An International Movement?

by Raven Cotyledon

I live in the United States of America. I don’t consider myself a citizen, but the government does. I seldom leave the northeast US, let alone the country, which I only left a few times in my life  (and not since the 1990s) and then only to go to Canada. But I think of myself as a citizen of the world.

Most of the communes that are written about on this blog are in the US.  Most are part of the FEC. The Federation of Egalitarian Communities covers North America, and that includes Canada, and we have featured two Canadian communities on Commune Life, Le Manoir and TCUP.  But the income-sharing movement extends beyond North America.

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Le Manoir
TCUP-P4
The Common Unity Project

We have had pieces on here about the European communes, particularly Kommune Niederkaufungen in Germany and Las Indias in Spain. I have heard of communes in places as far apart as Denmark and Australia. I have heard stories of some in Asia and South America.

 

Most importantly, there is the kibbutz movement in Israel, where they were income-sharing long before Twin Oaks and they were an influence on the American commune movement. It is true that many of the radical kibbutzim have become almost capitalist these days, but it’s also true that there are new kibbutzim arising that are trying to bring back the early ideals, especially in urban kibbutzim.

אופציה 1
Kibbutz Mishol

After I published a recent post where I talked about Las Indias and even included a picture that they had sent a few years back, I realized that I haven’t been in contact with them for a couple of years and when I tried looking at their website, it seems to be gone.  I’ve tried emailing them without any response. Someone else who knew them said, casually, that they had gone ‘radio silent’. I am afraid that they, like many other communities, are just gone.

The truth is that it is hard for me, often, to stay in contact with North American communities, and it’s incredibly difficult to keep or sometimes even get in contact with communities outside of North America. That doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

Ironically, the last that I heard from the folks at Las Indias, they were working on a project to network communities around the globe.  I was excited about it, but I suspect that project is gone along with Las Indias.

LIWint7
Las Indias

Yet my hope is that someone, some day, will find a way to network income-sharing communities around the world, the way that the FEC holds together the fragile network of North American communes.  If change happens from the bottom up, it builds toward the top, and it’s important for all of us in our little communities to know that we are involved in something bigger than ourselves, something that spans the planet.

Please, if you know of other income-sharing communities anywhere in the world, let us know of them. We need each other, no matter where we are.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us!

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards

  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft
  • Aaron Michels
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Laurel Baez
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • William Kadish
  • Em Stiles
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw

Thanks!

An International Movement?

The Story

by Raven Cotyledon

There isn’t going to be a lot of new information in this post. Rather, I would like to look at the context that surrounds this information. I am going to call this context, “The Story”.

I will start off with a story that I am concerned about and is prevalent in this culture. It was popularized by Margaret Thatcher and goes by the acronym, TINA.  TINA stands for There Is No Alternative. It’s a story that keeps the status quo in place. Things may be awful, but if you believe that there is no alternative, there isn’t much that you can do.

The intentional communities movement, and especially the communes, have a very different story to tell. It is a story about creating many, many alternatives.

And I often start telling the story by talking about Twin Oaks. Twin Oaks is  contradiction to many of the stories that are told to support TINA. All the communes from the sixties failed and are long gone. Communism just doesn’t work.  A dictator (or small oligarchy) will always arise and use any communal situation for his (or their) benefit.

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Twin Oaks 50th Anniversary picture 

Twin Oaks is a commune that started in the sixties, has run for fifty-two years, has over a hundred people living there (including children), and is going strong. It is a small communist society, voluntary and built from the ground up, that functions pretty well. No dictator or oligarchy has emerged in those fifty-two years and, given how independent minded most of the Twin Oaks members are, if anyone tried, they would probably be thrown out.

But one commune doesn’t prove anything. The next thing that I talk about in my story is this blog.  Not because I manage it and write so much for it, but because of the massive amount of information here about communes around the US and around the world. We have articles about communes in Virginia and Missouri, but also in New York City, Washington, DC, Portland, Oregon, and Laramie, Wyoming , and rural communes in Quebec, New York state, Washington state, British Columbia, and Alaska. And beyond North America, we have stories about  Kommune Niederkaufungen in Germany  and Las Indias in Spain, and the kibbutzim in Israel, which were not only the predecessors of the commune movement but are still being reinvented.  I have heard of more, and will publish whatever I find. Twin Oaks is not a single exception but part of what may be a worldwide phenomenon.

