The Private-Property Sharing, Cross-Class Model of Intentional Community
A. Allen Butcher
For presentation at the thirteenth triennial International Communal Studies Association (ICSA) Conference, July, 2019, Hudson, NY • Portions of this paper first appeared in the author’s 2016 book The Intentioneers’ Bible ([book:chapter] II:5, III:10, V:3, V:5, V:6, VI:15), and in the article “Class-Harmony Community” in Communities: Life in Cooperative Culture (issue 178, spring 2018, pp. 61-3) .
About 4,500 words in the body of text.
From Bias Against to Recognition of Class-Harmony
Among the various forms of intentional community, the common practice of mutual aid among rich and poor is an old story; although not well understood and rarely emphasized. Typically, community movements focus upon either the ideal of class-less communalism, as in the egalitarian communities’ processes of labor-sharing and their sharing of commonly-owned property, or they focus upon class-homogeneity as in cohousing communities comprised mostly of middle-class people enjoying the processes of labor-gifting and the sharing of privately-owned property. Yet there have also always been forms of intentional community in which people of different economic classes have shared either privately-owned or commonly-owned property, or both, which is the class-harmony community model.
Disparities in wealth and privilege need not divide people when those of different socio-economic status develop ways to communicate for common understanding, and thereby gain trust in each other for gifting and sharing in community. This is not a new idea. Class-harmony is a common form of both religious and secular intentional community; it simply has not been recognized, named, and advocated until recently, as people’s attention has been monopolized by communalism, historically, and more recently by cooperatives, land trusts, cohousing, and ecovillages. In the same way that these various forms of intentional community attracted interest and involvement into separate movements, so also may class-harmony community develop its own community movement as people learn about, understand, and practice the lessons of a fascinating story of communitarianism, which has existed from ancient times to the present.
Class-harmony community is often discounted as a presumptive, specious, pretentious pseudo-community. Many activists within and watchers of the intentional community movements, including the present author, have tended to disregard class-harmony communities as pretenders to an ideal they cannot achieve, rather than as a genuine, authentic, legitimate expression of sharing and cooperation. For example, probably the first author to directly address the class-harmony community model is Diana Leafe Christian in her 2003 book titled, Creating a Life Together, in which she wrote,
If you’re a property owner seeking to create community on your land, … Be willing to release total control and find ways for people to become fully participating, responsibility-sharing fellow community members. And if you cannot or don’t want to release full control but still want [to] live in close proximity with others, please do so and enjoy it—but don’t advertise it as a “community.”! (Christian, p. 24)
Ten years later, Jennifer Ladd quoted Christian’s comments above in what may have been the first article presenting class-harmony community, and the various challenges and lessons of the model. In her Communities magazine article titled, “Yes, Wealthy People Want to Live in Community in Sustainable Ways Too! Fourteen suggestions from those who are trying it,” Ladd called the upper-class owners of the shared property “primary funders,” and the community model “cross-class projects.” Ladd explains the motivations of the primary funders in writing that,
Many people with wealth are looking for ways to leverage their resource for good—to help heal the environment and to support the emergence of a new culture based on cooperation and collaboration. And so wealthy people are playing a role, with others, in the growth of intentional communities and other collective working and living projects. (Ladd, 2013, p. 36)
Five years after that article, Jennifer Ladd presented in a 2018 Communities magazine article a little about the work she and her cofounder, Felice Yeskel, had done through their company called Class Action (see: http://www.classism.org) to help a just-forming (2005) cohousing community, Rocky Hill (MA), resolve their class and money issues. Their process involved: identifying four goals for the process; having each person answer two questions about personal attitudes toward money and class; and identifying a number of next steps.
