The Kibbutz Movement and Anarchy, a Living Revolution.James Horrox.
Summary of the work written by Joëlle, member of Paris Kibbutz.
The kibbutz movement took shape in Palestine under Ottoman rule from 1910, and became one of the most successful experiences of community life and social progress of the twentieth century. If it fits fully into the more general framework of Zionism, little is known to what extent its ideological and political foundations are anchored in anarchist thought, embodied by authors such as Pierre Kropotkine or Gustav Landauer. “Was at stake, then, nothing less than the opportunity to transform the Jewish mobilization around Palestine into a project for the social liberation of all peoples, and which could only have seen the light of day under the banner of socialism. stateless “, writes Uri Gordon in the preface to the English edition of this book by James Horrox which traces the history of this living revolution. And if he also analyzes its decline from the 1980s, he also gives an account of the multiple forms of its rebirth at the dawn of the new century, which testify to the singular vitality of the inhabitants of this “earth prone to earthquakes”.
Gershom Sholem defined Zionism as the utopian return of the Jewish people to their own history.
He said “we want to revolutionize Zionism and preach anarchy which means the absence of domination. “
The kibbutz is a self-governing voluntary community administered by its members in a democratic manner without any legal sanction or authoritarian structure to ensure compliance with its standards, managed by the general assembly of members whose decisions are taken by majority.
In the late 1960s, the Kibbutz Federation organized an international congress on kibbutz democracy and the guest of honor was French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre who said what he saw was more anarchy than democracy.
Unlike other utopian experiments, the kibbutz played a decisive role in the founding of the Israeli nation: building infrastructure, integrating thousands of migrants, creating a national union, and an extremely important industrial and agricultural contribution.
Proudhon first used the word anarchy in 1840 to describe a social doctrine:
Society is able to transform from local communities into a system based on self-management, direct democracy and ecological sustainability, without the exploitation and equality inherent in state socialism.
Kropotkin (1842 1921) one of the most influential anarchist theorists of the 19th century, believes that human progress is based on mutual aid rather than competition: people could live in equality, both as producers and as consumers, in communities based on the principle of “each according to his means to each according to his needs”, with a system of task rotation.
After terminating the separation between manual and intellectual labor, he believes that work would no longer be a curse but the free exercise of all human faculties, and the antagonism between employers and employees will be replaced by a voluntary and cooperative work without the need for government.
He thinks that each new phase of economic life generates a new political phase:
- absolute monarchy and serfdom,
- government and capital,
- the non-government and the non-capitalist because free workers demand free organization.
The kibbutz movement begins in 1880
The ideas of Marx, Kropotkin, Tolstoy, Proudhon inspired a whole generation of persecuted Jews in Russia.
Most of the 20,000 Jews who leave Russia emigrate to the United States or Argentina, but a few hundred go to Palestine and find no state structure there.
The Jewish population, between 13,000 and 20,000 people, is concentrated mainly in the religious centers of Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron and is devoted to the study of Torah thanks to the philanthropic subsidies of the Jews of the diaspora.
But the new immigrants aspire to economic independence and plan to work in the field.
While the inexperienced and inexpensive labor of the Arabs was preferred by the pioneers of the first Alya, it was certainly not the intention of the pioneers of the second Alya to constitute themselves as a middle class of Jewish landowners exploiting the native Arab population.
It is the first revolution without opponent because class differences were practically non-existent among the immigrants of the second Aliya.
The first Kibbutz born in October 1910 named Degania (blueberry) creates a permanent social system where the group assumes full responsibility for the farm and ensures its development according to its own principles.
Degania manages to generate a profit less than a year after its founding.
A D Gordon :
The Early Pioneers philosophy is inspired by the writings of A D Gordon, a leading figure in the Hapoel Hatsair (The Young Worker) Zionist, anti-war and anti-militarist group dedicated to the idea of the Jewish settlement of Palestine.
He has a great love for manual labor and considers that everyone, teacher or writer, should work with his hands, and that physical labor and especially agriculture paves the way for a creative connection.
Not once in his work does he refer to the creation of a Jewish state even though he believes that the history of the Jews allows them to live in Palestine. He believed that the Jews would gain the respect and cooperation of their neighbors.
Frantz Oppenheimer participated with Theodore Herzl in the economic planning of the world Zionist organization.
Degania workers rejected his ideas of varying salary levels and appointing supervisory administrators.
Joseph Trumpeldor, Russian war hero, is one of the most important figures of the early days of the workers’ movement in Palestine. He is the archetype of the Zionist paradox as a right-wing anarchist involved in anarcho-socialist projects. He befriended Jabotinsky with whom he founded the first pre-Israel military organization, the Jewish Legion. After his death in 1920, Jabotinsky will take his name again to baptize the youth movement Betar, acronym of Brit (alliance) Yossef Trumpeldor.
