In his previous articles, Michael Livni showed that the roots of the crisis in the kibbutz movement lay in loss of purpose reflected in the waning of ideology. He surveyed the factors in Israel and within the kibbutz movement that caused “ideological anemia.” The third kibbutz generation, the generation that came to maturity before and after the Six Day War, the Jacob generation, was/is no longer capable (or motivated) to confront these questions This article focuses on the negative impact of developments in the Western world on Israel. Central to these developments is the influence of post-modernity on Israel in general and the kibbutz in particular.
THE IMPLICATIONS OF POST-MODERNITY for ZIONISM and the KIBBUTZ
In discussing the impact of post-modernity on Israel and the kibbutz we have to limit ourselves to the political and social aspects of this phenomenon. In general, post-modernity in Israel expresses itself as the process of “Americanization.” This really means that Israel has become “like all the Nations” In so doing, Israel has negated the cultural Zionist rationale for the establishment of a Jewish state. As we have seen, the essence of that rationale was the Achad Ha’amist view that a Jewish National Home in the historic homeland of the Jewish people was necessary to ensure the continued creative survival of Jewish civilization in the modern age.
But what do we mean by “post-modernity” – in particular as it relates to Zionism and the kibbutz?
In two books, Zionism in a Post-Modernistic Era (1997) and New Gordonian Essays (2005), the Israeli philosopher, Eliezer Schweid summarized the meaning of post-modernity for Israeli society. (The books are in Hebrew))
Modernity is a product of the enlightenment. Modernity assumes that humans, as rational beings, have the capability of determining what is desirable and can formulate an action program to further wanted ends. Movements are a phenomenon of modernity. The strategic aims of a movement are determined by its ideological vision. Tactics, not vision, are dictated by an analysis of reality.
Zionism was (is) is a modern movement – whether in its political or cultural manifestation. The political Zionist movement strove to achieve a state for the Jews. Different streams of cultural Zionism, the kibbutz among them, sought to realize different visions of what the social and cultural character of the state should be. The kibbutz was an integral part of the modern Zionist movement both in its political and cultural manifestation.
The post-modern rejects ideology. It utilizes social sciences and public opinion surveys to ascertain what is realistic and this determines both its aims and its tactics. Schweid pointed out that the post-modern consumer society is based on the assumption that individual needs are to be nurtured and satisfied. The ultimate aim is a homogeneous global mass of individuals served by trans-national corporations. The United States, where the trans-nationals were spawned became the source and arbiter of this global consumer culture by virtue of being the only real victor in World War Two.
Perforce, Zionism can never be post-modern. Herzl’s “If you will it – it is no fairy tale” is absolutely modern and not post-modern. The struggle of Eliezer Ben Yehuda to revive the Hebrew language – was absolutely modern; not post-modern. The goal of the Zionist Labor movement to build communities based on the equal worth of all (the kibbutzim) as a focal value for an ideal society was modern and not post-modern.
In his book, This People Israel (1955), Leo Baeck , “ the Rabbi of Theresienstadt” paid tribute to Moses Hess, the harbinger of Socialist-Zionism :
“He viewed the present from the future…he did not want to determine the future from the present.”
There can be no more succinct juxtaposition of modernity with post-modernity.
The latter part of the 1970’s witnessed the triumph of post-modernism in Western society as embodied in the socio-economic philosophy of neo-liberalism. It was the age of Reagan and Thatcher. Neo-liberalism was ultimately based on the assumption that there are no limits to growth, no limits to Gross National Product. The ever-expanding GNP would be the surest guarantee of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for the maximum number in society.
The tide of neo-liberalism engulfed Israel. The Likud also understood that dismantling the welfare state and its (in many cases atrophied) institutions would also definitively remove the power base of Labor.
This happened at the very time when the kibbutz movement, suffering from “ ideological anemia” described in our previous articles, had lost its ability to contend ideologically with new realities. An additional factor in the inability of the kibbutz to relate to new reality was its
leadership – the subject of the next article in this series.