Socialism was mankind’s most ambitious attempt to supplant religion with a blueprint for “heaven on earth ” as Moses Hess, mentor to Marx and Engels, put it. Each failure to reach this promised land inspired only further determined attempts: revolution, communes, elections, dictatorship. None worked as envisioned and some exacted terrible tolls. The quest lasted two centuries, then seemed to end with the fall of the Berlin Wall, only to begin anew a generation later. Remarkably, Jews — from Hess to Marx to Trotsky to Rosa Luxemburg to Leon Blum to David Ben-Gurion to Bernie Sanders — headlined this drama. And the closest the world ever came to true socialism was in Israel in the form of kibbutzim. They were essential building blocks of the new state, although once it was secure, they morphed into market-based communities. Heaven on Earth strings together intimate portraits of socialism’s thinkers and doers — and its undertakers – to present an epic chronicle of a movement that aimed to turn the world upside down, did in a way, and may yet do again.
Heaven on Earth: The Rise, Fall, and Afterlife of Socialism
January 1, 2013
Courtesy of Joshua Muravchik
- Why was socialism the most popular political idea in history?
- Why was it hard to put socialist ideas into practice — apart from Soviet-style Communism, which many socialists saw as a travesty of their ideal?
- Why has the idea of socialism or democratic socialism attracted new interest in recent years after many thought it was dead and buried?
- What is “socialism” anyway?
- Why did Jews play such a large role in the history of socialist movements? Did they see it as an answer to antisemitism and persecution? Was there something in socialist philosophy that evoked deeper Jewish values?
- Why did Zionist pioneers form kibbutzim? How important were the kibbutzim to the creation of Israel? What impact did the rearing of children in group houses on kibbutzim have on family life? On the happiness of the children? On the psychological makeup of the adults who had been raised in this way?
- Why did the kibbutzim move away from pure socialism? Are the kibbutzim still there? How are they structured today? Are there any kibbutzim that still practice pure socialism in the traditional way?
- What do you see as the future of socialism? Will it have a rebirth? Will it be tried in new ways? Will America move in that direction?
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