When confronted with the universal failure of socialism to achieve the material prosperity and social equality it promised, socialists do one of three things: they pretend the evidence doesn’t exist, they claim that socialist governments do not represent “true” Marxism-Leninism, or they change their philosophy to reject material success: environmentalism. With the failure of the Soviet bloc, and increasing signs of the instability of European welfare states, the remaining socialists often point to voluntary communes as examples of “successful” collectivism.
The Israeli kibbutz was one of the most prominent and benign forms of voluntary collectivism in the 20th century. Benign – because, unlike socialist prison states, they existed in a mostly free nation, and the members were free to leave. However, even voluntary forms of collectivism have faced universal disaster. Two thirds of Israeli kibbutzes have voted to privatize, as the Christian Science Monitor writes, and more are continuing to do so. They remaining ones persist mainly because of massive government subsidies.
Has the universal failure of the utopian socialist dream forced its advocates to change their philosophy?
“The kibbutz was an attempt to create a miracle and transcend human nature. By trying to create a miracle, the kibbutz was instinctively seen by Jews as a worthy symbol of the miraculous return to Zion,” says Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalem Institute.
“We’re so past the point of being shocked by the decline of the collectivist dream that this isn’t a moment that took anyone by surprise. Nevertheless there’s poignancy…. We’ve lost something precious and essential in what defines Israeliness,” he says.
What remains of the kibbutz ethic of self-sacrifice, activism, and egalitarianism is unclear. In Israel’s high-tech economy, do the old kibbutzes have a role to play?
Rogalin says that their role will be to cultivate a quality education system that will teach children values of social justice. And with a safety net for members, the kibbutz hopes to remain a model of social welfare in a society with a large gap between rich and poor.
Whatever the decision, founder Mr. Katz knows that the ideals upon which Gaash was founded are no longer attainable. “At my age, I’ve reached the conclusion that humans are egotists, and like to keep things for themselves rather than the general public,” he says. “The idea that everyone will eat from the same plate doesn’t exist anymore. I’ve done my part. It’s over. We aren’t an example for anyone.”