הערך "קיבוץ" ב"מילון ההיסטורי-ביקורתי למרקסיזם" . פורסם בשפה הגרמנית ב 2008. כאן מובאת הגירסה האנגלית.

Yiftah Goldman

הערך "קיבוץ" ב"מילון ההיסטורי-ביקורתי למרקסיזם" . פורסם בשפה הגרמנית ב 2008. כאן מובאת הגירסה האנגלית

The Kibbutz is a form of communal village first established in Palestine in the second decade of the twentieth century. At present, there are about 270 Kibbutzim (plural of "kibbutz") in the state of Israel, with a total of some 120,000 members. In the last two decades, Kibbutz movement has been undergoing a serious economic, social and ideological crisis.

a) General overview

The Kibbutz drew its inspiration from socialist (Marxist and others) and Zionist ideologies. The basic principles of the kibbutz are communal ownership of the means of production (kibbutz members are both the owners and the workers), communalism, equality and direct democracy. The smallest Kibbutzim have several dozen members, and the biggest – about 2,000. The proportion of kibbutz members in the population of Israel peaked in 1942, at 7%. Between 1948 (when the State of Israel was founded and opened its gates to mass immigration) and 1985, the ratio of kibbutz members in the overall population was 3%, dropping to under 2% between the mid-1990s and 2006. In the beginning, the kibbutzim engaged mainly in agriculture. But, with the development of an industrialised economy in Israel, the kibbutzim also underwent a process of industrialisation, and many of them started hiring people who were not kibbutz members to work in the industrial plants they established. At first, the kibbutzim were organised in several kibbutz movements, and identified with different parties in the Zionist Labour Movement. However, with time the differences between the kibbutzim became blurred, and now almost all of the kibbutzim belong to one general movement.

Even though the total number of kibbutz members always represented only a small percentage of the population of Israel, the kibbutz played an important role in the history of the Zionist Movement, and also became one of the important symbols of the State of Israel. However, the deep crisis in the Kibbutz movement, since the mid-1980s, has commenced a process of privatisation in most of the kibbutzim (though not in all of them), and the communal way of life has been completely done away with in some.

For that reason, it is difficult to give an accurate evaluation or even a description of the Kibbutz and of its achievements and failures. Should one describe the Kibbutz of the 1930s, of the 1960s or of the first decade of the 21st century? Each decision would lead to a thoroughly different account[1]. It can be said, however (at least for the era before the large-scale privatisation of the 90's), that the Zionist labour movement was successful in creating a form of modern communal village. The Kibbutzim successfully merged agriculture and industry, a rural environment with a modern way of life, direct democracy and economic efficiency. Kibbutz members shared their combined income equally, and took part equally (at least "de jure") in the management of the social, economical and cultural life of the Kibbutz.

This equality also included equality of the sexes. From the beginning, women were members with equal rights and duties in the Kibbutz (a situation that was quite uncommon in the first decades of the 20th century, even in progressive movements and countries throughout the world). In the kibbutz, most of the tasks of housekeeping, just like every other type of task, were done collectively. This included cooking and serving food in the common dining hall, washing clothes in the common laundry, and taking care of the children in collective children’s houses. These tasks were considered part of the general division of labour in the Kibbutz. Thus, they were considered as "jobs" or occupational fields. Both material conditions (scarcity of resources and the need for every working hand) and the ideological struggle of the women-pioneers in the Kibbutzim contributed to that development. However, the traditional pattern of the division of labour between men and women was not altered in the Kibbutz. Women were confined, by practice though not by ideology, to the "womanly tasks" in their new definition as "branches of labour". Those tasks, although formally equal to every other line of occupation, had nevertheless a lower social status in the Kibbutz.

The process of privatisation has influenced women in the kibbutz in conflicting ways. It is as yet unclear whether it has reinforced the equality of the sexes or undermined it. It seems, however, that the answer to this question is dialectic, not straightforward[2].

The collective education of children is another aspect of Kibbutz life which had a dialectic history. Its first goals were to enable women to partake in the working force, and to provide children with better living conditions than those enjoyed by the adult population. However, it developed into a social and pedagogic ideology and theory. Several principles were the crucial elements of this approach: The responsibility of the collective for the education of all its children; the belief in education as a rational occupation, and the importance of the peer group in the process of socialisation. In most of the Kibbutzim, children lived in special "children’s houses", supervised by the educational staff. The family thus lost some of its importance as a means of education and socialisation, but did not "disappear". Parents were still considered responsible for their own children, and there was a fixed time of the day (usually the afternoon and early evening) in which children and parents spent time together at the parental home.

