NOTE (added 10 Sep): At my invitation, the relative mentioned above has posted a Comment below, using the "Anonymous" option. As she mentions, there was lots of information coming at me rapidly and I was not taking written notes, so I got some information factually wrong. I thank my relative for Commenting and I have corrected my Topic text to indicate the corrections. [Changes are indicated by brackets. Material in quotes is from her Comment below.] My erroneous text has been grayed out. I appologize for the incorrect information I included in my original posting.
As she recounted her time in a small (100 person) non-religious (no rabbis allowed) kibbutz south of Beer Sheva in the Negev desert, I found myself drawn by the idealism of the concept and the reality that it could (and did) exist here on Earth during my lifetime. I was sorry to hear how and why she and her husband left the kibbutz for a new life in the US and how, on two subsequent visits, she found the original concept diluted to the point she hardly recognized it.
Could it be that this dedicated C-mind (me) has some L-mind memes kicking around?
Her utopian story awakened my idealistic, utopian imagination!
HER UTOPIAN STORY
She was born and raised in the US in a non-practicing Jewish family and met her husband-to-be while he was visiting from Israel. He had spent his teenage years living on a kibbutz. They married and ended up living in a small kibbutz, one of a group of three that were some distance from each other and quite far from any other settlements.
Living arrangements were simple. Each couple had use of their tiny apartment with a bedroom and a shower and toilet. Everything else was communal.
Children lived in a separarate building and were, in essence, raised by the whole community. With only 100 people, everyone knew everyone else and took responsibility for every child. I was reminded of the saying "it takes a village to raise a child" - in this case it was literally true. (That "African proverb" was made famous by first lady Hillary Clinton's 1996 book It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us.)
The main work at the kibbutz was farming. They raised much of their own food and sold the excess to fund purchases of supplies. There was sufficient social pressure to assure that everyone worked relatively hard. Work was distributed to everyone according to their abilities. For example, she told me, one man, who was blind, was kept busy sorting lumber by size by feeling it. Another, who was mentally handicapped, was given tasks he could accomplish despite his limitations. Everyone did their share of "grunt" work on the farm and took turns preparing, serving, and cleaning up after communal meals.
No one was paid for their work, except for a small "stipend" that could be used to buy personal items. Social pressure and the public nature of communal living assured that everyone consumed only what they needed.
No one was "in charge". She told me there was one designated person who dealt with the external authorities, but he had no special authority within the kibbutz. There were regular meetings attended by all adults and decisions were reached by general consensus.
Thus, the kibbutz was a living example of the Karl Marx slogan "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" (1875). (I have refrained from calling this kibbutz "communist" because that word has gathered the "bad breath" of the totalitarian examples of Stalin's Russia and Mao's China. I think it is better to think of it as idealistic socialism.)
HOW UTOPIA DECLINED
So, I asked, if it was so ideal, why did you and your husband leave?
Well, it turned out that her husband ["wanted to be a success in the business world."] was not satisfied with the productivity of the work arrangements. He, along with some others, wanted to start a factory and hire outsiders to work there and also supply labor for the farm. ["The philosophy of this kibbutz was that all work was to be done by members and if something required extra hands, that work would not be undertaken if it required becoming a 'boss' to outside 'workers.' This arose in one case because we had a few extra fields where peanuts or potatoes could be planted, but not enough 'hands' to do the work, so the fields remained fallow."] The problem with that was the idealistic idea that no one should have any employees and no one should work for anyone else. The whole problem with capitalism, according to this view, is ownership of the means of production by the capitalist class and the necessary exploitation of labor class that that system implies.
Shortly before she and her husband left the kibbutz, a decision was reached to purchase a communal TV set. That, in her opinion, was the beginning of the end of the kibbutz as she knew it!
They came to the US where they completed their educations and found professional employment and raised their family.
THE END OF UTOPIA
She made two subsequent visits to her former kibbutz and sadly recounted how things had changed.
A decision was reached to build a factory and hire outside workers. ["There is now a factory for polymers, but there are only three workers, none hired from outside. The crops have changed to amaryllis for export rather than crops for local and internal consumption. And there is the major difference that they have migrant workers for the fields (interestingly, from Thailand primarily) -- which is so against the Marxist philosophical foundation)."] With additional income, kibbutz members demanded larger stipends and used that money to purchase their own record players and other luxuries.
Children no longer lived in separate housing. Apartments were enlarged to accommodate entire families.
As outside workers were hired to work the farm, more and more kibbutz members found employment outside the kibbutz. The number of kibbutz members working the farm declined to six (out of the total membership that remained about 100). Those earning larger salaries in their outside employment objected to giving their entire earnings to the kibbutz to be shared equally with those working the farm. ["More members now work outside the kibbutz than inside the kibbutz, but it is not true that they resent having their larger salary pooled back into a central source. "] Demands were made for larger stipends and they were met. The level of privately-owned luxuries increased. ["As exposure to material comforts increases, through television and movies -- and the consumer movement, the stipends must grow."]
More and more non-kibbutz Israelis settled in areas near the kibbutz until it was no longer remote from outside influences. The kibbutz had houses built on some of their former farmlands and rented them to non-members. ["While some kibbutzem do rent out houses for outsiders, the kibbutz where I worked and lived does not. Interestingly, of the 100 plus people who lived there in the '60's, so many have remained! I was truly astonished at how many old friends were still there. Of course, the obverse is also true, I did not see that many new people and changes, such as the pending decision to allow individual automobiles, is being pushed by the newer members."]
I must confess I was sad to hear how their utopian, idealistic socialism had been corrupted by capitalistic tendencies. The kibbutz members were now owners of a factory and farm that employed others as laborers and also landlords of rental properties. Oy!
ANY LESSON FROM THIS?
Well, we have been led to believe that democratic socialism does not go far enough and that "real communism" has never been tried.
The problem, we have been told, was with tyrants like Stalin and Mao and others who distorted communism and replaced the privileged capitalist class with "The New Class" (Milovan Djilas) of privileged Communist ruling elite.
The problem was the large scale of supposedly communist countries.
However, the story above has no tyrants at all. It is on a small scale of 100 people who voluntarily agreed to come together on a kibbutz. And yet, it still failed to maintain the idealistic utopian concept. [This apparently was an overstatement by me. My relative disagrees: "I think that by and large it still has maintained most of its Marxist underpinnings, but they are being eroded by time and a shrinking world. The kibbutz movement started primarily from a harsh need; how to survive and how to build an agrarian community with only a handful of people."]
Perhaps the problem is the basic concept: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs"?
Perhaps it is irreversibly at odds with inate human nature?