A Brief Communal History

by Raven

When I was in eighth grade (it was probably 1965), one of the nuns teaching us declared that the Apostles were the first communists.  I doubt (as I’ll show) they were the first, but it seems that they really did try to live communally.  From Acts of the Apostles (4:32,34-35): “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. … Nor was there anyone among them that lacked, for all who were possessors of land or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the feet of apostles’ feet; and they were distributed to each as anyone had need.” (Gideons International, New King James Version)  It sounds pretty communal to me.

However, Marx and Engles reference hunter-gatherer tribes as Primitive Communism, citing Lewis Henry Morgan’s discussion of the communal living arrangements of the Haudenosaunee (or ‘Five Nations’ also called the Iroquois).  Wikipedia points out that “Egalitarian and communist-like hunter gatherer societies have been studied and described by many well-known social anthropologists including James Woodburn, Richard Lee, Alan Barnard and, more recently, Jerome Lewis.”  Human beings are tribal animals.  I’ve written about this on my personal blog.  I think that communal living is an attempt to recreate tribal societies, where everyone shared what they had.

The grounds of the Oneida Community

The nineteenth century was filled with attempts at creating “Utopian Communities” and many of them were rather communal.  The Oneida Community (according to Wikipedia) “…practiced communalism (in the sense of communal property and possessions)…”  It lasted thirty-one years (from 1848 to 1879).  The Amana Colonies were founded in 1856 and (again according to Wikipedia) “They lived a communal life until the mid-1930s.”  Wikipedia also notes, “The Amana Society, Inc., corporate heir to the land and economic assets of communal Amana, continues to own and manage some 26,000 acres (105 km²) of farm, pasture and forest land. … Because the land was not divided up with the end of communalism, the landscape of Amana still reflects its communal heritage.”

Las Indias has given us a bit of communal history in their essay on “Communal Postcards“, starting with Fourierism and going onto the early Kibbutz movement.

The Bruderhof  is a group of Christian communities, founded in 1920, in Germany, and currently comprised of “more than 2,700 people living in twenty-three settlements on four continents.” They take biblical sharing very seriously.  “…at the Bruderhof, we believe that sharing our lives and finances in Christian community is the answer to all that is wrong with society today. Here we are building a life where there are no rich or poor. Where everyone is cared for, everyone belongs, and everyone can contribute.”

In the US, a second wave of communalism occurred with the commune movement of the nineteen sixties and seventies.  (Probably starting just about the time that that nun was pointing out apostolic communism.)  While many of these attempts were communes in name only and most of them are long gone, at least four of them are around in one form or another.

The Oneida residence at Twin Oaks

Twin Oaks was founded in 1967 and turns fifty this year. They have been sharing income since their beginning. Unlike many of the communes of the sixties, it is around and going strong.  The Farm, in Tennesee, was founded in 1971.  While at its beginning “…Farm members took vows of poverty and owned no personal possessions other than clothing and tools…”, this changed.  “In 1983, due to financial difficulties … the Farm changed its residential community agreement and began requiring members to support themselves with their own income rather than to donate all income to The Foundation central corporation. This decollectivization was called the Changeover, or the Exodus.” (Quotes from Wikipedia.)  While The Farm is still around, it is no longer communal.  East Wind community was founded in 1973 by some folks from Twin Oaks.  As they say on their website: “We hold our land, labor, and resources in common.” It continues strong and communal.  And, finally, there’s Sandhill Farm, a small community founded in 1974, where they are still farming and living communally. (Here’s a brief history of Sandhill.)

And communes (income sharing communities) are still being formed.  Compersia, a new commune in Washington, DC, just had its first birthday.  Communal history is old, at least if you believe that tribal societies were communal, but it is still being written.  You can read the latest dispatches from those living communally on this blog.

A scene from Compersia
A Brief Communal History

Purl’s HandCrafted Chairs

from the Leaves of Twin Oaks #123

Windsor Chair Made By Purl

Purl (Sean Samoheyl) has lived at Twin Oaks for 15 years. One job he does here is build chairs by hand for use in our kitchens and living rooms, and for sale to the general public. The money he earns from this work is part of how the community supports itself, and this is a good example of how people can integrate their personal interests and skills into the fabric of community life.

How did you start hand-crafting chairs for Twin Oaks?

I was already making chairs for the community in 2008, when there was a power outage, and I got inspired to continue working by hand, with no power tools. I have a small workshop here that is tiny and quaint and full of hand-tools and projects-in-process. I have a strong value of producing for ourselves what we use in our daily living. I value making things using a smaller carbon footprint, by using hand-tools (some power tools too) and using locally- and sustainably-harvested wood, including oak, walnut, poplar and hickory. I often use milk paint for color and tung oil and paste wax for the finish.

