- A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement
It would be hard to overstate the importance of James Horrox's slim 2009 volume A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement. Given the centrality of Israel's role in the geopolitical landscape, as well as its obvious imbrications within the larger workings of the American military-industrial complex, any text that cogently highlights an alternative narrative at the heart of Israel's national ethos merits our critical attention. The fact that Horrox is able to accomplish this aim so spectacularly and vividly in so brief a treatment is testament not only to his evident mastery of the subject matter, but also to the indomitable spirit of anarchism—and in particular Jewish anarchism—he chronicles.
Largely unknown to both its inhabitants and outsiders alike, the modern state of Israel bears little resemblance to the values held by most of the early pioneers who started Jewish settlements in Palestine in the late nineteenth century. By the time the first coherent settlement communities (kvutzot) were developed in the early twentieth century, values of cooperation, voluntarism, agrarianism, and sustainability were already woven into the ideological fabric of these nascent systems (p. 18). Concomitantly, the working version of Zionism embraced by these pre-state pioneers devolved principally upon pacifism, anti-militarism, harmony with the land, and peaceful coexistence with the Arabic communities in the region—with little concern for the development of a nation-state (p. 27).
Up to the creation of the Israeli state in 1948, this early vision crystallized into a federated network of autonomous communities (kibbutzim) predicated largely upon anarchist tenets of mutual aid, direct democracy, common property, horizontal power, and a radical egalitarianism that imbued all aspects of communal life from interpersonal relationships to political economy. As Horrox details in a rich historical analysis, "the works of Kropotkin, Proudhon, Gordon, Tolstoy and Landauer were widely read and respected among the kibbutz pioneers," and even more important, "many figures influential in shaping the direction of the movement embraced the ideas of these thinkers and actively promoted the realization of their ideology in Palestine" (p. 61). The net effect was to engender the creation of a web of organic communities [End Page 175] based on trust, reciprocity, innovation, collectivism, and autonomy that effectively built "an entire national infrastructure" while simultaneously modeling perhaps the most ideal exemplar of long-lasting anarchism in practice that the modern world has seen (p. 87).
And herein lies the rub. The kibbutzim were so successful at embodying the proto-state ideal of infrastructural development that they became obvious (and essential) targets for both material and ideological cooptation at the hands of those who would seek to consolidate state power after 1948. In no uncertain terms, Horrox describes how "the dream pursued by the early communards was systematically manipulated and hijacked by the emerging Zionist institutions of the state-to-be" (p. 88), to such a complete extent that the radicalism of the early settlers has been either rewritten or altogether omitted from Israel's history books and educational centers. Moreover, many contemporary Israeli activists (including anarchists) often look upon the kibbutzim with disdain, since in recent decades they have become "so inextricably intertwined with the Israeli state, and, in particular, its militaristic policies towards the Palestinians"—including the fact that many of "the country's fiercest fighters were drawn from the kibbutzim" (p. 116). As Horrox concludes, a creeping institutionalism and authoritarianism has fostered a situation in which "the kibbutz is the establishment" for many Israeli youth (p. 117).
Indeed, this eventuality is not especially surprising. After all, part of the ultimate betrayal of the revolution of the kibbutzim is undoubtedly due to "the underlying reality that Zionism was, from the outset, in the service of colonialism" (p. 90); sadly, the "fact that this had been the case right from the very beginning was a reality to which the early communards were tragically oblivious" (p. 91). Still, does that mean we ought to reject offhand any contributions to the development of positive ideals...