Communal economy in Kommune Niederkaufungen
Communal economy in Kommune Niederkaufungen
The economic stucture of the commune in Niederkaufungen (Germany) has a number of elements. The communal economy has both economic and social aspects.
Reasons for having a communal economy
Our communal economy, with collective ownership, pooling of capital and income sharing, ensures us a high degree of both security and freedom. Whatever the situation of the individual, each member has housing, clothing, food, transport and money to spend outside the commune. She or he is not isolated and alone within the competitive, capitalist system, but part of a cooperative relationship based on solidarity.
In communities such as co-housing or eco-villages, each member or family is, to a great degree, responsible for her or his own financial survival and that of their dependents. This results in some inequalities in these communities, inequalities in income, working conditions, and the resulting stress. In those projects, some are well paid, others less well paid, some communitarians are self-employed, while others are employees. Some members of these communities have job security, others are in precarious employment. They are generally living and working under normal capitalist conditions, with all that that implies, and usually there is a clear division between wage earning, community duties and free time. To some degree, this has been broken down in the commune in Niederkaufungen. Access to goods, services and facilities is not directly related to what each member “earns”, but on what the commune as a whole can provide. This, in turn, is not based solely on money earned “outside”, but also on the crops we grow, the foodstuff and goods we produce, the services and skills which we share with each other and with the wider community. In many situations there is no longer a clear division between “work” and “leisure”, but communards are often involved in personally satisfying activities which are also for the common good.
“From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”.
Income sharing is one economic form of Mutual Aid.
Income sharing is one way of breaking down economic inequalities withing our communities. As in other communities where members work in communally owned businesses, in Niederkaufungen it breaks down the inequalities which exist between the more successful enterprises and the ones which either only break even or need subsidising.
All earnings, no matter where they come from, go into one fund out of which all daily expenses are paid. There are no fixed wages and there is no personal allowance or pocket money. People decide for themselves what they need and take the money directly from the cash box in our administrative office (and write it down themselves in the cash book there). This has worked for twenty five years now, though, of course, not without discussion when our expenditure exceeded our earnings. Our financial situation has been quite stable through most of the commune’s existence and our material standard of living has slowly but steadily risen; a fact which is applauded by some members and criticised by others.
All of the major property in the commune is collective property. The commune is organised as a registered association, the Kommune e.V. (eingetragener Verein – registered association). All communards are members of this association. The association is not primarily an economic association but an association to promote our ideals. It does not offer goods or services on the market but can legally have some economic aspects. It is this association which owns all the property, land, buildings, means of production, and motorvehicles.
A second registered association, of which we are also all members, the association for ecology, health and education (Verein für Ökologie, Gesundheit und Bildung e.V.), is responsible for running our seminar house and kindergarten, and has a number of economic sub-functions, such as being the legal stucture for our horticulture enterprises.
It is not intended or possible to privatise our communal property. The commune will continue even if there are less than 7 members left, which is the minimum number of members to start a registered association in Germany.
Socialization of capital and goods
The set up is fairly simple and clear: new members joining the commune hand over all their assets to the commune association, which owns the property and all means of production. The association, consisting of all adult members of the commune, decides in consensus what to do with the money, where and how to invest it.
The socialization of production and centralization of capital that takes place lays the foundation for a socialist economy. Socialism entails ownership of the social production by the workers engaged in the production (see: Worker cooperative)
Socialization of the workplace is contrasted to rigid hierarchy and bureaucracy, as workers gain more autonomy, collective decision-making power and control over the output they produce in a socialized work environment.
While it is not an island outside capitalism nor an ivory tower, the commune in Niederkaufungen has a number of areas where it approaches self-sufficiency or could become more self-sufficient when the worsening economic situation makes it necessary.
