An International Movement?

by Raven Cotyledon

I live in the United States of America. I don’t consider myself a citizen, but the government does. I seldom leave the northeast US, let alone the country, which I only left a few times in my life  (and not since the 1990s) and then only to go to Canada. But I think of myself as a citizen of the world.

Most of the communes that are written about on this blog are in the US.  Most are part of the FEC. The Federation of Egalitarian Communities covers North America, and that includes Canada, and we have featured two Canadian communities on Commune Life, Le Manoir and TCUP.  But the income-sharing movement extends beyond North America.

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Le Manoir
TCUP-P4
The Common Unity Project

We have had pieces on here about the European communes, particularly Kommune Niederkaufungen in Germany and Las Indias in Spain. I have heard of communes in places as far apart as Denmark and Australia. I have heard stories of some in Asia and South America.

 

Most importantly, there is the kibbutz movement in Israel, where they were income-sharing long before Twin Oaks and they were an influence on the American commune movement. It is true that many of the radical kibbutzim have become almost capitalist these days, but it’s also true that there are new kibbutzim arising that are trying to bring back the early ideals, especially in urban kibbutzim.

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Kibbutz Mishol

After I published a recent post where I talked about Las Indias and even included a picture that they had sent a few years back, I realized that I haven’t been in contact with them for a couple of years and when I tried looking at their website, it seems to be gone.  I’ve tried emailing them without any response. Someone else who knew them said, casually, that they had gone ‘radio silent’. I am afraid that they, like many other communities, are just gone.

The truth is that it is hard for me, often, to stay in contact with North American communities, and it’s incredibly difficult to keep or sometimes even get in contact with communities outside of North America. That doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

Ironically, the last that I heard from the folks at Las Indias, they were working on a project to network communities around the globe.  I was excited about it, but I suspect that project is gone along with Las Indias.

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Las Indias

Yet my hope is that someone, some day, will find a way to network income-sharing communities around the world, the way that the FEC holds together the fragile network of North American communes.  If change happens from the bottom up, it builds toward the top, and it’s important for all of us in our little communities to know that we are involved in something bigger than ourselves, something that spans the planet.

Please, if you know of other income-sharing communities anywhere in the world, let us know of them. We need each other, no matter where we are.

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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
  • William Kadish
  • Em Stiles
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw

Thanks!

An International Movement?

The Story

by Raven Cotyledon

There isn’t going to be a lot of new information in this post. Rather, I would like to look at the context that surrounds this information. I am going to call this context, “The Story”.

I will start off with a story that I am concerned about and is prevalent in this culture. It was popularized by Margaret Thatcher and goes by the acronym, TINA.  TINA stands for There Is No Alternative. It’s a story that keeps the status quo in place. Things may be awful, but if you believe that there is no alternative, there isn’t much that you can do.

The intentional communities movement, and especially the communes, have a very different story to tell. It is a story about creating many, many alternatives.

And I often start telling the story by talking about Twin Oaks. Twin Oaks is  contradiction to many of the stories that are told to support TINA. All the communes from the sixties failed and are long gone. Communism just doesn’t work.  A dictator (or small oligarchy) will always arise and use any communal situation for his (or their) benefit.

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Twin Oaks 50th Anniversary picture 

Twin Oaks is a commune that started in the sixties, has run for fifty-two years, has over a hundred people living there (including children), and is going strong. It is a small communist society, voluntary and built from the ground up, that functions pretty well. No dictator or oligarchy has emerged in those fifty-two years and, given how independent minded most of the Twin Oaks members are, if anyone tried, they would probably be thrown out.

But one commune doesn’t prove anything. The next thing that I talk about in my story is this blog.  Not because I manage it and write so much for it, but because of the massive amount of information here about communes around the US and around the world. We have articles about communes in Virginia and Missouri, but also in New York City, Washington, DC, Portland, Oregon, and Laramie, Wyoming , and rural communes in Quebec, New York state, Washington state, British Columbia, and Alaska. And beyond North America, we have stories about  Kommune Niederkaufungen in Germany  and Las Indias in Spain, and the kibbutzim in Israel, which were not only the predecessors of the commune movement but are still being reinvented.  I have heard of more, and will publish whatever I find. Twin Oaks is not a single exception but part of what may be a worldwide phenomenon.

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Las Indias 

The Story expands from there. It’s not that I expect everyone to live on a commune, but that the communes are the far end of dozens of alternatives. There is a large world of communities to explore if you go over to the Fellowship for Intentional Communities website, ic.org–including cooperative and collective houses, ecovillages and cohousing projects, and, of course, communes. Beyond that is the world of cooperative businesses, alternative agriculture, soft technology, ecological design, sharing projects, and new ways of communicating, building relationships, and dealing with conflict. The Story that we are telling is not that there are no alternatives, but that there is an abundance of alternatives, the world is overflowing with alternatives.

As I have said, communities are laboratories for social change where we see what works and what doesn’t. This blog is important because it documents what is happening in the far end of those experiments. This is the new story, the story of the world we are building, one commune at a 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

  • 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
  • William Kadish
  • Em Stiles
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw

Thanks!

