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Communistic Ideals
photogeek
crschmidt
I live in a commune.

It's not the typical type of thing that most people think of when they think of communistic living. There's no agriculture here, no growing of our own food, nothing like that. It's a commune in isolation, in a capitalistic world. We don't eschew the properties of ownership, nor do we throw off the chains of wages.

Rather, we tend towards the principles of common ownership, and the more relevant ideals of "from each according to ability, to each according to needs". We have people who are good at dealing with children, people who are good at cooking, people who are good at laundry, people who are good at organization, people who are good with finding work to keep the rent paid or ensuring that it does get paid.

We share many responsibilities, and we accept that a lack of something being done is not the fault of a single person, but the result of a lack of participation of the group, unless previously agreed on as work to be performed by one person. We understand that the fact that we have only vaccumed once in the past month, for example, is not the fault of me, or Jess, or anyone specific. Instead, it is a failing of the commune as a whole: and something which, in generla, no one is going to be upset about.

It works well. It's the only reason we are currently able to survive with 8 people in a 4 bedroom house - and a relatively small one at that. We have two people on the futons in the living room, we all live in very close quarters, and when everyone is home, it does feel very crowded. Yet even though it's crowded, it still, despite all the infighting and emo and drama and everything -- it still works.

In practice, common ownership will mean everybody having the right to participate in decisions on how global resources will be used. It means nobody being able to take personal control of resources, beyond their own personal possessions.
-- World Socialist Movement


That's the way it is here. I've covered bills and food for people who can't afford it: the money that comes in goes out in the way that works best for all the people involved.

I often wonder if this is the kind of coummunism is what people think doesn't work. I wonder if we're a counterexample to socialist critics. Does anyone else have any experience with doing things like this? Did it work for you? Do you think that it will work for us? Do you want to move in and try? :) (Not really - the house is quite literally full right now.)

I think openness in our emotions and relationships with each other helps that, and helps to provide the kids a more stable relationship despite the fact that there's a new person surfing our couches every 2 weeks. I think that being able to talk about what we need helps. Sometimes we can't do that - some members have more problems accepting criticism than others. But that doesn't change the fact that there's still a lot of openness in all our relationships that helps a lot as far as getting things done.

Maybe socio-economic revolution isn't the way to go about it. Stick to the social issues instead - see how it fares you. Maybe I'm just lucky, or maybe I'm just insane. I'd love to hear point or counterpoint on the issue from anyone who cares to share.

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How do you ensure that people don't feel hard done by? If I regularly had to pay bills for other people I think I'd start to resent it fairly quickly.

I'm confident that they'll catch up with me when they can. I put my entire savings into moving us here, basically, but I know that these people are the ones I care about, and I know they care about me. When it's possible, they'll pay me back whatever they can.

I suppose it works this well because we love each other. But as much as I loved Kristan before, I love her more now having had her share in the trials and tribulations of daily life with us. There's also the fact that we've all helped each other out in the past. We take care of the kids, the dishes, the laundry. Kristan and Jenn do a lot of that, which helps towards the good will.

I'm trying to even out the money right now, but fir the first couple weeks, no one could find work right away, while I was still working. Now Jess has quit her job because of mistreatement, and everyone else is working to make up for it.

It all evens out in the end. I'm a strong believer in karma, because it's treated me so well so far.

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Possibly so, but I don't think so. There's entirely too much goodwill in the house for that to be the simple case. C'mon, roomates not hating each other? When does that ever happen?

More seriously, I describe it that way far more because of the way we act with regard to splitting things up. Half the time, I don't do any work, and Kristan will do 6 loads of laundry in a day - but there's no ill will like you would find in other situations/cases, in my experience.

If you were doing all of your roomate's laundry, would you still be able to hang out with them without being upset and complaining at them? Is that really expected behavior? Certainly, when I was living with my roomates in college, there was *no* sharing of shit: what was his was his, and what was mine was mine. Maybe college is different than real world, but I've found that to be the case with roomate situations the world over: there's no sharing of anything other than space, and possibly chores if you split them evenly enough, which is definitely *not* the case here.

