Essene Communalism, a Study of Ancient Essene Communal Villages

by Rev. Brother Nazariah, D.D. In this article we will examine the ancient Essene practice of communal living. We will learn that there were various Essene communal settlements, ranging from those that practiced ABSOLUTE COMMUNISM such as the Qumran monastery at the Dead Sea, to those that practiced a less strict form of semi-communalism such as the Nazarene Essene Cooperative Village near Mount Carmel. We will answer such questions as: What was the purpose of Essene communalism? How did they organize and govern themselves? How did they feed themselves? How were their members employed? What type of health care did they practice? How were the elderly and small children treated in these communes? We will learn that the ancient Essene practice of communal living was a core tenet of primitive Christianity, having been adhered to by YAHSHUA and his immediate disciples as they roamed Israel, as well as Christianity as a whole for the first century. BUT THIS ARTICLE IS NOT ONLY CONCERNED WITH THE PAST: we will end this article with A CALL TO CREATE A NETWORK OF MODERN ESSENE COOPERATIVE COMMUNITIES. And I, Brother Nazariah, will announce my own plan to start one such community: ESSENE GARDEN OF PEACE. But before we begin our study of Essene Communalism, WHICH IS A FORM OF COMMUNISM, we must differentiate between the materialistic, atheistic communism of Karl Marx -- which has been forced on entire populations by totalitarian regimes in China and Russia -- and the VOLUNTARY SPIRITUAL COMMUNISM of YAHSHUA and the Essenes. The modern, violent, dictatorial communism of China and Russia, is so terrible that the very word communism sends shivers of fear right up the spine! But, in fact, the word itself is a very good word: it is defined in the dictionary as: "a social organization in which goods are held in common." The word communism is related to the words community and commune and is based on the concept of sharing The word communism -- and examples of living communally -- predates the modern, materialistic form of communism preached by Marx and Mao and practiced by Russia and China. As we will see in subsequent paragraphs, JESUS AND THE ESSENES WERE CERTAINLY COMMUNISTS BUT ABSOLUTELY WERE NOT MARXISTS. The differences between the communism of Essene YAHSHUA and modern Marxists are very major; here are several: Essene Communism is VOLUNTARY. The Essenes operated communal villages in which people could come live WHEN THEY CHOSE TO DO SO. Nobody was ever forced to go live in an Essene commune. And no resident of an Essene commune was ever forced to stay there; if you didn't like it, you left. BUT IN MARXIST COMMUNISM ENTIRE COUNTRIES WERE FORCED TO ACCEPT COMMUNISM AT THE POINT OF A GUN! There is no freedom of choice with Marxism: you accept it or take a bullet in the head. Essene communism is centered on SPIRITUALITY whereas Marxism is aggressively atheistic. For the Essenes and YAHSHUA, living lives of RADICAL SHARING and COMPASSIONATE CARING in cooperative communes (i.e. communism) was a natural RESPONSE TO THEIR RELIGIOUS

BELIEFS. It was, in fact, the very MANIFESTATION OF THEIR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS. But Marx, quite conversely, called religion "the opiate of the masses and insisted on rigid atheism. Thousands of religious people were murdered by atheistic Marxist regimes, and the free practice of religion was outlawed. The Essene Communists -- including YAHSHUA -- preached the POWER OF PACIFISM. YAHSHUA said, "If a man strikes you on the cheek do not strike him back rather turn to him the other cheek." He also said, "Love your enemies, do good to them who persecute you." None of the residents of an Essene commune were permitted to own or even touch a weapon. Quite conversely, the Chinese Marxist Communist, Mao Tse-tung, said: "power grows out of the barrel of a gun". Perhaps the most illuminating differentiation between Essene Communism and Marxist Communism is their respective viewpoints on the concept of ENDS AND MEANS. The Russian Marxist, Vladimir Lenin, declared: "The end justifies the means." By that he meant that in order to arrive at a good "end" or "destination" -- in this case a utopian communist society -- it is okay to use bad means to get there: killing, cheating, brainwashing, torture, etc. On the other hand, the Essene communism "'as based on the idea that ENDS AND MEANS ARE INTIMATELY RELATED. In other words, THE MEANS ARE THE END IN THE MAKING. For the Essenes, the relationship between a desired "end" (where you want to arrive at) and the "means" (how you intend to get there) is like the relationship between a tree and a seed: if your desired end is an APPLE TREE you must use the means of an APPLE SEED. If you plant Poison Ivy seed you will not end up with a harvest of apples! If your desired end is a compassionate, nonviolent, loving society, the Essenes advise you to use compassionate, non-violent, loving means to get there; for, THE MEANS ARE THE END IN THE MAKING. And that was the idea behind Essene Communes they were living cells of nonviolent social transformation, small-scale examples of what the Essenes believed the world should be. Marxist communists will lie, kill, enslave and cheat in their effort to create a "good" world. Conversely, to bring about a good world, Essene Communists will themselves BE GOOD. Essene communes are showcases of good living, seeds of good. Of all the Marxist Communist concepts, there is only one with which the Essene Communists are in full agreement. "From each as he is able, to each as he has need" Having differentiated Essene communism from Marxist communism, we may now begin our study of the Essene practice of communal living. While it is true that there were many different Essene models for communal living -- ranging from the ABSOLUTE COMMUNISM of the Qumran monastery at the Dead Sea to the less strict semi-communalism of the Nazarene Essene Cooperative Village near Mount Carmel -- it is a fact that we have far more information on the Qumran community than all the others combined. The reason for that is obvious: Archaeologists have discovered amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls the actual "Community Rule" or "Manual of Discipline" of the Qumran community. We are not without some important information on other Essene communities and will certainly share that information in this article; but the fact that we have so much more information on the Qumran community will necessitate a more lengthy discussion of that community. First, let me put you at ease. If you, the reader of this article, are interested in studying and practicing the Essene teachings BUT HAVE NO DESIRE TO EVER LIVE IN AN ESSENE COMMUNE ...

RELAX! ... You need not live in an Essene commune to be an Essene. Many ancient Essenes did live in communal settlements, but many others lived in their own private homes in various towns, following the Essene teachings to the best of their ability. So, if some of the terms in this article scare you -- terms like "Essene Communism" -- relax and realize that you need not ever live in an Essene community UNLESS YOU CHOOSE TO DO SO. You can be a great Essene in the privacy of your own home! Our format will be to ask, then answer, a series of questions about Essene communalism, staring with: What was the purpose? THE PURPOSE OF ESSENE COMMUNALISM. We begin with the obvious question: WHY? What was the purpose of these Essene communal villages? We have already stated above that the Essenes created communal villages as a response to their religious beliefs. Let us now get more specific. THESE COMMUNAL VILLAGES WERE A RESPONSE TO FOUR SPECIFIC RELIGIOUS BELIEFS HELD BY THE ESSENES: TESHUVA. Teshuva means "to return to God" or "conscious union with God." The Essenes practiced a form of KBrotherlah which held that at the beginning of each GRAND CYCLE of the universe is a creative explosion akin to the modern concept of THE BIG BANG. The source behind the Big Bang is God. From the Big Bang came forth countless living souls along with all of the elements needed for the evolution of star systems and planets. The universe which evolves from this "primordial soup" is a COSMIC SCHOOL SYSTEM FOR THE TRAINING OF SOULS. And the goal of evolution is TESHUVA ("to return to God" or "conscious union with God"). Since Teshuva is the ultimate purpose of every soul -- the very purpose of life itself -- IT WAS CONSIDERED THE CHIEF PURPOSE FOR CREATING ESSENE COMMUNAL VILLAGES. Those villages were considered conducive to the realization of TESHUVA. All of the activities of the Essene communal villages -- including their communal economies -- were designed to aid the soul in the realization of TESHUVA. The very act of coming together in ONENESS IN COMMUNITY is symbolic of the return to PRIMORDIAL ONENESS WITH GOD. HALAKOTH. The Essene "Halakoth" was the entire set of rules of conduct, spiritual disciplines, and lifestyle practices given by their line of chief priests called TEACHERS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. The "Halakoth" given by the line of Essene Teachers of Righteousness was considered binding on all Essenes; indeed, the observance of the various elements of the Essene Halakoth was what constituted BEING AN ESSENE. All of the elements of the Essene Halakoth were intended to aid the soul in the realization of the aforementioned "Teshuva." MANY ESSENES FOUND IT VERY HARD TO LIVE ACCORDING TO THE HALAKOTH IN THE DECADENT CITIES. They found that following the ESSENE WAY of HALAKOTH was MUCH MORE FEASIBLE -- and fun! -- IN THE SUPPORTIVE ATMOSPHERE OF AN ESSENE COMMUNAL VILLAGE. Thus, a primary purpose of Essene Communal villages was to provide a supportive context in which dedicated Essenes could live in accordance with the precepts of the Essene Halakoth. TIKKUN OLAM. Tikkun Olam means "to actively participate in the healing and transformation of the world." It is of major importance to realize that the Essene exodus from decadent, "worldly" cities to form Essene communal villages DID NOT MEAN THAT THE ESSENES TURNED THEIR BACKS TO THE WORLD or abandoned the people left behind in cities. One of the main purposes of leaving

