Cutting through the bullshit.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Another one bites the dust

Way back in 1970, when I was an oblivious, clueless, teenage hippie, I took the money I’d saved from washing beans and chopping onions at the Mexican food stall at the Woodstock festival and bought a one way ticket to Luxemburg on Icelandic Airlines, en route to an experiment in communal living on a kibbutz in the Negev. On arrival, the Luxemburg immigration authorities insisted I buy a return ticket. After hitchhiking around Europe for a few months, I boarded a ship in Pyraeus and sailed for Haifa, suffering a combination of ouzo and seasickness.

Even though Kibbutz Gvulot (‘borders’, from its proximity to the erstwhile Egyptian border, which wasn’t there at the time) was quite small and strictly agricultural, I soon realised that it wasn’t the kind of commune I was looking for. It always struck me as odd that a guy would come around in a van every morning and take away all the eggs and leave a few dozen stamped with the egg marketing coop’s logo.

As a ‘left wing’ kibbutz, there was a communal nursery, but since Gvulot didn’t have its own school, the school age kids spent the week at a neighbouring kibbutz and returned for the weekend. Everybody ate together three meals a day, but the members had their own tvs and would often retire to their own rooms after dinner rather than congregate in the communal tv room to watch the compulsory ‘Number 6’, as ‘The prisoner’ was known. Over the course of my six months there, I was appalled to learn that privileges accrued to members with experience. Better and bigger accommodation, overseas holidays, and the like.

Nor was that the only evidence of hierarchy. Obviously, the members were at the top of the heap and had jobs like managing the kitchen or the sheep, or the chooks, or the dairy cattle, or the potato fields, or the peach, apricot, orange, grapefruit, and mango orchards. There were some Algerian and Moroccan Jews from Beersheva who were contracted to do things like painting and laying concrete footpaths. That was one of my main jobs – mixing concrete. Every three months, we’d get 80,000 day old chicks, raise them until they got to a certain size, pack them in boxes late at night, and ship them off for slaughter. I got excused from this last task after one time on the strength of my vegetarianism. The task of shovelling up three months’ accumulation of chicken shit fell to the lot of some Palestinians, who worked from before first light until way past sundown for what I seem to recollect was a horrible pittance. Volunteers like me got all kinds of jobs. Kitchen and dining room work, pruning trees, some even got to drive around on tractors. I guess we were pretty near the top of the heap.

Since then, I’ve learned that the kibbutzim were really set up principally to grab more land and demarcate the limits of Jewish control, as well as to serve as ad hoc military bases. It’s certainly no coincidence that Gvulot was so near the border. Indeed it was first established in 1943 as a lookout post.

Anyway, notwithstanding the allegedly socialist principles on which the kibbutzim were founded, it turned out to be a lot more capitalistic than I had anticipated. And now, I read in Ha’aretz that the very first kibbutz has decided to privatise itself.

Degania A, located southwest of Lake Kinneret, was founded in 1910.

"Degania represented and still represents the model and the epitome of the social values of the [kibbutz] movement in Israel," said Shai Shoshani, chairman of the kibbutz management committee.

Degania A is currently defined as a "renewal kibbutz," that is, one in which members are paid differential salaries, and where apartments and property are distributed among members.

So, in case anyone was still entertaining any illusions after the new management structure of the Mondragón Cooperatives, it just goes to show that you can’t sustain an island of socialism, or even ‘socialism’, in a capitalist world. Capitalism

must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.

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