Audio Interview, Fred, November 28, 1973

  • BRUCE JEWELL: Turning from the subject of how gay
  • and straight men related within the commune, it seems to me,
  • that there was a need there to bring
  • in more women for the straight man 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.
  • It wasn't the meat market.
  • The thing was that--
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Well, I didn't want
  • to imply that it was a meat market,
  • but people do call it that.
  • 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 that 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 I hadn't seen in about two years,
  • but our relationship is and was highly sensual and extremely
  • sexual.
  • 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, at certain points,
  • that just our ideas were just getting really stayed.
  • 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 like six people
  • sit down and write an article.
  • What we wanted to do was 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 noticed now, of course,
  • you're at the University of Buffalo.
  • FRED: Right.
  • I should state that I graduated from Stony Brook
  • and am now a graduate student, here.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: OK.
  • How are 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?
  • FRED: 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 to send
  • one person for a full year and one person for a half a year.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: You are, just to digress here a moment
  • and move off from that, that you are making plans
  • to work together to promote one another's
  • careers and so on and so forth.
  • FRED: Well, not one another's careers.
  • Our career.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Your career, as a group.
  • FRED: 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.
  • There are now five people, two of whom are well, old people,
  • and three of whom are new people at the commune in Rocky Point.
  • There are about twenty or twenty-five people
  • in the collective.
  • 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.
  • I carry around each of the people who were in the commune
  • and who are in the commune, whom I love, with me.
  • I 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.
  • We try to operate writing letters and articles
  • for the newspaper, which is still ongoing,
  • together in sort of a chain type of way.
  • I will write something and send it to Marcia in California,
  • and Marcia will send it to Steven in Europe.
  • The letter finds its way all around the world.
  • It's just incredible.
  • 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, 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.
  • 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.
  • First thing I should say is that there
  • are many types of communes.
  • The urban and rural and gay and straight.
  • And service communes and political communes and women's
  • communes.
  • And all sorts of communes.
  • I'll talk 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 BF Skinner
  • and trying to control their own relationships,
  • and, indeed, relationships based on Skinnerian principles.
  • Skinner is identified with behavior modification that
  • is positive and negative reinforcements
  • of desired and undesired behavior.
  • The commune is 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.
  • They operate on a labor credit system,
  • much like the old Utopian socialist Fourier
  • in phalanst√®re which was a communal form of labor
  • and of living where 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 is 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 of, sort of, probationary period,
  • I would suppose, wherein you can decide to leave at any point.
  • 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 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 and 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.
  • 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
  • and needs.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: The second question is, are there
  • any gay people in this commune?
  • FRED: Oh, yes.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: There are?
  • FRED: Oh, yes.
  • There are.
  • I don't know how many.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Most people there are students and go to Harvard
  • or Amherst or Boston.
  • They operate on a principle that they got together for
  • based on economic needs.
  • 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 to what material we have
  • and what it costs.
  • They've had to learn the hard way, unfortunately--
  • it's 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 planned as a long range thing,
  • or is this just while they're going to law 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 of that type of--
  • FRED: In Vermont, you may know, and 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's also, incidentally,
  • was the network that originally proposed the Wyoming Project.
  • You may not be familiar--
  • BRUCE JEWELL: No, I'm not familiar with that--
  • FRED: --with that.
  • That was a project back in 1970, '71 who's ideology
  • was, well everyone who is 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 was really weird.
  • But the Free Vermont communes started out
  • as anarchist communes and were just totally anarchic.
  • Like when I was there, like, there
  • was a group of people at one of the communes, called--
  • what was the commune called?
  • It was 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.
  • 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 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.
  • It was absolutely amazing.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: I don't suppose the life span
  • and this kind of 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
  • were certain characteristics to distinguish these,
  • such as a total horror of anything
  • called structure, a 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 in saying 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.
  • Where they'd live off the waste product,
  • the garbage of America.
  • They did pretty well at it.
  • 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 been 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,
  • and usually they're not.
  • Well, let me get into the problems
  • that you had asked about that most communes seem to face.
  • Like 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 transients problem had gotten
  • to the point where 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 exploited relationships?
  • FRED: No, well, anarchism is a multi-definition--
  • BRUCE JEWELL: It has to have (unintelligible)
  • 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 individualistic anarchists
  • and others.
  • In any case, anarchism doesn't mean bomb throwing
  • and it doesn't mean total disruption
  • and hate yelling and 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.
  • 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 dramatic 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 or what should they do?
  • How is it done?
  • It's always a big--
  • FRED: Well, of course, there is no set way.
  • But there are a couple of generalizable elements
  • 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 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 period of 1967 on.
  • But to get down to cases, one of the things
  • is a stable and valid economic base.
  • That means, essentially, that you
  • have to know where the bread is coming from and, you know,
  • 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 multi-versity
  • or a mega-versity.
  • But that doesn't, of course, preclude
  • the invalidity of any such learning form, the--
  • BRUCE JEWELL: OK, we have to have then, some firm
  • idea of where money is going to come from,
  • how we're going to support ourselves to--
  • FRED: Usually it's best, in terms of the monetary aspect,
  • to 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 outside repression.
  • 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.
  • 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 were going to plan to raise animals,
  • you should have someone who knows something
  • about veterinarian 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: Frankly what kinds of crises (unintelligible)?
  • FRED: Sexual crises.
  • Crisis wherein people feel really used or really
  • feel oppressed and the commune not
  • having the structures to bring that out and to deal with it.
  • 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
  • that in the collective groups that I've
  • visited that they put a great deal of an 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 the 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.
  • There have been people at communes,
  • at our commune for one, who were looking for therapy
  • and didn't find it.
  • 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.
  • Like it's hard to explain.
  • 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 half times.
  • Like get together or come together or together,
  • we're here or some permutation.
  • Like 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?
  • FRED: Depends upon 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.
  • 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 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 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 total, would you say?
  • FRED: Something, well, either a little less or a little more.
  • 2,000 with a differential of about three to four percent
  • BRUCE JEWELL: Do you think there's
  • an optimal size for a commune?
  • FRED: Yes.
  • BRUCE JEWELL: What is it?
  • Where would you say that is?
  • 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.