the worldly cities to form Essene communal villages was to become "living cells of nonviolent social transformation", examples for the rest of the world. Also, part of the Essene practice of "Tikkun Olam" ("to actively participate in the healing and transformation of the world") was to send Essene teachers and healers into the cities. In his excellent book From Enoch to the Dead Sea Scrolls, Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, writes: "The Essene knew there was no escape from this circle of oppression. hatreds and violence, wars and revolutions, except through changing the ignorance of the individuals in the world...." "The solution which the Essenes offered for economic and social harmony can be applied in every age, the present as well as the past. It contained four factors: Separating from the chaotic conditions of the mass of mankind which refuses to obey natural and cosmic law. Demonstrating a practical social system based on natural and cosmic laws. Communicating these ideas to the outside world through teaching. healing and helping others according to their needs. Attracting to their communities other individuals who are sufficiently evolved to be willing to cooperate with the law." MASHIAKH. Mashiakh is the Hebrew word which becomes in English "Messiah"- In Greek it is "Christos" or "Christ" Literally, "Mashiakh means "anointed" and in this context implies "sent by God". One of the primary purposes of creating Essene communal villages was to prepare for the coming of the MASHIAKH (Messiah). In the "Manual of Discipline" of the Dead Sea Scrolls a chief purpose of the Qumran community is described as "To prepare the way for the Messiah in the wilderness.... to prepare a people to meet the Lord" Several hundred years before the birth of YAHSHUA, the head priest of the Essenes, known as the "Teacher of Righteousness", had a vision; An Angel told him that a great Avatar, the Mashiakh (Christ Messiah), would come to Earth through the Essenes. But for this to occur, according to the angel, the Essenes must follow certain practices in order to create a physical body capable of withstanding the powerful vibrations of the Christ Spirit, as well as a group energy powerful enough to open an "energy vortex or doorway" into this space - time dimension through which the Christ would enter. The prescribed practices were included in the aforementioned Essene Halakoth and the "group energy" for the creation of an "energy vortex" was accomplished by forming Essene communal villages dedicated to the work. We have seen in the above quotation from the Dead Sea Scrolls that the preparation for the coming of the Mashiakh (Christ Messiah) was indeed a chief purpose of the Qumran Essene community. But it was also a chief purpose of all Essene communal villages In Edgar Cayce's Story of Jesus, we read of the Essene community of Mount Carmel making similar preparation: "...the Essenes ... dedicated their lives, their minds, their bodies, to a purpose, to a seeking for that which had been to them a promise of old....Hence, there was the continued preparation and dedication of those who might be the channels through which [the Christ Spirit] might enter -- through choice -into this material realm. Thus in Carmel -- where were the chief priests and leaders of this faith -- there were the maidens chosen who were dedicated to this purpose.....Among them was Mary, the beloved, the chosen one."

Having answered the "WHY?" in regard to Essene communalism (Essene communalism was a response to the four items enumerated above), our next question is: HOW? There are several "how" questions that need to be asked; we will begin with: HOW DID THEY ORGANIZE AND GOVERN THEMSELVES? We will first examine the Essene community at Qumran. After doing so, we will consider some other ancient Essene models of communal livingWhile other Essene communities were for entire families, Qumran was an all male monastic community. The community at Qumran regarded itself as a church and was organized along the lines of an esoteric "Mystery School", with various levels of initiation. Their word for 'church' was the same used by the first Christians: 'edah. And their organizational structure was identical to that used by YAHSHUA and the first Christians. Theodore Caster, in his The Dead Sea Scriptures, writes: "Because the Brotherhood at Qumran regarded itself as the true Congregation of Israel....it organized itself into what may fairly be described as a 'church'. Such an organization requires a formal set of principles and a constitution....No less interesting. and perhaps more exciting...are the many parallels with the organization of the primitive Christian Church. The community calls itself by the same name ('edah) as was used by the early Christians of Palestine to denote the Church....There are twelve 'men of holiness' who act as general guides of the community -- a remarkable correspondence with the Twelve Apostles. These men have three superiors answering to the designation of John, Peter and James....There is a regular system of mebaqqerim or 'overseers' -- an exact equivalent of the Greek episkopoi, or 'bishops'" In regard to Caster's mention of the twelve 'men of holiness' and their three superiors, he is referring to the following. Qumran was governed by a system called "One, Three, Twelve and The Many" (patterned on certain principles of Sacred Geometry and KBrotherllah)- The "One" was the chief priest or "Teacher of Righteousness" (in Hebrew: Moreh Zadik) The "Three" were, after the Teacher of Righteousness, the highest-ranking priests of the community. Together, the "One" and the "Three" made up what today would be called "The Board of Directors", with the "One" obviously being the Chairman of the board There was also a Council of Twelve Overseers; as Caster pointed out, the Hebrew word for "overseer" is "mebaqqerim" which is the exact equivalent of "Bishop". The Council of Twelve Bishops were advisory to the four person (the "three" and the "one") "Board of Directors". Caster pointed out the remarkable correspondence between the above Qumran model and that of YAHSHUA' immediate circle: YAHSHUA corresponds to the "One" or "Teacher of Righteousness". James, John and Peter to the "Three High Priests", (In the New Testament, YAHSHUA often takes only James, Peter and John with him for important "inner circle" events; after his crucifixion those three are referred to as "the three pillars of the church.") and "The Twelve Apostles" to the "Council of Twelve". But very important also is the Qumran term "The Many"; for, the One, Three and Twelve permitted "The Many" -- ALL MEMBERS IN GOOD STANDING -- to vote on any issue that was not considered the domain of the "Mystery School" - In other words, the basic daily affairs of the community were decided not by the spiritual hierarchy BUT BY THE COUNCIL OF THE MANY. In this way, Qumran was governed by a unique blend of spiritual hierarchy and direct democracy. The spiritual hierarchy protected the esoteric teachings from being watered-down by novices and made sure that the overall purpose, plan and constitution were followed. But the daily affairs of ordinary life were decided according to direct democracy via "The Council of the Many". In the words of Theodore Heline, "Theirs was a democratic society functioning under highly disciplined hierarchical order."

If the term "spiritual hierarchy" seems negative to your modern sensitivities, consider the following. The Essenes believed that their Mystery School was a doorway into the ranks of angelic beings. They believed that the angelic realms were divided into ranks or hierarchies of angels: lower angelic beings on up to archangels And so they patterned their Mystery School on the angelic pattern of ranks and hierarchies. They also made sure that promotion through the ranks was completely fair in that it was based on the progress made by the student within the context of the curriculum of the Mystery School. Before leaving the topic of organizational structure at Qumran, let us look at how one became a part of the Qumran community, how one joined the organization. In his excellent book titled, The Dead Sea Scrolls: The Essenian Forerunners of Christ, Theodore Heline writes: "From the recovered portions of the Manual of Discipline we learn that an applicant for membership was placed on a one year's probation. If his conduct proved worthy, two more years of study and testing followed. Then, if favorably passed upon by the priest and the majority of the members he was admitted to full membership....On attaining full membership, but not until then, individuals surrendered without reservation all personal possessions to the common store." As described above, only after a three year probationary period did a person become a full member and give everything he owned to the "common purse". That way, if after the three year period the candidate found he didn't want to live that lifestyle, he could take all his money and possessions and leave. But if candidates stayed, they gave EVERYTHING they owned to the community and became part of a 100% communal economy: THEY BECAME ESSENE COMMUNISTS! In regard to the organizational and governmental structure of other Essene communities, we have new information on the Mount Carmel Community in Northern Israel and the Lake Mareotis Community in Egypt. In a manuscript soon to be published by Essene Church of Christ (this manuscript is one of several given us by the old Essene Order of AtOnement, founded by Rev Cideon Ouseley in the 1890's) we learn that the Carmel and Mareotis Essenes followed the same "One, Three, Twelve and The Many" format as Qumran, BUT WITH A FASCINATING TWIST: they patterned it on the Essene Tree of Life! If the reader is familiar with the drawing of the Essene Tree of Life on page 50 of Edmond Szekely's book From Enoch to the Dead Sea Scrolls, you will recall that there are seven branches and seven roots. The center branch represents God, the center root "Mother Nature". The other six branches represent various spiritual forces, the other six roots various natural forces. And at the very center of the Tree of Life is a human being seated in a meditation posture.

