Communes and prevention
* * *
Meetings, concertation, organization of the movement
Meetings by correspondence
The functions of the communes
The functional power of the commune
The group phenomenon
The para-social situation of the commune
Articulation: or resolution of a paradox
Author: Christian DUPONT
Pages: 15 to 29
Creation Date: 1974/01/01
President, Institut de recherche interdisciplinaire et de synthèse, Meulan, France
At its twenty-fifth session, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs made several suggestions for widening the range of subjects covered by the Bulletin "by including articles on socio-medical and socio-legal questions, behaviour studies, cultural and cross-cultural studies..." (report of the twenty-fifth session).
It is with this in mind that the editors of the Bulletin are publishing the following article by the President of the Institut de recherche interdisciplinaire et de synthèse, who was Secretary of the Commune Movement in France in 1971. The author took part in the seminar held by UNESCO at Sèvres in September 1973 and agreed to write this analysis of the commune movement as he knew it. In the opinion of the editors, the analysis may help to better understand one of the movements in which young people gave expression to the difficulties they encountered in finding a place in contemporary society. While hoping that this kind of article will contribute to clarifying certain aspects of the reactions of a part of the younger generation; the editors of the Bulletin wish to reiterate the statement in the note on the inside of the Bulletin 's cover page that "opinions expressed in signed articles are not necessarily those of the United Nations".
Why communes? What is their connexion with drugs? Are they good, or bad? Are communes a thing of the past?
By way of prologue, we shall first answer those questions.
The press and television "acquainted" us with the commune phenomenon; our children, friends, relations spoke about it; for some time it was a subject of drawing room conversation; so called "underground" newspapers devoted columns to it; a few works were published dealing with the subject in various styles - critical, apologetic, historical, anecdotal, romantic, sociological... and now, let's face it, the subject, although not exhausted, is somewhat passé. There are not many journalists who would take a chance on it, for it is now little more than a memory - a picturesque but short-lived episode.
But let us be serious. Unquestionably, a chapter has just ended. The fact that there are still some communes and they are counting on a future does not change things: as a collective phenomenon, the wave of the commune in France has subsided. In November and December the author attended the final break-up of groups which had gone furthest in collective experience or cultural exploration; as a general rule, those which are holding out were possessed of the strongest structures and the smallest, or most traditional, human ambitions. They are now hardly representative of the movement's original intent.
Thus, we have come to the subject at ebb-tide in the relative calm between two waves - for the younger generations, ever hopeful, are waiting and preparing to take another ship for the Island of Cythera.
What will happen if they have to wait too long? To what substitutes for self-transcendence will they turn? To what "trips"? To what "experiences"?
To be young is to thirst - to thirst for knowledge and to thirst for being MORE--but it is also to be impatient.
What better prey for the merchant of dreams, be they ideological, mystical, political, emotional or chemical?
More than ever, therefore, the time has come to draw up a balance-sheet, to take stock or--to revert to our maritime metaphors - to find our bearings.
In the sector with which we are concerned - the drug problem and the attraction it holds for youth - communes seem to hold out certain solutions. However, in this study very little will be said about the use of drugs because we have deliberately chosen to go beyond the phenomenon itself and to enter into a social and historical area - that of the genesis of CAUSES, in our view - in order to apply a socio-cultural remedy acting on the causes themselves.
Therapeutic action is an individual cure. Repressive action is an attempt at social cure. Both of them, while momentarily effective nevertheless leave the NEED and the source of the need untouched. They are, therefore, condemned to constant and continuing effort.
Everyone knows that in the face of a contagious disease, effectiveness calls for the identification of the virus and the rapid development of a vaccine. That is why we have chosen PREVENTION - not from the point of view of information, which all too often reinforces the need, but from the point of view of action: by modifying the socio-cultural situation, by creating existential conditions compatible with the real desires of young people that will cause the aberrant need to vanish.
"There is not just ONE drug problem !" said Jim Haynes at the UNESCO seminar. And, indeed, anything can graft itself on to the ordinary trunk of an individual-society conflict, depending on local circumstances and individual weaknesses: violence, delinquency, mental illness, drug addiction... to cut up, isolate, partition is to be condemned to never being able to apprehend a reality which is COMPLEX by nature. That is why we shall speak so little of the drug problem specifically, although having nothing but that in mind.
As circumstances vary according to time and place, each ethnic group, each society must find its own answer. For the chewers of coca or betel, the answer probably lies in improving agricultural resources and solving the problem of hunger. For our industrialized societies and its young people it is another "hunger" which has to be identified. In this respect the exploraty aspects of the commune movement provides us with some material: apart from the chaotic, unequal, foolhardy behaviour inherent in any spontaneous mass movement, the deep reality, the best in what has been experienced by every commune has proved to be full of merits: merits of self-transcendence, merits of originality, therapeutic merits, merits of socialization.
And it seems, on reviewing this recent past, that no serious preventive action in the three inter-related fields of mental illness, delinquency and drug use can afford to ignore this lesson.