 

The Story

Raising children in egalitarian communities: An inspiration

by  Katarzyna Gajewska

from the Post Growth Institute 

9th of October, 2017

I interviewed dozens of members of two egalitarian communities, rural Acorn community in Virginia, US (30 adults and one child at the time of research in 2014) and suburban Kummune Niederkaufungen near to Kassel in Germany (60 adults and 20 teens and children in 2016). You can find links to my four articles on Acorn community below this text. I share observations and insights from interviews that I conducted with some members of these communes. I will demonstrate the similarities between childhood in such communities and the conditions for optimal child development derived from research and theories based on ethnographic studies of indigenous societies.

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. In Kommune Niederkaufungen, one usually needs to integrate into one of the work collectives to be accepted. Members can spend money according to their needs but in Acorn community there is a monthly pocket money to cover extra expenses such as alcohol or cigarettes, whereas in Niederkaufungen expenses of above 150 Euros need to be announced. Both communities operate enterprises. In Kommune Niederkaufungen, some members are employed outside. In Acorn community, weekly 42-hour work contribution is required but each member decides what activities to do and no checks are in place.

Basic needs

In both communities where I conducted interviews raising children is considered to be a work contribution and is valued in the same way as activities that earn money. Recognition for care and reproductive work is part of the feminist philosophy of these communes and their pursuit of egalitarianism. In this way parents do not need to choose between making a living or raising children. Since work arrangement is quite flexible and many members work in the same place where they live (in Acorn community this is the case for majority of activities), it is easier to combine work with child care. Also non-parents can choose to participate in child care as a work contribution.

Thanks to these conditions parents can respond to a child’s needs without the stress of economic survival. The first three years of life define emotional development and negligence can lead to trauma and behavioural or emotional disorders. Research examining physiology and theories of child development underline the need for constant availability of an adult and touch in early childhood (see articles by such authors as Darcia Narvaez and Jean Liedloff). This is more difficult to organize in the mainstream society.

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Free play in nature is important for children

Learning environment

Communes provide an environment that makes it easier to pursue homeschooling or unschooling because of the close availability of many adults with diverse skills and knowledge. For example, a member of East Wind, a commune in Missouri, teaches French to one of the children by taking a walk and talking to them in this language. Children in Kommune Niederkaufungen go to school, either a public one in their neighborhood or an alternative school in the city center. However, they can tap on a vast expertise at home having access to many adults with diverse knowledge.  (In Niederkaufungen, some members work in education).

Community skills and multi-age group

Children need multiple attachments, according to Peter Gray, and this is how children have been raised in indigenous communities.1 In the book “Free to Learn,” Peter Gray points to the advantages of being part of a multi-age group and engaging in free play with other children for learning and emotional development. Furthermore, he elaborates on the importance of unstructured play time with other children. Citing survey date, he mentions that one of the main obstacles for limiting such free activities with children in the neighborhood is the concern for safety. Parents prefer to occupy children with extracurricular activities because they are sure that they are taken care of. In a commune, it is easier to establish conditions for children to have free play. The children and their parents know each other and there are many trusted adults around so that children can play in safety.

Peter Gray shows that children learn skills that they observe are crucial in the adults’ world by playing. Growing up in an environment where a lot of discussions and decision-making takes place, this may encourage them to develop related skills. One of the members of Kommune Niederkaufungen said that there is a practice of exercising patience and letting someone express oneself in conflicts, which contrasts with the way his friends treated each other in his life before joining commune. This may also be an example for children.

Disputes among parents

Living in a commune requires a lot more discussions and collective decision-making than living an individualized life. For example, what parents allow to their children may affect other children more directly than in mainstream living. It can become a source of conflict. A father left the commune Niederkaufungen because of the decision of other parents to have satellite television. It was impossible to isolate this child from mainstream media influence. In this commune, at least four people needed to make a veto to block community decision. Parents in this commune gather regularly to talk about their children.

The impact on the society

Certainly the way children are raised shapes their personalities. Aggregated, it results in the human relations and values of society. Jean Liedloff considers touch deprivation in early infancy to be responsible for insatiable wants and searching for solace in consumerism. Narvaez asks what impact depriving babies of their basic human needs will have on the entire society. Peter Gray observes that inter-age education contributes to the development of empathy and compassion. Communities provide conditions to raise emotionally healthy and cooperative individuals. Hopefully, they will inspire mainstream society to create conditions that resemble communal child care.


Articles on Acorn community

Gajewska, Katarzyna (September 2016): Egalitarian alternative to the US mainstream: study of Acorn community in Virginia, US. Bronislaw Magazine and reposted on PostGrowth.org.

Gajewska, Katarzyna (21 July 2016): An intentional egalitarian community as a small-scale implementation of Post-Capitalism. P2P Foundation Blog.

Gajewska, Katarzyna (10 January 2016): Case study: Creating use value while making a living in egalitarian communitiesP2P Foundation Blog.

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 contributionP2P Foundation Blog.

You can support Katarzyna’s independent research and writing here.

Photo credit: Jamie Taylor, Unsplash. (Creative Commons).

