check out the original on the IAP’s webpage
The Journal of
The Institute for Applied Piracy
Issue Number One
In The Beginning…
By The Grand Hexapus, Spring 2002
The town-folk of Europe (called Burgers, or in French, Bourgeois) invented capitalism between the 10th and 16th centuries. Feudalism in the 10th century was a tight social knot of nobles, priests, and peasants. The nobles tied up the medieval economy to their excusive benefit – only the nobility were allowed to trade goods.
To squeeze into this knot, the Burgers were forced to resort to bribery. They bribed the kings and princes of Europe for the right to trade for profit, and for the right to build small, experimental capitalist villages called Burgs. For 800 years the Burgers toiled and traded in these villages, slowly building wealth, as they worked out the details of capitalism, and as they gradually pried loose the knot of feudalism.
The Burgs were the New World in the shell of the Old, and as they grew from villages, to towns, and finally to huge cites, the Burgers themselves grew in power and wealth to the point where they could challenge their old feudal masters: the kings and the princes. The American and French Revolutions marked the last days of feudalism and the blooming of the Age of the Capitalist Republics; a flower that took 800 years to grow.
Radicals in the 19th century looked forward to a better world, and back to the successful Bourgeois revolutions of the late 18th century, and they hoped, “Maybe we can copy the rapid gains of the capitalists and leap into our New World in one shattering lurch!” Missing from this brave dream is history. The capitalists didn’t yank the word out of feudalism in a few violent years. It actually took eight centuries.
My friends and I understand something that the commies and other coffee-shop radicals don’t understand. We understand that we are what we do – not what we believe. My friends and I are anarchists because we instigate anarchist collectives, all kinds of collectives: worker-run businesses, soup kitchens, activist centers, clubs and performance spaces, free-love networks, art collectives, bands of thieves, squats, cafes, religious heresies, day-care centers, nomadic tribes, and communes, to name a few.
In this way we are like the Burgers. Our collectives are the seeds of the New World in the shell of the Old. Not only are our collectives the beginning of a revolution, they are also our chance to live our dreams in the present, to work out the kinks in our anarchist skills, and to improve our lot in the here and now. We want a revolution, a complete turning over of everything: power, wealth, work, family, religion, sex, art, music, all of it. Our way is the only way. We will build our future one collective at a time.
I seem to be specializing in communes. Starting a commune may sound old-fashioned, an idea that failed in the ’70s and was left behind, but the communes of the ’60s and ’70s didn’t fail. A collective doesn’t have to be permanent to be a success. And the ’60s communes weren’t the first to give it a go. There have been communes in North America longer than the U$ has been a republic. As we set up our 21st-century communes, we try to learn from the victories and follies of the communes of the past. I have helped instigate about a half-dozen living collectives, including a particularly hearty group in Maine, still keeping it real, eight years on.
The State of Expensive Sunshine
My lover, Salach (pronounced Saw lock), has long dreamed of owning her own land. By last fall, the fall of 2001, we had been living in California for about two years on and off. We had moved there from Scotland, partly so Salach could take on a boat-building apprenticeship, and partly because I sit with a Zen group that makes its home in California. We were crashing with Chainsaw, Frenchy, Capt. Peachfuz, Hotlunch, and Elephanthead, all seven of us crammed in a tiny two-bedroom house that we rented north of San Francisco.
We worked weird jobs and built boats in the basement, but California was just too expensive, even for seven wage-slaves pooling money and living in a can of sardines. For the last couple of years, Salach had been haunting the Internet, looking for cheap land for sale in Northern California. But last fall, it was clear to her that there wasn’t any cheap land left in California, so she broadened her haunts and started to find some cheap land in Oregon and Washington.
Salach wanted to live on the land, I wanted to continue my experiments with living cheap and working less, and all of us at the house wanted to get out of the State of Expensive Sunshine, so we started talking about buying land together. It was at about this point, early on in the development of our wee collective, that we spied a seductive anarchist notion on the horizon, sailing toward us: piracy.
