When the first Zionist congress met in Basle in 1897 there was no mention of Socialism. Most of those present would have angrily rejected any attempt to adulterate Zionism with Socialist ideas. But only a few years later Zionist-Socialist parties had become an integral part of the movement for a Jewish national renaissance, and within little more than three decades Labour Zionism emerged as its strongest political force. Its growth and the impact of its ideas were of decisive importance, for it shaped the character of the Zionist movement, and subsequently of the state of Israel, to a greater extent than any other group. The same decade that witnessed the birth of political Zionism saw the spread of Socialist ideas among the Jews of eastern Europe: the Bund, by far the largest Jewish Socialist organisation, was established one month after the first Zionist congress, and Nahman Syrkin’s plea for a Socialist Jewish state was published one year after Herzl’s Judenstaat. The beginnings of a Jewish labour movement can be traced back even further. Aron Lieberman’s circle in Vilna was preaching Socialist ideas in the 1870s. True, it was not at all clear at the time whether Jewish workers would establish their own independent organisations or fight alongside their Russian comrades in one united movement for the defence of their rights and the attainment of their ideals. The early Jewish Socialists were powerfully attracted by Russian Socialism and its leaders. Chernyshevsky’s What is to be done, a novel in praise of Utopian Socialism, not only shaped the outlook of several generations of Russian and east European Socialists up to the time of Lenin and Georgi Dimitrov; it was in the eyes of many young Jews ‘one of the holy works of mankind, together with the Bible and the Koran’.* It is impossible to exaggerate the impact of Russian Socialism on the Zionist Labour movement, not only on the ideological level but above all on its very attitude towards politics. The Jewish Socialists inherited from their Russian mentors unending doctrinal squabbles as well as the axiomatic belief that it was the first commandment for any Socialist worth his salt to arrange his own life in accordance with his beliefs. The unity of theory and action was not a matter open to debate. From the Populists they took over the firm conviction that manual labour was a cure for almost all ills; the second aliya was in some ways a repeat performance of the going-to-the-people as practised by the Narodniks.
At the same time the young Jewish Socialists were antagonised by what appeared to them as gross indifference on the part of their Russian comrades to the specific needs of their people. The Russian Populists were above all interested in the fate of the peasants, while the Social Democrats concentrated their efforts on the industrial workers. Most Jews were, however, neither peasants nor workers, but just poor people, many of them without any real prospect of ever being able to find productive work. Russian Socialists sympathised with the sufferings of the poverty-stricken Jews; but from their point of view this was a marginal issue. They had no advice to offer on how to put an end to their plight before the great Socialist revolution which was to solve this together with all other problems. Above all, there was the sad fact that antisemitism had its supporters among Russian workers and peasants. When Axelrod and Deutsch, two Jewish Socialists who later rose to eminence, consulted Lavrov, the most respected radical leader of the day, on how to deal with this predicament, they were told that while anti-Jewish riots were highly regrettable, the question presented many tactical difficulties. Were they to turn against the masses, just because they were misguided enough to be antisemitic? Many young Jewish revolutionaries followed Axelrod and Deutsch in accepting Lavrov’s explanation, joined the Russian Socialist parties, and took a leading part in their activities. But there were men who felt, perhaps only dimly at first, that Jewish existence as a whole in Russian society presented a basic anomaly, and that for this reason there was a need for an autonomous Jewish Labour movement. Some, such as Syrkin, went further and argued that the Jews would not be absorbed in agriculture and industry even after achieving full civic rights, but that most, if not all, would become part of the middle class and thus again find themselves on the wrong side of the social struggle.
Syrkin and Borokhov
This was the starting point of Socialist Zionist thought. The revolution would not solve the Jewish question; an even more radical approach was needed. Nahman Syrkin, its first prophet and leader, scandalised successive Zionist congresses by what struck most delegates as intemperate and radical proposals, and by his frequent interruptions and constant criticism of the ‘bourgeois leadership’. A native of Mohilev and a doctor of philosophy of the University of Berlin, Syrkin, a small, bearded man, was more effective in polemics than in providing political leadership. This is not to belittle his originality or the great influence he exerted on the development of the Zionist labour movement. He was no more familiar than Ber Borokhov with Palestinian realities, but he instinctively saw many of the problems more accurately than the other chief ideologist of Labour Zionism, whose theories were more sophisticated from a Marxist point of view and who had a great influence on many of his left-wing contemporaries. Syrkin saw internationalism as the ultimate goal of mankind and had no doubt that history was gradually moving in that direction. But it was moving agonisingly slowly, and while a nation (and a nation state) was not an end in itself, an absolute moral category, neither was it a stage that could be skipped. An autonomous state was a necessary historical step on the road towards the solution of the Jewish question. Syrkin did not, however, accept the tacit assumption of the bourgeois Zionist leadership, namely that such a state would emerge as the result of rich Jews giving money. He always believed that only as the result of a genuine mass movement could the Jewish state come into being.* For that reason he demanded a more representative Zionist congress and sharply opposed cultural Zionism as advocated by Ahad Ha’am. Zionism without mass emigration and resettlement was either fraud or treason. The Socialist Judenstaat, as Syrkin envisaged it, betrayed strong traces of Chernyshevsky (Verochka’s dream in Chto delat?) and Fourier’s Phalansteries. The land was to be owned by the state, and giant communes, each with ten thousand members, were to be established to engage in both industrial and agricultural labour.† There were to be neither small villages nor big urban concentrations in the future Jewish state, only cultural centres. The most boring and least congenial work was to be the most highly paid. Syrkin was not a fully fledged Marxist but he regarded the class struggle as one of the central themes in Jewish history, reflected both in the Pentateuch and the Prophets. The history of ancient Judaism as he interpreted it was the unfolding struggle of the Jewish toiling masses for a Socialist way of life.
At first Syrkin did not have many followers; for every young Jew who joined the Socialist Zionist movement many more entered the ranks of the Bund. And this for obvious reasons. In contrast to the Bund, the Zionists had no answer to the immediate problems facing Jewish workers in eastern Europe. True, during the early years of its existence the Bund did not have a clear national programme. It was meant to be the party of the Jewish proletariat, and to defend its political and economic interests. Only gradually did it adopt a specific ideology of diaspora non-territorial nationalism, thus turning sharply against Zionism. It was the beginning of a bitter struggle, which was to last for many years. Zionism in the view of the Bund was Utopian, and Socialist Zionism all the more so. For how could one possibly build in backward Turkey a Socialist and democratic society for which conditions had not yet ripened even in Europe? The Bund was militantly anti-clerical. It ridiculed the traditional religious taboos and deliberately contravened some of them, such as the one forbidding work on the Sabbath. The Socialism of the left-wing Zionists was suspect in its eyes because they wanted to build up their country under the guidance of the rabbis and according to the prescription of the Shulkhan Arukh. The left-wing Zionists did not find it easy to answer these charges. Many of them, both of the older generation (such as Lilienblum) and the younger, also feared domination by clerical forces. ‘You may be decent and well-meaning people’, the Bund apostrophised the left-wing Zionists, ‘but you cooperate with the bourgeoisie.’ And the Jewish bourgeoisie was interested in the Jewish state mainly as a market and a profitable field for investment and speculation. When they were less charitably inclined, which happened not infrequently, the Bund leaders claimed that the Socialism of the left-wing Zionists was a deliberate sham, that they wore a red mask to hide their real intentions and to adjust themselves to the radical Zeitgeist.* The Bund propagated Yiddish, the language of the Jewish masses, and scoffed at Hebrew, the language of the rabbis and a handful of aesthetes and visionaries. Zionism, on the other hand, rejected Yiddish as a caricature of a language embodying the spirit of the ghetto. This in turn shocked the Bund and its sympathisers: ‘He who scoffs at Yiddish, scoffs at the Jewish people; he is only half a Jew’, one of them wrote.
The left-wing Zionists grudgingly admitted that the Bund was doing valuable educational spadework among the backward Jewish masses. The revolutionary literature of the Bund was widely read and used in left-wing Zionist circles, too. But Zionists were bitterly opposed to what they called the ‘nihilist’ attitude of the Bund towards the national question, the assumption that the national and social problems of Jewish labour could be solved, or at least normalised, wherever they lived. The Bund’s complicated concept of political-cultural autonomy for Russian Jews was largely derived from the writings of the theorists of Austrian Socialism, such as Renner and Otto Bauer. According to this concept, individual Jews wherever they lived could claim a connection with the national collective and have the right to use their own language and develop their own education and culture. In a series of resolutions the Bund rejected both assimilation and Zionism. It claimed that in so far as Zionism envisaged the settlement of a few Jews in Palestine, it was irrelevant as a solution to the Jewish question. But in so far as its ambitions went further, aiming at the resettlement in Palestine of the whole people or a large part of it, it had to be fought as a dangerous utopia bound to deflect the masses from the struggle for political and economic rights and to weaken their class consciousness.* Each camp accused the other not only of lack of political realism but also of cowardice. The Zionists asserted that the Bund did not have the courage to draw the final conclusions from their own analysis of the anomaly of Jewish existence. The Bund accused the left-wing Zionists of misleading the masses, attempting to turn them away from the actual political struggle by invoking some nebulous ideal to be realised one distant day in a remote country.
With the first Russian revolution of 1904-5, the mass strikes, the pogroms and the elections to the Duma, the question of whether or not to participate in the political struggle became an acute major issue confronting the Zionists, causing much dissension and eventually leading to a split in their ranks. Borokhov, the founder and leading ideologist of Poale Zion, the first Socialist-Zionist mass organisation, had originally opposed active participation in Russian politics, but changed his mind after the first Russian revolution. He was born in Poltava in 1881, and his early writings are those of a typical Russian and Zionist intelligent of the period. Anticipating Lenin, he undertook a critical analysis of the philosophy of Avenarius and empirio-criticism. As far as Jewish politics were concerned, he was a fairly orthodox Zionist, closely cooperating with Ussishkin, the leader of the movement in southern Russia, who was anything but a Socialist. A man of considerable erudition and acute intellect, Borokhov tried to show that Zionism and Marxism were by no means incompatible, but that, on the contrary, a synthesis between the two was perfectly logical. His position was not easy, for the Zionists at the time were mostly anti-Marxist, whereas the Marxists were anti-Zionist almost without exception, so that at first his efforts did not arouse sympathy on either side.
Borokhov invested a great deal of analytical skill in justifying Zionism in Marxist terms. All other solutions he discarded by elimination: their anomalous social structure made it impossible for the masses of Jews to stay in the long run in eastern Europe. Nor would emigration to America or some other territory provide an answer because there was already no room for the Jews in the basic branches of the national economy of these rapidly developing countries, and the new immigrants would again be reduced to a marginal, and therefore highly vulnerable existence in their new home. The remedies suggested by the Bund and the Russian Social Democrats, from Plekhanov to Lenin, were woefully inadequate. The Bund proposed solving social and economic problems by applying spiritual and cultural remedies. Borokhov was convinced that by a correct Marxist analysis he had found the only practical solution: the Jewish middle class would be drawn by spontaneous forces to Palestine, and gradually build up there the means of production. Expanding industry would attract the Jewish working masses to Palestine, and the industrial proletariat, pursuing a correct policy of class struggle, would establish itself as the vanguard of the national liberation movement. Borokhov’s writings are replete with references to the contradiction between the means of production and the relations of production, and to other concepts familiar to the student of orthodox Marxist economics. He was an adept in manipulating the tools of Marxist analysis, much to the chagrin of his ideological adversaries, who had been accustomed to disputations about Zionism with enthusiasts arguing in romantic-Utopian terms. When Borokhov departed in 1906 from his previous policy and decided that the supporters of proletarian Zionism should after all take an active part in the political struggles of the diaspora, his movement became even less exposed to attacks by his rivals on the Left. He left his native Russia in 1907, emigrated to America, and died shortly after his return to Russia in 1917. After his death he became the patron saint of the left-wing Socialist groups within the Zionist movement, the discoverer of the ‘synthesis’.
But the ‘synthesis’ was not quite as unassailable as his followers wanted to believe. There were internal inconsistencies in Borokhovism, and in some vital respects it simply did not conform to realities. Borokhov was far too intelligent to try to provide a vulgar Marxist interpretation of antisemitism in purely economic terms. His analysis was remarkably like Pinsker’s, for he regarded it basically as a socio-psychological phenomenon. As for the future prospects of the Jewish people, Borokhov was not quite so pessimistic as the author of Autoemanzipation. The Inquisition and mass expulsions, he declared, were not likely to come back. Perhaps there was, after all, progress in history. But the Jews could not passively wait and accept pogroms, the hatred and contempt of their neighbours, as something natural and inevitable. They could not rely on progress, for if the angel in man had made progress, so had the devil.* Borokhov had always belittled the romantic, mystical element in Zionism. The essence of his doctrine was that Palestine would be settled and built up quite independently of the longings and desires of the Zionists. But this was one of the weakest points in his argument: Zionism shorn of its mystical element was unthinkable, and the idea that Palestine could be built up without the enthusiasm and selfless devotion of thousands of young idealists was as remote from realities as the belief that the revolution in Russia would break out irrespective of the subjective factor, i.e. the existence of a revolutionary party. Both Borokhov and Lenin needed a deus ex machina to break through the orthodoxy of their own constructions. However much opposed they were in principle to romanticism, they needed a myth, and also a vanguard, for neither the Russian proletariat nor the Jewish masses were likely to produce unaided that vital measure of political consciousness required to lead them along the right path.
Borokhovism was an interesting attempt to combine and coordinate the two ideologies which, more than any others, attracted the young Jewish intelligentsia of the day. It became a kind of rationalised religion, giving spiritual comfort and confidence to thousands of young men who were uneasy about the claim of orthodox Marxists that Zionism and revolutionary Socialism were incompatible. In that generation it was almost de rigueur to be a Socialist and a revolutionary, to believe in historical materialism and the revolutionary mission of the industrial proletariat. Kautsky’s writings were regarded by Russian and Jewish Social Democrats for many years with the same awe that religious believers showed for holy writ. Only a few intrepid spirits outside the Marxist camp, such as Idelson, the editor of Rassvet, dared to raise doubts: did Kautsky really have the answer to the national question? Would a change in the social system necessarily solve the national question, or did not such an assumption, far from being based on materialism, introduce a subjective, romantic element? Were not Kautsky’s obiter dicta against Zionism reminiscent of the bourgeois arguments against Socialism?*
There were other weighty reasons against mechanically projecting concepts established elsewhere on to the Russian-Jewish scene. ‘Proletariat’, ‘class struggle’, and ‘class consciousness’ meant one thing in Bialystok and another in Berlin. Jewish industrial workers were not the sons and daughters of peasants who had moved to town. They usually hailed from lower middle class families whose economic situation had deteriorated. They took a lively interest in their work, and expected to be treated like relations - at least like poor relations - by the factory owners, who were often their co-religionists. Many of them regarded their proletarian existence as temporary. As soon as possible they would try to become independent, establishing small workshops of their own, or take some examination which would qualify them for a clerical job or even to become a teacher. They had the traditional Jewish thirst for education, and working class parents wanted their children to have a chance to improve their status in society. Jewish workers lacked neither solidarity nor militancy, but their whole mentality differed from that of the rank-and-file working men of other nations.
The Second Aliya
The young men and women who began arriving in Palestine from Russia between 1904 and 1906, and who constituted the ‘second aliya’ (immigration wave) were not ‘natural workers’ but idealists, and on occasion felt themselves for that reason very much inferior. Yet ‘natural workers’, interested mainly in higher wages and better working conditions, would hardly have opted for what the critics of Zionism used to call ‘dos gepeigerte Land’ - the country which had died. The new arrivals were the sons and daughters of lower middle class families from Russia and Poland, many of them in their teens, full of enthusiasm to build a new Socialist society and at the same time quite unsure of themselves. Would they be up to the great assignment awaiting them in a strange country and in difficult working conditions? Yosef Baratz, later one of the founder-members of Degania, the first of the kvutzot, relates how he wept bitter tears when as a youngster of seventeen he returned home after a hard day’s work; physical labour in these conditions was so difficult, would he ever become a real worker?* The example of the Biluim who settled in Palestine in the 1880s and 1890s was not exactly encouraging. They too had come to work the land. They too had been radical in their political outlook. Ussishkin and Chlenov, who later became the leaders of Russian Zionism had not been accepted as members because of their ‘bourgeois background’. But their settlements had changed out of recognition since the early romantic and heroic days. The Biluim were now small hacienderos, fairly well-to-do farmers by Palestinian standards. They were, as far as the newcomers were concerned, the employers, the class enemy. Before the arrival of the second wave of immigrants there had been a few shortlived workers’ organisations, a few isolated strikes, but the real history of the labour movement in Palestine begins only with the arrival of the Homel group of pioneers in January 1904, the harbinger of a new period in the history of the settlement of Palestine: 1,230 new immigrants left Odessa in 1905 for Palestine, 3,459 the year after, and 1,750 in 1907. Altogether some 35-40,000 new immigrants belonging to this category arrived in Palestine between the beginning of 1904 and the outbreak of the First World War.
If a reporter or a social scientist had asked the new arrivals in the port of Jaffa the reason for their coming, he would no doubt have received a great many conflicting explanations. But there were certain common factors. These were the years of the Russo-Japanese war, the first Russian revolution, and a fresh wave of pogroms. Many thought that the revolutionary movement would bring freedom to Russia and at long last liberate the persecuted Jewish minority. But others, like the young David Grin (Ben Gurion), instinctively felt that whatever the revolution would achieve for Russia, it almost certainly did not mean the end of the Jewish people’s tribulations. They came to Palestine out of despair, to quote again David Grin. They had despaired of the Jewish diaspora, of Socialism, but also of Zionism as preached and practised by its official representatives in the diaspora. They regarded Eretz Israel as the end of the road, the last dwelling place.
