The Kibbutz Movement is the largest communitarian movement in the world today. The first kibbutz was founded in 1910. By 2012 there were 274 kibbutzim (plural of kibbutz) with a population of 141,000.
Each kibbutz is an autonomous unit, socially and economically, but there are strong bonds of co-operation and mutual help between them. These bonds have been formalized in a national central federation – The Kibbutz Movement (connected with a minor one – Hakibbutz Hadati - representing religious kibbutzim) that coordinate activities of their member kibbutzim and provide them with economic, social, cultural and other services.
Each kibbutz is a distinct socioeconomic entity, based on the principle of a common purse. In that sense the kibbutz can be understood most easily as a large household shared by an entire community. The kibbutz community builds its life-pattern around shared social, cultural and economic activities.
The economy of each kibbutz is based in industrial and agricultural branches, economic services branches and the income of the members working outside.
The communal kitchen provides food for the community, and most meals are taken in the communal dining-room. In recent years some kibbutzim have experimented with changes in the system, including the transfer of some meals to members' apartments, but public opinion surveys continue to show that a large majority of the members are in favor of maintaining the communal dining-room. All of the kibbutz population lives in housing provided by the kibbutz. While most consumption is in principle collective, the growing influence of consumerism has led to a redistribution of resources, with more money allocated to personal budgets in order to allow for greater individual choice. Most needed services are provided within the kibbutz, but increasingly are charged to personal budgets.
The intensive changes that many kibbutzim had adopted in the last years have resulted in a wide range of kibbutz models, pluralism that is legitimized by law. Today there are three formal kinds of kibbutz: The collective model, the renewing kibbutz and the urban kibbutz. The main changes in the past few years in most kibbutzim are in the areas of individualization: along with enlarging the individual member's freedom of choice and control over his budget, some places have reduced the responsibility of the Kibbutz for each individual within it, and have adopted measures of reward that diminish equality and create differentiation.
Development of industry and rise in the level of education were accompanied by changes in the structure of employment, change in organization of the economy, in management structure that turns from common and horizontal to hierarchic and centralist. As a result of demographic changes and stratified differentiation, the type of democracy in social systems has changed in certain aspects and direct participation democracy has been replaced partially by representative bodies and ballot voting. More and more kibbutzim are separating economic-business management from the social system, directorates with external directors are taking the place of the Kibbutz committees, and ways of differential reward by seniority, function and effort have here and there entered kibbutzim along with personal pensions.
Weakening observance of the principles of self-labour has accelerated the percentage of hired workers in Kibbutz industries and it is also rising in agriculture and personal services. The demographic crisis and reduction of population in various kibbutzim, especially due to the younger generation leaving, has led some kibbutzim to rent kibbutz apartments to non-members. Some have even built neighborhoods for people who do not join as members, blurring the long-time identity between the kibbutz as a social and economic entity and the settlement as a geographic municipal unit. The rural-agricultural character of Kibbutz is also changing in many places, especially in those near large urban centers or located in an area where a megalopolis is developing.
From the start the Kibbutz "model" was not completely homogenous, and there was a degree of variation among the kibbutzim. Some of the difference stems from differences between the Movements: these have largely been blurred since the end of the Seventies. On the other hand, differences among kibbutzim themselves have grown, and are expected to increase due to the process the kibbutzim are going through at the end of the century.
The kibbutz entering the 21st century only remotely resembles that founded at the start of the 20th century, but its uniqueness as a community of solidarity and common ownership of means of production will be preserved, despite the physical and organizational changes. Also in the most privatized kibbutzim there is a system of mutual responsibility, the principal owner of the economic enterprises is the kibbutz and the important decisions must be approved by 2/3 or 3/4 of the members.