The philosophical outlook of Zionism as well as its early practical development in Ottoman Turkish times and under the British Mandate, cannot be understood without examining the history of Socialist and Labor Zionism. Even before the beginnings of Zionist settlement, Moses Hess, a former friend of Karl Marx, laid the foundations for secular and socialist Zionism in his book Rome and Jerusalem.Zionism Israel Isreal labor Zionist movement middle east socialist Zionism Marxist Zionism Kibbutz Zion Labor Israel different Zionism Zionist utopia Zionism Israel Isreal labor Zionist movemen; middle east socialist Zionism Marxist Zionism Kibbutz Zion Labor Israel different Zionism Zionist utopia
Zionists of the second wave of immigration, the second Aliya, who came to Palestine between about 1903 and 1914, were greatly influenced by socialist, anarchist and Tolstoyan ideology which abounded in their native Russia in that period. Ber Borochov and Nachman Syrkin became disillusioned with the program of Russian socialists, and founded the Poalei Tziyon (workers of Zion) socialist Zionist movement. Borochov synthesized Marxism and Zionism, by fitting the national struggle into the rubric of class struggle. His famous essay, National Question and the Class Struggle maintained that the nation was the best institution through which to conduct the class struggle. He maintained that Jews could participate in the revolutionary movement meaningfully only through a Jewish society controlling its own economic infrastructure, because real political power could not be gained without real economic power, based on the fundamental economic endeavors in capitalist society. Borochov believed that it was the newly rejuvenated Jewish proletariat, and not the elite leaders of Western Europe, who would be responsible for the Zionist revolution. He also noted the presence of Arabs in Palestine, but believed there would be no problem in integrating Arabs in the Jewish revolution.
Nachman Syrkin, leader of the American Poalei Tziyon, was not a Marxist. He was a voluntarist. He emphasized the importance in history of individuals and small minorities, rather than mass movements and the inevitable operation of economic forces. He also held a great many fashionable notions of European nationalism. He advocated socialism for moral reasons and represented a quite different current in Poalei Tziyon from Borochov, a current that in fact became the dominant one. He championed the ideas of building cooperative workers' settlements and the building of a "labor economy." Poalei Tziyon and a the Zionist movement evolved a "constructivist" strategy of building Jewish Palestine by collecting funds to finance institutions capable of organizing and settling significant numbers of immigrant workers. This would allow the creation of a workers' economy not based on capitalist. investment. Zionism Israel Isreal labor Zionist movement middle east socialist Zionism Marxist Zionism Kibbutz Zion Labor Israel different Zionism Zionist utopia Zionism Israel Isreal labor Zionist movemen; middle east socialist Zionism Marxist Zionism Kibbutz Zion Labor Israel different Zionism Zionist utopia
Joseph Trumpeldor, who later became a hero of the Zionist right, was an anarchist and disciple of Kropotkin. He declared, "I am an anarcho-communist and a Zionist." His program for a syndicalist network of socialist communities, formulated in 1908-1909, was reflected in the foundation of the first Kibbutz (commune) socialist settlements. ael Isreal labor Zionist movement middle east socialist Zionism Marxist Zionism Kibbutz Zion Labor Israel different Zionism Zionist utopia Zionism Israel Isreal labor Zionist movemen; middle east socialist Zionism Marxist Zionism Kibbutz Zion Labor Israel different Zionism Zionist utopia
Labor Zionists and Socialist Zionists held diverse opinions. Some were anarchists, some Marxists, some were probably closest to Tolstoy. Central ideas include:
Jews are socially inferior because they are landless and do not do
"productive" labor (in agriculture and basic industry).
Jewish "restoration" had to be brought about by changing the economic and
social reality of the Jewish people, because political power was rooted in the reality of economics and society.
Political solutions would be possible only when there were Jewish workers and Jewish farmers with the economic power to
The dream of Zionism, rebuilding the Jewish national home, could only be
implemented through the agency of the Jewish working class, a working class that would be reconstructed in the land of
Jewish life in the Diaspora (exile) could never be normal as long as Jews do not have their own homeland.
The idea that the Jewish proletariat would bring about the Zionist revolution was a unique contribution of Labor Zionism, and represented a revolution in the way that Jews thought about themselves. Herzl and other founders of Zionism looked for leadership and financing from rich Jews, and for backing from foreign potentates. In their views, the Rothschilds and the Montefiores and their friends would help to finance the transport of the Jews, as well as providing the funds and the financing needed to influence the Kaiser and the Ottoman Sultan. But the Kaiser and the Ottoman Sultan were indifferent. The rich Jews were quite willing to finance small scale charity projects, but they were not enthusiastic about the project of moving all the Jews to Palestine. The Jewish national fund could not raise funds for settlement from rich Jews, and so it devised the little charity boxes, which were placed in every Jewish home and place of business, and made it possible for the "little people" to finance the restoration of the Jewish people. Instead of a "restoration" from above, Labor Zionism brought about a Zionist revolution, a Jewish homeland created by the labor of the Jewish people. This revolution was at first all encompassing, so that a large part of the Zionist movement in Palestine was Labor Zionist. Not only the Israel Labor party, but the revisionists as well, have their roots in Labor Zionism, since the revisionist, Jabotinsky, was originally a socialist and a Labor Zionist.
In mainstream Jewish society, Labor Zionists and Socialist Zionists were outsiders in all senses. In addition to being workers, they were usually Jews from Eastern Europe, rather than the elite of Western Europe. Moreover, they were not religious Jews in the conventional sense. They often recognized and valued the traditions embodied in the Old Testament as well as facets of later Jewish religious philosophy, as part of the Jewish national heritage and in part, as a basis for their ideals. However, this agnostic or atheistic respect for Jewish tradition was hardly enough to endear them to the rabbinical establishment.