The Russian Civil War and the Russo-Polish War of 1919, which led to a new outbreak of anti-Semitism in Russia which may have killed nearly 15,000 Jews, as well as the Balfour Declaration led to a new wave of immigration.
These Third Alia immigrants arrived between 1919 and 1923 from Russia and Poland and transformed what was only a vague network of agricultural establishments into the institution we know : the kibbutz.
Gustav Landauer is the main responsible for the introduction of anarchist ideas of the 1920s and 1930s.
Although his friendship with Buber leads him to develop a deep attachment to Judaism, Landauer remains wary of political Zionism.
While the other Nations are confined within the artificial limits of the borders between the states, Landauer believed that the dispersion of the Jews throughout the world put them in a unique position in that they immediately transcended, as a Nation, the territorial divisions.
These young people did not come to Palestine to found a state, be it Jewish or socialist, but dreamed of a large confederation of municipalities where individuals are in direct relation to one another “. It is only later that Marxism will end up exerting a serious influence.
The Hashomer Hatsaïr, where Landauer’s influence was particularly strong, and the kibbutz ARTZI they established will become its backbone:
In 1939, this youth movement had some 70,000 members around the world. Even after the youth movement adopted a Marxist stance, its members did not stop studying the works of Landauer and Kropotkin and many of them continued to regularly attend the lectures of his friend and executor. testamentary Martin Buber.
At the end of the 20th century, Artzi included 85 kibbutzes, i.e. about 35,000 people, and 32% of all kibbutzes at the time.
The kibbutz movement, an amalgamation of the two largest kibbutz federations Arzi and TAKAM, now comprises 94% of the kibbutz population, with the remaining 6% going to the kibbutz DATI religious kibbutz movement.
Chaim Arlosorof, one of the main ideologues of the party, is a fervent disciple of Kropotkin and a friend of Martin Buber. He believes that state power must be replaced by the free association of human groups.
In Palestine, the state was represented by the British mandatory authority.
He fights against the Marxist Zionists who wanted to transpose materialism and the class struggle into Israel.
In 1930, Arlosorof will play an important role in unifying the Poalei Tsion and the Hashomer Hatsaïr in the formation of the Mapaï workers’ party. He was assassinated in Tel Aviv at the age of 34 in 1933 and his murder has never been elucidated.
When the first groups of the Third Alia arrived, the idea of building a new model of stateless society was widely shared.
In his book “Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement,” Yaakov Oved quotes Itshak Tabenkin who believes that the special conditions of the Jewish labor movement in Palestine offered the unique possibility of creating a society without government.
The pre-1948 kibbutz can be described as “a cooperative community without exploiters or exploited”. Incomes are put into a common fund where all members were free to take as they liked. Chores like serving at the table and washing dishes are taken care of by everyone.
The land on which the kibbutz were built belongs to the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet) which leases the land to the kibbutz with a 99-year lease.
The education of the children was provided by the community, no currency was used, no cost of food or clothing as members eat in the dining hall and borrow clothes from the common clothing store each week.
Until 1930, agriculture was the mainstay of the economy and the industrial sector was limited to a workshop economy.
Today, kibbutz remains at the forefront of agricultural and high-tech research and production in Israel.
Despite a complex network of committees and managers, the kibbutz has succeeded in preventing the emergence of a hierarchy because the functions of an administrator are to coordinate work and not to control it.
All the members meet every week in ASEFA assembly, generally in the refectory.
Despite the growing complexity of the economy, members try to avoid the formation of a bureaucracy – a separate political class behaving like a ruling elite.
Members elected to these positions were not to receive any material benefits and perform their night duties. Just as the success of the participatory work model depends on public opinion, peer pressure (gossip) and social conscience, kibbutz relies on the social pressure of collective life and on the privacy of personal relationships to generate voluntary adherence to standards of behavior.
What if a kibbutz member showed laziness at work? A member of Degania in the 1920s simply replied, “We would stop loving him. “
By the time the kibbutz was the size of a big village, a thousand people at most, murder, suicide, mental illness, juvenile delinquency, drug addiction had all but disappeared.
In the years leading up to Israel’s independence, in the absence of a fixed state apparatus, informal and spontaneous kibbutz federations ended up assuming much of the responsibilities that normally fall to state and capitalism.
If the conditions for state socialism as defined by Marx are not met on the kibbutz, the essential characteristics of anarchist socialism are.
In the 1930s, the kibbutz continued to claim to be lip-smacking Marxists despite international communist anti-Zionist positions.
