The Cooperative Community Commonwealth: A Prospective Outline for a New Socioeconomic Framework
By Thomas H. Greco, Jr. Revised: 1997, 2004, 2021
Based on a monograph originally written and distributed in 1997. It was then ahead of the wave but now is the time.
The present state of civilization, even in so-called “democratic” or “free” countries, is one of dominance by massive hierarchical structures which are centrally controlled by a relatively small group of people. These individuals wield enormous power by virtue of their control of the established structures and mechanisms, especially those of money and finance, and through their ownership of the vast majority of the land and capital.
The further development of civilization and the fuller realization of the human potential depend upon the further liberation of people within a context of increasing global awareness and concern. This, in turn, requires broader, more democratic access to land and capital, the devolution of power to the community level, and progress beyond familiar modes of domination and coercion. Such a process will require reliance upon the gentlest of means, higher levels of awareness and personal responsibility, the creation of new, inclusive structures, and their implementation under popular control.
Centralization has been the dominant force and pattern for a very long time, but even as centralization approaches its zenith, the emergent force of decentralization can be seen billowing up from the grassroots. In the long journey toward human unity, centralization of power has fostered the emergence of the nation state, which has allowed the formation of empire. Empire has inherent in it class structure and exploitation. It operates through a variety of governmental forms, monarchy, republic, or, so-called, democratic republics.
The American empire emerged out of the union of states by concentrating ever more power at the federal level. Despite the partisan rhetoric which creates the illusion of choice, the reality is that Democrats and Republicans are but two sides of the face of statism and empire. The United States, along with just about every other nation state in the world, is ruled by an oligarchy and now, the trans-national elite wishes to move us toward a global federation of industrial states to create the ultimate world-wide empire. We are on the verge of global tyranny in which the North will dominate the South, the rich will dominate the poor, and the city will dominate the countryside.
Fortunately, the combination of emerging consciousness and revolutionary telecommunications technologies offer the prospect of a whole new civilization, a new tribalism which transcends the petty rivalries, religious conflicts and territorial disputes of the past. In his visionary article, “From Civilization to Twenty-first Century Primitivism” (Realistic Living, Rt 3, Box 104-A5, Bonham, TX 75418.), Gene Marshall identifies three “qualities” of civilization. They are “conquest, class hierarchy, and cosmopolitan uniformity”. “Post-civilization”, he says, will be marked by: 1. local community empowerment, 2. Bioregional identification, 3. sustainable inter regional systems, 4. worker owned and controlled cooperatives, and 5. interactive cultural diversity.
These features are consistent with my own vision of a new order which I call the Cooperative Community Commonwealth (CCC), which has been emerging over the past quarter century. It is said that “you can’t change anything without changing everything.” This kind of holistic view forces us to examine every aspect of society, starting with the “spiritual” dimension of values, attitudes, and beliefs from which foundation principles emerge. These principles, in turn, become crystallized in the structures which define human interaction in the social, political, and economic realms.
The CCC vision sees the new emergent structures as spontaneous and organic rather than planned and mechanistic. The new computerized telecommunications technologies are pivotal to the process, not as our savior, but as a feature of human evolution which enables us to make the great leap forward “beyond civilization.”
An examination of the various problems which constitute the current global mega-crisis has suggested to me the need for certain specific actions. The following is an incomplete outline of the CCC vision, along with the principles which form the basis for each aspect.
1. Community Information Resource Center/Mutual Assistance Coordinating Cooperative (CIRC/MACC).
Empowering people; building community; enabling change.
Free and open access to information; Helpfulness; Cooperation and sharing.
Information collection, analysis, and dissemination; Administrative and technical support; Networking of individuals, groups, non-profit organizations, and small businesses; Instruction and training; Management and organizational consulting; Publishing; Coordination and coalition building.
2. Mutual Credit and/or Community Currency Systems of Exchange.
Liberation of exchange; supporting the integrity of the local economy.
Human-scale; Local control; Interest-free; Co-responsibility and risk-sharing.
Facilitation of trade within the local economy; Provision of exchange media; Transaction clearing.
3. Community Capital Fund
Provide capital for economic activity which is ecologically positive, socially responsible, and supportive of the local community.
Voluntary participation and democratic control; Open to all, with equal power; Dispersed ownership of capital; Equity shares based on contributions of capital or labor; Responsible investment.
Provides a savings medium for members of the community; Invests pooled financial resources in productive enterprises and community improvement.
4. Earth Stewardship Trust
Equitable access to, and ecological use of land; Fair distribution of the benefits of land and natural resources.
Community and cooperative ownership of land values and natural resources; Secure land tenure based on leaseholds; Participatory land use planning process; Conservation and restoration.
Activities: Promoting and organizing community land trusts (CLTs) to hold title to land, plan its uses, and provide access on an equitable basis; Collection of lease fees and “ground rent” on lands owned by the Trust and their allocation to community improvement and further land acquisition.
