By Nitai Shinan
The German Mexican anarchist Augustín Souchy Bauer was born in 1892 in Hanover. He remained in that city until 1917, when he fled to Sweden to avoid being drafted into the German army, which was busy fighting World War I. After several years spent in Nordic countries he returned to Germany, where he stayed until the Nazis rose to power in 1933. While in Germany, he was active in the Anarchist federation and served as the editor of its newspaper. In 1936, with the outbreak of civil war, he went to Spain to participate in the defense of the republic against the nationalist military coup. While there, he served as the head of the foreign language information office in the anarchist trade union, the CNT. Like many other republicans, after the fall of the republic, he immigrated to Mexico and stayed there until 1961, when he then returned to West Germany. He remained an anarchist activist there for the rest of his life, until his eventual death in 1984.
During his time in Spain, Augustín Souchy closely followed the process of collectivization and the establishment of cooperative agricultural communes, mainly in the provinces of Aragon and Catalonia. His interest in this attempt, which was stopped in its tracks by Francisco Franco’s rise to power as a result of the nationalist victory, also brought him to the State of Israel in the fall of 1952. His objective was to closely examine the new forms of settlement, especially the cooperative moshavim and kibbutzim, in order to learn about how they differed from and how they were similar to what was happening in Spain.
Once back in Mexico, he reported about his experiences in an essay that he called El nuevo Israel, in which he tried to give his readers an appreciation of the character and successes of the collective institutions of the young State of Israel. The second edition of the essay, almost unchanged from the original, was published in 1958 in Buenos Aires and can be found at the National Library of Israel.
It seems that the author was properly prepared for this journey, and therefore, while reporting on a lecture he delivered in German in Tel Aviv, during which he compared the cooperative settlements and communities in Israel with those founded in Spain, he mentioned Abba Ahimeir’s negative impression of the kibbutzim. Ahimeir claimed that the money needed to settle a single person on a kibbutz was enough to cover the cost of settling ten immigrant families elsewhere in the country.
Armed with his incredible ability to express himself in almost every major European language, as well as a bit of Hebrew, the author was able to establish connections with many people from all the diverse facets of Israeli society. Unlike other visitors from Latin America who visited Israel in the early 1950s and were generally accompanied by personnel from the Foreign Ministry’s Latin America Department or other public institutions, Augustín Souchy traveled on his own. He even used public transportation, just like a local would. Once he even hitched a ride in a military jeep on his way from Nahalal to Nazareth. This flexibility enabled him to speak with all types of characters, an opportunity rarely given to members of official delegations hosted by the authorities. For example, on a bus from Shavei Tzion to Haifa, he heard a young Jewish Spanish-speaking immigrant from Turkey lament the difficulties of life in the ma’abarot (immigrant and refugee absorption camps) and the unfair way apartments were granted to new immigrants based on personal contacts. In response, the author defended the state and pointed out to this young woman that the housing problem was a global issue and that the State of Israel couldn’t build enough homes to quickly house all the new immigrants who came.
At the Histadrut (Israel’s national trade union) branch in Nazareth and the co-op store in the Afula area, Souchy heard serious complaints from Arab Israelis about the military regime, about the discrimination they faced, and about their restricted movement and land confiscations. The author, who understood that Jewish-Arab relations were a problem in the young country, spoke with A. Baron, secretary of the Ichud (Unity) Association, which supported bi-nationalism and Jewish-Arab rapprochement and was founded even before the establishment of the state by Yehuda Leib Magnes. At the time, the association published a small monthly magazine called Ner which covered public affairs and Jewish-Arab rapprochement. Souchy also spoke with Elias Kossa, a lawyer and leader of the Arab community in Haifa who represented their interests in the Israeli courts. Elias Kossa also complained about the discrimination suffered by Arab Israelis, using data that had already been published in Ner magazine which showed how the food rations allocated for Arabs were smaller than what was allocated for the Jews during the austerity period. It was clear that the political plan Elias Kossa proposed, which included the return of the expropriated lands and the return of Arab refugees to their lands, was unacceptable to the Israeli government. It seems that in conversations with Israeli Arabs, the author was reserved and contented himself with critically listening to them while trying to understand how it was possible for the State of Israel to act this way while being committed to equal rights for all its citizens. He sometimes wondered whether economic and scientific shortcomings of Arab agricultural workers might be the factor responsible for the gaps between the Jewish and Arab farmers.
After accepting the suggestion of the secretary of the Histadrut information office, Stella Rabinowitz, that he should visit a religious kibbutz, Souchy found himself in Kvutzat Yavne. The author prepared himself for the possibility that he’d find “a more or less primitive tribe from Asia Minor” there and wondered how he’d be able to communicate with them, if at all. To his surprise, he was able to converse with the locals his in own mother tongue; after all, Kvutzat Yavne had been founded by German immigrants in 1931. Their conversations mostly involved questions related to the organization of the kibbutz, its economy, and the communal lifestyle. It seems the only way the kibbutz’s religious nature became evident during his visit was when he was asked to wear a kippa (yarmulke) while in the dining room. During dinner, he observed a debate between a young pioneer who had only recently arrived from Switzerland who “supported Karl Marx’s economic theory despite his religious beliefs” and the secretary of the kibbutz, Eliyahu Buchaster, who preferred the theories of the Jewish social anarchist Gustav Landauer. The latter may have preferred those theories because of Landauer’s recommendation to establish agricultural settlements where the work would be done communally. Landauer could indeed be considered one of the intellectual forefathers of the kibbutz movement. Such a debate could have easily taken place in a secular kibbutz as well.