Interestingly, one of the exercises the two Class Action facilitators put the Rocky Hill community members through in 2005 had also been used to help the communal Twin Oaks Community (VA) clarify its issues involving their community design in 1976. While at Twin Oaks the group-process facilitators had members line up “according to the way they saw their ideological relationship to each other—close, if they agreed, and distant, if they disagreed” (Komar, p. 94), at Rocky Hill Cohousing the facilitators asked members to line up “according to their self-defined class background when they were 12 years old” (Ladd, 2018, p. 27). In some way, evidently, physically standing in line close to those with whom one shares similar ideals and socio-economic backgrounds, and further from those one considers to be of different orientation and experience, helped these two very different communities along their respective paths to finding unity in the problematic diversity of their ideological attachments and socio-economic class status.
Yana Ludwig expresses the importance of cross-class solidarity, or class-harmony, in her 2019 Communities article “Cross-Class Cooperation and Land Access.” She recognizes the problem that not being able to acquire land and housing prevents the accumulation of both financial assets or wealth, and social capital in the form of community.
I think it is increasingly important to not only talk about the role class privilege plays in our movement, but also celebrate the ways that cross-class cooperation can be a form of solidarity that is very much needed at this time. Land access is a fundamental barrier to many things in the US: being able to grow your own food, being able to build equity and wealth, being able to have a direct and daily relationship with the natural world, and being able to start an intentional community are just a few areas in which lack of enough wealth to own property further limits our capacity to have our dreams become realities. (Ludwig, p. 25)
While Diana Christian, Jennifer Ladd, and Yana Ludwig are all talking about very different forms of intentional community, class-harmony, cohousing, and community land trusts, respectively, the common themes are the problems of land acquisition and tenure: who buys it and who controls it. Ludwig’s land trusts place their land in a form of legal common ownership with parcels or units (whether land, houses, apartments, or rooms) leased to individuals and families. Ladd’s cohousing communities place the land in a form of “undivided” private-property ownership, and Christian’s landlords rent rooms, apartments, or houses to individuals and families. While Diana Christian expresses a bias against landlord-owned communities, it can be difficult for working class people to afford to build a house on land leased from a trust or to buy into a cohousing community, leaving renting the only option for the working class to enjoy intentional community.
Community for Working-Class Nuclear and Single-Parent Families, and Young Adults
For working-class people, especially if they have children, renting is often the only way they can live in community. Communal groups, particularly secular ones, often do not accept new members with children. East Wind Community (MO) votes on each of its members’ announced pregnancies as to whether or not the community will support the child, with those losing the vote having to get an abortion or leave the community. While a working-class family may be able to rent a unit in a cohousing or land trust community they often cannot afford to purchase or build a housing unit in one of those communities. What remains open to working-class nuclear and single-parent families is class-harmony community where someone else provides the funding for land purchase and construction so that all the family has to do is pay rent.
An estimate of the extent of the class-harmony community format within the intentional communities movement is seen in the Communities article (fall 2017, no. 176) by Sky Blue and Betsy Morris titled, “Tracking the Communities Movement: 70 Years of History and the Modern FIC.” The authors include a category in their analysis of the 2016 FIC Communities Directory listings which they call “Shared House/Cohousehold/Coliving,” yet they do not explain this category as they do the other forms. The authors report that this type of community accounts for 31 percent of the Directory listings. Only cohousing had a larger showing at 39 percent. (Blue & Morris, p. 17)
In the 2016 Communities Directory Sky Blue and Betsy Morris count 738 U.S. intentional communities, of which 194 or 26% are forming (i.e., < 4 adults existing < 2 years), leaving 544 or 74% “established” communities. Of the 544 groups with 4 or more adults existing two years or more, 170 or about 31% are classified by Blue and Morris as “Shared House/Cohousehold/Coliving.” (Blue & Morris, p. 17)
Another way to count the number of class-harmony communities in the FIC Directory is to simply count the number of groups reporting that just one person or a small group owns the land. Of the 738 total U.S. communities in the 2016 Directory, 154 communities or 21 percent indicated that their land is owned by an individual or a subgroup of members.
What accounts for the difference above between Blue’s and Morris’ 31 percent Shared House/Cohousehold/Coliving groups and the present author’s 21 percent individual or subgroup ownership in class-harmony community? Part of the discrepancy is how groups are listed and counted, and part is the different definitions that people use for terms like “shared-housing” and “coliving.” Hopefully the 2020 Communities Directory will be redesigned for easier analysis.