The Carmel and Mareotis Essenes use of the "One, Three, Twelve" was linked to the Tree of Life as follows: the "One" (the "Teacher of Righteousness" or, in Hebrew, "Moreh Zadik") was linked to the human being in the center of the Tree; the "Council of Twelve" were linked to the six branches and six roots (minus the center branch and center root); the "Three Highest-Ranking Priests" were linked to the three branches of the upper left portion of the Tree: Love, Wisdom and Power. Each New Year, the Teacher of Righteousness announced the names of those Essenes who would serve as "The Council of

the Tree of Life". When the Teacher of Righteousness and Council of Twelve held meetings, a specific person represented each of the six branches and six roots; for instance, James may have represented the branch of Wisdom, John the branch of Love, Peter the branch of Power (Power is "manifestation")Meetings began with beautiful songs, chants and recitations based on the Tree of Life Communions. One such song seems to have been the basis for the Gnostic "Hymn of Jesus": the twelve move in a circle around the Teacher of Righteousness, who is seated in the meditation posture at the center (just like the Tree of Life drawing). We also find a reference to this in The Gospel of the Holy Twelve, in regard to the 'Last Supper': "And at evening the Master cometh into the house, and there are gathered with him the Twelve....And they were all clad in garments of white linen...." "And when they had sung a hymn, YAHSHUA stood up in the midst of his apostles, and going round him who was their Center, as in a solemn dance, they rejoiced...." After the Tree of Life songs and rituals, the "business meeting" was held. In prayer, the group asked that the Center Branch -- God -- and the Center Root -- Mother Nature -- be with them and guide all of their decisions at the meeting. In this way, all fourteen of the branches and roots were represented at the meetings: twelve by human beings, two -- God and Mother Nature -- by their own spiritual presence. The Moreh Zadik ("Teacher of Righteousness" or "Chief Priest") represented the human being at the center of the Tree. The Moreh Zadik was a lifelong position; the others served one year terms but could be reinstated at the New Year Naming Ceremony for another year term: often, they served many years, sometimes until death, as there was no limit to the number of consecutive one year terms they could serve. We are told that the Moreh Zadik would isolate himself for several days at the end of each year and do a fast. He would then invoke the presence of the Center Branch -- God --and the Center Root -Mother Nature -- and ask their guidance in the selection of the persons for the Council of Twelve for the upcoming year. Then, using advanced yogic techniques, he went into a deep Communion with God and Mother Nature which culminated in the writing down of twelve names. Along with the Moreh Zadik, three other persons were required to be raw food vegetarians: The Three High Priests (known as "Malik" or "Enlighteners") who represented the branches of Love, Wisdom and Power. The rest of the Council were only required to be vegetarians, but usually were raw fooders as well. (Until publication, we are not permitted to give direct quotations from the Carmel manuscript, but one thing is very clear: the manuscripts translated by Edmond Szekely which he supposed were from Qumran were actually from Carmel and Mareotis: not a single mention of the Tree of Life Communions or Sevenfold Peace are found in the Qumran Scrolls BUT THE CARMEL MANUSCRIPT -- which also describes Mareotis -- IS FULL OF REFERENCES TO THE TREE OF LIFE AND SEVENFOLD PEACE.) Like the Qumran group, the term "The Many" was also very important at Carmel and Mareotis. Like at Qumran, the spiritual hierarchy at Carmel and Mareotis handled the church matters, BUT PERMITTED "THE MANY" -- all members of the community in good standing -- TO MAKE ALL THE DECISIONS IN REGARD TO DAILY LIFE AT THE COMMUNITY. It is now time to ask three very down-to-earth, practical questions in regard to Essene communalism. Many pie-in-the-sky utopian communities have been very short-lived due to their failure to adequately address such basic human needs as food, employment and health care. The ancient Essenes created

communal villages that thrived for centuries. Although they were advanced mystics, they obviously must have mastered the practical aspects of life, as well as the esoteric. We now ask: How did they feed themselves? How were their members employed? What type of health care was provided for their members? HOW DID THE ANCIENT ESSENE COMMUNAL VILLAGES FEED THEMSELVES? First, we must remind ourselves that the ancient Essenes were STRICT VEGETARIANS. Many of them ate only raw fruits, vegetables and sprouted grains, along with raw dairy products, never eating cooked food. Although raw foods were recommended, the only requirement was NO MEAT. But our question now is not WHAT they ate but HOW they got it. It's one thing to invite a thousand people to come live together on your land; it's quite another thing to feed all of them! A study of the various source materials provides us with the answer: THE ESSENES WERE MASTER FARMERS AND ARBORICULTURISTS (an "arboriculturist" is one who "grows trees'; in the case of the Essenes, nut and fruit tree orchards). Edmond Szekely, in From Enoch to the Dead Sea Scrolls, writes: "The Essenes lived on the shores of lakes and rivers, away from cities and towns, and practiced a communal way of life, sharing equally in everything. They were mainly agriculturists and arboriculturists, having a vast knowledge of crops, soil and climatic conditions which enabled them to 'grow", a great variety of fruits and vegetables in comparatively desert areas and with a minimum of labor." In regard to the reference above to "a minimum of labor", excavation of the ruins of the Essene community at Qumran has revealed that the Essenes made use of sophisticated drip irrigation systems to water their gardens and orchards. During the short rainy season they channeled the rain water that poured down the surrounding cliffs into huge cisterns to save for watering their gardens the rest of the year. They were masters of mulching and composting, the greatest organic gardeners to ever grace the earth. In another section of the same book, Szekely makes clear that they not only were able to feed all their own members, but often had enough surplus food to feed the poor of neighboring cities: "They had great agricultural proficiency....producing a large variety of fruits and vegetables of the highest quality and in such abundance they periodically had a surplus to distribute to the needy." While many of the members of the Essene communal villages worked in the gardens, not all of them did. And that brings us to the next question HOW DID THE ANCIENT ESSENE COMMUNAL VILLAGES EMPLOY THEIR MEMBERS? In his excellent book The Mystical Christ, Manly Hall reports: "There was no idleness among the Essenes....The group was not... financed by the State; it was supported entirely by its own members, whose gain from lawful enterprise was kept in the common purse. The term 'lawful enterprise' was interpreted as honest and honorable work. No activity was considered superior to another. Each of those who came bestowed his talents and abilities, but practiced them only according to the convictions of conscience. As many who sought refuge in the settlement had no inclination to continue their previous occupations, they had no special skill suitable to their new way of living. These farmed the surrounding area and performed such labor as might be required for the common good. Some apprenticed themselves to craftsmen and learned new trades." We see above that the new members of an Essene community could keep their old job IF IT WAS IN

HARMONY WITH THE ESSENE TEACHINGS. If the old job could not be kept for reasons of conscience, the new member either worked on the communal farm, performed general labor for the community -- laundry, carpentry, kitchen work etc. -- or learned a new trade. Hall goes on to inform us that some Essenes had been quite wealthy before joining the communes: "It is a mistake to assume that the Essenes were simply agriculturists and craftsmen. Some had been scholars or wealthy merchants or successful tradesmen. Each in his own way had found it impossible to continue practices which offended his soul. He had, therefore, divided his goods, bestowed his properties, terminated his worldly career, and returned to the natural faith of his fathers." Some of the Essenes worked as teachers. Hall writes: "That the intellectual level of the community was high can be gathered from the historical accounts of the sect. Essenes were selected as teachers of the young, and Roman officials residing in Palestine selected these mystics. preferring them to scholars of other Jewish sects or tutors sent from Rome. Under the gentle guidance of these godly men, children received not only learning, but also enlightenment." Some Essenes worked as doctors. Hall reports. "Some of the Essenes practiced medicine and healed the sick....They were especially mindful of the poor, who could not afford to engage physicians. When the Essenian doctor attended a patient. he would not only prescribe a remedy, but would also clean the house, do the mending and washing and any other task which sickness had interrupted. If some gift was forced upon him by one of the grateful, it was placed in the general storehouse of the sect." Another author, Robert Chaney, agrees that many Essenes were healers. In his fascinating book, The Essenes and their Ancient Mysteries, he informs us that one Essene community was especially famous for its skilled healers: "The Theraputae, consisted of those Essenes who engaged in the healing art. The word "Essenes" in the nearest Aramaic equivalent means 'healers'....One branch of the Essenes located near famed Lake Mareotis in Egypt, was known far and wide for its accomplishments in the field of healing. The suggestion has been made that the young YAHSHUA received his first instruction in the healing arts from the residents of this Essene healing community." Having established that the Essene communal villages had many skilled healers living amongst them, now is a perfect time to answer the question promised earlier: WHAT TYPE OF HEALTH CARE WAS PROVIDED FOR THEIR MEMBERS? Hall makes clear that the most important ingredients of the Essene "health-plan" for members were love and commitment: "Those who were sick or injured were given constant and devoted care and protected from all want to the end of their lives." But what form of healing was used? Amazingly, the ancient Essenes twenty centuries ago were practicing what we today consider "new" and call "holistic medicine". Robert Chaney, in his

aforementioned book, describes the Essene healing practices: "Three basic principles were followed by the Essenes in their healing.. First, it was believed that Divinity was expressed in the plant kingdom as an antidote for the illnesses of the human kingdom, that for every illness there existed a palliative in a root, leaf or bark of a tree or plant. The Essenes therefore were herbalists in the highest sense of the word "A second method of healing was to make use of 'healing stones' -- bits of various kinds of rock or hardened earth....The power of such stones in influencing magnetic fields under the direction of one who is versed in this type of therapy became common knowledge at a later period. The Essenes also created salves from natural sources. The clay and spittle YAHSHUA prescribed for the blind man may very well have originated from this source. "The third method of healing in which the Essenes were extremely well versed drew upon the healing powers of the invisible worlds around them. They acquired an unparalleled mastery in manipulating these healing powers of the superior spheres...." In an ancient Essene scripture published by the Edenite Society, The Essene Humane Gospel of Jesus, we read: "And YAHSHUA did heal every ailment and disease among the sick, even teaching the people the art of true health reform according to the natural laws of nature. Yea, for he taught the people healing properties of plants, even every herb and grass of the field, and the power hidden in stones, and the cleansing miracle of pure water. And many were amazed and did believe and were healed." Two more questions must be asked in regard to Essene communal villages. How did they treat children? How did they treat the elderly? The heart -- or lack thereof -- of any community or nation is revealed in the way they treat their children and old folks. HOW DID THE ESSENES TREAT CHILDREN? Hall writes: "The Essenes held children in special regard... They trained these young people and were attentive to natural abilities and inclinations. when these children reached maturity, they were in no way required to accept the teachings of the sect or to become members. They might choose to do so or not, as they pleased." Even the celibate Essene community loved children and cared for orphans. Hall tells us: "The order adopted orphans and reared them with all tenderness." HOW ABOUT THE ELDERLY? How were members of the Essene communal villages treated when they were too old to work anymore? After all, there was no such thing as Social Security checks back then! Hall reports: "The aged were held in the highest esteem, and it was remembered that they had worked faithfully and lovingly as long as their strength had permitted. They were given...devoted care and protected from want to the end of their lives."

