3 Ways Communal Living is Revolutionary

Revolutionary acts often takes forms you may not expect. You don’t have to start a spontaneous thousand-person march or liberate academic journal articles for the public to freely access. Living a revolutionary life can start with choosing where you lay your head at night.

What’s the highest number of housemates you’ve had at any one time? Three? Six? What about 12?

At our communal house we have 12 housemates. We call the house The Academy, because it’s where we’re all learning about life.

Here are three ways that communal living is revolutionary:

#1 Decision Making

Quiet hours are decided by consensus, so the late night socialites and the early birds are all happy. (Writing in the mountain-area says: "We invite you to be quieter... like this landscape.")

Quiet hours are decided by consensus, so the late night socialites and the early birds are all happy. (Writing in the mountain-area says: “We invite you to be quieter… like this landscape.”)

There’s a lot of decisions to make when you’re living with 12 people. Who is going to do each chore? How much do rooms cost? Do we want to have a big potluck gathering this weekend? How do we create more bonding time for housemates? When should the common spaces quiet down? Do we want to invite a particular person to live with us or not? And the most common question of all: How do we keep the kitchen clean?

How do we keep things moving with so many voices? Perhaps one “benevolent dictator” could decide everything, then no one would have to expend much energy. Or perhaps we could all vote on topics, and the majority would get their way, and the minority would just deal with it.

What works best for us is to use a consensus decision making model, where we strive for unanimous agreement, and settle for an overwhelming majority in agreement. When someone has an idea that might effect the whole house, they make a proposal, we hear concerns, and adjust the proposal until we reach consensus. The objective is to give everyone an opportunity for their voice and opinions to be a part of the decisions we make. When people are in open, respectful communication with one another, it’s a far more pleasant space to live in.

We all moved into this house by our own free will, and we all work together to keep it clean, comfortable, and playful. There’s no need for us to surrender some of our power over to a “leader” who directs us. What would it be like to live in a society where this were the case everywhere? Where people freely associated for their mutual benefit, and no person was able to wield power over another person.

#2 Community-centered

The fruits of a food liberation operation from a nearby dumpster.

The fruits of a food liberation operation from a nearby dumpster.

The United States has a proudly individual-centered culture. There is an understandable appeal to having individual rights and access to any item whenever you want it. But, is this “me focused” attitude creating the most vibrant, thriving world possible?

When you live in a community, your focus begins to shift from “what’s good for me” to “what is good for us?” Each person shares an interest in the well-being of everyone in the house. If someone hears about an offer for free compost, they pass it along because even though they don’t garden, they eat the food we grow. When we are in abundance, especially after liberating food from nearby dumpsters, we share the abundance with everyone.

In this culture, we are scarce on examples of what it looks like to give attention to the needs of a community as well as ourselves. When we live communally, we have the opportunity to practice this on a daily basis.

#3 Mutual Aid
In our community, we share resources and share the work. We purchase food as a group and share in the shopping. We cook food together and share the meals. We all clean the house, and there is less to clean because the work is spread out. A few housemates have offered to have their vehicle be the “community car,” so now there are fewer vehicles on the road, and we still have access to one if we really need it. And it’s common for housemates to offer up beds that aren’t in use to visitors and friends.

Sharing shopping and food makes life more simple and easy for everyone.

Sharing shopping and food makes life more simple and easy for everyone.

We don’t need a dozen refrigerators, a dozen sets of kitchenware, a dozen shovels, or a dozen copies of a book. We just need one, and we all share, saving everyone money, reducing waste, and building more interdependency.

By cooperating on a small scale, we are demonstrating our vision of a society built around mutual aid, where each person helps others and receives help from them, and everyone benefits.

Community is Revolutionary
Living a revolutionary life is all about challenging the existing power structures and creating something new. Living in a community house is a revolutionary act for that very reason. Out with the old, in with the new. Community houses won’t create a thriving world on their own, but each house is a beacon of light, sharing an inspiring vision of what it looks like to focus on “we” instead of “me.”

There are all kinds of options for communal living: rent a bigger apartment/house than you’re used to, move in to a co-op house, or share rooms in the place you already have. Each additional person is a new person to learn from and another contributor to the creation of vibrant community.

How could/does communal living benefit you and your loved ones? Let us know in the comments.

How would decisions be made?

We received the first question for this blog! Here goes:

My question is, in Anarchy, how are large and small scale decisions made? How are significant disagreements adjudicated?  What happens if people are unable to come to a consensus (or a group blocks consensus)? – Ted

Thanks so much for the question Ted! This is an important question that gets to the heart of what is unique about anarchy. There’s a lot to unpack there, so I’m going to answer it in multiple posts, starting with decision-making.

Well, what’s wrong with the current system?

Obama_Health_Care_Speech_to_Joint_Session_of_CongressI’m sure many people could give a list of things that are wrong with the current US political system: lobbying rules, money in politics, corporate personhood, widening political divide, corrupt media, obstructionist republicans, and the list goes on. (For simplicity, I’m only talking about the US and only politics. Many decisions are made outside of politics, in corporate boardrooms for example, that citizens have zero say in.) Some people would say that once we fix some of these problems the political system would work again. They believe the system is fundamentally good, but currently broken.

But what if the system isn’t broken? What if it is designed to work this way? In a system based on hierarchy, where some people have more power than others, aren’t corruption and political tricks the eventual outcome? In a capitalist system based on the accumulation of wealth by the few, can’t we expect that the rich will have far greater influence over politics than the poor? Even if you could fix some of these symptoms (no small task in itself), wouldn’t corporations and politicians just find new holes to exploit? (or even reopen old ones!).

