In this time of conservative revival with a vengeance, I see communal experiments casually dismissed as almost always miserable failures. Is this true? Usually when socialism is dismissed as a failure the Soviet Union is at least alluded to. Is that fair?
Clearly the Soviet Union was a pretty spectacular flameout for “to each according to his needs”. It was neither very fair or very effective or efficient. That said the blanket nature of the dismissals of each and every departure from private ownership has always seemed a little to smug.
The new issue of Region Focus from the Richmond Federal Reserve bank has some insight on this. It finds that many attempts at communal ownership have not been permanent. However, it concludes with this:
How long will they last, these communities, cooperatives,
collectives, and eco-villages? It doesn’t matter, says Tim
Miller, a professor of religion at the University of Kansas
who is working on an encyclopedia of utopian communities.
“It’s not longevity, it’s what does society learn from the
experiment?” That’s a good question — the same one that
feeds the urge to reinvent society, an urge that apparently
never dies. While Robert Owen’s communities failed, his
influence and image survive; there’s even a campaign on
Facebook to use his picture on Scottish bank notes.