The kibbutz movement in Israel was founded on the rock of socialism, with communal ownership, dining, and even child-rearing arrangements expressing the unrealistic utopian egalitarian ideals rooted in 19th century Europe. But time was not kind to them, and the movement foundered in recent decades. But according to the International Herald-Tribune, at least some kibbutzim are thriving today, thanks to their rejection of the socialistic practices on which they were founded, in what writer Isabel Kershner calls a "suburbanized version" of the earlier model.
On most kibbutzim, food and laundry services are now privatized; on many, houses may be transferred to individual members, and newcomers can buy in. While the major assets of the kibbutzim are still collectively owned, the communities are now largely run by professional managers rather than by popular vote. And, most important, not everyone is paid the same.
Once again, people are lining up to get in. [....]
Today, most are undergoing a process of privatization, though kibbutz officials prefer a more euphemistic term: renewal.
The new kibbutz seeks a subtler balance between collective responsibility and individual freedom, with an emphasis on community and values. Its drawing points include a safe environment, usually in the heart of nature, away from the cities scarred by suicide bombings; excellent day care and education; and an improved quality of life at out-of-town prices.
This is quite a change from recent years. By 2000, more than half of Israel's 257 collective farms were bankrupt.
The story is a bit more complicated than a simple rejection of socialism, of course. Some kibbutzim remain relatively dogmatic in their socialism and are no longer declining. And the fate of the kibbutzim is intertwined with the larger political economy of Israel. Even the most reformed kibbutzim maintain taxes aimed at evening out income disparities, a sort of Democratic Party version of socialism lite. And many kibbutzim are selling off parts of their real estate holdings to newcomers, supporting socialism by selling off the communal assets piece by piece.
But once again, institutional survival proves to be the one force that causes socialist collectives to recognize that human nature is immutable.