Heav­en on Earth: The Rise, Fall, and After­life of Socialism

January 1, 2013

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.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Joshua Muravchik

  1. Why was social­ism the most pop­u­lar polit­i­cal idea in history?

  2. 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?

  3. Why has the idea of social­ism or demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ism attract­ed new inter­est in recent years after many thought it was dead and buried?

  4. What is social­ism” anyway?

  5. 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?

  6. 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?

  7. 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?

  8. 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?