From Anarchy In Action

Starting in the early 20th century, Jewish settlers in Palestine established horizontally-managed communities called kibbutzim. The Romni group, founders of the first kibbutz in 1910, defined it as "a cooperative community without exploiters or exploited".[1] Within the movement, anarchist influences have existed uneasily aside an allegiance to Zionist settler-colonialism. Gabriel Piterberg claims that "the kibbutz was first and foremost a colonizing tool for the formation of a settler project."[2]

To this day, the kibbutzim practice a degree of direct democracy and contribute a disproportionate part of their country's agricultural and industrial output. In 2011, Israel had 268 kibbutzim with a total of 120,000 members. [3]

Noam Chomsky has said the early kibbutzim "came closer to the anarchist ideal than any other attempt that lasted for more than a very brief moment before destruction". Graham Purchase wrote that the kibbutz became "exactly the sort of modern communal village/small town life which Kropotkin had envisaged". Josef Trumpeldor, an influential kibbutz activist, described himself as "an anarcho-communist and a Zionist". [4] The kibbutzim are categorized here as participatory rather than as anti-authoritarian because of the movement's complicity in the Zionist colonization of Palestine and oppression of the Palestinian people.


The kibbutz culture stressed a stated commitment to an egalitarian and mostly secular Jewish culture. A kibbutz statement of principle reads, "The strength of the kibbutz lies in its essential social nature which strives for the complete harmony of the individual and the group in every sphere of life, for the maximum development of each individual...and for the constant deepening of human ethical relations."[5] Early kibbutz members stressed that labor, particularly self-managed labor, was an end in itself and a fundamental human need. A common saying at the kibbutzim went, ki ha-avodah hi chayenu (for labor is he essence of our life).[6]

Traditionally, kibbutz children were raised communally rather than by their parents. Parents frequently complained about feeling separated from their children, and many kibbutzim drifted away from strictly communal childrearing.[7] The kibbutzim proclaimed a commitment to equality of men and women, but the anthropologist Melford Spiro, who spent 11 months at Kiryat Yedidim in 1951, found that women complained that they were frequently assigned to "women's work" and that the community valued such work less than agriculture. Of the 113 able-bodied women at the kibbutz, 88 percent worked in service jobs like child care, teaching and cooking. The remainder were farmers.[8]

Spiro also found that kibbutz members displayed strong prejudices against non-Jewish and non-white members, including the non-Jewish wife of a kibbutz doctor and Jews from Morocco and Iraq. Spiro heard a kibbutz member complain about slow work in the kitchen, "What can you expect? The only ones working there now are Africans, Asiatics, and Americans!"[9]

Kiryat Yedidim residents found that they had very little privacy or time alone, since time outside of work was filled with "holidays, celebrations committee meetings, classes, lectures, movies, and the bi-weekly town meeting."[10] Residents had very few possessions, since they were only given each year the equivalent of nine dollars for spending money. The kibbutz supplied for free all food, clothing, housing, health care, education and personal items like toothbrushes and combs. Members viewed with suspicion anyone who spent too much time alone or who accumulated too many possessions. Despite a lack of privacy, residents enjoyed complete liberty to say, write and read what they chose.[11]


The kibbutzim have put into practice the anarchist concepts of self-management, direct democracy and confederation. The first kibbutz, Degania, distinguished itself from previous Jewish farming settlements by using majority vote to make all managerial decisions. Unlike the privately-owned farms, Degania was profitable within its first year. By 1914, Jewish settlers had started 28 self-managed farms, with a total of 380 members, that operated on principles similar to Degania's.[12]

At Kiryat Yedidim in 1951, members met twice a week at town meetings to make decisions on items like the budget, electing officers, and punishing people who broke the community rules. Members elected a general secretary who prepared the meeting agendas, chaired the meetings, and served as the kibbutz's delegate in the federation of kibbutzim. The secretary received assistance from a secretariat, a nominating committee, an education committee, a high school committee, a cultural committee, a welfare committee, a security committee, and a landscape committee. Every kibbutz member at some point served as an officer, in a committee, or in some other position of authority. No officer was allowed to serve for more than two or three years, and the positions, like all work on the kibbutz, were unpaid.[13]


James Horrox writes in A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement, "Every one of the [kibbutz] settlements provided a better return on capital invested than the market-driven farms of the First Aliyah immigrants."[14] Several times, kibbutzim have confederated in order to share resources and labor with each other. Today, 94 percent of Israel's kibbutzim belong to the Kibbutz Movement coalition, which houses the TAKAM and Artzi confederations.