Consider the issues of the definitions of terms and of the classification of communities. Most likely Blue and Morris did not include Ganas Community (NY) in their category of Shared House/Cohousehold/Coliving communities, while the present author does consider Ganas to be a class-harmony community. Ganas has a unique structure in which a communal subgroup of about ten people own the houses and rooms rented to about 70 other people. Clearly there are two classes of Ganas members, the owners and the renters, with the owners functioning as communal-capitalists in this unique form of class-harmony community.
Along with the Ganas model of a small communal-ownership subgroup renting to a larger number of non-owner members is another form of class-harmony community with the reverse of the Ganas model. Consider that in the Camphill Village communities the members live communally, sharing commonly-owned property controlled by non-profit, tax-exempt organizations and supported by a large group of funders who contribute money and time while generally not living in the communal society. The summer 2019 Camphill Foundation newsletter reported that this year over $357, 000 was granted to eighteen Camphill groups around the world. Since its founding in 1966 the Camphill Foundation has made $9.3 million in grants and low-interest loans to Camphill communities. Clearly, the Camphill community model involves a class of funders supporting a class of less-wealthy members. The Camphill financing model provides an excellent model for what Matthew Bishop and Michael Green call “philanthrocapitalism” in their 2008 book by that title, encouraging the use of private wealth for the public good. (Bishop & Green, p. ix; Camphill Foundation, 2019, see: https://camphillfoundation.org/grantmaking/#grantees).
The class-harmony community category is comprised of a broad range of different ownership forms. While Blue’s and Morris’ category of “Shared House/Cohousehold/Coliving” communities probably does not include Ganas or Camphill, and none of Blue’s and Morris’ three types of communities perfectly fit the present author’s small community comprised of four apartments called the Dry Gulch Ecovillage (Butcher, pp. 61-3), it is unclear exactly what all is included in the term “coliving.”
Consider the article in the July 8, 2019 San Francisco Chronicle by J.K. Dineen titled “Co-living Tower in SOMa [i.e., South Market] could Usher in Wave of Innovative Housing Projects,” which describes a “270-bed co-living building … [The] $90 million project will be 16-stories tall. Residents will pay $2,000 to $2,400 [per month] for the market-rate rooms … The idea is to create an instant community for the young workers flocking to jobs in San Francisco … [City-wide] there are about 3,700 co-living beds in operation and 9,300 in the pipeline … This doesn’t include … collectives that have long thrived in the Bay Area.” That is $2k to $2.4k per month just for a bed-space, not even a room with a door, with shared bathroom, lounge, and kitchen. While people appreciate the long-term-hostel-like experience for a while, there is evidently a high turn-over rate of coliving residents. Other cities with large coliving projects include Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. (Dineen, 2019)
As with any growing social movement, the expressions of class-harmony community and the names describing them can be many and varied, actually causing confusion around and therefore limited understanding of the social phenomenon of a continually developing life-style pattern. The most common names for the class-harmony model of intentional community include: coliving, cohouseholding, cross-class community, and shared-housing.
Property-Sharing Continuum (i.e.: real estate, chattels, and money)
Shared Commonly-Owned Property Shared Privately-Owned Property
⃒ ⃒ ⃒ ⃒
Communal Society: Economically-Diverse: Equity-Sharing: Class-Harmony:
• Monasteries • indigenous tribalism • housing co-ops • coliving
• Hutterites/Bruderhof • community land trust • cohousing • cohouseholding
• Twelve Tribes • shared-housing
• Federation of Egalitarian Communities • cross-class comm.
• Ganas Comm. (NY)
• Camphill comm.
The term “class-harmony community” is offered as an umbrella term inclusive of others, as it is descriptive of the basic concept of including two or more economic classes of participation or involvement, while at the same time emphasizing what class-harmony is not; specifically disassociating the class-harmony communitarian model from communist class-conflict.
