Anarchy, which explains how such experiments fail socially in spite of their initial success in achieving self-sufficiency.
Small Communist Communities: What Causes them to Fail
by Peter Kropotkin
Anarchy, pp. 253-260
Some readers will venture to guess that it will be in organizing communal labor that the communists are likely to fail, thinking that this is where many communities have failed already. There are numerous books that express this opinion. It is, however, entirely erroneous. When communist communities failed, the reasons for their failure usually had nothing to do with communal labor.
First, let us note that nearly all such communities have been founded with semi-religious fervor as their driving force. Their founders had decided to become “heralds of mankind” or “champions of great ideas” and, consequently, to adhere to strict rules of pettily restrictive morality, to be “reborn” thanks to communal life and, finally, to give all of their time, both during and outside of work, to their commune, living exclusively for its sake.
However, imposing such requirements meant following in the footsteps of the monks and hermits of old, needlessly demanding of people that they become something other than who they happen to be. Only recently have there been founded communes (predominantly by worker-anarchists) without any such lofty strivings, but with the simple economic goal of putting an end to being continually robbed by the owner-capitalists.
Another mistake made by the communists was in attempting live as one family of brothers and sisters. To this end, they would settle under a single roof, where they were forced to spend their entire lives in the presence of these same “brothers and sisters.” But such cohabitation in close quarters is no easy feat: even two brothers, the sons of the same parents, don't always find it easy to share a house or an apartment. Besides, family life doesn't suit everyone. This is why it is always a grave error to impose the idea of living as “one big family.” Instead, it is better to provide everyone with the maximum amount of freedom and the greatest privacy possible for the internal life of each family. For example, the Russian Dukhobors [in Canada] live in separate cabins, and this arrangement helps to preserve their semi-communist communities much more than would life in a single monastery. The first condition for the success of a commune should be to give up the thought of a phalanstère and to live in separate houses, as they do in England.
Second, [let's be clear that] a small, isolated commune cannot last a long time. It is well known that people who are forced to live very close together, on a ship or in jail, and receiving very little stimulation from outside, after a while simply can't stand each other [...]. In a small commune it is enough for any two people to become rivals, or to develop an enmity toward each other, in order for the commune to fall apart. It is actually quite surprising that such communes can last for quite a while, all the more so considering that they often seek seclusion from others.
This is why, when founding an isolated commune of just ten, twenty or even a hundred people, you should realize ahead of time that it is unlikely to outlast three or four years. And if it were to last longer, this would be regrettable, because it would prove that its members have either become enslaved by one of their number, or have become utterly depersonalized. But since it is possible to predict that after three, four or five years a part of the commune's membership will want to separate, it makes sense to, at the very least, have dozen or two such communes bound together into a union. In that case, anyone who, for one reason or another, wants to leave their commune, can switch places with someone else in another one. Otherwise the commune falls apart or (as happens in most cases) falls into the hands of one of the members—the most shrewd and clever “brother.” Thus, to all those who are forming communist communities, I recommend very strongly entering into a union with other such communities. This idea did not come from theory, but from the experience of recent years, especially in England, where several communes fell into the hands of certain “brothers” specifically due to the absence of a wider organization.
Small communes which were founded over the past three or four decades have failed for another important reason: they shunned the outside world. But struggle, and life animated by struggle, are essential for any active person, more important than being well fed. The need to live among people, to dive into the current of social life, to fight alongside others, to live the lives of others and to suffer their sufferings is especially strong in the young generation. This is why [...] as soon as young people approach eighteen or nineteen years of age, they inevitably abandon their commune if it does not form part of the entire society. Youth inevitably flees communes if they are not united with the rest of the world and do not take part in its life. Meanwhile, the majority of communes (with the exception of two, which were founded next to large cities by our friends in England) seek first of all to flee into the wilderness. Really now, imagine yourself between sixteen and twenty years of age, trapped in some small communist commune somewhere in the wilds of Texas, Canada or Brazil. Books, newspapers, magazines, pictures tell you of large beautiful cities, where intense life pours forth like a wellspring—in the streets, in theaters, at public gatherings. “Now that's life!” you say to yourself, “while here we have death—or, worse than death, slow stupefaction! Misery? Hunger? So I'll experience misery and hunger; but let it be a battle rather than moral and mental degradation, which is worse than death.” And with these words you abandon the commune. And you are right to do so.
And so we see the kind of mistake that was made by the Icarians and other communists who founded their communes in the wilds of North America. Taking land for free or buying it cheaply in places that had barely been settled, they compounded the difficulty of adjusting to their new way of life with all of the usual difficulties of homesteading in the wilderness, away from cities and major roads. As we have learned from their experiences, these difficulties are very serious. It is true that they obtained land for next to nothing; but the experience of the commune near Newcastle proved to us that, from a material point of view, a commune can provide for itself much faster and much better, by gardening (predominantly using greenhouses) and planting orchards, and not through field work. A ready market for their fruits and vegetables nearby provides the income to pay for the high land rents. Also, work in gardens and orchards suits a city-dweller far better than field work, especially if it involves clearing land in the wilderness. It is far better to rent land in Europe than to flee to the wilderness, and, all the more so, to dream of forming a new religious empire, as did the communists of Amana and others. Social reformers need the chance to struggle, proximity to intellectual centers, constant contact with the society they wish to reform, inspiration from science, culture, progress, which they cannot get from books alone.
It goes without saying that governance of the commune has always been the most serious impediment for all practical communists. Indeed, it is enough to read Travels in Icaria by Cabet to realize why it was impossible that the communes founded by the Icarians would last. They required total annihilation of human personality in the service of the great archpriest who was their founder. [...] Alongside these experiments, we see that those communists who reduced governance to the lowest level possible, or had no governance at all, as, for example, the Young Icaria in America, succeeded better and lasted longer than the others (35 years). It is easy to understand why: the greatest animosity between people always erupts because of politics, because of power struggles, and in a small commune power struggles inevitably lead to its dissolution. In a big city we can live side by side with our political opponents, since we are not forced into constant contact them. But how do you live with them in a small commune, where you encounter them every day, every minute? Political arguments and intrigues over power get carried over into the workshops, into the spaces where people congregate for leisure, making life intolerable.
These are the main causes for the dissolution of communes that have been founded up until now.