5. Production facilities
Production of essentials for the local community; Provision of meaningful work.
Economies of small scale; Production mainly for use and for local exchange rather than for export; Emphasis on necessities of life; Ecologically beneficent methods; Using waste-as-resource; Worker control of tools; Integration of work with education/training.
Food growing/processing; Recycling/reprocessing of waste; Composting; Construction using recycled, renewable, indigenous, low-cost materials, and simplified, energy efficient methods; Primary reliance upon local resources and skills of community members.
Harmonious, cooperative living; beauty; celebration.
Inclusiveness; Diversity; Self-governance and self-reliance; Non-hierarchical; Consensus process; Solidarity and sharing; Mutual support.
Trust-building; Non-monetary exchange; Social and economic networking; Healing; Work as play; meaningful rituals.
7. Learning Center/Hostel
Learning; Hospitality; Cross-cultural understanding.
Problem-centered education; Integrative education; Learn by doing; Everyone a teacher, everyone a learner; Cultural/ethnic diversity; Reciprocal visits of scholars/students.
Coordinated work and instruction; Mentorship; Workshops/seminars; Arts and Performances; Library; Lodging for travelers, teachers, students; Operation of cafe/pub/cabaret.
8. Global Networking/Outreach
World peace; Mutual aid; Global problem-solving; cross-cultural understanding.
Human unity; cultural enrichment; mutual assistance.
Travel; Electronic networking & communication; Appropriate interregional trade.
In addition, various components of the CCC will serve to demonstrate the following:
- Ecological modern homesteads.
- Appropriate technology/sustainability.
- Minimum reliance upon imports/exports.
- Construction using indigenous materials and labor.
- Decentralized power generation, renewable energy sources, and energy efficiency.
- Bio-intensive agriculture/permaculture.
- Self-reliant, cooperative living.
Every community and region has a tremendous treasury of untapped potential and resources, including talents, skills and creativity. The COMMON WEALTH of a regional community is the totality of skills and resources under the command of its diverse individuals and groups. Each individual or group has its own goals and programs, and heretofore we’ve been acting mostly in isolation within an institutional framework that is inimical to cooperation and sharing and the general welfare.
The Commonwealth is a means of empowering ourselves as individuals and organized groups to work as a coherent whole by creating a new infrastructure which is conducive to humane and ecological values. The Cooperative Community Commonwealth is based upon an agreement to serve one another, to accept greater responsibility for one another, and to revere the natural world, and an ethical foundation of service, “co-responsibility”, and stewardship.
How can we organize ourselves for mutual support and sustainability? Through the experience of many in the cooperative, decentralist, green, bioregional, intentional communities, and other movements, we have begun to see some of the many possibilities. There are innumerable existing examples of PARTS of the Commonwealth vision, but what does not yet exist is an example of the Commonwealth as a coherent WHOLE. What seems to be needed in order to realize this vision is some mechanism for effective communication and coordination among groups and individuals which are conscious and already moving in the right direction, thus, our emphasis on developing the Community Information Resource Center (CIRC).
Community Information Resource Center
CIRC is the linchpin of the Cooperative Community Commonwealth. It plays the crucial role in helping the community to become aware of itself and to realize the potential inherent in the combination of emerging consciousness and new technologies. It serves as both catalyst and facilitator. It is a networking hub, information utility and organizing entity that empowers and coordinates the actions of its various constituencies.
The Center serves many functions which relate to information accessing, processing and dissemination. It provides a full range of organizational and administrative support services. One of its primary goals is to provide the Commonwealth and its members with effective skills in computer and information technologies, and access to up-to-date equipment, electronic databases, and the Internet. CIRC supports the development of all the other aspects of the Commonwealth, including small, locally controlled and owner-operated or cooperative businesses.
The prototype CIRC began operating in Tucson in 1991 as a project of NEST, Inc., a small local non-profit corporation. It is a bootstrap operation which has been slowly but steadily growing and filling-out its role. It has assisted in the incorporation of the Tucson Community Land Trust and its acquisition of property; conducted workshops on computerized communications and networking; set-up electronic mail mechanisms for the “alternative” community; established a site on the World Wide Web; assisted in the financing and administration of the Strawbale Testing Program; provided administrative and consulting services to LETSonora (a Local Exchange Trading system); helped to organize an Owner-Builder Resource Center; guided the establishment and development of Tucson Traders, a mutual credit clearing exchange; and conducted numerous information/opinion surveys for various professional and trade associations.
There are a number of other specific projects which CIRC intends to undertake as more resources and personnel become available. These include projects to help build grass-roots participatory democracy and foster appropriate economic development which is equitable, cooperative, socially responsible and ecologically positive.
