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What is a Commune?

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  • Written By: Alan Rankin
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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A commune is a house, property or community shared by people with similar interests or goals. It is a type of intentional community but, unlike other such communities, residents of a commune share income, resources, property rights and work responsibilities. The commune became widely known in the 1960s as part of the hippie counterculture. While some of these communes still exist, many modern communes cover a wide variety of social structures.

Communes have existed for hundreds of years. Religious monasteries, in fact, are a form of commune, because the members share work, food, living areas and similar goals. During the early 20th century, Jewish refugees in Palestine formed collective farming settlements called kibbutzim, many of which still exist in modern-day Israel. Although the kibbutz has changed much in modern times, most began as communes in which the sharing of labor and resources was rigidly enforced.

In the United States, New York’s Oneida and Pennsylvania’s Harmony were communes that formed around religious figures or beliefs in the 1800s. These and other communes were social experiments that generally did not last into the 20th century. In the 1960s, members of the counterculture questioned aspects of mainstream culture and began seeking alternatives. The commune was revived, in America and elsewhere, as living space for those who shared alternative social, political or lifestyle beliefs.

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Founders of a commune are generally social acquaintances who believe they can accomplish their goals more effectively in a group setting than as individuals. Depending on the size of the group, they may share a single house or acquire property sufficient for multiple households. New members must generally meet the approval of all current members before being allowed to join. Likewise, decisions affecting the commune must be reached by consensus, that is, by the agreement of all members. Many communes seek a true democratic structure and resist having a central authority figure or figures, although this is often easier in theory than in practice.

In some communes, individual ownership of property or income is rare or forbidden; everything must be shared equally among the group. Each member must contribute labor toward communal projects, such as property upkeep or tending the commune’s garden. Many communes promote economic and environmental independence from society at large. Some are also geared toward a spiritual path and may disapprove of behavior that is not in line with the group’s religious practices. Every commune is different, however, and popular media portrayals of communes as fringe, cultish or hippie environments overlook the many successful communes that are none of those things.

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