By A. Iwasa
February 3rd, 2016
Coming out of what started as the Communes Project, a collaborative effort between the Institute of International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and the Mendocino Institute in 2003, this book is a striking example of the radical potential to utilize the resources of academia when people make a point of making them accessible to the general public.
Communes are placed historically both in the broader sense of general Utopian history, and the more particular focus of the book revolving around the 1968 social upheavals.
Fantastic chapters on the Native American occupation of Alcatraz and communalism in the black Panther Party work to dispel the myth of communal living as a white people thing.
Prominent also are back to the land projects such as the Morning Star and Black Bear Ranches. First hand accounts abound, and sources are extremely well cited for those interested in following up. The ongoing legacies of the communes and the people involved are also addressed from the pot economy to high tech industry.
This book is a must read for anyone interested in communal living, especially those now who think our much smaller and tamer communal living movement, or lack there of, is The Revolution. We’ve got a long way to go to rebuild what was, and the lessons we can learn from past efforts should be studied in works like this.
I think virtually every commune dweller past and present could fill a book this size alone with great stories fun and sad, economic and historical. All these sorts of details are very important, and the editors were great about never getting stuck on any of the specifics.
On a personal level, I was able to make it in the Bay Area from Slingshot 119 to 120’s editing largely because of a communal living situation I was able to get into on my credentials as a member of the Slingshot Collective doing research on the topic. Almost every place I’ve lived since I moved out of my mother’s house For The Last Time back in 2003 has been some sort of collective, so the topic is very dear to my heart.
I made a specific point of getting our review copy at the Howard Zinn Book Fair from PM Press because of this, and even though it’s a little old, Ramsey didn’t hesitate to donate it to us. It would be great to see more work like this, both about the 1960s and ’70s, and the time since then which has been fascinating in its own ways.