|Kibbutz and cohousing||<– Date –> <– Thread –>|
|From: David Mandel (dlmandelrcip.com)|
|Date: Wed, 17 Sep 1997 02:15:22 -0500|
Ruth Hirsch wrote about kibbutz: > >A Kibbutz is an Israeli commune. Resources are shared. > Households do have individual dwellings, with kitchenettes, nonetheless, >meals are offered and usually shared in common kitchen and dining room. > Children live together in children's housing. They do have meals and >evening time with family of origin. This is about 30 years out of date. It was a gradual process, but in virtually no kibbutz now do children sleep in separate houses. One of the original purposes of that policy was to liberate women, since it was assumed that they would by default assume most of the responsibility for children if the burden were placed on the nuclear family. What happened is complicated and subject to debate, but my take on at least one of the main factors is that women never came close to achieving equality despite being "liberated" from intensive caregiving for their own children. They tended to work in services -- including collective child care, of course -- while men worked more in income-producing branches of the kibbutz economy and held more political power. Having also lost their traditional power base in the nuclear family home, second and third-generation kibbutz women tended to spearhead the demand to return to a more traditional arrangement. In the broader context, Israel evolved from a heavily state-led, relatively egalitarian economic system at its founding to a highly capitalist society today. The kibbutzim, which were always utopian islands but imagined themselves as the vanguard of a future socialist society, lost their ideological bearings and instead adjusted to the demands of the market, becoming quite successful capitalists, albeit with an egalitarial internal lifestyle. Production for profit has its imperatives, and throughout the '60s and '70s, more and more kibbutzim became large employers of cheap labor -- mostly Arabs and Jews from Middle Eastern countries, while the vast majority of kibbutz members were and are of European Jewish background. A sociological transformation followed in that the kibbutzim became identified with the elitist, sometimes racist Labor Party establishment. It was defeated for the first time in 1977 by the more militant nationalist rightist/fundamentalist camp, with most of the votes coming from the working class and culturally disenfranchised non-Europeans. The kibbutzim passed through a severe economic crisis in the late 1980s when they gambled on the wrong side of hyperinflation and got stuck with unmanageable debt. The political establishment bailed them out, for the most part, but the outcome has been even further integration into the market economy. Kibbutzim that happened to be favorably situated sold some of their land to speculators and have become quite rich. Among them, the next step has been extensive privatization. Incomes are no longer pooled; different jobs come with different pay scales; the common dining room, if it exists at all, hires crews from within or without and sells meals to those who wish to partake. There is talk in some kibbutzim of actually dividing up the assets among members -- a prospect that contributes to even more elitism: while in the past kibbutzim sought out additional members to contribute to their labor power and growth, in the current scenario, it would just mean smaller shares of the pie for current members. More isolated kibbutzim have not "evolved" this far, and even the least egalitarian ones can still be pleasant, cooperative places to live for those privileged enough to have a stake. In fact, the extreme devolution of the kibbutz leads to something a lot like the cohousing idea, I sometimes observe, with a lot of irony. The difference is that while kibbutzim once fancied themselves to be the vanguard of socialist revolution (boy were they naive!), cohousing here is not really setting out to confront the basic assumptions of American capitalism, except in some very subtle and utopian ways (sharing personal resources more effectively and using consensus, for instance). Compared to where we're coming from, cohousing can be a small step forward, while kibbutz, along with Stalinism, is one of the two worst things that ever happened to the Israeli movement for socialism. Ah, the importance of history and context. David Mandel, Southside Park Cohousing, Sacramento (also an Israeli citizen and veteran peace and justice activist over there; and yes, I've spent a year being a kibbutz farmer and shorter times at many other kibbutzim.)
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