There was a strong romantic-mystical element in the young pioneers, despite the fact that many professed a belief in historical materialism. It was a left-wing Socialist who wrote that there was a mysterious thread linking Modi’in (the home of the Maccabees) and Sejera (the new agricultural settlement in lower Galilee).* Massada, where in Roman times the Jews had fought to the last man rather than surrender, again became a great symbol. But this is not to say that apocalyptic forebodings dominated their thoughts. On the contrary, they were full of vitality and, in the beginning at least, of optimism. They were taking possession again of the homeland which had been lost to the Jewish people as a result of a series of historical misfortunes. They wanted to put down roots as quickly and as deeply as possible, and in countless excursions on horseback, or more often riding a donkey or on foot, they explored their new homeland. For many of them it was like revisiting an ancestral home of which they had so often heard.†
The second immigration was by no means a homogenous group, even though almost all were young, unmarried, and came from Russia. They did not even have a common language. The main contingent came from White Russia, eastern Poland, and Lithuania. They had all grown up in a traditional Jewish environment and spoke Yiddish, but all knew at least some Hebrew. For them the Bible and Jewish literature had been a stronger formative influence than Socialist doctrine. But there were also substantial numbers from south Russia, the sons and daughters of assimilated families, higher up on the social ladder, who knew only Russian. Their grandfathers had served in the Russian army and their families had been permitted to move to areas outside the pale of settlement. These young men and women had become Zionists as a result of the Russian revolution and the pogroms, and Jewish traditions were often alien to them. Language was at first a major barrier. In the early assemblies, translations from Hebrew into Yiddish and Russian and vice versa had to be provided. Trumpeldor, the one-armed hero of the Russo-Japanese war, did not know a word of Hebrew when he arrived in Jaffa, nor did Rahel, who was later to win renown as a poet. Berl Katznelson had some knowledge of the language, but he vowed not to use any other in conversation even if it meant weeks of silence. Ben Gurion’s rise to prominence began a few days after his arrival when he made a rousing speech at a workers’ meeting in fluent and powerful Hebrew - an unusual event in Poale Zion circles, where Yiddish was still widely used at the time.
There was a blatant discrepancy between what the pioneers expected and what they found upon their arrival at the guest house of Chaim Bloch in Jaffa, the first station for most of them. There were the usual difficulties facing new immigrants all over the globe. But there were other, more specific problems: for Alexander Said, who had been born in Siberia and was to become one of the most famous shomrim (watchmen), the trouble began while he was still aboard the ship; he had no valid entry visa and was arrested by the Turkish authorities. Fortunately he had a silver watch, the only heirloom from his father, which sufficed to buy him off.* On the day of his arrival Berl Katznelson met in Jaffa a close friend who was about to leave the country, which did not exactly help to raise his spirits. Everything was strange and unfamiliar - the people, the landscape, the whole atmosphere. Even ardent Zionists like A.A. Gordon and Moshe Smilansky later admitted that it took them years to get accustomed to their new surroundings. Deep inside they still felt a spiritual attachment to the Russian landscape, its rivers, fields and forests. They did not dislike the Palestinian scenery, they simply felt that it was not part of themselves, that they were still visitors in a strange country. Paraphrasing Yehuda Halevy, the medieval Jewish poet, they could say that their body was in Eretz Israel, but their soul in some ways was still in Russia.
Living conditions were incredibly primitive even by eastern European standards. The newcomers lived in tents or miserable huts. They had to put up with malaria, snakes, scorpions, various bugs, overseers who made work hell, and a cultural environment which was either Levantine or reminded them of the shtetl which they had left behind. There was not enough work, the Jewish peasants of Petah Tiqva, Rishon Lezion and Zikhron Ya’akov preferring Arab to Jewish labour, the Arab worker being cheaper, more experienced and less likely to engage in argument. Frequently the newcomers were told that they had been gravely mistaken in assuming that they were needed in Eretz Israel and would be well advised to return home as soon as possible. Was it prudent in these conditions to encourage further immigration? While Yosef Witkin, a teacher and early settler, published a call to Jewish youth in eastern Europe to come to the help of their people and to serve it, Poale Zion doubted the wisdom of such manifestos. Should one artificially stimulate immigration rather than wait patiently for the natural and inevitable processes which Borokhov had predicted and which would bring both capitalists and workers to Palestine?
The pioneers of 1905 were the strangest workers the world had ever seen. Manual labour for them was not a necessary evil but an absolute moral value, a remedy to cure the Jewish people of its social and national ills. They shared the admiration of the Russian Populists for the muzhik, while at the same time, with the Marxists, they regarded the class-conscious industrial worker as an ideal figure. Those who for various reasons could not do manual work felt themselves inferior to their comrades and discriminated against.* They were immensely proud of their independence. Any help from home was rejected, and even accepting an invitation to a meal from a Jewish farmer was frowned upon. When one such farmer paid his Jewish workers eight piastres instead of the seven agreed upon as their daily wage, they angrily sent their wage packet back, accepting it grudgingly only after having been assured that they were paid more not because they were Jews but because they had been doing outstanding work. They also insisted on being hired labourers. The establishment of agricultural settlements of their own was ruled out because they did not want to become farmers and in doing so turn their back on the working class. The experience of the Biluim acted as a deterrent.
The demands they made on themselves were impossibly high, and the initial enthusiasm of 1904-6 was bound to be followed by a deep crisis. The second immigration wave consisted mainly of individuals rather than groups. Not a few had come to the country by mere accident, having joined friends or relations without exactly knowing where they were going or why. Some, the ‘Japanese’, had joined the exodus because they preferred Palestine to service in the Russian army in wartime. There were not a few of those semi-intellectual drifters described by Brenner in his novels: the first to arrive in the country, and also the first to leave, forever restless and dissatisfied, Ahasuerus’s grandchildren. Despair set in because the volume of immigration had fallen far short of expectations. The Homelites, for instance, who had been the very first to arrive in 1904, had firmly believed that they were just the vanguard of a great mass movement and that many hundreds if not thousands of fellow Zionists from their home town would soon join them.* They felt betrayed and isolated when within a year or two they realised that the main body of the army would not follow them. The great majority, 80 per cent or even more, of those who had come in 1904-6 to build Eretz Israel left the country within a few months, returning to Russia or going on to America. But those who remained eventually became the nucleus of Labour Zionism. It was they who were to provide in later years the leadership of the Socialist parties, the Zionist movement, and the State of Israel.
The workers were organised in two rival groups, both of which came into existence during the winter of 1905: Poale Zion and Hapoel Hatzair. At the start the former had sixty members, the latter ninety.† Even five years later they had no more than about five hundred members between them. The number of workers in any large-sized factory in Europe or America exceeded that of the total membership of these two Socialist parties by a wide margin. They were clans, fraternities - large families rather than political mass movements, their periodicals little more than circular letters. Against this background, the solemn speeches and writings about the historical mission of the working class and the necessity of the class struggle make strange reading. But notwithstanding their minute size, both Poale Zion and Hapoel Hatzair regarded themselves from the first as political parties, though in addition they fulfilled a great many other functions. Trade unions did not exist at the time and there were no state-sponsored social services. The workers’ associations therefore established employment exchanges as well as mutual aid organisations, cultural and social clubs, and sickness funds. It had been intended originally to found one single, united organisation, but differences of opinion emerged when it came to formulating a common ideological platform. Nor could those involved agree about the name of their organisation. Those who had belonged to Poale Zion in Russia insisted on retaining this name, mainly perhaps as a demonstration against the pro-Uganda views held by many Palestinian Zionists at the time. But the majority rejected this demand. So in October and November 1905 two separate workers’ parties were founded, the one with its headquarters at Chaim Bloch’s guest house in Jaffa, the other at Spektor’s, a rival establishment.
The real causes of the split went considerably deeper. Jewish Socialists from eastern Europe were notoriously disputatious, but this alone would not necessarily have prevented ‘working class unity’ at this early stage. But Hapoel Hatzair was a group without a clear and well-defined doctrine by eastern European standards, whereas Poale Zion was highly ideological in character. The former was an independent body unlinked to any other Zionist or Socialist organisation, whereas the latter was a part (though not the most important part) of the world organisation of Poale Zion as well as of the Second International.* The political programme of the Palestinian Poale Zion, hammered out by fewer than a dozen of its members at a clandestine meeting in a Jewish guest house in the Arab town of Ramle in 1906, was almost an exact replica of the platform of the Russian Poale Zion. The document opened with the statement that the history of mankind was a series of class and national struggles - a slight deviation from the Communist Manifesto. It reiterated Borokhov’s thesis that the capitalists would eventually invest their money in Palestine, and that in the wake of this process a Jewish working class would come into being. The programme adopted later on by the first party convention was a little more specific: Poale Zion wanted political independence for the Jews in Palestine and a Socialist society. The concept of the class struggle as the chief political weapon still figured prominently in their writings. But it did not take the Palestinian Poale Zion long to realise that analyses and prognoses developed in Russia were of little validity in their new surroundings. What if the Jewish capitalists would not build up Palestine? Would this be the inevitable end of their dreams or would they be entitled to modify their doctrine and take an active part in building the country? How could they possibly be militant advocates of the class struggle if the ‘strategic basis of the Jewish worker’ which Borokhov had envisaged did not yet exist, if the employers had no need for Jewish workers and employed them merely out of the goodness of their heart?
Hesitantly at first, but more boldly later on, the Palestinian Poale Zion under the leadership of Ben Zvi, Ben Gurion and Israel Shochat, developed an independent approach which brought them into growing conflict with their ideological teachers in Russia. The Palestinians reached the conclusion that the building up of Palestine could not be left to historical accident but that they were called on to give a push to history. They followed with concern the growing preoccupation of the Russian Poale Zion with problems other than Palestine. Who needed yet another Bund? When the world association of Poale Zion, its parties embarrassed by its collaboration with the bourgeois elements, decided to leave the Zionist congress, the Palestinians did not follow suit. While the world organisation continued to hold its meetings and to publish its literature in Yiddish, the language of the ‘Jewish toiling masses’, the Palestinians switched to Hebrew. When the Palestinians began to found cooperative agricultural settlements, they had to face bitter resistance from sections of the world movement, who argued that according to the teaching of Marxism, workers ought to fight for their class interests, and were not called on to establish economic enterprises within the framework of the capitalist system. The Palestinian Poale Zion did not accept arguments which, however firmly anchored in ideology, were utterly divorced from Palestinian realities. They went even further, and on a few occasions adumbrated in their speeches and writings the idea of a Socialist Jewish state in Palestine. But none of them thought that this was a near prospect. For the time being most of their energies were devoted to more prosaic undertakings, such as the establishment of an organisation of Jewish watchmen (Hashomer), and developing contacts with workers’ organisations in other parts of the Ottoman empire.
Poale Zion was a thoroughly ideological party in the pre-1914 Social Democratic tradition. In its programme it elaborated in great detail its attitude towards a number of current problems and future possibilities. Hapoel Hatzair, on the other hand, believed in pragmatism, refraining almost as a matter of principle from doctrinal disputations. The one constant factor in its orientation was the emphasis on manual labour both as a spiritual, absolute category, and for its therapeutic value in the process of the national liberation of the Jewish people. Each issue of the party’s periodical featured the slogan: ‘The necessary condition for the realisation of Zionism is the conquest of all occupations in the country by Jewish labour.’ Hapoel Hatzair realised earlier than Poale Zion that Jewish workers in Eretz Israel were facing a situation totally different from that of any other labour movement; hence its opposition to the importation of concepts and policies from other parts of the world, although it is true that there were traces in its ideas of foreign ideologies, as for instance Russian Populism. But they were first and foremost ‘constructivists’ and therefore opposed the class-struggle-type slogans of Poale Zion. In the view of Hapoel Hatzair (Jewish) nationalism was the supreme value, the all-embracing category, and the Jewish worker was destined to be the pioneer of the Jewish national renaissance. All efforts had therefore to be concentrated on realising this aim rather than emphasising class divisions. Hapoel Hatzair did not reject Socialism, but it was not regarded as an inherent part of the national movement. The idea of the ‘conquest of labour’ was central to Hapoel Hatzair policy: it was imperative to increase the number of Jewish workers as much and as quickly as possible and to improve their working and living conditions. It was absolutely essential, furthermore, for the new immigrants to gain a firm foothold in agriculture. The parasitism of Jewish existence in the diaspora had shocked them into embracing Zionism and they feared that any backsliding, any compromise in this respect, would fatally affect the future of the Jewish national renaissance. Yet the ‘conquest of labour’ as they interpreted it was not meant to harm anyone. It is difficult to imagine men and women less warlike than A.A. Gordon, Yosef Ahronowitz, Yosef Sprinzak, and the other leaders of Hapoel Hatzair. Unlike the Poale Zion, they refused to participate in the foundation of Hashomer, the defence organisation, because it smacked, however faintly, of militarism.
The pacifist orientation emerged most clearly from the philosophy of A.A. Gordon, who exerted considerable influence on the men and women of the second aliya. Gordon was born in Podolia in 1856. When he came to Eretz Israel he was almost fifty and had no experience of heavy manual work. He became an agricultural labourer, first in the Jewish colonies near Jaffa, later on at Degania, the first collective settlement. For the next eighteen years - Gordon died in 1922 - he worked during the day in the fields and citrus groves with great, almost religious devotion, writing his essays at night. Gordon did not believe that the class struggle and a Socialist revolution would produce a better and more just society. Nor did he expect that man would be greatly improved as a result of the radical overthrow of institutions. Society would not change unless the individual changed, and since man was deteriorating in the same measure that he became alienated from nature, and since the Jews had been afflicted more than any other people in this respect, Gordon concluded that a real national revival was conditional on a return to normal life, with work as the great remedy against all the evils of Jewish life in the diaspora. Man, nature, work - these were the key concepts in Gordon’s thought. He also stressed the importance of agricultural work as a means for man to regain his sanity and to become one again with the cosmos of which he was a part. Gordon’s impact on his contemporaries cannot be assessed solely in terms of his writings. The old man in his Russian tunic with his enormous beard influenced them as much by his personal example, his simplicity, his fanatical devotion to work, as by his theories: he carried out in his own life what Tolstoy had merely preached. The weak old man, undefeated by heavy labour, by illness and the many other afflictions accompanying the painful process of growing new roots, was a source of inspiration and encouragement to those younger in years and stronger in body in their hours of doubt and despair.
Those who had come with the second aliya were unlikely to draw similar comfort from the novels and essays of Joseph Chaim Brenner, for the most influential writer of this generation was himself given to frequent bouts of deep despair. Nor could he provide any ideological guidance; during his life he drifted from one left-wing Zionist group to another, and also belonged to some which were not Zionist at all. His importance was that of a faithful chronicler of the period, implacable in his search for truth. No other Jewish writer has ever portrayed in such cruel terms his fellow Jews, the fools and the brutes, the dirty schnorrers, or the decay of a people which had lost all the attributes of normal existence. The picture drawn by Mendele of Jewish life in the shtetl, and by Israel Zangwill of the ghettos of the west, bore no resemblance at all to Brenner’s descriptions. But he was equally acid in his comments on the ‘verbal Zionists’ in the diaspora, and much as he identified himself with the pioneers in Eretz Israel, he was by no means certain that this last flicker of hope was strong enough or had come in time to save the people from final ruin. There was nothing of the optimism and the pathos of constructive labour in Brenner’s work that might have made him the favourite writer of his generation. The situation was bad enough, and the young Zionist Socialists did not need anyone to impress on them that it was almost hopeless. And yet his very unwillingness to embellish, to compromise, endeared him to Hapoel Hatzair and Poale Zion alike, and they continued to publish him even if this provoked the ire of almost everyone else in the community.
The rivalry between the two labour parties manifested itself in various ways: Poale Zion referred to their rival as a pleasant kindergarten for the sons and daughters of lower middle class parents (not that their own social background was any different), far too much preoccupied with cultural problems for their own good, who put too great an emphasis on Zionism and the Hebrew language, and who, generally speaking, isolated themselves from the ‘masses’. They criticised the unwillingness of Hapoel Hatzair to participate in celebrating May Day, the day of international proletarian solidarity. The constant harping by Hapoel Hatzair on the ‘conquest of labour’ they regarded as irrelevant because there were not enough Jewish workers anyway. With all these polemics, Palestinian realities made the two groups draw closer together after a few years. Poale Zion realised that orthodox Marxist concepts developed in Russia were inapplicable to Palestine, while Hapoel Hatzair shed some of its exalted idealistic notions and became more involved in politics. By 1914 the number of Jewish workers had risen to about sixteen hundred; by that time yet a third party had come into existence, the ‘non-partisans’ (including Berl Katznelson, Yitzhak Tabenkin, David Remes), who preferred not to join any of the existing groups. There were also several hundred workers of Yemenite origin who stayed out of the violent and to them incomprehensible quarrels of their European brothers.
On the eve of the First World War there were no longer basic differences with regard to the desirability of establishing cooperative agricultural settlements. Originally Poale Zion had rejected them, because they were out of keeping with Borokhov’s doctrine; in 1909, at their second world conference, Borokhov had reiterated his opposition even though Kaplanski and some others had disagreed with the traditional point of view.* Doctrinal considerations apart, it was argued that the class-conscious proletariat in Palestine was as yet exceedingly weak, and that any diversion of its energies from its immediate and most important task was likely to weaken it even further. But this was not how the Palestinians saw it: two years later the Palestinian Poale Zion accepted in principle, albeit with some reservations, the idea of cooperative agricultural settlements.† Within Hapoel Hatzair, too, there was originally opposition to the proposal that Jewish workers should establish agricultural settlements of their own. In a dispute with Witkin, Yosef Ahronowitz contended that the conquest of labour was more urgent and more important than the conquest of the land.‡ But little progress was made in the conquest of labour in the colonies. Yosef Wilkansky, Yosef Bussel (one of the founders of Degania), and Shmuel Dayan (Moshe Dayan’s father) rejected Ahronowitz’s argument that Jewish capital would somehow take care of the problem of agricultural colonisation. Events had a logic of their own. While these debates continued, some agricultural workers of both parties took the initiative, moved from Petah Tiqva to Galilee, and established there the first collective farming communities.
These sporadic and uncertain beginnings, the appearance of small working groups at Sejera and Kineret, at Degania and Merhavia, constitute the origin of the kvutza, the unique feature of the Jewish labour movement in Palestine and also the one which in years to come was to attract the greatest attention. The idea of communistic settlements was not of course entirely novel. It had figured prominently in the thoughts of the ‘Utopian Socialists’, and the settlements established on these lines by Robert Owen and his disciples in the United States had existed for a long time. But with the rise of ‘scientific Socialism’ such ventures had ceased to attract interest; only in Russia did the idea of the ‘commune’ still have a few advocates. The Russian pioneers occasionally used to live on communal lines before their emigration, sharing both their income and their expenses and of course their few belongings. But the idea of permanent settlements on the Communist pattern, dispensing with private property, was thought to be fantastic. When Manya Wilbushewitz, one of the early pioneers, talked about it to Max Nordau in Paris, she was told that she was suffering from feverish delusions and was advised to consult a psychiatrist colleague.
