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Author Topic: Political thought behind communes, kibbutzes (kibbutzim?) etc.
Michelle
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posted 11 February 2007 07:02 AM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Does anyone know what the political inspiration for communes and kibbutzes and that sort of collective living might be?

I'm curious because my mom and I got talking about communism and then about anarchy and then about communes and I was thinking maybe there was kind of an "anarchy" thing behind communes, where people self-organize in small communities and cooperate to get things done. Then we got thinking it might be about communism - sharing everything among the people in the community, to each according to hir needs, from each according to hir abilities, etc.

But then I got thinking about right-wing libertarians like David Koresh, where their "communes" become little dictatorships.

So anyhow, just wondered what people have to say about it. It came up mostly because we were discussing what "anarchy" means, and while I'm not an anarchist, I think my mom's ideas about what anarchy means to anarchists is incorrect. (She's thinking "every man for himself" and the absence of all laws, whereas from what I've heard, it's more about cooperation than individualism.)

So, um, is that an unclear enough first post? I guess that means there isn't much that could be considered thread drift, huh?


From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Tommy_Paine
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posted 11 February 2007 07:36 AM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Actually, this subject has been occupying my thoughts for some time.

Living collectively isn't something developed by Marx or Engles. We have examples of people living collectively all through history. In fact, hunter gatherer societies are just that. Monastaries in the middle ages were certainly collectives of a type. Sometimes highly successfull ones.

I don't think there's a political ispiration for them, I think they inspired political thoughts on the subject.

There are many different examples of people living in one form of cooperation or another. What's puzzling to me is why it doesn't dominate our economic system.

For example, one could run a democratic collective structured along the lines of corporations, and would fit in uncontentiously with our current system. I would think it would have obvious advantages for working people.


Thinking further on this, it would seem to me that in recorded history, examples of collective living have been from groups that are united not just for economics, but for spiritual reasons. It occurs to me, as I ramble here, that this may be a strength in uniting people to get such organizations off the ground, but it may in fact lead to their undoing in the end.

[ 11 February 2007: Message edited by: Tommy_Paine ]


From: The Alley, Behind Montgomery's Tavern | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
unionist
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posted 11 February 2007 07:44 AM      Profile for unionist     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
It's all sort of "utopian socialism", isn't it? I have to search the dusty nooks and crannies of my memory.

Robert Owen - "New Harmony" - utopian socialist commune.

As for the kibbutz, it originated with a late 19th century European political trend generally called "Labour Zionism". These were definitely not anarchists, and there was nothing anarchist about the kibbutz movement in Palestine so far as I know. They had no aim or desire to eliminate or supplant the state - their ideology was based on non-exploitation (i.e. no hired labour, DIY) and no accumulation of private capital.

One of my uncles was a member of Hashomer Hatzair (left Zionist organization) and emigrated to Palestine just before the War to found a kibbutz. Lucky for him. Our cousins told us they still had pictures of Stalin and Lenin up in the communal dining hall in the early 1950s.

ETA: Just noticed the part of your post about "spiritual reasons". Well, not on my uncle's kibbutz!! They were all atheists (or, if they weren't, they kept it to themselves!). They ate together, worked together, raised their kids in common (yeah, child care while parents worked in the fields). No time for superstition. The "spiritual" quality that united them was their brand of socialism I guess.

I think as Israel started going downhill in the 1950s - allying with colonial Britain and France, and then with the U.S., also dismantling some of the public institutions and allowing freer rein to the market - it became impossible for kibbutzim to maintain their autonomous economic isolation. But I don't know much about this phenomenon. I do think that economics can erode and destroy the noblest of intentions.

[ 11 February 2007: Message edited by: unionist ]


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Tommy_Paine
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posted 11 February 2007 09:07 AM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I would point out that religion has no monopoly on spirituality. I am an athiest, a sceptic, a person (admittedly fallible) who does his best to use reasoned thought. But I insist that I am also spiritual.

I would guess that Kibbutz' had the spiritual unification of the idea and furtherance of an independant Jewish state. It wouldn't surpise me, therefore, that there might have been and might still be Kibutz' that are made up of Othodox Jews, and some that are made up of athiest socialist Jews.

