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In the previous article Livni detailed some of the parameters of the financial crisis that hit the kibbutzim. In fact, most (but not all) the kibbutzim were extremely vulnerable because they no longer had the ideological strength to withstand the temptations of speculation.

Not all kibbutzim allowed themselves to be lured into the world of financial speculation. If they did, it was with only a percentage of their profits. Those kibbutzim weathered the financial storm. The problem was that the central financial and economic institutions of the movements, one of whose purposes was mutual help, had become involved in speculation. They were no longer there to help weaker kibbutzim. The movement structure of mutual aid between kibbutzim collapsed.

Only the Kibbutz Hadati movement of Orthodox kibbutzim made a movement decision (albeit by a narrow vote) based on ideology, not to involve themselves in speculation. In the main, the financial crisis did not affect the Kibbutz Hadati. The example of theKibbutz Hadati shows that a firm ideological decision based on their vision and principles of religious socialism enabled their movement to weather the storm.

The conclusion is clear. Finance and economy were only proximate causes of the crisis. It was the “cultural-ideological assimilation” of the kibbutz to surrounding neo-liberal values that created the “ideological anemia” which made the kibbutz movement so vulnerable. The kibbutzim were no longer guided by principles of their original vision.


 

THE CAUSES OF IDEOLOGICAL ANEMIA.

The causes of the ideological anemia, already apparent at the end of the 1970’s, lay in developments resulting from the establishment of the state as well as processes within the kibbutz movement itself.

In order to discuss the impact of the establishment of the state we have to revisit the historical perspective. The kibbutz was born as a Zionist enterprise. We often forget that there were always two aspects to the term “Zionism”. The one aspect, political Zionism, was a response to the physical need of Jews for a secure homeland in an ever more hostile world. Herzl’s recipe for the travails of his people was a state for the Jews “like all the nations”. The other aspect, cultural Zionism, associated with the name of Achad Ha’am (1856 – 1927), sought to contend with the threat of modernity to the continued creative survival of Judaism.

Achad Ha’am claimed that the only way to stem physical and cultural assimilation inherent in the impact of modernity would be the re-establishment of a Jewish National Home in the historic homeland of the Jewish people. In particular, he believed that renewed Jewish creativity depended on reviving the creative Biblical tension between WHAT IS (the priestly tradition) and WHAT OUGHT TO BE (the prophetic tradition oftikkun). This would be possible only in a Jewish National Home where a Jewish polity would have to contend with all political, socio-economic and cultural challenges of modernity. In that context, the kibbutzim saw themselves as constituting an example of realizing values “that ought to be” in the here and now of the emerging Jewish state.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE “MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE”?

Degania and other kvutzot that followed were the result of a “marriage of convenience” between the needs of the (political) Zionist establishment and Labor Zionist pioneers who sought to realize a particular (prophetic) socio-cultural vision of what a Jewish state should be.

The Zionist establishment needed an economic way to settle the land and to provide the agricultural infrastructure for urban settlement. Later, in the 1930’s, the social structure of the kibbutz made it an ideal framework for settling isolated areas in order to ensure the future borders of the Jewish state.

In the wake of the establishment of the State, that marriage of convenience came into question. The government was confronted by unprecedented challenges with which the kibbutzim were unable/unwilling to cope. The outstanding example was the absorption of the mass immigration immediately after the establishment of the State. New moshavim partially replaced the kibbutzim in agriculture. In addition, after a large number of kibbutzim (e.g. Gesher Haziv, Urim) were founded immediately after the establishment of the state, the kibbutz was no longer as necessary for securing borders and unsettled areas.

Within the kibbutzim, the realization of political Zionism, i.e. – the establishment of the state, constituted a rationale for many to leave the kibbutz. Many took positions in government or in the army. Many felt it was now time to make their own individual way.

Nevertheless, until 1977 the Government was a Labor government. It would be an exaggeration to say that the government was socialist but Israel was a mixed economy welfare state. In matters such as agricultural development, its policies were very favorable to the kibbutzim. There was always a significant group of kibbutz members in the Knesset and a number of ministers in the government.

The political reversal of 1977 brought a government to power that represented immigrants of the previous generation who had felt patronized and exploited by the Labor “aristocracy”. They demonized the kibbutzim as the ultimate symbol of that Israel from which they felt socially and ideologically alienated. End of marriage. The kibbutzim were now on their own!

In summary, in the first three decades of statehood the kibbutzim achieved a degree of economic consolidation but then their Zionist purpose came into question in the eyes of Israel society in general and in their own eyes as well.

In our next article we will turn to the changes within the kibbutz movement which predisposed it to forego its principles and which made it so vulnerable in the economic crisis. A key to understanding that vulnerability lies in the changing outlook of the generations of the kibbutz.