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Technology and Society under Lenin and Stalin
Origins of the Soviet Technical Intelligentsia, 1917-1941
By Kendall E. Bailes
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1978 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
BACKGROUND OF THE RUSSIAN TECHNOSTRUCTURE: FROM THE TSARIST ERA TO 1918
Science and industry — these are my dreams. They are everything today.... Mendeleev
To go into science means to endure pain. There is no science without suffering. Russian saying
A crisis often highlights features of a group that otherwise might be more difficult to define. Attitudes, interests, and behavior that, in normal times, seem habitual and almost unconscious become more focused when challenged by events. In early 1918 the technostructure in Russia, like the rest of society, was in crisis. In factories and mines all over Russia, committees of workers had seized control and were attempting to manage the enterprises. Uncooperative engineers were sometimes trundled away in wheelbarrows and dumped unceremoniously outside the gates by unfriendly workers, or even physically attacked and sometimes killed. More cooperative engineers found themselves involved in endless meetings, forced to share powers they had earlier taken for granted, unable to stop the decline in industrial discipline and in production. In technical universities and institutes, classes were interrupted or closed down by political turmoil accompanied by severe shortages of fuel and food. In research laboratories, shortages of equipment and personnel made normal work impossible. In government bureaus, Baltic sailors, armed factory workers, bearded muzhiks, leather-jacketed students, and other representatives of the new government arrested or otherwise coerced civil servants, including government engineers, many of whom were striking to protest the Bolshevik takeover and the dismissal of the newly elected Constituent Assembly.
In this atmosphere, representatives of the All-Russian Union of Engineers (VSI), the trade union of the graduate engineers that had formed less than a year before, gathered in Moscow to discuss the crisis. Their discussions and resolutions reveal an important segment of opinion among politically-conscious representatives of the technical intelligentsia, particularly among those based in the industries and technical schools of metropolitan areas or with strong ties to those areas. In order to understand how the technical intelligentsia fared under the Soviet system, we must look first at how their organized groups and individual members reacted to the events of the Russian revolution, i.e., what grievances, interests, and attitudes they revealed in this crisis. Then we will turn back briefly to the Tsarist era to look at their origins, structure, and consciously expressed interests. This should then provide a framework for understanding both the changes and the continuities later experienced by significant elements of the technical intelligentsia in the period between 1917 and 1941.
In early January 1918, seventy delegates of local units of VSI, mostly from the Moscow region, spent three days in discussing the crisis, their deliberations punctuated at times by machine gun and rifle fire, as Bolshevik and anti-Bolshevik forces clashed in the streets and public squares of the city. One member of the union, in fact, was killed demonstrating against the Bolsheviks. According to the transcript of the sessions:
The Congress did not interrupt its work for a moment, even when on the second day of the Congress rifle and machine gun fire could be heard in the streets, a victim of which fell our co-member, Engineer Ratner, killed on Passion Square under a banner defending the Constituent Assembly.
The meeting, which took place in Moscow, had been scheduled as a national congress of VSI, but because of transportation problems and the inability of many engineers to leave their posts, the chairman declared the sessions representative of the Moscow region only, although some delegates from other areas did attend. Since many of the delegates were prominent members of the technical intelligentsia, and the Moscow region at any rate contained one of the heaviest concentrations of technologists in the country, its deliberations are significant. Certain concerns stand out in the speeches and resolutions: the situation in industry was approaching anarchy, with a severe decline in production, destruction of the authority of technologists, rejection of such cherished incentive methods as bonuses and piecework rates, etc. Workers' control, in particular, was disturbing to members:
... such a solution of the problem [of reorganizing the economy] is both technically and economically impermissible. The participation of knowledgeable technical forces in working out problems of reorganization is absolutely necessary to avoid all kinds of mistakes.