The first collective settlements came into being not according to any clear preconceived pattern but by trial and error. After Herzl’s death, during the era of ‘practical Zionism’, fresh emphasis was put on buying and colonising land outside the traditional areas of Jewish settlement. But who was to work the newly acquired land? There were no funds to support individual settlers, and since the farmers of Petah Tiqva and Rishon Lezion were neither able nor willing to help in the further development of Palestinian agriculture, it was decided that the land acquired by the National Fund, while remaining the property of the nation, should be rented to workers’ collectives. These were to be paid according to the group piecework system. At first managers were appointed by the Zionist organisation, but later the workers themselves assumed control. Ruppin and his supporters in the Zionist executive had been influenced by the ideas of the German-Jewish economist Franz Oppenheimer concerning the advantages of large-scale collective farming over individual enterprise in agriculture. But Oppenheimer had recommended that each member should be rewarded according to his effort and output, whereas the workers demanded equal pay for all.* Dr Ruppin’s willingness to support what seemed to most of his colleagues at best an interesting experiment, coincided with the desire of a growing number of Jewish agricultural workers to escape the stifling atmosphere of Petah Tiqva and the other colonies and to tackle some truly pioneering task. Their relations with the Jewish farmers had never been very happy; there had been strikes and even fighting. In Petah Tiqva the employers had on occasion decided to boycott Jewish labour altogether, their anger having been aroused by a workers’ meeting in memory of their comrades fallen during the pogroms in Russia. The fact that members of both sexes had participated was an aggravating circumstance.
In Sejera, in lower Galilee, newcomers such as Ben Gurion found a different atmosphere: less monotonous work, only Jewish workers, no small shopkeepers, agents or middlemen. Practically everyone was working in the fields. Sejera became the centre of farm workers in the area. But these idyllic conditions did not last. In Kineret the workers struck against an autocratic manager who had not permitted them to visit a comrade who was lying gravely ill in the Tiberias hospital. An urgent call went out to Dr Ruppin in Jaffa. His solomonic verdict was to dismiss both manager and workers, but it had dawned on him that the traditional system of overseers was not an ideal one for Jewish workers - they were far too independent to be ordered around. Perhaps those who claimed that they would be able to work the land more efficiently without constant interference and control should be given a chance. It was not an easy decision to take and the misgivings of Dr Ruppin and his colleagues were not without foundation. The new workers certainly lacked professional experience and there was reason to doubt whether they had the necessary self-discipline to make the venture a success.
The first such experiment in self-management took place in 1905, when five workers from Kineret signed a contract with the Palestine office in Jaffa to work the land of Um Juni on their own responsibility. In November 1910 ten men and two women settled permanently in what became Degania, the ‘mother of the kvutzot’. Much depended on the outcome. Failure at this stage might have had fatal consequences for the development of settlements of this kind. Two winters passed and two summers, and it appeared that despite the exceedingly difficult climate and other adverse conditions, the new-type settlement was going to be a success.* But the directors of the Jewish National Fund still had their doubts. Degania had exceeded its budget by 40 per cent, and they criticised the system of accountancy according to which the kvutza had been worked at a profit from the very beginning. But Ruppin kept his faith in the settlers even against an authority like Oppenheimer, who argued that a capitalist bank could not accept responsibility for the debts and obligations of an enterprise over whose management it had not the slightest influence. Already some of the more enterprising members of the collective were playing with the idea of moving to a new place, to start once again from the beginning, and to leave Degania to another, less experienced group, eager to work in a collective settlement. But the majority view was that they should stay on, and regard Degania as their permanent home, the first in a chain of settlements to be set up in its wake. At this stage full Communism was not yet practised in the kvutza. Every member received a monthly wage of fifty francs from the Palestine office. Some paid it all into the common cash box, while others kept some back for buying clothes and shoes and for other purposes. Shmuel Dayan’s suggestion that no one should marry during the first five years was forgotten after a few weeks and the birth of the first child was the occasion of a major ideological crisis: should the mother nurse and bring up her own child or should it be in someone else’s care? Should children live with their parents or in a separate hut? Should the female members of the collective work in all branches of agriculture, or was their place in the kitchen, the laundry, and the children’s house? Were the children - as Yosef Bussel put it - private property, or did they belong to the commune? The members of Degania opted for a compromise. More radical solutions and the abolition of private property in the collective settlements prevailed only after the end of the First World War with the arrival of a new generation of pioneers.
The story of the success of the first communal settlement spread quickly in Palestine and among Zionist-Socialist youth movements abroad, and the call went forth to establish more communes. There was, however, a tendency to stick too closely to the example of Degania. The fact that the first group of settlers had counted twelve members had been more or less accidental, but it almost became dogma, the pattern of Degania turning into an ideological imperative: it was generally assumed that this was the optimal, indeed the only possible pattern, and that a membership exceeding twelve or fifteen would be detrimental to the intimate atmosphere prevailing in the kvutza. This belief persisted until after 1919, when, with the arrival of many new immigrants, the idea of the large kvutza began to spread.
The first commune had been founded because a growing number of Jewish agricultural workers wanted to break away from the traditional system of managers, overseers and daily wages. As the years passed, a kvutza ideology developed: the commune was not just the way to reach a certain end but became an end in itself; it was an organic cell of the future society. With the breakdown of the family in modern society a new and more progressive pattern of human coexistence was needed, a large-scale family based not on co-sanguinity but on common spiritual attitudes and values. Not all supporters of the kvutza had such far-reaching ambitions. Some simply continued to regard it as the most rational and congenial form of agricultural settlement in Eretz Israel. But everyone agreed that the project was to be pursued on a wider scale. There was also a growing awareness that it was of relevance not only within the Palestinian context but constituted a specific Jewish Socialist contribution in the search for a new society.
While the leaders of the Socialist groupuscules in Palestine were talking about the mission of the masses of Jewish workers, the masses themselves were still concentrated in eastern Europe. Events in Sejera and Degania had no direct bearing on their life. Poale Zion was still overwhelmingly a Russian Jewish party, though branches had come into being in Austria (Galicia) in 1904, in the United States (1905), and in Britain (1906). The hostility of the Bund to Zionist initiatives has been mentioned; it did not mellow with time. The Zionist convictions of Poale Zion, on the other hand, were put to a severe test as it became more and more involved in Russian politics. In theory there was no dividing line between the Zionism and the Socialism of Poale Zion, but as the great majority of the members of the party remained outside Palestine, their involvement in local politics became almost inevitable after the revolutionary events and the pogroms of 1904-5. The attacks by critics such as Zhitlovsky probably played a certain part in the process of de-Zionisation. How could a party which put the rebirth of the nation on its banner display typical diaspora (galut) mentality and lack the courage to fight for the rights of Jews wherever they lived? But once Poale Zion decided to take a more active part in Russian politics, the Zionist idea was bound to lose its central place in its activities.
This was the time of the Uganda conflict, when the realisation of the Zionist dream seemed more remote than ever. There was considerable support for the policy of a new party, the Sejmists, who seceded in 1905 from the ranks of Zionism-Socialism.* For a while they continued to regard themselves as Zionists, and indeed the official name of the party was Zionist-Socialists. But since in their demands they put the emphasis on national political autonomy for Jews in their countries of residence, it was difficult to discover with the naked eye any fundamental difference between them and the Bund. The Sejmists still believed that in the last resort the Jewish question could not be solved in the diaspora. But since they, unlike the Zionists, could not point to a territory which would be a haven for the Jewish masses, the difference between them and the Bund seemed largely academic. For a number of years the territorialists exerted a considerable impact on Jewish Socialism. They had capable leaders such as Zhitlovsky and Nahman Syrkin (who later returned to Zionism). Borokhov’s ingenious ‘synthesis’ failed to persuade most Jewish left-wingers: granted that the Jews needed a land of their own, how could it be proved by Marxist analysis that this country should be none other than Palestine?
The Zeire Zion, a youth movement in Russia and Poland, which had come into being before the First World War, were less vulnerable ideologically, for their Zionism was not based on a scientific theory and they did not believe that the industrial proletariat would be the vanguard of the Jewish people - if only because of its numerical weakness. Yosef Witkin’s appeal (1905) to the youth to serve the Jewish people in Palestine, had made a profound impression on them and they called upon their members to undergo agricultural training to prepare themselves for the pioneering assignments awaiting them in Palestine. They felt that Zionism would not be built as the result of ‘objective forces’ but only if enough of them were willing to devote their life to the cause. Their ideology resembled that of Hapoel Hatzair inasmuch as it was less clearly defined than that of Poale Zion; they too were Socialists, but their Socialism was based largely on ethical considerations. Later on, it was given its theoretical foundation (‘Volkssozialismus’) in the writings of Chaim Arlosoroff when, at the end of the First World War, the Zeire Zion movement expanded all over eastern Europe and became one of the main reservoirs of halutz emigration to Palestine.
When the First World War broke out the number of Jewish agricultural workers in Palestine totalled twelve hundred, while the number of those employed in various trades and industries in the cities was not much higher. The war threatened whatever progress had been achieved during the preceding three decades. The poorer sections of the Jewish population were particularly hard hit. After Turkey entered the war, the citrus fruit and the wine of Rishon Lezion and Zikhron Ya’akov could no longer be exported, building funds ran out, the Zionist bank closed down, and the price of foodstuffs and other necessities rose while wages fell as the result of mass unemployment.* Beyond the political dangers facing the yishuv, arrests and persecution by the Turkish military authorities, economic ruin and acute hunger threatened the working class community and its institutions. Stagnation was not total, however: four new collective agricultural settlements were founded, including Kfar Giladi and Ayelet Hashahar.
To cope with the wartime emergency, Hamashbir was established, the workers’ central buying and selling cooperative which subsequently played such a vital role in the development of the trade union movement and the agricultural settlements. But the spirit of the halutzim was low, and many leaders of the workers’ organisations, including Ben Gurion and Ben Zvi, were expelled from the country by the Turkish authorities. The fact that the workers of Yehuda and Galilee were one big family (literally a ‘face to face community’), that everyone did in fact know everyone else, had been a source of strength and solidarity, and made it easier for them to endure the deprivations of the early years. But it now contributed to the spread of defeatism and despair. Those who had regarded themselves as the spearhead of the great cause of national and social revival now began to suffer from claustrophobia. They were eagerly looking forward to the day when at last there would be some new faces in their midst. But with the total cessation of immigration in 1914 these hopes faded. Never had it been so obvious that smallness could be a curse. The disadvantages manifested themselves on almost every level. Much had been written on the advantages of the family atmosphere and the intimacy in the kvutzot, yet - as so often - there was a wide divergence between theory and reality. The fact that the twelve or fifteen members were in each other’s company for most of the day, that there was hardly any privacy at all, did not enrich their personal life (as the theorists had predicted) but, on the contrary, caused spiritual impoverishment: the hypertrophy of the collective sphere did not necessarily bring out the best in the individual members of the commune. It induced not a few to turn their backs on what only a few years earlier they had considered the ideal way of life.* However promising the beginnings of the cooperative settlements, it is unlikely that they would have survived but for the arrival of new immigrants from Europe. The Russian revolution of March 1917 was the first ray of hope. Eight months later the Balfour Declaration was published, and after yet another month, in December 1917, the troops of General Allenby entered Jerusalem.
In the late afternoon of one of the days of Chanukka 1919, the ship Ruslan with 671 new immigrants arrived in Jaffa. It was perhaps symbolical that the newcomers had to land in heavy seas. It was with this date that a new period in the history of the Palestinian labour movement began. The third immigration wave, over the next four years, brought 37,000 new immigrants, many of them members of Zionist-Socialist youth organisations. A trickle of new immigrants had come even earlier. The very first, a group of pioneers from Bendzin in Poland, arrived less than four weeks after the armistice had been signed. They made their way over the icy roads of a continent ravaged by war and civil war and on which public transport had not yet been resumed. Most came by way of Turkey, a few via Japan.† Only five years divided these new arrivals from the latecomers of the second aliya, but there was a world of difference between their outlook and that of the previous generation of immigrants. The pioneers of the postwar period were in some ways better prepared for life in Palestine. Many of them had received some agricultural training and spoke better Hebrew than their predecessors, and they came in organised groups rather than as individuals. But they had not been prepared, as an old-timer regretfully noted, for the Palestinian realities.‡
The expectations of the immigrant of 1905 had been limited in scope: he knew that he was leaving for a far-away, backward country, and that his ideal of a Socialist Zionist community lay in the distant future. The immigrant of 1919 was the child of a revolutionary age and therefore likely to be more impatient, and the Balfour Declaration had brought the realisation of the dream much nearer. He was more radical in his approach, less inclined to compromise. He was dreaming of the transformation of Palestine into one big commune, not in the distant future but within a year or two. If he had belonged to one of the Zionist youth movements he thought of life in Palestine as an extension of the summer camps in Galicia or the Ukraine, with their dances, banners, bonfires and other symbols and common experiences of the European youth movements. Some of the newcomers were to join the existing kvutzot, but only a few stayed, not finding satisfaction there, too much separated as they were from the men and women of the second aliya. They wanted to pursue their own way of life rather than join the existing groups. The leap from the realm of dreams to the world of reality was sudden and the landing usually painful. The newcomers were not prepared for the political setbacks, for the Arab attacks, and least of all for the unemployment which accompanied the postwar economic depression. As the mass immigration petered out and the Russian Jewish community, hitherto Palestine’s main reservoir, was effectively cut off, there was a new wave of ‘great despair’ such as had followed the second aliya.
The Legion of Labour
If Petah Tiqva, Sejera and Degania had been the universities of the second aliya, the ‘Legion of Labour’ (Gdud Ha’avoda), with its tents and ramshackle huts along the paths between Haifa and Nazareth, and between Zemach, Tiberias and Tabha in lower Galilee, where they were to build the highroads, were the main stations of the graduates of the third aliya. The legion was founded in 1920 at a memorial meeting for Yosef Trumpeldor, who had been killed some months earlier defending Tel-Hai against Arab attackers. It had been Trumpeldor’s idea to form labour legions to do pioneering work in Palestine, paving the way for mass immigration. The legion had eighty members at first, but grew eventually to seven hundred. It existed for only six years but it was the vanguard of the pioneer movement, the first to settle in the Yesreel valley, the first to establish kibbutzim. But for its initiative, Jewish workers would not have gained a foothold in building and other trades in the towns and villages. The legion was composed largely of young men - and a few young women - many of them graduates of the Russian revolution and the civil war, full of youthful fire, ready to burn and to be burned. In its ranks there were mystics in search of God, and romantic enthusiasts in search of themselves by way of the mortification of the flesh and the spirit, grandsons of Dostoievsky and nephews of Brenner. There were among them members of youth movements on whom Martin Buber had exerted great influence, and there were also hard-bitten old-timers of the second aliya who had not opened a book for years.*
The legion was organised in small groups of twelve to fifteen members dispersed over the whole country. Their part in road-building has already been mentioned. Some worked on new buildings in Haifa, Jerusalem or Galilee, others repaired motor cars in Beersheba. There were two major concentrations: one in Migdal, which served as their main base in lower Galilee, another in Rosh Ha’ayin, where several hundred members worked on a new railroad. Almost from the outset the legion adopted the principle of full Communism. Its members received no wages or salaries, all their earnings disappearing into a common fund, and their basic needs were covered according to the principle of full equality. The legion had no clearly defined position on agricultural settlement. Some of its members favoured the establishment of big agricultural collectives. The physical conditions could hardly have been less auspicious, for what was later to become one of the most fertile stretches, the Emeq, was at the time largely marshland, infested with malaria. There were no roads, little vegetation, no water, no electricity. Some members of the legion were sceptical about the outcome of a venture which they thought was far beyond the strength of a group which, however eager, was ill-prepared for a task of this magnitude and also lacked professional experience. But the enthusiasts carried the day. In September 1921 the first camp of tents was set up in the valley and another followed later that year. What they lacked in professional skills they made up by devoted work; against all expectations the attempt was a modest success, or at any rate, it did not fail.
It was suggested that the legion should be transformed into one big kibbutz, or several such settlements, but this issue caused the first major split in its ranks. The urban workers’ commune, some argued, had no future. It was at best a provisional arrangement. The working class movement in Palestine was to find its true function and fulfilment in agricultural settlement. The majority rejected this view, for a variety of reasons: the basic idea of the legion had been to establish consumer rather than producer collectives. It was their task to gain a foothold in all kinds of jobs in the cities as well as in the countryside. To concentrate on agricultural settlement smacked of the romanticism of the second aliya, nor was it in accordance with the principle of the class struggle. The legion split in 1923, some members joining what subsequently became Kibbutz Ein Harod, while the majority continued to work in small groups dispersed throughout the country.
Three years later the legion had more members than ever before, but the original impetus had disappeared. It had clearly failed in its endeavour to attract the majority of Jewish workers in Palestine to its ranks, and to make them accept its way of life. The growing disappointment manifested itself in a process of political radicalisation. A vocal and influential minority reached the conclusion that the class struggle was their main concern and that consequently the centre of gravity of the legion’s activities should be transferred to the towns. They quarrelled bitterly with the Histadrut, the General Federation of Jewish Labour which had been founded in 1920. Some members of the legion began to dissociate themselves from Zionism altogether. Since the attempt to establish a Socialist community in a non-Socialist environment had failed, and since in their scale of priorities the world revolution weighed heavier than Zionist ideals, this anti-Zionist turn seemed only consistent. In December 1926 the legion split, mainly on political lines. The larger group later joined the existing Zionist-Socialist parties, while the minority faction dissolved itself in 1928. Several dozen of its members emigrated to the Soviet Union, where they established an agricultural settlement in the Crimea. It ceased to exist following the arrest of most of its members during the purge of the 1930s.*
Among the new arrivals of 1919-20 there were the first members of the Hashomer Hatzair (Young Watchman), a group which was to play a notable part in subsequent Zionist history. This movement had emerged in Galicia during the war years. Many of its members, known as shomrim, came from middle class families, well-off by the standards of east European Jewry. In their majority they were quite assimilated; their education had been Polish or Austro-German, and the Yiddish folk culture in which the second aliya had been steeped was not part of their cultural experience. They had become converts to Zionism not as the result of a socio-economic analysis of the situation of the Jewish masses, but had set out on their long road from a very different starting point: they had decided that they would find cultural and spiritual fulfilment both as individuals and as a group only by joining in the building of a new society in Eretz Israel. The ideas and symbols of the German youth movement exerted a strong influence on them, as did Martin Buber who, in a famous speech in Vienna towards the end of the war, had declared that youth was the eternal good fortune (die ewige Glückschance) of mankind, a chance which reappeared with each new generation and which was always squandered. The shomrim believed with Wyneken, the ideologist of the German youth movement, that youth was a value in itself, that only young people, unfettered by ties of family, class, and status in society, could be revolutionaries. They believed in a specific youth culture, more genuine and harmonious than that of the world of the adults with their compromises and conventional lies.