Katarzyna Gajewska, PhD, is an independent scholar and futurist writer (Facebook: Katarzyna Gajewska – Independent Scholar). She has been publishing on alternative economy, non-digital peer production, universal basic income and collective autonomy since 2013 and is mainly interested in psychological and emotional aspects of transition to a postcapitalist society.

Katarzyna has written 2 posts on Post Growth Institute

This article was originally published on Post-Growth Institute Blog, under a Creative Commons License. 

 

 

Raising children in egalitarian communities: An inspiration

How to Start and Maintain a Micro-Revolutionary Project

“Hold my hand I need you for courage.
We become who we are together,
each needing the other. Alone is a myth.”
~Gunilla Norris

The beginning of Kommune Niederkaufungen illustrates that a group of engaged people can bring a new way of living once they meet and share their dreams. Over thirty years ago, a group of idealists created a different life for themselves, an alternative economic system and lifestyle within a commune. This strategy for changing the system contrasts with the tendencies of modern social movements that choose short-term mobilization and loose networks. It is interesting to study the example of this successful commune to explore collective action, self-organizing, and social change.The result is impressive: an egalitarian commune of about 60 adults and 20 children sharing income and resources according to one’s needs. They apply consensus in the decision making instead of majority voting system: discussions last until a satisfying solution has been found. In exceptional cases, veto of 4 members can block a decision.

How Did the Project Start?

In 1983, 12 friends started to work on their dream. Soon they became 20 and other 20 people joined, friends of friends. They wrote a manifesto. They organized information meetings. They started an information campaign and searched for funds. Over 3 years of campaigning and preparing the inception of the commune, about thousand people came into contact with the group. 28 adults and 10 children moved together to try out communal living and sharing resources. Women and men circles fostered building trust and self-awareness to prepare for challenges of communal living.

At the end of 1986, 17 adults and 3 children moved to the house that was bought with collected resources. They renovated the building, which was too big for the group at that time. Since then, they acquired other buildings, two summer houses, and land for agriculture. They dispose of 2000 square meters of living space.

Life in the commune

Living in the commune feels like a school class or a big family with many siblings. There are 16 flat-sharing entities in the commune. They use together library, office space, laundry consisting of 3 washing machines, garden, ping pong table, cinema room and other spaces. They also share cars. Part of the food is provided by agriculture collectives. They produce vegetables, meat, fruits, and cheese. They eat together. Food is prepared in industrial kitchen.

Members either work outside or contribute to the work collectives, commune’s enterprises. Work collectives decide about the organization of work among themselves. There is no labor quota to be fulfilled but the economic survival of the enterprises imposes effort and organization. Some of the enterprises hire people from outside because of the lack of skills and willingness to work in a particular professional domain. Child rearing and service to the commune is valued as a work contribution. Even political activities outside of the commune can count as a contribution. Members who want to take time off or spend much time on other activities need to arrange it with their colleagues from work collectives. Non-parents can also contribute to child rearing. Every adult also contributes to cleaning communal spaces and cooking.Work in the commune has a different character because private and professional lives are merged together. It is easier to find solutions that would will accommodate needs because work collective members know each other very well. They may decide to reduce working hours when someone needs to cope with other challenges However, such an intensity may be also exhausting. Some interviewees talked about a difficulty in finding a distance and balance between private life and community participation. Being surrounded by people all the time overwhelms some members.

The commune has also a flexible attitude to spending. Individual salaries and income of the enterprises operated by the commune goes into the common budget. Members can spend money according to their needs, which is an alternative to capitalist redistribution. Their estimate is that the difference between least spending and most spending member is one to ten. Personal decisions on spending and awareness how others spend communal money was considered by some interviewees as a part of personal growth that living in a commune stimulates. Purchases for over 150 Euros need to be made transparent to the community. Members may ask about the reasons for spending or give advice. Although there are no rules regarding what one can spend money on, transparency may have a regulating effect. There are unspoken rules or taboos around using plane and going to far places. This is probably why some members wanted to hide that they went to Majorca.

Together despite diversity

Thinking about living in a commune, many fear that differences between people may make such a project impossible. The example of Kommune Niederkaufungen shows that it is possible to live together without agreeing on everything. Some animosities are expressed in an indirect way. For example, people who work more or their enterprises bring better earnings may mention it in passing to others. Some people do not talk to each other for years after a conflict. 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.Relations between members are sometimes difficult. There are initiatives in the commune to improve them. For example, a third party – a mediator – may step in to help people communicate. Many informal exchanges take place. However, in some cases resentments are held for a long time, which is often caused by not knowing and understanding the other. Some members participate in group therapy or individual therapy. Conflicts and confrontations were appreciated by several interviewees as a tool of self-inquiry and personal growth.

***

Living in a commune is not easier than in the mainstream society – it is challenging in a different way.


NoteThis is a shorter and changed version of the reportage originally published in Polish:

Gajewska, Katarzyna (2017): Kommune Niederkaufungen – jak się żyje w 60-osobowej wspólnocie. [Kommune Niederkaufungen – on living in a 60 – person commune], in quarterly Nowy Obywatel [New Citizen].

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. 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, and 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. To read more about the commune, see here.