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His living situation certainly sounds a lot like the kind of collective living arrangements many libertarian communists come up with. I don't see why it's not communistic, although I agree that when people "discuss communism" they don't just mean communal living situations. (See also: egalitarian communities, Emma Goldman Finishing School, etc)

The Bolsheviks don't really have anything to do with communism per se. Maybe Marxist totalitarianism, but not communism. Not to say that conflict resolution and such can't be a major problem in communal living arrangements...

Most intelligent people who think communism doesn't work, I hope, simply think it doesn't work when it is forced upon people... and/or when it is engaged in on a scale much larger than a single household.

For isolated groups of people who are all committed to it by their own choice, I see no reason why it couldn't work (though that's certainly no guarantee that it will).

I think that's what we have, and I certainly agree with your point about it being forced: no living situation which is forced will ever succeed in the long term, I don't think. You can only live the way someone else wants you to live so long before you break out. Depending on the level of difference there is between what you want and what the other people in the situation are forcing you to, you can survive for a while that way - vis most kids living in situations they don't like with their parents until late teens - but if it's far different from what you actually want, you'll eventually revolt, I think.

I had a hard time adjusting to this way of living, and it wasn't until about a week or so ago, when we all talked about what was bothering them about me and vice versa that I finally got it. You have to actively participate in this household. You're not allowed to hold things inside... if something bothers us, it's vital that we talk about it. We regularly gather on our back patio and hold longwinded discussions about even minor things. We'reThe Commune, and we DO work.

I don't think you guys are what people say can't work, but I think what you guys do on a much, much larger scale is what they say can't work.

And, well, it can't. Not yet.

Yeah, I agree that this only works because it's small scale and limited in scope. Given the occasional infighting with just 5-6 people, I can understand how shit would go bad if there were 600, 6000, or 600,000.

We don't eschew the properties of ownership

Well, right, it's not communal, is it? There's one thing communism requires, and that's communal ownership. The whole abolition of the concept of private property and all that. If there's a concept of "my money is covering someone else's share", then it's not communal, it's doing someone a favour with stuff you own. Just like how a group that calls itself "Christian" has to involve Christ somehow, or a bunch of people who call themselves moral relativists really ought to practice moral relativism or not call themselves that.

Friends share. That's what they do. Couples share even more! And you're a couple and a bunch of friends living together, not much different than a lot of the healthy roommate scenarios friends of mine at college had, except they didn't put a label on it and they didn't fight very much. I mean, a married couple who maintain only a single shared bank account have less of a concept of private property than you guys do.

I'm glad you and Jess and the kids and your friends all get along and have healthy, forgiving and generous relationships, and I think "The Commune" is a cute name for your place and arrangements, but there's nothing innovative going on. That's how partners and friends act.

Just be careful that don't get so caught up in the label and the ideal of what you want your relationship to be that you stop paying attention to what's actually going on. For example, you've probably met polyamorous families who seem more interested in "being polyamorous" than in being in love with one another. Labels can be dangerous that way.

Exactly.

Actually, it's fascinating how after ten years of everything belong to "the family", now that we need to separate everything, nearly everything still kind of belongs more to one person than another. Not financially or legally, but one person picked it out and is generally more invested in it.

Of course the idea of doing laundry for other people and not resenting it seems totally natural to me, but then most of them are my kids, so maybe that's different. Or not, I don't know.


Hm, perhaps I'm misunderstanding what I'm reading on socialism in that case (or using a wrong word, which is equally likely - many of the descriptions here are simply convenient rather than accurate, as you also mentioned). It seems like the general idea behind communism or socialism is that your "property" -- things which you own, but do not use -- become commonly owned, but that your posesssions -- things which you own but actively use yourself -- remain your own. (Definitions for those words pulled from IdealogiesChannel wikipage.)