Such an approach was not as novel, revolutionary or un-Jewish as some contemporaries believed. Zionism, and in particular its left wing, the Biluim, and the Socialist pioneers of 1905-6, had also been a youth movement of sorts. The revolt against the liberal-assimilationist establishment in the west, and the decaying, parasitic world of the shtetl in eastern Europe, had been a central factor in Zionist thought from the beginning. But Hashomer Hatzair was in many ways sui generis. The romantic ecstasy which engulfed the young generation all over Europe had not bypassed young middle class Jews in the east. Their intellectual mentors were Marx and Freud, Nietzsche and Buber, Gustav Landauer and Wyneken. Their early publications are filled with references to religious rites and the symbols of the youth movement: ‘confession’, vestal fires, redemption of the soul. Their meals were to be an act of holy communion: ‘The full realisation of the erotic force in our community [one of them wrote at the time] is not in conversation, not even in our dances, but in our common meals; without an altar table there can be no real commune.’*
In the Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz in the early days the atmosphere did not differ greatly from that of the summer camps back in Poland. The work on the roads was difficult, the whole environment unfamiliar, but there were compensations: the long nights, the dances, the unending sichot(conversations in which the members of the whole community participated and revealed their innermost thoughts), lectures on subjects such as ‘Eros and our Society’. An account of one such meeting relates how suddenly, at midnight, when everyone was already asleep, the members of the group were called to an urgent meeting. They hurried to the tent in which the group assemblies were held. One member of the kibbutz was talking solemnly, haltingly (‘like a high priest in the temple’) with his eyes to the ground: ‘I have called this meeting because I, I mean we, comrade X and myself, have just become one family.’ The chronicler unfortunately fell asleep at this point, but he was told the next morning that the sicha had continued for a long time and that it had been one of the most beautiful ever.*
The Hashomer Hatzair concept of what a collective should be was far more radical than life in the kvutzot established by the previous generation of pioneers. The children’s education was to be collective, and they were to sleep in the children’s house, not with their parents. The kibbutz resolved ‘to liquidate the family as a social unit, recognising it only as an expression of erotic life’. The very idea that two young people might prefer their own company to that of the collective was thought to be asocial and reactionary, a relic of petty-bourgeois society. The whole atmosphere was that of a big family: when a member of the collective decided to go on a two-week tour of the country, he would call a general meeting, announce his intention, and say how much he would miss them. The dances after work were a central part of the collective life, not just an expression of youthful joy but a manifestation of inner mystic experiences. There was little political interest during these early years. Why read the empty phrases of the newspapers (one of them wrote)? Why participate in political meetings in which demagogues were using big words devoid of any significance? The shomrim still believed in the spiritual revolution. By joining the collective, by coming to Palestine to build a new home for the Jewish people, they, the happy few, had saved their souls. Almost totally immersed in their individual problems, politics seemed neither relevant nor urgent.†
Gradually cruel reality demanded its toll. ‘Where is our enthusiasm of yesteryear?’ a member of one of the early kibbutzim asked in 1924. The meetings were no longer well attended. They no longer took place in semi-darkness but (symbolically, perhaps) in the bright light of paraffin lamps. The old symbols of the German youth movement now seemed out of place and were gradually discarded. The exalted romanticism, the religiosity and aestheticism faded away. The members of the kibbutzim began to realise that youth was not an eternal value, and that small groups of young people, however idealistically inclined, would not bring about the world revolution as they had believed.‡ In later years they reacted with some bitterness against the gods that had failed and the baneful impact of the German youth movement. But such excessive self-criticism misses some central points: would they have decided in the first place to give up the comfort and the relative security of middle class homes in Europe but for the romantic impulse received from the Wandervogel and the Free German Youth? It is one of the ironies of history that the German youth movement, while producing a youth subculture, failed in its more ambitious endeavours, whereas the Jewish youth movement, by its persistence and historical good fortune, succeeded in entering the annals of history as one of the few youth groups ever to develop a new and original life style.
The process of growing up, the transition from youth movement to life in the kibbutzim, took years, and it was not an easy transition. The dream of establishing a spiritual family, nomadic in character, aiming at the redemption of the individual and preaching messianic ideas, faded. There were no new ready-made ideals to replace the old ones and the adjustment to a life of poverty took its toll. The shomrim were isolated; they were criticised for their élitism, for dissociating themselves from the working-class and its real, day-to-day problems. They were attacked, above all, for the lack of any real Jewish content in their cultural life. For their part, they found not a great deal to admire in the way of life of those who had preceded them on the road to Palestine. There was also the traditional antagonism between Russian and Polish Jewry. Initially the members of Hashomer Hatzair were drawn to the philosophy of A.A. Gordon and the ideas of Hapoel Hatzair, and Gordon, for his part, was attracted by the sincerity and idealism of the young pioneers from Galicia, and the great emphasis they put on the self-education of the individual. But from the beginning the shomrim had certain reservations and these became more pronounced in the course of time. There was for their taste too much of Tolstoy and vegetarianism in Gordon’s teaching. His concept of Socialism and building a new Socialist society in Palestine seemed to them, on further reflection, about as nebulous and impractical as their own which they were in the process of discarding.
Gradually they moved away from Hapoel Hatzair, without, however, entering the orbit of another political party. After the early poetic period (as one of them put it), there came a philosophical interlude, an attempt to see themselves and the world around them in a more objective light; they were searching for a new world view without the help of an ideological compass. The first kibbutz (Bet Alfa) was founded during that period, but there were also major setbacks. Many left the movement during those years and not a few returned to Europe. Those who remained established new kibbutzim such as Mishmar Ha’emeq, Merhavia, Gan Shmuel and Ein Shemer. In 1927 the first five kibbutzim, with a total membership of less than three hundred, joined forces in a countrywide association, the Kibbutz Artzi. In their kibbutzim they developed by trial and error a specific way of life far more down to earth than the exaltation of the early days. Their educational ideas, adjusted to Palestinian realities, continued to play an important part in their activities, and the youth movement in the diaspora, out of which Hashomer Hatzair had developed, served as the reservoir from which the kibbutzim in Palestine gained fresh support every year. It was the policy of the Hashomer Hatzair to found new kibbutzim rather than concentrate on a few very big ones. The optimal size for a kibbutz was thought at the time to be fewer than one hundred members.
The radicalism which had manifested itself earlier on in the belief in a spiritual revolution found new expression in politics as the movement embraced left-wing revolutionary Socialism. Emphasising the necessity for greater militancy, they disagreed with the orientation of the other Socialist groups in Palestine towards the Second Socialist International. In 1927 the Galician Hashomer Hatzair, under the leadership of Mordehai Oren, adopted a new policy which seemed to most critics of the movement to lead it away from Zionism towards the Third Communist International. But these ideological searches and struggles belong to a later period. What emerged at this stage was that the insistence of the kibbutzim of the Hashomer Hatzair on a common political platform shared by all their members set them apart from all other settlements. Such internal unity strengthened Hashomer Hatzair, but at the same time it effectively prevented close collaboration with other kibbutz movements, for the other collective settlements did not concern themselves with the personal views of their members. In later years Hashomer Hatzair became a political party, but its politics were neither unique nor particularly successful. In retrospect its main achievement remained the collective settlements and their specific structure and style. Out of the small nucleus of enthusiasts in upper Betania, with their dreams of self-realisation and a spiritual revolution, there developed within five decades a network of more than seventy kibbutzim with more than thirty thousand men, women and children, communities different in some important respects from all other known societies.
As the First World War ended, the Jewish working class, and its political parties concentrated in eastern Europe, faced new problems and challenges. The revolutions of 1917, the emergence of independent Poland and other new states, and the demands for national-cultural autonomy, created a new situation. While the Bolsheviks were opposed in principle to Zionism in every shape and form, as well as to the existence of Jewish non-Zionist left-wing groups, however close to them ideologically, the ‘Jewish question’ was not one of their most urgent preoccupations, either during the civil war or the years of NEP. Poale Zion in Russia, which had always been more orthodox Marxist in inspiration than its sister parties elsewhere, faced a difficult dilemma: its members were eager to be part of the great wave of the future and to join the Third Communist International, and were quite willing to dissociate themselves publicly from the World Zionist Organisation. Borokhov, after all, had for many years advocated a boycott of the Zionist congress, even though he regarded himself as a Zionist and continued to pay the shekel. But this would not have been enough for the Communists. Poale Zion was expected to reject the Balfour Declaration as well, issued after all by one of the major imperialist powers. Ultimately they would have had to disavow Zionism altogether and to dissolve their own organisation.
Left-wing Zionism had been based on the assumption that the Jewish question was insoluble in capitalist society. The rise of Bolshevism created an entirely new situation. The new régime, internationalist in character, formally abolished all forms of discrimination against minorities, promised to change the social structure of the Jewish masses, to find productive work for them, and did not preclude some form of cultural-national autonomy. The end of antisemitism seemed in sight, and, if so, it must have appeared utterly pointless to leave a Socialist country for one which was as yet far from reaching this advanced stage in its political-social development. Discussing these problems, the Poale Zion parties split on the following lines: the Palestinian Poale Zion had long given up orthodox Borokhovism, and joining the Communist International was completely out of the question. The Russian Poale Zion, having shed its ‘reformist ballast’, entered into direct negotiations with the Comintern which lasted for a year and caused further dissension in its ranks. Some of its members (the JKP -Jiddishe Kommunistische Partei) were willing to jettison Zionism altogether, while others advocated a Communist-Zionist synthesis. JKP ultimately joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, via the Jewish section of the Communist Party (Yevsektsia), which had been established when Stalin was Commissar for Nationalities to deal with the specific problems of non-assimilated Jewish Communists. The Yevsektsia continued to exist for a number of years, but most of its leading figures disappeared in the purges of the 1930s.
That part of Poale Zion which preferred not to surrender its independence survived in the Soviet Union till 1928 when, a small and shrinking group which gave the authorities little concern, it was finally dissolved. Its leading members gradually emigrated to Palestine. Men such as Erem, Abramovich, Nir, Yitzhaki and Zerubavel, had been leaders of some influence in eastern Europe, but in Palestine they were generals without an army. Their doctrinaire approach both to ideological issues and to day-to-day political problems, their opposition to agricultural settlement, the fact that they preferred Yiddish to Hebrew, limited their political appeal from the start. There was something touching in their devotion to their party, their unceasing efforts to promote their old ideas in an inauspicious environment, their internal squabbles on abstruse points of Marxism-Borokhovism, their passionate debates on the ‘correct approach’ to events in far-away countries on which they could not possibly have any influence. They were forever discussing revolutionary strategy and proletarian unity, debating whether or not to establish a popular front at a time when their ‘mass basis’ numbered a few hundred. The views of Hashomer Hatzair were often equally abstruse, but it had a youth movement and its agricultural settlements to fall back on, and it became in a real sense part of the Palestinian scene, whereas Poale Zion, figuratively speaking, had left Russia but had never really arrived in Eretz Israel. Like the Mensheviks in exile, they gradually faded away, the vanishing remnant of a proud Socialist tradition.*
It would be unjust to interpret the surrender of the majority of the Russian Poale Zion as a manifestation of weakness, or a special ideological susceptibility to the appeal of Bolshevism. Other Jewish parties did not behave differently. The attraction of linking their future to that of a far bigger and more powerful movement must have been overwhelming to many Jewish Socialists, the alternative being total isolation, growing police repression, searches, economic and political sanctions, and ultimately arrest. For the Zionists, according to Soviet doctrine, were not just nationalist deviationists, but ‘objectively’ agents of British imperialism, even if they gave full support to Soviet foreign policy. The anti-Zionist Bund abdicated even earlier than Poale Zion; in April 1920 it decided to change its name to Communist Bund, and to modify its ideological platform. In less than a year it took the last fateful step and joined the Yevsektsia. Even non-Marxist groups such as the zs (Zionists-Socialists) were strongly attracted by the dynamic character of the young Soviet régime: ‘We were spellbound by the daring of the Bolsheviks who were resolved to translate their ideas into reality’, one of them wrote many years later.*
The new immigrants who came to Palestine with the third immigration wave had the choice of two workers’ organisations, Hapoel Hatzair and Poale Zion. But these parties had been founded by a previous generation of pioneers, and their continued existence did not now necessarily make much sense. Even some of the prewar immigrants, such as Berl Katznelson, had found it impossible to range themselves with one of these groups against the other. After the war, the move to establish a United Socialist Party received a fresh impetus, and it was towards this end that a new group, the Labour Union (Ahdut Ha’avoda), was set up at a meeting in Petah Tiqva in spring 1919. This new body was meant to be a trade union confederation into which the existing groups were to merge, but as Hapoel Hatzair refused to join, it soon turned into a political party. By that time the ideological differences between the two parties had dwindled into insignificance. Like its adversary, it advocated a pragmatic constructivism. The fact that it continued to belong to the Socialist International, whereas its rival refrained from joining any international organisation, was hardly an issue of decisive importance. Hapoel Hatzair, unlike the Labour Union, did not regard the Jewish workers as a proletariat with interests rigidly opposed to those of other classes, but as an active force in building the national home on the basis of social justice.
There certainly was a difference in personality and character if one compares the leadership of the two parties. The leading people in Ahdut Ha’avoda tended to be tougher, more aggressive and radical, in both their Socialism and their nationalism. Hapoel Hatzair was more inclined towards moderation, averse to pathos, less politically minded.† It was opposed to a merger because it was afraid that the prospective united movement would soon be dominated by the Labour Union, with its strong political ambitions. No one was more emphatic in his opposition than old A.A. Gordon. But Hapoel Hatzair had to pay a heavy price for preventing ‘union at any cost’. To compete with its rivals in the struggle for influence, it had willy-nilly to become just another political party, to copy and to duplicate the activities of the other side, and to a large extent it lost its specific character. The two groups competed in establishing trade unions, with some seamstresses and shoemakers belonging to Hapoel Hatzair unions, others joining Ahdut Ha’avoda. Some frequented the canteen run by one group, others preferred the food (or the ideology) of the other. Previously, Hapoel Hatzair had not been interested in the organisation of urban workers, but the competition with Ahdut Ha’avoda drew it into this new sphere of activity.
Above all, they competed for the allegiance of the new arrivals from eastern Europe. Zeire Zion was the strongest youth movement in eastern Europe at the time. Previously it had been closely linked with Hapoel Hatzair, which hoped for their adherence after their arrival in Palestine. But these expectations were only partly fulfilled, many members of Zeire Zion joining Ahdut. The polemics between the two groups proceeded not only on a literary level: they competed for every newcomer, and there were unedifying scenes in Jaffa harbour. Whenever a new ship anchored, representatives of the rival factions tried to enlist new members on the spot, like porters quarrelling over the baggage of tourists. The young Zionists, newly arrived from eastern Europe, were baffled, and then shocked and dismayed. This state of affairs affected Hapoel Hatzair even more than its rivals, for it had regarded itself as the conscience of the labour movement, not as just another party engaging in political strife. It did not want to waste its time working out new programmes and platforms. Its aim and raison d’êitre was to be the guardian of the basic values of the movement, which were put in jeopardy at a time of mass immigration.
Hapoel Hatzair had been influential among the agricultural workers; in the town it had only a limited following. On the other hand, it was supported by numerous writers, teachers and other intellectuals. Politically, such backing was insignificant, but it enhanced the prestige of the movement. While Ahdut Ha’avoda attracted more members in Palestine, Hapoel Hatzair, together with its supporters abroad, had the stronger faction at the Zionist congresses. In 1921 one of its members, Yosef Sprinzak, was elected to the Zionist executive, the first time that a member of one of the labour groups entered the top rank of the world movement. As the bitter struggle between the two parties continued, it gradually dawned on their members that the duplication of effort in almost every field was wasteful and counter-productive. The establishment of rival trade unions, in particular, was clearly self-defeating. In July 1920 an all-party commission was set up to explore the possibility of establishing united trade unions to take over all non-political activities such as the consumers union, the sick fund and the employment exchanges. In December 1920, after much discussion, the General Federation of Jewish Labour (Histadrut) was founded. Of the 87 delegates elected by the votes of 4,433 members to the council, Ahdut Ha’avoda had 37, Hapoel Hatzair 26, Hashomer Hatzair 16, and the left Poale Zion 6.
The economic activities of the Jewish workers were from now on concentrated in a neutral, non-partisan organisation which was also to run an immigration office, a workers’ bank, and a number of economic undertakings. Within the next three years the number of workers organised in the trade unions doubled, and by 1923 every other Jewish worker was a member of the Histadrut, although conditions had been anything but auspicious when it was established: one out of four workers was unemployed and the World Zionist Organisation had not the financial resources to cope with the sudden crisis. The Palestinian government was willing to provide employment in the public-works sector, but there were few Jewish building workers, the newcomers having to be given special training. The Histadrut was desperately poor in those early years. The seven members of its first executive (four from Ahdut Ha’avoda, three from Hapoel Hatzair), had to share a single room. The seat of the executive was first in Tel Aviv, but was transferred in 1922 to Jerusalem. It returned to Tel Aviv in 1925 when it became increasingly clear that in Jerusalem it was cut off from the main concentrations of Jewish labour. The leaders of the Histadrut needed all their enthusiasm to surmount the obstacles facing them: ‘The Labour and Immigration Office (housed in one single room) was sheer hell’, one eye-witness reported. ‘There was a general feeling that the Histadrut would fail and go out of business unless the crisis was overcome soon. Every day we had to register hundreds of hungry comrades; there was no work, no reserve fund to give financial assistance to the unemployed.’*
Like previous and subsequent immigration waves, the third aliya went through a period of ‘great despair’. For a while it seemed likely that a substantial part of the urban workers would desert Zionism and join the Communists, who appeared under the label of MOPS (Mifleget Poalim Sozialistit, Socialist Workers Party). Emigration from Palestine also became a real problem. True, the percentage of those who went back to Europe was not nearly so high as it had been before 1914; according to reliable estimates only about 25 per cent of the postwar immigrants left again within a few years. But in 1923, when immigration was already on the decline, re-emigration rose to 43 per cent. This trend continued to 1924, when the economic crisis gave way to a new era of prosperity and an unexpected influx of immigrants opened a new era of great economic activity.
