by Raven Glomus
I have written about the differences between living communally and living in the mainstream (occasionally called ‘Babylon’ by communards). One big difference is that money is essentially irrelevant within the communes. (Money is highly relevant to the survival of communes in a capitalist society but, in this case, we are talking about how income sharing communities interface with the mainstream.) There are jokes within the communes that you can leave a $20 bill lying around and find it in the same place several days later (assuming that no one has been cleaning the room) but don’t leave a candy bar lying around–because candy bars are worth something.
So what is the currency within the communes? I would love to be idealistic and say something like love or compassion or justice, but the truth is that work functions as a currency within most communes.
I’d like to illustrate this by starting off comparing communes with cooperative households, a somewhat different form of community that I’m familiar with. In a co-op house, you are asked to pay monthly for a room (and food and utilities, etc). In some co-ops all rooms are priced equally, in some the price varies by the size of the room, and some use a sliding scale to price things but there is a price for everything. They have to charge the residents in order to pay their rent or mortgage. In addition, everyone is asked to do chores.
In a commune, there is no price and no chores. There is no price because all income is shared equally and, thus, money is irrelevant. There are no chores because it is all work. Work is the currency.
In many of the bigger communes, work is actually tallied up. How careful this tally is depends on the community (Twin Oaks tracks hours carefully, Acorn is much looser about it). In addition the amount of hours varies (although I’m not up on the latest policies, for years there was a 42 hour a week requirement at Twin Oaks and Acorn and it was a bit less, 35 hours, at East Wind). In addition, Twin Oaks has a ‘pension plan’ that slowly requires less and less hours from older members. Even though forty-two hours seems like more than the usual mainstream forty hour work week, they argue that it’s actually less because everything is counted as work.
This is why I say that ‘chores’ are irrelevant. At Twin Oaks, if you cook or clean or grow food or even take food to a sick friend, that is considered just as much to be work as work that makes income for the community. Of course, you are cooking or cleaning for the community, but if you don’t cook, someone else does and you still get to eat it. So you don’t need to cook unless you get hours for it and they argue that since most work is done on the commune, there’s no commute. If you averaged the amount of time many folks spend cooking and commuting in addition to paid work it would probably add up to sixty or more hours.
At Glomus, which is a much smaller commune, we don’t track hours directly. Rather we pay attention to each other. We can see each other working, we report in a meeting that we have each week about what we have been up to, and we do a yearly “Roles and Goals” report about what we’ve done and what we plan to do. I can tell you that everyone here works hard–not because they are required to but because they love most of what they do and they want to make sure that certain things get done. If someone did nothing but sit around and play video games or watch shows and didn’t do any observable work (and they weren’t having some kind of health crisis), we would probably asked them to either work or move on because there’s so much that needs to be done and we want to be fair to everyone.
And this is the reason that I say that “Work is the Currency”. Everyone works so that we can survive. We still pay attention to money (at least some of us) to make sure that the community’s bills are being paid, but within the community, we just make sure that everyone is working (and often working together) to make sure that we get what we need to get done, done.
And, maybe, if you are a Kahil Gibran fan, you might say that love really is the currency.