It is truly said that you can judge a tree by the fruit it bears. Based on the reports of writers who were contemporary to the Essenes, we must conclude that the Essene communal villages were very effective "Trees" for the production of beautiful, wonderful human beings. Consider the praise of contemporaries such as Pliny, Josephus and Philo; these men actually knew the Essenes and said of them: "a race by themselves, more remarkable than any other in all the world" -- Pliny "they show more love for each other than do others, and live a more moral life. Rightly do they deserve to be called an example for the lives of other people." --Josephus "They live each day in constant and unalterable holiness." --Philo Manly Hall sums up the lifestyle of these Essene communists in very moving terms: "The Essenes resolved to live by the laws of God in a world of men....By simply permitting consciousness to guide conscience, and conscience to govern conduct, the Essenes unfolded the basic plan for human society. The more devoutly they practiced these principles, the more obvious it became that the program was both possible and practical....By loving their fellow men and serving them, the Essenes discovered in their own hearts the God of love and service." On the first page of this article several questions were listed that we promised to answer in regard to Essene Communalism. We have now answered each of those questions. Besides the questions, on that first page we also made two assertions that we promised to explain AND THEN PROMISED TO CONCLUDE WITH A CALL TO CREATE A NETWORK OF MODERN ESSENE COMMUNITIES. We will now address those items. We asserted on page one that YAHSHUA and his immediate disciples followed the Essene practice of communalism even as they roamed Israel; we also asserted that Essene communalism was a core tenet of Christianity in the first century. Any student of the New Testament is familiar with the references to YAHSHUA and his disciples living out of ONE COMMON PURSE as they roamed Israel. There are several New Testament references to incoming money being put into the disciples' ONE PURSE, as well as outgoing money being disbursed from it. We are even told that Judas Iscariot, who later betrayed YAHSHUA, liked to be the one to carry the purse and once complained about the way in which the money from the common purse was being spent. THUS, THIS LITTLE BAND OF TRAVELING ESSENES -- YAHSHUA and his disciples - PRACTICED A COMMUNIST ECONOMY EVEN WHILE ON THE ROAD. In regard to my assertion that Essene Communalism was a core tenet of Christianity in the first century --even after the crucifixion of YAHSHUA -- I submit two pieces of evidence: the first is an excerpt from the New Testament "Book of Acts" in which a description is given of how the first century Christians lived, the second is a similar -- but even more specific account from The Essene Humane Gospel of Jesus.

In the "Book of Acts" we read: "And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, as any had need." A few verses later we read: "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: Neither said any of them that any of the things which he possessed was his own; for they had all things in common." Clearly, the above is a description of early Christian communism. But I've saved the most powerful quotation for last; we read in The Essene Humane Gospel of Jesus: "And they who believed gave up their wealth and possessions and did sell all things and gave the proceeds to the communes, for they held all things in common and abode together in one place, even as Christ had commanded them. For by doing so, they fulfilled the law of love, showing all kindness and goodness of God unto their brothers and sisters and all the creatures born of nature...." "And many were the Essene communes of the followers of the holy way, wherein all lived according to Kingdom Order and in Love. For among the communes, it was just as YAHSHUA had spoken....for there existed no hunger or thirst for spiritual or physical food, and the aged man and the widow were not cast out, and the orphan and the inflicted were welcome....And the holy ones of God did go forth as healers among mankind teaching the cures of nature unto the people. And unto the nations they were known by the name of 'Essenes' which, when translated, means 'healers and saviors of the people'; for they healed every physical and spiritual ill of all who wanted to become followers of the Essene way of Life." AMEN! And, I might add, HALLELUJAH! If that quotation above didn't move you to want to "go and do likewise" then being a part of a modern Essene commune is probably not your destiny! YOU CAN STOP READING HERE! But if that quotation above DID MOVE YOU, if you feel motivated to follow in the holy footsteps of our ancient Essene brethren, READ ON! I hereby issue a call for the creation of a network of modern Essene Cooperative Communities. They need not -- even should not -- all be the same; the ancient Essenes had a variety of different types of communities, and so can we. That way, we can each live in a community that fits our own interests and philosophy. Some may wish to form monastic, celibate communities. Others, myself included, may choose to form family - oriented communities in which to raise our children. Some may be interested in ABSOLUTE COMMUNISM, selling everything they own and pooling the money in ONE COMMON PURSE. Others may prefer only a semi-communal situation, keeping private bank accounts. Whatever your inclination, LET'S START TALKING TO EACH OTHER ABOUT IT! While I will do all I can to assist various types of Essene communities to get started. my own project is as follows: From the age of 18 to 24 lived in ESSENE GARDEN OF PEACE, an Essene community I co-founded with my elderly Essene teacher, Infinity. We created a true HEAVEN ON EARTH. But we didn't own the land. After seven years of bliss, the land we lived on was sold by the owner to a

development corporation. They evicted us, tore down the dozen cabins we had built, uprooted our fruit orchard and destroyed our gardens. They then built an apartment building! My teacher, noticing my sadness, smiled and said: "This is not the end of ESSENE GARDEN OF PEACE. In another place. when the time is right. you and a select group of friends will resurrect ESSENE GARDEN OF PEACE." For me, that time has come. I am now forming that "select group of friends." If interested, contact me soon. And this time we'll "own" the land!

The cooperative economics of Italy's Emilia-Romagna holds a lesson for the U.S. In Bologna, Small Is Beautiful
By Robert Fitch This fall's contest between Bob Dole and Bill Clinton may offer Americans concerned about corporate power the narrowest and most conservative range of alternatives since 1924, when Silent Cal Coolidge faced J.P. Morgan's attorney John Davis. Today's Republicans argue that government has become irrelevant in the age of the global economy. Pensions, environmental regulations, welfare -- all must shrink or disappear to allow corporations to compete better in the world marketplace. Digital Democrats like Labor Secretary Robert Reich disagree. Government can play a constructive role, they argue, by offering tax breaks to kindly, "responsible" corporations that work hard and play by the rules. To see that there are other options, you have to travel to the richest city in Italy: Bologna -- Communist Bologna (six years ago the Italian Communist Party renamed itself the Democratic Party of the Left, or P.D.S.). Polls confirm it as the favorite city of all Italians. The historic center, with its soaring medieval towers, Renaissance palazzos and Baroque porticoes, is among the best-preserved in Italy. And perhaps even more remarkable, working-class Bolognese continue to live there. Since the anti-Fascist resistance came down from the hills and took power fifty years ago, Bologna and the surrounding EmiliaRomagna region have been transformed into a working left-wing model of a future Italy, an alternative to the alliance of media mogul Silvio Berlusconi and neo-Fascist Gianfranco Fini [see Daniel Singer's editorial, "Italy's Olive Tree," this week]. Here is a place where the left came to power and didn't make a mess.

Emilia-Romagna begins just south of Milan. Emilians live in the ancient cities of the Po Valley: Ferrara, Parma, Modena, Piacenza and, of course, Bologna. Neighboring Romagna stretches east along the Adriatic from the working-class resort city of Rimini to Ravenna, the former capital of Byzantine emperors. Emilia-Romagna is a region of small companies and high wages; of Communist administrators and intense local democracy. It evades altogether the easy dualisms of U.S. political discourse. We've been trained to believe that economics, politics and technology demand irreconcilable choices. In technology, when you choose your scale, you choose your standard of living. Rich areas have giant banks and global corporations while poor areas must make do with small firms. Smallness simply signals a lack of development. Politically, leftists may provide jobs and spread income more equally, but their egalitarian regimes wind up monopolizing power and bureaucratizing every area of life. You must choose freedom or equality. Finally, in economic systems, it's either competition or cooperation. Cooperation dulls the competitive instinct. Competition dissolves common bonds. The two mix like sugar and gasoline. The Emilian model, however, shows that there's more to life than what's been dreamed of in our cold war philosophies. Local cooperation and the ability to produce for highly competitive international markets needn't be mutually exclusive -- the two can blend like oil and vinegar. There are more than 60,000 workers employed in some 1,800 "red" Emilian co-ops. But co-ops haven't prevented the region from increasing its share of international exports. Emilia-Romagna's small and medium-sized companies -- both craft-based and high-tech -- compete internationally, and work cooperatively within industrial districts that have produced the fastest growth of any region in the country. Unemployment, at just 4.7 percent, is even lower than the jobless rate in Lombardy and Piedmont, Northern Italy's corporate heartland. Emilia-Romagna was once a desperately impoverished agricultural area. Now the region ranks second among Italy's twenty regions in median per capita income. And it stands tenth among the 122 regions in the entire European Community. What about political life under a Communist regime? As Bolognese P.D.S. secretary Sergio Sabattini observes, "There was never Communism in Bologna." What there was and what there is now, as Harvard's Robert Putnam has shown in his award-winning Making Democracy Work [see David L. Kirp, "Tocqueville in Italy," (The Nation) November 8, 1993], is a regime that has surpassed all Italian regional governments by every objective measure. Not just once, but consistently over the past twenty years, Emilia-Romagna has led in the responsiveness of its bureaucracy; the scope of its public services and the efficiency with which they're delivered; and -- not surprisingly given its performance -- in popularity. Just look at the election results since the war. What party anywhere -- not just in Italy -- has been returned to office regularly, in free elections, for fifty years? And with increasing electoral margins: from 34 percent in 1945 to the 57 percent won by Governor Pier Luigi Bersani in the 1995 spring regional elections -- the second-highest share won by any of the twenty governors in Italy. The success of the Emilian model challenges the political dualisms of the U.S. left. For us, political power and left principles are mutually exclusive. So the point is to stay away from mass politics. Stay fragmented; focus on single issues; just write about how bad everything is; organize only in emergency coalitions to defend the status quo you just finished denouncing yesterday. Yet the pillars of the Emilian model rest on principles that aren't so different from those that have helped define the U.S. left since the sixties -- participatory democracy and industrial democracy. Somehow this experiment got off the ground. And while it may have lost some momentum, it doesn't seem to have crashed. What's gotten the Emilian model this far?

