A commune is an intentional community of people living together, sharing common interests, property, possessions, resources, work and income. In addition to the communal economy, consensus decision-making, non-hierarchical structures and ecological living have become important core principles for many communes.
With the simple definition of a commune as an intentional community with 100% income sharing, the online directory of the FIC lists 195 communes world wide.(April 2009). Some of these are religious institutions such as abbeys and monasteries, others are anthroposophic Camphill villages.
Central characteristics of communes
The central characteristics of communes, and the definition of what a commune is, have changed over the years. In the 1960s, almost any counter-cultural, rural, intentional community was called a commune.
At the start of the 1970s, communes were regarded by Ron E. Roberts in his book, “The New Communes”, as being a subclass of the larger category of Utopias. Three main characteristics were listed: first, egalitarianism – communes specifically rejected hierarchy or graduations of social status as being necessary to social order. Second, human scale – members of communes saw the scale of society as it was then organised as being too large. Third, communes were consciously anti-bureaucratic.
Twenty five years later, Dr. Bill Metcalf, in his book “Shared Visions, Shared Lives” defined communes as having the following core principles: the importance of the group as opposed to the nuclear family unit, a “common purse”, a collective household, group decision making in general and intimate affairs.
Sharing everyday life and facilities, a commune is an idealised form of family, being a new sort of “primary group” (generally with fewer than 20 people). Commune members have emotional bonds to the whole group rather than to any sub-group, and the commune is experienced with emotions which go beyond just social collectivity.
In the German commune book, “Das Kommune Buch”, communes are defined by Elisabeth Voß as communities which:
live and work together,
have a communal economy, i.e. common finances and common property (land, buildings, means of production),
have communal decision making – usually consensus decision making,
try to reduce hierarchy and hierarchical structures,
have communalisation of housework, childcare and other communal tasks,
have equality between women and men,
have low ecological footprints through sharing and saving resources.
Communes come into being when people find each other, get on with each other, and decide on a common path. The commune is perhaps what gets decided at the very moment when we would normally part ways. It’s the joy of an encounter that survives its expected end. It’s what makes us say “we,” and makes that an event. What’s strange isn’t that people who are attuned to each other form communes, but that they remain separated. Why shouldn’t communes proliferate everywhere? In every factory, every street, every village, every school. At long last, the reign of the base committees! Communes that accept being what they are, where they are. And if possible, a multiplicity of communes that will displace the institutions of society: family, school, union, sports club, etc. Communes that aren’t afraid, beyond their specifically political activities, to organize themselves for the material and moral survival of each of their members and of all those around them who remain adrift. Communes that would not define themselves – as collectives tend to do – by what’s inside and what’s outside them, but by the density of the ties at their core. Not by their membership, but by the spirit that animates them.
A commune forms every time a few people, freed of their individual straitjackets, decide to rely only on themselves and measure their strength against reality. Every wildcat strike is a commune; every building occupied collectively and on a clear basis is a commune, the action committees of 1968 were communes, as were the slave maroons in the United States, or Radio Alice in Bologna in 1977. Every commune seeks to be its own base. It seeks to dissolve the question of needs. It seeks to break all economic dependency and all political subjugation; it degenerates into a milieu the moment it loses contact with the truths on which it is founded. There are all kinds of communes that wait neither for the numbers nor the means to get organized, and even less for the “right moment” – which never arrives.
From “The coming insurrection“- Written by The Invisible Committee, an anonymous group of contributors, the book was first published in 2007 by French company La Fabrique.
Roberts, Ron E. (1971). The New Communes Coming Together in America. New Jersey: Prentice Hall inc.
Metcalf, Dr.Bill. (1996) Shared Visions, Shared Lives, Findhorn Press, Scotland.
Voß, Elisabeth. (1996) Was ist eine Kommune? Pages 17 to 26, in, Das Kommune Buch, by Kollektiv KommuneBuch, Göttingen: Verlag Die Werkstatt. ISBN 3-89533-162-7
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