What I Learned About the Left While on a Commune

What I Learned About the Left While on a Commune

If it comes up that I worked on a commune, I first say: “If Tucker Carlson, Ben Shapiro, or someone of that sort were to make a TV show about the libs on their commune, every single person I encountered during my time there would be a stock character.”

Running the show was Chris, the failed jazz musician and successful alcoholic. Then there was Dylan, an Ivy-League grad with a degree in Music who lived with his parents and spent all of his income on weed. He was close to a man named Dave who neared forty years old and lived inside a school bus with his untrained dog; Dave talked only of crypto, microdosing, and Burning Man. Finally, there was me, the then-19-year-old Stanford literature student from West Los Angeles who wanted to indulge her self-professed communism.

All of us were characters who wound up in a pristine forest together, united only by our stereotypical leftism and our desire to forge a utopia. However, our desire to create an ideal community away from society rather than to improve our own communities is a defect of commune-ism. Putting on these utopian goggles for a month made me realize how leftism is ideologically corrupt in its rejection of disagreement and distance from “the real world.”

I was attracted to living on a commune as a method of putting theory into practice. During my high school years, I became attracted to Marxism and leftism as a methodological way of understanding the world. I was happy to adopt a worldview that emphasized a linear and progressive sense of history, a cosmic struggle between good and evil, and the potential to change the world for the better. My teenage self did not yet know or understand the debates between the accelerationists and those who preferred to wait for the revolution.

These ideas have long been attractive to the idealism of adolescents, and I was no exception. I also found in leftism a way to rebel ideologically without breaking any rules. After all, what is one more teenage communist at a private school? So to finish off my pre-Stanford gap year —during which I read Das Kapital and Kropotkin (‘the anarchist prince’)—I decided to live on a commune. I wanted to become my ideology, rather than resign to pseudo-intellectualism.

A year ago, I was picked up from a small Montana airport by Chris and Dave, and we drove the hour-and-a-half to the commune, located in a national forest. It was beautiful: giant evergreen trees were dotted with hand-crafted wood cabins, one of which I called home during my stay there. I was told that I might even spot a moose there (another false promise of communism!). There was no cell service or WiFi. We were truly off-the-grid, save for the weekly visits to the bar 12 miles away to check our emails. In my free time, I was able to take advantage of a small library and art supplies.

It was a commune centered around the arts, and artistic expression and celebration were encouraged. We would sing songs around a campfire, and before every meal we read from a Native American Poetry anthology. Chris’s vision for the commune was for people to be able to come and practice their art free from the stresses that artists face in the “real world.” Most of my labor while I was there was spent building a “Poet’s Cafe,” a common space for artists to work and play.

Photo: The Poet’s Cafe

Despite this talk of community, I found the commune to be quite solitary. We worked together for five or so hours five days a week, but I found it extremely lonely. Though we were working together, we were working silently alongside each other, rather than with each other. I came to realize that aside from drinking and smoking, our only shared interest was the idea of escape from the outside world. The commune was a place to protect us from societal ills, the forest a moat to protect us from enemy invaders of conventional society.

When we occasionally gathered with the locals who lived in the forest, I found that the “real world” was code for ‘people and ideas we disagree with’; after these informal gatherings, there was anger and resentment for these Trump-supporting Montanans. Despite us—all from major coastal cities—not being native Montanans, we were the authority on what was right and wrong on this land, for these people. We were creating a commune on a hill, so the native Montanans could learn from us and our ways. But they wouldn’t! Better off staying on the commune, where nothing could touch us.

As soon as work was done and mealtimes ended, we were all back inside our own worlds. I spent most of my time reading and writing. Dylan spent his time smoking weed with his dog and watching Netflix episodes that he had downloaded on his phone. Dave would microdose shrooms and paint his bus in his free time. Rohil, only there for two weeks, would drive to get WiFi and code for his job in his free time—a job that Chris often criticized him for, as he believed it prevented Rohil from having the true “commune experience.” Chris would practice his instruments when he wasn’t drinking.

Sometimes, we would congregate in a hot tub at the end of the night and look at the night sky or hike together. But most of the time, we were by ourselves. The emphasis on living together collectively ended with working and eating. I became very lonely during this time, often thinking about leaving. It seemed that others were too high (whether on hookah, cannabis, or shrooms) or drunk to think about the community around them. For the sake of ideology, I decided to work a construction job that was unsafe (we were given no safety training) and that I hated.  After all, during and after the “revolution” many people would work unsatisfying jobs.

Photo: The wilderness of the commune

The moment that I ultimately decided I was no longer a communist happened in the murky waters of the hot tub. Reflecting on our dinner with the locals, Chris roped me into a conversation about politics. That night, it was just the two of us. I was expressing to him my surprise at Montana’s lax attitude about COVID, given that I had just come from Los Angeles which had some of the strictest COVID rules in the country at that time. Chris expressed frustration with Montana’s COVID rules—and its low vaccination rate compared to his home state of New York. At some point in this discussion, Chris, with a straight face, told me that he wished all Trump supporters would die of COVID. I was shocked. To wish death upon anyone is morally reprehensible. To do so for over 70 million Americans is genocidal.

At that moment, I realized that this sort of thinking was one that was the root of communist ideology: instead of the fight for the truth that prevails in democracies, a truth is asserted, and enemies of that truth are demonized. Despite a veneer of communitarianism, the commune was a place where isolationism—both socially and ideologically—prevailed. It only took this casual admission in a hot tub to snap me out of my communist fantasy and make me realize the ideological totalitarianism and loneliness that communism foments.

Six months later I published my first piece in the Review. Though my participation in Stanford’s “contrarian” paper may have surprised a younger version of myself, I am proud to be part of a publication that seeks to encourage discussion—rather than suppression—of alternative viewpoints and champions free speech. Our discussions are proof that “the real world” is dynamic, rather than something to hide from. Disagreement is a fundamental step in forging a better ideology or policy, not an obstruction to it.

Or maybe I’m thinking too seriously: perhaps the other commune-ists were too high to care.

UA-140492650-2 UA-140492650-1