The Labor Zionist movement in Palestine can be said to have been born in 1905.It was formed by the first immigrants of the Second Aliya who were, for the most part, young socialists who fled the Tsarist police during the ferment of 1905, and especially following the Russo-Japanese war and the failed 1905 revolution. In all, there were about 550 Jewish workers in Palestine who might have identified themselves as such. Some of them tried to form a united organization, but they soon split into two groups: Hapoel Hatzair with 90 members, and Poalei Tziyon with 60 members. The former were non-Marxist socialists, followers of Nahman Syrkin and A.D. Gordon whose ideology will be discussed below. The latter were Marxist followers of Ber Borochov, described above. In the course of its development, the Labor Zionist movement was to unite, redivide and fragment itself many times. Fundamental issues that divided the early movement were adherence to Marxism and primacy of national or socialist ideals. In the USSR, the Poalei Tziyon were quickly dissolved, and many of their members were sent to Siberia or executed, weakening the Marxist faction. In an economy where industry hardly existed, and in a land where the main dangers were anopheles mosquitoes that carried malaria, the Turkish authorities and later the Arab marauders and the British, the issues of Marxist class struggle hardly seemed relevant. True, working conditions were harsh, but the government was not run by the Jews and revolution against Jewish capitalists, if there were any, was pointless. These men and women had volunteered to live in these harsh conditions, and could not do much if they were paid poorly by the Jewish plantation owners. The latter had to struggle to make a living themselves, and any strikes could be broken by use of Arab labor, which was generally cheaper than Jewish labor and not amenable to organization. As the struggle between the Jewish Yishuv on the one hand, and the Arabs, and British on the other intensified against the background of Nazi persecution in Europe, the urgent threat to life and limb came on the front of national struggle rather than class struggle. Not surprisingly, the national, Zionist aspects of the ideology took progressively greater precedence over the socialist aspects. Some dissatisfied Poalei Tziyon socialists returned to the USSR, where they were eventually sent to Siberia by the Stalinist regime. (Laqueur, A History of Zionism, New York, Schocken, 2003, p. 277 ff).
Zionism Israel Isreal labor Zionist movement middle east socialist Zionism Marxist Zionism Kibbutz Zion Labor Israel different Zionism Zionist utopia
A.D. Gordon, an early member of the Hibat Tziyon (love of Zion) movement was an enthusiast of Tolstoyan philosophy, particularly its emphasis on the dignity of labor and the importance of nature. Gordon came to live in Palestine, founded the Hapoel Hatzair (young worker) movement and worked at the first Kibbutz, Degania, founded in 1909.
Beginnings of Labor Zionism in Israel: Fourth meeting of the Hapoel Hatzair movement, about 1909. David Ben Gurion is possibly in this photo, first at the left in the second row from the bottom. If you can identify people in this photo, please write to us.Zionism Israel Isreal labor Zionist movement middle east socialist Zionism Marxist Zionism Kibbutz Zion Labor Israel different Zionism Zionist utopia
Zionism Israel Isreal labor Zionist movemen; middle east socialist Zionism Marxist Zionism Kibbutz Zion Labor Israel different Zionism Zionist utopia
Unlike Poalei Tziyon, Hapoel Hatzair was not Marxist and rejected the class struggle as harmful to the Zionist cause. Gordon's philosophy, together with that of Ber Borochov, embodies the major tenets of the strain of Zionism that created Israel and that dominated the Zionist movement and Israeli politics for many years. m Israel Isreal labor Zionist movement middle east socialist Zionism Marxist Zionism Kibbutz Zion Labor Israel different Zionism Zionist uto
As important as the ideas was the devotion to implementing them and the pragmatic approach to solving the seemingly insurmountable problems facing early Zionists. Unlike Borochov and other ideologues who spent their lives publicizing their Zionist ideas abroad, Gordon came to Palestine, and though he was already 47 years old when he arrived, he insisted on engaging in physical labor and enduring the rigors of life in the early settlements. m Israel Isreal labor Zionist movement middle east socialist Zionism Marxist Zionism Kibbutz Zion Labor Israel different Zionism Zionist uto
Berl Katzenelson (also Katznelson, Katzanelson) was one of the pivotal theorists of Socialist and Labor Zionism. Unlike Borochov, he was able to emigrate to Palestine and therefore his ideas reflect Socialist Zionism in practice. The essence of Socialist Zionism, according to Katzenelson, was the realization that Marxist analysis did not take into account the Jewish problem or offer a solution for it: This is consistent with the writings of Borochov and early Zionist socialists. Borochov elaborated his ideology into a theory of how nationalism, national development and local circumstances affect socialism. He had pointed out a weakness in the internationalist doctrine of Marxism that became glaringly evident in World War I, when nationalist particularism triumphed over "class solidarity" and most of the working class movements in each country supported the war, particularly in Germany.