The history of the Palestinian Jewish labour movement begins, properly speaking, only after the First World War. All that had happened before had been in retrospect a mere prelude, its pre-history. True, the second aliya had laid many a foundation stone, but without the third immigration wave the building would not have been erected. The number of Jewish workers in both town and countryside had been minimal before 1914. Even the kvutza, perhaps the main achievement of the second aliya, had been no more than the forerunner of the kibbutz, which after 1918 inaugurated the era of large-scale collective agriculture. When Degania, the mother of the kvutzot, was set up, it had a dozen members. Ten years later, Ein Harod, the first kibbutz, had 215 at the time of its foundation.
The emergence of the kibbutz for a long time overshadowed the development of another kind of agricultural settlement, also established after the First World War - the moshav (literally, settlement). This was an attempt to combine individual initiative and collective action: in the moshav every member worked his own holding, but there were strict rules of cooperative marketing and purchase. Success in the moshav depended on the hard work and experience of the individual. It appealed to those who disliked either the lack of personal incentive or the intensity of social life in the kibbutzim. The first moshavim, such as Nahalal and Kfar Yeheskel, were founded at about the same time as the first kibbutzim, but they developed only slowly because, unlike the kibbutzim, they had no great attraction for the Zionist youth organisations in the diaspora. The kibbutz constituted a new way of life. The moshav was, from the outside, seen as at best a step towards the normalisation of the Jewish social structure. In 1930 there were altogether nine moshavim, with a total membership of nine hundred. But with the big immigration waves of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s the moshav underwent a period of rapid development. In 1963 there were more than three hundred of them, with 110,000 members, more than the total membership of the kibbutzim. The moshav has attracted less interest among outside observers because it lacks the glamour of the kibbutz, its social and economic structure being less revolutionary and original. Unlike the kibbutz it did not at any stage exert any notable political influence. Furthermore, as time went by, the collective element in the moshav movement declined, with a corresponding extension of the private sphere in its economic and social structure. It was in some ways the stepchild of the Zionist movement, but it played a not unimportant part in the absorption of new immigrants and the development of agriculture.
The Third Aliya
The third immigration wave constituted at the time by far the strongest element among Jewish labour in Palestine. About 65 per cent of all agricultural and urban workers had, by the middle 1920s, arrived since the war; only 16 per cent were native Palestinians. As for its composition, this new working class was still not a ‘normal’ community: about 60 per cent were young and unmarried, and there was a heavy preponderance of men (72:28). Although two-thirds of the newcomers originally wanted to settle in kvutzot or kibbutzim, only 20 per cent were actually employed in agriculture, with about 25 per cent working on building sites and public works. But many of the latter regarded this as temporary; about half the building workers in the cities wanted eventually to take up agriculture. The weight of labour in the councils of the Palestinian Jewish community increased. Before 1914 its influence had been negligible, but with the immigration of the early 1920s labour gradually became a major social and political factor and its representatives entered the executive bodies of Palestinian Jewry.
The meeting between the second and third aliya was not without tension and conflict. There were pronounced differences in background, attitudes and political orientation. The generation gap was reflected in the greater radicalism of the new arrivals. But the leaders of the second aliya, sure of themselves and their ideas, kept the reins of leadership firmly in their own hands. Experience, too, was on their side. The year the Histadrut was founded Golda Meir was only twenty-two years old, Meir Ya’ari and Mordehai Namir twenty-three, Bar Yehuda twenty-five, Aran and Ghasan twenty-one, Aharon Zisling nineteen, and Eliezer Kaplan, one of the oldest of this group, twenty-nine, to mention but a few prominent members of the third aliya. All these men and women later rose to positions of eminence in the Zionist movement and the state of Israel, but most of them only after the leading members of the second aliya had begun, one by one, to retire from the political scene. There were a few exceptions: Chaim Arlosoroff became head of the political department of the Jewish Agency at an early age, and Eliezer Kaplan, like Arlosoroff a former member of Hapoel Hatzair (less rich than Ahdut Ha’avoda in public figures), became financial director of the Jewish Agency in the 1930s. But by and large leadership remained in the hands of the older group.
The leaders of the second aliya were more or less of the same age and came from remarkably similar backgrounds: Ben Zvi, David Bloch, Blumenfeld, Kaplanski and Javneeli were born in 1884, Sprinzak in 1885, Ben Gurion, Zerubavel, Israel Shochat and David Remes in 1886, Tabenkin, Berl Locker and Berl Katznelson in 1887.* While this list is not complete, it includes most of the men who represented labour for almost five decades. Most of them hailed from White Russia and the northern Ukraine. Sprinzak was born in Moscow and later worked in Warsaw, but he was almost the only one of that generation to come from a big town. There was hardly anyone from Poland or Galicia - Kaplanski, who worked in Vienna, had been born in Bialystok, and Yosef Ahronowitz, one of the founders of Hapoel Hatzair, who left for Palestine from Galicia, where he had taught for many years, was in fact born in the Ukraine. Within this general area in which labour Zionism flourished, there was a further concentration: the majority hailed from certain small towns. Both Syrkin and Witkin were born in Mohilev, where Remes and David Sakai later worked. Bobruisk, the birthplace of Berl Katznelson and Tabenkin, also produced many other leading members of the second aliya. A very small place like Plonsk produced David Ben Gurion, Shlomo Zemach and Shlomo Lavi, who played a decisive part in the settlement of the Yesreel valley and the establishment of the first kibbutzim. The Shochat clan came from the Velkovisk area, as did the Golomb family. On the other hand, one would look in vain for leading labour Zionists hailing from Warsaw or Odessa, Riga or Moscow, Lvov or Vilna.†
Almost all of them learned Hebrew in a traditional religious school (cheder) or, if the family was well off, from a private tutor. All of them rejected orthodox Judaism in their private life, but retained a strong positive sentiment towards Jewish traditions, none of them becoming virulently anti-religious, as did so many Bundists. One small group stands out among the leaders of the second aliya: these were the young Palestinians - Moshe Sharett, Dov Hos (born in 1894) and Eliyahu Golomb (born in 1893). They were too young to play an important role in the prewar period, but they rose to positions of eminence in defence (Golomb) and Zionist diplomacy (Sharett and Hos) in the 1920s and 1930s. They, too, had been born in Russia. Sharett’s family came from the Kherson district, Hos from Orsha, and Golomb from Velkovisk. While still of school age they had been sent or taken by their families to Palestine, and finished their studies at the Herzl high school in Jaffa-Tel Aviv. In school they established a Zionist youth organisation and, after graduating, went to Kineret and Degania to work in an agricultural commune. They came from families which were comfortably off - Golomb’s family, for instance, owned a flour mill - but, influenced by Socialist ideas, they decided to throw in their lot with the labour movement. They were eventually accepted by their seniors as equals despite marked psychological differences, for the fact that the younger ones had spent some of their formative years in Palestine, not in eastern Europe, put them in a category apart.
Among the leaders of the second aliya, the similarity in their backgrounds was reflected in common interests and purposes.* Almost all of them had pronounced cultural interests, most of them published books at one time or another, many were amateur philologists. Shazar (Rubashov) wrote essays and poetry, Berl Katznelson became an accomplished master of the language, Ben Gurion studied philosophy when he was in his sixties. Golomb, who was in charge of Hagana, the Jewish defence force, was also for a time editor of his party’s weekly journal. All began their political career as agricultural labourers in Petah Tiqva or one of the nearby colonies. Remes worked at Kastina, and Eshkol in an agricultural settlement near Jerusalem, but not many remained in agriculture for more than a few years.† This seems a little surprising in view of the strong emphasis put by the Socialist-Zionist movement in east Europe on manual labour, and their disdain not just for higher education but for all specialised professional knowledge. The ideal type for them was the competent worker, an expert in irrigating orange groves, and with no professional ambitions beyond that. The circumstances of their life cut across these ideals. Aware that their education had been incomplete, Ben Gurion and Ben Zvi decided to study at the University of Constantinople, where they met David Remes. Later on, Sharett and Dov Hos also went to the Turkish capital. Shlomo Zemach went to Paris and Salman Shazar to Germany to study philosophy and history; both returned only after the end of the First World War. By the early 1920s, ten years after they had arrived in Palestine, almost all of them had become party or trade union officials. The iron law of elitism and bureaucratisation in political movements had again prevailed.
With all their traditional education, with the strong emphasis they put on their Jewishness, it was their east European small-town background which gave its specific character to the second aliya. Living in semi-isolation, east European Jewry had in fact always been strongly influenced, consciously and unconsciously, by its surroundings. These influences manifested themselves in its songs, its traditional attire, and even its language. The mental make-up, the habits, customs and interests of Russian and east European Jewish students were remarkably similar around the turn of the century. Many were not fully aware of this impact of their surroundings - those particularly proud of their specific Jewish heritage would have angrily rejected any imputation of alien influences. But the vitality, the idealism, the shirokaia natura, the eagerness for passionate debate, the fondness for long speeches, the predilection for pathos and well turned-out phrases - these and other traits of character were common to Russian and Russian-Jewish intellectuals.
The leaders of the second aliya were men and women of considerable intelligence, and most of them showed in later life an impressive capacity to grow with the increasing responsibilities imposed on them. Ben Gurion at forty-five was a trade union official with no more than a rudimentary knowledge of international politics and hardly any experience in statecraft. He was to reach his full stature only in his sixties. But even among the most gifted of them, only a few ever completely transcended the concepts, tastes and moral and cultural standards of the little towns of White Russia and the Ukraine: Pinsk and Mohilev in some ways always remained at the back of their minds. They revealed an astonishing ability to learn and to adjust themselves to new conditions, just as their cousins did who emigrated to America. But even the most adaptable could not totally overcome the narrowness of the Russian-Jewish shtetl. They were righteous men and women, absolutely convinced of their cause, and therefore quite unable to understand the point of view of their opponents. These very limitations made it easier for them to succeed in politics, for it was precisely this unshaken certainty which gave them their strength. Hamlet-like natures would hardly have managed to cope with the uphill tasks facing them in Palestine. In some ways they resembled their counterparts on the Russian political scene, the Mensheviks and the social revolutionaries, but as a group they were tougher and more determined.
The sense of savoir vivre in these men and women was underdeveloped. In private life they were modest; dandies and gourmets were not to be found among them. They could not understand how people could spend time and money on frivolities instead of concentrating on the really important things in life. The first American ambassador described the utterly primitive conditions in which Ben Gurion continued to live in Tel Aviv after he became prime minister. This egalitarianism was strongly rooted in the Russian-Jewish Socialist tradition. At the first Histadrut conventions, speakers insisted that white-collar workers should on no account earn more than manual workers and stressed that it would be unseemly for trade union and party leaders to have a higher standard of living than the workers they represented. Differences in income remained for decades much smaller in the Palestinian labour movement than in the Soviet Union or other Communist countries. Even in the 1940s, a doorman at the Histadrut main building, father of seven children, was likely to get a higher salary than the chief executive of that body.
The men and women of the second aliya were firm believers in democracy, and regarded any attempt to curtail it, whether emanating from the extreme Left or the far Right, not just as political deviation but as a criminal act. Even more fanatical was their Zionism: to be an enemy of Zion (Ssone Zion) was the worst epithet that could be flung at anyone. Neither the Communists nor the revisionists were ever forgiven their misdeeds. The terms Yevsek and Fraktsioner, denoting Jewish Communists, were always pronounced in such a way as to convey loathing and nausea, for these were not just renegades but moral degenerates, the scum of the earth. Nothing would anger and depress Berl Katznelson more than young Jews whoring after false gods - fighting the revolutionary struggles of all peoples but their own.* They were not liberals but Socialists, and democratic rights for the enemies of democracy was a luxury they could not afford. There was never any danger that an autocrat would establish himself as leader among them. They were far too critical, and the party central committee presented an effective check to any would-be dictator. They were vulnerable in other ways: talkative and disputatious, there was always the danger of unending discussions which could drag on without leading to any decision or action.
Moses Hess (1812–75)
Leo Pinsker (1821–91)
Theodor Herzl (1860–1904)
The Basle Programme (1897): text of the official programme of the Zionist Organization as distributed druing the deliberations of the First Zionist Conference in Basle, 1897
Max Nordau (1849–1923)
Ahad Ha’am (1856–1927)
David Wolffsohn (1856–1914)
Nahum Sokolow (1859–1936)
Leo Motzkin (1867–1933)
Martin Buber (1878–1965)
Louis Brandeis (1856–1941)
Stephen Wise (1874–1949)
Chaim Weizmann (1874–1952)
Arthur James Balfour (1848–1930)
Allenby’s entrance into Jerusalem (1917)
The Balfour Declaration (1917)
The foundation ceremony of Tel Aviv (1909)
Tel Aviv forty years later
Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky (1880–1940)
Menahem Ussishkin (1863–1941)
Henrietta Szold (1860-1945)
Arthur Ruppin (1876-1943)
David Ben Gurion (1886–1973)
Chaim Victor Arlosoroff (1899–1933)
Moshe Sharett (1894–1965)
Prime Minister Ben Gurion reading the proclamation of the establishment of Israel. Tel Aviv, 14 May 1948
For all this tendency towards collective leadership, there were two outstanding men among them who frequently imposed their views on the rest: David Ben Gurion and Berl Katznelson. Ben Gurion was less easy going than some of his contemporaries. He introduced an element of toughness, resolution and single-mindedness uncommon among the men and women of that generation, and he was a wholly political animal, sometimes suspected of Machiavellianism. In some respects more farsighted than his colleagues, he could be incredibly stubborn and idiosyncratic in his decisions, traits of character which became more pronounced with the years. Berl Katznelson, who died at a comparatively early age in 1944, was the intellectual and moral preceptor of the movement, the keeper of the conscience of his generation. A self-made man of tremendous erudition, an accomplished speaker who carried his audience with him by the strength of his personality, the depth of his conviction (or fanaticism, as his critics said), and his transparent honesty, he was accepted as the teacher of his own generation and exerted great influence on the following one. Whereas Ben Gurion kept aloof, and had few friends or even close confidants, Berl Katznelson genuinely liked people and went out of his way to make new friends, especially among the young halutzim. He was the moving force behind Ahdut Ha’avoda during the 1920s, and in the early years the central figure of Mapai, indefatigable in his struggle to restore unity in the ranks of Jewish labour.
The second aliya ruled Palestinian labour, then the Zionist movement, and ultimately the state of Israel.* Its immediate impact came to an end with Ben Gurion’s resignation as prime minister, though indirectly its influence continued well beyond that date. The third aliya, whose achievements as a group exceeded those of its predecessor, had to wait for the disappearance of the old guard, by which time its members were in their fifties and sixties. The third aliya produced leaders who in some respects differed sharply from their predecessors, such as Mordehai Namir and Abba Hushi, Eliezer Kaplan and Golda Meir, more competent in the field of administration and economics, less accomplished Hebraists, not so forceful as speakers and without the urge to write books. The future opposition within Mapai was led by the kibbutz element: Tabenkin belonged to the second aliya, Zisling and Galili had come to Palestine as children with their families just before the First World War.
The Hashomer Hatzair leadership was not of Russian-Jewish origin. Meir Ya’ari and Oren hailed from Galicia, Ya’akov Chasan from Lithuania, Bentov and Riftin from Poland. Most of them came from well-established families: Bentov’s father was an old maskil, Ya’ari’s a leading Lover of Zion. By putting themselves into deliberate opposition to the second aliya establishment almost from the day of their arrival, they were out of the running for the leadership of the Palestinian labour movement. Hashomer Hatzair produced a considerable number of gifted and attractive personalities, by no means inferior to their contemporaries in Mapai. But their doctrinaire approach condemned them to growing isolation, which in its turn exaggerated their peculiarities: the less responsibility they had outside their own faction, the more easily did they turn to radical solutions, the more divorced from realities did they become. In later years they identified themselves closely with Soviet foreign policies, and it took a long time and many painful blows to disabuse them of their illusions.
Like all generalisations, those about the common characteristics of the third aliya are at best incomplete. There were quite a few who did not fit into any category. With all the emphasis on collective life, there was a strong individualistic streak in these young Jewish Socialists who were preparing themselves unknowingly for the greater tasks ahead while they served as kibbutz secretaries and trade union officials, organising meetings and deliberating on strikes and sick funds, and as cultural commissars preparing speeches about that most favourite of all topics, ‘On the present situation’. These were the future leaders of the Jewish state.
The Struggle for Power
The economic depression of 1923 was overcome the following year, which also marked the beginning of the fourth aliya: fourteen thousand Jews entered Palestine in 1924, thirty-four thousand in 1925, fourteen thousand in 1926. About half of the new arrivals came from Poland, immigration from that country having been triggered off by the anti-Jewish legislation enacted by the government of the day (Grabski), designed to squeeze the Jews out of many branches of the Polish economy. Among those who had come to Palestine in the years immediately after the First World War the Russian element was the strongest, but the fourth aliya differed from the previous immigration wave also in its social composition. Only about one-third of those who came in the middle 1920s were halutzim who wanted to become manual labourers. The majority were small traders, middlemen, ‘the proletariat of the lower middle class’ as Arlosoroff called them, the overspill from the Jewish quarters of Warsaw and Lodz. Suddenly small shops mushroomed all over Tel Aviv; there was a new shop for every five families. The fourth aliya brought to Tel Aviv the latest Warsaw fashions, higher buildings and higher prices - it also initiated a fresh wave of optimism and initiative.* It was mainly an urban aliya. Most of its members settled in Tel Aviv and Haifa: between 1923 and 1926 the population of Tel Aviv rose from sixteen to forty thousand. Many hundreds of new houses were built, and many small and medium-sized enterprises came into being. For a time it seemed as if Borokhov’s predictions about the ‘stychic’ influx of Jewish capital which would develop Palestine had come true.
