Life without Private Property - Chance or Utopia?

An Analysis of European Thought on Kibbutz Culture

Essay, 2010

15 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Kibbutz
2.1. What is a kibbutz?
2.2. The kibbutz culture today

3. European thinkers
3.1. John Locke
3.2. Jean-Jacques Rousseau
3.3. Karl Marx

4. Evaluation


1. Introduction

Being brought up in the Western hemisphere after the fall of the communist bloc, private property seems to be a concept so essential and decisive for our everyday life that questioning its existence is hard to imagine. Already as a child one develops a sense of what is „mine‟ and what is „yours‟. Trivial as it may be it starts with toys or stuffed animals. An infant‟s understanding and perception of the world can elevate the fact of owning a certain object to the center of interest - as everybody with brothers or sisters knows. An answer to the question why we allegedly legitimately claim things to be our property could be found in that fact that fully mature and reasoning beings behave in a similar manner. Exchange toys and stuffed animals for vehicles, jewelry, houses or the overall equivalent, money, and you will find adults as ambitiously working or fiercely fighting to get or defend their property as children. Individuals face constant unsatisfied needs and the necessity to posses more and more propagated by commercialized mass media. Western societies have developed an “entrainment-mentality” as former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder put it. The unquenchable thirst for growth and the gluttony of the elites could lead one to the assumption that the excessive accumulation of property has perverted the very nature of humanity itself.

Or is this picture of a purely materialistically driven society a worn out cliché from anti-capitalistic theories? Aren‟t we rather experiencing a time in which we return to values beyond matter, not at last triggered by the financial and economic crises? Managers are morally denunciated for their selfishness and greed. Governments and public bodies all over the world have gained influence on economic decisions. General Motors, The Citigroup, Bradfort & Bingley, Commerzbank, Hypo Real Estate - formerly privately owned property is transferred to the control of the public authorities.

The question I would like to elaborate upon in this essay is whether societies need private property, whether the very functioning of human coexistence is dependent on it. Or could private property be merely a mode of thinking common in our latitudes and not an inevitable human trace that is found in every culture such as laughing, language or time? To illustrate this question I will refer to the kibbutz culture in Israel as an example of micro societies entirely abdicating private property, hierarchy and to a more limited extend privacy and individuality. First I will point out the main characteristics of the kibbutzim, their emergence and the ideology behind them. I will go on and explain their situation today and already hint at reasons for their decline. In the second part of the essay I will analyze influential European thinkers regarding the view they could have held concerning kibbutzim. I will contrast the empiricist of British enlightenment John Locke, the socio-critical theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the originator of socialism and communism Karl Marx with each other. Concluding I will evaluate my findings and reflect upon the initial question whether private property is of vital importance to societies.

2. Kibbutz

2.1. What is a kibbutz?

The kibbutz might be one of the best known concepts of life without private property. A kibbutz is a village or community that collectively earns its living abandoning market economic principles, bourgeois lifestyles and norms of society (cf. Leviatan, Quarter & Oliver 1998: 7 et seqq.). Dating back to the early 20th century the first kibbutzim sprouted in the area of today‟s territory of Israel. As a reaction to oppression, pogroms and patriarchy mostly eastern European Jews founded these villages strongly based on a socialist and communist ideology (cf. Bücher 1998). Despite those leftish and anti-authoritarian principles kibbutzim cannot be seen as enclaves detached from nationalistic ideas. Its inhabitants, the kibbutznik, were strong advocates of Zionism, colonizing the Palestine territory and laying the groundwork for the later foundation of the Israeli state (cf. loc. sit.).

