Ends and Means: The Labor Ideology
and the Histadrut
The Histadrut, or the General Federation of Jewish Workers, was a unique phenomenon: an autonomous social, political, and economic institution unparalleled anywhere else in the free world. The Histadrut enjoyed full independence, as the colonial government did not interfere with its activities. The government of Palestine authorized it without difficulty to control the whole collective agricultural settlement, and the World Zionist Organization never succeeded in imposing its authority on it. Not even its control of public capital allowed the Zionist Organization to influence the use the Histadrut made of the money it collected. The Histadrut was not only a pure creation of the labor movement but was founded in ideal circumstances. The structure of the Histadrut, the type of relationships that existed within it, the principles by which it operated, and its order of priorities fully reflected the aims of the movement.
In comparison with other labor movements, the Jewish labor movement in Palestine enjoyed immense advantages. Not only did it not have to deal with hostile forces such as a landed aristocracy or a strong bourgeoisie that controlled the state and used its authority to protect its position, but it enjoyed the support of the political and economic institutions that the Zionist movement had set up. The labor movement did not have to uproot entrenched privileges as in England, resort to bloody strikes as in France and Italy, or confront the open hostility of the state as in Germany. Nor did it have to participate in a cultural conflict, which in Europe was often no less bitter than economic and political struggle. In this respect, Palestine—and later Israel—was a tabula rasa, and its geographical distance from Europe plus the general desire to put the diaspora behind only served to emphasize the new beginning.
However, the movement did not have at its disposal a specific working class. On the face of it, this might have been a weakness, but in reality it enabled the founding nucleus to turn the Histadrut into a body embracing all salaried workers in the country. The proletariat in Europe had experienced frustration and hatred due to ruthless exploitation during the industrialization and rapid modernization of the nineteenth century. But this