Magazine article Dissent

A "Third Way" to Save the Kibbutz? / Gary Brenner and Jo-Ann Mort Reply

Magazine article Dissent

A "Third Way" to Save the Kibbutz? / Gary Brenner and Jo-Ann Mort Reply

Article excerpt

JO-ANN MORT and Gary Brenner present a kind of recipe for saving the Israeli kibbutzim from the existential-economic-demographic-ideological crisis they are undergoing ("Kibbutzim: Can They Survive the New Israel?", Dissent, Summer 2000). Their article is mainly a description and analysis of developments at one kibbutz, Hatzor, during the 1990s. The example of one out of 265 kibbutz communities is enlightening and illustrative, but of limited value.

The thesis of the article is that the traditional, egalitarian, democratic kibbutz cannot survive under contemporary economic conditions. The only way to save the kibbutz from the fate of past communal societies is to adjust to the new realities, choosing a "third way between collectivism and the market."

Hatzor's adjustment involved two reforms, both connected to changes that the kibbutz movement has been debating since the late 1980s.The first reform required a separation between the kibbutz community and its economic units. Market rules and hierarchical principles would be introduced in economic organizations, and many communal services would be privatized. But the designers of this reform still held that all material rewards should be distributed on an egalitarian basis. "Reform no. 1" in Hatzor was based on this concept. Over the years, various features of it were adopted in almost half the kibbutzim. The larger controversy in the kibbutz movement, however, concerns proposals for the non-equal distribution of economic rewards. Hatzor's "reform no. 2" is an example. In Hatzor today, members receive a "composite income." The market value of their work is one of its components; egalitarian and seniority rules also figure in its calculation. The first kibbutzim to introduce reforms of this sort decided that members' income would be based only on "market value," after internal taxes were deducted. These were kibbutzim younger and smaller than Hatzor. The kibbutz movements strongly opposed the introduction of a market value, nonegalitarian income. Hence, a number of compromise models were developed, chiefly in some of the multigeneration kibbutzim like Hatzor. In 1999, the fully nonegalitarian system existed in 10 percent of the kibbutzim, whereas in 12 percent the composite system was in use. Some kibbutzim set out with the composite system but then moved on to full non-equality. But the great majority maintain their original egalitarian principles, though the introduction of a form of nonegalitarian income is still an issue.

Since the Mort-Brenner thesis is that these reforms are necessary conditions for the economic success of the kibbutz, we would assume that the reformed kibbutzim are the most successful. But the evidence is to the contrary.

Recently, Dun & Bradstreet rated the economic performance of the leading 150 Israeli manufacturing corporations. Ten of these belong to kibbutzim, and in none of these ten have the nonegalitarian reforms been introduced; in some of them even "reform no. 1" has not yet been implemented. An interesting example is Kibbutz Hatzerim, the main owner of the corporation Netafim (the co-owners are two other kibbutzim). Netafim is a brand name for innovative irrigation equipment and drip systems. Annual sales are approximately $230 million; 89 percent of the products are exported. In Hatzerim the traditional egalitarian model is fully preserved. Successful kibbutzim like this one have made many adjustments but in a different direction. Many have developed new fields of economic activity-tourism, commerce, services, and so on. But their success is mainly related to changes in the strategy of their industrial plants. New products were developed and adapted to new markets; new technologies were introduced; joint ventures were initiated and sub-companies were set up abroad. In many plants-but neither in Hatzerim nor in several other successful kibbutzim- there was an increase in the number of hired workers. That is also a deviation from kibbutz values, but this trend might be reversible (it has been reversed in the past). …

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