Why? Because happiness is not very anxious to be turned into misfortune; because a person who is up does not want to be down again; and because those who possess what is REAL have no need to play with their shadows.
June 1970: First appearance of a roneoed bulletin, called C, presenting itself as an inter-commune forum and information organ.
It was the articulate, conscious, collective beginning of a movement which was to reach its peak in August 1971 and then decline slowly until December 1973.
Neo-commune reality had not been non-existent prior to that publication - if it had been, the bulletin would not have appeared - but as to its being a collective phenomenon, it can be regarded as having been subconscious, scattered, individualized: it had not reached a threshold of density, in population and significance, that would cause it to feel the need to adopt an existential identity at the national level.
That move was to be followed four months later - in October 1970 - by the publication of a medium-circulation national magazine, ACTUEL - new series - which, although not specifically a commune organ, set out to reveal, arouse and express the French "underground", to put it in touch with the international "underground" and to provide it with information about life on the fringe in other countries, particularly the United States of America, where hippy communes were flourishing.
That magazine was to play a very important part in the rise and collectivization of the French neo-commune movement. Many of its readers were referred to C, and in May/June 1971 it was to collaborate with commune bulletin in the preparation and circulation, free of charge, of a commune year-book.
What had gone before? What was the social and psychological context in which the movement developed?
First there had been May 1968 and its mystical and political upsurge.
Then, there had been 1969, marked by the consolidation of social order, which had been momentarily shaken.
A whole segment of the (international) population had found itself denied access to open political life, i.e., to the life of the body politic in terms of dialogue, concertation and decision of the whole. Thereafter, it could speak only from beyond the pale and was condemned to chronic opposition.
Excessively radical claims, qualitatively alien to the entrenched systems, could not be met without profoundly changing the form and direction of social structures, and had therefore been deemed unsuitable. The existing order had been consolidated and protected in a wave of administrative and police repression. Youth-hunting had begun.
The quarry reacted in several ways: they either fled, hit back, attacked or submitted. Some, who had been confronted with violence in 1968, preached violence and the idea that revolution was necessary took hold. Others returned to the factory, workshop, office, vocational school or university, for that practical method of integration into social life remained wide open. Yet others formed themselves into movements which persisted in expressing their criticisms and their hopes.
Lastly, some took flight in two forms:
Exogenous reaction, which consisted in taking to the road, exile, travel, departure for Afghanistan, India, Nepal (mystically important) and later, North Africa;
Endogenous reaction, which consisted in oblivion through intoxication of all kinds, love, sex, music (great era of pop concerts) and drugs.
Those four types of behaviour were acted out or envied for a time at least, in the personal experience of all who were affected by 1968.
Thus, when C and ACTUEL appeared they were alone of their type but offered the attraction of a novelty because they maintained an appearance of political rather than "unofficial" journalism. 1969 saw the birth and disappearance of many small political journals, of which Tout, L'Idiot international, Hara-kiri (later, Charlie Hebdo) and La cause du peuple survived. It was not until 1970 that Abbie Hoffman's words "If you don't like the newspapers they give you, make your own" gained currency and that, in the months following the appearance of the two magazines, several broadsheets appeared with varying titles, including Rufus, OZ, Crève salope, Quetton, Vivre, La veuve joyeuse, Action, Contre-journal, Le canard sauvage. There were nearly 300 of them expressing maceration at the fringe, a cultural struggle rather than an institutional one. The life longed for, the hopes which had been momentarily dashed, reappeared in them in a style which was clearly subversive and destructive of "official" culture since none of the changes desired had been effected and they were still outside the great dialogue.
Art and words precede life. This ferment of dreams and cries preceded action.
In the confusion of rejection and frenzy, revolt and despair, fantasy, myth, lucubration, void and compensation, one possible reality emerged - in fact, the first reality within everyone's reach for two years: life in a commune, where one could adopt the rhythm and quality of existence one had wanted all to have. It was realized that there was a flaw hidden in this strong temptation: those concerned were going to seize this existence for themselves and only for themselves; it was not for the others. But they allayed their anxiety by declaring that it was to be an "example" and that later, when the evidence was obvious to all and proved by action, all could join in, or learn from it, and in that way the example would spread.
That was the atmosphere and frame of mind in which the first groupings were formed.
Journals have been mentioned because they were more than sign, more than a visible manifestation of an underlying movement: they had a function, which was to make it possible to meet.
First of all, a meeting of minds on a number of implicit or explicit principles:
Immediate happiness. You must live as you want to, now. Time is too short to allow for further waiting. The suffering must not be prolonged. Injustice must not last for ever. "Get with it", "Hit the road", "Be cool" were the slogans taken over from Jerry Rubin.
(A break with the orthodox "policy" of agreeing provisionally to see the golden age postponed.)