Freedom and the Blue-Grey Sea
“With deft skill and arduous labor, the pirates survived storms, avoided shoals, and escaped warships. At sea they formed a close-knit community, whose members relied on each other for their lives. Despite their democratic ways, the pirates ran a tight ship. The myth that they were lazy, drunken louts is debunked by the reports of those taken prisoner. Captives were struck by the good order of the pirate vessels as well as by the crew’s constant practice with weapons.”- Honor Among Thieves: Capt. Kidd, Henry Every, and the pirate democracy in the Indian Ocean, Jan Rogozinski, 2000.
We met the pirates and we recognized them as our own. Pirates are completely misunderstood. Until recently, most of our information about 18th century pirates comes from Dan Defoe’s, A General History of Pirates. Real pirates are mysterious – we don’t even know the names of most. However, in the 20th century, historians uncovered first-hand documents describing real pirates: colonial records, accounts by men taken captive by pirates, and the ships’ articles.
It turns out that Defoe made up most of the General History, including the intriguing character, Capt. Mission, and his pirate republic of Libertalia on Madagascar. Anarchists have long been interested in the history of Libertalia because Defoe describes something that sounds a lot like an anarchist commune. The new information revealed that behind the myth of Capt. Mission and Libertalia, there is an even more inspiring truth.
“On St. Mary’s, the pirates formed what might well be the most democratic and egalitarian society in human history.” (Ibid)
Pirates did make a settlement in the Indian Ocean, not on Madagascar, but on a nearby island called St. Mary’s. The pirates on St. Mary’s were the most successful criminals in history. Over the thirty-year life of the settlement, not one pirate was ever captured at sea and together they made off with a booty that today would be worth over a billion dollars. Most retired peacefully to enjoy their wealth. Some bought plantations on nearby French colonies, some returned to North America or Europe, while the majority married local women and blended into Polynesian society.
The real pirate republics were the ships themselves, not the settlement. Before sailing, the crew of a pirate vessel would meet and draw up a contract called the ship’s articles, and then they would bind themselves to the voyage by swearing an oath to uphold the agreement. Surviving articles describe little floating democracies. Captains were elected by the crew and could be recalled at any time. They received only 1/2 extra share of the booty, and except in the heat of battle, they were required to consult the crew on all major decisions. Crews frequently exercised their right to replace their captains, and one vessel, The Charming Mary, went all the way to Anarchy, and sailed without a commander.
This is in stark contrast to the maritime practices of the day. In both merchant fleets and navies, crewmen were almost slaves. The captain had the power of life and death and he enforced his will with beatings and torture until the decks ran red with blood. The crew didn’t dare mutiny because only the captain and the first mate were taught navigation. In the English navy, any one other than the captain or first officer caught navigating was immediately hung. Most crewmen in the 17th century were illiterate, and given the poor tools and charts at that time, navigation was more black magic than science. A ship without a trained navigator was literally lost in the world.
In general, pirates avoided fighting. “Dead pirates can’t spend booty,” as they say. And often the pirates didn’t have to put fire to powder. Some times, as a pirate vessel drew on a merchantman and raised the black flag, the abused crew of the merchantman would rejoice at the chance to throw off their tormentors, and would mutiny, tossing the officers overboard, and joining the pirates. Ho ho!
I don’t intend to romanticize. The St. Mary’s pirates were regular men of their time. Some did turn to slaving after piracy, and sometimes they did have to fight, and it was a mean, bloody business. Still, it’s inspiring to imagine the Charming Mary, an anarchist utopia, sailing the high seas 300 years ago. 17th century pirates could not exist in our world of instant, global communications, and, what is called piracy today is a wholly different animal. Yet, the St. Mary’s pirates were called pirates not because they used ships to steal things. Indeed, it was standard for warring European nations to use privateers to loot each other’s merchant fleets.
What made seamen pirates in the 17th century was not what they did, but how and why. The pirates wanted gold for sure, but they also wanted freedom. They sailed to freedom by overturning the maritime laws of their era, and at least in one case, the pirates sailed all the way to Anarchy.
Crusty Punk Pirate Riot
I grew up on the water. Before I turned veggie, I was a fanatic sports fisherman, and from my teens into my twenties, I worked summers as a commercial fisherman. I also sailed and surfed and generally messed around on the water all my waking hours. I used to love hanging around the docks and I still do. I meet the coolest people there: crusty old fishermen, crazy wharf rats, and coolest of all, world-traveling sailors.