At a certain stage, the women members, who were relatively unsuccessful in getting their equal share in the various fields of occupation, began to react against certain aspects of collective education and its implications for the family unit. In addition, the recent privatisation processes in the Kibbutzim has led to an abolishment of some of the elements of the Kibbutz’s unique approach toward the education of children. Today, separate children’s houses have been done away with in the vast majority of Kibbutzim (while a fervent polemic is currently taking place in Israel on the mental injuries allegedly caused to children who grew up in children’s houses).

b) The Kibbutz and Marxism

When we examine the relationship between the kibbutz phenomenon and Marxism, three characteristics of the kibbutz immediately stand out, showing that the kibbutz is not a direct product of Marx theory, and may even be considered as contrary to it. These three characteristics are utopism, ruralism and nationalism.

On the face of it, the kibbutz is a clear example of utopian socialism or communism, of the type that Marx and Engels criticised in The Communist Manifesto[3]. In the course of the nineteenth century, various attempts were made to establish cooperative colonies in Europe and America, and programmatic essays were written, presenting the establishment of such colonies as a way to reform society. Marx’s attitude towards these projects usually ranged between indifference and fierce opposition because, according to him, such colonies were "castles in the air"[4]. These projects, claimed Marx, were diverting revolutionary energy from the political and trade-union struggle that must be conducted in the country’s centres of political power and industry. The kibbutz movement seems like a belated, twentieth-century, offshoot of nineteenth-century utopian socialism (There is good reason why the term “utopia” appears over and again in discussions, polemics and research on the kibbutz[5]). To this must be added the fact that the first founders of kibbutzim fervently clung to the ideals of cultivating the land and settling the border areas. They built their settlements as agrarian villages, far from the urban centres. This tendency also had roots in European Romanticism, which Marx regarded as bourgeois ideology. Thirdly, the kibbutz movement perceived itself from the start as an integral part of the national movement of the Jewish people (Zionism). Marx viewed nationalism as a fallacious ideology, and Jewish anti-Zionist socialists frequently pitched this argument at the Zionist socialists who immigrated to Palestine (subsequently, Israel) and established kibbutzim. These three characteristics (utopism, ruralism and nationalism) seemingly represent a basis for determining that the kibbutz movement was essentially a form of non-Marxist, and even anti-Marxist, socialism.

Arguments of this sort are indeed often put forward in ideological debates and academic research. According to some researchers, the question even arises whether the Kibbutz is a socialist phenomenon at all, or served merely as a tool for achieving Zionist national goals[6]. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the kibbutz movement has, on a large scale, realised Marx’s vision of a modern, sophisticated society that allocates labour and assets according to the rule, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" Even if we assume that the crisis of the past two decades marks the end of the kibbutz, we are still faced with a historical phenomenon where, for three quarters of a century, tens of thousands of people led a life of communality and equality on their settlements, without any system of material reward for work (wages) or exchange of commodities among the kibbutz members. Moreover, the kibbutzim attained impressive social and economic achievements, and competed successfully with the capitalistic society that came into being around them. These achievements were attained without oppressive institutions, without the use of force by the authorities, without authoritarian leadership, without rural conservatism, and without totally cutting themselves off from society as a whole (which characterises many other communal movements in the world).

When examining the connection between the kibbutz and Marxism, one must also consider how the kibbutz members viewed themselves. During the first few decades of its existence, there was an internal debate in the Kibbutz Movement on its attitude towards Marxism. Indeed, some kibbutz members were professed anti-Marxists. However, the hegemonic part of the Kibbutz Movement perceived the kibbutz as an attempt to realise Marxism. We will present two pieces of evidence of this here. First, in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, most of the Kibbutzim identified with the October Revolution in Russia, and viewed themselves as part of the international camp led by the USSR. Secondly, nearly all the important Hebrew translations of Marx’s writings were done by the kibbutz movements’ publishing houses. Generally speaking, "Hever Hakvutzot" – the smallest of the Kibbutz movements – developed an anti-Marxist socialist ideology, while the two bigger movements, "Hakibbutz Hameuhad" and "Hashomer Hatzair" viewed themselves as followers of Marx and as communists[7].

Perhaps the connection of the kibbutz with Marxism may be understood as an attempt to realise the Marxist vision by different means than those upon which Marx’s theory focussed. This difference in means may have stemmed both from fundamental disagreements, as well as from the difference in conditions between nineteenth-century west Europe and the Land of Israel in the first half of the twentieth century.

c) Marx’s Theory of Liberation and his Attitude towards Communal Projects

According to Marx, the first step in the process of liberation, and the precondition for any liberation revolution, is the politisation of the proletariat (and more generally, politisation of all the trends, movements and people who share the vision of a socialist revolution). Time after time, Marx severely attacked those socialists who maintained apolitical stances. This approach finds clear expression in Marx’s polemic against Proudhon, The Poverty of Philosophy[8]. Marx’s theory of political liberation is again formulated, resolutely, in The Communist Manifesto, both positively (in the first two chapters[9]) and by way of negation in the third chapter, in Marx and Engel’s criticism of the utopist groups[10]. Marx and Engel’s main criticism of the utopists revolves around the latter’s apoliticism. “Every class struggle is a political struggle”, The Communist Manifesto asserts[11]. Therefore, if you renounce politics, you are also renouncing the class struggle.

