Epicurus understands that the only way to be able to live outside of the political battles in the city is to gain productive autonomy.
The Book of Community discusses at one point how communal models help to manage the deficiencies in the global capitalist economy during and after the 2009 fiscal crisis. It then evaluated issues concerning autarchy. Self-sufficiency is a practical requirement for every individual and for every community. It’s a requirement for freedom, for happiness, for stability and tranquility, and for being able to meet all of our basic needs efficiently.
We want to be more efficient and more productive to be more free.
Within the communal context, this means prioritizing the needs of the community and its members over the business. Since worker coops are among the experiments that Indianos have been engaged in, they pay special attention to the history, the failings and successes of this model.
They trace the roots of worker coops to Epicurus’ Garden, which was as much a commune as it was a worker coop. It had been built in a plot of land that was purchased by Epicurus so that his philosophers could live and work together in a stable way. Everyone ate together, children were looked after and educated by residents of the Garden, and resident each had their room. The book cites Alain De Botton as saying that they made a living and sustained themselves from farming, cooking, making furniture and art, but of course we learn from Philodemus in his On Property Management stated that they also had a teaching mission and a publishing venture: they replicated and wrote scrolls, derived fees from tutoring and teaching philosophy, and corresponded with philosophy students from all over the Mediterranean world.
Special attention is paid to how the residents of the Garden home-schooled their children communally because they didn’t trust the values of the paideia, the Greek education system. This created more work for the communards, who were now engaged in education of children, but also denied the polis the power to instill a citizen identity in children; ergo the Epicurean becomes a-political and, in a way, cosmopolitan.
We see again, as we did with the Lathe Biosas maxim, that the Garden effectively made the city-state irrelevant both philosophically and in practice.
The entrepreneurial nature of the worker-coop community and the urge to sell and produce inherent in the Indianos model, helps is to escape the accusation that it’s a communist or socialist model, or that it has a political agenda of this or that flavor. It’s a micro-economic model, an invention too small to have too many global or political repercussions: it’s about the local community.
Their communitarian model has five pillars: common ownership, production, shared revenue, common consumption, common savings fund, as the book advises that vacation and leisure must be incorporated into communal models of production just as we see with traditional labor.
Now, living together is not without difficulties and challenges. Part of the learning that happens in these communities deals with communication, but also the community must not forget the drive to produce and be profitable.
There is an inverse correlation between productivity and freedom. A community has more options available to it if it’s highly productive, whereas if there’s scarcity, its members have less freedom and must be more willing to compromise. The community must be committed to abundance, and individuality can only be defended if it’s productive. In other words, everyone must pull their weight.
Where one person’s decision does not drastically reduce others’ possible choices, the sphere of the decision should be personal, not collective.
Worker coops also need a shared commitment. While studying the history of coops, Indianos considered the lesson taught by their precursors in Fourierism, that a community can’t be ‘created’ by will, so it does not make sense to push anyone who lacks enthusiasm and willingness to commit. Members must make a conscious choice to participate and commit, and remain involved in the project and productive.
One final consideration is presented. It makes us think about Sartre’s declaration that man is horrified at his own freedom. It’s good food for thought when we evaluate whatever autarchy projects we may want to implement in our own lives.
The more desirable the person sees his autonomy, deep down, the more they will be conforted by demeaning it.
The above reasonings are based on The Book of Community: A practical guide to working and living in community
Shift Change, a movie about worker coops and how employee ownership offers a real solution for workers and communities