These sailors also use boats to sail to freedom. There is a whole class of modern pirate/adventurer that sees the world from the deck of a small boat. Some yachties are rich, but many aren’t. The sailing couple, the Pardees, have written volumes on the esoteric art of sailing on a wharf-rat budget. Most of these folks aren’t consciously anarchist, but they share with us some anarchist goals, particularly with a “living cheap and working less” anarchist like myself.
It got me thinking. I am a restless person. I rarely stay in one place for long. I love boats and the sea, and the freedom of living low; surviving without punching a clock. Hmmm. A few of my anarchist friends are thinking along the same lines. Old Guano Crash has lately been pricing used sailboats, and Capt. Peachfuz, and even Salach. I sensed a movement afoot – anarchist neo-pirates sailing the globe, spreading the faith, meeting up in Ponape for nakid tropical disco on the beach, then off to Nagasaki to smuggle pirate radio parts to anarchist in Africa!
Ahh, but first we needed to establish a cast-off point and a haven, a modern St. Mary’s where we can meet other pirates, hone our nautical skills, store our sea chests, and rest between voyages. Salach and I had been talking about going back to Scotland to study Gaelic. One way or another, we yearn to travel.
We don’t own much, but we do have some stuff: a truck, Salach’s boat-building tools, some books, a half-completed Rangely Lakes Boat. Every time we travel, we have to store this stuff, or take it with us. Do we sell our truck? We love our beat up little ford, Snowflake. Salach rebuilt Snowflake’s engine herself and the three of us have been through a lot together. Where is it safe to store a fragile, half-made boat? Dragging all our garbage around from place to place – it was cramping our style. Piracy, anarchy, living-cheap, Gaelic, they were all pointing in the same direction. We needed to buy some land where we could live rent-free, store our crap, and plan our adventures!
A Bold Plan
With all these ideas kicking up the dust in our sculls, six of us, Frenchy, Chainsaw, Elephanthead, Hotlunch, Salach, and I started meeting to discuss buying land and instigating a new commune. Our first meetings were light and relaxed. We sat at a café, drinking jo, while we took turns rambling on about our dreams for out new group. At this stage, we didn’t work too hard to be specific or to agree on anything.
Still, we did share some general goals: We wanted bare land so we could live off the power grid, and also build our own structures. We wanted our structures to be cheap, weird, but also well-made. Blue-tarp and sheet-rock-screw shanties might be the least expensive, but we all planned to take the time and spend a little extra cash to build little homes that would be fantastic and beautiful. We wanted a garden, maybe with some French-intensive raised beds, and also maybe with some paradise-garden influences like nut trees, fruits, and other perennials.
We figured that we needed about five acres and that we could each reasonably raise about $3K, or a total of 18 thousand dollars. We also wanted to be nearish to a medium-sized town for jobs and social activities, arts, movies, punk shows, and such, and we should be near salt water for our piracy. We know of anarchist kids who have purchased land outside Taos, New Mexico, or in upstate New Hampshire, for as little as $200/acre, but we were willing to pay more to be near a town and the sea. $3,000 is still less than we often pay in rent for a year, so while it is a lot of cash to produce all at once, it is not really that much money for living in the U$.
We also agreed from the outset that this would be a collective and that we would organize ourselves by consensus, which raises the question, is this group an anarchist commune? The mark of an anarchist group is consensus, but several members of this new pirate settlement wouldn’t call themselves anarchists. This is common. The international soup-kitchen movement, Food Not Bombs, is a good example of a network of collectives that uses consensus but that also includes thousands of non-anarchist volunteers.
Consensus is simply useful. I have used consensus for more than a decade in dozens of groups, and I could write pages about its virtues and pitfalls, but I will spare you young buccaneers with this brief definition: Consensus is a rigorous form of democracy where every member of a group must agree to all of the decisions that the group makes. At first blush it doesn’t look like this could possibly work. But with some practice, consensus is fast and fair.
Consensus crafts better decisions than majority-rules because all of the concerns of the members of a group must be addressed before the group goes forward. Also, consensus forestalls conflicts because all of the voices in a group are heard, even minorities of one. So is this group anarchist if it uses consensus? Maybe, I don’t know. That is more of a semantic question, but practically we use consensus because it works and because we are pirates and we don’t care. Har, har!