Be yourself. Stop hiding yourself, burying yourself, making yourself invisible: show yourself! Sweep away all accepted ideas, clear the board of everything - taboos, prohibitions, customs, principles; throw out conventions, traditions, reflexes, fears - all that petrifies - in order to recapture warmth, exuberance and spontaneity. At that time, long hair was not a fashion but a sign of adherence. It advertised an identity and a meaning: "I esteem life and its luxuriance as opposed to the sterility of convention, how about you?" Apparel, new fashions in the style and colour of dress were to follow. The first aim was to start a revolution of ideas and customs, to act as if everything had to begin from scratch again.
The right to live. Everyone has the right to live as he pleases. Our action, our plans are legitimate, and even legal. Because, when all is said and done, except that we do not aim at profits we are perfectly within the framework of liberal principles: freedom of enterprise, free competition of ideas and achievements. As we do not wish to harm anyone and as we are engaged in an absolutely peaceful struggle, who would dare to question our rights? Although we always speak of "revolution" we mean "cultural revolution". (At which the "policy" mentioned above backs away, because it is loath to start by what it considers to be the end. As under (2), it is willing to cast off everything except its basic ideology.)
Thus, in a meeting of minds and hearts, a minimum consensus was reached on texts, cartoons, photographs, which was manifested in symbolic signs of adherence and which was to make possible chance meetings - in the street, at school, at work, in the bistro - eventually, leading to arranged meetings. The latter too were to take place with the help of the journals. There were two phases of these "arranged meetings"; (a) meetings by correspondence between individuals; (b) get-togethers, or collective meetings.
All the fringe journals adopted the device of free classified advertisements and readers' letters. Michel Faligand, the founder of C, increased opportunities for free expression and meetings by using a very fluid system: C had no editorial board. The reader was the editor. An open correspondence was thus initiated between persons unknown to each other: they asked one another questions and answered them. There was no censorship. Bi-monthly at first, the frequency of publication was speeded up and ceased to be regular: eventually, the journal came out as soon as there was a certain amount of material. Anyone who wished to do so, wrote in it or inserted small ads. The journal's budget was made known to everyone: each number published brief accounts of its finances. In addition, it offered a list of useful addresses and a directory of those who were with it. This led to private correspondence and eventually to actual meetings.
ACTUEL adopted the same approach to small ads. In addition, it supplied information on occasions for public meetings. The meetings between individuals led to the formation of groups, which soon demanded broader concertation.
These were organized by C at the beginning of 1971 in Paris, in an art school or on the premises of a youth centre. They were held weekly. From the beginning, the participants displayed a common concern for organization: search for permanent premises, creation of a commune information and co-ordination committee, formation of a team to produce and circulate C. They provided the opportunity for many meetings and voluntary re-groupings.
In April 1971, all the aforementioned desires were realized; in addition, a reception and information centre was opened and a new idea - to create a federation of communes - emerged. We proposed a nationwide inter-commune meeting for the summer. Other centres opened in a few large towns. The commune movement had been launched.
It may be said that in May 1971 clear planning gave way to effervescence, exhilaration and a permanent holiday atmosphere. The "meetings" turned into reunions. Not "all of May 1968" could be said to have been there - far from it - but all who were there were of May 1968; all had lived through those events as their own and all had experienced the intervening depression.
What else did we talk about but that, and the meaning of the new movement?
1968 had broken down the barriers of a society clinging to its social, functional and occupational categories. For us, the movement had just succeeded in doing that.
1968 had brought us contact, talk, dialogue, simplicity, fraternity, discussion, collective euphoria, joyfulness: we rediscovered those virtues and learned that they were not dead.
In 1968 we had broken the black-out on information about the reality of our existence...now, mass-circulation newspapers, television, and peripheral radio stations were asking the movement's secretariat or its representatives for interviews, articles and information.
From the point of view of action and numbers it was only a small movement, but we felt that as an anecdote or happening of civilization it was important. Accordingly, energy and agitation increased ten-fold in a sensation of continuity, of being in tune with the times, in the exciting impression that we were the new look, another attempt by a many-sided reality that was searching for its way and whose deeper unity we were experiencing.
So, reunions, certainly. Joy, obviously...but who could avoid the confusion that results from those moments when the past and present meet and seem to overlap? And how could we not succumb to the illusion that time had stood still and that the problems and their solutions had remained unchanged?
That is why, what the movement gained in size and determination at that time it lost in clarity as a result of over-mixing and of the coming of summer, which impelled to haste.
There were inumerable discussions and disputes. An attempted link-up with the Lien communautaire (organ of the World Commune Union, a group engaged in analysing and documenting the commune phenomenon) was dropped owing to the intransigence of certain participants. They would agree to unite only on a trend, not on the concept of what a commune should be. "Not just any commune" they said. We were all the more exposed to their objections, since we had had no theory, only a desire for experimenting - to try - and an inspiration - this was the future.
Thus, in reaction to all this expenditure of verbal and intellectual energy, the groups were to form again around something specific - practical preparation for launching the movement. Teachers assembled to discuss free educational projects, partisans of total living made lists of material and drew up budgets, mystics got together with mystics, "craftsmen" united on the basis of a specific activity of their choice (weaving, woodwork, leatherwork, basketwork, metalwork, pottery). The town dwellers - those who wanted to keep their occupation and create urban communes - exchanged addresses or pooled appartments, the "militants" considered the prospects of alliance and joint action with the rural communes that were to be their environment, and the "utopians" were back together working on an "experimental civilization" project in which all technology and culture would be wiped away to make room for a rediscovery more suited to mankind.