Souchy also had a long conversation with Rachel Adler, a member of the community, in order to fully understand the value of women in the kibbutzim. Opponents of the collective lifestyle came out against the status enjoyed by kibbutz women because, “when speaking about the kibbutzim outside of Israel[…] it is impossible to avoid hearing the opinion that life in the kibbutz contributes to the destruction of the family institution. There are opponents of the collective settlements who make fun of these lifestyles and speak maliciously of the ‘collectivization of women’.” Mrs. Adler responded that the opposite was true, and that the kibbutz afforded women the best life possible, as well as plenty of spare time. Unlike women in the city or on a private farm who needed to work outside the home but also maintain their households and take care of the children – which effectively meant working 12 or even 14 hours a day – women on a kibbutz didn’t need to take on such a burden because the farm work and childcare were handled jointly by the collective. Indeed, Souchy noted that despite the unique arrangements for family accommodation on a kibbutz, with children sleeping in a children’s home, parents could visit their children and be there to put them to sleep whenever they wanted.
However, despite all the kibbutz’s economic and social successes, not all members were optimistic about the future of the collective lifestyle. Baruch Kahane, the manager of the kibbutz factory, noted that he and other members of the founding generation had been imbued with the cooperative ideology and believed that they were “the successors of the Essenes, the group from the time of the ancient Hebrews who completely practiced collective property. The members of this group lived in an admirable manner; they loathed war, condemned commerce and disparaged the treasures of the world.” However, that wasn’t how the more recent immigrants behaved; they didn’t “have the same idealism” that the founders had, and therefore the kibbutzim and other collective communities couldn’t gain new strength from the immigration waves of the early 1950s, according to Kahane.
Dr. Rosenstein, a dentist and member of Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim, wasn’t any more optimistic than Baruch Kahane regarding the future of kibbutz settlement. But in his opinion, the fault wasn’t with the immigrants but rather with the members of the younger generation, even those from the kibbutzim. This was because he felt that the youth didn’t share the values of sacrifice, the idea of being content with little, which characterized the founders of the kibbutzim. The youth weren’t enthusiastic about “living so close to each other. Many of them don’t always want to eat in the communal dining room. They don’t like the idea of a meal that, while healthy and nutritious, doesn’t take into account everyone’s personal taste.” It seems that city life, where people could freely go to the cinema or a dance club, seemed much more attractive to them.
It turns out that ideological questions also threatened the cooperative lifestyle. The author visited Kibbutz Givat HaShlosha, whose members were in the midst of a severe internal conflict. The conflict related to Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union, with whom the supporters of the Mapam party sympathized, but whom the Mapai party supporters objected to. A shoemaker from the kibbutz, a Mapai supporter, told Souchy with quite a hint of irony: “In our kibbutz, there are supporters of the ruling party [Mapai] and the opposition party [Mapam]. The more or less pro-Soviet Mapam members are in the majority, and among them are schoolteachers who’ve introduced Soviet doctrine into their lessons… They said that Stalin was the greatest person alive, second only to God. In these discussions, the differences of opinion were so fundamental that it wasn’t possible to reach a compromise.” To the author’s question of whether, for the sake of the union, it might be possible to provide each school of thought with its own teachers, and thus perhaps establish two schools, the shoemaker replied that it was already too late for that. The kibbutz soon split and the Mapai supporters established a new kibbutz called Einat.
Dr. Manfred Scheuer, chairman of Moshav Shavei Tzion, was more optimistic about the prospect of the cooperative lifestyle and was even hopeful that new people would join his community. When Souchy asked him how the success of the moshav related to issues of capitalism and socialism, Manfred replied, “We do not deal with theories… we are practical people. For us, experience is the only thing that can teach us. We trust our sense of logic and the use of honesty and respect in carrying out the work. These are the principles we followed when we built our group.” It seems that Souchy felt more comfortable in the kibbutzim where he could more easily engage in “theories” than in Moshav Shavei Tzion.
The author was also impressed by the socialist character of the Kiryat Avoda neighborhood in central Holon, where restrictions on private ownership were put in place. During his tour, he asked his host, the secretary of the Kiryat Avoda cooperative association, “Where have the shops, cinemas and synagogues gone?” The secretary answered, “We don’t need any of them. We have a small synagogue that serves a small part of the population. The majority here doesn’t think that religion needs to stand out… As for private shops, we think that they’re unnecessary. We have the cooperative store, where we can buy better and cheaper goods.” Souchy was very moved by this answer, and for a moment it seemed to him that in the Israeli city of Holon, the dream of doing away with private commerce that prioritizes profit over all else and replacing it with a cooperative store that considers the common good had finally come true. Had the anarchist ideal – a world made up of communes that provide for the needs of the people without exploitation – finally been realized in Israel?
Unfortunately, the secretary’s wife dampened Souchy’s enthusiasm by pointing out that many residents of Holon worked in Tel Aviv and did their shopping there as well. It seemed that a society operating without the drive of private profit was still a far-off dream.
The book includes photographs, but it seems the captions were edited by someone with insufficient knowledge of Hebrew, and so names were sometimes misspelled. Dizengoff Square became Dizengulf, Kvutzat Yavne became Javno, and Givat Brenner became Rivat Brenner. This adds a comedic dimension to the essay.
In conclusion, it seems that one of the factors that attracted visitors to the young State of Israel was its spirit of social solidarity and the belief in socialism that led to considerable achievements. We must remember this, especially now as we work towards recovering from Hamas’s murderous attack on us. As for Souchy, it seems that he made another trip to Israel in the seventies, but additional research material is needed in order to properly assess his mindset and writings from this period.