Despite having the aim of freedom, it ended up as an authoritarian system in which 300 people were governed by 27 standing committees and in which the older men decided who would be allowed to pair off (and they decided to pair off very young girls with themselves).
Now a documentary film traces a similar attempt to establish such a commune in Austria in the 1970s and 80s. The documentary was made by a man who grew up as a child in the Friedrichshof commune, Paul Julien Robert.
|Paul Julien Robert, grew up in the Friedrichshof commune|
The Friedrichshof commune was founded by an artist named Otto Mühl. The aim of the commune was to dissolve marriage and the family and to abolish private property. "It was about free sexuality and communal property," is how one participant described its goals.
Paul Julien Robert's mother signed up because she thought she was joining "a nice commune." Paul Julien was not allowed to know his biological father; he lived with his mother until he was four and then she was sent away by the commune to Switzerland to earn money. He was made to chant slogans like "My mum drove off to Zurich. Since then, I feel better and better every day."
Members of the commune were expected to perform symbolic acts of matricide and patricide in order to overcome "their authoritarian generation". The founder of the commune, Otto Mühl, in addressing the members of the commune, would say things like: "We have already been able to break free and save some from this nuclear family filth."
But destroying the family did not create free love or an absence of authoritarianism. Instead, it replaced the authority of loving, caring parents with that of a single man, Otto Mühl. He has been described as "cruel, controlling and authoritarian." He created a hierarchical structure with himself at the top and several women competing for power below him. He allowed himself a wife and was the only one with the authority to punish the children. When the commune dissolved in 1990 he was arrested and convicted of sexual abuse of minors.
One book on the commune paints this picture of Friedrichshof:
The fact is that the alternative community trial of the 70's more and more led to a totalitarian system of mutual spying and sexual abuse of minors, rape, forced abortion...
Nor did free love engender love. Paul Julien Robert says of his time in the commune after his mother left:
"I was very lonely. Other women replaced her, but they were never close to me. The ideology was that all relationships were bad for the group, so it was never possible to truly bond with someone."
Did he feel loved? "Never. I grew up believing love was something bad. The feeling of being loved, and of expressing love, was something I really had to learn and to accept later."
..."There was a general lack of affection from the adults – no one held me or was tender towards me as a child."
There is a lesson here for all those who preach an indistinct, universal love - this is not likely to lead to real love. Real love flourishes within particular relationships; it is particularly fostered within close family relationships. If we grow up within a loving family, we are more likely to love our neighbour and community, which makes us more likely to love our nation and people, which makes us more likely to love a wider humanity.
If you chop away at the closer loves, you don't clear the way for a universal love of humanity, you diminish the capacity for love altogether.
The preview video below is worth watching but is slightly NSFW. The documentary itself is called "My Fathers, my Mother and Me" or in German "Meine keine Familie" which means something like "My not a family." If you're interested in more there's an interesting review of the documentary here.