Katzenelson however, also lived beyond that era, and saw the crushing of Zionism and Poalei Tziyon by the Bolsheviks, and the evils of Stalinist dictatorship. He wrote that the realization of the failure of socialist doctrine to solve the Jewish question led to a wholly different formulation. According to him, socialist Zionist theorists, said, in effect to the Bolsheviks, “If you cannot grasp our problem, this is a sign that there are many other matters which have escaped you." This produced a radical revision of ideology, which rejected both dogmatic Marxism and the dictates of what he called the "Paris Couturier." The ideas of Socialist and Labor Zionism were always out of fashion in intellectual circles and never "politically correct. Thus, Katznelson wrote:
At that period, on the threshold of the twentieth century, European Socialism conceived the existence of a placid, idyllic life, and its thinking - confident and optimistic - was established by venerable “disciples" who pursued the ways that had been set for them. The Jewish intellectual enthusiastically accepted everything put out by the apostles of Karl Kautsky and Georgi Plekhanov, in the same way as the provincial city blindly follows the dictates of fashion. Somewhere in Paris, the arbiter of fashion cuts, sews and controls the market. In intellectual life, too, many are bound to this "Paris Couturier" and those who do not follow the intellectual fashion are regarded as being "queer", like somebody from another planet. In those days Socialist Zionism undertook to work intensively. It was as if these ‘unruly’ impudent pupils, Syrkin, Zytlovsky, Borochov, and their colleagues said to the dictators of Socialism: - “If you cannot grasp our problem, this is a sign that there are many other matters which have escaped you." With assimilation -"emancipation in the Exile" - as a point of departure, Socialist Zionist thinking was spurred on to a criticism of the values of actual Socialism. Opinions prevailing on the interpretation of nationalism and the nationalist movements, the agrarian question, the small farmer, cooperation, the migration of peoples, the settlement of lands, the poor grasp of what was exactly involved in the task of the pioneering avant-garde Socialist worker, the lack of orientation towards the obligations of personal commitment - all these issues, even then, engaged and perturbed Zionist Socialist thinking and forced it to charter its own course.
It is probably fair to say that Katzenelson provided the ideological rationale for the transformation of Socialist Zionism into Labor Zionism.
Labor Zionism, which embodied, even at that early date, the vanguard of Palestinian Zionism, initially built its practical ideology around three "conquest" slogans which sounded very militaristic: Conquest of Guard work (Kibbush Hashmira), Conquest of Labor (Kibbush Ha'avoda) and Conquest of the (agricultural) Land - Kibbush Hakarkah. Many years later, Ben Gurion was to add a fourth, less successful slogan, "Kibbush Hashmamah," Conquest of the Wilderness - referring to population of the Negev.
Conquest of quarding (Kibbush Hashmira) referred to taking over the task of guarding Jewish settlements from Arab guards. The practical problem was that Arab guards did not always provide security, either because they colluded with family and friends to allow pilfering, or because their own enemies attacked settlements in order to embarrass them and take revenge. The ideological motive was self-sufficiency. For this task, the Hashomer group was organized. The carrying of weapons by Jews was controversial.
Conquest of the land (Kibbush Haqarqa) meant purchase, reclamation and settlement of lands, and also variously, settlement of the land by workers in an initial phase and its reclamation. The land purchases were done by the ICA and the Zionist organization. However, the land was often swampy, malaria infested uninhabitable and unsuitable for agriculture. Clearing rocks, setting up houses and draining swamps was difficult work carried out by the Halutzim (pioneers) of the second and third Aliya.
Conquest of Labor (Kibbush Ha'avoda) was central to both Poalei Tziyon and Achdut Ha'avoda. Poalei Tziyon's party periodical carried the slogan, "The necessary condition for the realization of Zionism is the conquest of all occupations in the country by Jewish Labor. In its ideological meaning, "conquest of labor" referred to return of Jews to productive labor. While Jews could not be a normal nation without blacksmiths and milkmen and tinsmiths and construction workers, the most urgent emphasis was placed on agricultural labor. In its practical meaning, conquest of labor referred in particular to finding work places for inexperienced Jewish workers who could not compete in the plantations sponsored by the Baron Rothschild. The specter of Jews becoming colonial landowners and exploiters of natives was anathema to the labor movement. Clearly, it would never be possible to build a Jewish proletariat and peasantry on this basis. As Ben Gurion told Musa Alami in 1934:
“We do not want to create a situation like that which exists in South Africa, where the whites are the owners and rulers, and the blacks are the workers. If we do not do all kinds of work, easy and hard, skilled and unskilled, if we become merely landlords, then this will not be our homeland” (David Ben-Gurion to Palestinian nationalist Musa Alami 1934), quoted in Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs: From Peace to War, London: Oxford University Press, 1985, p. 140).
The martial ring of these slogans is misleading, as no violence was envisioned or intended by the people who used them.
The idea of the 'conquest of labour' was central to Hapoel Hatzair policy.: it was imperative to increase the number of Jewish workers as much and as quickly as possible and to improve their working and living conditions. It was absolutely essential, furthermore, for the new immigrants to gain a firm foothold in agriculture. The parasitims of Jewish existence in the diaspora had shocked them into embracing Zionism and they feared that any backsliding, any compromise in this respect, would fatally affect the future of the Jewish national renaissance. Yet the 'conquest of labor as they interpreted it was not meant to harm anyone. It is difficult to imagine men and women less warlike than A. D. Gordon, Yosef Aronowitz, Yosef Sprinzak and the other leaders of Hapoel Hatzair. Unlike the Poale Zion, they refused to participate in the foundation of Hashomer, the defense organization, because it smacked, however, faintly, of militarism. (Walter Laqueur, A History of Zionism, New York, Schocken, 2003, p 285)
By accident or deliberately, the "conquest" slogans are today often used out of context to argue that the Labor Zionist movement was trying to conquer the land by force and dispossess Arabs. That was not the case. It seemed logical and fair, that if Arabs hired Arab watchmen, Jews would hire Jewish watchmen, and if Arabs hired Arabs to pick oranges, Jews should hire Jews. Likewise, the task of subjugating the mostly barren lands they had purchased seemed to be essential if the Jews were to create a successful community in Palestine. As the lands that were "conquered" were often not cultivated and could not be cultivated without much preparation, and the inhabitants received compensation that would enable them to purchase other land, there did not seem to be any "actual dispossession."
