Soviet Science

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Apr 10 14:20:29 MDT 1995

Louis Proyect:

For those interested in the subject of science in the former USSR, I want
to strongly recommend the work of Loren Graham. His titles include:

Science in Russia and the Soviet Union, Cambridge, 1993

Science and the Soviet Social Order, Harvard, 1990

Science, Philosophy and Human Behavior in the Soviet Union, Columbia, 1987

Science and Philosophy in the Soviet Union, Vintage, 1974

Soviet Academy of Sciences and the Communist Party 1927-1932, Princeton, 1967

In addition, Graham wrote "The Ghost of the Executed Engineer" about the
civil engineer Palchinksy who put forward an industrial development model
that differed radically from Stalin's. I wrote something about this most
fascinating book and posted it to this list a while back. I'll re-post it
below for anybody who wants to get a feel for the types of issues Graham
is examining:

Peter Palchinsky was a civil engineer who joined the
Communist Party shortly after the 1917 revolution. In the
1920's he developed an approach to industrialization that
differed radically from Stalin's.

Palchinsky was enthusiastic about planning. He believed that
the Soviet Union opened up possibilities for the planning of
industry that were impossible under Tsarism. He thought
that engineers could play a major role in the growth of
socialism. He hoped that engineers could be as important to
the construction of socialism as financiers were to the
development of capitalism.

Palchinsky argued against the type of gigantic enterprises
that were beginning to capture Stalin's rather limited
imagination. He noted that middle-sized and small
enterprises often have advantages over large ones. For one
thing, workers at smaller factories are usually able to grasp
the final goals more easily.

He believed that the single most important factor in
engineering decisions was human beings themselves.
Successful industrialization and high productivity were not
possible without highly trained workers and adequate
provision for their social and economic needs.

His differences with Stalin's pyramid-building approach
erupted over the Great Dneiper Dam project, one of the
most fabled 5-year plan projects. Palchinsky made the
following critiques. The project didn't take into account the
huge distances between the dam and the targeted sites. As a
consequence, there would be huge transmission costs and
declines in efficiency.

Also, the project didn't take into account the damage
resulting floods would cause to surrounding farms situated
in lowlands. Some 10,000 villagers had to flee their homes.
As the project fell behind schedule and overran costs, the
workers' needs were more and more neglected. The workers
suffered under freezing conditions, living in cramped tents
and barracks without adequate sanitary facilities. TB,
typhus, and smallpox spread throughout the worker's

Palchinsky argued forcefully against projects such as these
and offered a more rational, humane and less ideologically
driven approach. In other words, he stressed sound
engineering and planning methods. He helped to organize a
study group dedicated to his principles. Palchinsky and
other engineers who opposed Stalin's bureaucratic system
allied themselves to some extent with Bukharin and Rykov
who had often defended engineers and their approach to
industrial planning. Stalin cracked down on the Bukharin
opposition around the same time as he attacked dissident
engineers and had Palchinsky arrested in 1928. Palchinsky died
behind bars 2 years later.

His criticisms of Stalinism anticipated many of the failures
of Soviet industrialization. The Chernobyl disaster in
particular could be attributable to the same type of
bureaucratic myopia that afflicted the Dneiper dam project.

Could the Soviet Union have evolved and progressed with
an industrialization model more akin to Palchinsky's? I
believe so. In any case, it is a mistake to draw an equation
between Stalin's 5-year plans and the term "planned
socialism". The loss of Palchinsky and the political
opposition he identified with constitute one of the great
"what if's" in history. We have no way of knowing what the
Soviet Union would have looked like without their
suppression. In the meantime, I strongly urge members of
this list to take a second look at Soviet history and to
consider what impact an approach similar to Palchinsky's
would have made. For the whole story on Palchinksy, I
recommend Loren Graham's "The Ghost of the Executed
Engineer: Technology and the Fall of the Soviet Union",
Harvard Press, 1993.

On Mon, 10 Apr 1995, Ron Press wrote:

> Hi I Agree with Ralph about discussions in Soviet Science. I have
> a book published in 1968 , Progress Publishers, Moscow,
>  Philosophical Problems of Elementary-Particle Physics.
> A remarkable book which is exceptionally free from any imposed
> ideological straightjacket.
> >>>>>>>>> From: Ralph Dumain <rdumain at> Subject:
> 			 <<<<<<<<<<<<
> Ron Press
> I was taught that freedom is the recognition of necessity. This
> solves no problems but then do all problems have solutions? Or is
> it the lack of solutions that keeps the wheels turning?
>      --- from list marxism at ---

     --- from list marxism at ---


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