So with our requirements in mind (five bare acres, 18K, near sea and town), Salach drew up a list from the Internet of likely properties. Then Frenchy, Chainsaw, Elephanthead, and Salach climbed into Frenchy’s Honda Civic, Stuffsack, and on October 15th they headed 13 hours north to Oregon and Washington to look for land. I was the only one in our group that had ever bought land before, but I was staying behind, so I was anxious.
Rafting a River of Sleaze
Buying real estate is unlike buying anything else and also real estate is the slimiest, scummiest market out there; way scummier than used cars. Before the scouting expedition, we armed ourselves by reading up on real estate. But in the end, sellers and agents always have more information than buyers, and they can use this information as power over buyers, more so yet, first-time buyers.
There are 1001 ways to get hosed in real estate. Even for hardened sea rovers, buying property is emotional, and real estate agents learn to play buyer’s emotions like a well-tuned fiddle. There is the old “it doesn’t exist” scam: You name your home size and price range, and the agent roles her eyes and cackles, “You’ll never find a house like that for so little around here.”
I remember buying the farmhouse for the Maine collective. We said we wanted a small farm with a barn, in the city limits, for under $250K. Our agent laughed and said, “It doesn’t exist.”
So we retorted, “Let us look in the book.” (Note: this was way back in 1994, before computers were very common, when real estate was still listed in big books.) In a few minutes we found three properties that fit our criteria.
Then there is the scam that is a real emotional gambit, the “price creep” scam. It goes like this: You name your top price, so the agent shows you properties just above that price. You fall in love with one of these properties, so you adjust your top price up a little, so the agent shows you properties just above your new price, and so on. It takes nerves of steel to resist, and you must to be ready to be rude to your agent, and tell him to go fuck himself if he starts playing these games.
My experience buying the Maine property is a perfect example of the First Sad Truth of the real estate market: the agent works for the deal. In theory, there are two types of agents – buyers’ and sellers’ agents. Sellers’ agents are more common. A seller’s agent is hired by an owner to list their home and to represent their interests in the deal. It is also possible for buyers to hire an agent to help them look at property and to represent their interests in the deal, but beware!
Both buyers’ and sellers’ agents have a hidden agenda. They all earn their fees as a percentage of the sale price, so they have a financial self-interest in landing the phatest deals possible, without regard to the best interests of either buyers or sellers. The woman who tried to pull the “it doesn’t exist” scam on us in Maine was our buyers’ agent.
So with all this anxiety and mistrust in my mind, I went into work each day, and then paced around at home after work, and I waited. Four days later, our scouting party returned, covered in smiles and excited with good news. Most of the properties had some damning problem. We were planning to live off the grid and build crazy homes without permits, so we couldn’t be too near nosy Middle-American neighbors, or a major road. That constraint ruled out about half the properties on our list. Some were cliffs, some were swamps, some were under high-voltage power lines, and some were just improperly listed, wrong price, wrong location, and so on. But one plot looked like it might work.
In fact, it looked perfect. Our scouts found the Promised Land about twenty minutes from a good-sized town, and about two hours from Portland, in Northwest Oregon. It was the right size: five acres, mostly wooded with alder, but also a small stand of old fir. A year-round brook cut across one corner, and while it was steep over all, it had some flat spots, including a roughly 1/2 acre clearing for a garden. And the price was right at 20K, within bargaining distance of our 18K target.
Our scouting party was breathless and their enthusiasm was catching. I found myself already calling it “our” land, and that scared me. If we allowed ourselves to become attached to this particular plot, we would be easy prey in any negotiations coming up.
Adding to my fears, the agent showing the property sounded like a real snake. His name was Jebb Mudd, and although he came off as perfectly pleasant at the time, after comparing notes on the drive home, our scouts felt manipulated.
“He was totally up to something,” Elephanthead reported at our next meeting. “He had me going, but now, thinking about it, I totally don’t trust him.”
