This publication presents the results of the study of a corpus of relevant literature on communes and commune movements in Western society. The study is descriptive-analytical, and the communes analyzed belong partly to the past and partly to the present. The analysis was predominantly based upon some 40 descriptions of different communes or commune movements, the relevant characteristics of which are mentioned in an appendix.
The social entities selected for this study had to satisfy the following criteria:
- they had to be established in the now capitalist West;
- they had to have an experimental character when established;
- they had to embrace three or more socially autonomous members;
- they should not reject per se sexuality, socialization, production/ consumption, and emotional- affective care as activities for their own group, but should rather aim at the fulfilment of at least one of these functions as an activity of the group as a whole;
- they had to be territorial units;
- their duration as a functioning whole should not
have been determined in advance.
The problem to be studied was threefold. The first question dealt with the profile of the communes in the now capitalist West. The answer to that question has been given in terms of motivation, membership, social characteristics of the members, selection, the functions of the group in a family sociological perspective (sexuality, procreation, etc.), structural aspects, duration, and causes of success or failure.
On a motivational basis the communes and commune movements were classed into three main categories, viz.:
I. religious communes (a. old religious communes; b. communes proceeding from convents/monasteries; c. communes originating from new religious movements);
II. political communes (a. passive political communes ; b active political communes);
III. communes emphasizing interpersonal relations.
Communes of type Ia were already established centuries ago, those of type II were not founded before the nineteenth century, while communes of type Ic and III are a phenomenon of the last decade. The foregoing suggests that the different types distinguished are fairly closely related to different socio-cultural epochs. However, one further conclusion deserves special mention, viz. that the contemporary commune attacks the family much more often on a broad front than the commune of the past.
The second question pertains to the social background and the ideologies that stimulated commune formation. An attempt is made to analyse the relationship between developments in society and ideologies living in the communes. Regarding this relation, it appears that commune ideologies reflect in extreme form ideas and accents prevalant within society. Because communes (or the absence of commune formation) can be more or less considered as corollaries of societal development, the emphasis differed from era to era. Up to the present time, as a consequence of the extremity of the underlying ideas, commune formation has remained a marginal phenomenon.
The third and last question bears on what might be expected of commune formation in the future. Despite the fact that elements of speculation are unavoidable in predicting social phenomena, expectations for each type of commune have been formulated both as regards the ultimate chances of success and future numerical occurrences. In formulating the expectations the following three points were considered: the inner strenght of a commune type (mainly the character and strength of motivation); structural support and resistance existing in contemporary Western society; and the ideological basis of the commune type in relation to existing and changing values in that society. The cautious expectations formulated via these starting-points pertain to each of the types as such (the religious commune in its three different forms, the two types of the political commune, and the commune emphasizing the improvement of interpersonal relations).
The final chapter gives a survey of the existing commune studies and recommendations for further research.