Marxism and the philosophy of science

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Apr 15 14:34:08 MDT 2002

On Mon, 15 Apr 2002 19:55:03 +0200, Jurriaan Bendien wrote:
>For balance, it might be useful to consult some
>of Loren Graham's books on  the subject.

Loren Graham's "Ghost of the Executed Engineer" is a penetrating
study of the fate of one such engineer who stood up to Stalin.

Peter Palchinsky, a civil engineer, joined the Communist Party
shortly after the 1917 revolution. Palchinsky supported the idea of
planning. He believed that the Soviet Union opened up possibilities
for industrial development that were impossible under Tsarism. He
thought that engineers could play a major role in the growth of

Palchinsky argued against the type of gigantic enterprises that had
captured Stalin's 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 also 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 did
not 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 did not 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 quarters.

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 imprisoned. The engineer died behind bars 2 years later.


Louis Proyect, lnp3 at on 04/15/2002

Marxism list:

PLEASE clip all extraneous text before replying to a message.

More information about the Marxism mailing list