The Kibbutz have sought to break free from the inherent alienation of the capitalist production process, which is reminiscent of Tolstoy’s idea of a universal brotherhood and the hope that family ties could be extended into a brotherhood of all humanity.
The Histadrut :
The Histadrut, a national trade union organization founded in Haifa in 1920, aims to unite all Jewish workers in the years leading up to the constitution of the state. It went beyond the role of a trade union organization to become a kind of alternative society : for a while it was the largest employer in the country, it owned businesses, factories, schools, libraries, cultural centers. With the exception of the cemeteries (it did not have any) one could have said that it provided the majority of the population with everything they needed from cradle to tomb. Two years after its creation it represented more than half of the workers of Palestine and 75% of the Jewish workforce in the country. It will continue to play an important public assistance role until the 1990s.
In 1923, the embryonic state apparatus led by a young politician, David Ben-Gurion, usurped the utopian perspectives of the kibbutz, and it would only be a matter of time for the movement’s ambitious socialist experiment to transform into a collectivist component of the state-run economy.
National independence will not come as they had hoped from the collective will but from the UN.
Communities become mere pawns in the broader framework of politics. Ben-Gurion is trying to convince the world of the usefulness of Israel as it becomes the aircraft carrier of Western powers in the Middle East.
This system began to erode in the 1980s.
In most kibbutzes, young people live together from an early age in the children’s home where their parents visit them for a few hours a day, sometimes an entire day on Shabbat.
The children grew up in groups of around 16 people who stayed together from kindergarten to high school.
Although the evolution of the kibbutz education system was largely the result of experience and error (mostly errors some will say), most kibbutzes abandoned this practice in the late 1970s and returned to the traditional family.
Many children born in the kibbutz marry people from outside, and the communities are gradually closing in on themselves.
Growing overconsumption has led kibbutzes to charge for electricity, allocate money, and introduce private bank accounts.
The real problems began in 1977 with an event unprecedented in Israeli history, the electoral victory of Menachem Begin’s Likud, who does not like the kibbutz too much.
Ownership of the economy shifts for the first time from the state and Histadrut to the private sector, leading to privatization and layoffs. Israelis are allowed to invest outside the country and tariffs fall.
These economic changes are hitting Israel hard, causing many small businesses to go bankrupt.
When the government puts in place austerity measures reducing inflation to 20% per year, the kibbutz are left with a mountain of debt they are unable to repay.
At the end of the 1960s, the traditional secular consensus in Israel was supplanted by a return of religion and spirituality that was both ultra-Orthodox and nationalist.
The kibbutz are shaken in their reason to be.
The movement has spent the past 10 years building a transition where each kibbutz must decide which category it belongs to.
Today about thirty kibbutz are part of the Common Current which opposes any radical change in lifestyle, and about a hundred belong to the Common Circle comprising the kibbutz which still adhere to the basic principles but accept certain changes.
The movement has undeniably turned towards capitalism:
In 1999, a kibbutz converted its industrial and agricultural sector into a limited company controlled by a holding company whose members received coins on the basis of their seniority.
Today the administrative structure of most industrial kibbutzes is complex, centralized and hierarchical.
The committees elected by the assemblies have been replaced by directors and external managers.
The general meeting is more like an annual meeting of shareholders.
The 1990s also saw the introduction of bonuses according to seniority, function or job.
If a factory manager receives a much larger allowance than a worker, egalitarianism, the most important pillar of the kibbutz, is lost.
Urban kibbutz :
Today in Israel there is a growing number of new communes and quasi-anarchist organizations, made up of small groups often living in urban areas, whose members live and pool their salaries.
They are involved in urban areas of the country.
Each municipality keeps its own autonomy, with collective ownership of the means of production, and operates with exchanges between the other municipalities.
There are several communities that can reasonably be described as successful or to use Buber’s formula as “no failure”. The largest is Reshit “Beginnings” established in the suburbs of Jerusalem since 1979 with around 100 members.
Samar is a modest settlement of less than a hundred members located near Eilat founded in 1976 by kibbutz youth who forged their principles as a revolt against the kibbutz, the erosion of freedom and dignity.
The operation of SAMAR has come to resemble the principles of community anarchy: it sheds hierarchical or authoritarian structures and functions as the first Kvutsot of modest size and intimate character, with a system based on trust, mutual accountability and direct democracy.
It created a common purse where members are free to take whatever they feel they need and nothing is recorded in writing.
It is up to the members to decide in which sector and for how long they will work. The problem is, you never know in advance how many people will show up for work the next day.
The fact remains that it seems to work well.
Tamouz was founded in 1987 by nine people disappointed with the kibbutz where they were born.
Like the pioneers of ancient kibbutzes, they hope to create a just society. These 33 members operate as a single economic unit, hold stable jobs abroad and pay their income into a common fund. He owns several cars, takes responsibility for education, health, transportation etc.