The slogans were used by sides in different debates that took place within the Zionist movement and took on new meanings. "Conquest of the land" was used by some of the early Degania settlers to justify their idea that they would settle in to a newly purchased area, prepare it for agriculture and remain there for a year to "conquer" it, and then move on, giving way to permanent settlers. In the early days, "Conquest of Labor" referred exclusively to becoming agricultural workers in the plantations underwritten by the Baron Rothschild, and conquest of the land referred to settlements run by workers. Thus, in a dispute with Joseph Vitkin (or Witkin), Joseph Ahronowitz, who opposed the idea of independent workers' settlements, insisted that "conquest of labor" was more important than "conquest of the land." (Laqueur, A History of Zionism, New York, Schocken, 2003, p. 287).
Though by the 1930s there was a large and growing Jewish working class in Palestine, there were still sizeable numbers of Arab workers in Jewish owned industries and especially in agriculture. Overall, about 14% of the labor force employed in Jewish enterprises was Arab. "Conquest of Labor" was an accomplished fact and not a real issue any more. However, the Arabs themselves accomplished the segregation of Jewish industries in the 1930s. The general strike that was begun during the Arab Revolt suddenly removed Arab labor from Jewish industries. Even when the strike ended, Arabs would not come back to work for Jews in any reliable way, even when they were wanted. The polarization produced by the Arab revolt ended dramatically reduced Arab participation in Jewish industries and agriculture, but it did not end it.
Conditions in the time of the Turks were incredibly harsh, and the immigrants found it difficult to adapt to them. The Arabs would not hire them. Industrial production did not exist. Jewish farmers and plantation owners preferred Arab labor, as Arab workers were cheaper, experienced in agriculture and inured to the hardships of hard work and the difficult climate. Therefore, beyond the fancy slogans, there developed an urgent problem. The workers of the workers' movement had no work to conquer, and the Zionist movement had no trained "troops" to "conquer" the land. Groups of workers were sent to farm land, under the supervision of an overseer. But the workers often quarreled with the overseer, as at Kinneret. Eventually, an experiment was tried. At the request of the workers, and in particular on the initiative of Manya Shochat. they were allowed to organize their own commune and take possession of land near Sejera, called Degania. Though pioneers like Manya Shochat and others chose the kibbutz form of organization for ideological reasons, Kibbutz Degania, the first kibbutz, became a model for settlement of Palestine, not because of ideological correctness, but because it worked. It provided a way for the Zionist movement to settle young people on the land, and to ensure that the settlement would have continuity and would not fall apart. This was true of the kibbutz movement and of the Hashomer organization, the organization of Jewish guards that prevented raids on Jewish settlements. The spread of Labor Zionism and Labor ZIonist ideology was not confined to kibbutzim and self defense. It was also true both of the general ideology of conquest of labor and return to the soil, which became the mainstay of Zionist aspirations in Palestine and of the specific, controversial project to exclude Arab workers from Jewish plantations. (see also the larger discussion of conquest of labor and the Arab issue here). Zion
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A third innovation that enabled conquest of labor was the Moshav. The Moshav was the brainchild of Joseph Vitkin, who suggested in his 1913 essay, Conquest of the Land and Conquest of Labor (here - in Hebrew) that workers should be settled in cooperative villages that would provide them some support, rather than trying their luck as individuals. This would, he argued, do away with the need for agronomists and overseers who were in short supply and whose interference was resented. One after another, the workers' movements provided adaptive, pragmatic, creative solutions that made it possible to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Each initiative began with the workers movement and was eventually adopted by the entire Palestine Jewish community and then by the World Zionist movement. By the last years of Ottoman rule, Poalei Tziyon, Hapoel Hatzair and some smaller socialist factions more or less dominated organized Zionist activity in Palestine, though they still did not control the much larger Zionist movement abroad. In the coming years, they would leverage on these early beginnings to form kibbutz-based underground defense forces, to found a labor union and a health insurance scheme, all of which would ensure the centrality of the Labor Zionist movement to the Palestinian community and to Zionism.
|Labor Zionism in practice: Kibbutz Degania, 1910.|
The ideology of Labor Zionism became the ideology of Zionism in Palestine and the organization of Labor Zionism became to a large extent increasingly identical with the organization of Zionism in Palestine, simply because it worked. With time, Zionism in Palestine became, for all practical purposes identical with the Jewish community in Palestine, and the projects of Labor Zionism became to a greater or lesser degree the projects of the entire community, socialist or otherwise. ism Israel Isreal labor Zionist movement middle east socialist Zionism Marxist Zionism Kibbutz Zion Labor Israel different Zionism Zionist uto
David Ben-Gurion, though a member of Poalei Tziyon, was an admirer of Gordon's philosophy, and as he lived in Palestine, he was more preoccupied with solving the practical problems of Zionist settlement than with the socialist polemics and ideological shadings that characterized the writings of Ber Borochov.
Beginning in the 1920s, David Ben-Gurion successfully merged the majority factions of the different Labor Zionist and socialist groups to form Achdut Avoda and later the MAPAI (Mifleget Poalei Eretz Israel - Party of the workers of the Land of Israel) party. Since then, the different factions of the labor-Zionist movement split, recombined and re-split in complicated ways, over issues such as the bi-national state idea and support or lack of it for the Soviet Union. However, the heart of the movement remained a moderate, non-Marxist and non-doctrinaire labor party. Ben-Gurion and others created the larger Labor-Zionist apparatus that was the nucleus of the unofficial and unrecognized Jewish state, operating through the Zionist executive and the Histadrut labor union to provide education, health care, social services and the nucleus of a defense force. At first, the Histadrut and kibbutz collective farms took the lead, as they were the local base of power.
