Definitions

Labor_Zionism

Labor Zionism

Labor Zionism (Labour Zionism, ציונות סוציאליסטית, tsionut sotsialistit) can be described as the major stream of the left wing of the Zionist movement. If it was not for many years the major stream in the Zionist movement, it was a significant tendency among Zionists and Zionist organizational structures. It saw itself as the Zionist sector of the historic Jewish labor movements of Eastern and Central Europe, eventually developing local units in most countries with sizeable Jewish populations. Unlike the "political Zionist" tendency founded by Theodor Herzl and advocated by Chaim Weizmann, Labor Zionists did not believe that a Jewish state would be created simply by appealing to the international community or to a powerful nation such as Britain, Germany or the Ottoman Empire. Rather, Labor Zionists believed that a Jewish state could only be created through the efforts of the Jewish working class settling in Palestine and constructing a state through the creation of a progressive Jewish society with rural kibbutzim and moshavim and an urban Jewish proletariat.

Labor Zionism grew in size and influence and eclipsed "political Zionism" by the 1930s both internationally and within the British Mandate of Palestine where Labor Zionists predominated among many of the institutions of the pre-independence Jewish community Yishuv, particularly the trade union federation known as the Histadrut. The Haganah the largest Zionist paramilitary defence force was a Labor Zionist institution.

Labor Zionists played a leading role in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and Labor Zionists were predominant among the leadership of the Israeli military for decades after the formation of the state of Israel in 1948.

Major theoreticians of the Labor Zionist movement included Moses Hess, Nahum Syrkin, Ber Borochov and Aaron David Gordon and leading figures in the movement included David Ben-Gurion and Berl Katznelson.

Albert Einstein was among a number of prominent Jewish personalities that supported the Labor Zionist Movement.

Ideology

Moses Hess's 1862 work Rome and Jerusalem. The Last National Question argued for the Jews to settle in Palestine as a means of settling the national question. Hess proposed a socialist state in which the Jews would become agrarianised through a process of "redemption of the soil" that would transform the Jewish community into a true nation in that Jews would occupy the productive layers of society rather than being an intermediary non-productive merchant class, which is how he perceived European Jews.

Ber Borochov, continuing from the work of Moses Hess, proposed the creation of a socialist society that would correct the "inverted pyramid" of Jewish society. Borochov believed that Jews were forced out of normal occupations by Gentile hostility and competition, using this dynamic to explain the relative predominance of Jewish professionals, rather than workers. Jewish society, he argued, would not be healthy until the inverted pyramid was righted, and the majority of Jews became workers and peasants again. This, he held, could only be accomplished by Jews in their own country.

Another Zionist thinker, A. D. Gordon, was influenced by the völkisch ideas of European romantic nationalism, and proposed establishing a society of Jewish peasants. Gordon made a religion of work. These two figures, and others like them, motivated the establishment of the first Jewish collective settlement, or kibbutz, Degania, on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee, in 1909 (the same year that the city of Tel Aviv was established). Deganiah, and many other kibbutzim that were soon to follow, attempted to realise these thinkers' vision by creating communal villages, where newly arrived European Jews would be taught agriculture and other manual skills.

Parties

Initially two labor parties were founded by immigrants to Palestine of the Second Aliyah (1904-1914): the nationalistic and anti-socialist Hapo'el Hatza'ir (Young Worker) party and the Poale Zion party, with socialist roots. The Poale Zion Party had a left wing and a right wing. In 1919 the right wing, including Ben-Gurion, and anti-Marxist non-party people founded Ahdut HaAvoda. In 1930 Ahdut HaAvoda and Hapoel Hatzair fused into the Mapai party, which included all of mainstream Labor Zionism. Until the 1960s these parties were dominated by members of the Second Aliyah.

The Left Poale Zion party ultimately merged with the kibbutz-based Hashomer Hatzair, the urban Socialist League and several smaller left-wing groups to become the Mapam party, which in turn later joined with other parties to create Meretz.

The Mapai party later became the Israeli Labor Party, which for a number of years was linked with Mapam in Alignment. These two parties were initially the two largest parties in the Yishuv and in the first Knesset, whilst Mapai and its predecessors dominated Israeli politics both in the pre-independence Yishuv and for the first three decades of Israel's independence, until the late 1970s.

Decline and transformation

Already in the 1920s the Labor movement disregarded its socialist roots and concentrated on building the nation by constructive action. According to Tzahor its leaders did not "abandon fundamental ideological principles". However according to Ze'ev Sternhell in his book The Founding Myths of Israel, the labor leaders had already abandoned socialist principles by 1920 and only used them as "mobilizing myths".

In Israel the Labor Party has followed the general path of other governing social democratic parties such as the British Labour Party and is now fully oriented towards capitalism and even neo-liberalism, though recently it has rediscovered the welfare state under the leadership of Amir Peretz.

Labor Zionism is ironically associated within Israeli society as representing the country's ruling class and political elite whereas working-class Israelis have traditionally voted for the Likud since the Begin Revolution of 1977.

What distinguishes modern Labor Zionism from other streams is not economic policy, an analysis of capitalism or any class analysis or orientation but its attitude towards the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Labor Zionists tending to support the Israeli peace camp to varying degrees.

Labor Zionism Today

Labor Zionism manifests itself today in both adult and youth organizations. Among adults, the World Labor Zionist Movement, based in Jerusalem, has affliates in countries around the world, such as Ameinu in the United States and Australia, Associação Moshé Sharett in Brazil and the Jewish Labour Movement in the United Kingdom. Youth and students are served through Zionist youth movements such as Habonim Dror, Hashomer Hatzair and college-age campus activist groups such as the Union of Progressive Zionists of the U.S. and Canada.

References

See also

External links

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