However, the Manifesto itself also expressly contains the idea that the full realisation of the liberation revolution involves, among other things, the abolishment of political rule. This statement is a laconic summary of important Marxist theses on the abolishment of politics, the abolishment of the state and the abolishment of political relations in the liberated future society. Therefore, it seems that Marx is of the opinion that the abolishment of politics must be attained through political struggle. Politics, including revolutionary politics, is part of the social order that is based on exploitation, antagonism and alienation. However, the struggle to abolish this order must be conducted from inside and according to its rules, that is, as political struggle. Only after political authority has been seized from the bourgeois can the victorious working class apply itself to shaping a world liberated of politics. Marx’s two-sided position with regards to politics appears already in a polemic article he wrote in 1844: “[…] Revolution in general – the overthrow of the existing power and dissolution of the old relationships – is a political act. But socialism cannot be realized without revolution. It needs this political act, insofar as it needs destruction and dissolution. But, where its organizing activity begins, where its proper object, its soul, comes to the fore – there socialism throws off the political cloak”[12].

So, we can say that Marx’s liberation theory recognises two fundamental phases. The first is the proletariat’s political struggle against the bourgeois social order, and is negativistic and destructive. Only after this phase has been completed, by political revolution where the proletariat seizes control, is the positive–constructive phase of the revolution designed to commence. The victorious class will then turn its attention to shaping a new social order where class rule will be abolished. In this phase, solidarity will replace social antagonism, and communality, politics.

From this standpoint, Marx’s consequential objection to “utopist” projects to establish communal, egalitarian villages (such as the kibbutz) becomes clear. He objected to these projects if they constituted an alternative to the political-revolutionary struggle. In cases where he did not perceive these projects as incompatible with political struggle, Marx’s attitude was indifferent, and sometimes even favourable. Thus, for example, he talks favourably of cooperation in his inaugural speech of the International[13]. But, there too, Marx emphasises that the shaping of communal, egalitarian relations of production (as accomplished in the cooperatives) can only attain widescale success through political struggle against the bourgeois[14]. Nowhere does Marx perceive these projects as an essential, vital part of the liberation struggle, before the political revolution has occurred.

d) The Constructivism of the Kibbutz Movement

Martin Buber, in his polemic Paths of Utopia, claimed that Marx was dedicated, heart and soul, to politics, and very seldom had intimate contact with social issues[15]. Buber himself wrote that such an accusation might sound like absurdity to a professed Marxist. He gave two reasons for this accusation. First, Marx always dealt with society as an abstraction (while giving a concrete and detailed account of politics and political action). Second (and more important), Marx postponed the task of positively shaping an alternative social order to the bourgeois order, until the phase after the political struggle was victorious.

The kibbutz was largely a source of inspiration for Buber’s criticism of Marxism. The kibbutz movement, even though it adopted important elements of Marxism, rejected the order of the phases in Marxist liberation theory. For both fundamental and concrete-historical reasons, it tried to get directly down to the act of shaping a free society, without first combating the existing social order by means of political struggle. It is not that it abstained from politics but, rather, that it was predominately constructive from the outset. It engaged in the establishment of communal villages and of federations of communal villages, and had recourse to politics mainly as a corroborative factor in this task. In certain aspects, it can be said that the kibbutz movement actually realised the socialist vision of Gustav Landauer, a firm opponent of Marx and Marxism. However, contrary to Landauer, who was apolitical and even anti-political, the kibbutz members understood that their communal project could not succeed without deep involvement in Jewish national politics (in the Land of Israel and worldwide). Contrary to the isolationist, seclusive trends that usually characterised communal movements, the kibbutz movement was, from the start, involved in society as a whole and committed to it. The clear expression of this commitment was its Zionism. Neither did the kibbutz village turn into a centre of “peasant conservatism” of the familiar European type. On the contrary, the kibbutzim were a key factor in the progressive movements in Israel, in the Labour Movement and in the Zionist socialist parties.

