Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: commune
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Group of people or families living together, sharing resources and responsibilities. There have been various kinds of commune through the ages, including a body of burghers or burgesses in medieval times, a religious community in America, and a communal division in communist China.

‘Commune’ can be used to refer to the 11th-century to 12th-century association of burghers in north and central Italy. The communes of many cities asserted their independence from the overlordship of either the Holy Roman Emperor or the pope, only to fall under the domination of oligarchies or despots during the 13th and 14th centuries.

In feudal times in France a commune meant a body of burgesses in a town which had been granted a charter of incorporation by the king. Subsequently it came to denote any body of people in a parish or district organized for the purposes of local government, and subordinated to the central authority of the state. The commune is now the unit of local governmental administration in France, and is composed of the citizens, a council elected by the commune itself, and a maire appointed by the state.

Communes also developed from early 17th-century religious communities such as the Rosicrucians and Muggletonians, to more radical groups such as the Diggers and the Quakers (members of the Society of Friends). Many groups moved to America to found communes, such as the Philadelphia Society in the 1680s and the Shakers, which by 1800 had ten groups in North America. The Industrial Revolution saw a new wave of utopian communities associated with the ideas of Robert Owen and Charles Fourier.

In the 20th century, the term has been used to refer to a communal division or settlement in a communist country. In China, a policy of Mao Zedong involved the grouping of villages within districts (averaging 30,000 people); in this way cooperatives were amalgamated into larger units, the communes. 1958 (the Great Leap Forward) saw the establishment of people's communes (workers' combines) with shared living quarters and shared meals. Communes organized workers' brigades and were responsible for their own nurseries, schools, clinics, and other facilities.

In Western countries, communes had a revival during the 1960s, when many small groups were founded.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article commune
The Blackwell Dictionary of Political Science

A term originally used to describe a small group of people of like minds who chose to live together and to share their worldly goods. Some...

Full text Article commune
The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology

In political sociology, the commune is typically a secular institution in which members, through their collective labour and common ownership of...

See more from Credo