Why do planned communes always fail?

By Patrice Lewis

Two years ago, I wrote a column about an exciting new sustainable farming project called Hammer City.

This was a planned community by the Black Hammer Organization with a specific mission statement: “Black Hammer Organization exists to take the land back for all colonized people worldwide. We are focused on building dual contending power of and for the colonized masses. Under the leadership of the colonized poor and working class, our mission is to use our collective building power to unite, strengthen and liberate all colonized nations. Currently, our physical and intellectual labor is being coerced to build for the capitalist white colonial state, but it can be redirected to a noble cause. We will organize our labor to be of service to our people. Our symbol, the Hammer, represents breaking the chains of colonialism and building a self-determined future for all colonized people worldwide.”

The Black Hammer group wanted to “live with the earth, not on it.” Their goal to achieve this was by “ensuring that every step of the Hammer City building process will be viewed not only through an anti-colonial lens but also through living in harmony with the land as our ancestors have successfully done before. … Overall, Hammer City is going to address every material need of the people on top of addressing every environmental issue that colonizers have been wringing their hands trying to solve. As Colonized people, we know for a fact that the way we lived before colonization honored and in no way harmed Mother Earth. Colonization has brought our earth to the brink of collapse and Hammer City will be the first micronation to start the process of fixing the corrosive and backward nature of colonization.”

Hammer City’s plan was to offer jobs, housing, food and health care to its population. There were to be no cops, no rent, no coronavirus and no white people. They allegedly achieved the first step in establishing a community built on sustainable farming by securing some property. Specifically, they “successfully liberated” 200 acres of land to establish their project. They claimed the land had rich soil, one lake and three rivers that crossed it.

There was only one teensy little problem: Those 200 acres were located at 10,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies. In my earlier column, I expressed doubts that sustainability could be achieved at such a high altitude.

The Hammer City residents had no such doubts. “That land appears to be mountainous, rather rocky scrubland, and outside observers have raised questions about livability,” noted Santi Ruiz with the Washington Free Beacon, who conducted a Zoom interview with “Commander-in-Chief” Gazi Kodzo. “But the Hammers are convinced they will be able to farm enough food and graze sizable herds to feed the commune on one acre (the rest, they say, will be preserved for nature). ‘White people are so stupid!’ says Gazi when I put these doubts to him. ‘Colonized people can live anywhere on earth, sweetie.'”

Last week it occurred to me to follow up and see how the Hammer City project is coming along. I was anxious to see how their farm was developing, how many buildings they had constructed and to what extent they were able to “graze sizable herds to feed the commune on one acre.”

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It seems utopia has failed. According to this Colorado Sun article, the group wasn’t even able to successfully build a partial footbridge over a drainage ditch, much less construct the infrastructure needed to support settlers. They have accomplished nothing. They built no buildings, grew no gardens, raised no livestock – in short, nothing that would indicate this paramilitary organization had taken the slightest step toward a self-sufficient utopia. The “collective building power” boasted in their mission statement didn’t seem very strong. In fact, it even seems the group was squatting on, rather than owning, the property in question.

“Black Hammer never told donors why Hammer City was not built,” notes the article. “In mid-June, the activists simply posted photos of themselves canvassing in downtown Denver, and at the end of the month, they relocated to Atlanta. The next month, The Black Hammer Times published a blog explaining why they ‘ran off with the Hammer City money.’ The cash would now be used to fund the construction of settlements ‘all over the world.’ Black Hammer has raised more than $112,000 to date, almost double their haul since the cohort arrived outside Norwood. The small group of activists in Atlanta has since focused on distributing mutual aid to impoverished residents. Online, [the group’s commander-in-chief Gazi Kodzo] is adamant Black Hammer is stronger than ever. But it appears the group is unraveling.”

This leads to a wider question: Why do planned utopias mostly fail?

Intentional communes are nothing new, but no matter how often they’re tried, they seldom succeed. “Only a handful of communities founded in the U.S. during the 19th century’s ‘golden age of communities’ lasted beyond a century; most folded in a matter of months,” notes an Aeon article, which blames failing utopias on “capital constraints, burn-out, conflict over private property and resource management, poor systems of conflict mediation, factionalism, founder problems, reputation management, skills shortage, and failure to attract new talent or entice subsequent generations.”

The answer to the question of why communes fail is variable, but one of my theories is this: Aside from the unfortunate side effect of concentrating power in the hands of the few, no one wants to do the dirty work. Building anything is hard. When it came to providing the “jobs, housing, food and health care,” which Hammer City wanted to offer its residents, it appears that no one wanted to do the dirty work necessary to create the jobs, build the housing, grow or raise the food, and provide the health care. As it turns out, they couldn’t even assemble a footbridge over a drainage ditch.

“Dreamers, drifters and seekers in need of belonging, the needy and wounded, and the egomaniacal and power-thirsty are a dangerous constellation of actors for sustaining a community,” notes the Aeon article. “Additionally, for many dreamers the practicalities of farming and self-sufficiency clash with their utopian hopes for radically new ways of living.”

I think it’s a safe assumption that this is what helped doom Hammer City. On the bright side, the group was able to raise over $100,000 in donations. Not a bad haul for their scam.

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