LI In a Madrid Bus
Las Indias 

The Story expands from there. It’s not that I expect everyone to live on a commune, but that the communes are the far end of dozens of alternatives. There is a large world of communities to explore if you go over to the Fellowship for Intentional Communities website, ic.org–including cooperative and collective houses, ecovillages and cohousing projects, and, of course, communes. Beyond that is the world of cooperative businesses, alternative agriculture, soft technology, ecological design, sharing projects, and new ways of communicating, building relationships, and dealing with conflict. The Story that we are telling is not that there are no alternatives, but that there is an abundance of alternatives, the world is overflowing with alternatives.

As I have said, communities are laboratories for social change where we see what works and what doesn’t. This blog is important because it documents what is happening in the far end of those experiments. This is the new story, the story of the world we are building, one commune at a time.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us!

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards

  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft
  • Aaron Michels
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Laurel Baez
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • William Kadish
  • Em Stiles
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw

Thanks!

 

The Story

A Cornucopia of Communes

Pictures of most of the communities featured in Commune Life over the last year.  (All communes are in US states unless otherwise noted.)

Acorn, Mineral, VA:

acorn-family-portrait

Baltimore Free Farm, Baltimore, MD:

https://i2.wp.com/www.baltimorefreefarm.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Untitled-1-copy.jpg

Cambia, Louisa, VA:

Cambia 4

Compersia, Washington, DC:

First1

East Wind, Tecumseh, MO:

ews2

las Indias, Madrid, Spain:

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Living Energy Farm, Louisa, VA:

LEFEH1

Oran MórSquires, MO:

Summer OM5a

Quercus (disbanded), Richmond, VA:

Porch music jam on our snazy palette-finished porch

Rainforest Lab, Forks, WA:

rfl

Sandhill Farm, Rutledge, MO:

Sandhill 1

Sycamore Farm, Arcadia, VA:

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The Common Unity Project (TCUP),  Gitxsan Territory, Hazelton, BC (Canada):

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Twin Oaks, Louisa, VA:

ZK

 

 

 

A Cornucopia of Communes

las Indias’ 2017 Winter

LIWint1 This year María and Nat celebrated the Chinese New Year in London

LIWint2Birthdays are a big celebration among us. We celebrated Mayra’s with an oyster lunch and…

LIWint3…a special meal prepared by one of our customers who happens to be a great chef already recognized with two Michelin stars

LIWint4Caro will come back from Argentina during the Spring for a couple of weeks. Meanwhile we have chats and videochats.

LIWint5We started an «open doors» program for people under 30. Almu is the first visiting member.

LIWint6Young people participating in the program live and work with us learning information analysis and experiencing communal life.

LIWint7The arrival of visiting communards fuels conversations almost every day after midnight… sometimes until dawn.

las Indias’ 2017 Winter

Why producing in common is the starting point

by David de Ugarte, from El Jardin Indiano, Thursday, January 19th, 2017

It would seem that the whole history of technology, with all its social and political challenges, has coalesced to put us within reach of the possibility of developing ourselves and contributing autonomy to our community by taking the leap to producing in common with those close to us.

If we study the productive reality of the last thirty years, the changes turn out to be amazing. Among all of them, the most striking, the most unexpected, the one that most strongly contradicted the idea that the great economic systems of the twentieth century had about themselves, was not that the future would be full of computers, cellphones, and electronic equipment. That idea had already appeared in the ’40s and ’50s in science fiction and popular futurism. Nor was it globalization. The idea of a world united by free trade had been part of the Anglo-Saxon liberal ideal since the Victorian era, and from the foundation of the League of Nations, between the wars, it was part of the declared objectives of the great English-speaking powers.producing1

No, the most shocking thing was the beginning of the end of business gigantism. From the State businesses of the USSR, to shipbuilding and metallurgy in Asturias, from Welsh mining to United Steel or the big automotive companies, the oligarchs that had been the model of “enterprise” for the contemporary industrial world, stopped hiring, collapsed, and fired tens of thousands of workers. It wasn’t just “de-localization”: the new Chinese or Vietnamese plants didn’t grow indefinitely, either. Markets like electronic products expanded year after year, and yet personnel and capital global used were reduced. It was said that the new labor-intensive industries would be services, especially services connected with the new dominant form of capital: finance. But soon, banks and insurers that employed hundreds of thousands of people at the turn of the century started to reduce personnel. Today, the great banks are on track to reduce personnel by 30% over the next decade.