The ownership of our buildings and some land means that we have a certain security which projects which rent or lease their property (or squatted projects) do not have. We see access to land as being very important. A large part of our foodstuff is from our own agriculture, horticulture, orchards and beekeeping. If we had more people who wanted to work the land, we could increase this food production. See Agriculture in Kommune Niederkaufungen
In addition, through the use of our gas-fired domestic combined heat and power (CHP) plant, our building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) plant with c. 59 kWp maximum capacity – equalling the electricity use of c. 12 four person households, and our log-burning central heating plant for winter heating which uses left-over regional firewood, we are able to satisfy quite a large proportion of our energy needs. See Ecological measures undertaken by Kommune Niederkaufungen.
Internal Exchange, Giving, Sharing
Generally, no money changes hands within the commune, although sometimes there is transfer of funds from one work collective to another, or between collectives and the central communal account. One sector where there is regular internal exchange is in the kitchen duties; weekend cooking, washing dishes and cleaning up after meals. It is not always possible for communards to fulfill their duties in the weeks originally chosen for this work, either due to illness, other work or holidays. Communards will often exchange duties on a one for one basis, but some communards also help out without wanting compensation or without trading the duties. It is normal for members of the commune to give each other things without recompense and sharing plays a large role in the internal economy of the commune.
Similarly, giving of services is an important aspect of the communal economy. Many services from which all or many communards benefit are done voluntarily. Much of the cleaning round the commune and in the living groups is done by communards who have the time, energy and wish to support the commune that way. Others take on the work of snow clearing in winter, looking after a certain motor-vehicle, or running the wood burning central heating. Washing clothes is also something where we all help one another.
One reason for the high living standard at relatively low cost is the sharing of motor vehicles, computers, tools, facilities and many other things. Just as sharing motor vehicles brings us economic and ecological benefits, the pooling and common use of many other things enables us to have various facilities which most people living alone or in couples cannot generally afford. The commune has an extensive library of several thousand books, well organised into various sections. Similarly, we have a media room with a large collection of videos and DVDs and a couple of video recorders and DVD players which can be used by all communards. One communard has made a list of the (many hundred) CDs that we have throughout the commune, making it possible to see what other people have in their collections before buying new ones and making borrowing much easier. For those communards who prefer to make music, there is a music room with a large collection of musical instruments (both collective and private) plus a PA system with mixing desk for discos and concerts. We have a room for meditation and being still.
In addition, we have a large collective “wardrobe” room, with a large collection of clothes that everyone can take from or contribute to. (As well as this, there is a big collection of clothes for dressing up, with costumes for parties and festivals). In addition to the commune administration office, there are two office rooms for all communards that have computers and other necessary equipment for communication and writing (Fax, photocopier, typewriter, stationary and postage stamps). Finally, as well as the workshops used by our work collectives, we have a couple of workrooms for “private” use, with wood-working tools, painting and decorating materials, camping gear and other useful goods.
Transparency and Trust
There is a high degree of economic (and also social) transparency within the commune. Larger economic transactions are debated in the commune beforehand and agreed to in consensus. All the smaller (private) transactions are open to inspection as they are written down in the cash-book in our commune administration office. The administration collective reports to the commune on a weekly basis at our plenary meeting on Tuesday evenings. There is also a small supervisory group of non-administrators which meets regularly to advise and support the administrative collective. Each month a different work collective reports on its activities with a written annual report and a presentation of the work at the plenary meeting.
In addition, there is a good deal of openness in the social sphere, and communards experiencing problems usually have quite a number of people whom they trust who they can turn to in times of crisis.
This transparency combined with consensus decision making and our legal structure as a registered association make it very difficult for individuals to either misuse or appropriate communal funds or property, although it is certainly not impossible. However, as the members of the commune are relatively homogenuous in their ideas and ideals and there is great trust in each other and in the administrative collective, it is unlikely that anyone would want to cream off cash into a secret private bank account or personally enrich themselves. The system is perhaps not one hundred percent immune against someone with enough criminal energy to exploit it, but due to the trust which exists it is unlikely that the communal economy would be endangered.