“In a system where people compete for wealth and the power that comes with it, the ones who are the most ruthless in their pursuit are the ones who end up with the most of both. Thus the capitalist system encourages deceit, exploitation, and cutthroat competition, and rewards those who go to those lengths by giving them the most power and the greatest say in what goes on in society.” – CrimethInc

Instead of constantly trying to correct a system pointed in the wrong direction (“Well yes pure capitalism is awful, we just need to regulate it more”), let’s start with a new system pointed in the right direction! A system that is inherently fair, just, and ensures the most freedom for everyone! Why start with something we don’t want and then try to water it down?

Hierarchy, capitalism, and nation-states have all had a good run. Throughout human history they have been tried in many different ways. And thousands of years later they still fail catastrophically in terms of equality, justice, and freedom. How much longer do we keep trying to fix the broken system before we throw it out and try something new?

“An oppressive system cannot be reformed, it must be entirely cast aside” – Nelson Mandela

So how would decisions be made in anarchy?

The easiest and the most accurate answer is also the most frustrating: No one knows, and no one can know. Anarchy does not lay out specific processes for how society would run because deciding things beforehand is another form of control and hierarchy. Those living in an anarchist society would decide for themselves how they want to make decisions. This means the decision-making system could evolve over time to meet the needs of the community.

“Real freedom means creating the choices you choose between” – CrimethInc

I know that’s not very satisfactory. Unfortunately there is no easy answer, so let’s answer it together: In your highest vision for society, how would you want decisions to be made? Seriously think about it. It’s easy to accept or critique other systems, but it is much more engaging to try and come up with a new one from scratch.


Thankfully, some people have put forth new ideas, so you can see what an anarchist society might look like.

In the novel The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin imagines an anarchist society with very little structure: people see what needs to be done and they do it. There is a council that discusses the issues facing society, and suggests possible resolutions. However, because there is no central authority and no way to enforce any decisions, they are really only suggestions. Everyone does what they think is best, and if there are problems, they work it out with each other.

“Is it not the most brutal imposition for one set of people to make laws that another set is coerced by force to obey?” – Emma Goldman

Another model I’ve heard of is called Participism. It describes cascading levels of councils where decisions are made: There’d be one for a neighborhood, then one for a city, then a larger region, and a larger region, etc. with each one making decisions for that area. However, to maintain direct democracy and local control, local councils would have the most say over what happens in their area and could veto decisions by higher councils (the opposite of current democracy, where the larger levels trump the local will). Participism council levelsCouncil members could be recalled at any time by the people they represent, and there would be very strict term limits so no one could gain too much power. This model provides a structure similar to current models of representative democracy, while addressing some of the problems with centralizing power.

What would you want?

I’m sure there are many more examples and many more models out there. What’s great is that all of them could be valid representations of anarchy! It depends on what we as a community want, and what works. A flexible form of decision-making would enable society to focus on what works best for the problems facing people now and in the future, instead of maintaining arbitrary laws or processes designed to address the problems of past.

Have you heard of any other societal decision making models? And more importantly, what would you want to live with? Share them in the comments or email us!

I hope this satisfied the question Ted (If not, let us know)! We’ll answer the other questions soon!

Private Property

field fence

When I imagine an Anarchist society, one of the main things I notice is that everything is freely shared by everyone and there is no private property.

Some people get very concerned at the idea of no private property. People like their stuff and they wouldn’t want to lose it. I think some people imagine that without private property they’d be living in the forest without any possessions, scrounging for food with only the clothes on their back.

But there is an important difference between ownership and use. People can use things without owning them. And what we really want is to use things.

Scarcity models of property

What if you could have full use of all of your current clothes, but when you weren’t using them, someone else was wearing them? Would the experience of wearing a shirt be any different if someone else wore it?

The problem is that society has taught us to see everything in terms of scarcity. We think that there is not enough to go around. And so, if we want to use something, we have to own it and not let anyone else use it, so that we can use it when we want.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we could set aside the scarcity model and embrace the abundance model, we would realize that there is enough to go around. We don’t need to stop others from using things in order to enjoy them ourselves.

“Property is Theft” – Proudhon

The Experiment

I’ve been experimenting with giving up property. It started by sharing “my” bike with a roommate when his bike was stolen. I only needed it occasionally and it usually just worked out. Sometimes we’d both want to use it and we’d work out a schedule. It worked very well and was very simple!

Since then, I’ve announced to the people I live with (there are 11 of them) that they can use anything that is “mine”, including the room I live in, whenever they want. So far, people haven’t taken advantage of the offer very much because we are so well trained not to use other people’s things. But sometimes people use the room when they want to go somewhere else to study or something.

I also have been trying to not use “possessive language,” which basically means avoiding the words “my” and “have”. It’s not as hard as it sounds and it helps shift how I think about the things I use.

“My” laptop

Honestly, the hardest thing to think about not being “mine” was the laptop. I use it so much and I have a very strong connection to it. So the thought of losing it was a big barrier to starting the experiment.

But then I realized that I wasn’t losing it. If I don’t own it, it doesn’t mean that someone else does. I could still use it, and so could anyone else. And if I needed to use it, it’d be a simple conversation about when they’d be done. That wouldn’t be so bad.

I’ve found it to be quite freeing. It’s a relief to not be tied down to things. I don’t have to worry about other people using them. They are just things that I use.

“The things you own end up owning you” – Fight Club

An Invitation

Now, I’d like to invite you to give up your possessions too! You wouldn’t have to give up all of them. Maybe start out with a few things. Offer to let other people use them whenever they want (bigger things like bikes or cars are good for this). You can pay attention to how you speak and try not to use possessive language!

Give it a shot and I’d love to hear how it goes and if you have any questions! You can write in the comments or privately.