Illyria Street Commune — Chapter 11

By Fredy Perlman (2011)

Revolt Library Anarchism Illyria Street Commune Chapter 11

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(1934 - 1985)
Fredy Perlman (August 20, 1934 – July 26, 1985) was an American author, publisher, professor, and activist. His most popular work, the book Against His-Story, Against Leviathan!, details the rise of state domination with a retelling of history through the Hobbesian metaphor of the Leviathan. Though Perlman detested ideology and claimed that the only "-ist" he would respond to was "cellist," his work as an author and publisher has been influential on modern anarchist thought. (From :


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Chapter 11

TAPED NARRATOR: (Sound of rewinding tape. Then:) ...expedite the various tasks. That the event took place at all is almost a miracle, and is entirely due to the profound involvement of the larger community and its (Stop)

(OLYMPIA, PHILIP, BARRY, LYMAN, ANASTASIA, EARL, LAMA enter from right, laughing and chatting)

LYMAN: You really ought to attend that fair; I’m sure you’ll get some marvelous ideas for your next exposition.

OLYMPIA: Philip and I are seriously considering it.

BARRY: I’ll be sorry to miss it, but I’ve already got plane tickets for next week.

(MATTIE enters from left)

MATTIE: Oh gee, don’t stop. I didn’t mean to put an end to the conversation. (Silence)

PHILIP: Those people are always late.

MATTIE: I thought the meeting started at two.

PHILIP: It’s ten after two.

(GROVER, STEVE & SHARON enter from left)

GROVER: Is everyone here already? I thought we were early.

PHILIP: You’re not.

GROVER: Then let’s get this show on the road. I take it the purpose of this meeting is to discuss what went down two weekends ago —

OLYMPIA: Is that the purpose of this meeting? (Silence)

PHILIP: There are far more important things to talk about.

GROVER: But I thought —

OLYMPIA: Lyman has a friend, a painter, who was scheduled to have his first show in a downtown gallery. It was to open in a week. But for some mysterious reason the gallery turned him down at the last minute. So Lyman suggested he might be able to rent space from the Illyria Street Commune — only this room, obviously.

MATTIE: (to Grover) But she can’t! What about our party?

GROVER: Hey wait a minute. Toni and Donna aren’t here yet.

PHILIP: How long are we supposed to wait?

(TONI enters from right)

GROVER: Not long, Philip. Olympia is talking about renting this place —

TONI: Are you crazy? She can’t rent it! It’s in all our names —

OLYMPIA: I meant all of us.

TONI: What’s going on here? I thought we were going to talk about certain critiques —

PHILIP: We’ve discussed that already.

BARRY: We put our critiques into action, Toni.

TONI: What the hell does that mean, Barry? And what do you mean, You’ve discussed that already? Did you resolve it all in fifteen minutes? Grover alone —

GROVER: I started to bring it up —

(BEN enters from right)

OLYMPIA: I hope we don’t let this meeting degenerate into a shouting match. We were discussing the possibility of renting this room to an artist —

TONI: You can’t and that’s that. Let’s talk about real things now —

OLYMPIA: We can’t, Toni? Don’t you think it’s up to the entire commune to decide that?

EARL: May I ask, have we ever turned anyone down before? I understood that the principle of openness —

TONI: We? Who the hell are you?

OLYMPIA: Oh, I’m terribly sorry. This is Earl. He’s gotten deeply involved in the commune and has numerous ideas on how to improve it. Earl, this is Toni. Shall we go around the room saying our names —

MATTIE: I don’t believe in it.

BARRY: In answer to your question, Earl: No, we’ve never excluded anyone before. But then, I don’t think we’ve ever gotten that kind of request before.

TONI (to Sharon): How does it feel to be invisible?

SHARON (to TONI): Must be the same as being dead.

LYMAN: Of course my friend agrees to pay whatever reasonable rent we ask, and he also assured me he would rectify any changes he felt it necessary to make.

TONI: Of course.

MATTIE: Do you need the money or something? Why are you doing this? Are you going to become landlords?

PHILIP: No, Mattie, we don’t need the money.

OLYMPIA: I personally don’t think we should become landlords —

TONI: Then why are we discussing this?

MATTIE (to Toni): I’d better led Dan get in on some of this. I can see I botched something by keeping my mouth shut when it started. (She exits left)

BARRY: We’re discussing the principle of excluding someone.