The answer is political action. Some observers lament the decline of the old Bolognese political passions. Yet even in the mid-nineties Bologna's political participation is off any scale Americans are used to. In 1994, when Berlusconi tried to cut back the welfare state, demonstrations broke out in cities all across Italy. More than a million people protested in Rome. In Bologna 250,000 turned out. A demo of comparable size to Bo's in New York City would have to rally 5 million protesters. But far more inhumane cuts in the city budget never produced more than 20,000 demonstrators. It's not that we feel so much less compassion and outrage than the Bolognese, it's that we lack a complex and powerful political structure to engage and express our feelings. Look for the office of the P.D.S. in the Bologna telephone book and there are eighty-five separate listings. These are overwhelmingly neighborhood organizations. As University of Illinois professor Raffaella Nanetti has shown, Bologna's citywide planning successes in preservation, housing and child care have been made possible by these active, volunteer, decentralized organizations with real local power. But leadership matters too. To meet the top local party officials, you are escorted up a marble balustrade staircase in one of Bologna's most sumptuous palaces -- the Palazzo Marescotti Brazzetti. There the blue-jeaned, mustachioed party secretary, Sergio Sabattini, discourses on the benefits of municipal socialism under a stunning Baroque fresco. The palazzo, occupying a full block along the famous Via Barbieri, has been declared a "house of the people," but the people you meet in the beautifully appointed and electronically up-to-date offices -- L'Unit, the party newspaper, and the Istituto Gramsci have their headquarters here too -- are mainly party workers. Recently, the city turned over many government functions to local nonprofits, including care of AIDS patients. "The Keynesian phase in Emilia-Romagna is over," says Sabattini. Progressive regional government can't be a matter, he explains, of creating a giant public sector that taxes the industrial monopolies to drain off income to provide jobs and welfare. There are no monopolies to tax. The left, instead, has the more complicated task of promoting the creativity of a region capable of competing on a world scale because tens of thousands of small companies cooperate intelligently on a local level. The government provides what Bolognese economist Sebastiano Brusco calls "real services" -- not just those that make up for market failures, like unemployment compensation and welfare, but services that enable people to work. Emilia-Romagna's female participation in the labor force is the highest in Italy. In part this is because there is a century-old Emilian tradition of women working outside the home, but it is also the result of a strong, independent female workers' movement for adequate daycare. (Today in Modena, about two-thirds of children are in nursery school, as opposed to 4 percent in Naples.) The beneficiaries of "real services" are people working in small and medium enterprises. In the United States, we usually think of small businesses not only as firms that pay low wages but as especially hostile to any government intervention. Neither is true in Emilia-Romagna. With only 3.9 million people, the region has an amazing 68,000 manufacturing enterprises. (New York State, by contrast, has 18 million people and about 26,000 manufacturing enterprises.) No invisible hand provides Emilian firms with financing, daycare, urban planning, technical assistance, research institutes and specialized laboratories. Small companies can't be expected to devote much capital to research and development. They can't even afford to hire marketing consultants. The regional government arranges for these

services -- chiefly by contracting with nonprofit economic research agencies like the internationally respected NOMISMA. Small businesses in Emilia-Romagna are also structurally different from the typical small business in the United States. They're not simple suppliers of components to a big companies that lay down the law. In Emilia-Romagna, small firms compete for contracts. But, as a matter of custom and practicality, the winners hire the losers as subcontractors. And there is none of our famous industrial dualism, where workers in small firms must put up with low wages and slim benefits. In exchange for Italy's highest benefits and wages, workers are flexible: They move easily among firms. Similarly, skills and marketing information travel easily among local suppliers. In U.S. cities, urban planners have tried to make industrial workers and manufacturing go away as fast as possible so they can be replaced by upscale professionals and office buildings. Not surprisingly, the number of our manufacturing jobs has shrunk. In Emilia-Romagna, where there is no higher economic priority than keeping manufacturing, industrial jobs have grown. In the past twenty years, the region's overall economy has grown faster than that of any state in the United States; 17 percent of its income is from manufacturing. That's more than half again as high as the U.S. share. Emilia-Romagna's small manufacturing companies don't require tariff protection to survive. Roughly half of the regional agricultural and industrial output is exported, chiefly in the form of machinery -$14 billion worth. But innovative agricultural products also swell the export total. Worldwide, the region's best-known brand name may be Parmalatta -- milk from Parma that doesn't need to be refrigerated and has a shelf life of around six months. Sales are $1.7 billion worldwide. It's not enough, though, to create exports. To avoid the formation of a U.S.-style urban underclass and the contrast between low-paid service workers and comparatively highly paid workers in manufacturing, government must help all workers share in the prosperity. In Emilia-Romagna that means a government that supports militant trade unionism. "You know the McDonald's across the street from Il Nettuno?" asks Sabattini. "The guy who holds that franchise is an Italian-American. He came here in the eighties thinking he was going to run that place American-style -- with low wages. It was a hard struggle, but we disabused him of that illusion. Now he pays his McDonald's workers the scale earned by every other worker represented by the Commercial Workers Union." It's a wage scale three times what their Manhattan fast-food counterparts earn. But why don't Emilian firms simply leave to avoid the region's high wages? One reason is that a significant minority are producer co-ops; the point of self-management is to stick around to insure that you receive the value you produce. But more important, Emilia-Romagna has created a whole economy that, while not formally cooperative, is based on small and medium-sized enterprises that do depend on one another. Small businesses are constituent parts of an economic organism that's developed over the past fifty years with government infrastructural assistance: financing, low rents and real services. If a small firm were to move outside the region, it would be like a hand suddenly detached from its body. The more you examine the cooperative, interdependent Emilian model, the less resemblance it has to other "industrial districts" U.S. economists try to compare it to. Relations between companies in Emilia-Romagna are nothing like those in Veneto, a conservative Catholic region to the north. Income

is high and enterprise is small in Veneto. But the aim of Veneto's small-business owners is to emulate local firms like Benetton, now a multinational giant that maintains profitability by contracting out manufacturing to cheap overseas labor. Nor is there any of Silicon Valley's chronic entrepreneurialism, where big firms splinter into new start-ups by former employees who peel off with key ideas and contracts, who in turn get sideswiped by trusted employees who themselves split off with valued customers. But then, why should Emilia-Romagna's industrial culture resemble Veneto's or Silicon Valley's? Power in Silicon Valley was never wrested from Fascists by a Communist-led resistance movement. Nor was Veneto ever isolated from the rest of the country by a central government that sought to undermine its local leadership by withholding loans and credits. The resistance in Emilia-Romagna drew in nearly everyone: the farm laborers and the professionals, the workers and the artisan owners of the region's myriad small factories. It was the only region in Italy where workers actually seized the big factories from their owners. The resistance, however, consciously sought to play down class differences. Fascism had come to power, C.P. chief Palmiro Togliatti argued, in part because the left scared the smallbusiness owners into Mussolini's arms with its empty threats to seize power and its total lack of a transitional program that defended small business against banks, landlords and big business. With the rapid departure of Allied forces, Togliatti was faced with a historic choice: Either seize power in Northern Italy, like Tito in nearby Trieste, or join a national governing coalition with the Christian Democrats as a very junior partner. Togliatti chose Rome. Resistance fighters from Emilia-Romagna set about transforming themselves into urban activists. Not only did they face a centralized Christian Democratic regime soon to become world famous for its corruption, clientism and bureaucratic indifference but the governing philosophy of the national Communist Party upheld the values of political centralism and economic concentration. Without these outside pressures, the unique resistance culture would have probably dissipated in Emilia-Romagna as it did everywhere else. Instead it was preserved and transformed into a go-it-alone, "us versus them" spirit that helps explain much of the novelty and persistence of the Emilian adaptation -- and also its isolation. How portable is the Emilian system? How could the Bologna model possibly play out in Milwaukee, Toledo or New York City? There are actually some surprising structural similarities between the underdeveloped Bologna of fifty years ago and the deindustrialized cities of the United States today. Decades of capital flight and planning disasters have produced an urban America characterized by many small businesses hanging on precariously in the shadow of a dominant, domineering, FIRE (finance, insurance and real estate) sector. Small merchants face extortionate rents from landlords. Small businesses can't get credit from giant banks. Together, merchants and small manufacturers may have more leverage than the poor in City Hall, but less altogether than any important landlord. At best, the city ignores small-business needs. So small business pursues a low-wage, high-exploitation strategy. Instead of leaving African-American shopkeepers to the likes of Minister Farrakhan and white smallbusiness owners to the mercies of the Republican right, the left might consider pursuing an Emilian united-front economic strategy. Build and reform the workers' movement in small firms. Overthrow corrupt, undemocratic trade union leadership that has quietly adapted to low wages. Promote high wages and high productivity, but support small and medium-sized enterprise against FIRE. What's