What happened?

producing2What had happened was, in fact, amazing. Following the Second World War, the United States had become the great provider to the world. When the war ended, US GDP was around half of the global GDP. Benefiting from the European need for reconstruction and from peace treaties that, while not reaching the level of humiliation of Versailles, were openly asymmetrical, big Anglo-Saxon businesses globalized at great speed speed. It was a dream come true for their shareholders. It wasn’t at all strange to economists. At the time, if Marxists, Keynsians, and neoliberals agreed on anything, it was that businesses were able to, and in fact tended to, grow indefinitely. But by the ’50s, it was already obvious that something was going wrong. In the USSR and the countries of the East European, you could always blame the arbitrariness of the political system or the mistakes of the planners. But in the USA, it was different. And yet, it was there, present and invisible, like an elephant in a high-society gala. The first to realize it was a economist called Kenneth Boulding. Boulding noted that American businesses were reaching the limit of their scale, the point at which inefficiencies due to having to manage a larger size were not compensated for by the benefits of being bigger. Looking at the America of his time, he also warned that big businesses would try compensate for their inefficiencies using their weight in the market and in the State. We were under pressure long before “too big to fail” in the crisis of 2008, but he could already tell that Big Businesses would not hesitate to use the power they had as a result of employing tens of thousands of people to get made-to-fit regulations and thinly-veiled monopolies. Business over-scaling, warned Boulding, could end up being a danger to the two main institutions of our society: state and market.

producing3But what came next was even more surprising. Businesses bet on improving their systems and processes. They discovered that information was important—crucial—to avoid entering the phase in which inefficiencies grew exponentially. It also became obvious that a business size that was inefficient for one market became reasonably efficient for a larger market. As a result, they used all their power to promote a branch of technology that had shone only marginally in the great war: information. With this same objective, as soon as the opportunity arose, they pushed governments to reach commercial agreements and, above all, frameworks for the free movement of capital, since the industry that had scaled fastest and had begun to give alarming signs of inefficiency was finance. Meanwhile, the champion in business scale, the USSR and the whole Soviet bloc, collapsed, to the astonishment of the world, in an obvious demonstration that operating life wasn’t infinite.

producing4A true revolution in support of the feasibility of large scales in crisis was implemented in the West. The political result was called “neoliberalism.” It basically consisted of the extension of free-trade agreements, which expanded markets geographically; financial deregulation, which allowed the rise of “financialization,” or extension of markets over time; and a series of rents and monopolies for certain businesses, which were assured by regulations, like the hardening of so-called “intellectual property.”

producing5The technological result was known as the “IT revolution,” which is to say revolution of information technology. But it came with a surprise, following a series of apparent coincidences in the search for ways beyond the limits on efficiency imposed by the rigid hierarchical systems inherited from the previous century. At the end of the ’60s, the structure of networks that connected big university computers, which was financed by defense spending, took a distributed form. This would not have brought about a radical change if a new field, domestic information science, had not evolved towards small, completely autonomous computers, known as “PCs.” The result was the emergence in the ’90s of an immense capacity for distributed and interconnected calculation outside the fabric of business and government: the Internet.

The revolution of scale

producing6The Internet brought profound changes in the division of labor, which overlapped with the ongoing reduction of optimal scales, and changed the social results expected from delocalization, the first trend in globalization.

In the ’90s, when the “end of history” seemed go hand in hand with the consolidation of a new string of industrial technology giants (Microsoft, Apple, etc.), free software, which had been a subculture until then, built the first versions of Linux. Linux is the “steam engine” of the world that is emerging: the first expression of a new way of producing and, at the same time, a tool to transform the productive system. Over the next twenty years, free software would come to be the greatest transfer of knowledge and value in the contemporary era, equivalent to several times all foreign aid to development sent from developed countries to those on the periphery since WWII.

producing7Free software is a universal public good and, in an era in which information infrastructure is a fundamental part of any productive investment, a free form of capital. Free capital drove an even greater reduction in the optimum scale of production. But it also helped make value chains of the physical goods with strong technological component distributed. Globalization and delocalization had broken the links in value creation in thousands of products throughout the world, especially in the less-developed nations of the Pacific basin, but all those chains were re-centralized in the US, and to a lesser extent, in Japan, Germany and other central countries, where big corporations (from Apple to Nike) branded, designed, marketed, and hoarded the benefits of intellectual property. The possibility of free software was key for many of those chains to “insource” in countries like China, and produce all the elements, including those of greater value added.