The labour movement regarded the fourth aliya (‘capitalists without capital’) with great misgivings, considering that the transplantation of the unhealthy social structure of eastern Europe to Palestine was not likely to add to the strength of the Zionist enterprise.†Even those who came with some money often lacked the vision and the initiative to found industries from which the country as a whole would benefit. Instead, much of the capital went into land speculation and building, and only to a small extent into factories and the expansion of agriculture. By late 1926 the fears of labour had been realised: the boom collapsed and building came to a standstill. By 1927, eight thousand workers were unemployed and when Ben Gurion appeared at public meetings he was met with shouts of ‘leader, give us bread’. The numbers leaving Palestine in 1927 were almost twice that of the new immigrants. Throughout the country, groups of Polish and Russian repatriates were organised. Some Zionists suggested that to avoid panic, emigration from Palestine should be planned by the official Jewish bodies. By 1927-8 the prospects of Zionism were dimmer and its adherents more despondent than ever before. Only a few optimists believed that the movement could recover within the foreseeable future. Yet on balance, beyond the speculation and the other unhealthy phenomena, the contribution of the fourth aliya to the growth of Jewish Palestine was not negative, even though this aspect loomed so prominently at the time. After the collapse of the artificial building boom, capital streamed into more productive branches of the national economy. Citrus growing received a major fresh impetus, and the plain north and south of Tel Aviv developed quickly as new middle class settlements came into being. The labour movement, too, continued to grow, acquiring many new adherents. Membership of the Histadrut, the General Federation of Jewish Labour, had been 4,400 in 1920; by 1927 it had grown to more than 22,000. Many new economic enterprises (about which more below) were sponsored by the Histadrut during that period, and in the cultural field, too, it expanded its activities. Davar, the Histadrut daily, first appeared in 1925, and in the same year a workers’ theatre was founded (‘Ohel’ - the Tent).
Politically, these were difficult years for the labour movement. The fourth aliya had given fresh confidence to the right-of-centre Zionist parties, representing the interests of the property-owning classes. They had all along been opposed to the growing influence of the Left. Among the first to open the offensive was Jabotinsky,* but Zionist federations in Europe (especially in Poland) and in America shared the view that the workers, their institutions and their enterprises, had been too long mollycoddled. The middle class had demonstrated in 1925-6 that it could contribute to the growth of the country and its economy without needing constant financial assistance from the Zionist executive, as labour did. According to this school of thought the workers had shown an inability to make ends meet in their agricultural settlements and even less aptitude in their building cooperatives and industrial enterprises. The Socialist leaders did not deny that there had been substantial deficits, but they argued that they had been engaged in pioneering work, building the foundations of a new economy, and that consequently profits could not be expected for a long time to come. Private enterprise would never have been ready to invest in projects which were of the greatest national importance but from which few if any immediate rewards could be expected.
These arguments were rejected by the fourteenth and fifteenth Zionist congresses. It was resolved that the movement was from now on to be run on normal business lines. Preference was to be given to immigrants with means of their own, and to urban over agricultural settlement. Unemployment was to be tackled by stopping relief, thus compelling the unemployed and other needy persons to emigrate.* ‘Socialist experimentation’ was to be discontinued. The workers’ settlements would have to show that they could stand on their own feet, and if not they would have to face the consequences. The Zionist congress decided that after so many years of squandering money, the Palestinian economy was at long last to be put on a normal footing. The representatives of the Socialist parties were forced to resign from the executive in 1927, and the new line, the ‘Sacher régime’ (named after one of the leaders of British Zionism), became the official policy of the Zionist movement.
The right-wing critique of Socialist economics in Palestine was not totally unfounded. The leaders of the Jewish labour movement were not financial wizards or geniuses in business management. They lacked economic and organisational experience; errors were committed and money had on occasion been squandered. But this was mainly the result of deflation and the fall in farm prices. The mistakes were on a comparatively small scale, inevitable perhaps in the circumstances. On the other hand, the record of private enterprise, as practised by the fourth aliya, was not impressive either, and the ‘Sacher régime’, far from contributing to the recovery of the Palestinian Jewish economy, resulted in stagnation and decline. The Zionist Left reacted bitterly: ‘Bourgeois Zionism is bankrupt’, Ben Gurion declared; the working class was objectively identified with the interests of the country; it was more than a faction within Zionism, it was its main pillar. Other social groups pursued their own narrow class interests, only labour had the interests of the whole nation at heart.† Berl Katznelson concluded that labour now had no alternative but to conquer the Zionist movement from within.
This must have sounded more than somewhat Utopian at the time, for as the Socialists had been forced in 1927 to give up their position in the Zionist executive, the prospects of power seemed more distant than ever. But labour Zionism was no longer a negligible force. In the elections to the Zionist congress in 1927 it had received 22 per cent of the total vote, and its influence in the movement continued to increase. In the elections of 1931 its share rose to 29 per cent, and in 1933, with 44 per cent of the vote, it emerged as by far the largest faction, polling 71 per cent of the total in Palestine. In June 1929 two left-wing representatives had rejoined the executive: in 1931 Chaim Arlosoroff became the head of the political department of the Jewish Agency, and Berl Locker was made director of the organisation department. Again, two years later, Ben Gurion and Eliezer Kaplan also joined the Jewish Agency executive, and Moshe Shertok (Sharett) succeeded Arlosoroff, who had been killed earlier that year. Thus, only a few years after their defeat, hegemony in the Zionist camp passed into the hands of the Socialists.
In retrospect, many reasons can be adduced to explain the triumphant rise of labour Zionism. It was an important factor both in Palestine and in the diaspora, not only among the younger generation, and ‘bourgeois Zionism’ should have been aware that the movement could not be run for any length of time without, let alone against it. It should have been obvious that for many years to come the halutzim, the pioneers, almost all Socialists, would have to play a central part in the building of the country, and that they should not be antagonised. Labour had several capable leaders, whereas on the Right there were hardly any outstanding personalities except Jabotinsky and the aged Ussishkin. The left-wing factions joined forces during this period. Mapai was founded in 1930, and at the Zionist congresses labour Zionism appeared as one united group. The centre and the right-wing groups, on the other hand, were divided. The General Zionists split into one group tending to support right-wing policies, and a left-of-centre caucus which saw labour Zionism as a potential ally. To a certain extent the international constellation also favoured labour Zionism. The world economic crisis and its political repercussions strengthened the Left (and the extreme Right) all over Europe and weakened the centre groups.
In the Zionist camp labour benefited from this process of radicalisation, but so did the revisionists. In 1931 every fourth delegate at the Zionist congress represented Jabotinsky’s movement. A bitter struggle developed between labour and the revisionists, whose influence was by no means restricted to the Polish-Jewish lower middle class, but who had fairly substantial working-class support and a strong youth movement. There were clashes in Tel Aviv between members of the Histadrut and the revisionists, and the fact that Jabotinsky’s disciples had taken to wearing brown shirts reminiscent of the German S.S. did not endear them to the Left. The revisionists had meanwhile set up their own (‘national’) trade union, which enjoyed the patronage of some factory owners and leading orange growers eager to break the Histadrut monopoly of employment exchanges. In Petah Tiqva, Kfar Saba and elsewhere, they negotiated directly with the revisionists to get workers for their enterprises, bypassing the Histadrut. On some occasions, such as the strike in the Frumin biscuit factory, revisionists acted as strike-breakers.* They argued that they were fighting not the Jewish worker but merely the Histadrut which, far from being unpolitical in character, had become a tool of the Socialist parties and discriminated against revisionist workers. The labour leaders regarded this as a deliberate attempt to break the power of the trade unions on behalf of the ‘class enemy’, and ultimately to establish a semi-fascist dictatorship.
The tension reached its height with the murder of Chaim Arlosoroff, the head of the political department of the Jewish Agency, the Zionist foreign minister so to speak. On the evening of 16 June 1933 he was shot while walking along the Tel Aviv sea-shore. The circumstances of the murder were never cleared up and the identity of the assassin has not been established to this day. But hardly anyone on the Left doubted for a moment that revisionists were behind the crime, even though the revisionists themselves emphatically denied responsibility. The murder had been preceded by a hate campaign against labour in the revisionist press. ‘Traitors’, and ‘despicable lackeys of the British’, were among the epithets hurled at Weizmann, Arlosoroff, and the other leaders of the Zionist movement. For a while it seemed as if Jewish Palestine was on the eve of civil war. Perhaps it was only the outside danger facing the community and the Jewish people in general which prevented general bloodshed, for these were the weeks after Hitler’s rise to power. After that revisionism slowly declined. In the elections to the Zionist congress in 1933 Jabotinsky’s party suffered a defeat, its share of the poll falling from 25 to 14 per cent. Following this setback Jabotinsky decided to leave the Zionist congress and to establish an independent world organisation. The struggle between revisionism and labour continued, but Jabotinsky had manœuvred himself into political isolation and was now confronting the opposition of the whole Zionist movement. An agreement reached between Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky concerning relations with the revisionist trade unions was rejected by a majority of Histadrut members in 1935. This had been merely an attempt to reduce demarcation disputes between rival trade unions; Ben Gurion was by no means more sympathetic to revisionism than his own party. In fact, to the very end of his political career he refused to cooperate with revisionists both in the Jewish Agency executive and in the government of the state of Israel.
The economic crisis in Palestine was overcome in 1929, the same year which saw the beginning of the world economic depression. The flow of immigration in 1929-31 was small, but increased in 1932, and in 1933, the year Hitler came to power, reached the unprecedented figure of 38,000, with further increases in 1934 and 1935. There was a larger influx of capital than ever before: £P 31 million in 1932-5, in comparison with £P 20 million during the eleven preceding years. The new immigration wave, the fifth, was not preponderantly pioneering in character; in 1935, the peak year, only 45 per cent of the new immigrants came on workers’ permits. But it was essentially different, more productive than the preceding aliya. Those who came on ‘capitalist’ immigration certificates, i.e. those with £P 1,000 or more to their name, established new industrial enterprises and agricultural settlements. Most of them were not Socialists but their political orientation was on the whole left of centre. Organised labour greatly increased in strength during this period, 73,000 new members joining the Histadrut between 1932 and the outbreak of the Second World War. The fifth immigration wave also differed from the preceding one in respect of its origins: a sizeable part of the workers (about 37 per cent) came from central and western Europe, mainly from Germany and Austria. Many of the new immigrants had been members of Socialist Zionist youth movements in the diaspora, and they wanted to join existing kibbutzim or to establish new ones.
The kibbutz comes of age
The few hundred young men and women who had initiated the kibbutz movement in the early years had no clear concept of the future of their collectives. It was by no means certain that they were to stay in Degania and Kineret, or whether they wanted to expand the settlements. There was in fact no kibbutz network, only a number of settlements, loosely connected; technical cooperation between the seven hundred members of the kibbutzim hardly existed in 1922. Five years later the kibbutz population had risen to 4,000. Over the next decade it quadrupled, and by the outbreak of the Second World War it was almost 25,000, 5 per cent of the total Jewish population in Palestine. After two decades the kibbutz had come of age, outgrown its experimental stage. The collective way of life was constitutionally regulated even though there continued to be substantial differences between kibbutz and kibbutz, traceable in some cases to the social origin and cultural background of the settlers. There was no unanimity as to what collective life should be like in detail, and there were marked differences of opinion about the place of the kibbutz in Palestine-Jewish politics. The attempt to unite all kibbutzim in one overall organisational framework, undertaken in the late 1920s, was therefore bound to fail. Instead, three separate groups came into being: the United Kibbutz (Kibbutz Hameuhad) in 1927, the countrywide network of Hashomer Hatzair also founded Kibbutz Artzi in 1927, and lastly the Chever Hakvutzot, the Association of kvutzot, made up of the earliest collective settlements such as Degania and Kineret, which came into being in 1928.
The United Kibbutz was based at first on Ein Harod, the original ‘big kibbutz’ which had split from the Labour Legion and settled in the valley of Yesreel. From Ein Harod small groups went to other parts of the country to establish new collective settlements. At first, these regarded themselves as part of Ein Harod. Only gradually did they assume an identity and a name of their own. The Kibbutz Meuhad criticised its two rivals for the exclusivity of their settlements and believed in the principle of big collectives. Its statutes, adopted in 1927, emphasised the necessity of building ‘large collective settlements’ open to outsiders to join. The members of the settlements were to engage in agriculture, industry and handicrafts, and the kibbutzim were to expand as rapidly as possible in order to absorb new immigrants. This was to be achieved through more intensive working methods, the establishment of new enterprises, and through the increase of the area under cultivation. There was in the 1920s and 1930s a tendency towards economic self-sufficiency, which was later abandoned; kibbutzim used to bake their own bread, sew their own clothes, and even make their own shoes. But gradually it was realised that this was a wasteful system and that it would be far better to have a rational division of labour with other kibbutzim in the neighbourhood, regardless of their political outlook, or to buy the commodities needed in the nearby towns.
In the early days there were not a few quarrels about the respective rights of each kibbutz within the network to which it belonged; whether, for instance, a settlement could be compelled to unite with another collective. Gradually, by trial and error, a modus vivendi was worked out. As indicated, the Kibbutz Meuhad did not believe in élitism and was less selective than its rivals in accepting new members. As a rule, everyone willing to join, able to work and to share the kibbutz way of life was accepted after a short trial period, regardless of origin, cultural level or social compatibility: the larger the collective, the less these considerations mattered. The biggest kibbutzim, such as Yagur (near Haifa) and Givat Brenner (south of Tel Aviv), had about 400-450 members by the late 1930s and the day did not seem far off when a thousand people would live in a kibbutz - a far cry from the vision of the founders of Degania.* The apocryphal story of the two people from Yagur who met in town and discovered by accident that they were members of the same kibbutz became a standard joke.
The kibbutzim of the Hashomer Hatzair quickly adapted themselves to the new conditions. There had been four of them in 1927, but when the Second World War broke out their number had risen to thirty-nine. With the big immigration wave of the 1930s thousands of members of European youth movements arrived from eastern and central Europe and established new settlements all over the country. The individual kibbutz also grew in size; in the early days the average settlement had numbered about sixty members, but as the kibbutz economy expanded, and more working hands were needed, it was believed that sixty families, that is about 120 members, would be the optimal number. Yet these estimates, which some took to be iron laws, proved far too low. Three decades later some settlements of the Hashomer Hatzair had three hundred members with a total population of six hundred or more.
The usual procedure for a group of halutzim newly arrived in the country was to take up temporary quarters - usually in tents, sometimes in barracks in the vicinity of a town or village. They would work on building sites and in neighbouring orange groves. After a few years of acclimatisation, acculturation and gaining experience, they would either join one of the existing older kibbutzim or, more frequently, establish a new settlement on land put at their disposal by the National Fund. Most male members of the kibbutzim were engaged in agricultural work. It was far more difficult to provide ‘productive’ employment for the women, who were heavily concentrated on work in the kitchen and laundry, and of course the children’s house. While all favoured full equality of the sexes in every respect, it proved impossible to find a satisfactory solution while the kibbutzim derived almost their entire income from agriculture. This changed with the gradual spread of light industries in the late 1930s and especially during and after the Second World War. The first factories produced plywood, building materials, jams, and canned food. Later, industry expanded to a wide range of products, some requiring highly sophisticated processing. By the 1960s the kibbutzim derived about half their income from industry, while providing about one-third of the total agricultural produce of the state of Israel.
Mention has been made of the turn to the Left of Hashomer Hatzair in 1927. The initiative for moving closer to the orbit of Soviet policies came from Poland, but it spread to the Palestinian movement, and caused mounting dissension between Hashomer Hatzair and the other kibbutzim which did not accept the pro-Soviet orientation. After contesting the Histadrut elections with its own list of candidates, Hashomer Hatzair turned in 1930 to the idea of a political party of its own. In 1936 an organisation of sympathisers with the movement outside the kibbutzim was set up, the Socialist League. This body did not attain much political importance and was eventually dissolved, but it served as an interim stage on the road towards a fully fledged political party (Mapam) after the Second World War.
Kibbutz Meuhad, less elitist, more ‘proletarian’ in character, followed with growing misgivings the developments in Hashomer Hatzair. Its programme also explicitly stressed the Communist way of life as the social basis of the collective, and its members were obliged to belong to the Histadrut. These basic principles apart, every member was free to support the political party of his choice, in contrast to the Hashomer Hatzair for which ‘ideological collectivism’ was a conditio sine qua non; members of its kibbutzim had to share not just a way of life but also the same Weltanschauung. The politisation of the kibbutz movement, inevitable perhaps, had serious consequences. The case of Bet Alfa and Ramat Yohanan in the 1930s was the first in a long series of splits which shook the kibbutz movement to its foundations. Bet Alfa had been the first of the Hashomer Hatzair kibbutzim, but it included a substantial number of members who did not subscribe to Hashomer Hatzair ideology. The political conflict spilled over into the social sphere, poisoning personal relations until old friends and comrades found it impossible to live together any longer. After a long period of growing tension a population transfer was decided upon. Since a similar situation existed in Kibbutz Ramat Yohanan, it was resolved to concentrate all members of Hashomer Hatzair in Bet Alfa and to make Ramat Yohanan a Mapai kibbutz.
It was a painful operation, but no more so than the incredible situation which developed in the Kibbutz Meuhad after the split in Mapai in 1944, and in particular after the second split in 1951. Separate dining halls and kindergartens were established for members of the rival factions and their offspring, and when these palliatives did not help, old established and flourishing kibbutzim such as Givat Haim, Ashdot Ya’akov and Ein Harod were divided, separate settlements being set up sometimes no more than a mile apart. Within a decade or two a new generation had grown up, and the reasons which had caused these splits were either totally forgotten or now seemed insignificant. But by that time the new settlements had grown apart and reunion was no longer possible.
