Audio Interview, Fred, November 28, 1973

  • BRUCE JEWELL: --and related within the commune.
  • It seems to me that there was a need there
  • to bring in more women for the straight men to live with,
  • and, or whatever.
  • Maybe I'm phrasing it improperly.
  • But how-- what kind of plans-- how
  • did you deal with relationships going
  • on outside of the commune with other people?
  • Was there some plan made, perhaps,
  • to bring other people into the commune?
  • FRED: Yeah, there were several plans
  • to bring other people into the commune,
  • but it wasn't according to sexual terms,
  • like it wasn't the meat market.
  • And the thing was that, I mean--
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Well, I didn't want
  • to imply that it was a meat market,
  • but people do fall in love.
  • FRED: Well, people do--
  • I've seen people, and I've seen a lot of groups
  • of people calling themselves communes,
  • and collectives, and politically highly spirited groups,
  • turn the personal sphere into a meat market, which
  • is why I use the term.
  • But what was going on in the commune was,
  • in terms of sexual relationships,
  • was that one of the previously straight men
  • was now having sex with one of the women in the commune,
  • one of the women outside the commune,
  • and one of the men in the commune.
  • The two gay men were having sex with one another
  • in the commune.
  • The other straight man, which was myself,
  • was having sex with one woman outside the commune,
  • and with another woman who, well, I
  • hadn't seen in about two years, but our relationship is,
  • and was, highly sensual and extremely sexual.
  • And this other woman was, well, bisexual.
  • And this is the woman I spoke of earlier.
  • The move to bring people into the commune
  • was based not so much on sex.
  • It was based on a lot of things, sex, which, of course, was one.
  • But the reason that we wanted to bring people into the commune
  • was to get mainly new inputs into, well, what we were doing.
  • We found a certain points that just our ideas were just
  • getting really stayed, that if we wanted to write and edit
  • an article, well, the editing took place
  • with some thirty people from the collective and the commune.
  • But the writing itself was, well,
  • like, six people sit down and write an article.
  • And what we wanted to do is get some fresh perspectives.
  • And it wasn't only on the writing.
  • It was on organizing.
  • And it was around the way we related to one another
  • personally, also.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: I notice now, of course,
  • you're at the University of Buffalo.
  • SPEAKER: Right.
  • I should state that I graduated from Stony Brook,
  • and am now a graduate student here.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: OK.
  • How are the people in the commune now, or the collective?
  • What are they doing?
  • Are they still in one location, or have you spread out,
  • or are you making plans to come back together?
  • What is the current situation?
  • SPEAKER: What has happened is that over the year and a half
  • that we spent together in the commune and the four years
  • we spent together politically, we
  • developed this ideal of putting together a politically
  • motivated legal commune.
  • And as such, we started planning,
  • when we were in the commune, sending people to law school.
  • And we got together enough bread for, well,
  • to send one person for a full year
  • and one person for a half year.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: You are-- just to digress here a moment
  • and move off from that, then you are making plans
  • to work together to promote one another's careers,
  • and so on, and so forth?
  • SPEAKER: Well, not one another's careers, our career.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Your career as a group.
  • SPEAKER: Right.
  • And well, there are presently people--
  • there's one person, as I said before, in Europe.
  • And there's me in Buffalo.
  • And there's someone in California.
  • And there are now five people, two of whom
  • are, well, old people.
  • And the three of them are new people
  • at the commune in Rocky Point.
  • And there are about twenty or twenty-five people
  • in the collective.
  • And the relationship between the commune and the collective
  • is something else we might get into later on.
  • But at the moment, it's kind of like, as I said before to you,
  • the Sioux nation.
  • Like I carry around each of the people who were in the commune
  • and who are in the commune whom I love with me,
  • and carry the collective around, too,
  • and carry the political aspects, and the political aims,
  • and the personal aims, and of course, my own feelings
  • around with me as well.
  • We plan to come together again, whenever that occurs.
  • We're constantly posting one another on what we're doing.
  • And we try to operate, writing letters and articles
  • for the newspaper, which is still
  • ongoing together, like in sort of a chain type of way.
  • Like I will write something and send it
  • to Marcia in California, and Marcia will send it
  • to Stephen in Europe.
