OVED, Yaacov. "Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement"

This article is taken from "KIBBUTZ TRENDS" No. 38, Summer 2000, published by Yad Tabenkin, the Research and Documentation Center of the Kibbutz Movement, Ramat Efal, Israel.

KROPOTKINE, Petr Alekseevitch (1842-1921) Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)GOODMAN, Paul (1911-1972)TOLSTOÏ, Léon (1828-1910)LAZARE, Bernard (Lazare Marcus Manassé Bernard, Nîmes, Gard.- 15 juin 1865 -1er septembre 1903)MarxismIsraelBUBER, MartinPolitics. SionismKibbutzTABENKIN, YitzhakTRUMPELDOR, JosephARLORZOROV, HaimYAARI, MeirTAVORI, Yitzhak (1913-1944)TSUR, MukiOVED, YaacovIsrael. - History of anarchismGORDON, A. D.

The kibbutz movement in Israel is not a part of the anarchist camp and its various streams [1]. A number of its central elements, such as its integral linkage to the Jewish state and Zionism, its loyalty to the State of Israel, the number of its members who join in the security forces and the Israel Defense Force, and its activities and involvement in political parties, all clearly set it apart from any past or present anarchistic framework. On the other hand, the anarchist movement and its various streams has never perceived the kibbutz movement as a partner in its beliefs and struggles. And yet the kibbutz movement is special in that anarchist elements and sources of inspiration have appeared at various stages in its history, some of which even exist today.

The kibbutz movement in Israel is not a part of the anarchist camp and its various streams. A number of its central elements, such as its integral linkage to the Jewish state and Zionism, its loyalty to the State of Israel, the number of its members who join in the security forces and the Israel Defense Force, and its activities and involvement in political parties, all clearly set it apart from any past or present anarchistic framework. On the other hand, the anarchist movement and its various streams has never perceived the kibbutz movement as a partner in its beliefs and struggles. And yet the kibbutz movement is special in that anarchist elements and sources of inspiration have appeared at various stages in its history, some of which even exist today

Anarchist literature was quite common among the founding members of the kibbutz movement who had a theoretical socialist education. Notable among the anarchist philosophers who had a direct influence on these circles were Peter Kropotkin and Gustav Landauer.

The doctrine of Kropotkin, who at the end of the 19th century comprehensively formulated the anarcho-com-munist theory, influenced the adopting of commune principles in the first kvutzot during the years that preceded World War One (during the First Aliya or wave of immigration). The man who brought Kropotkin’s theories to the attention of the members of the kvutzot was Joseph Trumpeldor, one of the leading figures of the founding generation of the workers’ movement in what was then Palestine. He was born in Russia, served as an officer in the Russian army, and lost an arm in the Russia-Japan war. As a student at the University of St. Petersburg, he became familiar with and was influenced by socialist and anarcho-communist theories, and even declared, "I am an anarcho-communist and a Zionist." In the years 1908-1909 he formulated a theory and program for the settlement of communal groups in the anarcho-communist spirit of Kropotkin, and wrote about it to his friends who were already in Palestine. Trumpeldor himself went to Palestine, bringing with him Kropotkin’s ideas for the nascent reality of the early kibbutz and kvutza.

Among the immigrants who went to Palestine after World War One there was great interest in Kropotkin’s anarcho-communist ideas. We can leam something of this interest in the fact that in 1921 an article by Kropotkin entitled "Anarchist Communism" was translated into Hebrew and appeared in the anthology Maabarot 3 (1920), published by the Hapoel Hatzair workers’ party. The same anthology contained an essay on Kropotkin and his anarcho-communist doctrine by Haim Arlorzorov, a member of this movement’s young, educated leadership. Although he was not a kibbutz member, he was close to the movement and attributed great importance to the kibbutz way of life in the shaping of ways to build a new society in Palestine. He wrote: "While our society organization is under the yoke of government it will be different in the future society in which ’The Free Alliance" will be the main foundation for the formation of kibbutzim. The unit of these kibbutzim will be the commune.