Rocking Chair Under Construction

What kind of chairs do you make?

I make a lot of Windsor-style chairs, some ladder-backs, and sometimes related furniture like rocking chairs, stools, and occasionally a table. I’ve learned a lot from my teachers, including  Peter Galbert, Elia Bizzarri, Curtis Buchanon, and Harvey Baker at Dunmire Hollow community for building tables.

One fun chair I made is for my daughter, who is now 8. I made it when she was 5, and I intentionally constructed it with extra long-legs. Every year, as she grows a little taller, we cut an inch or two off the bottom of the legs, so it’s again the right height for her to use sitting about our kitchen table.

Long Rocker with Room for Baby to Lie Down and Adult to Sit   (The Protective Bars In Front Are Removable)

Where are the chairs featured and how do people find them to purchase them?

I demonstrate hand-crafted chair-making at various events. I was a FolkLife Fellow Master Chair Maker with The Virginia FolkLife Festival, I’ve done displays at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, at our regional Field Days of the Past, and I’ve sold at the Charlottesville Farmer’s Market. I participated in Francis Cape’s woodworking art project in which benches from historical and contemporary intentional communities were re-constructed and featured in his book “We Sit Together: Utopian Benches” and at a gallery in NYC.  I also often connect with people, either other artists or people who are interested in my work, on social media and by word-of-mouth. You can find Purl on Facebook here.

What are your ideas for the future?

I want to continue making chairs for people to use in their everyday lives. I’ve worked teaching members here some of these skills, and I have aspirations of teaching farther afield.

Purl’s HandCrafted Chairs

Commune Dads Episode 3 – Tech, Kids, and Moderation

Commune Dads Episode 3 – Tech, Kids, and Moderation

When almost all “yeses” still means “no”

by Paxus

The founders of Twin Oaks faced a dilemma.  They could see the faults of a voting based democratic decision system, but did not want to have to wait for every single person in the group to agree.  It was 1967, the feminists had not yet taken the consensus process from the Quakers, secularized it and released it onto progressive moments across the land.

no bad decisions cartoon

If the magic threshold number is not 50% plus 1 person nor 100% what is it?  We could not choose a number, instead we chose a process.  It would be wrong to call it a “super majority” because the exact threshold is not fixed.  What i clumsily call it is “negative minority centric”.  But what does this actually mean?


If you get 24 accept votes to become a member after your visitor period and you get 6 rejects, you get rejected.  That hardly seems fair, but with membership decisions this is easier to justify.  We get a lot of visitors and the average Oaker has lived here about 8 years, which means they have seen perhaps 500 visitors, plus an uncountable number of guests.  If you have seen that many visitors when you get a little input slip in your 3 x 5 slot requesting you give your input on these people who were just here for three weeks, you think back and say “Oh, i did one tofu shift with them and they were pleasant at a lunch at the fun table, they would probably be a good member.”


But the 6 reject votes the membership team is reading are saying things like “Was a disaster in the garden, pulled up vegetables instead of weeds” and “told an off color joke at the party and kept interrupting everyone, bad sense of boundaries” and “i have concerns about the amount of alcohol they consumed during the visitor period and i think they might have addiction issues”.  And thus the membership team will choose to reject them, or tell them visit again.

Part of the problem is that Twin Oaks is so large that we don’t do what Acorn and most smaller communities do and gather together as a group and discuss membership applications.  Partly we don’t do this because it would be terribly time consuming.  We had a visitor period last year where we had 9 people applying for membership.  If it took 20 minutes on average to discuss each of these people (which would be quite short in some cases) and there were 90 members (which has been the average membership for the past several years), that would be 270 person hours of membership decision making.

So we pay attention to the “super majority”.



When almost all “yeses” still means “no”

Commune Dads Podcast Episode 2 – Peers and Personality

Adder and Keegan examine the personalities of children and the effects their peers have on them. They ponder the sibling-like relationships of commune kids, consider that parents might have less of an effect than they might think, and reflect on the effects of schooling and video games in their childhoods.

Book/Article Mentions:

I’m really looking forward to our next episode on tech in the lives of children. Keegan is a bit of a luddite. While I have my tech concerns, I also have perhaps a little bit too much nostalgia for the hours spent playing video games as a child. Can video games be good for kids, or is the addictive nature of them too great?
Commune Dads Podcast Episode 2 – Peers and Personality