  • The letter finds its way all around the world.
  • It's just incredible.
  • And we've written three articles that way so far.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Fred, you've done work
  • with just the idea of communes.
  • You've visited other communes, I gather.
  • FRED: Yes, I'm planning my PhD thesis in communalism.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: In communalism--
  • could you tell me something about other types of communes
  • that you have visited or lived on?
  • And I know that there are many different styles
  • of communal living.
  • FRED: Yes.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Some are quite successful
  • and some are failures.
  • Perhaps you could describe some of the communes
  • that you visited and tell me what you think
  • makes a commune work and what--
  • FRED: Sure.
  • So had you asked me this question a year ago,
  • I couldn't have given you a coherent answer.
  • But since then, I've done a good deal of synthesis
  • of just my own thoughts, and the material that I've worked with,
  • and the people with whom I've related at various communes
  • around the country.
  • Firstly, I should say, I guess, that there
  • are many types of communes.
  • There are urban and rural, and gay and straight,
  • and service communes, and political communes,
  • and women's communes, and all sorts of communes.
  • I'll talking about several, I suppose.
  • One which is notable is the Walden Two Commune
  • in Louisa, Virginia, which is set up.
  • It's a planned community.
  • It's an intentional commune, unlike most communes,
  • and was set up based on several students' reaction
  • and liking of the ideas of B. F. Skinner,
  • and trying to control their own relationships,
  • and indeed, create relationships based on Skinnerian principles.
  • And Skinner is identified with behavior modification--
  • that is, positive and negative reinforcements
  • of desired and undesired behavior.
  • The commune was planned out, and has
  • been operating for about four or five years now.
  • They support themselves with an economic base, making hammocks
  • and other crafty type of things.
  • Work is done communally, and they operate on a labor credit
  • system, much like the old topian socialist Fourier
  • in phalanst√®re which was a communal form of labor
  • and of living, wherein everyone contributed a certain amount
  • of work and money to a community.
  • And it worked according to, well, communal principles.
  • The commune in Louisa is ever-growing.
  • Like, they have about thirty-four people there now.
  • They started out with six.
  • And there have been hundreds of people
  • who have either visited or lived there for a while.
  • And there's a period of two years
  • where you do get to live there.
  • If you want to join the commune, there's
  • a period of two years, a sort of probationary period,
  • I would suppose, wherein you can desire to leave at any point.
  • But after that two-year period, what you do,
  • you're kind of committed, if you're accepted by the--
  • and they operate on majoritarian principles.
  • If you're accepted by the majority of the commune,
  • you pool all your resources there,
  • and operate within the hierarchy of Twin Oaks, which
  • is the name of the commune.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Two questions about that-- one,
  • it's Skinnerian in principle.
  • Whether-- do you think Skinnerian principles
  • are working there?
  • FRED: From what I was able to see there,
  • and from the reports I get from people who are still there,
  • it is working generally, but there are an extreme number
  • of problems, like for someone to give up
  • a certain mode of behavior is easier said than done.
  • And the community has to reinforce the person,
  • and has to treat the person lovingly,
  • and has to teach that person, well,
  • ways of operating that are consistent with communal aims,
  • ends and needs.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: The second question was,
  • are there any gay people on this commune?
  • FRED: Oh, yes.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: There are?
  • FRED: Oh, yes.
  • There are.
  • I don't know how many, but when I was there,
  • there were a substantial number of gay people.
  • Another thing I guess I should say about the commune
  • is that it's not, like so many other communes,
  • a below thirty phenomenon.
  • People are there who range from ages around seventy-five
  • down to one month or so.
  • And children have been born there.
  • And children are supported by the commune.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: I see.
  • What other types of communes have you visited?
  • FRED: Other types of communes include
  • work communes like Boston Commune in Boston,
  • obviously, is attached to Boston University.
  • And most people there are students,
  • and go to Harvard or Amherst or Boston.
  • And they operate on a principle that they got together for
  • based on economic needs.
  • And they pooled their resources, and have
  • been working to support one another as well as themselves,
  • and finding, well, buying food together, and living together
  • can cost about a fraction of what it would in, well,
  • the mainstream way.
  • They've gone through a lot of head changes.