Before we made an offer, we researched the property as best as we could, searching the Internet for information, and calling gov’ment offices in Oregon. The plot was on the corner of a 40-acre “back to the land” subdivision. All the other properties were owned by a fine collection of wingnuts, hillbillies, pinkos, and bail-jumpers. It was our kind of neighborhood. To the North and East, the land bordered a giant tract of timberland. Frenchy majored in forestry in college, so she looked into the timber plan. We also investigated the history of the property itself.
We were poor but crafty, so we were shopping for land that is sometimes called problem property. Problem property is typically the only kind of land low-rent losers like us can afford. In general, five acres in this area of OR would cost over 30K, and up to 150K. Most buyers want a pristine piece of land, with a clear title, good neighbors, and so on. If however, a buyer is willing to spend some time solving problems, she can find bargains. The asking price for this land was way below the prevailing market, so we expected to find some problems that needed solving.
The first problem was obvious. The Southwest corner of the plot was badly trashed. Twenty years ago, “our” land and the plot to the South were owned together by a hippie family. We didn’t know the full story, but the basic gist was that the couple went crazy, had an ugly divorce, and split the land. Mr. Hippie sold his plot, the Southern plot, to a young family about two years ago. Mrs. Hippie was selling us “our” plot.
As the Hippie couple went crazy, they crashed the land. The Southern plot was really trashed; a sad hick pile of engine blocks, broken kids toys, a psychedelic bus, some campers, and many, many rusted, shot-up, burned-out cars. An ugly legacy of all that failed in the hippie-dippie 70′s lay strewn around, slowly disappearing under a heap of brambles.
“Our” property was much better off with only twelve cars, one truck, and a little trash, all on one edge. We would have to get rid of the cars, but the more we asked around, the more it looked like removing the cars would be expensive and difficult. Some were flipped over, some had trees growing up through them, and all were trashed, smashed, and peppered with buckshot holes. None would ever roll again.
Frenchy’s work was hair-raising too. In one respect, it was cool that we might live next to timberland. It was logged only about a decade ago, so it had two or three decades to go until it would be logged again. In that time, it would just sit there quietly growing, like the perfect neighbor. But, private timberland is also really just another kind of agriculture, with all the usual nasties, including aerial spraying. The local timber company controlled the growth of alder on its land by spraying with a mix of herbicides and diesel fuel!
So we had hippie-dissipation trash to our west, and diesel fuel to our north and east. We discovered that to our south we had problems too. During the ugly, crazy Hippie breakup, the boundary between the plots was not well defined. The Hippies had built a rambling row of whimsical cedar-shake buildings right along the boundary. Cool, but falling down and apart, these buildings could be on either property, or both. The young family that bought the southern property from Mr. Hippie was now living in these buildings, so we might be facing the ultimate real estate deal-breaker: encroachment.
It is called encroachment if a neighbor builds structures, or worse, is living partly on your land. Encroachment is such a deal-breaker in real estate because it can be so difficult to sort out peacefully. While we didn’t really care if our neighbors were living three feet onto our land, if the land was ever sold again in the future, it would be a big deal then, so it had to be a big deal now. Well me maties, we be surrounded!
Oh, there was one more thing… On old maps of the area, we could clearly see a power line crossing right through the middle of “our” land. There weren’t any high-voltage lines crossing the land Mudd had shown us. Did he show us the correct plot? Was there some old power-line easement across “our” land? Would power lines be strung in the future? That would be awful! Who would move into the country only to live under the buzz of high-voltage lines? A dagger through the heart maties!
With Friends Like These…
We put our heads together at more meetings and agreed that we needed answers to these questions, and that we also needed to stall for time while we raised the last of the cash. I was steadfast that we should not make an offer until we had all the money in hand to cover our bid. So, we opened a group bank account and deposited our money as we made it. Meanwhile, the scouts had played good cop with Mr. Mudd, so I agreed to play bad cop, and I banged out a terse, but polite email to Mudd listing our concerns. We hoped that Mudd would research our problems and email us back with some information.
Instead, Mudd sent a bomb. His reply was hot and heavy. He implied that we were fools not to pay the asking price on the spot. He wrote, “If I had some extra money, I would buy it myself.” Now that is the oldest, cheesiest real-estate come-on line in the book! As for our concerns, he just brushed them off. To solve the encroachment problem, he actually suggested that we burn the cabins. He was serious. His solution to this complicated encroachment problem was for us to burn our future neighbors’ home. Jesus!