 

Other publications on egalitarian communities

Gajewska, Katarzyna (May 2018): Practices and skills for self-governed communal life and work: examples of one US and one German egalitarian community. Paper for Co-operative Education and Research Conference 2018: Skills for co-operators in the 21st century.

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/

Gajewska, Katarzyna (9 June 2017): Exploring Abundance as future: Questions inspired by the experience of an egalitarian community, Acorn. P2P Foundation Blog, https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/exploring-abundance-future-questions-inspired-experience-egalitarian-community-acorn/2017/06/09

Gajewska, Katarzyna (September 2016): Egalitarian alternative to the US mainstream: study of Acorn community in Virginia, US. Bronislaw Magazine, http://www.bronislawmag.com/78-16/kg_eco.php , reposted on PostGrowth.org: http://postgrowth.org/egalitarian-alternative-acorn-community/

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

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

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 spontaneous, 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

 

Katarzyna Gajewska, PhD, is an independent scholar, workshop leader, and transformational guide. She has been publishing on alternative economy, non-digital peer production, universal basic income and collective autonomy since 2013 and is mainly interested in psychological and emotional aspects of transition to a postcapitalist society. She 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 Kommune Niederkaufungen near Kassel, in Germany (consisting of 60 adults and 20 teens and children in 2016).

You can contact her by e-mail (k.gajewska_commATzoho.com) or Facebook for public speaking, workshops, consulting, and research collaboration.

Publication list can be found here, for updates and events see here.

Citations:
When citing this article, please use the following format: Katarzyna Gajewska (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
Publication Date:
Monday, June 25, 2018
For updates on my publications: Katarzyna Gajewska – Independent Scholar
My publication list (selection): https://wiki.p2pfoundation.net/Katarzyna_Gajewska
If you would like to support my writing, please, use my donation page:

How to Start and Maintain a Micro-Revolutionary Project

Back to the City!

by GPaul Blundell,  from Communities magazine,  Winter issue #177

There’s an abundance to the city, an almost overwhelming abundance. Today this abundance showed up as 20 rolls of sushi. A couple weeks ago it showed up as about 30 lbs. of filet mignon. Before that it was a gross of eggs (a dozen dozen) and a crate of organic grass-fed heavy cream and a case of fair trade black Himalayan chia seeds. All free. All pulled out of a dumpster in the middle of the night and brought back to the main house of Compersia, the commune I call home in Washington, DC.

As anyone who has moved to the country to pursue the simple life will tell you: the simple life is not so simple. The dream of rural abundance, of growing all your own food and fashioning all your own tools, is more often a reality of long hard work and making do with less. Unless you’re independently wealthy, there are not many places you can live where everything you might want comes easily and abundantly.

Fundamentally there is one difference that separates rural areas from urban ones: population density. Many communes and intentional communities settle in the country. Insofar as they desire to build a new world divorced from mainstream society this makes sense. With fewer people occupying the land there’s more room to build and more room between you and your opinionated neighbors. Over the decade that I lived at rural Acorn Community, in central Virginia, this is certainly the reality that I experienced. The abundance of space, both physical and cultural, provided a lot of room to grow a little utopia and keep it insulated from the corrosive effects the mainstream would have on it. However, there are abundances in many places if you can appreciate and cultivate them.

DSC_0038

When I first moved to Acorn in 2005 I came looking for proof that a better world was possible. My political blossoming in college, during the peak of the anti-corporate globalization movement and the run-up to the Iraq War, saw me immersing myself in the history and theory of anarchism. But in conversation after conversation my passionate insistence that we could, as a society, thrive without constantly brutalizing and dominating each other was met with skeptical requests to cough up the proof that my nice ideas could stand up to harsh reality. When I discovered Twin Oaks and then Acorn, all quite by accident, I knew immediately what I had stumbled upon and that the egalitarian communes movement was my life’s work.

And the communes did not disappoint. Acorn Community, an egalitarian income-sharing commune, member of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, and daughter of older larger commune Twin Oaks Community, was founded in 1993 and at the time of my joining listed “anarchist” as one of its self-applied labels. Acorn operates by consensus, runs a fairly complex and highly seasonal mail order garden seed business, and does it all with a minimum of formal structure. While there we saw the business quadruple in size (rising to over $1 million in revenue by the time I left), helped two other nearby communes to form, built a giant eco-groovy new headquarters for the business, and weathered an arson and a whole string of health, mental health, and interpersonal crises by various members. My time at Acorn and getting to know the other rural social laboratories of the FEC taught me or confirmed several important things:

● Prosperity and organization are possible without hierarchical domination of each other. People are, as it turns out, really good at managing complexity.

● Complex organizations can be run democratically with relatively small overhead. This is related to the above point but the distinction I’m making is that a business or organization can be both directed and managed in a non-hierarchical, democratic, and cooperative way.

● Motivation is available without individual or private reward, like wages. Human motivation is more complex. I found that people could be motivated to apply themselves to valuable labor by the prospect of collective enrichment as well as less tangible things like their values, personal curiosity, or simply love of a good challenge.

● Intense cooperation/communalization/socialization significantly boosts quality of life relative to cost of living. In short, a middle-class quality of life is achievable at sub-poverty levels of income. And it comes with a lighter and less rigid labor burden than is required by almost all full-time jobs! A corollary of this is that intense communalization brings ecological impact down to ballpark global sustainable levels with relative ease.