  • And they've realized that living communally isn't just
  • a question of material, and what material we have,
  • and what it costs.
  • And they've had to learn the hard way, unfortunately,
  • with a lot of nervous breakdowns,
  • that people can relate to one another
  • only after they've confronted things such as monogamy,
  • such as sexism, such as, well, political identification,
  • such as what it is about the world in which they
  • live that is a symptom and that which is a cause.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Is this commune plan is a long range thing?
  • Or is this just while they're going to law school
  • or in school or what?
  • FRED: I'm not sure.
  • I believe it was originally planned as a long-term thing.
  • However, people have come and gone.
  • And no person who was originally there is now there.
  • I'm not sure what they're into now.
  • I'm sure that it's not as long range,
  • or possibly not even long range now.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Did you ever visit any of the free communes,
  • such as Morningstar in California
  • or any of that type of--
  • FRED: Yes.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: --communal arrangement?
  • FRED: In Vermont.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: In Vermont.
  • FRED: In Vermont, you may know, you
  • may not know that there is a network of communes
  • up there called Free Vermont.
  • And this encompasses about 2,000 people
  • on about twenty-four or twenty-five different communes,
  • who are mainly agricultural in their economic base,
  • and have done a good deal of co-operative marketing
  • and exchange on barter-type system of economic necessities,
  • and for whom there was, at one point, a huge movement
  • in the urban areas to support them, like in New York City
  • we would gather all sorts of stuff
  • that Free Vermont could use.
  • Free Vermont also, incidentally, was the network that originally
  • proposed the Wyoming Project.
  • You may not be familiar with that.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: No, I'm not familiar with it.
  • FRED: That was a project back in 1970,
  • '71, whose ideology was, well, everyone who's
  • into communalism, and everyone who's into the dope culture,
  • and everyone who's into alternatives
  • to modern American capitalism moved to Wyoming,
  • because it's got so small a population,
  • we can eventually take it over, and kind
  • of form our autonomous unit, and hopefully, eventually secede.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Yeah, sure.
  • FRED: It was a mystical and a material trip at the same time.
  • And it was really weird.
  • But the Free Vermont communes started out
  • as anarchist communes, and were just, I mean, totally anarchic.
  • Like when I was there, like, there were some--
  • there was a group of people at the commune,
  • at one of the communes, called--
  • what was the commune called?
  • Something of the Purple Sun.
  • I don't recall it.
  • But there were some people really into ecology,
  • and into cleaning up the earth and the air,
  • and into macrobiotic diets, and that trip.
  • Not that I put it down.
  • And there would be-- but it was such a crazy thing that people
  • would be going off in all different directions,
  • such that one day, I wandered down
  • to the stream that went through their land.
  • And upstream, there were some people, well, having a party,
  • and throwing bottles in.
  • And downstream, there was this group fishing it out.
  • It seemed like, for a while, I was
  • wondering if there was someone with a television
  • camera running around.
  • I thought they might be making a commercial
  • or something of the sort.
  • But it was real.
  • And it was absolutely amazing.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: I don't suppose the lifespan
  • or the stability of this kind of commune is too very great.
  • FRED: No, most communes which do consider themselves or conceive
  • of themselves as anarchist-- and there
  • are certain characteristics to distinguish these,
  • such as, well, a total horror of anything called structure,
  • or total horror of anything called, well, getting together
  • in a meeting or whatever, and sitting down and talking.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: I'm inclined to get sarcastic
  • and say maybe one of the signs is
  • garbage strewn all over the--
  • FRED: Oh, don't knock garbage.
  • Like you know the diggers in Arizona,
  • at least, were into what they called "creative scrounging,"
  • wherein they lived off the waste products,
  • the garbage of America.
  • And they did pretty well at it.
  • Like they created domes out of empty tin cans
  • and lived in them.
  • But no, the lifespan of these communes is relatively short.
  • And the people at them usually become, well,
  • a class that have come to be known to me, at least,
  • as commune hoppers.
  • They are transients who go from commune to commune, working
  • if they're inclined to it.
  • And usually they're not, and usually
  • just fucking the commune up.
  • Because-- well, let me get into the problems
  • that you had asked about that most communes seem to face.
