Re: real and virtual worlds

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Thu Jan 15 2004 - 02:33:17 PST


At 09:41 PM 1/14/04 +0200, Victor wrote:
>No problema - the challenge is appropriate. Good too that you remember your
>proletarian roots - they're a good reminder that the intellectual ballets
>that we perform here and elsewhere have real consequences to real people.
>I'll take this opportunity to elaborate on and correct somewhat that first
>paragraph of my last message.

Thank you for this response.

>This requires an explanatory preface:
> I'm a member of a kibbutz that has, like many kibbutz's, recently (in
>the last 10 years) undergone a process of "progressive" privatization.

I must confess, I have certainly heard about and met people that have been
involved in the kibbutz movement in Israel for many years, but I actually
know little about the kibbutz. Perhaps you could take a few minutes and
describe some of the essentials, such as how many there have been, where,
how have they supported themselves, how many people, etc. My own
background is old left Trotskyist, a viewpoint that tended to view the
kibbutz as at best a utopian socialist entity, not to be taken seriously as
a strategy for engaging in world social struggle (such as ending the US war
in Vietnam), shrugging these efforts off with the same reasoning that Marx
and Engels learned from and then dismissed the experiments of Robert Owen
and others. This does not mean, however, there isn't plenty to learn from
the recent decades of kibbutz movement experiences. Your post makes this
very clear.

Your discussion of bureaucratization, diversification, and the pressure to
privatize in the kibbutz may have some significant analogy with the
Stalinization process in the Soviet Union. A little more on this below.

>Throughout the process I was a member of a left-wing caucus within the
>kibbutz that first, tried to establish alternative socializing solutions to
>the stresses that were pushing the community towards privatization; and
>then, later, to stem the development of that "worst" alternative to
>democratic socialism, the combination of privatized income with bureaucratic
>centralization of control of the management of communal property. We had
>some local successes, but we did not succeed in either of our objectives. Of
>the members who led that caucus; three marxists (two Americans - one an
>ex-party member and myself - and one English Trot)


> all with second degrees
>or more in social and behavioral sciences and considerable experience as
>activists, the ex-party member retired and now primarily concerns himself
>with personal and family affairs, the English Trot drank himself to death,
>and here I am trying to figure out "wha appened ere?"

> The decline and fall of what M Buber

M Buber?

>called "the successful experiment"
>is no less traumatic - at least to those of us living through it - than the
>recent and more or less parallel fall of the PDR's (Peoples Democratic
>Republics). Insofar as the Israeli socialist communities were the world's
>longest lived and most powerful democratic socialist organizations, their
>decline and fall may also be as significant as the recent collapse of the

Cuba, in my opinion, could be argued (I am not proposing that we discuss
Cuba, but wanted to say something positive about it) as the longest lived
and most powerful democractic socialist nation-state in history.

>Unfortunately Israel has very few Marxist theoreticians with a good
>grasp of marxist economics, and this is especially true of the kibbutz

Aren't too many in the US either!

>For example, D. Rosolio, a kibbutz movement leader of some
>stature and a foremost economic specialist on the kibbutz movement uses a
>grand array of economic and social theorists to build his models; Kornai,
>Cardoso, Hudges, Giddens, Gerth, all very bourgeois intellectual
>academicians. The main Israeli institution for research on Kibbutz is the
>Institute for Research on the Kibbutz and the Cooperative Idea at the U.
>Haifa and it has to the best of my knowledge only one marxist - and what P A
>calls a neo-marxist at that - on the staff.

>It appears to me that a serious
>marxist review of the recent history of the democratic socialist communes in
>Israel - like that of the ex-PDR's - is important to the future development
>of marxist science of society, and that it is unlikely to come from
>experienced researchers and kibbutz members here in Israel.

Such a marxist review certainly sounds like it would be helpful to members
and supporters of the kibbutz movement, and could be a useful addition to
the body of historical materialist works.

> All research into social life reflects the objective conditions of the
>researcher; the breadth of his experience, the value judgments he makes in
>making and selecting relationships, and so on. The recent history of the
>kibbutz movement and its constituent communities as well as political
>economic conditions here in Israel are clearly different from what was and
>is going on elsewhere, and while a good analysis of their history demands a
>thorough acquaintance with these local conditions, their utility as examples
>of more general historical material processes must be tested against
>experiences of others who may share a similar ideology (in the broad sense)
>yet have encountered different objective conditions.