These words were written at the time when the first kibbutzim were being formed in Palestine and gave expression to the spirit of the times. Further evidence of this is that one of the first books translated into Hebrew and distributed in Palestine in 1923 was K-ropotkin’s "Mutual Aid," and some time later another of his works, "The Great French Revolution," was published. At the time there was a certain appeal in K-ropotkin’s ideas on the dominance of mutual aid, the combination of village and city, agriculture and industry and the establishment of a network of new, federatively-connected communities, all of which found solid expression in the theories of "the big kvutza" which was to replace the small, intimate kvutza with the onset of the big wave of immigration that came in the wake of World War One. Prominent among the kibbutz movement’s founding fathers for whom anarcho-communism was a source of inspiration was Yitzhak Tabenkin, the spiritual leader of the Kibbutz Hameuhad movement, which in pre-state years was the biggest kibbutz stream.

Tabenkin’s views were close to anarcho-communism and he was critical of individualistic anarchism that did not see the human basis of social life in the commune. His reservations regarding government were extraordinary among non-anarchist socialists. Tabenkin was ambivalent on this subject, for while he recognized the danger of political government, he was also conscious of the need of the workers movement to use the state institutions. He did not conceive the state as a stage that can be leapfrogged or negated in a one-time action. He viewed the state as a necessary but dangerous tool for attaining Zionist-socialist aims. Tabenkin believed that the special conditions of the workers’ movement in Palestine and the Jewish people provided the opportunity of attaining a society without the need of government intervention. Hence his opposition to government had no anarchistic significance. On numerous occasions in his lectures he emphasized that he was not an anarchist, albeit he greatly admired anarchism’s contribution to socialist philosophy, particularly to social morals and its critical approach to bureaucracy and political rule. He admitted "I am sympathetic towards anarchism. I am conscious of what is revolutionary in anarchism and what is ethical in it." He frequently stated categorically in his lectures at seminars that "We must become familiar with the main points of anarchist thought for it can enrich our revolutionary thinking."

In the 1920s, a new channel of anarchist influence was opened with the penetration of Gustav Landauer’s ideas into certain circles of those engaged in building kibbutzim. The man responsible for bringing this influence to Palestine from Europe was a close friend of Landauer’s, Martin Buber, who had a deep philosophical affinity to anarchism, especially with its messianic aspects and the theory of the individual in society, although it is difficult to define him as an anarchist in the accepted sense of the term. A short time after Landauer’s murder in 1919, Buber eulogized him at a Hapoel Hafzair conference held in Prague in 1920 calling him "the secret spiritus rector" and "the designated leader of the new Judaism". He went on to say, "Landauer’s idea was our idea. This is recognition of the fact that the main thing is not a change of order and institutions, but a revolution in Man’s life and the relations between Man and his fellow... and in accordance with this idea, Landauer was to have participated in the building of a new land and a new society as a guide and mentor." A.D. Gordon, the "grand old man" of the young pioneers, attended the same conference and found affinity with Landauer’s ideas, so much so that he brought Landauer’s works back to Palestine with him.

At a 1919 conference held in Munich on the question of cooperative settlement in Palestine, Landauer raised a number of ideas on the decentralized character of this type of settlement. At the conference, he was to have proposed a program for the social construction of Eretz Israel employing communities and federation. Unfortunately, he did not take part in the conference as he was brutally murdered on May 2, 1919.

We can also learn something of Landauer’s influence on German youth circles from Gershom Scholem’s biography. In the memoirs of his youth (From Berlin to Jerusalem), Scholem writes: "Gustav Landauer’s book, ’Aufruf zum Sozialismus’ (A Call for Socialism), left a deep impression not only upon me, but also upon no small number of young Zionists," and that "Landauer lectured a great deal in Zionist circles and influenced [them]..." and he emphasizes that "The social and moral perception of anarchists like Tolstoy and Landauer was of inestimable importance in the building of the new life in Eretz Israel."