● The socialized economy of the communes provides a supportive healing space for people dealing with various forms of mental illness (from simple things like anxiety to more complex things like psychotic breaks) as well as being flexible enough to make mental differences that were a problem in the mainstream not a problem in the commune.

What I noticed about all these is that none of them seemed to be a result of the communes’ rural locations. In fact, for all the advantages of living in the country there were several glaring problems. The work that could be done in the country was generally pretty low wage. Low population density means commune life could feel isolating, particularly for minorities of any sort. Undeveloped land means that population growth is limited by the speed at which new residences can be built. Their remoteness made visiting them difficult for interested people. Perhaps most striking of all, though, is simply that there are a lot of people who want to live communally but do not want to live in the country.

Our society is run by the few at the expense of the many. It is consuming and degrading the environment we depend on. Inequalities of wealth and power are accelerating. The world is on fire. I thought I had found some ways to help put it out but now those tools needed to spread.

In the summer of 2014 I had the good fortune to be able to take a trip to Europe both for pleasure and discovery1. In Madrid, I visited the comrades of the Red de Colectivos Autogestionados2 (RCA). Most of the members of the RCA were also members of the CNT, Spain’s famous anarcho-syndicalist trade union which is remembered as the most successful anarchist organization in history, having fought off Franco’s fascist coup for several years and controlled large areas of Spain at their peak. After Franco died and his fascist regime was dismantled, membership in the formerly illegal CNT exploded. However, despite sky-high membership the CNT did not display the strength or resiliency that it had historically and had been fading ever since. The RCA arose out of a very material analysis of this situation. Spain has a long deep history of cooperatives, long predating the Rochdale Society in England and with a stunningly high and widespread membership. It was this community of cooperatives that provided the material base and support for the combative and often embattled CNT during the decades leading up to the fascist coup. By the time Franco died (peacefully in his bed) he had largely succeeded in co-opting the cooperative movement and cleansing it of its leftist politics. Looking at this history the comrades who started the RCA concluded that for the CNT to regain its power they needed to rebuild the network of radical cooperatives that had fed and supported it.

There’s an example of this closer to home and closer to now in the Movement for a New Society (MNS). A Quaker peace movement-derived organization that started in 1971 and lasted until 1988, MNS saw the world as being on the verge of a revolution and made it their mission to research, educate, train, and prepare the new society that could arise after the old one tumbled. To support their work and their activists they established a nationwide network of cooperatives and urban communal houses, often sharing income. In interviews I conducted with several veterans of MNS the value of the communes and cooperatives in supporting the work was reiterated again and again. This support came not only in the form of material support (to avoid bankruptcy) but also in social and emotional support (to avoid burnout) and as laboratories and testbeds for the ideas that MNS’ activists were developing.

So here we were. The world clearly needed changing. We had some proven strategies for building effective movements. The rural egalitarian communes had done good work but had also clearly shown their limitations. The need to develop a network of urban egalitarian communes to support radical social change work was clear. In the Fall of 2013 several fellow communards and co-conspirators and I decided to try to do just that by launching a project called Point A.

Of course, we are not the first ones to try such a thing or things like it. Specifically on the urban egalitarian communes question, since I first joined Acorn there’s been one or two urban communes in the FEC. When I first joined there was Emma Goldman Finishing School in Seattle, Washington, and a few years later they were joined by The Midden in Columbus, Ohio. Both shared the same general model and in the last two years both have devolved into simple group houses or co-ops and left the FEC. This is a sobering recent history but there are counterexamples if we widen our gaze a bit. Ganas, an intentional community with a smaller income- and asset-sharing commune at its core, has been thriving in New York City for 35 years. Over in Germany there are a bevy of income- and income- and asset-sharing communes located in major cities, some of which have been going for over 30 years3. In Spain (mostly) there’s Las Indias, a nomadic but very stable income-sharing commune that’s been going for 14 years. In Israel, a new generation of urban kibbutzim has arisen. In light of this, it’s easier to consider the dissolution of Emma Goldman Finishing School and The Midden as something peculiar to that model or an accident of circumstance.

Point A took on the mission of working to cultivate ambitious and engaged egalitarian income-sharing communes in the urban centers of the American East Coast. Ambitious and engaged—to connect them to the wider work for social justice and liberation. American East Coast—because that’s where the FEC has the most resources, and the FEC is a natural ally for this work. When we started working we went in every direction we could find at once: Researching examples of successful urban communes. Finding and forging contacts with collectives, cooperatives, and organizations that might make good allies. Conducting research into legal and tax options for urban communes. Conducting research into financing options for urban communes. Organizing public talks, workshops, and events. Building out a website and blog to point people to.

We started the work in one city: Washington, DC. This is the city in whose suburbs I grew up and where I had the densest network. It’s where I wanted to get a commune started. And it’s where I have stayed and worked, but the project didn’t stay there. Soon after starting in DC we were enticed to NYC by some exciting prospects, and other Point A organizers started working there. Then we got involved with some collectives in Baltimore that we thought might be interested in converting. Then we were contacted by a new, and sadly short-lived, commune in Richmond, Virginia. Then a collective house in Binghamton, New York. Various Point A organizers have tried various tactics in each of these cities.