June 1971 saw the first settlements. The inter-commune meeting was fixed for the end of August at Frayssinous, Aveyron.
The specifics of the internal life of individual communes will be reverted to later. That is a reality which calls for in-depth treatment; it does not lend itself to the "bird's-eye view" method.
It should be mentioned, however, that the Frayssinous meeting brought together several types of the population concerned, including the "old" communes (two, three or four years old), the "young" communes with just three or four months' experience, and a quantity of individuals trying to find their feet.
Forty communes, from all the regions of France, but mainly from the south, were present. Their desire was, if not to federate (they were fearful of re-creating a hierarchical administration) at least to organize themselves practically, to identify themselves with respect to each other and to bring clarity to a confused situation. They were probably the most representative of the commune movement. The fact that they had made the journey meant that they expected it to result in a strengthening of the movement that would be of practical benefit to them but would also make them part of a national reality.
But many did not come; having acted as secretary for several months, the author knows that there must have been two or three hundred of them in various forms. Why didn't they come? Lack of information? The needs of farmwork? A group or family individualism that had no desire whatever to be part of a collective movement, which would somehow lead them back to organized political life?
The fact remains, that the last possibility clouded the discussion. This began amidst the constant arrival of new participants, who had been screened and checked by a police cordon blocking access to the hill, and to the drone of the police helicopter which hovered over the farm buildings. The meeting turned out to be more a gathering of the fringe as a whole, on the subject of communes, than a strictly inter-commune assembly. And it is worth noting that there were practically no "teddy boys" or "motorcycle gangs".
The discussions were held in an enormous barn. They dealt with a comparison of experiences and with the subjects proposed at the meeting. In that way they reviewed solutions to the problems of love relations and emotional situations; the education of children in the care of groups; organization of work---comparative agricultural resources of each commune; techniques of farming; relations with drugs; 'revolution and communes; whether the movement should remain an amalgam of all trends or become more radical; whether mystical communes with an egocentric bias were incompatible with political communes with a social-activity bias.
Our clear conscience, our "comfort" and our "privileges" were harshly criticized by the nomads--those who "hit the road". They called us bourgeois, installed in our property, organizing ourselves and prepared to defend our new interests. To them, the so-called "political" communes, were absurd, since they were trapped in a contradiction.
This criticism had its effect: five communes declared their goods, land and buildings the collective property of the five groups, with the possibility of exchange and rotation of occupants. Furthermore, they would reserve a reception area, which would no longer belong to anyone, for those on the roads. There was a friendly but nonetheless objective split: some fifteen social-activity communes decided to set up an inter-group barter network, to publish a practical and theoretical bulletin concerning themselves alone, to establish a food and supplies purchasing group, and to pool heavy equipment. The "mystical" communes were left to their individualism and their various myths: ecological religion, religion of non-violence, nature worship, vegetarianism, vegetablism, macrobiotics etc..
Were these something good? Were not the other, the pure and strict communes, also being carried away by fantasies? Those were questions we were to ask ourselves later, after our return.
End of the gathering. We separated.
By September 1971 we were back home. Frayssinous had often been distressing: the promiscuity, the dirt, the confusion, the violence of some of the statements. We rested. Then life started up again. We did the accounts, looked at the buildings which were being restored, at what was needed - at all that was needed. It would be a hard winter... As if things weren't bad enough. We thought back to the verbal intoxication of the meeting, to the petitions... The allied communes were quite far from each other; and they all had economic difficulties which, by the force of necessity, led them back to relying on themselves.
"Have we not got off to a bad start?" The question was never asked but it was on all our minds. We all began to have an uncomfortable impression of dull plodding. After the sometimes staggering lift we had experienced in July/August, - in the quality of exchanges, co-existence, individual freedom, after the prospects of existing above and beyond ourselves, which we had never suspected at the outset and which we now knew to be possible in TOTAL LIVING, this - this kind of turning back - was unthinkable. It was not to go backwards, to be satisfied with petty survival, with our small possessions or to be sheltered from the problems of the world that we had come. We had come to fight, to struggle, to be exemplary. Well, the state of our resources showed us that this ambition was beyond our reach. The results of Frayssinous showed us that the movement had not found a credible basis of homogeneity (an agreement for practical exchanges did not make it meaningful), that we had no weight in face of the hostility of the entrenched system and its means of coercion... Were we then to become counter-examples and was our weakness to remove us from the global dialogue?