The Kibbutzim, founded as a practical means of implementing Zionist settlement, became the backbone of the Zionist "state in the making" and the recruiting grounds of the Haganah and Palmach underground defense forces. As a self-contained agricultural cooperative community, the kibbutz was well suited to developing and defending wilderness areas, hiding arms caches from the British and training future leaders. The kibbutzim also received a great deal of attention as social experiments. They remain the only large scale example of supposedly classless socialist syndicalist communities, though the principles of kibbutz living have drifted away from the stringent early socialist ideals. Another institution of "classical Zionism" created by the socialist Zionist movement was the G'dud Ha'avodah, the Labor Battalion, which settled kibbutzim, drained swamps and paved roads in the 1920s, helping to create the first infrastructure of the Jewish national home. The G'dud Ha'avodah was controversial. It clashed with the goal of producing a settled, regular proletariat and "peasantry." Ben Gurion opposed it because the nomadic nature of its activities prevented land settlement.
Throughout the twenties however, the Zionist movement remained in the hands of traditional, general Zionist leaders, not necessarily socialist, and was run from abroad. The Labor Zionist movement sought to change this situation. Ben Gurion's leadership and philosophy were embodied in the slogan "From class to nation," a title of an essay collection he published in the 1930s. On the one hand, this meant that as the international proletariat would become the human race in the socialist vision, the Jewish proletariat of Palestine would become the Jewish nation. On the other hand, it meant that Ben Gurion and the Labor Zionist movement would subordinate class questions to the national struggle.
By 1935, Ben-Gurion had moved from the Histadrut to the Jewish Agency. The workers of the Zionist Yishuv had taken over the leadership of the Zionist movement from the philanthropists and community leaders of the European Jewish communities. Labor Zionism and Socialist Zionism, through the kibbutzim and the resistance movements, and through control of the Zionist executive, were now to play a crucial role in the struggle against the British, the struggle against Fascism, the diplomatic maneuverings required to bring about the creation of a Jewish state, and the defense of that state. The heads of the Labor Zionist movement - Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Sharrett and others came to represent Zionism to the Jews of the Diaspora and to the world. They made every crucial decision on the road to statehood, and were in large part responsible for every success and every failure.
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Labor Zionism played the central role in the creation of the state of Israel and remained the backbone of the state during its initial period. The Haganah and the Palmach that had been the underground armies of the Jewish community were absorbed into the IDF. The armies were dismantled, but the officers of the IDF were the same people who had been officers in the Haganah and the Palmach. The Histadrut Labor Union and its enterprises literally built most of Israel especially in the earlier years. The imprint of the Histadrut construction company, Solel Boneh was proudly borne on every project from new immigrant towns in Dimona to churches in Nazereth. In particular, the Kibbutz movement played a key role in defense of the country in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 and thereafter, in industry and in politics. Though the kibbutz’s primary task was settlement, in the 1950s a quarter of the Knesset members from the parties of the Labor movement were kibbutz members. Numerous politicians and military leaders were scions of the Kibbutz movement including Moshe Dayan. Of Israel’s eight prime ministers, four had been kibbutz members, including Ehud Barak. A quarter of the officer corps of the IDF in 1967 were Kibbutz members, though the population of the kibbutzim never exceeded 5% of the population of Israel. In 1967, Kibbutzim were still producing a quarter of the industrial output of Israel.
However, the Labor Zionist movement, which created a state and a revolution in the Jewish people, failed to adapt to changing conditions, even though some of those changes were its own doing. While the dissolution of the Haganah and Palmach were an inevitable result of the formation of the state, the dissolution of the Labor Amal education was not, especially since a national religious education system was allowed to exist alongside the secular education system, and the ultraorthodox Jews were allowed to have their own schools. Without an educational network, a major tool to prepare the future cadres of labor Zionism was lost. As Israeli society became increasingly affluent, and as Zionism lost the urgency of its early years, the simple joys and ideological dedication of the the youth scouting movements such as Hashomer Hatzair lost their appeal as well.
In a democratic country, no founding party stays in power indefinitely. It was perhaps inevitable that Labor Zionism should lose the reins of government in 1977, and that the once magnificent institutions it had built to support the birth of the state should fall into disrepair.
Critics of Labor Zionism point to its faulty social outlook and its decaying institutions as the reasons for its downfall. However an equally important factor was the change in Israeli society that swept the country country after the Six day war. When it became apparent that a confrontation with Arab nationalism was inevitable, Socialist Zionists and Labor Zionists had split into a diversity of camps. Some groups insisted on working for coexistence in a single state as a matter of principle. Some groups, notably the Mapam party, advocated a binational state. The Labor party (Mapai), which represented the center, ultimately backed partition and a Jewish state, while some elements of the "Labor Zionist" movement advocated "voluntary" transfer of Arabs out of Palestine and even more extreme positions. However, the majority of the Labor Zionist movement, the mainstream of Labor Zionism, were committed to a pragmatic approach to coexistence with Israel's Arab neighbors. The Israel that Labor Zionism created won the Six Day War. The heroes of the Six Day War were all scions of Labor Zionism, and many of the generals were born on kibbutzim. The new reality of the occupation however, created a split in Israeli society.
The inclusion of right-wing leader Menachem Begin in the government during the Six Day War legitimized Zionist Revisionism, hitherto anathematized as reactionaries and terrorists. The victory brought to the fore currents of messianic Judaism and raised the political fortunes of those intent on conquering and holding the occupied territories. The settlement movement and its religious-nationalistic philosophy were not compatible with the secular universalist message and platform of Labor Zionism. The Labor party was split on this issue, and was not forward in settling the newly conquered areas. Many Labor Zionist leaders voiced principled opposition to the settlement program. A few, such as Ariel Sharon, broke with the Labor party.
