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Some Notes on Communitarian Socialism

(1972)

 

I authored Some Notes on Communitarian Socialism in 1972 as we embarked on creating Lime Saddle Commune. It's basically a manifesto for a communitarian movement but with the key idea of replacing our corporate capitalist socio-economic system with a communitarian socialist one, i.e. the Revolution isn't about political or God forbid military victories but about communitarians providing better alternatives to what's available on the open market. The movement grows with successful attractive features only communitarian society can provide. It does this or it doesn't grow and unfortunately the communitarian movement in the U.S. still awaits inspiring a real mass movement of the American people, one that doesn't fizzle out in one generation as the '60's and '70's communal movement did but one that continues to grow changing the social landscape of America instead of surviving as tiny pockets of eutopia scattered here and there but uncoordinated in their efforts to attract new people.

 

 

Communitarian socialism will be defined as it is practiced by people engaged in the creation of a holistic alternative co-operative communal society here in America and eventually throughout the world. I or anyone else can present ideas on how the communal transformation process will be carried out but the only real authority will be the people themselves and history. What follows are some rough ideas on the way I see the process at work here in America.

Communitarian socialism differs from previous socialist programs in that it places primary importance on the building of new fully co-operative communities and inter-community co-operative exchange networks in a process of replacing the old system with the new. The emphasis is always the community with the universal developing outward as the community interacts with the surrounding. It's a bottom up holistic organizing process (all necessary social structures and social change programs developing from the awareness of the needs of the community instead of the traditional and more abstract elitist or cadre-type organizing method of leading existing social groupings of oppressed people towards seizure of political power. The difference may be seen more clearly by pointing towards two viewpoints of the existing oppressive society.

Militant socialism see existing society in terms of enemies running a monstrous social machine for their own gain and the oppression of the people's rights and needs. Viewed in this way it makes sense to direct social change energy towards building a militant political organization with a primary goal of overthrowing the existing system "by any means necessary". This method has the added advantage for long oppressed groups in that they develop a definite kind of dignity in everyone's eyes when it becomes apparent that they are serious and will not take shit any longer from the oppressors without a fight.

Communitarian socialism sees existing society in terms of a whole social system that has lost its ability to integrate the diversity of its society and the growing disparities between its internal sub-societies in their needs and desires. It's a social system well on the way to extinction groping now for new formulas for rebuilding itself in a last ditch stand to hold off the inevitable dissolution and birth of a new radically different social order. Communitarian socialism views the problem of social change means not in terms of overthrowing the existing society but replacing it.

The replacement process is non-violent and non-coercive and operates at whatever speed develops with the movement of people defecting from the old system and joining the new. In other words, the "revolution" is an evolutionary process dependent on the strength and vitality of new alternative communities to attract and hold a growing membership. The change-over from old to new proceeds along the lines of least resistance: communitarian society provides what the old system can't; better living conditions in terms of better living and working environments, better work schedules, better food, better learning situations, and above all, better social health through the development of more love between people's sharing life's joys and troubles in a positive friendship group living and learning experience. In an alienated and depressive society this is what people will turn to if the alternative is accessible to them. In America the alternatives are developing spontaneously and the resistance new communal groups meet with from the old society is negligible compared to that which has greeted the militant political activist groups. With organization these new communal groups can become realistic means of developing a way for large numbers of (the) population to see that alternatives do exist to a social system that increasingly cannot meet their needs. Communitarian socialism in practice becomes the way in which alternative communes develop into viable communities co-operatively interacting with each other forming a life-oriented, decentralized and humanistic society.

The communitarian socialist process of forming a holistic social change program is identical to and inseparable from the process of forming new communities and inter-community co-operative networks. The universal application grows out of the community building experience. It's a dialectical process in which people with common goals join together and co-operatively resolve contradictions in the means to attaining those goals in a spirit of reasonable give-and-take and being aware of what constitutes too radical a departure from an irreducible set of common goals. The main problem in the mechanics of this process is in opening up lines of communication between individuals and groups and keeping them open so that dialogue can take place. This is a process or series of events. Contradictions crop up all the time between people so the dialogue is on-going, never settled "once and for all". Dominant values and courses of activity concentration will no doubt be established however as the form and direction of the community-building social change process coalesce into an organic whole. The point is to keep the right balance going between stability or continuity and adaptability to new circumstances.

I have stressed throughout the need for a holistic social change viewpoint. Too often people involved in the struggle to bring in the new view the situation from one perspective failing to realize that there is an ecology of social relationships just as there is for natural relationships. Differing social change ideologies and programs will have to learn from each other. Communitarian socialism proceeds from the idea that coalition of social change ideologies and programs working together in concerted analysis and practicewill carry a much broader vision than any single ideology or social change agency can of itself. The chances for successful replacement of the old system should be multiplied. This lazer-like coalition models the diverse yet co-operative communal society to come and is itself modeled after the new community formation process. The idea here is "strength in unity" and following natural systems, "unity in diversity".

 

 

original drawing accompanying the notes above

 

 

More notes from the same time period as what I wrote above.

Communitarian socialism benefits from a simple and effective social organizing principle; co-operative federation. Co-operative federation underlies the formation process of all levels of communitarian society, from communes to communities of communes to inter-community co-operative networks on a regional and national scale. Co-operative federation is an open dialectical process in which people with common goals join together for mutual benefit and co-operatively resolve contradictions in the means to attaining those goals. The resolution process begins by establishing a mutual awareness of what constitutes too great a departure from an irreducible set of values and goals so that co-optive compromise does not take place* Prom this basis resolution can proceed to the establishment of dominant values and courses of activity concentration through a spirit of co-operative give-and-take and mutual respect for the differing sides. Since conditions change contradictions crop up all the time between people so the dialog process is open-ended and never settled once and all.