Initially, such thoughts were in the realm of sensation rather than consciousness. By the time they had taken shape, winter had come and with it the first disintegration of the groups. Those who remained believe in the virtue of obstinacy. "Do what you like even if it kills you", some of them were to write on their walls. We found them in 1972, having great difficulty in communicating with the outside world and reluctant to welcome outsiders who came either as visitors or in a state of need. By dint of hard work, some succeeded in overcoming their economic difficulties and in leading an "enlightened" peasant life. Yet, they too broke up by the end of 1973. When we examined the causes together, they answered "crisis of meaning". It boiled down to one sentence: "But what were we doing there?"
Was it a failure?
At the collective level: YES.
At the individual level: NO.
At the collective level: With respect to the idea - and now I prefer to say the faith, the passion - that by starting from the basic facts we would gradually re-compose a new reality and slowly climb back to the level of institutions, we definitely failed; we had involved in sheer utopia. Like the "mystics" we had let be carried away by an illusion: a goodly number of us imagined France as a patient assemblage of Chinese-type communes, self-managing and economically and politically autonomous. The illusion, the passion, concealed a profound split between aims and means: the aim of the "politicals" was institutional change. The corresponding means is direct struggle, at the level of ideas, in a dialogue with the existing institutions and those who serve them. Inconsistently, however, they chose indirect struggle, as far as action was concerned, negating the existing institutions by sympathetic magic. The test of reality caused the illusion to dissolve into thin air. Fine!
At the individual level: If we believe that faith implies a theory of living, and that the commitment was an existential experience for each of us, then this form of living demonstrated its functions in the reality of the commune experience. Inside the visible and collective facts, underneath the declarations of intent, we daily attained a deeper reality and broadened our vision to take in wider, more comprehensive facts than the social fact, approaching a dimension, and acquiring a density which were those of the non-temporal world and which had nothing to do with the ephemeral events and artifices of mundane existence; we rediscovered aptitudes we thought we had lost and discovered the power to wipe out moral misery and abolish anxiety.
Yes! From the point of view of experience, it was a success and precisely in the area with which we are concerned.
Even today, in order to explain the thorny reality of the commune phenomenon, one often has recourse to a pragmatic distinction and say that there are two sorts of commune: rural communes and urban communes. Since this does not explain anything, we shall try rather to draw a functional distinction.
The commune was not an end in itself, it was a means, an instrument chosen for the purpose of attaining certain ends. It was adopted, therefore, for the services it renders, for its functions.
Now, I distinguish several functions which were to characterize certain types of commune to be found both in town and country:
A function of individual maturation: therapeutic action; pedagogical action; formative action.
A function of social relativization: identification of the cultural ID; comparative identification of the social culture; socio-remedial action; meaningful relating.
An ontological function: identification of the ontological ID; anamnesis and oecumenical initiation; relating with the biocosmos.
An existential function: new basic structure, emotional, relational, economic, creative, reproductive.
A witness-bearing function: with respect to ideology, politics, religion, mysticism, phantasy.
A chapter should be devoted to each of these functions. We do not have the space for that, but we can at least briefly clarify some expressions:
Identification of the cultural ID. To the extent that patterns of thought, stereo-types, myths, values subconsciously influence thought, the interpretation of the outside world, language, we prefer to speak of the cultural ID rather than the cultural EGO, particularly since in the social dimension of personality-building, the borrowings, the "materials" are collective; they impregnate the ego but do not belong to it "intrinsically". Thus, each type of society furnishes the individual with a specific instrument of interpretation and thought - the mirror of a culture - but in so doing it provides itself with a collective enclave which by its subconscious operation may have alienating effects. One cannot therefore speak of an EGO to designate this presence; one must speak of it as an ID.
It is clear from this, that the FREE and voluntary acceptance by an individual of his culture can only occur after he has recognized and critically identified this social presence in himself. This marks the stage which we are calling "identification of the cultural ID".
Comparative identification of the social culture. As an extension of this prior process of seeking awareness - and in the light of contemporary information on other neighbouring earlier societies - a comparative examination of differences and similarities clarifies the features of our own culture, brings out the necessary constants and duly relates the cultural fabric, which thus escapes from the area of a priori assessment and assumes its functional value, namely, as a perfectible instrument of our evolution and progress towards intelligence and control.
Socio-remedial action. This operates at two levels, the individual and the collective.
Individual. As we have just seen, the individual, being subject to a particular cultural bias depending on the time in which he lives and the type of society in which he is immersed, is impregnated with both the accomplishments and the defects of the society which has produced him. There is, therefore, at the level of the individual, a repercussion - even an amplification - of collective neuroses, structural malformations or deviant mentalities. This results in a given aberrant psycho-social behaviour calling for examination and emancipation by a method similar to psychoanalysis - but in a critical awareness of the cultural stereotypes operating at the reflex level. One cannot, in such cases, speak of Freudian-type complexes and neuroses (family engendered); one must speak of conjunctions of cultural neuroses (psycho-socially engendered). Thus, it will no longer be a case of relating to the mother, but of an objectivation of the relationships existing between individuals and the society-mother. Chronologically, this is the next stage in the evolution of an autonomous personality.
Collective. Such action also has collective implications.
