The Pseudo-anarchist commune of Home, Washington
At first blush, there is something particularly counter-intuitive about an anarchist commune. The popular conception of anarchism is that there are no rules but it actually is a philosophy which advocates self-governed societies based on voluntary institutions and which views the state as undesirable, unnecessary and positively harmful.
In the summer of 1895 three men, George Allen, Oliver Verity and B O’Dell, set out in a rowing boat to find an isolated spot upon which to build a commune based on anarchic principles. They hit on 26 acres of land at Von Geldern Cove on the Puget Sound in Washington which they bought for $7 an acre, doing odd jobs to raise the money. By the following year their families had joined them and they had built some cabins.
In 1898 they had established the Mutual Home Association whose Articles proclaimed that it would “assist its members in obtaining and building homes for themselves and to aid in establishing better social and moral conditions”. Membership was open to anyone who agreed to support its anarchist ideals and pay the requisite amount to secure their plot of land, although the freehold was held by the Association. In reality, there was not much to sign up to. As the writer, Elbert Hubbard, who visited the commune noted, “there is not a church, preacher, prostitute, saloon, doctor, constable, lawyer or justice of peace. There is entire freedom”.
Quickly the word spread about the commune and soon it became home to a motley collection of anarchists, communists, free thinkers, nudists (who would ultimately be their undoing) and those who wanted to pursue unusual diets. It also collected its fair share of ne’er-do-wells. To accommodate this influx the site increased almost ten-fold to 217 acres.
The start of the problems for the commune came in 1901 after President McKinley was assassinated by the self-professed anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, in Buffalo, New York State. The locals realising that they had a bunch of anarchists on their doorstep started to get uppity. The community came under increasing scrutiny and articles critical of their beliefs and lifestyle appeared in the newspaper based in nearby Tacoma. One article so inflamed passions that a group of vigilantes styling themselves as the Loyal League and formed from veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic planned to invade the colony by steamboat and put it to the torch. Their plans came to naught when the steamboat captain refused to take them.
In 1902 the community fell foul of the Comstock Law which was designed to suppress the trade in and circulation of obscene literature and articles of immoral use when an article advocating free love was published in a local anarchist newspaper. As a result, the post office was closed down.
Inevitably, there were frictions in the commune, the tipping point being the practice of nude bathing. Those who were in favour were labelled “nudes” by The Agitator, Home’s newspaper, and those against were “prudes”. The editor, Jay Fox, who wrote a series of articles in defence of the pastime had his collar felt for his troubles and spent two months in chokey.
The Association limped on until 1919 when its government was arraigned in court for being impotent – too much skinny dipping in the cold water, perhaps? – and it was dissolved. Still, it had lasted 26 years which by utopian standards was good going.