needed is commercial rent control and credit with no collateral, and a new producer co-op sector with state aid drawn from taxing commuters, elite nonprofits and the FIRE industries. Finally, we must promote a political culture of participation and solidarity. What Emilia-Romagna shows is that people may not always be able to choose their leaders, but they can never avoid choosing their political culture. People either opt for solidarity and participation or they choose indifference and clientism. The left here must stop counting its failures like rosary beads and grasp the possibilities of the present. We see where mass political disorganization leads -- to the South Bronx -- and where solidarity and mass political organization can lead -- to Bologna. Robert Fitch is working on Digital Delusions, to be published by Common Courage next year. Copyright (c) 1996, The Nation Company, L.P. All rights reserved. Electronic re-distribution for nonprofit purposes is permitted, provided this notice is attached in its entirety. Unauthorized, for-profit re-distribution is prohibited. For further information regarding reprinting and syndication, please call The Nation at (212) 242-8400, ext. 213 or send e-mail to Peter Rothberg.

Legacoop Cooperative in Bologna, Italy Empowers Worker-Owners
By Jeffrey Hollender

This post is the first in a series of articles by Jeffrey Hollender on cooperative businesses models, specifically from Mondragón, Spain That Italian and Basque cooperatives have grown so large is somewhat a mystery since, unlike capitalist enterprises, cooperatives are not expansionist by nature… Capitalist enterprises tend towards growth because increased scale generally leads to greater returns for a concentrated ownership. To simplify, if a capitalist bakery owner has a bakery with ten workers each earning $20,000/year but generating $30,000/year of wealth, the owner reaps $100,000 per year ($10,000 “profit” multiplied by ten workers). Contrast this with the economics of a typical worker cooperative. In a worker cooperative, those profits not reinvested are divided among the workers who generated the wealth. Assuming no reinvestment, in addition to her $20,000 salary, each baker would receive a $10,000 profit distribution at the end of the year. Under a sunny blue sky cooled by an incessant breeze, Bologna, Italy, is everything one would expect from a moderately-sized Italian city: Endlessly wonderful food, sparsely spoken English, gelato to die for and a people in constant motion, except when at rest. We came in search of an understanding of how the cooperative movement in Italy differs from that of the movement in the US, the UK and our next destination, Spain. The success of worker cooperative models in Italy and Spain present a compelling model for building a new sustainable economy.

Cooperatives in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, at which Bologna is the center, are so pervasive they are virtually invisible. Other than the “Coop” grocery stores to be found every few blocks, the cooperative business structure is so deeply woven into the business culture as to go unnoticed by most inhabitants. It’s not branded, advertised, or promoted. In fact, no one could point us toward the 20story-high office building housing the regional offices of Legacoop, Italy’s biggest cooperative, despite the fact that it’s situated in one of the tallest buildings in the city. Before I take you behind-the-scenes at Legacoop and share their innovative model, let me first share some history: Back in 1854, Italy’s first consumer cooperative, the “Magazzino di Previdenza,” was founded in Turin. In 1886, 100 delegates representing 248 cooperatives with 70,000 members formed the National Cooperative Federation. In 1893, that became the Cooperative League, now known as Legacoop. Today, the Italian cooperative movement includes three primary organizations, Legacoop, AGCI and Confcooperative. Collectively, they represent 43,000 cooperative businesses generating an astounding revenue of 127 billion Euros, or 7% of the Italian GDP, and their 1.1 million employees represent 6% of the total population. And they are flourishing. In comparison to other countries their growth may be attributed to political and economic support, writes Tim Huet, director of the Center for Democratic Solutions, a nonprofit in San Francisco that advises coops. “The Italian constitution recognizes the social contribution of cooperatives and directs that legislation should promote and favor cooperatives. Italian tax legislation treats worker cooperatives as non-profit entities requiring surplus to be invested for further job creation; i.e., in exchange for favorable tax status, worker cooperatives are restricted from distributing profits among current members in favor of reinvesting towards new democratic employment. Another interesting aspect of Italian tax law is that it requires 3% of each cooperative’s surplus to go into a fund to develop new cooperatives.” Further, Italian coops have engaged in a unique decentralized strategy, creating “flexible manufacturing networks” comprised of the highly-skilled work forces of small and mid-sized manufacturers. This approach has helped Italian cooperatives take advantage of labor flexibility and, as Huet pinpoints, “leverage niche markets created by the volatility of the global market.” He continues: “Cooperatives are particularly adept at fostering the critical relationships because of their collaborative cultures. The small size of the productive plants in flexible manufacturing networks facilitates robust democracy for cooperatives involved.” Of the 43,000 cooperative businesses in Italy, 14,500 belong to Legacoop employing 485,000 people. Legacoop represents businesses in every industry from banking and insurance to retailing, construction, agriculture, travel and manufacturing. Its role is to advocate, represent, protect cooperative values, build the movement by developing new businesses, and advocate for laws that provide preference to cooperatives, nationally and internationally. Specifically Legacoop’s mission is to: Promote cooperative identity values and culture.

Promote a sound environment for the development of cooperatives. Promote the spreading of cooperatives throughout the national territory. Build an inclusive society based on equity and solidarity. Promote international and European relations. (The seven cooperative principles developed by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in England on October 23, 1844, which govern all aspects of Legacoop.) While the size and influence of the cooperative movement in Italy dwarfs the scope of the sector in the US, several aspects of Legacoop are of interest relative to the role they play in supporting the infrastructure of the movement: “Bellacoopia,” a strategic project exclusively focused on promoting the cooperative culture among the students in the Emilia Romagna region, helps students create “virtual cooperative companies,” complete with detailed business plans. Students enter their ideas into a competition that selects the most promising new ideas based solely on the originality and economic sustainability of the idea. No attention seems to be given to environmental sustainability. A second program, “Generazioni,” the young cooperators network, focuses on vocational training, retraining of workers into new industries, and a focus on how to leverage values into business growth strategies. “Rete Regional Dei Servizi” is focused on supporting small- and medium-sized cooperatives and the unique challenges they face competing with larger businesses in a global economy. Rete Regional Dei Servizi has developed a network of local facilitators who work to ensure businesses are knowledgeable about changing laws, are working collaboratively and leveraging the latest technology. Lastly, “Innovacoop,” focuses on innovation and the international growth of the cooperative movement. Innovacoop provides consulting services, training and works on the development of partnerships within the EU. These are models to be inspired by as we seek to create a stronger movement in the US. Legacoop’s accomplishments, particularly the strength the movement has exhibited in the face of the impending European economic meltdown, and its deep commitment to values that seem vibrant despite a century of extraordinary growth, are to be deeply admired.

Cooperatives

Mondragón Worker-Cooperatives Decide How to Ride Out a Downturn
by Georgia Kelly, Shaula Massena The Mondragón Cooperative Corporation (MCC), the largest consortium of worker-owned companies, has developed a different way of doing business—a way that puts workers, not shareholders, first.

Here’s how it played out when one of the Mondragón cooperatives fell on hard times. The worker/owners and the managers met to review their options. After three days of meetings, the worker/owners agreed that 20 percent of the workforce would leave their jobs for a year, during which they would continue to receive 80 percent of their pay and, if they wished, free training for other work. This group would be chosen by lottery, and if the company was still in trouble a year later, the first group would return to work and a second would take a year off. The result? The solution worked and the company thrives to this day. The central importance of workers permeates every aspect of the Mondragón Cooperatives. Even though the MCC businesses are affected by the global financial crisis, there is no unemployment within the MCC businesses. People are moved around to other jobs, or hours are cut without cutting pay. The wages for unworked hours are to be repaid through extra hours worked later in the year. Contrary to what some advocates of top-down management say, this worker-centered focus hasn’t been an obstacle to growth. Founded in 1956 by Father Don Jose Arizmendi, a Basque Catholic priest, the Mondragón cooperatives today comprise more than 100 cooperatives, as well as more than 100 subsidiaries that MCC has purchased and hopes to convert. Altogether, MCC companies employ more than 100,000 worker/owners and in 2007 generated revenues of more than $24 billion. This empire of egalitarianism grew from humble roots. Father Arizmendi brought together the residents of this Basque community through study circles and workshops. His aim was to confront high levels of unemployment that kept the region in poverty and isolation. The philosophy that emerged from those meetings put the rights and well-being of workers first, with growth mainly aimed at providing additional jobs and job security to employees. These principles drive everyday practice at MCC companies. For instance, while most businesses determine voting power based on how many company shares a person owns, MCC cooperatives allocate each worker one vote. They also stick to an egalitarian pay scale—top management is rarely paid more than six times the lowest-paid worker. Profits and losses are distributed among all the members equitably because their efforts together determine the success of the company. Co-op Entrepreneurs At the same time, the MCC has never lost sight of the fact that it can’t generate high-quality wellpaying jobs, without innovation and creativity. To that end, MCC managers in 1981 founded SAIOLAN, an incubator program that aims to create new companies and products by bringing together would-be entrepreneurs with identified needs, and helping out with feasibility studies and prototypes. The result has been rates of innovation that challenge those of the world’s most successful corporations. A Mondragón firm manufactured Spain’s first computer chips, for example. Others are producing wind, solar, and hydrogen power. New business opportunities in health and food, communications, and