TONI: Oh is that what we’re discussing? In that case let me bring up some cases that aren’t hypothetical!

OLYMPIA: We haven’t settled this matter, although I personally feel that, since we don’t need the money —

BARRY: That’s true. Philip made a good point.

LYMAN: Fine. I’ll tell him the commune decided against it.

PHILIP: What’s next on the agenda?

TONI: Have you gone off your rockers? Since when do we have an agenda?

LAMIA: Well I’ve never in my life —

BARRY: I can’t imagine what’s gotten into you today, Toni. You’re so uptight. Obviously there’s no agenda. We haven’t become a parliament. That was just Philip’s way of asking if there were other matters that concerned the whole group.

(DONNA enters from right)

OLYMPIA: We must make a terrible impression, Lamia. We’re not usually so rowdy. I hope we don’t spend any more time on trivialities. I wanted to bring up a question we’ve been discussing for years, and one which certainly does concern the whole commune. That’s the question of space and light for our work, our displays and even for parties. Several years ago Grover suggested the possibility of enlarging this room. This wall, for instance, blocks direct access from the front room to the kitchen.

BARRY: If we could knock a three foot hole through it, and put a doorway right here —

STEVE You’d better not put it there, Barry; that’s where the chimney passes through.

LYMAN: What about putting it over here?

GROVER: To hell with a three foot hole! Why aid don’t we knock the whole wall down? The room between here and the kitchen serves no other purpose than to accumulate garbage anyway. Once we took care of the kitchen wall we could have light coming in from both sides. Think of all the shelves we could put in — and our work area would still be twice as large as it is now.

(DAN enters from left)

LYMAN: How do you propose to remove this wall, Grover?

GROVER: Easiest thing in the world if you’ve got the right tools, isn’t that so, Steve?

STEVE: I guess so — if you’ve got the right tools.

GROVER: Mm. Let me see. It shouldn’t take but three or four hours to take the whole thing down; patch up the paint and rough spots, and throw out the crud in that room.

LYMAN: But how?

GROVER? How? That’s the least of it. Nowadays they’ve got all kinds of machinery for crap like that. They’ve got these small bulldozers — isn’t that right, Steve?

STEVE: How would you get a bulldozer in here, Grover?

GROVER: Let’s see. Ah, that’s it. We’d remove the front window. Nowadays they’ve got demolition units rigged just like those snow removal outfits that melt the snow and cart it off as water. With that kind of unit we could get the wall down in two seconds flat, and then we apply this huge suction unit —

STEVE: And you’ll cart it all off as liquid plaster, wood, nails —

GROVER: That’s right! And while we’re on that front window —

DAN: Have you gone out of your mind, Grover? Why are you talking about tearing this place apart three weeks before our party? I thought there were all kinds of other questions —

LAMIA (to Anastasia) Who’s that?

ANASTASIA (whispers to Lamia): Another crank.

DAN: Another what?

BEN (who sits near Anastasia — loudly): Another crank!

OLYMPIA: Dan, do you think we should never make changes in the space where we live and work?

GROVER: Somehow we got into this other subject, Dan, and the fact is that Lyman here has a whole theory about that picture window.

LYMAN: I wouldn’t exactly call it a theory. It’s my feeling that if you’re going to use this room as a display area, the presence of that window defeats your purpose.

DAN: If we’re going to do what?

GROVER: What Lyman means is this, Dan. With that window there, we can’t focus the spectator’s eye on our work. Now if I had my business laid out oft those shelves, I sure as hell wouldn’t want the spectator’s eyes wandering off to look at the landscape!

DONNA: But you had them remove my plants because you said you wanted more light.

GROVER: That’s right, Donna, but that was years ago, and I forgot it would be natural light that streamed through that window. What art needs is artificial light.

TONI: Grover, you are such an incredible bullshit artist —

OLYMPIA: Is that really true, Toni? I hear Grover trying to make the commune’s expositions even livelier and more meaningful than the first one —

GROVER: Holy shit! I’ve got an appointment ten minutes ago! If anyone gets that demolition equipment be sure to let me know; I’d like to be in on that. (Grover exits left)

BEN: That’s the sickest farce I’ve ever seen.

ANASTASIA (to Olympia): Who’s he?

BEN: Yet another crank, lady. This place is infested.

OLYMPIA: I don’t understand what you’re calling a farce, Ben. We’ve been discussing improvements that have been needed for at least five years, and I personally think the various suggestions are creative and exciting.

