It should be clear that the authors on this blog agree that communes are pretty great. Indeed, the Commune Life Blog is a shameless promotion of communal living, a way of excitedly sharing our dearly loved and little documented way of life. We hope to be inspiring some of the same excitement about communes in our readers, perhaps enough to have them wondering “How do I start one of these things?” It turns out that some of us are already working on an answer to that question, so read on if you’re curious.
To be clear about what we mean when we say “commune,” we’re talking about collectives that are income sharing, which is not quite the same thing as expense sharing. Expense sharing is when a group of people, for example a housing co-op, decides to split the cost of some shared resource, like a shared tool or bulk food. Groups sharing expenses determine the cost of what is being shared and splits it, then each member pays an equal share of the expense using their own money.
Communes, which are income sharing, pool their money before costs appear. No matter how little or much money each member makes, it is put into a collective pool, out of which the group’s expenses are paid. We who share income think doing so is important for a lot of reasons: it allows those without or without as much access to income to live as good a life as everyone else; domestic work can be valued equally to money-making work; it creates a family-like sense of solidarity among a community; sharing resources allows better living with less money, which in turn allows us to work less for the same level of material comfort.
If you’re still wondering how to start one of these things, we’re glad, because the world has lots of room for communities striving toward sustainability, compassion and connection. The world could always use more communes, if you ask us. In theory, the answer is simple: find a group of people and start pooling your incomes. Easy, right? Though simple in theory, starting a commune is actually a very complicated endeavor, requiring a lot of planning, trust and plain hard work. Where do we find a group of people we can trust enough to share money with? How will the shared money be earned? How will we decide how to spend it? What are the tax implications of pooling income? What happens when we don’t agree with the people we are financially bound to? The question of how to start a commune has suddenly split into a multitude of questions, and we’ve opened a can of worms.
Recognizing that starting a commune is easier said than done, some of us at the Federation of Egalitarian Communities and its Point A Project are working to answer the question: “how does one start a commune?” Since “just get out there and do it” isn’t a sufficient answer, we’re creating something of a “commune starter kit” that seeks to guide communities toward successful income sharing as smoothly as possible. Our mission is to distill the essence of what makes a commune work, create a collection of wisdom, reflections, flowcharts and encouragement, then fit it in a box. Introducing the “Commune in a Box!”
The endeavor to start a commune inevitably raises certain questions, many without definitively correct answers. For example, each income sharing community will need some amount of income to share. Should it come from jobs that members work, or should the commune start a cooperatively owned business? How does one start a community business? Likewise, every commune will need a decision making system. Most communes use consensus, some prefer direct democracy, and Twin Oaks uses a planner-manager system based on Walden Two, a utopian novel by B.F. Skinner. None of these governance systems is “correct,” but they are different, and they make for different types of communities. The list of questions a forming community will encounter continues: what will the membership process look like? How will labor be divided? How will members get access to health care?
Our task is to identify these questions that forming communes commonly encounter, reflect on the implications of different answers, and offer a (non-exhaustive) list of possible ways to meet each important need. To do this, we’re bringing together the scattered body of knowledge that already exists on communal living; collecting the wisdom of long-time communards and those who have tried (and sometimes failed) to start communes; and comparatively studying communities that have addressed these various needs in different ways. By highlighting needs to meet, rather than prescribing solutions to them, we hope to create a widely applicable resource, relevant to communities with a variety of visions and circumstances. We’re packing the Commune in a Box with interviews of community founders, history of the communes movement, and a blooper reel of mistakes communards have made in the past that forming communities need not repeat.
Needless to say, this is a lot to fit in a box, but we’re committed to stuffing it in there. We’re working with several forming communities as test cases, and using their feedback to create the most practically useful resource we can for them. Once clinical trials are complete, we will release the Commune in a Box as a wiki-style online resource and (hopefully) physical guide seeking to bring some level of ease to the arduous task of starting a new commune or transitioning an existing community to income sharing. We hope it will accelerate the world’s momentum toward utopia and make income sharing more accessible to those thirsting for a different human narrative. A toast to those creating a more compassionate, sane and sustainable future!
If you’re curious about the project, know of well hidden resources on communal living we could draw from, or would like to be notified when we release the Commune in a Box, you can get in touch with us by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org