alternative energy are now being researched, as well as shared housing for elders and furniture convenient for older people. The company estimates that fully a quarter of the products its cooperatives will make in 2012 are not yet in production. SAIOLAN also offers budding entrepreneurs coaching, technical resources, funding, and help with business plans. To date, it has helped 285 entrepreneurs create their own companies and many others to develop their ideas within existing co-ops. Capital & Globalization Not surprisingly, running a huge cooperative involves a host of challenges. One that has been with MCC from the start is the difficulty of raising capital to start new businesses. Without capitalists to own the companies, there’s no obvious source for the big money required to get a business off the ground. Worker-members do buy into their jobs, but it doesn’t generate enough capital to start up a brick-andmortar business like manufacturing.

The MCC developed a unique solution: Starting with the first affiliated cooperative 50 years ago, workers’ shares of company profits have been paid into capital accounts that stay within the company until the workers retire. The funds were originally pooled in the Caja Laboral bank, owned by MCC member businesses. These accounts are now managed by MCC, and the bank operates as another member cooperative, with 389 branches located in all parts of Spain. The bank’s entrepreneurial division creates new businesses and offers microcredit to young people in the Basque region to assist them in developing businesses. As the co-ops have spread to other parts of Spain and abroad, the percentage of workers who are also owners has fallen. Approximately 9 percent of employees are not worker/owners—most from outside of the Basque region. Many of them work in Eroski, the largest supermarket chain in Spain. These workers will soon have an opportunity to become owners, however. At the January 2009 General Assembly of the MCC, the decision was made to open membership to non-Basques in other regions of Spain, and these workers are now being invited to join as worker/owners. To keep supplier contracts with global partners and avoid import tariffs, Mondragón has purchased local subsidiaries in countries such as China and Brazil. These relationships have strengthened local employment but created a new problem: a growing body of international non-member workers. Cooperatives with foreign subsidiaries are experimenting with ways to ensure good working conditions and extend the principles of employee participation in management, profits, and ownership. But to date, the co-ops have not found a way to offer full membership to the workers in the international subsidiaries. A New Way of Life? One of the first things you notice while driving from the Bilbao Airport toward the town of Mondragón

is the unspoiled beauty of the countryside—rolling green hills uninterrupted by billboards, and smooth roads untarnished by potholes. The town of Mondragón, population 23,000, is solidly middle class. There were neither mansions on the hill nor poverty in the streets. We didn’t see wealth but everyone had a comfortable place to live, healthy food to eat, and the comfort of modern conveniences. Equally noticeable was their convivial, even joyful sense of community. The people we met were friendly, conversational, and trusting. Mondragón is proof that a commitment to the common good is not an obstacle to commercial success. Instead, a dedication to innovation and training at all levels can bring forward the best of the community. That quality of life continues outside the workplace, multiplying the benefits for those who choose a cooperative path.Georgia Kelly and Shaula Massena wrote this article as part of The New Economy, the Summer 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Georgia is the founder and director of Praxis Peace Institute and the organizer of a tour of the Mondragón Cooperatives (Fall 2008). Shaula does research and consulting about socially responsible investing and small business finance. She joined Georgia on the tour.

Can Coops Go Global? Mondragón Is Trying By Tim Huet This article is from the November/December 1997 issue of Dollars & Sense magazine. The Mondragón cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain form the best-known coop system anywhere, and have inspired emulators the world over. Launched in 1956, the Mondragón complex has grown from a single, five-member coop manufacturing kitchen appliances into a massive enterprise with over 30,000 workers and annual sales of $5 billion. For years its achievements have given many of us in the U.S. coop movement confidence that our enterprises can someday develop on a large scale in all fields of endeavor. That faith has been shaken, however, by Mondragón's recent deviations from democratic cooperative principles in the name of global competitiveness. To prepare for competition within a unified European market, Mondrag›n's managers say they were forced to centralize decisionmaking in a new corporate structure placed above the individual coops, as well as hire more nonmembers, often in joint ventures with capitalist firms. These changes bolster arguments of coop critics and stimulate fears among supporters that once a cooperative reaches the size and affluence of Mondragón, it loses its democratic character. It is inevitable, the critics charge, that large co-ops become unaccountable to a disorganized, complacent membership, moving away from worker control toward conventional capitalist practices.

As a promoter and participant in the relatively underdeveloped U.S. worker co-op movement, the dilemmas posed by size and the global economy are not just academic ones for me. Could Mondragón's managers be right? Is it impossible to remain true to cooperative principles in the face of intensified capitalist global competition? Last spring, I traveled to the Basque country, and to Italy, the home of an even stronger co-op movement, for some answers. History of Mondragón. What is a Cooperative? The Italian and Mondragón cooperatives share similar governance structures. Each co-op elects a board of directors at an annual meeting of its general assembly. Only members of the co-op are allowed to be members of the board. The board hires top management, who can participate in board discussions but have no voting rights. General assemblies adopt general policy which the board and management are charged with executing; in practice, general assemblies often debate and commonly accept proposals generated by the board and management. But while Italian co-ops have unions, Mondragón deals with traditional labor issues such as wages, hours and working conditions within its social councils. While these councils occasionally serve as effective lobbying bodies to change management/board policies, critics increasingly say the councils have no real powers to counteract an increasingly aggressive and "capitalist" management agenda. Mondragón workers told me that this situation has prompted them to explore unionization. When a priest named Jos‚ Mar¡a Arizmendiarrieta first arrived at the Mondragón parish in 1941, he found a town devastated by the Spanish Civil War. Fascist forces under Franco had succeeded in deposing the democratically elected coalition government in the 1930s, leaving the Basque country, an antifascist stronghold, divided. Arizmendi (as the priest was known) set about rebuilding, establishing a vocational school for Mondragón's many working-class children who had no chance at education. Eventually, under his tutelage, five of the school's graduates went on to win engineering degrees and then, in 1956, start their own factory in Mondragón. This plant became the Fagor cooperative. Because the Spanish economy was so isolated from the rest of the world during the Franco years, the co-ops' founders surmised that any high quality consumer product they could produce would find a ready market. They were right, and their domestic appliance company quickly generated strong profits. They reinvested these profits back into the business, reserving only a small portion for workers' own "capital accounts" which individuals could draw upon only when they left the co-op. In 1958 the founders of Mondragón encountered a crisis when the Spanish government deemed the coop members to be self-employed, and hence ineligible for government social security and unemployment benefits. The co-op turned this to their advantage by creating their own social security system that cost them less than the government one. They then used these benefits as seed money to start their own bank. Depositors flocked to the bank from the community, attracted by both its competitive interest rate and the knowledge that their deposits would be lent to the co-ops to create local jobs. Over time, the bank's board of directors became the de facto governing body of the Mondragón co-op movement. The cooperative depositors and bank staff serving on its board ensured that the bank acted

as both Mondragón's growth engine and linchpin of stability. They directed the bank's business division to help new co-ops form. Sometimes the bank did so by identifying a market opportunity and creating a new co-op from scratch. Other times its staff would help a larger co-op spin off a division to form a new, distinct cooperative in order to maintain its efficiency and democratic vigor. The bank encouraged these smaller co-ops to form groups that shared services in order to maximize economy of scale and marketing potential. In perhaps the most financially successful enterprise of this sort, the bank reorganized an assortment of consumer cooperatives into hybrid worker-consumer co-ops, and created a united retail chain which is now Spain's largest with annual sales amounting to $2.6 billion. Because of such creative strategies, Mondragón's record of business creation is remarkable. Of the 103 cooperatives founded in the first three decades of the Mondragón Experience, from 1956 to 1986, only three closed. This is particularly impressive when you consider that the Basque region lost well over 100,000 jobs during Spain's deep ten-year recession that started in 1975. During that difficult time Mondragón co-ops actually added workers. In part, they were able to do this by retraining their workers and transferring them from depressed cooperatives to thriving ones. The bank also deserves credit for providing financial and managerial help to troubled co-ops that needed restructuring. Even though the cooperatives emerged from the recession stronger than ever, the crisis provoked a process of reflection and restructuring that marked a new phase in the Mondragón Experience. Changes in Europe stimulated that process too. Spain signed on to the European Economic Community in 1986, which would open the country to a flood of capitalist companies many times the co-ops' size. To gear

up for the new competitive environment (and for other reasons), Mondragón halted the creation of new co-ops and directed all of its resources to help existing enterprises expand. The network of co-ops was retooling to cope with their first brush with globalization. Was there anything co-ops could do to survive the global onslaught? To address this urgent question—and the changing economic environment the co-ops faced— Mondragón convened a series of Cooperative Congresses. Planning change through the Congresses rather than the bank was itself a significant development, flowing at least in part from a perception that the industrial cooperatives were overly dependent on the bank during the recession. But the shift also reflected the fact that the bank had changed; it had grown past the co-ops and by 1985 invested less than a quarter of its resources in them. Co-ops and Growth It is something of a mystery why the Italian and Basque co-ops have grown so large, since co-ops, unlike capitalist enterprises, are not usually expansionist. For capitalist enterprises, profits tend to grow as the companies do, and as they concentrate ownership. Because capitalist companies would rather rake in the profits produced by 50 workers instead of 10, they have an incentive to invest their profits into expansion. But the 10 workers in the typical worker co-op must allow their profitsharing for the year to drop if they were to use it to expand their enterprise. And they tend to have less capital to invest at the outset than capitalist firms. They also have a harder time securing capital from outside sources without giving up shares or decisionmaking to outsiders.