Traditionally, the kibbutzim allowed no private property and had strict cultural norms against the accumulating of non-essential personal possessions. People pooled resources together, and members could take as much as they needed. An elected committee would rotate people's jobs, trying to assign each person an interesting variety of tasks and take into account their personal preferences. Children would live together and would only visit their parents for a few hours each day and on most of the day for Shabbat and holidays. Peer pressure and public opinion were used to prevent people from slacking off and violating communal rules.

Kibbutzim have come to abandon some of their communal features. In the 1970s, they abandoned their policies of separating children from their parents. In the 1980s, many dining halls started charging for food. Now, many kibbutzim hire full-time managers. However, about 130 kibbutzim still continue to practice communal self-management. A 1999 report on Kibbutz Geffen found that the workplace's managers were elected and rotating, and had no coercive authority over workers. At some urban kibbutzim today, residents hold regular, outside jobs, but practice direct democratic, communal living.

More kibbutz members now work in industry than in agriculture (25 percent of adult residents work in industry, 15 percent in agriculture). Their main areas of industry are plastic and rubbers, metals and machines. The kibbutzim provide 40 percent of Israel's gross added value from agriculture. [15]

A study by Ran Abramitzky in Journal of Economic Perspectives concluded that the economic success of the kibbutzim "requires a lack of privacy and small group size that facilitate social sanctions, and strong limits on private ownership of property." [16]


Important theorists of the kibbutz movement, such as A.D. Gordon, saw agricultural labor as a way to connect with Palestine's environment. James Horrox summarizes some of Gordon's writing, "Physical, and in particular agricultural work, he believed, enabled the human being to connect with nature through creativity, and it was therefore through a return to the land that individuals, peoples and humanity would be able to find spiritual succour and a more meaningful way of life".[17]

Kibbutz Lotan, with its Center for Creative Ecology, practices and teaches visitors about organic gardening and construction with materials from the local landbase. The kibbutz's website reports, "Over the last four years Lotan, through its composting and recycling efforts, has reduced its overall waste disposal by 70% each year."[18]


According to Wikipedia, "There are very few issues of crime on the kibbutz. Since everyone has their basic needs taken care of and shares everything communally there is no reason for theft. The kibbutz crime rate is well below the national average." [19]

In 1940, a British airman stationed in Palestine wrote that in the kibbutzim, "The problem of violence has simply not arisen". In 1986, Josef Vlassii published a study on Kibbutz Vatik, noting the kibbutz had never experienced any serious crime. James Horrox comments that these "remarks on the non-existence of crime were all made at a time when many of the communities were of equivalent size to small towns, or at least large villages, many of them housing well over a thousand people each."[20]

To deal with transgressions, the kibbutzim rely on public opinion, gossip and social consciousness.[21] In a 1976 paper "Law in the Kibbutz: A Reappraisal," Degania Aleph member Allan Shapiro provides some examples from his own kibbutz the successor to the original Degania. This community had, 498 members, including 265 adult members and candidates.A woman had acquired a personal tea kettle in violation of a rule at the time that allowed only a communal kettle. "Public opinion was aroused by the member's clearly deviant behavior, and ostracism was subtly but openly employed against the offender. Even her husband joined in the campaign and refused to permit their children to enter the family quarters during tea-time, lest they be tainted by the anti-social conduct of their mother." At the same kibbutz, youth destroyed a tractor during an April Fool's prank. In response, the Education Committee held a hearing with the youth and the Farm Manager present. At the meeting, the youth expressed remorse and volunteered to help the silo manager in their free time. No punishment was administered. [22]

Spiro reports that at Kiryat Yedidim, choir members once were not showing up to rehearsals, and there was a concern that they would not learn their songs in time for the Passover seder. The Holiday Committee posted a notice on the bulletin board that the seder would be cancelled if the choir did not learn the songs. The notice also included a list of the choir members. In the next three days, choir rehearsals had full attendance, and the choir sang at the seder. In rarer cases, the kibbutz punished people at town meetings. Once, a member was accused of stealing. A town meeting examined evidence and found the member guilty. The kibbutz decided to expel this member.[23]


As described by Peter Gelderloos, the kibbutz movement's negligence to take an oppositional stance toward capitalism and Zionism led to it becoming largely compromised and contaminated by the hierarchical and racist norms of mainstream Israeli society. Moreover, the movement suffered a backlash due to its underestimation of their members' desire for personal privacy:

After about a decade, the kibbutzim began to succumb to the pressures of the capitalist world that surrounded them. Although internally the kibbutzim were strikingly communal, they were never properly anti-capitalist; from the beginning, they attempted to exist as competitive producers within a capitalist economy. The need to compete in the economy, and thus to industrialize, encouraged a greater reliance on experts, while influence from the rest of society fostered consumerism.