Yes, this is precisely, as I understand it, part of the method of
historical materialism.

> It is in recognition
>of the inevitable localism of my own experiences that I publicized some of
>my preliminary thoughts on the value of labour, the state of the
>proletariat, and the future of socialism. Some of the responses were most
>interesting, all have been important in developing a critique of my own
>thinking on these matters. Now, a short (I hope!) account of the
>self-critique of my preliminary thoughts to date:

Thank you for sharing your thinking with xmca. It has been a privilege.

> The decline and fall of kibbutz communitarianism has more than a few
>motors; decline in fiscal discipline, the formation of informal but very
>influential centers of authority, the diversification of the membership and
>of consciousness, and so on.

The conflict between the internal socio-economic process of the kibbutz
with the external capitalist society, and the influences of the social
struggles in Israel and around the world on life within the kibbutz, would
also seem to me to be primary motors.

>The main issue of our discussions was the
>problem of false consciousness, so most of the problems I mentioned in
>previous messages had to do with the current and future development of
>proletarian consciousness; its homogeneity, its social solidarity, and its

Again, I would suggest that these problems of social consciousness within
the kibbutz are closely linked to the problems in society outside.

>A review of successive investigations of kibbutz society from
>the '50s to the '80s ( 1983, Studies of Israeli Society Vol. II, The
>Sociology of the Kibbutz, Ernest Krausz ed. is a collection of articles on
>Kibbutz society and economy that record the evolution of kibbutz society as
>well as the changing ideologies of the researchers over time) show that
>throughout the history of the kibbutz there is a continuous and steady
>process of differentiation between members mostly based upon differential
>access to socially significant knowledge.

Here, I think you are pointing to a primary transmission belt between the
external capitalist society and the collectivist attempts within the
kibbutz. Knowledge, as the saying goes, is power, or certainly can
be. The Soviet Union and all the workers states have experienced this
powerful influence from the capitalist world and important aspects of the
development of the Stalinist bureaucracy can be pointed to it.

> This is particularly evidenced by
>the development of a managerial and professional elite that replaced the
>ideological elites of the founding period as the dominant decision makers of
>public policy. Unlike the ideological leadership whose dominance was based
>on their capacity to evoke public consensus for the policies they proposed,
>the managerial and professional elites dominance was based on their special
>knowledge (considerably enhanced by professional argot and their contacts
>with other like professionals on the regional and national level)
>unavailable and often as not incomprehensible to the rank and file. These
>professional leaders eventually became the authors and important agents for
>privatization of the community. A powerful motivation for this appears to
>have been their awareness of the higher salaries and perks commanded by
>their confreres outside the kibbutz system.

More on how this may be similar to the old USSR. The early Bolshevik
leaders led by Lenin and Trotsky were the ideological leadership of the
world's first nationwide socialist experiment. However, very quickly, in
the early 1920's, managerial and professional elites, comprising what
Trotsky called a parasitic bureaucracy, began to take over more and more
command, pushing the working classes more and more to the side in every
sphere. Stalin became the leader of this process, which by the end of the
1920's included his presiding over a brutal police state apparatus that
took all power out of the hands of the rank and file.

>While the declining sense of
>solidarity with the community is strongest with the managerial elites, this
>sense could also be detected for other kibbutz professionals, teachers,
>accountants, and other technicians.

A term that goes along with your use of "differentiation" is
stratification. The growth of what Lenin and others called the "labor
aristocracy," a privileged and conservatized stratum of the proletariat,
and its close affinity (and conflict) with the lower middle classes and
professional layers, has been a major subject of discussion about working
class consciousness and middle class political activity within the Marxist
and socialist movement since the 19th Century.

>This differentiation of proletariat
>consciousness that contributed to the collapse of kibbutz communalism, has
>been given an especially potent expression outside the kibbutz by the high
>popularity of the newly-formed "Party for Change" a political party
>comprising and mostly supported by a wide spectrum of professionals and
>semi-professionals ranging from university professors to programmers. Most
>of the membership and supporters of this party are ex-members of the Labor
>and Likud parties which whose solidarity was more or less ideological rather
>than social.