The Chever Kvutzot consisted of the oldest collective settlements in the country, but for many years it was the least dynamic branch of the movement. While the other groups expanded, Degania and Kineret, Geva and Ginegar stagnated. Gradually its members realised that by continuing to adhere to the original type of settlement, the small kvutza, they had cut themselves off from the mainstream of the kibbutz movement. They were not able to develop economically and to absorb new immigrants. Their great fear was that by growing too fast the original, intimate character of their collectives would be lost. They abhorred the radical political phraseology of the Hashomer Hatzair and the impersonal atmosphere prevailing in places like Yagur. These were certainly not the new societies of which A.A. Aordon had dreamed. Yet with all their reservations they would have been in favour of a policy of cautious expansion if only there had been suitable candidates to join their settlements. Instead they lost members, mainly to the moshavim; of 57 members of Degania and 68 of Kineret in 1922, only 32 and 27 respectively were left eight years later.*
The Chever Kvutzot, unlike its competitors, had neglected its links with the young generation of Socialist pioneers preparing themselves in Europe for life in the kibbutz. The Hashomer Hatzair youth movement spread from Poland to many other countries and had thousands of members. The Kibbutz Meuhad could count on members of half a dozen Jewish youth movements in Europe and on the Palestinian ‘Working Youth’ (Noar Oved). In 1930 Naan, the first kibbutz of Palestinian youth, was founded. But Degania and Kineret had no reserve army. Facing internal crises and economic stagnation, there was a distinct danger that they would disintegrate. Salvation came from unexpected quarters: the youth movement Gordonia had developed in Poland in the 1920s without the assistance of the Chever Hakvutzot and almost without its knowledge. Its members shared the ideals of the founders of Degania, and after their arrival in Palestine in the 1930s they joined the settlements belonging to this movement, providing a much needed stimulus. Existing settlements absorbed these new immigrants and new ones were founded. By the middle 1930s Degania had 130 working members, while by 1939 the Chever counted twenty-one settlements and a dozen groups located in temporary quarters while waiting for the allocation of land. It remained the smallest of the three movements, but the crisis which had threatened its existence was surmounted.
The trade unions
The General Federation of Trade Unions, the Histadrut, developed in conditions totally different from trade union movements elsewhere. The normal function of a trade union is to defend the interests of its members against the employers, and on occasion to provide certain social services not offered by the state. The problems facing Jewish workers in Palestine in the 1920s and 1930s were of a different character. Since industry was as yet hardly developed, and private enterprise showed little enthusiasm for pioneering work, the Histadrut had to take the initiative in creating work for its members and for those yet to come. The logic of events drove it into becoming the biggest employer in the country in addition to defending the interests of the employees. It was an anomalous situation to be sure. No one had planned it that way, and a great many problems grew from this duality. What, for instance, if the workers clashed with the management in a Histadrut enterprise?
The Histadrut came to act as an entrepreneur in agriculture (Tnuva, marketing the agricultural produce of all collective and cooperative settlements) and in the building industry (Solel Boneh built roads, houses and factories, and acquired stone quarries and brick-works). The Histadrut was the first to promote high-seas fishing, shipping, and even civil aviation in Palestine. It set up cooperative retail stores, urban housing offices, a workers’ bank, a big insurance company (Hasneh), and countless medium-sized enterprises in industry, transport and agriculture. Solel Boneh expanded rapidly after the depression of 1926-7. From modest beginnings it grew into a major concern even by international standards, eventually building up to fifty thousand houses a year. Koor, its industrial branch, controlled steel rolling mills, chemical plants, cement and glass factories, and held subtantial interests in the timber and food-processing industries. Forty years after the foundation of the Histadrut, these enterprises accounted for no less than 35 per cent of the total gross national product (53 per cent in agriculture, 44 per cent in building, 39 per cent in transport, and 25 per cent in industry).
The share of the Socialist sector of the economy was most impressive, but to what extent was it still subject to democratic control? In theory, every member of the Histadrut was automatically a member of the Cooperative Association of Labour (Chevrat Ovdim), which functioned as the central organisation of all Histadrut enterprises and also as their owner. In theory, every member had a say in the management of Histadrut-owned enterprises. But in practice, as membership increased and economic activities multiplied, this right to share in decision-making became a dead letter. According to the original constitution there was to be no hired outside labour in the cooperatives and no outsiders were to be employed. But this golden rule, too, was disregarded almost from the outset, in producer and transport cooperatives alike, and later on also in many moshavim and even kibbutzim, for these enterprises were subject to marked seasonal fluctuation, needing additional working hands at certain times and only minimal labour at others. The dilemma was insoluble. Resolutions were passed from time to time to give workers and clerical staff seats on administrative committees and a share in management as well as in financial surpluses. But these demands, as in other countries, encountered opposition on the part of the management, which jealously guarded its prerogatives. Nor was there any particular desire among the workers to take on these responsibilities. In this respect, too, a wide divergence developed between Socialist theory and practice, with considerations of efficiency and profitability prevailing over time-honoured doctrine.
As Labour Zionism became the dominant factor in the Zionist movement, its history and that of the Jewish community in Palestine merge and are no longer clearly distinguishable. In the early 1930s the leaders of Mapai emerged as the central figures in Zionist policy, and an account of their ideas and actions can no longer be presented in isolation from the much wider issues of the period, such as relations with the Arabs and the mandatory power and the development of the yishuv in general. Yet it was precisely in this period that the labour movement enjoyed a phase of rapid growth. Many new initiatives were sponsored, and existing enterprises expanded beyond recognition. It is to some of these activities outside the traditional scope of party politics and trade unionism that we shall next turn.
The history of Labour Zionism cannot be written without reference to the Hehalutz, the organisation of young Jewish pioneers which prepared a whole generation in the diaspora for a life of manual work in Palestine. The original idea had been Trumpeldor’s, first formulated around 1908. His experiences in Palestine during the days of the second aliya had strengthened his belief that prospective immigrants should receive intensive training in their country of origin to prepare them for the new life in Palestine. They were to live together on a farm or, in rare cases, in an urban commune, to gain experience in agriculture as well as in other essential professions. In a conversation with Jabotinsky during the First World War, Trumpeldor described the Hehalutz as he envisaged it, as an army of anonymous servants of Zion, having neither private interests nor inclinations, nameless workers entirely devoted to the supreme challenge of building up Jewish Palestine, willing to do any work demanded of them. Similar ideas were developed by Ben Gurion and Ben Zvi during their stay in America in 1917-18.
The Hehalutz came into being towards the end of the First World War, its main strength being then in Russia. With the emigration to Palestine of many of its members, and its subsequent suppression by the Soviet régime,* the centre of the movement shifted to the west. Most Jewish youth movements in the diaspora decided to educate their members for a halutzic life in Palestine. The picture of the halutz in his blue shirt and khaki trousers working in an orange grove with spade or hoe appeared in thousands of Jewish homes, competing with photographs of Herzl and the panorama of Jerusalem, projecting the vision of a new society in the national home. All labour Zionist parties supported the Hehalutz and competed for the allegiance of its members, just as they had tried to win over the immigrants of the third aliya. Ben Gurion and a few others, however, had doubts about the efficacy of hachshara (preparation) outside Palestine. They thought the aim praiseworthy, but conditions in Europe were so dissimilar from those they would meet in Palestine that a useful apprenticeship there seemed well-nigh impossible.
The Hehalutz head office was located in Berlin in the early 1920s and later transferred to Warsaw. Its first world conference took place in Karlsbad in 1921. Membership rose from 5,400 in 1923 to 33,000 in 1925, but fell again to 8,000 in 1928, accurately reflecting the ups and downs in the fortunes of the Zionist movement as a whole. It was only during the 1930s that the Hehalutz became a real mass movement, membership rising to 83,000 in 1933. About one-quarter of them worked on farms in Poland and Germany. The movement spread to places as far afield as Cuba, Iraq and South Africa. Many a farmer in Europe and America was nonplussed by the spectacle of city-bred Jewish boys and girls trying desperately hard, if not always successfully, to milk cows, to shovel dung, and to cope with other strenuous and uncongenial jobs for which, all too obviously, they were not prepared. Altogether, some 34,000 halutzim arrived in Palestine during the 1930s, almost half of the total who came on workers entry permits. (Within the yearly immigration schedule the mandatory authorities made provision for various categories such as ‘capitalists’, workers, students, etc.)
In 1935, when immigration was drastically cut, the Hehalutz began again to decline. Its members were now forced to remain in training centres not just for a year or two, as had been the case previously. Among the eight thousand still in training centres on the eve of the Second World War, some had been waiting four years or longer for their turn to go to Palestine. Life in these centres was deliberately Spartan and primitive. There was a veritable cult of harshness and self-denial, and everything was subordinated to mastering heavy manual work, a severe challenge to young people who neither by background nor education had been prepared for it. This was done at the expense of ignoring other and seemingly insignificant aspects of life. Even the more common amenities were often lacking, and cleanliness and cultural activities were neglected. Such excess of zeal occasionally shocked even the emissaries from Palestine, themselves hardened veterans of the second and third aliyas.*
Some of the halutzim still stranded in Europe in 1938-9 eventually succeeded in reaching the shores of Palestine. They came as illegal immigrants, owing their lives to the systematic efforts undertaken to save as many as possible in contravention of the stringent immigration laws imposed by the mandatory authorities following the outbreak of the Arab riots. An earlier attempt, the voyage of the Velos in 1934, organised by a member of Degania, ended in failure. But after 1937, with tens of thousands of prospective immigrants impatiently waiting for their entry permits, with the clouds of war gathering on the European horizon, and with no change in sight in the attitude of the mandatory government, illegal immigration was resumed on a massive scale. Small, ancient, unseaworthy ships, hardly bigger than motor launches and designed to carry a few dozen passengers only, arrived with many hundreds on board, in conditions the like of which had not been seen anywhere in modern times. Some of them successfully ran the blockade, others were detected and apprehended. About 11,000 illegal immigrants came in 1939, and even after the outbreak of war some ships continued to arrive; 3,900 men, women and children in 1940, and 2,135 in 1941. After that date immigration, both legal and illegal, dwindled to a mere trickle. Many of the organisers of this illegal traffic were labour Zionists, usually members of kibbutzim. Most of those who came in these ships were members of the Hehalutz and left-wing youth movements. The whole enterprise is another example of the unorthodox activities of the heirs of Borokhov and Syrkin, well outside the confines of the political and industrial struggle. But illegal immigration was merely one aspect of the activities of the Jewish defence organisation, the Hagana, which was dominated by men and women belonging to the labour movement, even though considerable efforts were made to induce non-Socialist groups to participate at every level of Hagana activities.
The beginnings of defence organisation date back to Hashomer, the Jewish watchmen’s association founded before the First World War. After 1918, following the Arab attacks in Galilee and Jaffa, Hagana came into being. Illegal arms stores were established, as well as rudimentary training centres for young Jews of both sexes all over the country. These efforts were on a small scale and usually quite amateurish. Only with the outbreak of the Arab revolt of 1936 did Hagana perforce become a tightly organised and reasonably effective defence force, composed of thousands of part-time soldiers. While it was an unwritten rule that every young member of the community should do the job assigned to him by Hagana, both the command and the great majority of those serving in it belonged to the labour movement. It was to all intents and purposes a working-class militia, with all the advantages and drawbacks of an organisation of this kind. There was no militarist spirit in its ranks since it was composed entirely of volunteers. Discipline, on the other hand, was sometimes deficient, and as a fighting force it had its limitations. Its left-wing character was so pronounced that those opposed to labour Zionism opted for the IZL (Irgun Zvai Leumi-National Military Organisation) which, following Jabotinsky’s lead, had split away from the Hagana in the early 1930s. The right-wing parties were apprehensive about the emergence of a working-class army, and their fears, while exaggerated, were not altogether without foundation. For a militia was bound to be dominated by the Left because it alone had a sufficiently broad mass basis, through its youth organisations and the kibbutzim, to undertake an illegal enterprise of this magnitude. The kibbutzim played a particularly significant part in Hagana, both as strategic strongpoints in times of crisis and as bases for military training and storing arms beyond the reach of the mandatory police.
Both the night squads initiated by Wingate and the Palmach, which was set up during the Second World War, had their bases in the kibbutzim. Since there was no money to finance the nucleus of a standing army, however small, such as the Palmach was intended to be, to cover expenses its members divided their time more or less equally between military training and agricultural work, no doubt a unique experiment in the history of modern warfare. The morale of these groups, too, was sui generis, differing from that of any other known fighting force. They exemplified the spirit of the pioneer youth movements. There were no uniforms and no insignia of rank. Indoctrination was left-wing Socialist in character, with members of the Kibbutz Meuhad in prominent positions of command (Israel Galili served as chief-of-staff of the Hagana, Yigal Allon as commander of the Palmach), and a veteran of the Russian civil war (Yitzhak Sade) acted as the father figure of the young generation of commanders. Ben Gurion was not far from the truth when in 1948 he called the Palmach a private army of the Kibbutz Meuhad. It was an elite corps, and had to be dissolved when a regular army was organised, but its traditions continued to have a powerful impact, while many of its junior commanders rose to the highest army positions in later years.
The members of the kibbutz movement were reluctant warriors. They came to take a leading part in defence organisations because their settlements were attacked in 1929 and again in 1936-9. The Arab rebellion of 1936 did not stop further Jewish settlement. New kibbutzim were founded during this period, which entered Palestinian history under the name of ‘Wall and Watchtower’ (Homa vemigdal), among them Hanita and Ein Gev, Sha’ar Hagolan and Revivim. Their establishment had to be planned like military operations, with clockwork precision, usually by night or in the early hours of the morning. A convoy would descend on land which belonged to Jews but which for security reasons had not been cultivated. Within a few hours a number of block houses and a watch-tower would have been up, with defence posts and barbed wire to protect the settlement against attack. It was a far cry from the peaceful colonisation envisaged by the fathers of labour Zionism, more reminiscent of how the American west had been settled, or central Asia and the Caucasus. The doctrine of proletarian internationalism clashed with the cruel facts of life as the young generation became aware of the vital importance of defence for which ideologically they had been quite unprepared.
This list of the extracurricular activities of the Palestinian labour parties, the kibbutzim and the trade unions, is by no means complete. Mention, however brief, ought to be made of their initiatives in the cultural field. The Histadrut had its own network of schools - nine hundred of them in 1953, when Israeli education was ‘nationalised’. There were teachers’ seminars, libraries and cultural clubs all over the country. The workers’ councils in the cities and the kibbutzim ran impressive cultural programmes, sponsored sports clubs (Hapoel), and eventually established flourishing publishing houses. Under the auspices of the Am Oved and Sifriat Poalim publishing houses, set up by the Histadrut and Hashomer Hatzair respectively, more than two thousand books were brought out. In addition to Davar, the Histadrut newspaper, the main Socialist parties also published daily newspapers of their own (Al Hamishmar, the Hashomer Hatzair paper, first appeared during the Second World War. Lamerhav was sponsored by Ahdut Ha’avoda on the eve of the split in Mapam). These were no common achievements: bigger and more powerful Socialist parties, such as those in Britain and France, had failed to maintain their daily newspapers. It was another illustration of the determination and resourcefulness of the Jewish labour movement, which, moreover, provided a specific way of life for its members and sympathisers.
The kibbutz, a closed society, obviously constituted a unique way of life, but in the towns, too, a trade union member had no need to move far outside the compass of the Histadrut sector, even if he did not work in one of its enterprises. He could do his shopping in a cooperative store, deposit his money in a workers’ bank, send his children to Histadrut-sponsored kindergartens and schools, and consult a doctor at the Kupat Holim (Histadrut Sick Fund), which was ultimately to provide medical services for 65 per cent of the total population, a semi-official national health service in fact. But for the fact that the Histadrut did not own cemeteries, it would have been true to say that the Histadrut provided the great majority with all amenities from the cradle to the grave. Critics were concerned about the danger of total domination, but there were in fact natural limits to Histadrut expansion; some of the functions it fulfilled under the mandate were no longer needed once the Jewish state came into being.
These achievements were all the more remarkable since Jewish labour was by no means united. Mention has been made of the division between various factions before and after the First World War. The two largest of them, Ahdut Ha’avoda and Hapoel Hatzair, merged in January 1930 to form Mapai. It was a turning point, but not the end of the splits. For many years to come Mapai was to be plagued by internal strife.
Towards labour unity
The Palestinian Labour Party was formed under the impact of the riots of 1929, when the Jewish community in Palestine and the Zionist cause were under attack. The need for unity had been realised well before. Since the abortive attempt in 1919 to unite the two main groups in Jewish Labour, many leading figures in both camps had continued to advocate a merger. As the movement came under attack from the right after 1925, Ahdut Ha’avoda and Hapoel Hatzair drew closer together. The continued division seemed an anachronism, for ideological differences had almost disappeared. A small left-wing Marxist minority in Ahdut Ha’avoda feared that its Socialist values and aims would be further compromised and watered down in the case of a merger with people who in principle opposed the class struggle, whose orientation was not towards the working class but towards the whole people, and especially the young generation. Equally, inside Hapoel Hatzair there was still a body of opinion which was concerned, as A.A. Aordon had been ten years earlier, lest the specific humanistic values of their movement should be submerged as the result of union with a group exclusively interested in party politics, even if the common ideological platform was so vaguely phrased as not to present a deterrent. But the majority in Hapoel Hatzair, headed by Arlosoroff, carried the day. They had cooperated with Ben Gurion, Berl Katznelson, and the other leaders of Ahdut Ha’avoda for years in the trade unions and the Zionist movement, and knew from experience how little in fact divided them. They all subscribed now to constructivism or ‘reformism’, as their Marxist critics defined it.* Eventually, 85 per cent of the members of Hapoel Hatzair and 82 per cent of Ahdut Ha’avoda voted for the merger, which was consummated on 5 January 1930, when the representatives of 5,650 members of the two groups assembled in Tel Aviv to found Mapai. Two years later, at a conference in Danzig, the supporters of the two factions outside Palestine, the world Poale Zion and the Hitachdut, also joined forces in a body to be called Ihud Olami (World Union).