producing8The immediate result was prodigious economic development, the greatest reduction in extreme poverty in the history of humanity, the greatest increase in real wages in the history of China, and the appearance of new global centers of innovation and production in coastal cities. These cities play by a new set of rules that, not surprisingly, include an extreme relaxation of intellectual property, an accelerated reduction of scales, and production chains systems and assembly systems that allow a formidable increase in scope, which is to say, the variety of things produced.

The Direct Economy

producing9As all these changes were set in motion in Asia, in Europe, the free software model was expanding into a whole spectrum of sectors. Soon, groups would appear that replicate the mode of production based on the commons (“the P2P mode of production“) in all kinds of immaterial content—design, books, music, video—and increasingly, in the world of advanced services—finance, consultancy—and industrial products—drinks, specialized machinery, robots, etc.

But while the “P2P mode of production” is a fascinating path for a transition from capitalism to abundance, its direct impact—how many people live directly from the commons—is relatively small. As in Asia, Europe, and the US, structural change will begin in an intermediate space that is also based on the digital commons: the Direct Economy.

producing10The Direct Economy is all those small groups of friends—and therefore, a basically egalitarian organization—that design a product that generally incorporates software and free knowledge into itself or its process of creation, sell it in advance on a  crowdfunding platform (making bank financing or “shareholders” unnecessary), produce it in short runs of a few thousands in a factory, whether in China or on the side of their house, and use the proceeds to improve the design or create a new product.

producing11The Direct Economy is bar owners who invest 10,000 euros in equipment and begin to produce beer 100 liters at a time, or a few tens of thousands of euros and gain capacity to prepare almost 1,500 liters every 12 hours in continuous production—and then go on to bottle and begin distributing nearby and in networks of beer artisanal lovers.  And of course, they will have more varieties than the big brewery in their are, higher quality, and a better quality/price ratio.

The Direct Economy is the academy or the high school that installs a MOOC or Moodle to be able offer its students services over the summer, independent app developers, the role-playing bookstore that buys a 3D printer and starts selling their own figurines, or the children’s clothes store that starts designing and producing their own strollers, toys, or maternity bags.

producing12All of them are small-scale producers making things that, until recently, only big businesses or institutions were able to make. All of them have more scope than the scale model. All of them, at some point in the process, use free software and knowledge, which reduces their capital needs even further. All of them take advantage of the Internet to reach providers and customers for low costs—for example, by being able to reach very geographically dispersed niches or find very specialized providers. Most will not have to resort to banks or investors to finance themselves, but rather, will use pre-sale and donation systems on the network to raise money. And some of them use the “commodification” of the manufacturing industry and its flexible production chains for the process.

producing13As for internal organizing, we’re generally looking at models that are much “flatter” and more democratic than conventional businesses. While traditional businesses are autocracies, or at best aristocracies based on hierarchical command and responsibility, the large majority of projects in the Direct Economy are “ad-hocracies,” in which the needs of the moment shape teams and responsibilities. This even happens in cases where big businesses decide to take a gamble on creating a spin-off and competing in a new field. Instead of an org chart, there are task maps. Rather than “participation in management,” there emerges the type of energy that characterizes any group of friends that make something “spontaneously.” If the legal process wasn’t still so arduous, if it didn’t require notaries and endless paperwork, we would say that the natural way to the Direct Economy is worker cooperativism.

Conclusion

 

But none of this is as important as the broader meaning of the Direct Economy to people’s possibilities in life. In Wage Labor and Capital, one of his more accessible works, Marx explained the trap in the narrative that exalts social mobility and equality of opportunities: wages can’t become capital. Or, rather, couldn’t… and it’s true that it continues to be unable to in a good part of the world and in many branches of industry. But we’re seeing something that is historically shocking—the reduction to zero of the cost of an especially valuable part of capital, which materializes directly knowledge (free software, free designs, etc.). And above all we see, almost day by day, how the optimum size of production, sector by sector, approaches or reaches the community dimension.

producing14The possibility for the real community, the one based on interpersonal relationships and affections, to be an efficient productive unit is something radically new, and its potential to empower is far from having been developed. This means that we are lucky enough to live in a historical moment when it would seem that the whole history of technology, with all its social and political challenges, has coalesced to put us within reach of the possibility of developing ourselves in a new way and contributing autonomy to our community.