TONI: Even though you know it’s all bullshit.

OLYMPIA: Do you think it’s bullshit, Toni, to improve the space where we spend most of our working hours?

BEN: I don’t want to get sucked into the debate about the walls; I have my own opinion about its significance.

OLYMPIA: Could you give all of us a glimpse — ?

BEN: No, I couldn’t, Olympia. Something else bugs me. I thought there were some things we all took for granted. I thought some things were repulsive to all of us. I thought we made certain compromises only in order to survive. Recently I learned —

PHILIP: If this is the beginning of another arid political debate, I’m leaving.

OLYMPIA: Wait a minute, Philip. I’d like to know what Ben learned recently.

BEN: I heard you were applying for a State grant to the arts.

BARRY: Where did you hear that?

DAN: Cut the innocent act, Barry. I heard about that grant over a year ago.

OLYMPIA: Ben, you seem so agitated. I’ve never seen you like this. Are you really so upset about a nonexistent grant, or are there Bother things?

PHILIP: Perhaps your own political frustrations, Ben?

DONNA: I don’t understand what’s going on. Olympia, you talked to me about such a grant two years ago. I didn’t see what was wrong with accepting it. But why are you three acting as if Ben were crazy?

OLYMPIA: Oh, Donna, I didn’t know you were here. Yes, that’s just the point. All the people in this room have been talking about that grant for the past two years. That’s why I don’t understand Ben’s surprise, his sudden agitation.

TONI: Two years! Then how come this is the first time I’ve heard anything about it?

BARRY: Where have you been, Toni?

SHARON: I haven’t heard about it either.

OLYMPIA: Well, now everyone is acting as if I’m crazy. Dan and Donna seem to have known all about it.

TONI: Who else knew all about it?”

OLYMPIA: Apparently everyone in the community except you, Toni. I myself discussed this question with almost everyone in this room.

BARRY: I don’t see the relevance of this discussion.

BEN: Do the world a favor by dropping the word “community,” Olympia. Your newest circle of friends, concerned as they are with our displaying and marketing our commodities — that’s not community; it’s the exact opposite.

OLYMPIA: You’re hurting people’s feelings, Ben.

BEN: A state subsidized art business — that’s not community; that’s what tears community to shreds, which has been happening right here; it’s like that demolition machine Grover invented earlier.

OLYMPIA: Are you finished?

BARRY: You don’t even know what you’re talking about, Ben, and this isn’t either the time or the place —

TONI: When is?

PHILIP: Labyrinthine, that’s what this discussion is. Byzantine. Ben, you sound just like a political crank resurrected from the sixties.

OLYMPIA: Surely you’re exaggerating, Philip. But honestly, Ben, your outburst certainly does seem irrational and unmotivated. The fact is, and you know it, we’ve never received any type of grant from the State and we’re rot getting such a grant now.

BARRY: Which means, Ben, that there’s nothing to discuss, and you’ve been wasting everyone’s time.

DAN: What happened? Did the State turn you down?

OLYMPIA: Why Dan, I don’t understand your tone. You thought the grant such a great idea when I discussed it with you.

DAN: I — I hadn’t thought out its implications.

LYMAN: Excuse me for intervening on this matter, but this debate seems to be taking place in a vacuum. Many people here seem to be unaware that there are no implications to this grant, there are absolutely no strings attached. And secondly, we did not get turned down. Many of the commune’s programs are eligible for funds earmarked for precisely such programs. We didn’t receive a grant for this fiscal year only because we submitted the application too late —

BARRY: Lyman, this isn’t the time or the place for that —

OLYMPIA: I’m thoroughly confused. Your words to me, Dan — I don’t remember them exactly — were: “What’s wrong with us ripping off the State for some bread if we can get away with it?”

DAN: I guess the verb tripped me up. I should have asked: What’s wrong with us being financed by the State.

OLYMPIA: I don’t see the difference.

DAN: It’s what Ben was trying to say. You get so you depend on the State to support a community independent of the State, and finally you make friends with bureaucrats like these two dudes to help you apply for larger grants.

PHILIP: I won’t have you insulting our friends, Dan. They have as much right in this community as you do, and it so happens I’ve felt more comfortable working with them than I ever felt with you.

TONI: When will you introduce us to the rest of your community, Philip — the politicians on the city council, the corporation directors?

PHILIP: I haven’t met any of them yet.

