Monday, September 03, 2007

Socialist Renewal

Make it work with a little capitalism; even a kibbutz has to recognize the power of incentives:

The kibbutzim were once austere communes of pioneers who drained the swamps, shared clothes (and sometimes spouses) and lived according to the Marxist axiom, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."

Today, most are undergoing a process of privatization, though kibbutz officials prefer a more euphemistic term: renewal.

....By 2000, more than half of Israel's 257 collective farms were bankrupt.

The economic crisis exposed a festering ideological one. The second generation of kibbutz offspring — who slept in communal children's houses with assigned caregivers — began to rebel. With the lifetime security that the kibbutz was supposed to offer in jeopardy, young people began to leave.

"By the end of the 1990s," said Gavri Bargil, executive director of the Kibbutz Movement, an umbrella organization, "you could find kibbutzim with no young generation at all."

Worse, after decades of hard work, the kibbutz founders, now in their 80s and 90s, were left with not even an apartment or a pension to call their own.

Part of the recovery involved selling the Israeli dairy giant Tnuva, a cooperative half-owned by the kibbutzim. The sale provided them $500 million to establish pension funds.

In the past, kibbutz members were rewarded equally, whether they milked cows or managed a large industry. On the new kibbutz, members earn salaries or receive end-of-month allowances reflecting the income they bring in.

....Yasur, established in 1949, had failed. Its textile and toy factories were unprofitable and closed. "Those of us left in our 50s wondered who would look after us in another 20 years," said Ami Kilon, who was born here in 1951.

Then Yasur began its renewal and began to recruit new members in 2003. The empty kibbutz houses are now nearly filled, and Yasur plans to sell plots for new housing on former farmland.

About half the kibbutzim have moved into real estate, selling plots for luxury neighborhoods in place of the fields and orchards outside their gates. House buyers generally do not join the kibbutz, but pay for services like child care.

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