The Founding Myths of Israel: Nationalism, Socialism, and the Making of the Jewish State

By Zeev Sternhell; David Maisel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Democracy and Equality on Trial

THE HEGEMONY OF THE APPARATUS AND THE POVERTY
OF INTELLECTUAL LIFE

The comprehensive nature of the Histadrut inevitably influenced the parties associated with it. Mapai was founded in 1930 as a composite party, from both an ideological and a social point of view. Mapai's nationalist socialist outlook, the policy of class collaboration, and the principle of the primacy of the nation could be combined with revolutionary declarations, which BenGurion saw fit to make when he thought it necessary. Everyone realized that these declarations had no basis in reality, but they sometimes had a political usefulness. Thus, Ben-Gurion could say he was “committed to a policy of seeking a national coalition in Zionism and the Yishuv,” and that “without the national redemption that only such a union can bring about there would be no Jewish working class; nor would there be Jews who created a socialist revolution or a working society.” At the same time he could tell Hashomer Hatza'ir: “I am one of those who believe in the necessity of a revolution, and a revolution through force. In my opinion, the workers of Eretz Israel ought to have not only trade unions, agricultural enterprises, cooperative concerns, and cultural institutions but also military equipment and weapons of war, so that when the day comes, they can seize power and maintain it by force.” 1 This was said after years of collaboration with the middle classes, after continual attempts to destroy the independence of the labor system in education, after the crushing of Gdud Ha'avoda, and after persistently disregarding the decisions of the Histadrut with respect to “family wages.” In view of this deliberate inconsistency, one can hardly be surprised that the only qualification required for membership in Mapai was not ideological commitment but possession of a Histadrut membership card. Essentially, the party was made up of a hard core of Histadrut functionaries and of people from the collective settlements. The latter had an intellectual life of their own, sometimes quite independent of the party. In the cities, the Histadrut and the party provided employment and organizations that wielded considerable economic power. Thus, in difficult times, people came to them for assistance or intervention.

The weakest aspect of the labor movement had always been the intellectual side. The world of Mapai and the Histadrut was narrow and restricted;

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