In DC, meanwhile, the project, as I was organizing it, maintained a laser-like focus on getting a single commune started. The general strategy was to start by recruiting potentially interested people from our existing network. These people would start the conversation that is the first phase of any cooperative project. One caution we had heard again and again was that the people to start the conversation would likely not be the people to start the commune. Keeping this in mind, we thought of each phase as a sinking island, a platform we could find temporary purchase on but that, if we wanted to continue, we would need to be planning to move on from. That first meeting had about 20 people. Of those, 12 ended up coming to our monthly meetings. After a little less than a year, a group of eight likely founders had identified themselves. Together those founders, of whom I was one, finished hammering out what we hoped was the bare minimum of policy and structure that we needed to start and put each other through our newly designed membership process. Of those potential founders, five made the jump and actually started the commune: Compersia, the first egalitarian income-sharing commune in DC (in a while, at least).

After that I stepped back from Point A work. My fellow Compersians and I had a lot of work cut out for us continuing to build out the agreements and policies we didn’t have, figuring out how to live together, and figuring out how to run this urban commune we had created. Now, a year and a half in, we’re still around. We’re even growing! With any luck we’ll need a second house before long to fit all our members.

To learn more about Compersia visit compersia.community or better yet email contact [AT] compersia.community. To hook up with the Point A crew check out frompointa.org or send an email to info [AT] frompointa.org.

GPaul Blundell is a member of Compersia Community in DC and an enthusiast about egalitarian community. He enjoys long easy bike rides, nerdy board games, and building the new world in the shell of the old.

1 I visited a number of urban and suburban egalitarian communes in Europe and the results of my interviews, observations, and analyses eventually made it into a one-off podcast called “Income Sharing Across the Pond” available free on Soundcloud.

2 English translation: The Network of Self-Managed Collectives.

3 I personally visited Kommune Niederkaufungen in Kaufungen outside of Kassel and Villa Locomuna located in Kassel.

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the City!

Damanhur Stories

by Paxus

There are magical places.

Damanhur Slideshow
Hall of Mirrors – Damanhur, Italy

The problem is many of my readers don’t actually believe in magic.  Oh, you might believe in pop magic: prestidigitation, sleight of hand,  trickery.  But hard magic?  Where the laws of physics are getting bent or broken, where compelling coincidence is basically statistically preposterous? This is where our rational sides kick in and tell us this stuff is just not possible.  I will tell you one of the stories, but you won’t believe me.

Damanhur Slideshow (1)
The Nucleo called Damjl

But we can get around this rationalism through stories.  It has taken me over two years to get around to telling just a part of my Damanhur story.  These are just the easiest to believe parts.  I don’t think you are ready for the parts i am still struggling with and i am not ready to tell them in this format.  Ask me at a party.

Damanhur Slideshow (2)
The secret door which lets you into the caves

A group of young Italians shared a vision.  A vision of a place where people would live in community and cooperation.  A place dedicated to the idea that there is an artist inside everyone and the job of community is to get that art expressed.  But it was also a place which was encouraging joint creative adventures, rather than promoting the works of single people and thus none of the tremendous artwork is signed.

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A canvas with many artists

This group was divinely inspired.  They had all manner of signs that they were doing the right thing and they traveled the world looking for the right place.  Oddly, it turned out to be just a few hundred kilometers from where they started, about 50 km from Turin.

A couple dozen people moved in back in 1978.  They formed a commune.  Shared income and assets.  They worked straight jobs in the local area and started setting up their own cottage industries.  Just like we do now when we are trying to start new communes.

Except there was the digging.  Every night, for 16 years, some significant fraction of the members of the Damanhur community started digging tunnels and temples under the mountain that they lived in.  They did it in secrecy.  Driving down huge mounds of excavated dirt in trucks in the dead of night to be dumped far from the temples.

They were following a vision.  They worked in secret and told no one outside their community about the project.  But they grew.  In the first 17 years, they went from a couple dozen people to over 400.  It was a federation of communities, clustered in the town which was adjacent to the temples.

damanhur cartoon build temples
Propaganda Cartoon by Damanhur about digging temples

It is hard to keep a secret among 400 people, especially if they are as emotionally expressive as Italians tend to be.  Rumor has it there was a domestic dispute.  A couple of Damanhurians were splitting up and the one leaving the community demanded greater child custody and threatened to reveal the secret if they did not get what they wanted.  When they did not, they went to the local police (who has been hearing stories for years, but had never been able to find their way in) and revealed the secret doors.

Damanhur Slideshow (5)
Too big to keep a secret?

The Italian authorities came in and stopped construction of the temple because it was an unpermitted mining activity.  But the media rushed in to cover this beautiful space and the UK tabloid the Daily Mail (and apparently the Italian government) called it the 8th Wonder of the World.  And the tourists started following in to see it.