The surprise and trauma of the Yom Kippur War discredited Labor party leadership and paved the way for the downfall of the Labor government. It is questionable whether the philosophy and government that replaced Labor Zionism in Israel was better for working class interests and for Zionism. To a great extent, in the past two decades, the political fortunes of Labor Zionism in Israel have been linked to the peace process with the Palestinians. As the peace process has not gone well, the fortunes of Labor Zionism have suffered. The Likud government that replaced the Labor party speeded the decline of Labor institutions like the Histadrut and the Kibbutz, which had been the backbone of the Labor Zionist "state within a state" and embodied the hope of moving from a class to a nation. The percentage of Kibbutz members in Israeli society declined, and the leadership of Kibbutz members in the army and government was replaced by members of the religious settlers movement and others.
The decline of Labor Zionism in Israel may be attributed to a number of factors.
As noted, the Yom Kippur war discredited the labor Zionist leadership and allowed the opposition to take power, but the "mahapach" (upset - a term coined by Israeli newscaster Hayyim Yavin on the evening of the elections in 1977 that brought about the downfall of labor) reflected deep social ferment in Israel. The leadership and cadres of the Labor party were mostly European Jews, nurtured on Eastern European socialist ideals. As "founding fathers" they rapidly found themselves in the upper and middle classes of the successful state they had created. The Jewish proletariat that replaced them in large numbers came from Jewish immigrants forced to flee Arab and Muslim lands. To them, the secular and socialist ideology of the Europeans was anathema. The were largely excluded, and excluded themselves from the labor parties and the kibbutzim. Many found that they were employees of these labor Zionists in kibbutzim and Histadrut factories. The next great wave of immigration came from the former USSR. These newcomers as well were not, for obvious reasons, particularly enamored of socialist ideology and life in the "Kolkhoz" collective farm. As the labor party members became entrenched in leadership positions in industry and academia, they moved further and further away from social concerns and ceased, effectively, to represent the workers. The Israeli right, paradoxically, was able to use the disenchantment of new immigrants with the establishment to recruit them to its own ranks.
The Kibbutzim failed, for the most part, to project their ideals on Israeli society at large, and were viewed as an elite that was contemptuous of workers rather than supporting them. This view was aided and abetted actively by propaganda of "liberal" and right-wing political parties. These ignored the fact that Kibbutzim shouldered a disproportionate share of the defense burden, as well as producing a disproportionate percentage of Israeli industrial output. In 1967, with much less than 5% of Israeli population, Kibbutzim accounted for about a quarter of Israeli industrial output and about a quarter of the officers of the IDF. Nonetheless, right-wing parties insisted that tax laws and subsidies were giving Kibbutzim a free ride. In fact, similar subsidies were given to all agricultural enterprises, and when policies were changed, Israeli agriculture suffered severe set backs across the board.
The Zionist movement and in particular the Labor Zionist movement, had expended great effort on conversion of Jews to farming and "productive" industrial labor - that is, work in factories - "conquest of labor" and "conquest of the land." However, Israel was too small to support large scale industrial resources and too poor in resources and manpower to be competitive in the world market. Steel, coal, oil and other goods had to be imported. Large scale industries were impractical. A machine used for the manufacture of lipstick tubes in another country could be run for a single day in Israel and produce a supply sufficient for an entire year. To protect Israeli industry from foreign competition, the labor governments had adopted numerous artificial currency support measures, subsidies and tariffs. Critics claimed these lowered the standard of living and stifled the economy. While Jews were busy returning to the land, farmers all over the world were busy fleeing the farms to the cities. When Zionism began, more than 80% of the population of typical countries were farmers. By the end of the twentieth century less than 10% of the population of developed countries engaged in farming. Manual labor was being replaced by robots in advanced countries, and was being outsourced to poorer countries. Instead of the Jews becoming like the proletarians of 19th century Germany, Britain and the United States, increasingly, the populations of the leading countries were adopting the sort of professional, skilled occupations that been the mainstays of Western European Jews. The most profitable industries in Israel and elsewhere turned out to be hi-tech communications and software concerns, where skills and ingenuity mattered more than manpower. Increasingly, the new "proletarians" have degrees in electrical engineering, chemistry and bioinformatics.
"Conquest of labor" did not create a classical 19th century Marxist class-conscious Jewish proletariat, as existed at the time in European countries. but this would have been pointless. The economy based on workers and peasants is fast vanishing from all post-industrial societies. Improbable as it seemed at the time, "conquest of labor" did produce Jewish farmers, truck drivers, and auto-mechanics and Jews who worked in every other regular industrial trade, in a nation with Jewish-owned industries. To that extent, the "normalization" of the Jewish people was accomplished. However, while the Jewish people had begun to return to the land and to work in heavy industry, the rest of the world moved in the opposite direction. In industrial countries, only a tiny proportion of the populace makes a living from agriculture, and in post-industrial economies, services and information industries predominate over the hammer and anvil factories of classical Marxist economies. The Israeli economy moved with the world, especially since agriculture could never be fully competitive in a land with scarce water and arable land resources. Since Israel had to be a working model of a modern state rather than a blueprint of a 19th century industrial economy, economic facts rendered many facets of the old ideologies obsolete. The old slogans and the old ideologies were irrelevant, but nothing was offered to replace them. Zion
Likewise, it became increasingly difficult to keep people on Kibbutzim. Economic difficulties caused by the policies of an unfriendly government, the lure of the surrounding affluent society, the decline of Israeli agriculture and disillusion with socialism all play a role in the increasing trend to privatization on Kibbutzim and to their dissolution.
A major failure of Labor Zionism was that in its disgust with the occupation, a large portion of the potential ideological leadership of the movement abrogated the central national leadership role that Ben Gurion and his followers had built over the years. The right called themselves themselves the "National Camp" and the left meekly acquiesced and allowed itself to be labeled "peace camp." By taking the role of opposition and focusing on the issue of settlements, the Israeli left and the left wing of the labor movement, disqualified itself from national leadership, because it did not offer a coherent alternative national vision. The result was the opposite of what was intended. In the absence of a real alternative, Zionism was redefined by religious Zionists and their non-Zionist supporters and right wing secular allies to be preoccupation with settlement in the West Bank and Gaza, and these settlers were crowned as the "new pioneers."
