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The Kibbutz

The kibbutz, the Israeli version of a socialist collective commune, was considered one of the great socio-economic experimental successes of the 20th century.  Even if Zionism was unpopular among the left from 1967 onwards, the Israeli farming communes inspired several generations of revolutionaries, who cited the communities as living proof that communism works.

The idea of a kibbutz was initially influenced by the Soviet Union, but in recent years it has adopted the Chinsese model of integrating capitalism into communistic values. If the Soviet communism disappeared because it simply failed to deliver the basic standard of living, the Israeli kibbutz in contrast is a victim of its own success and growing affluence. Economic equality in one thing when dividing up food, clothes, and other fundamentals. But when the kibbutz is rich, the range of consumer choices, business decisions, and lifestyles makes egalitarianism difficult to put into practice. In effect, Israel’s kibbutz are no longer run as socialist settlements, and the government is even prepared to see them privatized.

There are three kibbutz movements in Israel today: the national religious kibbutz movement combines a communal way of life with Jewish Orthodoxy, while the Meuhad and Artzi forms of kibbutz are secular in outlook. The latter two movements split from each other back in 1951, when Meuhad members denounced Stalin as an anti-Semetic dictator while adherents of Artzi remained faithful to the USSR and the party line. The Artzi movement realized that the Soviet experiment was going wrong long before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but it still leans more toward orthodox socialism than the Meuhad does.