From worldsocialism.org: Introduction: Of course, some goods tend to be for personal consumption, rather than to share - clothes, for example. People 'owning' certain personal possessions does not contradict the principle of a society based upon common ownership. In practice, common ownership will mean everybody having the right to participate in decisions on how global resources will be used. It means nobody being able to take personal control of resources, beyond their own personal possessions.. However, that doesn't match the wikipedia definition, nor does it match the communism definition. So, maybe I need to actually figure out what the fuck I'm talking about before I go arguing a point. ;)

I feel that possessions in this house are not communal owned, but that property almost universally is. some of this may come from the way that the house has worked: it started off as Jess's, and since everyone who has ever come into it has come carrying a duffel bag and nothing else, it has *had* to become that way, or it would never have worked. Computers are not "mine", they are "ours" -- the reason for this being that in a house with 4 computers and 6 people who want to use them, what other options are there? Books, appliances, living space: there's no *option* to not share, because it's all there is to do.

I suppose it's just that I've never seen friends in roomate situations act this way, which is why it seems innovative to me. However, I'm perfectly willing to admit that this may simply be due to lack of personal experience, rather than an actual situation where people are acting differently than is typical.

More than anything, it's a catchy name. It's cute, and it gives us a story to tell about how there's always a new person couchsurfing through. I really think the name has some basis in the behavior of the people living there though, at least in some respects. Surely, I'm not proving that socialism or communism or any other ism can work large scale, nor neccesarily that it even can small scale. In part, it's just mentioning that I live in someplace that seems different. In another part, I just wanted comments :)

Well, to start very simple: Communism and modern socialism are different things. As noted, the central tenet of communism is communal ownership, while modern socialism builds around a democratic welfare state. (Historically, communism has been a particular kind of socialism, but outside of Marxists that's not what people tend to use "socialism" to mean today.)

(Incidentally, the standard measure for ownership in a communist society is collective ownership of the means of production. Obviously there is no equivalent here because there is no means of production internal to your group. Your means of production resides within the capitalist system the rest of us are in!)

At the state level, socialism is remarkable because it requires government intervention; historically that was government control of the means of production but in modern socialism it's more like government-enforced redistribution of wealth and equal provision of services. But a "welfare state" within a dwelling is normal -- if you guys were one nuclear family, then to not behave that way would be labeled dysfunctional. When roommates have the same sort of relationship it's a great thing, but aligning everyone's interests when there are only a handful of people involved who cohabit is easy. The exact same principle applied to a country would be utopian socialism; since that doesn't work so well with Economic Man there's a need for some outside influence to balance self-interest with collective interest. Modern democratic socialist governments tend to do so with taxes (and penalties for not paying them).

In other words, the remarkable thing about socialism is the scale, because it's trying to arrange the same sort of resource egalitarianism that smaller groups can attain via altruism alone.

(This, incidentally, is a good starting point if you're not familiar with the literature -- the only graphic "novel" I've ever seen used as a political science textbook. :-)

Incidentally, worldsocialism.org is from the Socialist Party of Great Britain, who are Marxists. "Socialism" has changed meaning in the last hundred years for everyone but Marxists (for whom the distinction between socialism and communism is considerably more subtle).

That said, it's still a question of scale. When a few dozen people put together a huge care package for pthalogreen it was altruism -- people doing a favour for friends. That's not remarkable at that scale. If she had a care package provided for her by the state because she was unable to satisfy her needs herself, that'd be modern socialism, but no-one would suggest that altruism between friends is socialism at work; I'd go so far as to say that socialism is one mechanism for egalitarian distribution when altriusm doesn't work.

I think most people have mentioned the common problem: this system doesn't scale well.

It requires multi-lateral trust and respect for everyone, as well as an ability to put the needs of the commune before the needs of the individual when necessary. Not many people can do that - so you have to select the individuals carefully (consciously or otherwise).

I've had a friend or two who've suggested such living arrangmenets, and I can certainly see the attractions.

Either way, though, I'm glad your happy, and that's probably the most important thing.

I think the kibbutz movement in Israel has demonstrated that this type of arrangement works in groups up to about 250 people. After that it becomes unmanageable due to human capacity for dealing with human idiosycracies. Also, better to think of these situations as "supply-chain cooperatives" ;-) rph

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