[Buddha-l] One Buddhist's perspective on Zionism

Dan Lusthaus dlusthau at mailer.fsu.edu
Sat May 21 17:07:06 MDT 2005


I am no expert on Buddhist Socialism, and am not even sure it refers to a
single phenomenon. Perhaps others can flesh this out a bit. My impression is
that, due to local trends and international trends, especially in the second
half of the twentieth century, some forms of socialist and even marxist
social theory were taken up by various South and South East Asian Buddhists
(intellectuals and intellectual monastics mostly), including some prominent
figures, who then attempted to harmonize Buddhist social theory (as they
understood or actively constructed it) with various socialist ideals. I am
not sure to what extent, if any, these exercises in theory and disputation
ever took on institutional or real-life form(s). Again, perhaps others can
provide more details and specifics.

Zionist Socialism, on the other hand, has its roots in the latter part of
the first half of the nineteenth century. Its formative influences include
the Young or Left Hegelians (which Moses Hess participated in, and
introduced, separately Marx and Engels to) and a number of other trends,
radical and otherwise, at play in Germany at that time. By the end of the
nineteenth century, the secular Zionist movement, infused by the thinking
and spirit of Theodor Herzl and others, was primarily composed of Jewish
Socialists, active throughout Europe (Austria, Germany, Russia, Poland,
etc.). It was these socialists who encouraged and organized many of the
newer waves of immigration (immigration to Palestine had been going on for
centuries, joining up with, and sometimes competing with Jewish groups who
were already established there, or had been there in perpetuity) and
established Jewish communal farming communities (which evolved into the
Kibbutz movement) and the proto-groups that were to become the Israeli
govt., labor unions (the Histadruth), socialized medicine (Kupat Cholim),
etc. For most of the twentieth century Jewish leadership in Palestine and
then Israeli politics were dominated by socialists. The Labor party (which
in Israel really meant socialist party, unlike the misuse of such "labels"
by political parties in many other countries) ruled for the first several
decades of Israel's existence. Most of the parties competing against were
even further to the left. So unlike the Buddhist Socialists, the Zionist
Socialists actually built a country and a culture based on Socialist
principles going back to pre-Marx days. Exigencies -- political,
existential, and economic -- have moved Israel more toward capitalistic
systemics and gradually away from the Socialist principles of its founders
and pioneering generations -- much as Europe and other places in the world
are doing these days as well.

In short, while Buddhist Socialism is a late byproduct of a certain
socialist Zeitgeist of the mid- to late 20th century, Zionist Socialism was
a potent and influential force in the inception, theory and practice of
socialism itself.

Dan Lusthaus

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