  • One of them is the transient problem,
  • where people will come and go, or just
  • come and stay for a period of time,
  • without contributing anything.
  • And not only does the lack of contribution detract
  • from the ability of the commune to work, but at times,
  • it openly threatens to destroy it,
  • like at one commune in Canyon Colorado that I was at.
  • The transient problem had gotten to the point where just people
  • who had made a long-term economic
  • and personal and sexual and political
  • commitment to be at the commune, and to live there
  • for the rest of their lives, presumably,
  • were going out of their mind.
  • They wanted to throw the people out,
  • but couldn't say to them, well, leave,
  • because they had conceived of themselves
  • as an anarchist commune, and acted according
  • to those principles, except for the fact
  • that the people who lived there were into one another.
  • And the people who lived there--
  • BRUCE JEWELL: You don't think--
  • as an anarchist, do anarchists feel
  • that they don't have a right to protect themselves
  • from exploitative relationships?
  • FRED: No.
  • Well, anarchism is a--
  • BRUCE JEWELL: You'd hardly have a--
  • FRED: --multi-definition--
  • BRUCE JEWELL: --complaint against--
  • FRED: Anarchism is a multi-definition term.
  • Like there are people who consider themselves
  • anti-structural anarchists, and don't really understand
  • what they mean by that.
  • And there are those who do.
  • And then there are individualist anarchists and others.
  • But in any case, anarchist doesn't mean bomb throwing.
  • And it doesn't mean total destruction and Hegelian
  • negation.
  • What it does mean, at least at the communes,
  • is that, well, we have a right to be here.
  • And we have the desire to create our own alternative lifestyle.
  • And our ability to survive is tantamount.
  • But we don't want to oppress anyone else in the process.
  • And that concept can be taken to extremes, wherein
  • they oppress themselves.
  • Like it becomes a form of masochism
  • to start relating to the structure
  • that their previous set anarchist
  • doctrines have created.
  • A contradiction, but it affected a lot of people's lives
  • in very traumatic ways.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Fred, what do you think are the elements that
  • make for a successful commune?
  • If a group of people wished, or an individual, let us say,
  • wish to start a commune, or two or three
  • people wish to start a commune, what elements of--
  • what should they do?
  • How is it done?
  • That's always a big--
  • FRED: Well, of course there is no set way,
  • but there are a couple of generalizable elements
  • which one can-- which I have been able to pick out,
  • and which other people before me have.
  • If you want to read something really good on this,
  • there's a book by the name of Getting Back Together by a man
  • by the name of Robert Houriet, who's himself into communalism,
  • and has visited and lived at many communes
  • from the period of 1967 on.
  • But to get down to cases, one of the things
  • is a stable and valid economic base.
  • And that means, essentially, that you
  • have to know where the bread is coming from,
  • and you have to know what skills people have that can be relied
  • upon for the commune to survive, and where to acquire
  • other skills, and how to teach people,
  • and how to learn from other people.
  • Like there's an immense amount of stuff that we people,
  • political people, nonpolitical people,
  • can teach one another without relying upon a multiversity
  • or a megaversity.
  • But that doesn't, of course, preclude
  • the invalidity of any such learning form.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: OK, we have to have then some firm idea
  • of where our money is going to come from,
  • how we're going to support ourselves.
  • FRED: Usually it's best, in terms of the monetary aspect,
  • to, well, own where you're living.
  • Like to own, if you're an urban commune, the house in which you
  • live, or to own the land if you're a rural commune.
  • Because a lot of hassles, like the biggest hassles,
  • at least in the rural communes, have been, well,
  • outside repression.
  • And this comes in the form of police harassment.
  • And it comes in the form of sanitation laws and ordinances
  • made in 1763 being violated, and the claiming
  • that a house or a barn is a fire trap.
  • If you own your own land, you can usually
  • avoid a good deal of this.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Next, you think that people should--
  • you have to have people who have real skills, that
  • is know how to--
  • FRED: People who either have the skills
  • or are willing to acquire the skills.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: What skills do you recommend people having?
  • FRED: Some knowledge of, well, medicine, for one thing,
  • and some knowledge of legal aspects of straight society
  • is usually pretty good.
  • Also, if you're a rural commune and are planning
  • to do any sort of farming, of course,
  • you can't just plan to plant something and have it grow.