Among these is the ongoing development of its web site. The web site reflects our perception of the major areas in our culture which need to be re-thought and restructured. These are (1) money, banking, and finance, (2) land tenure and ownership, (3) taxation and public revenue, (4) corporate power and other government-granted privileges, (5) law and government, and (6) technology choices. The web site provides links to those individuals and groups who are doing leading-edge work in each area and provides critical information that will help to catalyze positive initiatives at the grassroots, regional, and global levels.
An Organic Food Producers Cooperative
An important strategy for Commonwealth development is the production and distribution of basic necessities of life. As more of these basic products and services become available within the local exchange system, the community will become less dependent upon official currency and banking structures. Foremost among the basic necessities is high quality, non-toxic, nutritious food. A community which cannot feed itself is highly vulnerable. Food production should be decentralized and diversified within the commonwealth community. Some of the production units could be within the city itself, transforming back yards and vacant lots into mini bio-gardens and micro experimental farms. They can include aqua-culture combined with intensive vegetable production, pit greenhouses to minimize heating and cooling concerns, Permaculture techniques, and plant varieties which are native or adapted to the local climate and provide viable seeds for future cultivation.
Community-based Alternative Economics
A people-oriented exchange system is more than just a tool for trading goods and services. It can also redefine and enhance how we relate to and support one another. One of the deficiencies in the federal dollar trading method is that people, individuals and groups, can flounder and sink in total isolation, surrounded by others who would be able and willing to help. For these reasons, many communities have begun to evolve their own local exchange systems that reflect a new and more compassionate set of values. The effect of these new mini-economies has been, essentially, to re-orient people toward sharing and mutual support. A thoughtfully designed community exchange system should promote personal relationships and foster co-responsibility for the health of the entire community. It should act as a circulatory system nourishing the community body, carrying the lifeblood of skills and resources to where they are needed.
Mutual credit and other alternative exchange and currency systems have been proliferating around the world. There are now more than 2000 such systems with the highest concentrations being in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the UK. As community exchange systems provide greater access to basic necessities (such as organic foods, shelter, and energy), members become more free and self-determining. (For detailed information, see my book, Money: Understanding and Creating Alternatives to Legal Tender, Chelsea Green, 2001).
Waste as Resource
The waste problem is daily becoming more acute. Among the guiding principles of the Commonwealth economy are (1) the substitution of locally produced materials and goods in place of those that are imported from outside the region, (2) a drastic reduction in the amount of waste being generated and (3) the conversion of waste into useful products. There is increasing interest and experimentation with materials made, in part, from recycled waste, such as straw, newspapers and plastics. If these materials prove to be adequate and economical in applications such as building and manufacturing, they would not only help to solve the waste problem, but would also provide the basis for small-scale community enterprises.
Low Cost Energy Efficient Structures
Over the past few years, there has been a tremendous resurgence of interest in plastered straw-bale construction. This is a building technique which was used by some turn-of-the-20th century homesteaders in Nebraska. Its modern resurgence has been growing by leaps and bounds. In the past few years, a number of plastered straw-bale buildings have been constructed in more than forty states from Maine to California, from Washington to Alabama, and around the world. Activity has been especially strong in the southwest, with new straw-bale houses ranging from the very simple and inexpensive to the large, luxurious, and elegant. Strawbale construction is now written into the building codes in Tucson and many other places, and is quickly becoming mainstream. Bale construction has numerous advantages. It is low in cost, it utilizes a waste material which is an annually renewable by-product of grain production, it is a technique which requires little skill, and it provides walls which have extremely high insulation and sound absorption qualities.
Some Tucson area builders, and others around the country, are experimenting with a building material made from various formulations of old newspapers, earth, and cement. Many buildings have already been constructed. The Paper House was the subject of the premier issue of Earth Quarterly (Box 23, Radium Springs, NM 88054), which provided an excellent overview of current developments and practices using these materials. Others are developing building materials made from recycled plastics. As prices begin to reflect more of the real costs of logging, mining and transportation, recycling will become more economically viable. Recycling plants can be run cooperatively by a number of Commonwealth groups, providing another step in the process of substituting local production for imported materials.
Support for Good Work
Another important aspect of the Commonwealth is the built-in support for non-profit commonwealth groups. We believe that it is essential to our quality of life to support a social, cultural and educational infrastructure. There is a wealth of information and practical know-how within the self-help, mutual aid, environmental, educational, social change groups, and non-profit, service, and spiritual organizations. Like the Mondragon cooperatives in Spain, it is important to link these to productive enterprises to reduce their dependence upon charity and volunteer labor. Information access and dissemination can be provided within the community. Skills and labor can be mobilized and shared to carry out special projects or to meet a chronic need. Groups can help each other discover how to achieve more with less. Non-profits might collaborate in joint fund-raising efforts. We can cooperate to increase community awareness of issues and resources. We can pool resources to reduce overhead costs and “recycle” our surpluses. Most importantly, mutually-supporting groups can help IDENTIFY problems which members may be having and discover creative solutions to them. We are dedicated to developing a means of livelihood which is compatible with our ecological and social values and ideals.
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