>This material is part of the background of the arguments I
>provided in earlier messages.

Thank you for all of this, it is very helpful. I would like to learn much
more about Israel in general. (It makes me dizzy how much there is to
learn in this world!)

> Paul Adler's article on the socialization of labor reminded me of some
>of our earliest efforts (1991-92) to deflect the impetus to privatization by
>"pushing" modern methods for increased socialization of work used in modern
>business enterprise; first, industrial psychological programs developed from
>the early work of the Human Relations School (one of our group was an
>experienced Industrial psychologist) and, later, the E. Deming version of
>Lean Production. These efforts were unequivocally rejected, especially by
>the kibbutz's managerial and professional elites and their supporters.

In a collectivist context, installing progressive and rationalizing methods
of production could increase the weight and influence of the proletarian
elements, which would probably not be received well by managerial layers.

> It's a little early to consider all the conditions lying behind this
> categorical
>rejection, but both his and your discussion of the adjustment difficulties
>of academically trained professionals for adapting to rational organization
>of intellectual activity adopted by some businesses rings a bell.

One of the essential concepts of lean production methods is the elimination
of waste - wasted motion, wasted operations, wasted material, wasted
time. Bureaucracy, of course, thrives on waste.

> I'm not
>the first to point out that among the least rationalized aspects of modern
>society is the transfer and treatment of professional knowledge.

 From this lean point of view, and from the point of view of a production
worker, one can ask: just what does "professional" knowledge consist of?

> One
>respected British specialist in business organization has argued
>convincingly that the actual skills called for from Public Accountants can
>be acquired in less than one year and that the four year program for
>training CPA's is mostly devoted to imparting the "ancient customs" of
>accountancy (I can find the reference if you wish).

Perfect example.

>Closer to my immediate
>experience are the effectiveness of military training programs to "make"
>effective medical, social work, and research technicians sometimes in a
>matter of months. Naturally, these latter cannot receive licenses for
>practice outside the military without undergoing a year or more of special
>training in certified civilian educational institutions, even after
>considerable practical experience in their specialty.

Another perfect example. It is truly amazing how rapidly humans can learn
to do anything when it is needed. I love that quip by Mark Twain, "I never
let school get in the way of my education."

>The development of
>the kinds of production practices researched by Paul suggest that the
>special status and higher salaries that currently accrue to university
>trained professionals that contribute to the diversification of the
>proletariat may well be just a phase in the evolution of the proletariat.

The stratification of the proletariat - I like this stronger term - is, in
my opinion, part and parcel of how capitalism works. The universities
supply managers and others to help facilitate this ever-renewing social
process. This stratification keeps changing form as the techniques and
relations of production keep shifting. Things like union contracts, laws
against discrimination, and safety regulations (to some extent) work
against this stratification process, and help empower its opposite,

>There are some indications that this may be a future development from
>outside the work-place. One of these is the rise in academic tuition
>throughout the whole metropolis thereby restricting the future size of the
>population of academic intellectuals that are likely to play an ever smaller
>role in productive processes. Another of these that appears to complement
>the restriction of high education to the privileged, the more pliable, and
>the specially talented is the apparent expansion of local colleges, short
>one and two year courses for technicians and the growth of careers, like
>paramedics and professional negotiators, that are expected to replace some
>of the functions of the higher and more expensive professionals such as
>medical doctors and lawyers.

This phenomenon has been analyzed as a general trend in modern capitalism;
it is sometimes called the proletarianization of the middle classes. It
has been accelerating in recent decades, often visibly in our lives. This
is another form socialization is taking, and is also functioning toward the
gravedigger metaphor Paul points to.

> It may well be that the diversification of the proletariat that has
>played an important part in the collapse of the kibbutz is a temporary phase
>of capitalist society, and that future developments of rationalization of
>intellectual labor and socialization of work may renew the socialist option
>as an alternative to capitalism.
>What do you think?

I think you are right on; well said. I would go one step further and say
this is not a temporary phase, but a permanent feature, and this process
not only *may* renew the socialist option, it will - and is. Success,
however, is not guaranteed. That part is up to us and all the workers and
thinking people of the world.

- Steve

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