  • You have to have some knowledge of fertilizers, et cetera.
  • If you're going to plan to raise animals,
  • you should have someone who knows something
  • about veterinary medicine, or at least about, well,
  • what makes an animal tick.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: OK, now we've gotten down
  • the idea of the economics and the skills that are required.
  • What about choosing the people, and the adjustments
  • and relationships that will have to take place?
  • FRED: Usually, the adjustments and the relationships
  • can't be projected into the future.
  • But there are some basic things that you
  • should do before getting into a commune with people.
  • You should know the people, basically.
  • Like, this doesn't mean that you should know them
  • for a certain amount of time, or that you should know them
  • for a certain amount of places, or in a certain amount
  • of different types of relationships.
  • But you should know how they're going to react to say, crises.
  • Because, I mean, the thing that tears most communes
  • apart are crises, either created from outside
  • or, more usually, created amongst the people who
  • are in the commune.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Briefly, what kind of crises do you have in mind?
  • FRED: Sexual crises, crises wherein
  • people feel really used, or really feel oppressed,
  • and don't have the--
  • and the commune not having the structures to bring that out
  • and to deal with it.
  • And people have to be able to relate and be willing to relate
  • to one another in open fashions, without a lot of brain damage
  • defense mechanism.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: I'm sometimes struck,
  • in the collective groups that I've visited,
  • that they've put a great deal of emotional burden
  • on one another.
  • That is, rather than thinking in terms of how can I contribute
  • to make things better, how can I function here,
  • the people seem to gravitate towards communal living
  • in an effort to solve their problems.
  • They're looking to take something from someone
  • to restore their own mental health, or whatever it is,
  • rather than thinking in terms of what they can give.
  • That seems to me to be a disastrous approach.
  • FRED: Yes.
  • Well, it is.
  • Like there have been people at communes-- at our commune,
  • for one--
  • who were looking for therapy, and didn't find it,
  • and got more fucked up by it, and fucked over some people
  • in the process.
  • The thing is that people have to be kind of self reliant,
  • but able to rely upon others as well,
  • and able not to expect too much, but to expect
  • interpersonal responsibility, and this, hopefully, in sensual
  • terms.
  • It's hard to explain, but when it occurs,
  • it's really a beautiful thing.
  • And it's really a thing that gets people, well, together.
  • And that word--
  • I mean, I must have heard that word a million
  • and a half times, like get together, or come together,
  • or together we're here, or some permutation.
  • That is a very highly stressed principle, yet not
  • often prepared for principle at many communes.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Do you have any idea
  • how many viable communes there are in the country now,
  • and how many people--
  • FRED: Depends on what you mean by viable.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Well, I would define viable as something
  • where people are living together well,
  • and can do so over a longer term, some period of years.
  • FRED: Well, put it this way--
  • I mean, last year I took a general survey
  • and a hell of a lot of research, and figured out
  • that there were about 1,500 communes in the country.
  • Now, out of those--
  • most of them gathered on the east and west coasts.
  • Out of them, I'd say that if half of them--
  • well, half of them probably have a life expectancy
  • of a year or less.
  • The other half, well, from just different variables-- economic,
  • social, interpersonal, sexual, political, intellectual--
  • from all those variables, I was able to project through some
  • devious researcher's means that about a third of the half--
  • in other words, a sixth of the 1,500--
  • were viable on a long-term basis.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: About 250 communes--
  • FRED: Approximately.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Involving how many people?
  • FRED: The average.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: 2,000 all told, would you say,
  • something like that?
  • FRED: Something, well, either a little less or a little more--
  • 2,000 with a differential of about, say,
  • three or four percent.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Do you think there's
  • an optimal size for a commune?
  • FRED: Yes.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: What is that?
  • Where would you say that is at?
  • FRED: Well, the thing is that I'm
  • saying that there's an optimal size to start a commune,
  • not necessarily to perpetuate one.
  • Like I'd say an optimal size would be between four and eight
  • people to start a commune.
  • To perpetuate an already existent one
  • with a clear direction and a clear,
  • well, emotional web could be unlimited.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: I see.
  • Thank you very much, Fred.
  • FRED: You're welcome.