October 18, 2020

Communes to Cooperativesmusings of a Drop City scholar

From John Curl’s For All the People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America, writing about the communal living movement of the 1960s and 1970s:

The concept of openness started out as a strength but eventually turned into a weakness. Open communes proved to be generally unlivable in the long run because they were too unstable. Since people did not all choose each other, they were often not committed to each other. Not every two people can share the same bathroom and kitchen in peace. The communes attracted not only people willing to work for their survival, but also people looking for free trips.

Within a couple years, all the open communes decided to set population limits, declared the land closed and began taking in new members by invitation only.

But the momentum was not lost and a new wave appeared by 1968. These were mostly closed from the beginning. A similar progression had taken place 140 years earlier: New Harmony had been open at first and had attempted to go to the extreme sharing of a commune; when this proved an unworkable combination, they retreated to closed cooperation. The second wave of communities in both the earlier and the present movement ranged from full communes to land cooperatives.

New Harmony, Indiana was a utopian socialist project of Robert Owen.

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