Classical communism emphasizes class-war as a necessary first phase toward what Marxist-communist theory traditionally considers the ideal of non-class or class-less communalism in its projected second phase. In contrast, class-harmony is affirmed as the primary aspect of the form of intentional community first disparaged and disrespected by Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) as “utopian socialist.” While the late 18th century and early 19th century utopian theorists such as Count Claude Henri de Rouvroy de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), Robert Owen (1771-1858), Charles Fourier (1772-1837), and Etienne Cabet (1788-1858) all expressed different versions of class-harmony community, Marx and Engels attacked class-harmony as naïve and simplistic. (Butcher, 2016, V:6)
In the section of Marx’s 1848 The Communist Manifesto called, “Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism” he refers to communitarians such as the followers of Owen, Fourier, and the others as “mere reactionary sects,” saying that they are in opposition to the progressive historical development of the proletariat or working-class. (Ebenstein, p. 740; Tucker, p. 499)
They, therefore, endeavor, and that consistently, to deaden the class struggle and to reconcile the class antagonisms. They still dream of experimental realization of their social Utopias … and to realize all these castles in the air, they are compelled to appeal to the feelings and purses of the bourgeois [i.e., capitalist ownership class]. (Ebenstein, p. 740; Tucker, p. 499)
One of the biggest problems for intentional communities, particularly the communal form, is earning or attracting sufficient financing. While communal groups like East Wind and Twin Oaks communities have to build businesses to support themselves, other groups like cohousing communities attract people who can qualify for 20-year mortgages to build the community. This access to financing results in cohousing communities being built in a matter of a few years, while communal community takes a few decades to build a similar size community. Thus, class-harmony communities, like cohousing sharing privately-owned property while borrowing from banks or credit unions, and like Camphill sharing commonly-owned property donated by individual funders, can grow at a rate ten times faster than communal groups having to earn development capital in their own businesses. Access to development capital is not the only reason why communities sharing private property are more numerous and grow faster than communal groups sharing common property, yet it is an important factor.
Frank and Fritzie Manuel probably wrote the most detailed criticism of Marx’ and Engels’ hypocritical attitude toward “utopian socialists” in their 1979 book, Utopian Thought in the Western World. Like the communitarian scholar and kibbutz member, Yaacov Oved, the Manuel’s use the term “sneer” in describing Marx’ and Engels’ comments about the communitarians. Oved writes about Engels in his 1988 book, Two Hundred Years of American Communes, that, “He openly sneered at utopian experiments,” while the Manuels state that Engels’ writing titled in part, Anti-Duhring (1878) is, “spotted with similar sneers.” That is, sneers like calling communitarian settlements, “optimum little republics.” The Manuels point out that Marx’ and Engels’ Communist Manifesto is utopian, and that, “on occasion even they might lapse into utopian glossolalia.” (Manuel & Manuel, pp. 699-700; Oved, p. 428)
Historical and Future Class-Harmony
Class-harmony community is an old idea used by both religious and secular groups. The oldest such recorded community may be Homakoeion at what is now Crotone in south Italy, founded about 530 B.C. by the Greek mystic and mathematician Pythagoras (581-497 B.C.).
At about age fifty Pythagoras created a philosophical school after traveling around the Ancient World learning from various cultures, including women’s spiritual traditions at the Oracle of Delphi. At Crotone, Pythagoras’ school accepted women as well as men, giving both training in philosophy and literature, such that “Pythagorean Women,” who were also instructed in the domestic arts, were “honored by antiquity as the highest feminine type that Greece ever produced.” Intentional communities designed around schools has been a reoccurring theme ever since, with Findhorn in Scotland being the best contemporary example. (Durant, 1939, p. 162; see also Butcher, 2016, II:5)
The rise of Christianity in the Western World provides a number of later examples of class-harmony community. Christianity itself has always been welcoming of people of all socio-economic backgrounds, from slaves to property-owners.
