Thoughts on Communal Living
Published in Social Anarchism #25, 1998
I recently spent a year working and living at a homeless shelter in New Mexico. At the shelter, I met many people who had lived or were currently living in communal settings. Their life styles were as various as the number of people that I spoke with. Some existed in view of the state, others did not. Some had achieved self-sufficiency, others were less concerned by it.
This past December I saw Peter Lamboorn Wilson's Chaos Day Lecture at the Libertarian Book Club in New York City, where he spoke of the current relevence of (I think the last?) Proudhon book Federalism. In which Proudhon advocates secession, for either one or many, as effective anarchy. Recalling all the people I had listened to at the shelter, it occurred to me that some degree of secession is fairly easy even in todays statist, commercial society. However, the very existence of such communities illustrates to me that property is not the "theft" that Proudhon thought it, but the means to the anarchy he saw in secession.
Now certainly some will say that this form of anarchy is open only to those with the ability to purchase land, however, nearly all of the people that I spoke with took pride in telling the story of how their group had acquired property despite their limited resources. One guy I spoke with claimed to have recently purchased several acres in Northern New Mexico at five-hundred dollars per acre, though I never did confirm this (and to be honest, some of the shelter's guests did have a knack for bending the truth). Now living in Jersey City, I've heard similiar stories out of North and West Philiadelphia, and the South Bronx.
A society based on private property allows for a broad range of material desires; those for whom happiness means a diamond ring on their finger and for those who are happily unemployed. This is not true for a society based on collective ownership; without the Upper West Side there is no Lower East Side. Recalling what my anarchist (little a) Uncle John once said (and he probably got it from someone himself) "wealth is really just another form of expression."
Might we anarchists have the same tolerance for those who express themselves with material goods as we ask of them regarding our various forms of expression?
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