In its significance. The fact that it is at all possible means that society has ceased to shut itself up with its qualities and its defects - packaged as a static, complete and unchallengeable whole. This opening to recognized and integrated contestation makes possible a future for it which is different from its present, for its individual members become fruitful and creative in their cultural liberty - hence, they make it dynamic. Previously they dynamited it.
In its application. Authentic socially remedial action can be conceived of only at the scale of societies and their sicknesses. The difficulty is obvious: a culturally sick society - either does not know it is "sick" (Third Reich) or does not want to admit it is sick (industrialized countries) in a reflex of (neg-entropic) cohesion all the stronger since the unifying factors are badly worn and therefore threatened by the critical "hubbub". Socially remedial action cannot, therefore, operate from above or outside (through a supra-national authority which would be rejected); it must operate from below and from within, in a free gesture of tolerance towards probable initiatives, which include disorder.
The culturally emancipated groups then become a therapeutic leaven: they propose a new vision, a new structuration without threatening social "cohesion". Their action is slow, but sure and non-violent. Its collective dimension is obvious.
Meaningful relating. The counterpart of the objectivation of a cultural matrix momentarily regarded as being outside ourselves is the process of becoming aware of the RELATIONSHIP uniting the ego to the cultural ID, that is to say, the perception of a possible role for the ego in the course of this evolution. The ego that knows its limits and aptitudes, and also knows the frontiers and functions of ITS society is in a position to find its place in it functionally. It thus acquires a social IDENTITY and is ripe for meaningful action - at least in reference to the social whole of which it is a part.
Ontological function - identification of the ontological ID. Man is more than man. He would have it so. More than individual man, more than social man.
His awareness of the universe, of the cosmic whole in which he is plunged enables him to embrace it completely. He regards himself as part of the absolute and feels completely himself only at that level. Under all the appearances, the relationships and relative interferences of particular beings with each other, his awareness of the relationship itself, of the relativity of existential phenomena, makes him part of the immutable, of the non-temporal, of the limitless, of the continuum of all the qualities of being. This being does not belong to him; he is, on the contrary, encompassed by it-but through extreme rigour of mind, will, the senses he can refuse this relationship and demand first to understand and to know. It is this type of "ontological neurosis" that the smoker of hashish claims to disperse by magic; "cool, easy, easy, let yourself go, confidence.. etc.". It would be perfect if one were not and did not remain a prisoner of the liberating substance. But we know we can obtain the same result in freedom, through freedom (less intoxication but more love), by becoming conscious of the "ontological ID"--or the continuum of being, where the distinction between context-being and partial-being is obliterated.
Anamnesis and oecumenical initiation: A simple and spontaneous approach may spring from a sudden and brief feeling of belonging to the natural WHOLE, but it is ephemeral and often superficial. There are, however, physical and mental techniques which make it possible gradually to attain "the widening of consciousness"--which Timothy Leary recommended should be achieved by artifice--while remaining master of it, the active subject and not the guided and powerless object. The error which most often accompanies a deep emotional inadequacy is to want immediate "expansion" and "ecstasy" (hence the use of psychotropic drugs). But extension of the field of consciousness begins as soon as ontological knowledge is increased. The most widespread technique is that of anamnesis, or the recollection of previous states right back to the beginning. It is an investigation similar to those already mentioned but vaster and deeper than the acquisition of cultural awareness since it involves re-discovering one's NATURE. (The human paradigm referred to by Edgar Morin.) This time, the meaning given to one's own existence will no longer be sub-social or social but extra-social: upon completion of this exercise, the individual finds his universal identity (his human nature in nature).
As these techniques are more or less linked to mystics, or to religions which express themselves in myths (cf. Mircea Eliade), it is useful, in order to ensure the individual's freedom of judgement that complementary elements should aim at a non-mythical object. That is possible only in an attitude of respect allied to reserve towards the myths put forward--hence mystical oecumenism.
Witness-bearing with respect of fantasy. Like myths, fantasies are not neutral, empty, illusory. They always exercise a minimal interpretative function. At the global level, the proliferation of fantaisies and their acting out reproduces the scientific method's multiplicity of hypotheses and experiences. They are therefore useful since they reflect the methods of research. What is more, everyone is free to make a mistake: can but respect the right to err, since that is the path to truth.
Now, before continuing, a clarification is necessary. Although in all communes there were powerful tendencies to emancipation at the three levels mentioned--individual, socio-cultural and ontological--although some communes specialized and became competent in one of the three domains, unfortunately it was almost always at the expense of the other two, for so far there is really no METHOD, only "exploration. Concerted and methodical action has yet to be introduced.
For the time being, therefore, and with reference to the above functions, the commune reality can be divided into three types:
Witness-bearing communes: which include those which have survived the commune movement and which hold annual confraternal mini - assemblies, such as the fantasy - based communes, which turn a very specialized idea or practice into a universalizing system, and the traditional religious communities, active or contemplative which preceded the commune movement and were not very responsive to it. Some are open, others closed-but all of them in their own way show themselves and assert themselves as witnesses and practitioners of a truth, in opposition to society.