It was an important step towards unity but it did not cover the whole labour community, for two smaller groups, Hashomer Hatzair and the left-wing Poale Zion, refused to join. Mapai membership doubled within the first five years of its existence. It dominated the trade unions and was the strongest party by far both in the world Zionist movement and in the elected bodies of Palestinian Jewry. But its leaders did not speak with one voice. The internal opposition, led by Kibbutz Meuhad, complained that on the road to power and respectability the new party was losing its radical impetus and that the pioneering spirit was fading away. Tabenkin, the leader of Sia Bet (the ‘second faction’), found allies among urban members of Mapai, especially in the Tel Aviv branch. In the elections to the party executive of December 1938 the opposition attracted about one-third of the total vote. Among the issues involved in the growing conflict there were ideological questions such as the attitude towards the Soviet Union and world Communism. There was also an increasing feeling among members of the kibbutzim that their erstwhile comrades of Sejera and the Labour Legion, having transferred their activities to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, no longer regarded the collective settlements with the same enthusiasm. There was some truth in this, for as Ben Gurion began to think and plan more and more in terms of a Jewish state, his concept of statehood (mamlachtiut), with all its theoretical and practical implications, conflicted on occasions with the specific interests of the working-class, and the kibbutz no longer enjoyed the same absolute priority. These considerations apart, there were also personal factors involved, rivalries and antagonisms dating back to the days of the second and third aliyas.
For several years it appeared as if the conflict could be contained within Mapai as the two chief factions were represented in all the main policy-making bodies according to their numerical strength. The outbreak of the Second World War and the dangers facing the Jewish community also inhibited for a while a deepening of the split. But the Mapai majority reached the conclusion that the state of internal division could not be permitted to continue, for it paralysed the party. Its members, and above all its elected representatives, had to be subject to party discipline. The Mapai conference of Kfar Vitkin in 1942 thus decided that it could no longer recognise the existence of factions. This in turn led to the exodus of Sia Bet, which in May 1944 established itself as an independent party under the name Ahdut Ha’avoda. In April 1946 it merged with the left-wing Poale Zion, which had rejoined the Zionist congress in 1937 after boycotting it for several decades. In January 1948, on the eve of the establishment of the state of Israel, a further step was taken towards unity on the Left, when Ahdut Ha’avoda and Hashomer Hatzair decided to set up Mapam (Mifleget Poalim Meuhedet - United Workers Party). The traditional differences between the advocates of a bi-national state (Hashomer Hatzair) and those who had stood for militant action against the mandatory power and favoured the establishment of a Jewish state over the whole of Palestine (Ahdut Ha’avoda) lost their meaning as the new state found itself fighting for its existence. Representatives of Mapam entered the government of Israel in which the two Socialist parties constituted the majority.
But Mapam seems not to have been born under a lucky star, and once the immediate external danger had passed, the party quickly fell apart. As Soviet policy became more and more anti-Israeli (and anti-Jewish) in Stalin’s last days, as purge followed purge, Ahdut Ha’avoda found it increasingly difficult to accept the enthusiasm of Hashomer Hatzair for what some of its leaders called their ‘second homeland’. As a result of the 1952 Prague trial, in which one of Hashomer Hatzair’s leading figures, Mordehai Oren, was sentenced to a long term of imprisonment on the most preposterous charges, and several similar shocks, the party was plunged into a deep internal crisis, which after much wrangling led in 1954 to a final split. Ahdut Ha’avoda had never really embraced the specific brand of Marxism-Leninism which for Hashomer Hatzair had become an essential part of its doctrine. Such ideological issues had seemed of little importance in 1948 but assumed much greater significance five years later.
These events, however, took place after the establishment of the state of Israel, and thus lead us beyond the scope of the present survey. The same applies to the splits which took place within Mapai when Ben Gurion quarrelled with Lavon and later on with Eshkol, as a result of which Rafiwas established in 1965. Paradoxically, all these splits led eventually to greater unity: Ahdut Ha’avoda merged with Mapai in 1965; in 1968 most members of Rafi rejoined Mapai; and in 1969 Hashomer Hatzair, after years of heart-searching, and not without some opposition from within its own ranks, also became part of the labour ‘alignment’ (ma’arakh). More ambitious than a mere coalition, less than a full merger, it was a milestone in the development of the Jewish labour movement. After more than sixty years the great aim had been achieved, when for the first time in its history the movement in its overwhelming majority was gathered under one roof, united on most essential political issues facing it.
Seen in wider perspective, the history of Labour Zionism shows parallels with Socialist movements in other parts of the world. Like other parties it was always divided into a left and right wing, or to be more precise, into a ‘radical’ and a ‘reformist’ branch. But objective conditions limited the scope for revolutionary action from the very beginning. A Jewish proletariat in Palestine did not exist but had to be created. The ‘Left’ no less than the ‘reformists’ adopted a policy of ‘constructivism’ even though this entailed basic changes in its ideological concepts. The main concentration of the Left was in the kibbutzim. It did not gain a strong foothold in the cities, and this, as well as its doctrinaire approach, limited its effectiveness as a political force. ‘Reformism’ was essentially pragmatic in its attitude. It wanted a reasonably just society in which political hegemony was exercised by labour Zionism. To this extent it was successful. The Jewish community in Palestine was highly egalitarian, so that when the state was established the income differential among wage earners was a mere 1:2.5. There was a great deal of upward mobility and steady deproletarianisation. Only a small proportion of the pioneers who had arrived with the second, third, or fourth aliya were still engaged in manual work twenty or thirty years later. The majority had moved on to form an establishment that held the leading positions in politics as well as in the economy and in social life. It was a natural process, and the lamentations about the disappearance of the pioneering spirit were out of place as the country outgrew the pioneering phase. For several decades the high priority given to agricultural settlements was a political and economic necessity, but as agricultural technology made rapid progress, and, as in other advanced countries, a relatively small farming population sufficed to provide the necessary produce, the relative importance of the kibbutz began to decline. 2.5 per cent of the Jewish population in Palestine lived in kibbutzim in 1930. By 1947 the figure had risen to 7.3, but twenty years later it had fallen to 3.9. The importance of the youth movements also declined. The Hehalutz ceased to exist and there were not many new candidates for life in the kibbutz. Agriculture would in any case not have been able to absorb the big immigration of the early 1950s.
As the old-timers moved up the social ladder, the newer immigrants took their place as, figuratively speaking, the hewers of wood and drawers of water. Jewish workers (as the number and intensity of strikes demonstrated) were no less militant in the defence of their interests than workers elsewhere. But at the same time many of them wanted to better themselves, to rise in the social scale, or at any rate to provide a better future for their children. Objective trends hastened the process of deproletarisation: the rise in productivity and the new technology resulted in a relative decrease in the size of the industrial working class. In its foreign political orientation the Left continued to differ from the reformists, despite the fact that the hostility of the Soviet Union and the world Communist movement to Zionism did not make this easy for them. Doctrinally the radicals subscribed to proletarian internationalism, regarding the Arab worker as an ally in the class struggle for a Socialist, bi-national Palestine. But, rejected by the Soviet Union, and unable to find allies among the Arabs, the freedom of action of the extreme Left in the Zionist camp was strictly limited. Once their settlements were attacked, they had to defend themselves regardless of the class origins of those firing the guns. Borokhov no longer provided guidance for the problems confronting them in the 1930s and after.
Nor was there anything in Syrkin’s writings to serve as a compass for Mapai once it had become the leading party in the Zionist movement and the Palestinian Jewish community. The radical slogans of the leaders of Poale Zion were dropped one by one. Like the European Social Democratic parties, the main body of Jewish Socialists became less and less ideological as the years went by. Just as the dual character of the Histadrut, as both trade union and employer, created many problems, so the dual character of Mapai as state party (the party as it was frequently called) and as the representative of the working class created serious dilemmas. The membership of Mapai did not increase a hundredfold, as did the Histadrut between 1920 and 1960, but it too grew very rapidly and inevitably changed its character. There was a great deal of bureaucracy and patronage (though little outright corruption), and many joined the party simply to improve their chances in a professional career. But unlike the Social Democratic parties of France and Italy, Mapai had the inner resources and the dynamism to adjust itself to changing conditions. It managed to transform itself into a movement with a political appeal reaching well beyond the working class. It projected with some success the image of a modern party with both a mass basis and a capable leadership, worthy to be entrusted with the guidance of the affairs of the new nation.
Such a transformation, which necessarily meant discarding the spirit of the second and the third aliya, was bound to produce an internal crisis. What exactly was the raison d’être of Mapai? What was its orientation? In what ways did it differ from other political parties? Why should young men and women be attracted to it? However much opposed to doctrinaire Socialist attitudes, the members of Hapoel Hatzair, and leaders such as Berl Katznelson would have found it exceedingly difficult to accept the kind of society which came into being under the leadership of the party they had helped to found. And they would have disapproved of much of it. This was not so much a question of political attitudes as of values, of a whole style of life. The attempts to create a society in conformity with youthful dreams had been at best only partly successful. But the same applies to Socialist movements everywhere. Given these limitations, it is remarkable to what extent the labour movement did succeed, for better or worse, in putting its imprint on Israeli society.
In the last resort, the erosion of ideology affected Mapai less than other Socialist parties simply because it had been more pragmatic from the beginning. The state of siege after 1948 did not provide a climate conducive to doctrinal introspection and revival. As in other democratic societies, the party has become a transmission belt in both directions, having acquired a momentum of its own regardless of political-theoretical considerations. Having achieved its original aims, it may well have outlived its historical function. But in the absence of other forces able to take its place it has continued to play a decisive role in Israeli politics.
* Chaim Zhitlovsky, Fun mein Leben, New York, 1935, vol. 2, p. 20.
* Kitve Nahman Syrkin, Tel Aviv, 1939, vol. 1, p. 130.
† For a discussion of Syrkin’s ideas and political activities, see Jonathan Frankel’s doctoral dissertation, Socialism and Jewish Nationalism in Russia 1892-1907, Cambridge, 1961.
* See for instance Ben Ehud, Zionismus oder Sozialismus (Yiddish), Warsaw, 1899, p. 30; A.A., Di sozialistische Fraktsie in Zionismus (Yiddish), Warsaw, 1906, p. 96. See also A.A. Patkin, The Origins of the Russian-Jewish Labour Movement, Melbourne, 1947, p. 136 et seq.
* Resolutions of the fourth conference of the Bund 1901, in Sh. Eisenshtat, Prakim betoldot tnuat hapoalim hayehudit, Merhavia, 1944, vol. 2, pp. 14-16.
* ‘K voprosam teorii Zionisma’, in Evreiskaia Zhizn, June 1905, pp. 122-3. Borokhov’s collected writings have been published in three volumes in Hebrew; the first contains ‘Our Platform’ and ‘The Class Struggle and the National Question’, his most important theoretical works.
* ‘Hamarksism veshe’elat hayehudim’ and ‘Karl Kautsky vehayehudim’, in Sefer Idelson. Tel Aviv, 1946.
* Pirke Hapoel Hatzair, vol. 3, p. 322.
* Y. Yerubavel, in Ahdut, 11-2, 1912.
† Yosef Gorni, ‘The romantic element in the ideology of the second aliya’ (in Hebrew), Asupot, January 1966, p. 55 et seq.
* For these and other accounts, see El. Shochat (ed.), Sefer Ha’aliya hashniya, Tel Aviv, 1949, p. 165.
* Even Shoshan, Toldot tnuat hapoalim be’eretz Israel, Tel Aviv, 1963, vol. 1, pp. 80-1.
* Berl Katznelson, ‘Prakim’ letoldot tnuat hapoalim be ‘Eretz Israel’, Kitvei…, Tel Aviv, 1949, vol. 11, p. 111.
† Of a total of 550 Jewish workers (Evreiskaia Rabochaia Khronika, 23 April 1906).
* For the early history of Socialist Zionism, see Y. Yen Zvi in Sefer Ha’aliya hashniya, on Poale Zion, p. 585 et seq.; Zvi Suchovolsky, on Hapoel Hatzair, ibid., p. 612 et seq.; Yosef Shapiro, on Hapoel Hatzair, in Asupot, August 1965, p. 16 et seq. Cf. also the doctoral dissertation by Israel Kolatt-Kopelovich, Ideology and the impact of reality upon the Jewish Labour Movement 1905-19(in Hebrew), Hebrew University, Jerusalem, June 1964.
* Borokhov, Collected Writings, vol. 2, p. 554.
† ‘Abner’ (Ben Zvi), Ahdut, no. 36, 1911.
‡ ‘Kibbush Ha’avoda o Kibbush Hakarka’, in Hapoel Hatzair, 12, 1908.
* A. Auppin, Die landwirtschaftliche Kolonisation Palästinas, Berlin, 1915, chapter 14.
* On the early days of the kvutza, see Berl Katznelson (ed.), Hakibbutz vehakvutza, Tel Aviv, 1940; Netive hakvutza vehakibbutz (6 vols), Tel Aviv, 1958: Pirke Hapoel Hatzair; Harry Viteles, A History of the Co-operative Movement in Israel (2 vols.), London, 1966-70; Alex Bein, The Return to the Soil, Jerusalem, 1952; Hermann Meier-Cronemeyer, Kibbuzim, Hanover, 1969.
* From Sejm, Slavic equivalent of parliament. The main sources for the history of the Sejmists are the writings of Ch. Zhitlovski, the periodicals Serp and Vozrozhdenie, and A. Tartakower’s Toldot tnuat hapoalim hayehudit.
* W. Wreuss, loc. cit., p. 44.
* N. Nenari, Zur Geschichte der Kwuza und des Kibbuz, Berlin, 1934, p. 38.
† The adventures of the first arrivals are described in colourful detail in Yehuda Eres (ed.), Sefer Ha’aliya hashlishit (2 vols.), Tel Aviv, 1964.
‡ Y. Yhronowitz, quoted in Y. Yhapiro, ‘Bein ha’aliya hashnia vehashlishit’, in Asupot April 1962, p.11.
* Sh. Litvin, Kovetz Gdud Avoda, Tel Aviv, 1932, p. 25.
* The main source for the history of the Gdud Ha’avoda is Gdud Avoda al shem Yosef Trumpeldor, Tel Aviv, 1932.
* Kehiliatenu, Haifa-Jedda, 1922, pp. 21-2. The writer, Nathan Bistritsky, is also the author of a novel, Yamim velelot, which faithfully reflects the atmosphere in the Hashomer Hatzair working camps at the time. See also David Horowitz, Ha’etmol sheli, Tel Aviv, 1970, chapter 7.
* Al Hamishmar, 8 February 1952; the diary quoted refers to events in February 1922.
† For the early history of Hashomer Hatzair in Eretz Israel, see Sefer Hashomer Hatzair, particularly vol. 1; Shlomo Rehav, Selected Works, Merhavia, 1966, p. 11 et seq.; Elkana Margalit, ‘Social and Intellectual Origins of the Hashomer Hatzair Movement’, Journal of Contemporary History, April 1969, and the doctoral dissertation of the same author.
‡ Meir Ya’ari, ‘Semalim Tlushim’, in Baderekh Aruka, Merhavia, 1947, p. 25 et seq. (written in 1923).
* The main sources for the history of Poale Zion after 1917 are Yalkute Poale Zion, Tel Aviv, 1947, Jerusalem 1954; the recollections of Z. Zbramovich, Besherut hatnua, Tel Aviv, 1965; and of N. Nir, Wanderungen, Tel Aviv, 1965; the selection of Y. Yitzhaki’s writings (Merhavia, 1957), and the second volume of A. Aartakover’s History of the Jewish workers’ movement (Hebrew edition), Warsaw, 1930.
* Yehuda Eres (ed.), Sefer Z.S., Tel Aviv, 1963, p. 44.
† Among leading members of Hapoel Hatzair who subsequently attained prominence in the Zionist movement and the state of Israel were Yosef Sprinzak, speaker of the Knesset; Levi Eshkol, prime minister after Ben Gurion; and Eliezer Kaplan.
* Y. Yaner, quoted in Even Shoshan, loc. cit. vol. 2, p. 13.
* Salman Shazar was born in 1889 and Levi Eshkol, one of the youngest members of the second aliya, who arrived only shortly before the First World War, in 1895.
† According to a study by Y. Yorni about the social structure of the second aliya, about 70 per cent of its members hailed from small towns. 42 per cent did not know Hebrew when they first arrived in Palestine (in D. Darpi (ed.), Hazionut, Tel Aviv, 1970, p. 210 et seq.)
* They counted relatively few women, even though the full equality of the sexes was axiomatic among them.
† Golda Meir was for a short time after her arrival in Palestine a member of Merhavia.
* See, for instance, S. Shazar’s obituary in Or Ishim, vol. 2, Jerusalem, 1963, pp. 130-1.
* According to Gorni, the second aliya was not per se an elite. But the author also notes that of the twenty members of the Mapai executive committee in 1930, sixteen had come to Palestine before 1914.
* Chaim Arlosoroff, in Pirke Hapoel Hatzair, vol. 2, Tel Aviv, 1938, p. 162.
† For a Socialist appraisal of the fourth aliya, see M. Braslavski; Tnuat hapoalim ha’eretz israelit, Tel Aviv, 1956, vol. 2, p. 16 et seq.
* See his articles ‘Basta’ and ‘Vrag Rabotchikh’, in Rassvet, 28 June and 2 August 1925.
* W. Preuss, op. cit., p. 78. Even Shoshan, loc. cit., vol. 2, p. 256 et seq.
† D. Ben Gurion, Mema’amad le’am, Tel Aviv, 1933, passim.
* On the struggle between revisionism and labour Zionism, see D. Den Gurion, Tnuat hapoalim veharevisionismus, Tel Aviv, 1933; Ch. Ben Meir, Harevisionism, ssakana le’am, Tel Aviv, 1938; Eliezer Liebenstein, Wo steht der Revisionismus?, Berlin, 1934.
* The first kibbutz to exceed this milestone was Yagur, with 1,007 inhabitants in 1941, but it was soon overtaken by Givat Brenner.
* Viteles, A History of the Co-operative Movement in Israel, vol. 2, p. 50.
* Described in detail in Dan Pines, Hehalutz bekur hamahpecha, Tel Aviv, 1938.
* See Even Shoshan, loc. cit., vol. 2, p. 143 et seq.; vol. 3, p. 21 et seq. for the activities of the Hehalutz.
* Cf. P. Perchav, Toldot tnuat hapoalim be’eretz Israel, Merhavia, 1967, p. 63 et seq.