BEN: But you’ll call them the community as soon as you meet them.

PHILIP: I’m not able to contend with this harangue of political rhetoric, and its volume hurts my ears. I take it that the meeting is over.


PHILIP (at door): Are you coming, Olympia? Barry?

OLYMPIA: I’d like to get to the root of these rumors being spread behind my back. People should really have come to me first.

PHILIP: We’ll be at Lyman’s.

(PHILIP exits. TONI gets up and follows him, shouting)

TONI: You asshole. It’s your ignorance that makes you shout abort politics as if it were something you didn’t do! You and Olympia are the biggest politicians here!

(TONI exits)

DAN: Toni said it! You and Philip have been throwing the word politics in my face for years, but I’ve never in my life seen a dirtier pair of politicians than you two, I’ve never been to a political meeting where I’ve felt more manipulated than at this afternoon’s wall-moving session, I’ve never seen one person wind up another the way Grover was wound up. Machines that liquefy walls! Jesus! Now that you and Philip —

OLYMPIA: Is this what I stayed to hear? Have I really been throwing things in your face for years?

DAN: Now isn’t the best time for you and Philip to denounce politics. You’d learn to cover your game better if you studied a little politics. Like the politics of Friends —

OLYMPIA: Please leave our friends out of this; it’s no secret you have no great love for them.

DAN: I’m about to split, Olympia. But first I’d like to tell you something I read about the politics of friends. Long ago the members of ancient Macedonian tribes called each other friends. Later each tribe started to have a matriarchal chief, and her advisers were called the friends of the tribe. Finally one of the chiefs became queen, and her consort became king, and the top officials of the court were known as the friends of Macedonia. Friendship wasn’t a personal relation any more; it became an office to which you got appointed by the queen or her consort. If a friend was ousted, he was considered an outsider, a traitor, a crank. Your namesake was the most famous of the Macedonian queens; she went through friends the way we go through kleenexes; she blew her nose in them and threw them away. That’s about all I had to say. Good bye, everybody.

(DAN exits left)

OLYMPIA: And good riddance.

BARRY: People who never do anything around here come up with the most brilliant critiques —

BEN: You’ve got a bucket of shit in your mouth, Barry, and you know it.

BARRY: You know something? I’ve been asking myself all afternoon: What’s Ben doing at this meeting? You announced years ago you didn’t want anything more to do with this place.

BEN: Why do you say that with such glee? If you’re thinking “good riddance” why are you pretending to reproach me with it? And why don’t you bother to remember the circumstances in which I said that? You had spilled shit all over —

BARRY: You’re not going to dig up that little accident again!

BEN: Maybe it’s because of little accidents that so many people are turned off from working here.

OLYMPIA: Why bring up the past? Can’t we just let bygones be bygones? We’ve always had respect for you, Ben, all of us. We respected your opinions even if we didn’t always adopt them, and whether or not you helped with the work. I personally was almost heartbroken when you turned against the community. If you’d stayed with us, we would never have waded through a mass of bureaucratic forms to apply for a State grant, because you would have made the implications of such an application perfectly clear to us. I’d still like you to clarify some things for me. Every person in the commune has accepted checks from the State. If I’m not mistaken, even you —

BEN: You know damn well —

OLYMPIA: Of course I know. We all know. You’ve collected monthly welfare checks from the State ever since I’ve known you. You haven’t drawn a pay check for the past eight years —

BEN: If you don’t know, or no longer know the difference —

OLYMPIA: Of course, Ben. Your illness. No one can reproach you with that. What I don’t understand is how you can sit there and lecture to us about how evil we would be if any of us ever accepted a check like that.

BEN: Can I talk now?

OLYMPIA: Of course, Ben. I asked for your opinion.

BEN: I’ve been postponing a decision for a couple of years. I finally made up my mind this afternoon, while Grover was demolishing the wall and the front window. I’m going to leave this house as soon as I get my suitcase packed —

OLYMPIA: Surely you don’t think we were trying to push you —

BEN: I’ll be moving to Kentucky — not to a commune, not to join striking miners. Just a shack with a yard.

OLYMPIA: What about your paper?