What should be the role of the state in the economy and in solving the crisis? The congress strongly sympathized with a mixed economy. As the chairman, Professor Grinevetsky, a well-known heat technologist and rector of the Moscow Higher Technical School (comparable in prestige to MIT), expressed it, the state's role was one of regulation and active intervention when necessary, but it must also encourage private initiative, and protect labor from exploitation and other abuses. He was especially concerned that foreign capital, particularly German, might move in and take increasing advantage of the situation. He proposed that supervision of the economy be in the hands of the most competent. Control groups for every industry should be set up, including representatives of capital, labor, and consumers, but in particular "the most competent technical and economic forces in the country, to whom must be given the leading and responsible positions." These control organs could be effective, he stressed, only when backed up by state compulsion.
He was particularly critical of the Bolsheviks for their doctrinaire approach and lack of a clear economic program at this time, and he called for an end to the principle of a "one-sided class dictatorship." The government, he stressed, must guarantee normal working conditions and the authority and safety of technical personnel. The Tactical Commission of VSI echoed Grinevetsky's concerns and blamed the ruin of industry on "pandering to the crowd and its crude instincts and destructive urges, as well as the proclamation of narrow class slogans and attempts to preserve authority among the masses."
This commission concluded that "since politics and economics are closely intertwined, it is impossible not to interfere in politics." The resolutions passed by the Congress confirmed the strength of feeling that stood behind these opinions. The members of VSI were forbidden to participate in any organization that aided the "ruin of industry," including workers' directorates or commissions in plants that participated in workers' control. Members who did so would be expelled. If commissions of workers' organs took on the functions of engineers, engineers should leave their jobs, and such plants should be boycotted by other engineers. At the same time, this Congress defined the interests of its members as differing from those of private entrepreneurs. Another prominent engineer, M. G. Evreinov, expressed the views of VSI's Tactical Commission:
The majority recognized the impossibility of turning to the owners for a subsidy, even the smallest. If at a given moment, in the struggle to save industry, transport, etc., we find ourselves in agreement with the entrepreneurs, we should not forget that this has not always been so, nor will it be so in the future. The overwhelming majority of members in our union are people who sell their labor and are not entrepreneurs. The union of engineers has been created for the long haul, it has its own road to follow, and it is not necessary to become dependent either on organizations of entrepreneurs, nor on those of workers.
While there was some disagreement on this subject, and the Congress voted to leave the decision of accepting loans from entrepreneurs up to individual members, the sense of the meeting was that members of the technical intelligentsia were a distinct group, with interests different from those of either labor or capital.
How representative of the technical intelligentsia as a whole were the views expressed at this Congress? That question cannot be answered with certainty, since we lack any data that would give a full spectrum of opinion for this group in 1918. At most we can say that the Moscow branch of VSI represented one of the most self-conscious elements of the technical intelligentsia and certainly one of the best organized. By October of 1918, this group, under the same leadership, had grown to some three thousand members, a considerable proportion of the approximately fifteen thousand engineers in the country with higher education, the group eligible for VSI membership. Judging from other contemporary documents, including the national journal of VSI, the Engineers' Herald (Vestnik inzhenerov or VI), as well as from the memoirs of individual technologists, much of the opinion expressed at the January Congress was widely shared. In particular, the technical intelligentsia was oriented toward a strong government and government intervention in the economy, although it may have differed on the exact nature of that government and the degree of intervention. It feared anarchy, it feared for the personal safety of its members on the job, and it favored clearly defined and strong powers for the technical intelligentsia in the economy. Workers' control, in particular, seems to have been anathema to most, if not all, technologists.
Attitudes differed, however, in regard to the Bolsheviks, representative democracy, including such institutions as the Constituent Assembly, and the engineer's right to use the strike and boycott as political weapons. It is difficult to judge numerically how significant splits on these questions may have been. At least some technologists, probably a minority, began to cooperate with the Bolshevilks from the beginning, for a variety of reasons. A few had ties with Lenin and the Bolsheviks dating from their student days, and some were active Bolsheviks. These included prominent engineers like L. K. Martens, Robert Klasson, the Krasin brothers, Gleb Krzhizhanovsky, Lev Karpov, P. A. Bogdanov, and others. Yet it can be said with certainty that the active Bolsheviks among graduate engineers and applied scientists were a tiny minority.