Maybe collectivism has always been attempted as a response to a crisis, and after that crisis is past, the purpose, and therefore the collective, disolves. At one point, self interest is self evidently connected to the group. After the crisis, it is less self evident, so we go our separate ways.


From: The Alley, Behind Montgomery's Tavern | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
unionist
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posted 11 February 2007 12:55 PM      Profile for unionist     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Tommy_Paine:
I would guess that Kibbutz' had the spiritual unification of the idea and furtherance of an independant Jewish state. It wouldn't surpise me, therefore, that there might have been and might still be Kibutz' that are made up of Othodox Jews, and some that are made up of athiest socialist Jews.

No, the kibbutz movement didn't promote or require a "Jewish state", independent or otherwise, for its realization.

As to whether there are faux kibbutzim made up of Orthodox Jews, that's possible - as an exception that proves the rule. The kibbutz ideology was anathema to that of the religious mainstream.

quote:
Kibbutzim, nearly all of which are secular, also have become less respected as Israel has become more religious. In the 1980s, kibbutzim were not allowed to participate in the absorption of Ethiopian Jews, as there were fears that the secularism of the kibbutzim would influence the religiosity of the Ethiopian immigrants.
emphasis added

Source.


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jeff house
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posted 11 February 2007 01:44 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
That is a good, and complex, question, Michelle.

I would say that each "commune" has its own originating ideology, although Christianity (or its secular equivalent, Marxism) commonly underpin it.

Certainly there is a long tradition in the US of communes, such as Oleanna (my favorite) and Brook Farm. Mostly, they relied on Christian ideas about loving one's neighbour.

This latter idea was important in the communes set up in the late sixties and early seventies.

In Israel, most of the Kibbutzim were founded by socialists and communists. People I know lived on communes established by Hashomer Hatzair, a left-scoialist group. Indeed, Stalin's support for the creation of Israel was influenced by the "socialist" nature of these communes.

In Spain, there certainly were a number of anarchist comunes, usually small villages which wanted to reject the influence of banks and railroads. They were anti-materialist. I am aware of one of them in which everyone threw his or her banknotes ito a big pile, and then they were burned.


From: toronto | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
jeff house
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posted 11 February 2007 01:50 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
PS. The Russian communes are a huge topic of themselves. Were they a shorter route to socialism? This was a question that split the Russian left in the 1870s and afterwards. Of course, Lenin thought they weren't.

One of Chernyshevsky's books discusses a "factory commune". It is called "What Is to be Done". Later, Lenin used that title for one of his books. Even leter, Zizek used it for his book:

"What is to be Done (With Lenin?)"


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robbie_dee
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posted 11 February 2007 06:00 PM      Profile for robbie_dee     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Tommy_Paine:
There are many different examples of people living in one form of cooperation or another. What's puzzling to me is why it doesn't dominate our economic system.

The main reason is access to capital. Cooperatives have trouble competing in a capitalist system because they must rely almost exclusively on the members' own resources for investment, or else borrow the money. It's hard for a group of workers to come up with the kind of money needed to finance an enterprise of any significant scale, particularly if they have to compete with conventionally organized corporate firms that are able to raise bundles more simply by selling shares on the open market.

There are exceptions, of course, particularly where you have relatively scarce, skilled workers who are able to organize themselves and demand that the money come to them, rather than the other way around. Workers in cooperatives also tend to be more productive than workers in conventional firms, because they obviously have a greater stake in the co-op's success. That can make up for some of the difference, but the co-ops are still always starving for financing. On the other hand, if a co-op does get off the ground and is successful, it can also become "too successful" where the value of the co-op shares becomes so high that the incumbent workers are tempted to sell out to corporate management. The incumbents get a healthy cheque and an opportunity to move on to other things, but for the next group of workers, its now the same old capitalist grind.


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Tommy_Paine
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posted 12 February 2007 02:03 PM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
A sincere thank you, Unionist for that link. That was an interesting history I was mostly unaware of, and it helps me quite a bit with my thoughts on this subject.

quote:
The main reason is access to capital.

Yes, that has occured to me, too, as a major stumbling block, as did this eventuallity you mentioned, robbie:

quote:
On the other hand, if a co-op does get off the ground and is successful, it can also become "too successful" where the value of the co-op shares becomes so high that the incumbent workers are tempted to sell out to corporate management.