Damanhur pillars
These pillars are over 20′ high

Through a somewhat inexplicable series of events, i was invited to Damanhur in 2015.  My host Betsy Pool and i had met at one of the most exotic conferences i have ever attended, called Building the New World, in Roanoke, Virginia, earlier in the year.

btnw poster

I was enchanted by Betsy’s story about how she got to Damanhur, about her work founding the Institute for the Mythology of Humanity and the collection of people she was pulling together to try to promote the complex message of Damanhur’s origins.

btnw photo shoot
Me nearly in the middle, Betsy on my left, Barbara Marx Hubbard on my right.

I leapt at the chance to go to this most exotic place, which was made possible by a generous sponsor (communes don’t pay well, international travel is generally inaccessible).  And for a week i toured the temples of Damanhur, learned their stories and chatted with Charles Eisenstein who was part of the same advisory group had been invited to as a storyteller.

Damanhur Slideshow (6)
Doors in the Temple

I got to do a Transparency Tools workshop in the hall of mirrors (see the picture at the top) which was pretty amazing.

When we toured the temples, i learned some curious things about Damanhur.  One was that there were highly realistic portraits of all 600 living Damanhurians on the temple walls.  On my tour of the temples, there was a current Damanhur resident.  The portrait of her was so realistic that when i saw it on the wall i could immediately identify it as her.  When members of the community die, their paintings within the temples are covered and a new portrait is created on the walls of the buildings Damanhur controls around the temples.

damanhur past members on buildings
Past members live on exterior walls

When people ask me what the most amazing thing about Damanhur is, i often reply that it is a group of 600 non-smoking Italians.  Without a doubt the largest such group in the world.

But when pressed harder, i talk about the plants.  It starts with the Music of the Plants. Research has been going on in plant communication for over 4 decades at Damanhur.  The accessible amazing thing is that they are able to hear plants performing the music that they all regularly make, by hooking up the plants and measuring and interpreting the very low-voltage electric currents between the roots and leaves of the plant.

damanhur music of the plants

An even more amazing is the story of a plant which is used inside of Damanhur as a door lock.  If the plant detected that the person who had been introduced to the plant was arriving in anger, it would not let the person into the room.

I said you would not believe me.  And these are the more accessible stories of Damanhur.

 

Damanhur Stories

Accessible Anarchists: Can Masdeu

by Paxus

from Your Passport to Complaining, November 9, 2016

It started with the asparagus and a hole.

For 50 years the lepers hospital had been abandoned, fenced off and losing the struggle against entropy.  Late in the fall of 2002, a handful of liberators cut a hole in the fence, letting themselves and the locals in. These mostly poorer pensioners from the outskirts of Barcelona had for years watched the fenced off asparagus sprout inside and go to seed.  Not this year.

But the story only begins with this “chance harvest”. While locals reclaimed and seeded this newly available agricultural land, the squatters planted roots of their own in this place they renamed Can Masdeu (house of many springs).  And as expected, before the first plants had sprouted, the police had arrived – not worried about the vegetables, but rather a different  “weed” taking root.  In April 2003, several dozen Barcelona riot police arrived to remove the illegal occupants from this long abandoned 3 story “mansion”.

can-masdeu-gardens
The gardens of Can Masdeu

What the police found was 11 people suspended on various platforms and perches designed so that to remove any one person, would cause another (or in some cases two other) people to drop from great height, potentially to their deaths.  To this day, there are chairs mounted on the outside of the building – outside the top floors, where protesters sat for 3 days, through a rainstorm and mostly without food – waiting for justice.  And finally it came.  A local judge ordering the police to retreat, declaring human life is more important than property. It did not hurt that the dozens of local and imported supporters at the squat were aided by very visible protests and lobbying going on inside the city of Barcelona and even the Spanish Embassy in Am*dam was under siege by sympathetic anarchists.

But as romantic and exciting as the origin myth of Can Masdeu is, it is the current projects and dreams which makes it such an important and seductive place. Two dozen young people (from 22 to 39) have built gardens and bread ovens, opened a community bike shop, constructed meditation spaces, planted fruit trees, installed solar cookers and reversed entropy. They have inspired a DIY/”we can do it” culture which manifests both cordial relations with the locals and deep connections to the rural squatting movement (which is more secure than urban squats, because Spain, like most places, is suffering from urban flight).  Meals at Can Masdeu are a cross between a noisy family reunion, a conspirators clandestine gathering and a polyglot’s wet dream, with the colorful players switching languages every few moments.

SONY DSC

The internal economics are pretty simple.   Everyone (visitors and members alike) pays 1 Euro (about $1.20) a day for the dry goods – mainly organic and bio regional foods which are collectively cooked by volunteers each day.  On our last night there no one signed up to cook and cheerful, last minute, self selecting recruits finished cooking at 11 PM. (Which is only an hour or two later than dinner normally is.  This is Spain – or more precisely Catalonia – after all.)  The food is good. It is mostly vegan of necessity since cheese is expensive – but there are no culinary restrictions placed on the group.

