How they resolve the tension between mechanical elements—structures—and organic—interpersonal relationships—is the difference between a community that empowers its members and one that drains them.
The kibbutzim inspired by Gordon understood through practice that every community is the result of the development of interpersonal links between its members. Structural and hierarchy, they said, is nothing but a “mechanical” impression, with its own logic, which is apparently rational, but really alien.
It is true that both have to coexist. But it’s also true that the mechanical forms (enterprise, association, party, cooperative, etc.) tend to be imposed on the smaller-scale organic part in the interests of the predictability that makes it possible to set objectives over time and in the name of the reasoning that emerges from majorities and desirable plans.
Obviously, we aren’t talking about removing the mechanical component, but developing a conceptual toolbox for its management, and putting it at the service of the organic development of community. When we hear things like the individual-community conflict, from Gordon’s perspective, we’re really witnessing a conflict between the organic and mechanical conceptions of what a community is, or better still, between the two inevitable components of its development.
Communitarianism does not consist of denying one dimension in favor of the other, but rather, understanding that the organic side (couples, families, groups of friends) strengthens community and erodes the mechanical structures of organization by making them more or less unnecessary, and that, therefore, organic relationships must take priority over the mechanical side as much as possible. Anything that can be “org-charted” is a antibiotic that should be carefully reserved for times of need, because just as it allows us to confront extraordinary limitations, its prolonged use hopelessly weakens the body that we’re trying to care for.
Conversational communities are amazing and inviting, not just because of the wealth of their deliberation and what this tends to create (simple experiences of fraternity), but because they have an almost complete lack of mechanical organizational elements (especially virtual ones). So,the leap to an economy of their own is also usually conflictive. It’s not easy to understand the difference between a community with companies and a community of companies. Nor is it widely understand how far collective majority rule and democracy are mechanical tools which only should be used in difficult moments.
Even today, on Degania’s webpage, the first point that describes community lifestyle is “Degania has never had separate children’s quarters.” Being differentiated in this issue remains, almost a century later, part of the identity of the communitarian kibbutzim as contrasted with those of Marxist origin.
The practice of parents and children sleeping separately appeared relatively early in the Marxist-inspired kibbutzim–especially in those of Hashomer Hatzair–and was consolidated at the beginning of the ’20s, obeying a rational argument and internal coherence: the members of the youth movements sought to extend to their children the self-managed and communal education system that had marked their adolescence. As good Marxists, everything organic and uncontrollable was left out of the analysis and replaced permanently and definitively by the mechanical. The couple and family-centered model of Degania and the small kibbutzim was criticized as “bourgeois,” and in the majority of the big kibbutzim, couples didn’t even sit together to eat until the ’40s. The family was replaced by the democratic structure of community: parents only spent a few hours of the day with their children, in some cases even the names of the children was voted on in assembly. The result was what the director of the famous documentary “Children of the Sun” called a generation of “orphans of idealism.”
But the truth is that the organic side always ends up breaking mechanical constrictions. The trouble is that it is very possible that, in the process, the wrong lessons may be learned.
The Israeli writer Batia Gur imagined those tensions would end up breaking the kibbutz and its more celebrated accomplishments when, at the end of the ’80s, she began writing the iconoclastic book: Murder in the Kibbutz. There still has not been one case of murder on a kibbutz either inside or outside Israel, but is true that the “common dream” and mechanical barbarisms of the Marxist community tradition were the engine of many privatizations starting in the ’90s, and to a greater extent than the economic and cultural reasons that people were less shy to offer. This appears clearly in another famous documentary, “Inventing Our Lives.”
The problem with the mechanical conception of community isn’t just that it destroys real communities that decide to adopt it, but it destroys the whole field of meanings around community values by association.
It is true that the non-communitarian kibbutzim were not “the same” as Soviet farms. The Soviet system created scarcity from top to bottom, through the State authoritarianism of the single party, while the kibbutzim of the Marxist tendency created it with democratic procedures. And, without a doubt, the kibbutzim found scarcity produced by a majority-driven system that was sincerely concerned about community more acceptable than that produced by an authoritarian State system. But, in the end, what is unbearable is the logic of scarcity as the governor of life in common because it’s inevitably going to create an intimate ideology that will see every decision as a “zero-sum game”. Regarding the rest of the world, what’s left of all mechanical communitarianism is the same thing that’s left of monasticism: the idea that a community is a zero-sum game where, when the “community” wins, the individual loses. So, when tensions become unsustainable, the crisis always blows up due to fairly rapacious and suicidal individualism, but ultimately, isolating, myopic, and defeatist individualism.
Why do organizational charts make us nervous?
Nothing represents the mechanical conception of the human organization better than an organizational chart. Sometimes needed, is true, but if we need it to tell others what we are, normally it’s because we have an over-scaling problem. If we tell ourselves what we are by using it, we don’t value the real community that supposedly is are underneath–the individuals and organic relationships that make it.
But when the organizational chart expresses planning and desire, when the organizational chart really is an organizational program, and therefore political, it could be said that is, in fact, an extreme idealization of the mechanical component of the organization. All those structures, groups, committees, all those names cry out from the paper about the absence of real names, names of people who take and accept personal responsibilities, who think of themselves in a mesh of family affection, couple affection, and friendship. The work of the org chart has to encapsulate the explicit commitment that they could make to a stranger indistinguishable from any other. People are limited thus to predictable capacities, and they become interchangeable.
The community then becomes a mere form, an empty structure, anonymous. That’s the opposite of what always gives the word “community” an affective ring.