An early example of Christian class-harmony community is the mid-15th century Unity of Brethren in Bohemia (now in the northwestern part of the Czech Republic), later called the Moravian Church. The Moravian Brethren were Christians who separated from the Catholic Church to live closer to the ideals of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, thus earning their persecution by the Church. Christian Pietism grew from the idea of unifying various Christian sects surviving the persecutions against the Anabaptists, with the German Pietist Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760) inviting the remnants of the Moravian Brethren to settle on his estate in Saxony, Germany, founding Herrnhut in 1722, meaning “under the Lord’s watch.” Many of the Moravian Brethren later immigrated to America creating communal communities in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. (Butcher, 2016, III:10)
The best-documented Christian class-harmony communities are those of the Anabaptist Hutterites. Several times in their history they were invited to settle on the estates of nobles who avoided control by the higher powers of the day, specifically the Holy Roman Empire, which persecuted the Hutterites for their practice of “re-baptizing” adults. Because they were industrious in developing their communal villages, and because there was not a strong union between church and state in Moravia (now the eastern part of the Czech Republic) the Hutterites were invited soon after their founding in the 16th century by some of the lords of Moravia to build colonies on their land. Eventually succumbing to the dictates of the Holy Roman Emperor the Moravian lords ejected the Hutterites from their land. In the early 17th century some Hutterites were abducted from Moravia to live on and develop land owned by a Transylvanian prince in Romania. Jesuit persecution of the Hutterites there pushed the 18th century Hutterites into what is now southern Romania, then part of the Ottoman Empire controlled by Moslem rulers practicing religious tolerance. When the Russian army pushed the Ottomans out of the region one of the Russian generals invited the Hutterites to settle on his land near Kiev in the Ukraine. When later Russian officials decided to take away their earlier assurance that the Hutterites would not be conscripted for military service, the Hutterites began moving to the Northern Plains American states and Canadian provinces in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. (Butcher, 2016, III:10)
With the Industrial Revolution class-harmony community became a means for the working-class to benefit from the rise of mechanized industry. During the early Industrial Revolution in first England then later in France, Germany, America and elsewhere, both class-harmony and class-conflict arose in response to the resulting poverty and debasement of the dispossessed and deprived underclass. When there was no social safety net like welfare the British people created by at least the 1790s various mutual aid societies like “trade clubs” and “voluntary mutual sickness and life insurance companies” referred to as “Friendly Societies.” (Garnett, pp. 11-2)
With the Friendly Societies and earlier cultural solidarity practices arose the cooperative movement; one of the primary leaders and organizers being the Welsh industrialist Robert Owen (1771-1858). Owen and others sought to expand social solidarity functions into forms of non-capitalist economics via forms of labor exchanges and alternative currency systems. Owen’s New Lanark mill-town community in Scotland attracted much attention at the time, as did his most famous later experimental community New Harmony in early 19th century Indiana. While Owen lost a large portion of his wealth in New Harmony trying to create a communal society, a non-monetary economic tradition was begun by Josiah Warren at New Harmony which Donald Pitzer calls the “Time Store Cooperative Movement” lasting from 1833 to 1863. Warren’s labor-exchange communities all involved private property with no or little common ownership, the largest and longest-lived being Modern Times (NY) lasting twelve years. (Pitzer, pp. 123, 133, n. 109). Warren’s ideas later appeared in different forms in Edward Bellamy’s 1888 utopian fiction Looking Backward, then B. F. Skinner’s 1948 book Walden Two, which inspired Kathleen Kinkade’s vacation-credit labor system developed at Twin Oaks Community in 1967 for their communal economy, still used today at Twin Oaks and in other groups of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.