Finally, he proposed that for the purposes of the deal, he would serve as our buyers’ agent and his brother would serve as Mrs. Hippie’s seller’s agent. That was a clear conflict of interest, and the straw that broke the pirate’s keel. What a shady, shady dealer!
It was impossible for us to do any better research from a distance and Jeb Mudd was a true villain. We needed a bonafide buyers’ agent. I called some friends in Oregon, and they found me the name of a local agent, Hamish Macillin. Salach gave him a call and he agreed to take us on board. Screw Jeb and his slimy brother too! Meanwhile, we prepared a second scouting party. This time I was going. Along with Frenchy and Salach, I climbed into little Stuffsack, and we headed north for another 13-hour dash to “our” land.
We met Hamish at his office, and we were relieved that he was the yang to Jeb’s ying. He was an older, dignified fly-fishing dude and he reeked of respectability. We all traveled together to the land. For the last month, “our” land had been a vague map of problems floating in my wee brain. Other than a few grainy, out-of-focus photos that came back from the first scouting trip, this would be my virgin view.
I was first struck by the easement. We crossed a wide, swampy field and then snaked through the trees to the southwesterly corner of the property. The last bit of the easement was more of an advanced goat path than a primitive road. We barely made it up. And the hippie junk heap was striking in it’s own sad way.
But the land – it was gorgeous. The brook gurgled by, even without any recent rain, and I could see the remains of terraces dug into the old garden in the clearing. The fir forest was as big and old and dark as the clearing was bright and green. I did my best to keep my enthusiasm in check, but I was failing. Frenchy bravely walked over and talked to our neighbors. We feared we would be greeted by a shotgun brandishing nut-ball, but Ray turned out to be a very sweet hickster; someone we thought we could deal with.
So, armed with encouraging information, and a decent buyers’ agent, when we returned home, we agreed to make an offer with what we had: 15K. Mudd had never properly listed the property, so Hamish was free to contact Mrs. Hippie directly. We would just cut ol’ Mudd out of the loop. His own underhanded foolishness would be his undoing.
What followed was a mad storm of faxes, emails, and phone calls as we negotiated the deal. Hamish couldn’t find any solid new information about the power-lines, but we hoped we would find out more at the title-search stage. It was also at this point that Hotlunch decided not to join us. It was a little sad, but he wanted to go to art school, and we gave him our blessing.
Free Love and the Kitchen Sink
While we bought the land, we held regular meetings to add flesh to the bones of our new collective. We still dreamed out loud, but we also began to nail down some of the details. We lived together already, and all of us had been involved in collectives of one sort or another before, so we weren’t starting from scratch.
My old group in Maine is getting famous for staying together for so long. The average life span of a secular commune in the 70s was about five years. (Religious groups lasted twice as long for some reason.) And yet, the Maine collective is cruising towards a decade together. Long ago, when we instigated our first living collective, my friends and I carefully studied the history of the rise and fall of the 70s communes. Collective living is definitely a skill and it is not something we are born with. By reading about the 70s communes, we avoided mistakes that might have sunk us in the harbor.
We stayed together long enough to make our own mistakes and learn some hard and valuable lessons. We are good at this now and I know that living together has taught us how to be fabulous anarchists. In the hopes that you will not have to repeat all of our mistakes too, here is our recipe for a strong and happy collective. There are many ingredients in the mix, but any robust collective needs at least these four:
ONE. Successful collectives hold regular house meetings. I know that all the old-timers in Maine would agree that the secret to our long life together was holding regular meetings. It wasn’t easy to get 10 to 15 busy anarchists into the same room at the same time each week, but we painfully learned several times that if we let the meetings slide, life together got rough really fast. Well-run meeting are painless, and often even fun, and a collective simply will not last without them.
TWO. Successful collectives eat together. From !Kung San nomadic foragers in the Kalahari, to Japanese salarymen in Tokyo, sharing food is the glue that holds groups of human beings together. Some communes eat one dinner together a month and other groups eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together every day. Whatever works, but generally, more often is better. A group meal also serves as another informal house meeting.