Over several decades, the kibbutz attempt to realise socialism met with considerable success. The kibbutz movement established a network of communal settlements where economic exploitation, political control and alienated social relations were abolished, or at least reduced to a degree that represented a qualitative change (in spite of this, it should be mentioned again that at a certain stage, many of these kibbutzim started hiring people from outside the kibbutz to work for them. For these workers, the kibbutz was a capitalist employer that reaped the surplus value of their work, that is – an exploiter).

However, as Israeli society was increasingly shaped as a “normal” western society, based on a market economy, trends towards isolationism and seclusion grew in the kibbutzim. At a relatively early stage, kibbutz members gave up the attempt to shape the entire Israeli society as socialistic, and contented themselves with realising socialism inside the kibbutzim. These socialist "cells" were successful as long as Israeli society was characterised, alongside the market economy, by an above-average degree of social solidarity, equality and government involvement in the economy. At the end of the 1970s, a rapid process started in Israel of privitisation, reduced government involvement and retreat from the welfare state. The kibbutzim were among the first victims of the new order – during the 1980s, many collapsed economically and became indebted to the banks. The economic crisis was accompanied by an ideological crisis, and during the 1990s, most kibbutzim underwent processes of privitisation and reduced solidarity and mutual responsibility among the members. Nowadays, no trace remains of the old communal way of life in most kibbutzim (only about a third are still defined as “communal”). In the 1950s, the kibbutzim gave up the challenge to shape Israeli society socialistically. As of the 1980s, it is Israeli society that has been reshaping the kibbutzim – capitalistically.

The crisis also gave birth to new attempts – communal groups and kibbutzim searching for new ways to combine both the lifestyle of a separate commune and that of active socialist involvement in society at large. Some of these new kibbutzim are located inside cities and their members are usually involved in educational and political activity. One can say these groups are trying to shape a dialectic synthesis between communal socialist in the spirit of the philosophy of Martin Buber, and between Marx’s liberation theory, with its focus on the political struggle. Those new attempts are relatively young and unstable. Only several hundreds of members belong to these groups. Hence, it is difficult to say, at present, whether they show a real potential for a revival of the communal ideology and practice in Israel.

[1] A good overview of the Kibbutz phenomenon and its history can be found in: Leviathan U., Oliver H., Quarter J. (ed.), Crisis in the Israeli Kibbutz, Praeger, Westport, Conn. 1998. The articles in this volume deal with various aspects of the recent crisis.

[2] See: Adar Gila, "Women in the Changing Kibbutz", in: Leviathan U., Oliver H., Quarter J. (ed.), Crisis in the Israeli Kibbutz, Praeger, Westport, Conn. 1998, pp. 111-118.

[3] Marx, Engels, "Manifesto of the Communist Party", in: Marx, Engels, Collected works, vol. 6, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1976, pp. 514-517.

[4] ibid p. 516.

[5] See e.g.: Gavron, Daniel, The Kibbutz: Awakening from Utopia, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, 2000.

Gorni Yaakov, "The Utopian Realism", in: Gorni, Oved, Paz (ed), Communal Life: An International Perspective , Yad Tabenkin, Tel-Aviv, 1987, pp. 49-54.

Spiro Melford e., Kibbutz: Venture in Utopia, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass., 1956.

Spiro Melford e., "Utopia and its Discontents", in: American Anthropologist, Vol, 106 n°3 (2004), pp. 556-568.

[6] See e.g.: Brik Nazeh, Kibbutz, Legende und Wirklichkeit, Theorie und Prazis Verlag, Hamburg, 1991.

Sternhell Zeev, The Founding Myths of Israel: Nationalism, Socialism, and the Making of the Jewish State, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1998.

[7] See: Near Henry, The Kibbutz Movement, A History, vol. 1, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992, especially pp. 136-143, 212-213, 357-361.

[8] Marx, "The Poverty of Philosophy. Answer to the Philosophy of Poverty by M. Prudhon", in: Marx, Engels, Collected works, vol. 6, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1976, pp. 209-212. Marx expressed similar arguments later, in his bitter controversy with the Anarchists during the 1870s.

[9] Marx, Engels, "Manifesto of the Communist Party", pp. 482-505.

[10] ibid, pp. 541-517.

[11] ibid, p. 493.

[12] Marx, "Critical Marginal Notes on the article 'The King of Prussia and Social Reform. By a Prussian'", in: Marx, Engels, Collected works, vol. 3, Lawrence & Wishart London, 1975, p. 206.

[13] Marx., "Inaugural Address of the Working Men's International Association", in: Marx, Engels, Collected Works, vol. 20, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1985, p. 11.

[14] ibid, pp. 11-12.

[15] Buber M., Pfade in Utopia, Verlag Lambert Schneider (Heidelberg, 1950), p. 163.

2 תגובות בנושא “Kibbutz”

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