There are also noneconomic reasons why worker co-ops may not grow. As they increase size, they tend to lose a sense of community and democratic involvement. Workers cannot sit together every month and make all the major business decisions. And as the jobs become more specialized and the businesses more complex or dispersed in many locations, it becomes more difficult to communicate and ensure everyone is participating equally in decisions. It also can be hard to acculturate new workers into old decisionmaking processes when a co-op's workforce suddenly doubles with growth. Perhaps the most crucial gathering for reorienting Mondragón was held in 1988 with the theme "Facing Up to the European Community." There co-op managers agreed that their enterprises were on a collision course with multinationals because of the type of products they made and considered how to get out of the way. "[W]hen we established our companies we paid no heed to multinational consortiums, nor the Single European Market," the Congress reported. The statement continued, The fact is that the products most important to the Group, domestic appliances, machine tools... etc., are in most cases also those favored by the big multinationals, and now, in the new entrepreneurial confrontation which is on the horizon, we shall have to measure up to a completely different scenario requiring us to at least pause and ask the following questions. Are there any specific products not favored by large capitalist countries? Is it possible to find a market segment more accessible to worker cooperatives due to their capacity to adapt, taking advantage of their singular nature as communitybased companies? Would it in any case be possible to adapt...? The Point of No Return? The Mondragón managers concluded that most of their key industrial companies had "passed... the point of no return." In other words, they had invested too much in their current products and plants to radically change course. Having committed themselves to competing with the multinationals, the co-ops adopted characteristics of their rivals. Those gathered decided that they needed a quick, centralized system of decision-making to compete in a rapidly changing and complex global market. So by 1990 co-op leaders formed the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation (MCC). MCC operates in a much more centralized manner than co-op complex had under the bank's leadership. Its management structure makes important decisions on, and coordinates, distribution and marketing for all three types of cooperative enterprise—financial, industrial, and retail/distribution. Its trademark, "MCC" is plastered on Mondragón products going out into the global marketplace so they are easily identifiable. Most controversial is the new multinational supply and distribution network MCC built. MCC became a traditional capitalist employer operating its own plants in low-wage countries like Egypt, Morocco, Mexico, Argentina, Thailand and China. Its employees in these countries are not co-op members. But even within Spain, MCC developed non-co-op businesses, many as joint ventures with capitalist partners, and has been using an increasing number of nonmember workers within their core co-ops as well. Now about one-third of Mondragón workers are nonmembers, far exceeding the original Mondragón commitment to never employ more than 10% nonmembers. The director of MCC's temporary services cooperative informed me that a co-op can now apply to MCC for permission to

employ up to 40% nonmember workers. The managers justify this change by arguing that the increased volatility of the global market requires a more dispensible sector of the workforce. MCC can provide many valid reasons—cultural, legal, financial and organizational—why it cannot easily establish a sizable cooperative in Thailand or even central Spain. But what most disturbs critics is that MCC seems not to be establishing them without a plan for future conversion into a co-op. Indeed, those established with capitalist partners may preclude conversion from ever happening. MCC's direction has stimulated considerable criticism from within the ranks. In March, the Social Council for Fagor—the first and largest co-op in MCC—criticized MCC policy. "Bringing the cooperatives up-to-date in competitiveness is one thing," it claimed. "The unnecessary loss of their fundamental character—economic democracy and member participation—is another." One might ask why the transformation continues unabated if cooperatives are democratic enterprises and oppose the changes. One answer might be that the centralized and expedited MCC decisionmaking structure has removed meaningful opportunities for opposition and consideration of alternatives. But from my discussions with the opponents, I'd add that the opposition is not forceful because they are not confident that they can provide an alternative. They worry that the MCC managers are correct that survival in the global market requires compromises of critical cooperative principles. One social council member even said at a forum, "cooperativism doesn't work," and flat out denied that Mondragón could "flourish as a cooperative island in a capitalist world." Yet even if one concedes that MCC must become a multinational, it could do so with a commitment to gradually convert its overseas factories into co-ops. This might involve seeking out partners for the enterprises in those countries who want to help adapt and encourage cooperative culture in their homelands. A cooperative approach to global development might mean hiring native managerial talent rather than coupling with a capitalist company. Or it may mean negotiating up front with your capitalist partner for buyout rights to allow for later cooperative conversion. Government's Role in Co-op Growth A key reason why Italian cooperatives are flourishing is their political support. The Italian constitution recognizes the social contribution of cooperatives and directs that legislation should promote them. Worker co-ops are nonprofits under Italian tax law, and are legally bound to invest their surplus for further job creation. So in exchange for favorable tax status, worker cooperatives are restricted from distributing profits among current members in favor of reinvesting towards new democratic employment. Another interesting aspect of Italian tax law is that it requires 3% of each cooperative's surplus to go into a fund to develop new cooperatives. The Spanish Constitution also endorses the value of cooperatives, and the government's tax and other fiscal policy is starting to reflect this. The Basque government has embraced worker cooperatives with particular gusto: in July, it contributed $18.3 million to a fund specifically to develop MCC cooperatives and created additional funds for non-MCC cooperatives. This outpouring of government support is at least as much a result of cooperative growth as a cause, however. The Mondragón pioneers managed to thrive despite initial opposition from the Franco regime

and earned government backing through their independent success. This should provide a lesson to North America cooperators who feel we need legislative support and recognition before we can flourish. It also may be possible for MCC co-ops to find a market niche for their traditional businesses threatened by global competition—without giving up on democratic decision-making. Here the experience of worker cooperatives in Italy's industrial sector is instructive. While less known in North America, the Italian co-op movement is even larger than the Basque, with about 250,000 worker co-op members alone. They also have taken advantage of their labor flexibility and dedication to quality work to serve the new niche markets created by the volatile global market. Rapid technological change, and the move toward just-in-time delivery systems, have created a demand for small orders of customized industrial parts. Small to medium-sized manufacturers with highly skilled workforces band together in "flexible manufacturing networks." While capitalist businesses also can do this, co-ops that manage to build collaborative cultures are even better able to foster the mutual relationships required for networks to work. One bonus of the networks for co-ops is that they preserve the small plants where robust democratic decision making is more likely. Even in areas where Italian co-ops are market leaders and have thousands of members, such as construction, some are able to retain a good deal of democratic involvement. As Bruno Bruzagga, an officer of the largest Italian cooperative federation, explained to me, "it would be a mistake to make a generalization that the bigger the co-op the less participation." A 2,500 worker co-op in Bologna, he noted, "has more than a few branches and you can create smaller groups of members that then participate in meetings and are delegates who report on their findings." It is not, then, simply a matter of size, but how the numbers are organized. The challenge is to democratically coordinate the smaller bases of direct democracy. Lessons for North America If it is hard for an enterprise as developed as MCC to compete with multinationals in the industrial arena, then developing new worker co-ops in the realm of heavy industry is simply not an option still available to North Americans. It requires heavy capitalization at a large scale in an area capitalist firms are strong. Should we then concede that worker co-ops can only develop in the crevices unreached by global capital? Perhaps. But the global industrial arena is not the only one worth fighting in. It is a post-industrial age and this provides new opportunities for cooperatives. Like the Italians, we can draw on the community orientation of co-ops to fill in the holes left by privatization and other byproducts of a decaying old order and state. Italian co-ops have taken advantage of their community-based nature to fill the vacuum left by privatization of social services. There are many other areas of the economy where quality service is at a premium as well and where small co-ops with community roots have an advantage, particularly if they are connected to a larger cooperative network. One true-life example is an emerging chain of co-op bakeries in California that thrives in part because the worker-owners care about the quality of their baked goods and service, and connect with their communities more than the poorly paid staff of capitalist chains.

We can also involve ourselves in the next wave of economic development—especially the computer/knowlege sector—where intelligent motivated workers often matter more than capital. (This is already happening at a small scale. As a lawyer, I have incorporated two internet/computer co-ops in recent months.) I believe the sum of these small or niche cooperatives will be of the greatest importance. I harbor no illusions that cooperativism will gradually overtake capitalism in a "free market" competition. But when global capitalism falters under its own weight, costs and contradictions— and popular resistance—we must have working examples of economic democracy to point to, of local economies that continue to function and serve their communities. Purely theoretical arguments for economic democracy are easily drowned out by demagogic appeals to fear and hunger. History leads me to dread the consequences if, once crisis becomes collapse, we cannot offer tangible hope for a more democratic society and economy.

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