THREE. Successful anarchist collectives are neat, clean, and organized. This flies splat in the face of the popular notion of anarchy: anarchy as chaos. Anarchy is not chaos, and it is not order either. Anarchy means “without rulers” in Greek. Anarchy is freedom and she is silent about order and chaos.
The argument that without rulers there would be chaos is a political prejudice, that’s all. When journalists described the situation in Somalia during the U.S. intervention a few years back as anarchy, they were misusing the word. The chaos in Somalia was not a problem of too few rulers, but too many. Dozens of petty warlords were fighting each other for control and creating death and mayhem in the process.
Anarchy only cares about what works. An anarchist commune is a complicated beast, but strip it down to its knickers, and a commune is just a group of people that holds and organizes a living space. If I live on my own, I can be as scattered and messy as I please. But the more people I add to my space, and particularly, the more things we share (like a kitchen, a workshop, or a garden), the more important it is to be neat and organized.
A pirate ship is a perfect example. Remember the passage I quoted back a few pages about the surprisingly ordered and self-disciplined pirate ships. Pirates had to be self-organized because a confused, messy boat is a danger to her crew. In a commune, a mess isn’t (often) a matter of life-and-death, but if you are forced to cook in a kitchen buried in unwashed dishes, or forced to work in a shop where all the tools are misused and misplaced, forced to constantly clean up after your housemates, you will eventually give up and move out. You would be a sucker and a fool not to.
A messy and disorganized anarchist is a piss-poor anarchist because she forces her friends and housemates to clean up after her; to be her servants. This is clearly not the attitude of a mature anarchist, but it is a common attitude and it is understandable. Anarchy starts in the guts. When we were younger, we rebelled against our first masters: our parents, our teachers, and our first employers. We rebelled by refusing to be managed. If our parents wanted a clean home, we were messy. If our employers wanted us to be on time and work hard, we were late and lazy.
The mistake is to turn our gut-level refusal into a messy, disorganized personal style, and then call that anarchy. If we want to accomplish great things then our anarchy must come from our guts and our brains. Anarchists are self-organized. We will allow no one to manage us, so we must manage ourselves. OK, that was a long rant on number three, but more anarchist collectives of all kinds founder on this point than anything else. “The kitchen sink is the crucible of anarchy.”
FOUR. Successful collectives carefully screen new members. There is nothing about anarchy that requires open membership. The truth is quite the opposite. A cardinal freedom is the right to free association. This is the right to choose whom you will hang with, and whom you will not. Anarchism is a tolerant, open scene and it attracts some cool, kind folks on the one hand, and some anti-social wingnuts on the other. Winnowing the former from the latter is a key skill.
In Maine, we would never admit someone to the group that we didn’t already know somehow; if not directly, then through someone else, like a friend of a friend. We had to have some point of reference on a candidate. And we practiced a slow and careful selection process. We would have candidates over to dinner several times and we would invite them to stay at the farm for a while to get acquainted. If your collective is doing something illegal or if it is an activist group, then selecting new members also includes trying to separate out the anarchists from the undercover cops, agent provocateurs, and informers.
Our new group was at the stage where it was wise to write down some of our ideas as a collective agreement. Someday we wanted to legally make the land collective by putting it into a group trust, but in the mean time, Frenchy agreed that we could buy the land in her name. The collective agreement would serve as the official instigation of the group, and also as a documentation of how we understood that the land would be owned.
We didn’t say much in our agreement about the day-to-day structure of our commune. We would work that out by consensus as time unfolded. We did however comment in some detail about three common collective danger areas: how someone new becomes a member, how a failed member could be booted out of the group, and how the land will be sold when the group self-destructs. Everything with a beginning also in time has an end. It is smart to plan for it.
An Emotional Thrashing
Mrs. Hippie refused our first offer of course. I am sure that if we had stalled some at this point, and played a little poker with her, we could have shaved several thousand off the final price. But it was coming up to Crustmoose, and everyone was planning to be away for the holidays. Even Hamish was planning to be out of town for a month. We wanted to be on the land in early spring. We couldn’t abide waiting another month to continue the negotiations, so we blinked first, and we settled for 17.5K, still under our target price.