While Owen’s inspiration was creating class-harmony communities in Great Britain and America, in France a different type of class-harmony community was being developed. Edward Spann explains in his 1989 book Brotherly Tomorrows that while Owen’s communities tended to be paternalistic, making members dependent upon the owners of their communities’ real estate and investment capital while idealizing communal ownership, Charles Fourier’s influence in France emphasized private property. Charles Fourier (1772-1837) invented the term “feminism” and wrote that “the extension of the privileges of women is the fundamental cause of all social progress.” (Beecher & Bienvenu, p. 196; Butcher, 2016, V:3; Riasanovsky, p. 208; Spann, p. 84)
Inspired partly by Charles Fourier’s concept of “passional attraction,” which included the idea of making work as attractive as possible, Jean Baptiste Godin (1817-1888) began as a blacksmith then “made a fortune as a manufacturer of iron stoves in Guise, northeast of Paris …, began in 1859 to build a … ‘Social Palace’ … Godin instituted a system of profit-sharing based on the Fourierist formula for the division of profits among capital, talent, and labor. [The Social Palace] he intended would eventually be managed and owned by the workers.” (Spann, pp. 164-5)
Dolores Hayden includes drawings of the Social Palace in her 1981 book The Grand Domestic Revolution, and points out that 350 workers and their families lived in the Social Palace in Guise, France, buying supplies from cooperative shops and enjoying the community’s restaurant, café, theater, developmental nursery and schools, profit-sharing, and sickness and old-age insurance. Marie Stevens Case Howland translated Godin’s writings, and wrote in her own book about the Social Palace, first called Papa’s Own Girl later re-titled The Familistére, ideas which Hayden says seems to have influenced Edward Bellamy in his 1888 utopian fiction Looking Backward. (Butcher, 2016, V:5; Hayden, pp. 37, 96-100, 136)
The historical examples above provide highlights in the history of class-harmony community. Another highpoint to acknowledge is the origin of a term which encompasses the entire range of Owenite theory from class-harmony to communalism, and that of many other cultural theorists, reformers, and commentators ever since. While today there are different definitions for the term “socialist,” an understanding of the original definition can be interpreted from its first use in the Owenite journal The London Cooperative Magazine (see accompanying graphic).
In his 1948 article, “The Evolution of the Socialist Vocabulary,” printed in the Journal of the History of Ideas, Arthur Bestor writes that the noun “socialist” was first printed in 1827, while “the form ‘socialism’ did not appear in England until 1837.” Note in the graphic below that “socialists” is juxtaposed with the term “communionists,” which Bestor interprets as a religious term originating in 1644 to refer to intentional community members or communitarians. The term “communitarian,” Bestor states, was first printed November 13, 1841 in the London Times. (Bestor, pp. 277, 278 n. 103, 280; see accompanying graphic)
While today the term “socialism” is resurgent in concepts like “democratic socialism,” referring to a political-economic design of nation-states, its original use was for describing alternative, civil-society constructs outside of Church and State. As such, cooperative and communitarian societies which originally inspired the terms “socialist” and “socialism” have an etymological “ownership” of them. With the bi-centennial of the first use of “socialist” coming up in less than a decade this provides an opportunity for the communities movements to reclaim their own history in a way that will bring the tradition of alternative, radical, counter-cultural, civil-society experimentation and development to the public consciousness in order to contribute to the current and future desire and need to build post-capitalist political-economic structures.
The coming 2027 Socialist Bi-Centennial provides an opportunity for the communities movements to create educational campaigns to support the continuing need to construct political-economies that respect social justice, which began in early Christianity and developed along with the Industrial Revolution and now the Information Age, along with the more recent concern for ecological sustainability. While all forms of intentional community fit the original meaning of the term “socialist,” the class-harmony form may be the best for attracting financial support from philanthrocapitalists.
A 2027 Socialist Bi-Centennial educational campaign highlighting the concept of class-harmony may be an important method for carrying on resistance to both rapacious capitalism and to cultural conservative’s sneer that gifting and sharing societies are Marxist-communist. Much has changed in the last two-hundred years, yet much remains the same. There is today the same need as ever to build political-economic-social structures which respect people’s highest ideals and ethical standards; and if anything, the need is becoming increasingly urgent. If a socially just and sustainable utopia is not achieved before the coming 21st Century Dark Age, perhaps at least the foundation can be laid for a utopian renaissance after the apocalypse of the 6th Great Extinction, now threatening human civilization.
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