DH and I just watched the PBS "American Experience" about the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967. It chronicled the advent of the hippies, who were attracted to San Francisco in the wake of the Beat Generation, following them from the idyllic time when they truly were living new values and starting a revolution - through the darker time when it became less about love, peace, and making the world a better place, and more about drugs and runaway teens and squalor.
In the beginning large groups were all living in Golden Gate Park and there was a group called the Diggers who brought "free food" every day. The members of the group would go around to marketplaces and supermarkets and gather up the wasted food that was being discarded, and go back and cook it up for the masses. There was also a Free Store where people brought their unwanted possessions - furniture, clothing, etc. - and those in charge of the store redistributed them to people who needed them.
One of the values this represented was the idea that the hippies felt they didn't have to work and could kind of "live off the land" and share and share alike. This philosophy apparently didn't take into account the fact that people had to have jobs and do work in order to run the marketplaces that the Diggers got their free leftovers from; that people had to have jobs and work in factories to produce the furniture and clothing that were being given away and redistributed.
When it comes down to it, it is very difficult to get around the need for someone to work in order to provide things for people to live on.
And even if one doesn't take that into consideration, eventually the whole "free" system broke down when San Francisco was inundated with too many people coming to share in the experience, but coming for the wrong reasons - to run away, to escape, to find drugs.
Once the population gets too big, barter and sharing don't work anymore. This is probably the reason communism never worked on a large scale.
It's really too bad, because the idea of communism - "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" - makes a lot of sense and it would be a wonderful way to live, in a perfect world. Unfortunately, it is not a perfect world, and there is no free lunch.
Many of the hippies of 1967 became the yuppies of the 1980's. Were the exact same people who shunned materialism and wanted to reject the world and live on a commune the ones who later became the masters of the universe and bought BMWs and large homes in the suburbs? Maybe not...but it was all one generation - ours.
And now our generation of Baby Boomers is poised to become senior citizens. Many of us are already card-carrying members of the AARP, and many have already retired from their careers and are pursuing other interests. The sex, drugs and rock and roll are long gone and we are now facing the realities of wondering what we'll do when we become old, not having died before then as The Who wished they would do.
One of my favorite folk groups, Modern Man, sings in their hysterically funny take-off on rap music, "Give me some ass...give me some ass...give me some ass-isted living!" It will be interested to see how we Baby Boomers redefine old age, just as we've redefined every phase of life as we moved through it.
I read an article a couple of years ago in the NY Times about Baby Boomers who were planning to live together in groups as they aged so that they could take care of each other, rather than being shuttled off to assisted living and then to nursing homes, isolated from the things and people they enjoy.
I like that idea. I was a bit too young to ever really experience the real 60's - I only hit the tail end of them, which was really the early 70's. I was only 9 when Martin Luther King gave his "I have a dream" speech at the Washington Monument, and 14 during the Summer of Love. And I wasn't the kind of kid that would have hitched across country at 14 to join the flower children as some that age did. So no living on a commune, no marching for peace. I marched in one demonstration when I went up to college in 1972. And that seemed to be the last one they had.
Perhaps in the end I will live on a commune after all - in my old age, surrounded by good friends...hopefully near a beach, in warm weather...from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.
It can work, in small groups.