Thursday, September 24, 2015

Applying History #3: Israeli Collectivism

The kibbutzim were, and often still are, communes whose history goes back to the dawn of the Twentieth Century. They were an attempt to revitalize the Jewish spirit and culture in a return to the homeland and utopian social structure. Besides these ideals, the collectivist approach was made necessary by the roughness of the land and the hardships which they experienced in taming it.

Child-rearing: Children were originally housed in communal “children’s houses.” Each children’s house had a classroom, a dining hall, and a number of mixed-sex bathrooms and bedrooms with three-to-four children per bedroom. Children were transferred here by the age of two years. As they got older they were allowed to choose a name for their sub-group, and this name would often replace the family name.
Despite the communal dorms, children were acquainted with their parents. For most of childhood up until the seventh grade, parents would spend two to four hours (depending on kibbutz) in the afternoon with their children at the communal dorm. However, parents were not allowed to put their children to bed, and as their children grew older contact lessened. This aspect of kibbutz life is beginning to be replaced.
Compensation: In the beginning, property was collectively owned by the kibbutz and wages (or stipends, perhaps) were paid on an equal basis. Nowadays there are three primary models. In the first, compensation is still equal. In the second, compensation is mostly equal, with a small amount of additional compensation based on individual labor, perhaps comparable to the idea of the minimum income. In the third, no equality of compensation exists at all, except incidentally or as a result of equality of work.
Dining: Meals are most often eaten in a communal dining hall. FAQs for people planning to stay at a kibbutz for some time warn that the dining hall should not be seen as a cafeteria. As one feels about a dining room, so do the members of the kibbutz feel about their dining hall. Benches, rather than chairs, are used in the dining hall.
Education: Children attend school six days out of seven. Young children attend an elementary school in the complex, while older children go to a regional school serving several local kibbutzim. Tests are not given and grades are not recorded. Talent is, nonetheless, encouraged where it is found.
The humanities are emphasized, and the schools attempt to encourage individuality through creative work (music, painting, theater, writing, &c) and journal writing. The students were considered “living organisms made up of dissimilar persons, each needing its individual attention.” Students are also taught from such subjects as Arabic, biology, chemistry, economics, English, geography, Hebrew, and mathematics. Trade skills such as carpentry and metalwork can also be found in the curriculum. Mock trials were often held, drawn from situations in books. From the student body were selected a defendant and a prosecutor, a judge, witnesses, and so on.
Upon graduating they are enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces for three years of mandatory service. At first, young kibbutzniks did not go on to receive a higher education, but this quickly began to change. Until the 1980s the kibbutz would pay the full cost of tuition. Some choose not to do so, but the average number of young adults who go to college has been rising since the 1970s.
Gender Roles: The kibbutzim sought to build equality between the sexes and strict gender roles. The root cause was believed to lay in how the need to take care of their children restricted women to the domestic sphere. One of the chief reasons for the communal rearing of children was thus to break down gender roles, removing the need for women to remain in the home and preventing children from being dominated by their fathers. As time has gone on, this drive for egalitarianism has lessened and a return to traditionalism has been seen.
Despite this aim, certain differences still existed. While masculinization of women occurred and women performing the work of men was tolerated and even encouraged, there was no corresponding feminization of men, and no men working in traditionally female spheres such as childcare.
Industries: The kibbutzim originally went into the agricultural sector, where many of them remain to this day, accounting for a significant amount of Israel’s agricultural output. Others, however, engage in industries such as commercial laundries, poultry-packing, and tourism, where they usually provide for bird watching tourists.
Marriage and Sexual Relationships: Most, if not all, kibbutzim practiced a monogamous form of marriage if they had it at all. Some, however, dispensed with it entirely, while others practiced monogamy within a free love framework. In most cases there was no formal declaration of marriage, but a couple would simply go to the housing office and request a shared room. One might have only one spouse, but this had no effect on the number of one’s lovers. In other kibbutzim, attempts at “de-eroticization” resulted in mixed-sex dormitories and even showers.
Unfortunately, as a consequence of the communal child-rearing process came the Westermarck Effect. Most children imprinted on each other as siblings, and only rarely experienced sexual attraction toward each other. This was one of the primary causes behind the decline of the kibbutzim, because it caused many young adults to leave.
Policymaking: Major decisions, especially matters of policy, are made through a purely democratic process. Day-to-day are made by elected officers and committees. Meetings have been described as “heated arguments,” “free-flowing philosophical discussions,” and “business-like but poorly attended.” Committees are headed by a secretary and usually also include a treasurer and work coordinator. They handle matters such as arts and culture, finance, health, housing, and production. Branches of work are headed by elected administrators who stay in their position for two to three years.
Private Property: The original kibbutzim got rid of private property instead. Wages paid, where they existed at all, were more like rations for the sake of proper resource distribution. Purchases made in the outside world had to be approved by a committee, because there were no private bank accounts.
By modern times many kibbutzim have given up on this model either in part or in whole. The change began in the 1950s, when most kibbutzim allowed the private ownership of minor effects such as books or radios.
Religion and Politics: Most kibbutzim rejected Orthodox Judaism but did not go so far as to reject Judaism altogether. Some were, however, strongly atheistic, and strived to be “monasteries without God.” As Israel began to align itself with the West, tensions arose in the kibbutzim and many Marxists departed. Prior to this, some kibbutzim were supporters of Stalin. Many Kibbutzim were anarchist.
Work: All labor is seen as being equally valuable. In kibbutzim of the past people were rotated between jobs on a weekly basis, which encouraged a feeling of equality but prevented the development of specialized skill sets. Kibbutzniks would learn their assignments at the dining hall, usually by consulting a “duty sheet.” Older children work for one day out of the week.
Where necessary, kibbutzim will bring in seasonal workers. Originally they sought to hire only Jewish workers, but this was impossible in some cases and, reluctantly, the kibbutzim hired Arab workers instead. Nowadays many seasonal workers from China and Thailand. Kibbutzim also take in students who provide work in exchange for room, board, and the opportunity to study and practice Hebrew.

Notable sources:
Kibbutz Judaism: A New Tradition in the Making, by Shalom Lilker
Sex and Buildings: Modern Architecture and the Sexual Revolution, by Richard J. Williams

Worldbuilding: We need an off-world colony based on a kibbutz. Asteroid mining, the first generation to touch down after a planet has been terraformed, you name it. Kibbutzim demonstrated time and again that they’re pretty good social structures for difficult, stressful environments. History has also demonstrated that their adaptability.
Far from just making a Doylist parallel between the harshness of the Israeli landscape and that of the new world, and of the lives of their respective settlers, the similarities might actually be justified. It would not be unexpected for a colony group to deliberately model themselves partially or entirely off of the kibbutzim if they thought they would experience similar difficulties.

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