LothlorienThey’re particularly rare today, but enlightenment literature is littered with hundreds of examples of utopian works. Originally propelled by the widespread belief in human progress, utopian works had already largely disappeared by the turn of the 20th Century and by the advent of the post-WWII era, with threats of nuclear annihilation, memories of Nazi concentration camps and the more recent warnings of ecological collapse, the march of modernity today is more likely to trigger images of dystopia than utopia.

Perhaps with the exception of The Dispossessed (which, for the record, was less a pure utopian work than a realistic utopian work), there are few recent anarchist utopian visions (and Parecon is hardly utopian). Indeed, cynicism and pessimism effectively foreclose discussion of future possibilities, reducing anarchist theory and practice most often to mere opposition.

Utopia is a loaded word, but a vision of a future society is essential in both guiding our practice in the present and, perhaps more importantly, providing us with an image of a society so beautiful that it propels us towards action and out of the depths of despair. Less beautiful than visionary, what follows is an outline of my own vision of a future society drawn largely (I think) on my memories of reading Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread more than 5 years ago now and also, I have to admit, on the imagery from The Lord of the Rings of both the Shire and the Elves.

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I should start with the commune, as this is the basic unit of political and economic life. This is a small intentional grouping of people in which the bulk of everyday life is lived. Small enough to allow for face to face decision-making but large enough to allow for a degree of self-sufficiency, the commune numbers probably less than 500 people.

The commune is organised economically in accordance to the principles of libertarian communism: from each according to their abilities, to each according to their desires, based on reciprocity and voluntarism. All property is held in common by the commune and used according to the needs and desires of the commune as a whole. Each commune would engage in food production, craft works, and small-scale industry, producing the bulk of their needs and desires and working together with other communes to produce those things that require large-scale cooperation, specialised production or require certain climates or geographies.

Production would be organised based on need, rather than profit (money would not exist), and emphasis would be on reducing work, rather than creating it. There would be no poverty, or else everybody would share the same level of poverty, and there would be a tendency towards material simplicity and making what already exists last to its fullest.

Politically, the commune is organised based on face-to-face assemblies and some sort of consensus model. It should be generally unnecessary, however, for the commune as a whole to ever make collective decisions and this, combined with the sheer difficulty of achieving consensus across so many people, would mean most day to day decisions of a political and economic sort would be made amongst those most directly affected. Only extreme situations or decisions requiring everyone’s cooperation would need to be made by the commune as a whole. Beyond this, and in addition to the various economic ties of inter-commune cooperation, the commune would be organised into a loose horizontal federation or network to collaborate with other communes in their region.

The individual would exist in a condition of communal individuality: emphasis being placed on individuality that is enabled through communal cooperation. The individual would be free to engage in pursuits as material need dictates and as their desires fancy them, and would participate in all manner of cooperative associations. People would engage in a balance of both mental and physical labour: a morning spent in the gardens, an afternoon spent doing craftwork and an evening in passionate discussion or study.

Daily life would be lived communally with others, but certainly not based around the nuclear family. People would live together, sleep together and work together, but always there would be space for retreat, for privacy and contemplation.

Gender identities would either have dissolved or proliferated, and the social significance of actual sexual differences (eg. reproduction) would not be based on hierarchy or power. So too would identities of sexuality have dissolved, and free love would be widely practised. Ethnicity would cease to be a point of social hierarchy, and so too would all other forms of power be abolished.

Daily life and the processes of the commune would not simply be organised according to decentralisation and without hierarchy, but as opposed to these (see David Graeber and societies organised against the State). All sorts of processes would be enabled to identify and stop all instances of domination in daily life.

Children would cease to be anyone’s property, and would belong to themselves, cared for by the community as a whole. Education would not be compulsory: children would freely choose when they were ready and willing to learn, and tutors would only be guides and helpers, not authority figures. As much effort would be made to integrate education into everyday life (and not as a separate institution unto itself), and the emphasis would be on learning by doing.

Prisons and punishment would be abolished, these being instances of nothing but State sanctioned revenge and violence in themselves. Anti-social crimes would require careful consideration: careful not to impose ethics which clearly come from no higher authority but ourselves. Seeking understanding, rehabilitation and redress would be the priority, not punishment or revenge.

Every effort would be made to integrate daily life into the processes of the local ecology. Production for need and material simplicity would have a huge impact and so too would the daily experience of working with nature in the gardens (as opposed to the alienation from nature in modern urban cities). No animals would be kept against their will and nor will they be allowed to be tortured or killed.