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

Trust

by Raven Cotyledon

Here’s an issue that’s a little closer to home. This blog is about income-sharing and income-sharing requires trust.

I think that trust is the main reason most people don’t do income-sharing. It’s hard to share your hard earned money with someone who you don’t trust, and many people don’t see how they could trust a bunch of people with their money. Although it isn’t that difficult for some folks when they join one of the larger and older and well managed communes, if you are offered the opportunity to join a new and small community, it can be scary to think about sharing your cash with folks that you barely know.

So the question is, how is trust built?

My stock answer is time. I don’t think that there is an instant way to build trust. There are ways to speed up the process (and I will talk about them shortly), but it will never happen overnight.

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DNA and gil and I spent two and a half years talking and getting to know each other before we started living together at Cotyledon and sharing income. At the community I helped create in Cambridge in the 1990s, Susan and Robert and I moved in together after a year of discussion but it was at least another year of discussion before we began income-sharing.

My understanding is that Transparency Tools were devised as a way for people to get to know each other quicker and on a deeper level, and thus speed up the trust building process. It can work, but it isn’t a substitute for working together, talking together, and just spending time together. That’s what really builds trust.

Unfortunately, if trust is betrayed, it becomes a hundred times harder to rebuild it. Often, the simplest solution when a community member betrays trust is to ask them to leave. For those who choose to stay and work it out, the process can take years and be fragile even then.

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While I was writing this, I received the newest issue of Communities magazine, which was focused on Sexual Politics. I saw this quote, which was about sexual misconduct but, unfortunately, I think also applies to financial misconduct: “…those who violate people most often build a base level of trust, and then violate that trust with intention. That’s a difficult reality for many people to grasp, especially those who want to only see the good in people.” (Amanda Rain, “Community Accountability”, Issue #183) Unfortunately, I know of communities that trusted one person with all the finances until the person was caught. Trust is very important, but I think any community needs to have at least two, uninvolved people watching the books.

My feeling is that income-sharing is an amazing tool that can liberate people to live the way that they want and directly challenges the corporate capitalist system. There are a lot of wonderful things about it, but it does require trust, and trust takes 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

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

 

 

 

Trust

FEC TV

from the Commune Life Instagram site

FEC TV

Maximus

by Raven Cotyledon

I first met Maximus because I was part of the Point A team trying to build communes in East Coast cities.  I wanted to do something in the Boston area (where I have lived most of my life), so when we were able to do a talk at MIT, and I sent out stuff to all the local co-ops, I was excited that we got a fair attendance from them.  I was hoping a co-op in the Boston area would be interested in becoming a commune. A woman in one of the local co-ops said she thought that she knew someone who might be interested in income-sharing. It was Maximus, and he was starting a co-op in Binghamton, NY. Since then, Maximus has lived at the Cambia community in Louisa, VA, and East Brook Community Farm in Walton, NY.

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Maximus

Maximus is a graduate student at Binghamton University studying evolutionary biology.  His focus is on communal living and his passion is making videos about it. He recently made a video about me and I am returning the favor here by making a blog post about him.

I stopped managing Commune Life about the middle of February last year and it drifted for a while until Maximus decided to take it over last summer. But Maximus had bigger plans for Commune Life than just the blog. He started a YouTube channel and a Facebook page and got people to help him build a social media presence as well as an Instagram site.  He also decided to create a Patreon page to help fund all this.

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I agreed to post once a month on the blog and was the only one who posted on it until I decided to return to managing the Commune Life blog in January.  Meanwhile Maximus had turned Commune Life into a small empire. Since I returned to the blog, Maximus and I have been working together on Commune Life, with me focusing solely on the blog, and Maximus working with others to keep the whole Commune Life entity going.

Recently, Maximus began putting the posts from the Commune Life blog up on our Facebook page which has driven up traffic on the blog. He has been strongly encouraging others to make videos and has gotten Rejoice and Julia to create them, giving some diversity of views of the communes.

Maximus and I were also recently down at Twin Oaks, mostly because we are on an FEC financial team together, but Maximus took the opportunity to create a video about the latest Twin Oaks hammocks product. Hopefully that will be up on the Commune Life YouTube channel soon.

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Maximus in front of the Twin Oaks dining hall

I have been saying that the communes are a force for social change. Maximus is documenting the process in great detail. Thank you, Maximus, for the amazing work that you are doing.

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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
  • Sasha Daucus
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

 

Maximus

Small Percentages

by Raven Cotyledon

I wanted to entitle this post “Communes are Only a Very Small Percentage of Communities, and Communities are Only a Very Small Percentage of the Ways People Live,” but I figured that title was way too long to fit.

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In the nineteen-eighties, I was involved with a radical group and lived in a house with a bunch of folks including a woman also involved with this group. She said that one of the purposes of being so radical was not to expect that everyone would be radical but that we would push the dialogue left, helping moderates become liberal and liberals become progressive.

I do not expect everyone to live in a commune or even some form of community, but I want as many people as possible to know that communes and communities exist. I realize how small a percentage of the population lives in communities, let alone communes, but I think that everyone can learn important things about sharing, in fact radical sharing, from the communes.

Diana Leafe Christian, in her book Finding Community, briefly complains about how well known the communes are, given how small a percentage they make up of the communities movement. She says, “The first reason for this prominence, I think, is because income-sharing communitarians tend to be activists, if not enthusiastic proselytizers, for their radically non-competitive way of life.  For them, having a close-knit and intimate group (in the smaller communes), pooling incomes, taking care of each other financially, and being on a level playing field with fellow members financially is a form of political activism, and they’re proud of it.”
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Well, it’s true. I don’t think communards actually proselytize, but many of us (myself included) see living this way as a challenge to our competitive, capitalist society. I don’t expect everyone to do it but I want it known that it’s possible.  That’s the reason for this blog. That’s the reason that I talk with people, go to events (like the panel on sharing in communities that I was on Thursday, 2/7), and help start things like the meetup group in Manhattan on Communes and Communities that I am a co-organizer for.

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In a time when life in this society is only becoming more stressful, when inequality is increasing, and when people are feeling more and more isolated, our tiny number of communities, point to a different way.  And while I doubt we will ever include a large or even medium percentage of the population, I certainly want to grow our movement. I see us as the seed for something bigger. And I hope that this blog helps water that seed.

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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
  • Sasha Daucus
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

Small Percentages