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Communalism is a term with three distinct meanings according to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary. These include: (1) "a theory of government or a system of government in which independent communes participate in a federation"; (2) "the principles and practice of communal ownership". Many experiments in utopian socialism did implement internal rules of communalist property ownership in the context of federated communalism. It is at least theoretically possible for a federation of communes to include communes which do not practice communalist rules of property, which is to say, that the overall national government may be a federation of communes, but that private property rather than communalist property is the order within each such commune. Karl Marx, often viewed as the founder of communism, criticized other socialists of his era, and made particularly blistering criticisms of utopianism which was generally conceived along communalist principles, both federational communalism and local property communalism.
Communalism as a political philosophy was first coined by the well-known libertarian socialist author and activist Murray Bookchin as a political system to complement his environmental philosophy of social ecology.
While originally conceived as a form of social anarchism, he later developed Communalism into a separate ideology which incorporates what he saw as the most beneficial elements of left anarchism, Marxism, syndicalism, and radical ecology. Politically, Communalists advocate a stateless, classless, decentralized society consisting of a network of directly democratic citizens' assemblies in individual communities/cities organized in a confederal fashion.
This primary method used to achieve this is called libertarian municipalism which involves the establishment of face-to-face democratic institutions which are to grow and expand confederally with the goal of eventually replacing the nation-state. Unlike anarchists, Communalists are not opposed in principle to taking part in parliamentary politics -especially municipal elections- as long as candidates are libertarian socialist and anti-statist in policy.
Communalist experiments throughout history have often developed bitter animosities as the parties disputed about the exact issues underlying the confusion over definitions discussed above. The Paris Commune was one such case.
The third definition is "strong allegiance to one's own ethnic group rather than to society." For reasons which have not been explicated[dubious ], the term is associated with events in South Asia, but it is unclear what distinguishes the ethnic conflict there from ethnic conflicts in other parts of the world. India is largely English-speaking, but there does not appear to be any published research establishing that or any other fact as a basis for the pattern by which the term is applied to South Asian inter-ethnic strife rather than to events elsewhere.
In the Indian subcontinent, the term communalism has taken on a very different meaning, namely that of a religion—and, more specifically, ethnicity-based sectarianism promoting communal violence, espoused by many political movements.
Some features of Waldensian movement and associated communes in northern Italy in the 13th and 14th centuries followed certain aspects of communal ownership.
The Anabaptist Münster Rebellion of 1534–1535 attempted to establish a society based on community of goods.
All these reformation attempts were led by biblical literalism in which they referred to previously mentioned passages from the Book of Acts. Radicalism of their social experiments was further heightened by Chiliasm and ardent expectation of Theocracy.
One text that develops the argument that communalistic tendencies were present in radical reformation era movements in Europe is Communism in Central Europe in the Time of the Reformation by the Marxian theorist Karl Kautsky.
The Plymouth Colony was established by Separatist Pilgrims who had travelled from Europe in order to flee religious persecution and establish a religious community separate from the Church of England. The social and legal systems of the colony were tied to their religious beliefs as well as English Common Law. The presence of secular planters ("The Strangers") hired by the London merchant investors who funded their venture led to tension and factionalization in the fledgling settlement, especially because of the policies of land use and profit-sharing, but also in the way each group viewed workdays and holidays.
In this primarily religious-based community, the communist-like principle used by the "primitive" Christian Church as described in the Acts of the Apostles ("all things be held in common") was used as a basis for the contract agreed upon by the venture and its investors. This common ownership was more akin to what we now think of as a privately held corporation as the common ownership of property and profits was insured by the issuing of stock to the settlers and investors which would be paid out from the division of the common property and profits after seven years.