Landauer’s influence was first felt among the members of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement who had emigrated to Palestine and lived as a cooperative community at Bitaniya Illit. The special interpretation given to Landauer’s and Buber’s concept was in the attempt to build a new community by youngsters who had been educated in the youth movement and had rebelled against modern capitalistic society. And indeed, the main thrust of the desire of the immigrant groups of Hashomer Hatzair was to establish "an anarchic community," as Meir Yaari, one of the movement’s founding fathers and central spiritual guides, wrote in a letter to his comrades in 1920. In an article he published in the Hapoel Hatzair newspaper on 28th January 1921 he explained Hashomer Ha-Izair’s uniqueness and identity by stressing its cohesion as a community, and claimed that "our communities do not tolerate government; they are forming an anarchic tissue by their free joining together."

The shift from a spirit of anarchism to movement institutionalization came at the Hashomer Hatzair conference held at Kibbutz Beit Alpha in 1924 where in his opening address, Meir Yaari spoke about Kropotkin’s and Landauer’s anarcho-communism, claiming that these theories were no longer suitable for the movement. He opposed the proposal to call the federation of Hashomer Hatzair "communal anarchism," but in contrast to his reservations on anarchism, he spoke in a positive vein about Marxism, thus setting out the movement’s direction towards its future.

Much later, at an ideological seminar held in 1940, Yaari looked back at the first groups of 1918 and categorically admitted that "Then we were what is known as anarchists, we believed in the establishment of a new society in Eretz Israel, we lived at a time of big hopes and dreams... We believed in a prototype of future society in which the individual’s life would be free of coercion, while being autonomous." He confirmed that "the Hashomer Hatzair road to the kibbutz was anarchistic... but when we founded the Kibbutz Haartzi movement and had to formulate its ideological platform, we had to do some deep plowing so that we could fully rehabilitate the term ’polities’. For there was contempt towards the party in the movement and it stemmed from an anarcho-syndicalistic worldview..."

It is interesting to note that in the autumn of his life Yaari refuted these evaluations and the Hashomer Hatzair movements anarchistic origins. He said this in an interview with Avraham Yasur held in 1978. Yasur asked: "Could the kibbutz perception during its community period be defined as anarchic?" To which Yaari replied, "Today, in any event, I wouldn’t define it as anarchism." When Yasur asked him if he was aware of the anarchistic ideas that were prevalent in the early days of the kibbutz, he replied, "There were some like that, but they were not realized anywhere..." and added: "Why do we need to seek ideas from other sources? With us it was original and it also derived from intuition and experience."

From the thirties onward, the years of building and expansion of the kibbutz movement in Eretz Israel and the Diaspora, Marxist-socialist theories were strengthened and anarchism’s influence was shunted aside. During those years the kibbutz movement underwent serious structural changes. The period of experimentation was over and a process of institutionalization and political involvement began that involved all parts of the movement.

Between 1937 and 1939, during the Spanish Civil War, a small group of young people from the kibbutz movement and outside it was formed, calling itself The Free Socialists. The group published a broadsheet in which they printed excerpts from the works of the classical anarchists together with current information on the stand of the republicans and the anarchist militias against the fascists in Spain. The group’s spiritual leader was a member of Kibbutz Afikim, Yitzhak Tavori (1913-1944). Tavori also published articles in Kibbutz Afikim’s newsletter on historic events in the history of anarchism. This was only an isolated episode that had no continuation.

During World War Two and the first years of the establishment of the State of Israel, the kibbutz movement had no ties at all with anarchism. Physical and mental effort was invested in consolidating the settlements and absorbing the new immigrants who reached Israel at that time. The first shoots of interest in anarchism began to reappear in the 60s. This interest was bound up with the reawakening interest in Martin Buber and his influence, which also led to renewed interest in Gustav Landauer.