Its members live in family units in collectively owned housing, keeping a distinction between the different households which are allocated an allowance according to their size, and therefore roughly according to their needs.
He opposes the heavy bureaucracy that has intruded into traditional Kiboutz and goes to great lengths to build relationships with the people of the towns where they live.
Kvoutzat Yovel :
It is a commune founded by youth movements from the diaspora, next to Haifa, which is a combination of Judaism and socialism similar to that of the first pioneers: their vocation is to provide a maximum level of political equality and material to its members as well as a system for sharing household tasks. They organized boarding schools for disadvantaged young people, taught English to Arab children, founded schools etc.
One of its founders, Anton Marx would like to believe that it is not only a question of plugging the gaps in a fairly rotten society but of building an alternative society while being involved in the one that exists, until this alternative company becomes the existing company.
In Israel, contemporary anarchists see the kibbutz for what it has become, the oppression it exerts on its own members, and its status as a Zionist institution. This phenomenon is amplified by the undoubtedly inevitable tendency among young radicals to apply contemporary ideas to interpret a century-old movement: “It is impossible that the first kibbutz could have been anarchists because they exploited animals for agricultural work! “.
In the eyes of new generations, the kibbutz embodies the established order.
The mere fact that it served so long as a reserve for recruiting army elite units is enough to put most young people off. Indeed, in the 30 years since independence, the toughest fighters came from the kibbutz, including those who made up the hard core of the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, such as politician Moshe Dayan de Dégania and worldly famous General.
But more and more anarchists have expressed the need to break free from the shackles of ideological abstractions and take care of tenant committees, voluntary organizations, alternative educational institutions…
Epilogue March 2008
When she arrived in Israel in 1984, Youvi was a young girl who was one of 3,000 Beta Israel refugees repatriated from Sudan as part of Operation Moses.
Over the past 30 years, more than 120,000 Ethiopian Jews have settled in Israel benefiting from the Law of Return. Coming from a subsistence economy, they were ill-equipped to evolve in a developed and industrialized country, and furthermore had to face prejudice, discrimination and racism.
Despite the considerable amount of public funds invested in their integration, the socio-economic disparities between the Ethiopian community and the rest of the population are still far from diminishing in 2007. Unemployment and the school dropout rate is the highest in the country. Drug addiction and delinquency reach dramatic proportions.
Designed by the Ashkenazi majority, official integration processes fail to take into account the cultural and social needs of minorities.
For example, upon arrival in Israel, they are given an Israeli name instead of their Ethiopian name.
As part of the relief effort, soldiers arrived to paint houses without asking the occupants’ opinion and then went into the newspaper with a laudatory caption!
When she began working with young people of Ethiopian descent, Youvi felt able to reconnect with her own Ethiopian identity. In order to talk to young people, she had to ask her parents to tell her about her country of origin.
In 2005, she participated in the formation of a community in Gedera, but the situation of the young people kept deteriorating, switching from cigarettes to alcohol and then to drugs.
Many programs try to help them without success…
People just sit there and wait while in Ethiopia if you don’t work, you don’t eat.
Today its initial nucleus of three families has formed two distinct neighborhood communities.
Combating their sense of alienation by strengthening their Judeo-Ethiopian identity, families attend classes in Ethiopian religion and culture.
Youvi has little faith in political parties as a vehicle for change.
Another of her projects is the community garden. In Ethiopia people are very connected to the land and she plans to develop a garden for each of the buildings in the neighborhood but this is something that will be discussed by the families of each building. It is a kind of social counter-power.
10 years later, afterword, November 2017
In the twenty-first century, Israel has become one of the most industrialized nations in the world, which has created a series of new problems.
The new urban communities have gained strength and it remains to be seen whether this organization will grow in importance in meeting the country’s needs.
The anti-Israel narrative dominates left-wing thinking in the West: among anarchist activists, to be suspected of even showing the beginnings of complicity with the project of Jewish national liberation is the absolute crime. When it comes to the kibbutz, it suffices to say “but they were Zionists” to close any discussion as they display their solidarity with morbid, racist, misogynist, homophobic and totalitarian cults.
Noam Chomsky, who described the kibbutz as a perfectly functioning and successful libertarian community, hardly talks about it anymore.
The aspirations of the early kibbutz were long ago shattered on state building, but the country they built is a real laboratory for progressive ideas.
The kibbutz has survived most of the century and has survived as a fully functioning participatory and voluntary political economy model at a level never before seen anywhere on the planet, but it is difficult for both the Zionist right and current anarchists to admit that anarchists may have played a role in the early years of Jewish immigration to Palestine.