Life communes: which are closed, individualistic, egocentric, intimate. Their only social dimension is the originality of their formula of existence. They were formed as a result of the propagation of the idea of communes by collective movements, but outside the movements or after collective experience by their members.
Functional communes: which group and more or less mix - depending on the individual case - the maturation, social relating and ontological functions. They admit to a pre-social or para - social dimension. They are open, to the limit of their physical capacity. Without being part of the surrounding social reality, as are the life communities, they are connected to it but insist on their difference. There is communication between commune and society. Complementary relationships are recognized. The "Didro" ("Drug and Youth Association") Centre has just counted 37 of them which are favourable to co-operation in tile prevention of drug addiction. They originated from the break-up of the commune movement provoking an evolution in ideas, or were formed with a view to functional objectives.
A thought must start to win minds. Commune life seems to have certain properties of development and healing. But why? Where does it get this ability? To what is this mysterious power attributable?
In our opinion, it is attributable to two equally important factors:
The return of the group phenomenon, the structuring of these groups and their reference values;
The para-social situation of the commune, its separation, its difference from society, on which it insists and which it achieves.
A first important point: society is that of the crowd but also that of loneliness (see David Riesman - "The Lonely Crowd"-on this). The partitioning into occupational categories, the 40-hour work week, the evening television show, the family week-end, added to the prolonged seclusiveness of certain social classes and the particularization of reference values, create either a mob or complete isolation.
The group breaks all that: values are common, relationships and communication are permanent, work is no longer an end in itself but another form of relationship - being together, doing together-it becomes again what it has always really been - a means; a difficulty, an individual problem, becomes the problem of all: the chances of solution are multiplied-hence a feeling of relief by the individual and a growing impression of the creation of a FORCE above and beyond him from which he benefits. This is not an abstract force; it has a perceptible quality, it weaves an emotional fabric, experienced as brotherhood, on which a person knows he can rely.
This quality leads to the resurgence of other practices, such as mutual help, generosity, unselfishness, willingness to sacrifice. (This is what the leftists were alluding to when they launched the slogan "quality of life", not colour television or thick carpets.) This slow progress towards another mode of existence inevitably leads the individual to a feeling of self-transcendence; his defensive shell dissolves, his existential weight evaporates, his personal frontiers fade away and open up, his private life is decentralized and coincides with the life-stream of the group, he lifts himself up, he climbs and develops to dimensions which are no longer his own but those of a small bio-social unit whose life leads him to transcend his life.
Does this mean he is no longer himself? Not at all. He is more himself than ever, for the absence of authority, the abolition of all hierarchy, the obvious absence of any favoured and specialized personnel confronts everyone once more with the need to take decisions, to assume responsibility for his options and actions, confronts him with himself and his freedom. Every individual participating in the organization and self-administration of the group knows straight away that he will get only what he is willing to get. Thus, the movement of self-transcendence occurs only in full awareness - and this is what makes it exalting.
The commune is not society - it is separate from it. We have seen that it is based only on the financial effort of each of its members, that it wishes to live only on its own resources and tends to autarchy, that so far as it limits - as much as possible - its dependence on society; for it does not wish to compromise its difference. At the extreme limit, should society fall into a state of chaos, it wishes to ensure its chances of survival. Except for the "life communes", which exist mainly in urban surroundings and whose social separation is of a cultural nature, nearly all have chosen land which is isolated, protected and difficult of access. Their weight in a country's economy is almost nil. They buy little and sell less. Their reservations with respect to consumer goods, a technology which alienates more often than it liberates, an administration and justice they despise, are well known. The majority tend to revert to simple tools which they can make or repair and to use free and non-polluting energy - water, wind, sun, wood, natural methane gas.
All this, however, is not enough to ensure that "it is not society". What is more decisive is its scale of values, its cultural attitudes and answers, its criticism and open rejection of a dead-end civilization. Its concerns are not those of society: the useful, the effective, the practical, the necessary, the "more and more", the functional, competition, order, hierarchy, discipline, work production, goods, the spectacle, the event, the sensational, speed, output... in short, all which stems from the fact that our societies are engaged in applying the policies of their economies, not the economies of a policy.
The commune, on the other hand, is concerned with: man, nature, the universe, love, self-transcendence, generosity, play, willingness to sacrifice, awareness, knowledge, the non-temporal, creation, communication... and its economy is entirely directed towards the attainment of these ends.
The existing social structures capture and direct human energy towards themselves, causing it to go round in the vicious circle they perpetuate until they use up what has become their instrument - man, the individual.
The commune knows it is an instrument. It does not take, capture or force: it offers. And the energy it obtains is directed in a straight line which, via man, goes from one infinity to another.
That is what makes the dialogue between commune and society so difficult. They use, but do not speak, the same language. All commune efforts to attain practical autonomy had the aim of giving concrete expression to this basic cultural difference, namely that they do not have the same minds. Thus, the commune acknowledges no debt except to its own consciousness of the universal, which has seen societies come and go throughout the ages.