Anno: 1620. July 1. 1. The adventurers & planters doe agree, that every person that goeth being aged 16. years & upward, be rated at 10li., and ten pounds to be accounted a single share. 2. That he that goeth in person, and furnisheth him selfe out with 10li. either in money or other provissions, be accounted as haveing 20li. in stock, and in [th]e devission shall receive a double share. 3. The persons transported & [th]e adventurers shall continue their joynt stock & partnership togeather, [th]e space of 7. years, (excepte some unexpected impedimente doe cause [th]e whole company to agree otherwise,) during which time, all profits & benefits that are gott by trade, traffick, trucking, working, fishing, or any other means of any person or persons, remaine still in ye comone stock until [th]e division. 4. That at their coming ther, they chose out such a number of fitt persons, as may furnish their ships and boats for fishing upon [th]e sea; imploying the rest in their severall faculties upon ye land; as building houses, tilling, and planting ye ground, & making shuch comodities as shall be most use full for [th]e collonie. 5. That at[th]e end of [th]e 7. years, [th]e capitall & profits, viz. the houses, lands, goods and chatles, be equally divided betwixte ye adventurers, and planters; wch done, every man shall be free from other of them of any debt or detrimente concerning this adventure. 6. Whosoever cometh to [th]e colonie herafter, or putteth any into [th]e stock, shall at the ende of [th]e 7. years be alowed proportionably to [th]e time of his so doing. 7. He that shall carie his wife & children, or servants, shall be alowed for everie person now aged 16. years & upward, a single share in [th]e division, or if he provid them necessaries, a duble share, or if they be between 10. year old and 16., then 2. of them to be reconed for a person, both in trasportation and division. 8. That such children as now goe, & are under ye age of ten years, have noe other shar in [th]e division, but 50. acers of unmanured land. 9. That such persons as die before [th]e 7. years be expired, their executors to have their parte or shaff at [th]e division, proportionably to [th]e time of their life in [th]e collonie. 10. That all such persons as are of this collonie, are to have their meate, drink, apparell, and all provissions out of [th]e comon stock & goods of [th]e said collonie. "
Although each family controlled their own home and possessions, corn was farmed on a communal plot of land with the harvest divided equally amongst the settlers. The secular planters resented having to share their harvest with families whose religious beliefs so sharply conflicted with their own and as a result shirked work and resorted to thievery, whilst the Pilgrims resented the secular planters taking days off for holidays (especially Christmas) and their frequent carousing and revelry which often left them unfit for work. This conflict resulted in a corn production which was insufficient for the needs of the settlement. Because further supplies from their investors were withheld due to a dispute of the agreed upon payments from the settlement, starvation became imminent. As a result, for the planting of 1623, each family was temporarily assigned their own plot of land to tend with the right to keep all that was harvested from that plot, whether it be sufficient or not and all other production responsibilities and the goods produced therefrom would continue to remain as was originally agreed upon.
In 1621, William Bradford, one of the drafters of the Mayflower Compact, was selected as governor of the group after the original governor, John Carver, died during that spring. Bradford served in that capacity for the next 11 years. During that time and afterwards, Bradford kept a journal which is now known as Of Plymouth Plantation, the only complete record of Plymouth Colony's founding and early years. In that journal, Bradford describes the problems that arose from their communal land use:
The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato's and other ancients applauded by some of later times; and that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labor and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labors and victuals, clothes etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men's wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it. Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition. Let none object this is men's corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them.
Due to insufficient corn production and the discontent of the single young men who resented having to provide for other men's wives and children, Bradford changed the original communal use of land and equal division of the harvest and divided the land in plots to be temporarily assigned to individual families who would retain their harvest for themselves. According to Bradford, this resulted in increased productivity and social stability:
At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves [...] This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.
In the 17th century the True Levellers, followers of Gerrard Winstanley, believed in the concept of "levelling men's estates" in order to create equality. They also took over common land for what they believed to be the common good.
In the 19th century The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, colloquially called Mormons, attempted to live a form of Christian communalism called the Law of Consecration, using organizations described as the United Order. This was established under Joseph Smith, Jr. and was first practiced in Kirtland, Ohio in the early 1830s. This originally helped Latter Day Saints with settling in Ohio and was to have helped with building and sustaining entire communities in Missouri, including Independence, Adam-ondi-Ahman, and Far West. Subsequent events, including the 1838 Mormon War, made it impossible for these communities to thrive.
After the Mormon Exodus and initial settlement of the Utah Territory, Brigham Young began in 1874 to establish a series of community cooperatives, which were collectively called the United Order of Enoch. This program was used in at least 200 Mormon communities, most of them in outlying rural areas, away from the central Mormon settlements. Most of the cooperatives lasted for only two or three years before returning to a more standard economic system. One of the last United Order cooperatives was located in Orderville, which continued until an 1885 anti-polygamy law enforcement action under the Edmunds Act effectively ended it by jailing many of its leaders.
The Law of Consecration (as expressed via the United Order) was an attempt to base income on a families' actual needs and wants, not on their ability to produce. This was to be done through a strictly voluntary covenant; it was not deemed acceptable to establish economic equality through force (see also Mormon beliefs on agency). The church has never called this practice communism. Instead the church has formally stated that, due to matters of spirituality, the United Order and communism are materially opposite in purpose:
"Communism and all other similar isms bear no relationship whatever to the United Order. They are merely the clumsy counterfeits which Satan always devises of the Gospel plan [...]. The United Order leaves every man free to choose his own religion as his conscience directs. Communism destroys man's God-given free agency; the United Order glorifies it. Latter-day Saints cannot be true to their faith and lend aid, encouragement, or sympathy to any of these false philosophies [...]." (Harold B. Lee, 112th Annual General Conference, April 6, 1942.)
The Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite), a tiny sect of the Latter Day Saint movement headquartered in Independence, Missouri has operated a functioning United Order since 1913. Membership in the order is required of all church members, as Cutlerites reject tithing and all similar means of church finance.