Though simple, the meals were wonderful.  Culinary success is fostered by a culture of joy and political action.  Stuff from the gardens, food left behind after the farmers market (in a novel twist, farmers don’t feel it necessary to put broken glass into food which they can not sell, to keep others from eating it as we are so fond of doing in the US), bread from their clay ovens, dry goods purchased with the money chipped in – all create a squat cuisine which kept us out of the wonderfully tempting Barcelona restaurants.

can-masdeu-performance
Every Saturday a free coffeehouse with local and intl talent

We were lucky to get in.  Jana and Frodo recommended the place, but June is one of their closed months.  They have been so popular that they need to control the visiting of folx so as not to get overrun with outsiders. Our boat into Tarragona arrived just as a closed month began – but we were generously granted an exception (which we had arranged by e-mail in advance).  We gave back to the squat with a presentation on Twin Oaks which was attended with great interest. They were trying to figure out many of the sharing systems that more mature communities have already developed.  At 1 AM I was still answering questions, Hawina having fielded the first hour of them, while I chased after Willow (at this writing was age 2), who seemed to get the infectious spirit and thought that he owned the place.

It is not utopia yet either;  one problem and benefit is the clash between the Spanish “manana culture” and the North European (esp. British and German) punctuality.  The squat is perhaps 2/3rds locals and 1/3rd internationals and Gesine (who was our host and is from Germany) was really struggling with the group’s ability to make decisions effectively.

While we were there a couple of Dutch co-counseling instructors were there teaching a class.  But their meeting techniques did not seem to take hold the way some of the squatters had wanted. I found myself wanting to be able to materialize Tree and plant her in this place for some months.

Squats, especially large ones which are likely targets for eviction are generally a mix of disheveled and broken stuff – and that which has been repaired or renovated.   There is dodgy wiring and the same “second world” plumbing style as East Wind (running water inside, but outside composting toilets).    But these folx were fast on their feet.  At one point Willow charged into one of the living rooms, with cushions missing from chaotic couches, piles of papers on the dirty floor.  An hour later we returned and the couches were complete and positioned for a meeting, the floor cleaned and cleared, a meeting agenda on the easel in front of the space.  And in my favorite anarchist tradition, no one was claiming credit for the magical transformation. It just sort of happens, because it needs to.

can-masdeu-dinner

It is not hardware or architecture which makes Can Masdeu important, it is the culture creation, the social relations and the politics which does.  “We don’t just wear black,” says Gesine, explaining that part of the perceived threat of the squat to the establishment is that they are media friendly, accessible to (and in fact supporting of) locals from different ages and classes and constantly doing outreach.  Barcelona is one of the most heavily squatted cities in Europe. The combination of poverty, speculation on rising real estate values and a legal system which does not deify property rights has caused an explosion in squatting and the anti-military service campaigns.  The moneyed class does not want popular, accessible squats like this one – it emboldens folx to take matters into their own hands.  Squatters are supposed to be dangerous fringe criminals, not helpful, friendly, folx fixing people’s bikes and respecting each other and the land and local tradition.

can-masdeu-pedal-washing-machine
Bike powered washer — like Quercus had

Even during their closed month there are tours and workshops every Sunday.  There was a series of sessions on healing arts when we were there – taught not by folx from the squat, but by Barcelona practitioners using the space with the squat assisting in promotion for the event.  The local school has several student groups who choose (and are encouraged) to meet there, in the café and ample conference spaces.  There is a growing book library, a free shop (a commie clothes look alike), and a tool library as well as all the squatting propaganda you could possibly want.  One of the rooms is for storage and construction of giant protest puppets and is also the flamenco dancers practice space.  These types of multicultural mixed use spaces are common.

My last day, by good fortune, I ended up in a long conversation with Martin from the UK, who spent a year looking for this place before actually squatting it. His was an amazing and tragic tale, complete with getting cut from the rope which was blocking the G8 from arriving at their Swiss retreat.  He dropped over  60 feet into two feet of water, broke his back and was lucky not to be paralyzed, much less alive (see www.aubonnebridge.net website for the amazing and disturbing video of the action). We talked about the culture of Can Masdeu, the meetings and process, the hopes and relations with other projects.  For me it was the perfect arrival to Europe.  People who had a very high level of commitment to radical political work, but were not stuck in old boxes, which would for example, keep them from the media, or distance them from the local population.  We talked about his desire to protect this ecosystem, which he felt was at the edge of its carrying capacity with the gardens which had already been planted.   And how amazed he was at what they had so far created.

And it might all end in October.  After 5 failed criminal cases have been run against them, Can Masdeu now faces a civil suit, which it may be nearly impossible for them to win – because in fact they don’t own the property and someone else does.  The police might not evict – this happens sometimes.  But the most likely future is that in the winter of 2004/05 there will be a call to defend the squat.  They hope hundreds of people will help defend the house and if they resquat there may be a popular action, hopefully with many hundreds of people especially people from the barrio. They have grown deep roots.  My guess is many more than the original 11 people who risked their lives will be in dramatic and dangerous positions, with more than 3 days food and a very enthusiastic and very large group of people all around them supporting them.

can-masdeu-squating-apple
Follow the graffiti which looks like this

I’ve seen the future and it is off the end of the metro green line in Barcelona

Update Nov 2016:  The police did not come.  To this day Can Masdeu continues to host events, political protests and a dynamic scruffy band of anarchists, who are now joining 20 other Catalan communities to build their movement.

 

Accessible Anarchists: Can Masdeu