Today we have an opportunity that previous generations did not: to transform production into something done, and enjoyed, among peers. We can make work a time that is not walled off from life itself, which capitalism revealingly calls “time off.” That’s the ultimate meaning of producing in common today. That’s the immediate course of every emancipatory action. The starting point.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

The Communard Manifesto

Why producing in common is the starting point

Communal Postcards

by las Indias

Postcards were created in Austria for first time in 1869 but its «golden age» started with the Paris Universal exhibition of 1900. When tens of thousands of visitors from the whole world arrived to Paris, postcards illustrated with all kind of modern wonders and monuments were waiting for them. Among them, a few images of the phalansteries and the famous Guise’s Familistere, the most successful social experiment of the time and the most remarkable edification of communitarism since the Antiquity. Even if Fourierism was a cooperative movement, not a communal one, we could say it was the first image of an intentional community recorded in a postcard.

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Familistere de Guise. Postcard sent in 1900 part of our collection. The Familistère was created in 1858 by famous Fourierist activist and innovator Jean Baptiste Andre Godin. It endured as a worker’s cooperative until 1968.

Ten years later, postcards already were an usual media for promoting «advanced ideas», specially of those groups and movements with a transnational aim, as Esperanto… and communitarism. Only few months after the birth of Degania, the first kibbutz, they produced their first postcard. In the one we have in our dining room wall, you still can recognize the young faces -all of them were around 20 years old- of the founders of the first egalitarian community of the twentieth century. It probably was the first photographic image of a living egalitarian community ever seen in Europe. Since then, Degania and dozens of other egalitarian Israeli kibbutzim made hundreds of them. You could explain the rise, trouble, differences and decay of the kibbutz movement just with them, covering decades of history.

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Postcard of the 1909 Universal Congress of Esperanto in Barcelona.

postcard3

Postcard sent from Degania, the first kibbutz, in 1910 after the first crop, also in our collection.

When we moved back to Madrid in 2015 we decided to get back to this tradition, making postcards a media for recording and sharing our own history as a community. We made then our first one and we sent it during the New Year celebration. The picture chosen was very symbolic: it was shot during the presentation of «The book of Community» in Gijón, an industrial town in the North of Spain and in the back you can see a gigantic reproduction of «Il quarto stato », the painting that has been «the» symbol of the worker’s movement in the twentieth century. We got the idea of adding to it a present. So, we prepared a web page optimized for smartphones with an electronic edition some of our books and we added a QR code in order to allow the receivers to easily download them in their cell phones.

postcard4

Postcard send by us at the end of 2015 during the new year’s celebrations of 2016

This year we made a second postcard. But, what was the image of the year? We made a lot of things during 2016: we published «The Communard’s Manifesto» and a book of readings, Caro became the first communard accepting a political responsibility in a national government since the seventies, our workers cooperative grew until 40 people and with them we made beer and for first time we successfully crowdfunded a project, we made a lot of activism, we also made new products and customers in the midst of the Spanish economic crisis… But the picture we choose was not related to any of this good news, nor it was as beautiful as the one in 2015. It was shot in Madrid’s airport very early in the morning, our eyes were almost closed but we were specially happy because it was the day Caro came back to Madrid from Buenos Aires to celebrate with the rest of us our 14th anniversary as a community. We added a QR code too, it has became a tradition.

postcard5

Postcard send by us at the end of 2016 during the new year’s celebrations of this year

As the postcards of Fourierist, kibbutznik or Esperanto propagandist, our postcards crossed the world and got into the houses of hundreds of friends an image of other possible way of living during a very troubled year. Many of them sent us back pictures of our postcards framed and exhibited in a wall of their homes. It meant a lot to them and to us. In a world of instantaneous massive free media, postcards are slow, small scale and low cost, nobody will expect anything great from them, won’t they? But they also are personal and full of meaning and ours is a movement focused in persons and full of meaningfulness.

Wouldn’t it be beautiful if we start a regular correspondence between communities and between every community and their friends with postcards of our own creation? Will it not be empowering to spread the world with meaningful letters and images telling of our way of live, values and aesthetics?

Communal Postcards