Another important factor was that the Soviet Union, throughout most of its existence, was opposed to Zionism. Members of Poalei Tziyon who returned to Soviet Russia perished in Stalin's camps. In the 60s, the Soviets launched an anti-Semitic "Zionology" campaign, and supported the Arab enemies of the Jewish state consistently. Trotskyites were anti-Zionist with equal vehemence. This did not make socialist ideas popular among the Zionist Jews of Palestine and Israel. Finally, the USSR collapsed, leaving those factions of the Labor and Socialist Zionist movements that had supported the USSR, and some of whom had in fact been doctrinaire Stalinists, deeply embarrassed. Leftist movements became increasingly antagonistic to Zionism, and this did not make progressive politics more popular in Israel.
Nonetheless, the Labor-Zionist movement continued to play an important role as the conscience of Israel. During the 1982 "Peace for the Galilee" war in Lebanon, Labor Zionism was instrumental in organizing the big demonstration against the war and the massacre in Sabra and Shatila. The Labor party returned to power in 1992 to initiate the Oslo peace process and again in 1999, under Ehud Barak, Labor governments tried to advance the peace process. However, it is debatable whether the technocratic outlook of those governments was really consistent with Labor Zionist ideology.
The Kibbutz movement is still active in social causes. Kibbutzim organized relief for Turkish earthquake victims, and homes for Muslim refugees from Kosovo and refugees from Arab persecution in Darfur. Kibbutz members aided Palestinians in the harvest and tried to protect them from settlers who were destroying their trees and crops.
Many of the problematic issues, and the situation of the Labor Zionist movement, were illustrated in the life and writings of Yitzhak Ben-Aharon. Ben Aharon had warned in 1963 that Labor Zionism needed to unite and reform or face oblivion. His call went largely unheeded. After the Six day war he insisted that the occupation of the West Bank was wrong and called for unilateral Israeli withdrawal. He earned the ire of Labor party politicians by pointing out that the government as an employer was exploiting workers in the same way as management. Labor party leaders did their best to ignore Ben Aharon's critique and to treat him as an honored but outdated elder of the party. When he died in 2006, it was evident to many that the downfall of Labor Zionism was due in part to the problems that Ben Aharon had pointed out.
Another factor that has worked against Labor Zionism in recent years has been the increasingly virulent anti-Zionism of international "left" movements. Traditional Marxist opposition to Zionism has been joined by anger at the occupation, which became identified with Zionism in the minds of many. Conversely, the "left" has become identified in the minds of many as "enemies of Israel." Thus, in Israel and among many Zionists abroad, it is difficult to gain acceptance for progressive Zionist ideology and programs. Labor Zionism thus finds itself somewhat isolated both from mainstream Zionism and from the international labor movement.
Within Israel, disgust with the occupation produced the so-called Post Zionist movement, which sought to discredit Zionism and did not spare the Labor Zionist movement as well. The slogans of "conquest of labor" and "conquest of the land" were portrayed by Post-Zionists as if they were intended to be taken literally, and quotes that arose out of various disputes within the Labor Zionist movement, in an entirely different context are used selectively to discredit Labor Zionism as a form of reactionary colonialism. For example, Ze'ev Sternhell (The founding myths of Israel, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998.) quotes Ben Gurion as saying in 1922:
[...] The possibility of conquering the land is liable to slip out of our grasp. Our central problem is immigration ... and not adapting our lives to this or that doctrine. [...] We are conquerers of the land facing an iron wall, and we have to break through it. [...] How can we run our Zionist movement in such a way that [... we] will be able to carry out the conquest of the land by the Jewish worker, and which will find the resources to organise the massive immigration and settlement of workers through their own capabilities? The creation of a new Zionist movement, a Zionist movement of workers, is the first prerequisite for the fulfillment of Zionism. [...] Without [such] a new Zionist movement that is entirely at our disposal, there is no future or hope for our activities.
Socialists may view the above quote as a "sell-out" of socialism to nationalism, and anti-Zionists may view it as foretelling the expulsion of the Arabs of Palestine. Neither view is quite justified. It is easy to read back the events of five decades later into the speech of 1922, but it is not accurate. Labor Zionist policy in 1922 reflected the ideas of a tiny band of people living in a land that did not belong to them, under foreign rule, and who constituted a minority faction in a national movement that was itself struggling for existence, in a tiny and impoverished country. Ben Gurion of 1922 did not command any armies with which to "conquer" anyone and did not decide the course of Zionism, which was determined in Berlin and Paris and London by magnates and traditional leaders. The Labor Zionist movement of 1922 could not foresee the Arab revolt, the Holocaust, Stalinism, the foundation of the Jewish state, the series of wars that followed or the failure of socialism in the USSR. The subsequent history and policies of the Labor Zionist movement were the result of the immense world-wide cataclysms of the twentieth century in which tens of millions of people perished, empires rose and fell and a third of the Jewish people were wiped out. Ben Gurion may have been far-seeing, but he could no more foresee all these changes then he could have predicted the invention of atom bombs or computers in 1922.
