voluntary socialism versus human nature

Kibbutz Givat OzI lived half a year on a kibbutz back in the late 1980s, just as the intifada was starting.

For most of that time, I was the “shotef sirim” — the pot scrubber. For me, it was a proud title. It was the one kitchen job they wouldn’t let women do (something about the weight of the pots or the height of the top shelves), so I spent the work days surrounded by women — but with my own little domain behind the oversized sinks and the power spray of hot and cold water.

Now I learn from the Financial Times (“The rise of the capitalist kibbutz”) that “Tasks that used to be performed by kibbutzniks regardless of their education and background — such as washing the dishes — are today largely the preserve of hired workers from outside the community.”

As the article’s title implies, that’s not the only change confronting the kibbutzim, the once-upon-a-time bastion of voluntary socialism — the “proof,” as some of us once claimed, that “it worked.”

As kibbutznik-turned-economics-professor Omer Moav argues,

the kibbutz movement was always destined to fail. It worked, he says, only as long as kibbutzniks enjoyed a standard of living broadly comparable to, if not better than, the Israeli average. “People respond to incentives. We are happy to work hard for our own quality of life, we like our independence,” he says. “It is all about human nature — and a socialist system like the kibbutz does not fit human nature.”


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