A firm expression of Buber’s and Landauer’s influence on the kibbutz movement can be found in the issues of "Shdemot," the journal of the young circles of the Ihud Hakvutzot Veha-kibbutzim movement. In volume 11-12, published in November 1963, the "Personalities" section was devoted to Gustav Landauer. It contained articles on Landauer’s personality and theories and also excerpts from his book, A Call for Socialism. In the issue’s editorial, the editors wrote: "Among the many types calling themselves socialists, Gustav Landauer belongs to the truest and purest stream of Utopian socialism that aspired to begin the building of a new society and a new life from the bottom upwards by educating individuals and establishing small cells of people who had chosen this way out of free choice and consciousness... One can say that in his books and words, Landauer gave the clearest and strongest expression in recent generations to this stream, which had great influence on the kvutza and the kibbutz.

" Recently, against the background of disillusionment with the socialist-Marxist theories and their realization in totalitarian regimes, a change regarding anarchism has begun in the kibbutz movements intellectual circles. There is a tendency to point to anarchist sources of influence in several books that have appeared since the 80s. Worthy of note are the book on Gustav Landauer, Writings and Correspondence (1982), edited by Avraham Yasur; Trends in Kibbutz Socialism (1989) by Rosner, Shor, Chisik and Ovnat, in which a chapter is devoted to anarchistic influences; An Anthology of Jewish Anarchists (Bernard Lazarre, Gustav Landauer and Erich Muhsam), edited by Yaacov Goren and Haim Seeligman (1997); and The Kibbutz is Dead, Long Live The Kibbutz (1996), by Eliahu Regev of Kibbutz Baram, in which the author states his positive attitude towards anarchist thought.

Three meetings at discussion workshop on anarchism and the kibbutz held at Yad Tabenkin in the winter of 1997-1998 bear testimony to the tendency existing in the circle of intellectuals who were concerned about the superficiality of social thought in the kibbutz movement, that is seeking new sources of inspiration, including anarchistic ones. The following are excerpts of what was said at the workshops:

Haim Seeligman, one of the workshops initiators, said in his opening remarks: "We, in the kibbutz movement, are currently in a situation in which we must find new solutions to a long line of internal and external problems... There are, in the vast treasury of philosophers such as Gustav Landauer, Bernard Lazarre, Kropotkin and Paul Goodman, philosophical elements that can assist us in advancing our thinking. When the movement is in a process of change... we must enable the vacuum to be filled with new, constructive contents. In anarchism, as in Utopian thought, we can find such constructive contents."

Muki Tsur, one of the kibbutz movements most prominent thinkers, posed a number of questions during the discussion: "Is it possible and necessary to have need of a tradition of anarchist philosophy in determining the future directions of thinking for the kibbutz? Is it possible to cure some of today’s maladies by using anarchism’s tools? Can we use them to create some kind of renewal process for the kibbutz? Is there room for an encounter with anarchistic experiments that relate to the state with appropriate skepticism, without believing that by virtue of its collapse, salvation will follow?

"The question is: What can be handed down from anarchistic tradition to the multi-generational kibbutz and the socially-involved kibbutz?" In this context, Tsur emphasized that "On the one hand, anarchism has libertarian origins, while on the other it has community origins... throughout the history of the kibbutz movement, we have drawn upon both."

1 have presented a historical review that indicated various stages in the relationship with anarchism in the kibbutz movement:

Stage 1: Up to 1925, The initial, experimental stage in which anarchistic influences were prevalent.

Stage 2: 1925 to 1965, Movement and party institutionalization, in which there was complete denial of anarchism.

Stage 3: From the 60s onward, during which a renewal of the ties to Buber, Landauer and communal anarchism was observed.

The historical review notes the continuing ties to anarchism in the kibbutz movement, which despite the shifts of ebb and flow, should have aroused interest in research on the origins of this phenomenon. It should be noted, sadly, that studies of this kind have yet to be conducted.

[1I wish to thank Ruth Sobol and Yad Tabenkin for their kind authorization to republish this article