What’s Egalitarian?

by Raven MoonRaven

This blog focuses on egalitarian, income-sharing communities, also known as communes.  Several weeks back I put out a piece called “Why Income Sharing?”  This might be considered a companion piece, exploring the egalitarian nature of the communes.

The Oxford Dictionary defines Egalitarian as meaning: “Believing in or based on the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.”

For the way the communes structure themselves, the opposite of egalitarian is hierarchical.  Most businesses and religions are organized in a hierarchical way–where the leaders have leaders and the bosses have bosses.  Cooperative businesses are one big exception to this.  I also think it’s interesting to note that there are a few very egalitarian religions–that is, religions without hierarchical leadership:  some forms of Quakers, the Chavurah movement, and the Reclaiming pagans.  (I’m personally curious to hear of other egalitarian religious groups.)

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Many intentional communities define themselves as egalitarian: almost all co-op households and many ecovillages and cohousing communities.  The reason that the communes that we talk about on this blog use the term egalitarian is that there are many hierarchical income sharing communities, where there are leaders or gurus who decide how to manage the money.  (Unfortunately, these are also known as communes.)  The Federation of Egalitarian Communities  in the US was specifically set up to support secular, egalitarian income-sharing communities, as opposed to hierarchical, religious communes.

How egalitarian are the communes in the FEC?

Twin Oaks is the community that some people wonder about.  They have planners and managers and make decisions by a type of voting (many of the newer communities have none of these things and make decisions by consensus).  There are folks who wonder if the planners run the community–aren’t they in charge and don’t they have the power?

But planners can only be in the position for eighteen months (hardly gurus running the place) and what’s more, their power is limited by the Twin Oaks membership.  And since they, themselves, are members of the community and live with, work with, and eat with everyone else (as do the managers) they find themselves very beholden to the community.  They constantly read what people write on the O & I board and pay attention carefully to what members think.  An unpopular decision can have pretty bad consequences.  I heard one story about a planner who after making a membership decision that many people disliked, was run out of the dining room by a member who was upset by the decision and wanted to make it very clear.  This makes it difficult to find people who want to be planners.  And apparently, recently Twin Oaks ended up (at least temporarily) without any planners.

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Similarly with managers.  Folks at Twin Oaks point out that most people work in a lot of different areas and people who are managers in one area are just workers in another.  It can happen that in the morning person A will be the manager in an area that person B is working in and in the afternoon person B will be the manager in another area that person A happens to be working in.

And, again, Twin Oaks is the most structured of the communes, the only one with planners and one of the few with managers.  In most of the communes, it’s just a group of people living together, sharing income, and often working together. In the communes, leadership is just something people do, not a position.

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So my point is that the communes on this blog not only share money, but they share leadership.  That’s what’s egalitarian about them.

What’s Egalitarian?