"Conquest of the land" conjures up militaristic images. As we have seen, this slogan did not have an aggressive intent, and the idea was certainly far from the minds of Ben Gurion and his listeners in 1922. The key phrase in this speech is "The creation of a new Zionist movement, a Zionist movement of workers, is the first prerequisite for the fulfillment of Zionism." The problem that Ben Gurion saw, was how to realize the dream of Borochov and others, to accomplish the Zionist revolution from below, by the agency of a Jewish proletariat that was then virtually non-existent. With no workers, there could be no real workers movement, and with no Jewish country, there was no point to a national Jewish workers movement. In 1922, the Zionist movement had realized an important goal, the creation of the British Mandate which was to foster Jewish immigration. But the Jewish immigrants were noticeably absent. Likewise, the Jewish financiers and philanthropists who were to have aided the movement were reluctant to invest in Palestine. The idea that a movement of Jewish workers would "settle the land through their own capabilities" was the alternative that Ben-Gurion proposed, and it was the only reasonable alternative. The alternative proposed by Marxists was that Jews should simply stay in their own countries and fight for equality within their local socialist movements. Large numbers of Jewish socialists made this choice. Many of them were executed by the Stalinist regime in the USSR, others perished in the Holocaust. It was simply not a practical alternative.
Orthodox Marxists have criticized socialist Zionism for failing to implement "true socialism." The socialist ideal could not coexist with nationalism they argued. However, in every state in which it was implemented, especially in the former USSR, Socialism was subordinated to nationalism. In fact, "true socialism" has not been implemented by any socialist movement in any country. Every "socialist state" created on the Leninist model has in fact been a nightmare for its people. To put it another way, every Marxist critique of socialist Zionism must be judged in the light of history. At the beginning of the twentieth century there was a huge world socialist movement that promised to change the world. Next to it, about 1905, there sprang up a tiny Jewish Socialist Zionist movement in Russia, a handful of people with an impossible and quixotic idea. The huge socialist movements of Europe and Russia are transformed into social democratic parties. The Russian revolution was a miserable failure. It devoured many of the revolutionaries who created it, including and especially the Jews. The German socialist movement consulted nationalist aims first in 1914, just as Ber Borochov had predicted. International workers solidarity collapsed. The German socialist and communist met disaster after disaster after World War I. They failed to unite, and instead the communists voted the fascists into power, and were eventually betrayed by Stalin. Those who did not die in Dachau and other Nazi camps and prisons, were murdered by Stalin in Lubyanka prison and in Siberia. The minuscule Socialist Zionist movement, that began as an absurd collection of 150 penniless dreamers divided into two rival factions, overcame huge odds to create a state and transform a people. Its creation is imperfect, and it barely survived to the twenty-first century, but it did survive, and it succeeded in its major missions. Marxist criticism of Socialist Zionism must be viewed in this light.
ism Israel Isreal labor Zionist movement middle east socialist Zionism Marxist Zionism Kibbutz Zion Labor Israel different Zionism Zionist uto
Zionism Israel Isreal labor Zionist movement middle east socialist Zionism Marxist Zionism Kibbutz Zion Labor Israel different Zionism Zionist uto
In 2005, Israeli politics were revolutionized by the election of Histadrut labor leader Amir Peretz to head the Israel Labor Party. Peretz' s self-propelled and improbable rise from a high-school education and local politics in tiny Sderot to national leadership seemed like it might end the stagnation of the Labor party, which had faltered and gradually declined since the 1960s. Peretz found a genuine issue in increasing social polarization wrought by draconian free-market economics of the right wing Likud governments. The paradoxical behavior of the Israeli working class in supporting right-wing economics may slowly be coming to an end. Peretz's rise certainly broke the monopoly on party power that had been the privilege of the European elite and former IDF generals. Peretz vowed to win back support of the Israeli working class for the party.
Unfortunately, Peretz has thus far proved to be a spectacular failure. He did not advance any of the social programs he had advocated. Instead, he took the defense portfolio for which he lacked experience and credentials. The failure of the Second Lebanon War was blamed in part on his errors, and he was retired to the back benches of the Israel Labor party. movement middle east socialist Zionism Marxist Zionism Kibbutz Zion Labor Israel
Some Related Materials at MidEastWeb
Zionism - Definition and Brief History
Brief History of Israel and Palestine - Overview of Zionism and details of Palestinian and Israeli history.
Biography - Shimon Peres
Biography - Yitzhak Rabin
Biography - Ariel Sharon
Off site biographies of Labor Zionist Leaders:
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Biography of Ber Borochov
Biography of David Ben-Gurion
Biography of Aaron David (A.D.) Gordon
Biography of Golda Meir
Biography of Amir Peretz
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Books about Zionism
Urban Kibbutz - Socialist-Zionist Pioneering in Israeli Cities
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1898: Nachman Syrkin - The Jewish Problem and the Socialist Jewish State
1905: Ber Borochov - The National Question and the Class Struggle
Poalei Tziyon - Our Platform 1906
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Ber Borochov Internet Archive - Extensive collection of the writings of Borochov and critiques.
The Death of Socialist Zionism - A leftist critique.
These items were chosen as representative, authoritative and fairly comprehensive. Please note that MidEastWeb is NOT Responsible for content of external links.
The US Library of congress includes these articles in its comprehensive coverage of Zionism and the state of Israel.:
Zionist Precursors - US Library of Congress
Political Zionism - US Library of Congress
Cultural Zionism - US Library of Congress
Labor Zionism - US Library of Congress
Revisionist Zionism - US Library of Congress
Wikipedia article about Zionism - A comprehensive and fairly balanced article including the history of Zionism as well as links to specific topics and articles about anti-Zionism.
Zionism - Definition, History Policies
Palestine-Israel Procon - Balanced examination of Middle East Issues
Zionism and Israel on the Web - Zionist presentation of Issues, advocacy and history
Zionism and Israel Pages
Encyclopedic Dictionary of Zionism, Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict at Zionism and Israel Information Center No Frames version of Zionism and Israel Dictionary
Photo Gallery of Zionism and Israel
Article: Zionism and its Impact at Zionism and Israel Information Center
Zionism - Table of contents at the Jewish Virtual Library
Jewish Agency Zionism pages - Links to basic information about Zionism from the Jewish Agency
Ambassador Herzog explains Zionism in the UN
Maps of Israel
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