For the individual who comes to the commune traumatized by society, this separation is essential: it offers him rest away from the madding crowd, it lets him stand back and thus widen his field of vision and it fits him for an analytical and critical examination of his ego, his problems, his past, the world around him. It gives him time for reflexion so that he can make his choice, free of any pressure or entreaties to "reinsert himself in society". Lastly, it offers him the means of acquiring an extra-social IDENTITY, for he learns two things: (1) that he is more important than any system, any structure; that only man whom he embodies, can be the goal of any society; and (2) that societies are historically fallible, that they can deflect man and cause him to be deflected, and that the task of revivifying them is his alone.
But, he can only do this if he knows the nature of the relationship of man to the cosmos - which must be the guarantee of any society. By rediscovering raw nature and, through anamnesis, over and above apparent nature, he will learn the origins and laws of his ontological nature and find in it his identity as a being substantially different from other beings - an identity which is vaster and more fundamental than a social identity and which, unlike the latter, has the dimension of the immutable. Then, at last, ceasing to be a "social object", and becoming a Person, he will be able, in all his refound LIBERTY, to rejoin the others, all the others, and together with them do what he knows.
The relationship between the individual and society poses a problem which apparently does not exist in the case of insect societies and their members or of living organisms and their component cells: biologically the human individual is an inseparable part of his species; but by his free will, the power of his consciousness, which places him outside his determinisms, he finds his place in the absolute which confers on him a capacity of refusal and, thereafter, he can only belong to the species voluntarily.
For a social whole, therefore, the paradox is to imagine, to create or to tolerate an institution or a social function which takes account of this a-social or extra-social dimension of man, respects and promotes it, in order to conform to its ambiguous nature and restores his FREEDOM.
Our civilization seems to neglect or to have forgotten this problem: it is paying dearly, very dearly for this. The cost runs into the billions. Its solution to a-sociality is socialization ! For instance, what does the adolescent find on leaving school ! He finds school, apprenticeship, the technical training school, the vocational school or the university. And immediately afterwards, and as urgently as possible, employment, the world of work. Between childhood, which is the time when one belongs to the species biologically, and "adult" age, which should be the time of voluntary participation, there is no respite, no delay, no space; all there has been, from one end of the individual's evolution to the other, is the race of a prisoner of necessity.
It seems to us that we are quite simply racing through a natural stage of growth, that our "adults" are not mature, that most of us will remain big children, that we are passed on to social use as cripples, that we resign ourselves to a scandal of civilization and that our societies naively complain of what they secrete.
There is much talk of "a crisis of civilization", and the international wave of drug addiction is described as one of its symptoms. The causes of this crisis of civilization are relatively simple and there are, therefore, remedies for it. As in all social neuroses, there is a clash between two opposed all-embracing and intolerant passions:
First, all the industrialized and so-called "developed" countries are at present witnessing a process of growing socialization of all activities. The progressive annexation of all areas of life has extended even beyond the sector of leisure, which is now a subtly organized affair, to more intimate sectors - standardized sexual education in school, for example. Each day, social structures form an increasingly complex, ramified and multiplied fabric which enmeshes the individual even in his most elementary gestures. The behaviour of a socially "adjusted" individual tends, therefore, to become entirely policed, culturalized, artificialized. Ultimately, behaviour takes the place of life, the personage the place of the person. And the individual is aware of himself only pathologically, like something which is manipulated. He no longer belongs to himself - he has been converted into a thing.
Secondly, and in complete opposition to this social totalitarianism, it seems that our species, which must also go through stages of growth, has reached the stage of its prematurity, by reason of: (1) the spread of culture, which has awakened and enlightened the maximum number of consciences by conferring the right to individual autonomy; (2) the worldwide spread of information and communications media which make it aware of its unitary globality; (3) its recent cosmic opening in the materialized and extraverted area of exploration of the universe, which relativizes the position of the earth and strengthens the idea of its unity.
These three elements reinforce and exacerbate the latent and immutable desires referred to above which are transformed into an imperative need of general accession to an expansive, individually autonomous and universal quality of our existence.
Clearly, these two trends are diametrically opposed and cannot escape friction. In the irresolution of the socio-neurotic conflict, the presence of one only reinforces the other by reaction, and as we feel the tension rise we observe the accelerated degradation and decay of ethics, customs and institutions, which soon will only be standing on police crutches.
Perhaps the time has come for wise men representing these two contrary trends to curb their excesses, bring them back to their proper and primary reality and acknowledge each other's existence instead of persisting in denying each other. Between the two there is common ground: society can be reconciled with LIBERTY, and we have seen that a free man can be reconciled with society.
One functional institution specific to the problem of liberty is all that is needed. All that society needs is to recognize a free zone, to admit that there is something other than itself - an area where man may belong only to his mission.
In this, the commune experience has not failed in its desire to serve as an example, since it was successful in resolving the paradox in question and has put forward the beginnings of a solution: by claiming social extra-territoriality it makes possible the articulation of its liberating function into society as it exists.