At the same time, there was a negative reaction to the lack of privacy intentionally structured into the kibbutz — common showers, for example. The purpose of this lack of privacy was to engineer a more communal spirit. But because the designers of the kibbutz did not realize that privacy is as important to people’s well-being as social connectedness, kibbutz members began to feel stifled over time, and withdrew from the public life of the kibbutz, including their participation in decision-making.

Another vital lesson of the kibbutzim is that building utopian collectives must involve tireless struggle against contemporary authoritarian structures, or they will become part of those structures. The kibbutzim were founded on land seized by the Israeli state from Palestinians, against whom genocidal policies are still continuing today. The racism of the European founders allowed them to ignore the abuse inflicted on the previous inhabitants of what they saw as a promised land, much the same way religious pilgrims in North America plundered the indigenous to construct their new society. The Israeli state gained incredibly from the fact that nearly all their potential dissidents — including socialists and veterans of armed struggle against Nazism and colonialism — voluntarily sequestered themselves in escapist communes that contributed to the capitalist economy. If these utopians had used the kibbutz as a base to struggle against capitalism and colonialism in solidarity with the Palestinians while constructing the foundations of a communal society, history in the Middle East might have turned out differently. [24]

Still, some see the kibbutzim as having a potentially revolutionary role in the future. Modelled in part on the kibbutz movement, Bill Templer proposes a "no-state solution" in Palestine/Israel, "a kind of Jewish-Palestinian Zapatismo, a grassroots movement to ‘reclaim the commons’."[25]

Neighbouring Societies

As noted earlier, the kibbutzim became corrupted by the capitalist and Zionist pressures of mainstream Israel. Moreover, the kibbutzim played a core role in the settler colonization of Palestine. "We have always regarded the Kibbutz Federation as the central force in the realization of the Zionist project," Jewish Agency director Yossef Almogi remarked in 1977.[26]

The kibbutzim generally did not permit non-Jewish members and especially did not permit Palestinian and Arab members. As The Candid Kibbutz Book comments:

[A]pplications from Arabs are invariably rejected. This was true of Arab socialists waiting to join the egalitarian communities, as well as for the Arab (male) fiancés of kibbutz members who were recently refused acceptance by the kibbutzim of Gan Shmuel and Yad Hanna."[27]

Moreover, "The kibbutz movement uniformly welcomed the 'liberation' of the territories captured by Israel in the June War of 1967."[28]

In a critique of Martin Buber's cultural Zionism, the anti-Zionist writer Uri Davis notes that the kibbutzim have only allowed Jews to become members and they have served as a tool of the Zionist colonization of indigenous Palestinian land. [29]

  1. James Horrox, A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement (Oakland: AK Press, 2009), 62-3.
  2. Judith Butler, "Palestine, Politics, The Anarchist Impasse" in The Anarchist Turn, ed. Jacob Blumenthal, Chiara Bottici, and Simon Critchley (London: Pluto Press, 2013), 211.
  3. Ran Abramitzky, "Lessons from the Kibbutz on the Equality–Incentives Trade-off," 'Journal of Economic Perspectives 25, no. 1 (2011) 186.
  4. Horrox, A Living Revolution, 87, 84, 36.
  5. Melford Spiro, Kibbutz: Venture in Utopia (New York: Schocken Books, 1970), 10.
  6. Spiro, Kibbutz, 11-12.
  7. Spiro, Kibbutz, 232.
  8. Spiro, Kibbutz, 225-226.
  9. Spiro, Kibbutz, 109.
  10. Spiro, Kibbutz, 98.
  11. Spiro, Kibbutz, 19-32.
  12. Horrox, A Living Revolution, 19.
  13. Spiro, Kibbutz, 92-98.
  14. Horrox, A Living Revolution, 19.
  15. Horrox, A Living Revolution, 62-4.
  16. Abramitzky, "Lessons from the Kibbutz on the Equality–Incentives Trade-off."
  17. Horrox, A Living Revolution.
  18. "Sustainability," Kibbutz Lotan, Accessed 25 August 2014,!sustainability/crfd.
  19. "Kibbutz." Wikipedia. Accessed 25 August 2014,
  20. Horrox, A Living Revolution, 76.
  21. Horrox, A Living Revolution, 76.
  22. Allan E. Shapiro, "Law in the Kibbutz: A Reappraisal," Law & Society Review, 10, No. 3 (Spring, 1976), pp. 415-438. Accessed 31 August 2014,
  23. Spiro, Kibbutz, 101-102.
  24. Peter Gelderloos, Anarchy Works
  25. Bill Templer, From Mutual Struggle to Mutual Aid, Borderlands 2, no. 3 (2003),
  26. The Candid Kibbutz Book (London: Middle East Research and Action Group, 1978), 9.
  27. The Candid Kibbutz Handbook, 5.
  28. The Candid Kibbutz Handbook, 13.
  29. Uri Davis, "Martin Buber's Paths in Utopia,"