BEN: Thanks for your concern, Olympia. The paper can survive without me. Some six years ago this place, the commune, became my main commitment, but that ended some time ago. I’d like to make sense out of what happened to us during the past eight years, to figure out how much was real and how much an illusion I kept reviving in my own mind. I don’t think it was all illusion. I’m fairly sure that not a single one of us, except maybe Philip, started out wanting to be a potter or a painter or a writer or any other thing that fits into the slots of this society. We didn’t start out being an Artists’ Commune. Just a commune. We only wanted to be human beings to each other. We each had something to give, but nothing to sell. At least nothing to sell voluntarily. We accepted paychecks and welfare checks because otherwise we couldn’t survive in the prison we’re still in. You used to know that, Olympia. I fantasied that we didn’t create this commune as a further extension of that prison, but as a break from it —

OLYMPIA: That wasn’t a fantasy, Ben. That’s truer now than it ever was.

BEN: I fantasied that we didn’t want to sell our creations, our ideas, our dreams as if they were merchandise, and that this was the free space where we didn’t have to do that, the free space where we didn’t have to do pottery displays or art shows or whatever the contract called for, the free space where we could share what each could give. But that was just my own private fantasy.

OLYMPIA: How can you say that, Ben? Barry and Philip and I have lived by those principles.

BEN: Philip’s principles came out of his mouth this afternoon. If he didn’t sell himself before, it was only because there weren’t any buyers. If he treated us as human beings, it was only because he hadn’t met the better set yet. As soon as the first opportunity appeared, Philip was ready to sell himself and the commune and to throw the rest of us in on the bargain — or else to dispose of us as trash.

BARRY: You’re raving, Ben. You couldn’t be more wrong about Philip.

BEN: I don’t know where you’re coming from, Barry, nor where you’re going. I was talking to Olympia. Sure I’m raving. Weren’t we called cranks this afternoon? Isn’t that what cranks do — rave? Dan was right, Olympia. You and Philip don’t reject politics. You chaired the meeting, intimidated the opposition, determined the agenda, excluded all relevance, squelched all critique. You’ve got so much politics the whole house reeks of it. Principles are what you and Philip don’t have. Why not call things by their names? What Philip can’t stand about Dan or Toni or the rest of us is that there are certain things we won’t sell, for any mount of money.

OLYMPIA: Are you done? I promised to meet Philip.

BEN: Almost. I’d like to ask a favor. If you continue not to see the difference between a welfare check and a state grant to an art bazaar, between a commune and a merchandizing mart, between a relatively free human being and a salesman, forget that I was ever a friend of yours. That’s the favor. Because I intend to forget that you were ever a friend of mine.

(BEN walks toward archway)

DONNA: (weakly) Ben?

BEN: Donna. I’m exaggerating. It wasn’t all hell. I won’t ever forget the moments I spent with you. But by staying on here you’ll just get — oh hell, you’ve got to figure that out for yourself.

(BEN exits right)

DONNA: (to the empty archway) You’ll never make it all alone, Ben. Take me with you.

BARRY: Man, what a stuffed shirt he’s become.

OLYMPIA: He’s no great loss either. Let’s go.

DONNA: Olympia?

OLYMPIA: What is it, Donna? I’m in a hurry.

DONNA: Why didn’t you tell me you were doing the planting last Sunday?

OLYMPIA: Didn’t anyone tell you?

DONNA: You had to tell me, Olympia, since you decide —

OLYMPIA: Donna, how can you expect people to keep telling you about events if you never show up at any of them?

DONNA: I haven’t missed a single planting, ever, since I bought the house ten years ago; I look forward to it all years long —

OLYMPIA: None of us can tell what you look forward to, Donna, since none of us are mind readers. I personally know that you were told about at least five work sessions, and there was neither hide nor hair of you at any of them. How can you expect us to keep considering you a working member of the commune? Admittedly you still live here, but you’ve become marginal.

DONNA: Me, marginal?

OLYMPIA: Maybe that’s not the word. But I don’t see how you can blame me. Honestly. You go to the bar whenever you feel like it; you’re not obliged to tell me or anyone else. And I do my gardening whenever I feel like it —

(DONNA runs out right)

OLYMPIA: As if I were under some kind of obligation to tell her when I intended to brush my teeth or make my bed.

(OLYMPIA & BARRY exit left)

SHARON: (to the closed door) Everything we built together is your garden now, isn’t it Olympia?

(SHARON & STEVE exit left, their arms around each other)

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Chapter 11 — Publication.

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October 11, 2021; 5:34:38 PM (America/Los_Angeles)
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October 11, 2021; 5:36:00 PM (America/Los_Angeles)
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