On the occasion of the one-hundredth anniversary of the Degania kibbutz, J. J. Goldberg writes about the decline of the institution in this week’s Forward. The demise of the original utopian vision of a better society was not inevitable; it was “murdered” by a “combination of malice and neglect by government officials and incompetence by planners in the central kibbutz federation in the 1980s.” No longer a part of the social economy, the kibbutzim are now smoothly integrated into the capitalist system—too smoothly, Goldberg argues:
This April marks the kickoff of a worldwide series of events celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first kibbutz, Degania. Fine words have been spoken in Degania and Tel Aviv, and many more will be spoken elsewhere in the months ahead in praise of Israel’s kibbutzim, the iconic farming communes once considered modern Israel’s greatest contribution to human betterment — what Martin Buber called the “experiment that did not fail.”
The celebrations are tinged with melancholy, though. The institution of the kibbutz has survived its first century, but the hope of pioneering a new and better model of human society has not. Over the past quarter-century, most of Israel’s 270 kibbutzim have abandoned the founders’ socialist credo, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” and replaced it with the new “privatized” kibbutz. Today’s kibbutz boasts differential salaries, shuttered dining halls, individual home ownership, private bank accounts and investment portfolios and, of course, richer and poorer kibbutzniks. Only about 80 kibbutzim, fewer than one-third, still preserve the old egalitarianism.
Read the full article here.