Socialist-Zionism and Hashomer Hatzair
By A. Daniel Roth
Hashomer Hatzair (the Young Guard) is a 100 year old Socialist-Zionist movement that is active all over the world. What follows is a brief piece on where we come from and where we are going.
Here, we explain a bit about our roots, our ideology and our place in the world. If you are inspired to learn more you can check out the writings of Nachman Syrkin, who is one of the founders of this stream of Zionism. You can also check out thinkers such as Ber Borochov, A.D. Gordon, Ahad Ha’am, and one of my favorites, the philosopher Martin Buber, who taught members of our movement in the first half of the 20th century and whose thinking remains central to our ideology and practice today.
The Jewish People
The Jewish people are, well, a people. We are a religious group, a cultural group, a nation, and an ethnic group. Some of us find ourselves identifying with all of those categories. Some of us identify as one, two or three of them. That’s one of those interesting and unique parts of being Jewish, though other peoples have similar identity issues too.
We are a people born in Israel and dispersed around the world. Ours, like most peoples who have been around the block, is a history rich with victimhood. As well, like most peoples, we are not innocent of oppression.
The foundational text of our people is the Torah (The Hebrew Bible). In some circles it is a religious text, handed down from God on high. In ours it is the central literature that has shaped our culture. It is rich with parable, analogy and guidance. It is full of lessons on how we may want to live (and in some cases, how not to live). It is one of the factors that binds our people together, and one of the factors that tears us apart so often.
One of the central concepts that we draw from the Torah is our responsibility to act in the world according to our values; to work in solidarity with other peoples; to better ourselves and better the world.
This is a concept called Tikkun Adam-Tikkun Olam. In brief, it means that bettering our selves and bettering the world are interlinked and inextricable. One cannot accomplish one without the other. The centrality of justice in our culture means being just ourselves as we work to make a more just world. It means living our lives in a way that reflects the world we wish to see. It means living communally because we see that as a valuable way for humans to interact. It means struggling for the freedom of all peoples because freedom is so vital for us all. This is the mission of our people, and I bet we share it with many others. This concept is central to Hashomer Hatzair and guides our ideals and actions in education, communal living, and the cultivation of a better world.
Foundations of Socialist-Zionism
Zionism is a movement for Jewish liberation. It is a vision for Jewish self-determination in solidarity with the self-determination of all other peoples. Self-determination is the ability to control our own collective, as well as individual fates; the ability to allow our culture to flourish; the ability to have a society and economy that we get to determine; the ability to participate in the world as a people with all other peoples. This, we know, cannot come at the expense of any other peoples’ freedom.
Hashomer Hatzair is unwavering in its struggle to work toward a place for Jewish culture to flourish. It is, of course important for all peoples to have a home; a place to be safe, but this is only the one, small piece of the puzzle. I don’t have to recount all the atrocities that we experienced over the years. Still, Zionists who believe that Israel need only be a safe place for Jews are misguided and have led us down the path we currently find ourselves on. The attitude that our safety and our lives are more important than others has led to violence and occupation. The essence of our freedom movement is to create a place that allows for the Jewish people, as a collective, to contribute and participate in the global community of peoples.
We can find some degree of peoplehood in our communities around the world, but not without a living, thriving center in our home. To be clear, it is not our God-given home. It is our historical home. In order to be a part of the global community we must have the space to cultivate our own community. To act in the world as a collective, we (like all other peoples) have the right to build ourselves in this collective project; to better ourselves as we better the world.
Our home is also a place that we need to share, in solidarity with all the other people(s) who live there. It is a place where we can find self-determination in partnership with the Palestinians and the other people(s) who call Israel or Palestine home. It is a place where more than one nation can find liberation.
The above is not a complete vision. Inextricable from our Zionism is our Socialism, which is a movement for the liberation of all people. It is a movement for a world that is equitable, sustainable, and in which all peoples live, work and play in solidarity. Our vision has undergone many changes over the years. We began with a vision for a bi-national state that would be made up of communal villages (Kibbutzim). Palestinians and Jews would live, work and celebrate side by side. This state would work in solidarity with the states of the world to create a world of peace and justice for all peoples. We envisioned a country of workers, united in our closeness with the land that we worked and our goal of liberation from capitalism and violence for all peoples.
Socialist-Zionism is the synthesis of the movement for Jewish liberation and self-determination with the movement for global liberation and self-determination. We work to better ourselves as a people in solidarity with the Palestinian people and all other peoples. This reflects our understanding of the relationship between bettering ourselves and bettering the world. It is a process that must occur on an individual level as well as a collective level.
Our vision has evolved. We have begun to build Urban Kibbutzim as well as rural communes. This signifies an understanding that people live in urban centers, and we need to be where people are in order to help lead in the growing movement for participatory societies. The commune that I live in is an expression of that internal revolution. We work as radical, democratic educators; we work as activists for peace and justice; we live communally, sharing our time, minds and money; we work to live the values of our movement in our lives today.
But alas, the current reality of occupation and oppression has led us to understand that the first step in creating a participatory society with self-determination for all the peoples living in Israel and Palestine is to create a space for Palestinian self-determination. We must be in solidarity with the movement for Palestinian freedom if we are truly members of our own freedom movement. This is true of all freedom movements, but as Jews, as Zionists, we bear specific responsibility for that struggle.
Our strategic vision for Israel and Palestine is based on our values, but it is also based on the desires of the people who live there. Most want space for self-determination before dreaming of something better.
Our vision for a Jewish state is one of equity, peace and solidarity, alongside a fully independent Palestinian state. As we work together to dismantle oppressive state structures around the world, we work to build a new vision of society; one that allows for self-determination without states. That is why two states, side by side, with equity and freedom for all their citizens is one step on our path of bettering ourselves and bettering the world.