A more sizable but less definable group comprised those who considered themselves apolitical, or felt it their duty to cooperate with whatever government was in power, no matter how much they differed personally with Bolshevik ideology. Among this group, those with military backgrounds and a history of loyal government service under the Tsars were sometimes prominent. Their opinions and reasons for cooperation are interesting, and reveal a connection between a military mentality and at least one segment of the technical intelligentsia. Here it is worth quoting from the memoirs of Lt. Gen. V. N. Ipatieff, a world-renowned chemical technologist and an officer in the Tsarist army who headed the Chemical Committee of the government in World War I. People like Ipatieff differed strongly with the leadership of VSI on the political role of the technical intelligentsia. The leadership of VSI was drawn heavily from among civilian engineers and the engineering professoriate, many of whom had a history of conflict with the Tsarist regime, going back several decades, and some of whom were strong liberals, supporters of the Constitutional Democratic party and the Provisional Government. Ipatieff and others like him, while scarcely admirers of the Romanovs, were more conservatively oriented. It was, in fact, their conservatism that impelled them to support the Bolsheviks, paradoxical as that may seem at first. The extent of conservative support for the Bolsheviks is surely a phenomenon that deserves more study than historians have given it.
One of the ironies of the Russian Revolution is that the Bolsheviks in 1917 and 1918 appealed not only to radicals, but to some who had worked loyally for the old regime. The following explanation seems to make sense of this apparent contradiction. The Bolsheviks were not the most radical group on the Russian left at the time. To Ipatieff and his kind, who felt that the right was thoroughly discredited and disorganized, the anarchists, Socialist Revolutionaries, anti-intellectual workers, and peasants seemed far more serious a threat to their deeply-held values of order, discipline, productive work, and hierarchical organization than the Bolsheviks, whom they may have disliked, but were willing to tolerate under the circumstances. Why? Ipatieff, publishing his memoirs in 1946 after fleeing Stalin's terror against the old specialists in 1930, gave some revealing answers, which other sources corroborate. While his explanation is self-serving, justifying to a Western readership why he worked loyally for the Bolsheviks between 1917 and 1930, it deserves notice:
Whatever we may think of the ideals of the Bolsheviks, many of which experience proved to be purely "Utopian," it must be admitted that the October Revolution, masterfully led by Lenin, saved the country from anarchy and at least temporarily preserved its intelligentsia and material wealth. ... Many times I have maintained that but for the Bolsheviks in 1917 and 1918 I probably would have lost my life ... if the Provisional Government had remained in power much longer the intelligentsia would have been the victims.
Ipatieff may have disliked the Bolsheviks, at times intensely, but his fear of the prevailing breakdown and his dislike of other groups on the left were greater. His conduct went beyond neutrality. In contrast to VSI and similar groups, and such fellow members of the Russian Academy of Sciences as Pavlov and Vernadsky, Ipatieff refused to censure the Bolsheviks or to join a strike against them. According to his account, right after the October Revolution, in November and December of 1917,
Most of the staff of the Chemical Committee were opposed to the Bolshevik Revolution, and I was asked to call a meeting to discuss the possibility of calling a demonstration strike against Bolshevism, similar to those in other government offices. After full discussion, I spoke against the plan. The Chemical Committee, I argued, was composed of army men who had no right to stop their work in wartime. The government in power should be obeyed, and all responsibility for any action taken devolved on that government. I suppose that most of the staff disagreed with me, but my firm attitude and authority were too much for them to oppose. Our work went on, without a day lost....
At a meeting of the Academy of Sciences, of which Ipatieff was a full member, a protest against the Bolshevik takeover was proposed. "I argued that control of the state belonged to the group capable of setting up a strong government. ... The autocracy of the Tsarist regime had dissatisfied many of us, yet we had continued to do our duty." A motion censuring the Bolsheviks failed, to Ipatieff's satisfaction.
These two examples of how members of the technical intelligentsia reacted to the October Revolution are limited, but revealing of splits as well as common interests among members of this group. To understand the roots of such attitudes and the situation of the technical intelligentsia after 1917, we have to look briefly at this group in the last decades of Imperial Russia.
Excerpted from Technology and Society under Lenin and Stalin by Kendall E. Bailes. Copyright © 1978 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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