation in early infancy to be responsible for insatiable wants and searching for solace in consumerism. Narvaez asks what impact depriving babies of their basic human needs will have on the entire society. Peter Gray observes that inter-age education contributes to the development of empathy and compassion. Communities provide conditions to raise emotionally healthy and cooperative individuals. Hopefully, they will inspire mainstream society to create conditions that resemble communal child care.


Articles on Acorn community

Gajewska, Katarzyna (September 2016): Egalitarian alternative to the US mainstream: study of Acorn community in Virginia, US. Bronislaw Magazine and reposted on PostGrowth.org.

Gajewska, Katarzyna (21 July 2016): An intentional egalitarian community as a small-scale implementation of Post-Capitalism. P2P Foundation Blog.

Gajewska, Katarzyna (10 January 2016): Case study: Creating use value while making a living in egalitarian communitiesP2P Foundation Blog.

Gajewska, Katarzyna (27 December 2014): An intentional egalitarian community as a small-scale implementation of postcapitalist, peer production model of economy. Part I : Work as a spontanous, voluntary contributionP2P Foundation Blog.

You can support Katarzyna’s independent research and writing here.

Photo credit: Jamie Taylor, Unsplash. (Creative Commons).

Katarzyna Gajewska, PhD, is an independent scholar and futurist writer (Facebook: Katarzyna Gajewska – Independent Scholar). She has been publishing on alternative economy, non-digital peer production, universal basic income and collective autonomy since 2013 and is mainly interested in psychological and emotional aspects of transition to a postcapitalist society.

Katarzyna has written 2 posts on Post Growth Institute

This article was originally published on Post-Growth Institute Blog, under a Creative Commons License. 

 

 

Raising children in egalitarian communities: An inspiration