There has to be something in the structure that prevents the latter, if one were contemplating such an enterprise. And I would think that avoiding borrowing might be advantageous too. I understand that Amish and Mennonite organizations don't borrow.

It could be I don't yet have the information, or it could be I don't have the brain for it, but it seems to me there must be some eloquent alternative to punching the clock for the man for working people.


From: The Alley, Behind Montgomery's Tavern | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
Michelle
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posted 12 February 2007 02:11 PM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
This is very interesting stuff. Thanks, folks, for responding. unionist, that's really neat, hearing about your uncle's affiliation with Hashomer Hatzair. I've never heard of that particular kibbutz before, but I went on a google spree yesterday and read lots of neat stuff.

I've occasionally thought it would be interesting to live in some sort of collective living arrangement, with communal food production, people watching out for each other's kids (and the kids feeling like they've got a whole community of adults to look up to instead of the more atomized nuclear family units).

I'm sure that I'm probably being very idealistic here - you don't have to think too long to imagine some of the dysfunctional communities that could happen. And how people organize, join the community, leave the community (or get expelled as would probably need to happen occasionally), and come to decisions would, I guess, depend on the political thought that underpins the community.


From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
unionist
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posted 12 February 2007 02:15 PM      Profile for unionist     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Michelle:
This is very interesting stuff. Thanks, folks, for responding. unionist, that's really neat, hearing about your uncle's affiliation with Hashomer Hatzair. I've never heard of that particular kibbutz before, but I went on a google spree yesterday and read lots of neat stuff.

I may have expressed it unclearly. Hashomer Hatzair is not the name of a kibbutz, but rather of a political organization which established several kibbutzim.


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Legless-Marine
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posted 12 February 2007 02:18 PM      Profile for Legless-Marine        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Michelle:
Does anyone know what the political inspiration for communes and kibbutzes and that sort of collective living might be?

Kibbutzes are tools of Zionist colonialism.


From: Calgary | Registered: Oct 2006  |  IP: Logged
unionist
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posted 12 February 2007 03:45 PM      Profile for unionist     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Legless-Marine:

Kibbutzes are tools of Zionist colonialism.


Really? Then I'm sure you could name a few in the Occupied Territories?


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jeff house
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posted 12 February 2007 04:57 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
And it is important to recall that China had a huge commune system at one time. I vividly recall
that one of the approved slogans in Mao's Little Red Book was :

"Urban communes are good!"

For a more nuanced view, check this out:

commune movement


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Legless-Marine
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posted 12 February 2007 05:27 PM      Profile for Legless-Marine        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by unionist:

Really? Then I'm sure you could name a few in the Occupied Territories?


It is fellatious to suggest that Kibbutzes have to be in the current Occupied Territories to be considered tools of Zionist colonialism.


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M. Spector
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posted 12 February 2007 05:31 PM      Profile for M. Spector   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Legless-Marine:
It is fellatious to suggest that Kibbutzes have to be in the current Occupied Territories to be considered tools of Zionist colonialism.
Yes, that is a phallusy if I ever heard one.

From: One millihelen: The amount of beauty required to launch one ship. | Registered: Feb 2005  |  IP: Logged
siren
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posted 12 February 2007 06:51 PM      Profile for siren     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by M. Spector:
Yes, that is a phallusy if I ever heard one

Are you saying that where they are erected is not important for their function (or dysfunction)?


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unionist
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posted 12 February 2007 07:00 PM      Profile for unionist     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The exposure of the kibbutz as a "tool" certainly pricks my conscience.
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Coyote
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posted 12 February 2007 10:29 PM      Profile for Coyote   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Legless-Marine:

Kibbutzes are tools of Zionist colonialism.


Ah. Nuance.


From: O for a good life, we just might have to weaken. | Registered: Jan 2004  |  IP: Logged
Erik Redburn
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posted 12 February 2007 10:46 PM      Profile for Erik Redburn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Ya, Really. Kibbutzim are an interesting study on anarchism in action actually, some problems over the years I heard but lots of original problem solving ideas too, lot like the Basque Mondragons. It's all the kibbitzing you got to watch out for...
From: Broke but not bent. | Registered: Feb 2004  |  IP: Logged

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