Regardless of differences concerning the view on religion, gender equality or the selection of new entrants, the collective welfare is in the center of interest of all kibbutzim, while individualism is frowned upon. “Equality and social justice” (Snir 2006: 1) as the core values of all ideologies linked to socialism are the principle aims of kibbutz communities. Private property - and hereby I mean both personal property (consumer goods) and productive property (means of production) - which is often unevenly distributed among the members of capitalistic societies, is seen as an indicator or a catalyst of hierarchy and inequality and should hence not exist (cf. loc sit.: 7). Everything is owned by the collective and given or rented out to the kibbutznik according to their needs. In return work - in general farming and handcraft - is not paid with respect to the invested input or the obtained output but is an obligation every kibbutznik has to fulfill corresponding with ones abilities. The parallel to the Marxist parole “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” is a fundamental credo of the idea behind the kibbutzim (cf. loc. sit.: 1). It is not possible to possess clothes or a house or to earn the fruits of one‟s labor. Other spheres of life are organized collectively as well such as the raise and education of children, cooking, eating or cultural activities (cf. Leviatan & Orchan 1982: 17, 23). Even children are considered common property. They are brought up and educated by professional nannies and teachers in communal children‟s houses or children‟s societies away from their biological parents. According to Ludwig Liegle this practice seeks to override the family as a counterproductive element to the collective (cf. Liegle 1979: 83 et seqq.). Additionally I assume that collective rather than individual child education is to promote equality of chances independent of the parent‟s intellect or ambitions - materialistic differences are already canceled out due to absence of private property.

Concluding one notices, that regulations and practices in kibbutzim aim to prevent inequality and hierarchy while limiting individuality and competition. Kibbutzim offer an ideological-theoretical and practical-realpolitik alternative to Western statehood, values and mainstream lifestyle.

2.2. The kibbutz culture today

The kibbutzim experienced a peak time of political importance, social prestige and standard of living in the 1960s and 1970s. Kibbutznik were overrepresented in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and their economic status improved quicker than the overall country‟s average (cf. Leviatan, Quarter & Oliver 1998: viii). By the 1980s though, the collectivist villages suffered a severe decline and a maceration of their values which continues until today (cf. Snir 2006: 2). The kibbutzim - even though planned out as autarkic agricultural micro societies - must be seen in the context of the Israeli state as a whole. A model of living cannot be analyzed isolated from alternatives but has to stand the comparison. It became harder and harder for the kibbutzim to compete with life outside the egalitarian communities. Work became more lucrative in non-kibbutz enterprises and living standards exceeded the hard life based on self- sacrifice. While still living in kibbutzim many started careers outside the collective introducing capitalistic concepts such as different incomes and social standing in the villages. The growths of kibbutzim in the past had led to more anonymous societies dissimilar from intimate family-like communities of brothers and sisters (cf. Leviatan & Orchan 1982: 25). Via the media, especially the television, the discrepancies between the communitarian and capitalistic Israeli societies surfaced. In contrast to individualism and autonomy collectivist and egalitarian values lost their appeal towards younger kibbutz generations, especially since an internally grown elite suppressed innovation and critique. Later with the fall of the Soviet Union a general impairment of socialistic ideas added to the dissatisfaction within the kibbutzim. With time the goals of the kibbutz had become superfluous, the beliefs obsolete, and the living conditions backward. A growing distance between individual and kibbutz values, personal frustration and a lack of motivation at work became increasingly problematic for the kibbutzim. The Jewish professor of sociology Eliezer Ben-Rafael describes the identity dilemma as an ebbing of the kibbutz “three basic facets, namely, the members‟ commitment to the collective, their perception of the practical output of the collective endeavor and the status in society attached to the collective allegiance” towards more “individualistic aspirations” (Ben-Rafael 1997: 14).

To answer the so-called “kibbutz crisis” (Leviatan, Quarter & Oliver 1998) the majority of kibbutz communities introduced economic and social reforms. Significant concessions regarding the fundamental collectivist and egalitarian principles were made. The equal salary everyone formerly received independent of type or amount of work was exchanged against differential wages. Growing family budgets were allowed. With different incomes, positions and power allocations the egalitarian kibbutz structures became more hierarchical. Many communal services such as education in children‟s houses or health care were privatized. Meals prepared and consumed together in the common dining hall and other shared activities were reduced for the benefit of more free space and privacy. Finally collective goods owned by the community passed into private ownership thus introducing private property and the right to acquire, sell and inherit it (cf. Büchner 1998).


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Life without Private Property - Chance or Utopia?
An Analysis of European Thought on Kibbutz Culture
Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg  (Institut für fremdsprachliche Philologien)
European Concepts of Private Property
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
570 KB
Private Property, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Kibbutz, Kibbutzim, Egalitarian Societies, Micro-Societies, Econimic Crisis
Quote paper
Timo Wilhelm Rang (Author), 2010, Life without Private Property - Chance or Utopia?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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