The main problem in the mechanics of this process is in opening up lines of communication between individuals and groups in the first place and then keeping them open so that dialogue can take place. Between people sharing similar values especially the co-operative ethic the dialogue process will work especially well. Between dissimilar groups the process becomes a positive encounter technique. Each side presents its general views and specific arguments in a purposefully long discussion or series of discussions until sham arguments fall away and truthful ones are at least clearly seen by all sides even if resolution of differences does not occur. Positive encounter techniques can and often do work however, and have been used by psychologist to successfully resolve many interpersonal and social conflict situations.

Communitarian socialism is confident of ultimate success in any conflict situation with American middleclass values and institutions. Communitarian socialism develops out of a matrix of social change Ideologies and methods inherited in Western and American middleclass tradition and experimentation. There is nothing alien in communitarian socialist goals or means to the best and most humanistic values of Western and American tradition. Communitarian socialism will succeed in transforming middleclass America where other socialist programs have failed.

 

Later notes.  (I noticed I dropped the hyphen in "co-operative"..) Some Reasons For a Holistic Social Change Organization

1. To present a multi-faceted yet unified criticism of death-oriented, exploitive commercial society.

2. To present a unified vision of a world-wide humanistic, life-oriented cooperative society.

3. To circumvent narrow single-issue ideologies dominating social change consciousness. "A holistic cooperative coalition organization must be able to present a better vision of what people need and want from radical social change than can any single social change organization by itself.

4. To synchronize and coordinate the social change energy within the diversity of the communal and cooperative movement. "The communal culture can only succeed in transforming commercial society through strong cooperative organization. "If you're not working with each other, you're working against each other", either directly through destructive criticism or indirectly through inaction. All social change programs here in America can only succeed by cooperatively joining forces. Cooperative coalition works like a lazar to release power within the presently "out-of-phase" communal movement which dissipates social change energy in isolated activity.

5. To provide fuller protective capacity for new communities through mutual aid.

6. To streamline or simplify the social change work tasks needed for a complete communal transformation so that all diverse cooperative groups can comprehend, identify with, and work together on the two greatest social experiments in history:

* The cooperative unification of humanity.

* The cooperative unification of all human communities with all communities of Life and the Earth itself.

 

My thoughts now in 2018 about what I wrote back in 1972.

"Learning experience" is right. Never again will I let a group of unrelated but solely ideologically affiliated people make major life decisions for me and my family. Not a good idea and I learned that the hard way. Yes, I am a communitarian, fully committed to the communitarian ideal and do practice when possible communitarian socialist principles but, and it is a big but, I am no longer advocating communal living as a universal lifestyle. Been there, done that. Not going back. It's not for me or for anyone who values being themselves with no additional mental and social strains that trying to deal with too many unrelated people in your home life naturally produces. Put it like this: I will live in a Tiny House on land trust land or in co-Housing but not on on most communes. A Communltarian Castle, now that I might consider - - a huge main hall with balconies ringing it two or three stories above. Individual rooms with small kitchenettes, full baths in each individual suite, work space, and large central kitchen and dining downstairs, along with reading and movie/TV room. Huge fireplace at one end. Communergy room for communication center. A moat with fish and ducks and friendly animals, perhaps a plesiosaur or anaconda or two, the whole castle's wreathed in living vines, trees, shrubs, greenery all through out, no carpets but peat and bark pathways, soil outside them and only patches for chairs and tables and whatnot for people. In other words, there are animals running around all over the place, they too are working right along with human beings in eco-designed symbiotic relationships for cleaning up and fertilizing plants, things like that they do naturally. There, that sort of commune, ok, I'll join it.

I do think one of the big reasons the Communal Movement has not grown as we communitarians back then hoped it would is because the communal lifestyle just doesn't work for individuals whose culture values are, and not without reason, self-sufficiency and individuality above community. But an individualism that is not above family though, which is why biological families last while communal ones have not. Communal membership turn over is high. I want a communitarian social change program that most Americans can find attractive without a lot of intellectual soul-searching which Americans do not do much anyway. The Communitarian alternative either attracts people, a lot of them, or it stagnates, holding on because the idea's too good to die, but doesn't grow like it should. Sort of like Gnostic Christianity that way. We can't concentrate on just organic gardening, alternative home-building and living but on replacing Everything; concentrate on making good alternatives to everything that's wrong with regular industrial corporate capitalist society but who's function is necessary for individual and community well-being. We have to Replace, Replace, Replace, everything that costs too much, breaks too soon, uses too much of our shared natural resources, pollutes too much. And we have to Stop producing Super Rich bozos milking the dysfunctional system that awards the pure luck individual sitting on a mass market item toll gate to collect an enormous fee while the mass item systems actually need thousands, millions of people for anyone to make a dime. We need to start producing alternatives to Facebook* and Amazon. That's the idea, and then check out Communitarian Club.

* March Update 2018: Hey! Somebody heard me! Facebook's in hot water right now and losing major support, going down maybe because of leaking Facebook members' personal info onto Ruskies who in turn manipulated the last U.S. presidential election looking more and more like Russians getting into U.S. Presidential office the most P.O.S. President in American history - -

 

 

 

 

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