It would be a simple cash-for-land deal, so Hamish assured us that if the title work went well, we should be able to close the deal in the middle of January, when everyone returned. So the whole clan went east, and I was left in California again to work, wait and worry.
While the kids were gone, shortly before Crustmoose, the papers came back from the title company, and sure as shit, there was a 100′-wide power easement across the land. Our hearts sank. We panicked at each other over the phone, but there was little we could do until Hamish got back. We were really attached to the land by now. In our minds we owned it. And we were committed. We had given notice to our landlord that we were moving out. We had given notice at our jobs. We had reserved a moving truck and we had even packed a little.
I called Hamish on his cell phone, at his home, the day he got back, and he earned his living. With the actual number of the easement, he made a few calls and quickly discovered that the easement was bought by the U$ gov’ment about 40 years ago and never used. The gov’ment officially abandoned the claim about 20 years ago.
Our hearts leapt. We were cruisin’ Happy Street again – but it wouldn’t last. There was no way we could know it at the time, but we had just boarded an emotional tilt-o-whirl that would have us spinning for about a month as the title company found one problem after another with the title. Just as we would turn and sort one problem out, another would slap us from behind.
While back in Maine, Elephanthead dropped out of our group. I can’t say why, but in my heart, I kinda guessed he might. It clearly wasn’t about us – but about him and his life. Still, it was another blow. Now we were down to four. Everyone came back to California feeling low, so it was like a bolt of lightning out of the blue when Capt. Peachfuzz returned and announced that he was interested in joining our jolly crew. Saved by Capt. Peachfuzz! He brought with him his trusted confidant and sidekick, Coolmint. Coolmint would come up with us and stay for a few weeks to help Capt. Peachfuzz build his tree house. Woo, woo!
A Dash for Freedom
It was getting close to the end of our lease on our house in California, and we still didn’t own the land. We trusted Hamish, but we weren’t about to tell him our mildly illegal plans for the property. It was a small town we were moving to up there in Oregon, so we were careful not to take any chances until we understood the territory better.
When we first contacted Hamish, like good anarchists everywhere, we dissimulated, we misinformed, we lied. We said that we were a group of dot-com yuppies buying recreational property. Um, yea, right. Only now we had to stick to our story. There was no way to let Hamish know that we had a deadline. We just had to keep packing and quietly panicking to ourselves.
We had a lot to pack. As anarcho-slackers, we didn’t own much personal stuff; just a change of cloths and a mattress on the floor. Yet, there was the pirate thing: Salach’s boat shop, stacks of boat-building wood, a couple boats, and so on. It filled Stuffsack, Chainsaw’s van, Snowflake, and a 17-foot Ryder truck. We said good-bye to Hotlunch, and just left California, just like that, with no home to go to, but hoping for the best.
We checked our voicemail at gas stops along the way. I was a basket case and so was the rest of the crew. Salach, Chainsaw, and I are particularly bad stress-balls. In addition to our land problems, I was worried about the vehicles. The van was running one cylinder short of a full stack, and Stuffsack and Snowflake were old, fragile, and over-loaded. The van wasn’t registered. Chainsaw was on probation in California, and Coolmint had two outstanding arrest warrants.
Finally it happened somewhere near Yreka, California – the deal went through. I called our voicemail one last time in California, and there was a message from the title company. “Congratulations,” it said, “you own the land.”
So as I write these last words, the light Northwest spring rains are pattering outside my tipi. A fire is burning in the woodstove and tea is brewing. Chainsaw and Frenchy are warm in their tree house. Capt. Peachfuzz and Coolmint also built a tree house and then disappeared on a road trip, hopefully to reappear soon. The garden is planted and Salach is almost finished building the boat shop…but that is all for the next issue. I will fill you in soon.
In the mean time, start a collective. We are anarchists because of what we do. If you need a job, start a worker-owned business. If you need a home, start a commune. If you need a place for your band to play, organize a collective performance space or dance club, and so on. You can do it. Yes, from one angle, it is difficult to make a collective work, but from a slightly different angle, it is also quite easy. You just charge ahead as if you know what you are doing. Fake it. Have fun. The revolution is our lifestyle. Get nakid, go wild, destroy everything!