A Commentary on Stalin's Opposition, Central Plans and Utopian
1 of 3)
By Louis Proyect
area computer programmers and activists who decided to start a
new journal called cy.Rev chose wisely to publish on the World
Wide Web of the Internet. This is a great example of merging medium
and the message after the fashion of Marshall McLuhan. The driving
force behind this project is Carl Davidson, a leader of SDS in
the 1960s and a writer and editor of the Guardian Newspaper during
the 1970s. In recent years Davidson has done computer consulting
for non-profit groups and unions in the Chicago area and believes
passionately in the new technology.
others organized themselves into the Chicago Third Wave Study
Group which started cy.Rev in an effort to promote their ideas
in "cyberspace". They dubbed themselves "Third
Wave" because the futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler were
a strong influence on their vision of socialism. The Tofflers
have been promoting the Third Wave theory like missionaries for
years. Only since the arrival of personal computing and the Internet
has "Third Wave" theory achieved the kind of high profile
the Tofflers have sought for it over the years.
is the Third Wave? Put simply, the theory states that there are
three important "waves" in social history: (1) rural
societies based on agriculture, (2) urban societies that emerged
with the industrial revolution, and (3) the information-based
world in which we currently reside. The United States is in the
throes of this third microchip-inspired wave. Most of its difficulties
are the fault of its inability to migrate smoothly out of the
"Second Wave" of dying smokestack industries into the
promised land of computer networks and knowledge-based industries.
is a booster of the "Third Wave." So is Wired Magazine,
a cosponsor of high-tech conferences with the Georgia reactionary.
Davidson and the editors of cy.Rev want to cut the ties between
"Third Wave" theory and its right-wing supporters and
enlist in on behalf of a technologically supercharged version
of market socialism. Not surprisingly, they blame the problems
of traditional Marxism as having been too closely connected with
"Second Wave" thinking. Such thinking gave birth to
Stalinist bureaucracies where investments in heavy industry took
priority over the technology of the information revolution.
There is a
strong green emphasis in cy.Rev which argues that "Third
Wave" socialism can also help to alleviate the environmental
crisis. Both "Second Wave" capitalism and socialism
have caused environmental degradation, despite the best intentions
of governments east and west: "This feature of industrial
society is not a problem of the distant future. It is the 'dirty
little secret' of today's world standing behind the rising the
conflict between North and South. The truth is that we cannot
have economic equality among nations based on today's levels and
standards. If every country in the world were organized on just
the same level and just the same types of production and consumption
that are 'enjoyed' in the either the U.S., or Europe, or Japan,
or even the former Soviet Union, the resulting polluted biosphere
would render the globe uninhabitable for humans."
the development model of the former USSR, cy.Rev places itself
squarely in the market socialism camp:
our view of socialism, we affirm the entrepreneurial spirit,
the motivating energy of the market and the right of individuals
to become wealthy through the private ownership of the capital
they have helped to create. At the same time, we fundamentally
reorder priorities in how both property and capital is defined.
While both personal property and capital may still be owned
by individuals. we no longer see ownership as an absolute
power. Property, especially productive property in the form
of capital, is to be seen primarily as a social power relation
that can be guided and regulated, just as other power relations
are regulated for the common good of society. Incomes are
also subject to progressive taxation."
to cy.Rev, the biggest obstacle to a smooth transition to
"Third Wave" socialism in the United States is the
stubborn tendency of jobs to disappear in capitalist society.
They draw attention to studies such as Jeremy Rifkin's "The
End of Work" and Stanley Aronowitz and William DiFazio's
"The Jobless Future" which attempt to explain this
problem. Both books take note of the replacement of blue-collar
jobs through automation. Rifkin's solution is to create more
jobs in the non-profit world of museums, schools and parks
and the like. Davidson sympathies lie with the socialists
Aronowitz and DiFazio (Aronowitz has recently joined the editorial
board of cy.Rev). Reduction of work hours, regulation of capital
to prevent capital flight, quality education with an accent
on computer skills, a guaranteed income and a new research
agenda geared to human needs rather than private profit are
some of the solutions they propose in "The Jobless Future."
to promoting this vision of "Third Wave" socialism,
cy.Rev also includes useful articles that cover the proliferation
of high-technology into the world of non-profits, unions,
educational institutions and the progressive movement. One
of the more interesting articles appears in the premier issue
is "SoliNet: Electronic Conferencing for the Trade Union
Movement" by Marc Belanger of the Canadian Union of Public
Employees. SoliNet is a public computer conferencing system
open to the labor movement and its allies with approximately
1500 users. According to Belanger, it probably the world's
only such system owned and operated by a union.
is a refreshing alternative to the "Neo-Luddism"
of Kirkpatrick Sale or the anti-technology jeremiads of Neil
Postman. Postman complains in "Technopoly" that,
"In automating the operation of political, social and
commercial enterprises, computers may or may not have made
them more efficient but they have certainly diverted attention
from the question whether or not such enterprises are necessary
or how they might be improved. A university, a political party,
a religious denomination, a judicial proceeding, even corporate
board meetings are not improved by automating their operations.
made more imposing, more technical, perhaps more authoritative,
but defects in their assumptions, ideas, and theories will
remain untouched. Computer technology, in other words, has
not yet come close to the printing press in its power to generate
radical and substantive social, political, and religious thought.
If the press was, as David Riesman called it, 'the gunpowder
of the mind,' the computer, in its capacity to smooth over
unsatisfactory institutions and ideas, is the talcum powder
of the mind."
who has implemented computer systems for trade unions or liberation
movements will find Postman's views one-sided and excessively
pessimistic. If nothing else, cy.Rev's unbridled enthusiasm
for computer technology is a much needed counter-balance to
the gloom-and-doom warnings of a Sale or a Postman. Where
cy.Rev errs, it is in the way it too closely identifies with
the "information revolution" hype promoted relentlessly
in Wired. One of the more glaring examples is the kid gloves
treatment of Robert Reich in Carl Davidson's review of "The
Work of Nations: Preparing for 21st Century Capitalism."
to Davidson, "Reich makes a convincing case that it is both
impossible and reactionary to try to prevent the globalization
of the market. Instead, he poses a strategic question: Rather
than trying to prevent low-wage, low-skill jobs from leaving the
United States, why don't we try a policy that would encourage
high-wage, high-skill jobs to come into the U.S., regardless of
the nationalities of the investors." While Reich believes
that a new generation of "symbolic analysts" will ease
transition away from smokestack industries, Davidson warns that
the biggest obstacle to this transition is the "savage inequalities"
in our school system. He quotes approvingly Reich's desire to
see "excellent public schools in every city and region and
ample financial help to young people who wanted to attend college
and substantial additional investments in universities, research
parks, airports and other facilities conducive to symbolic-analytic
work." More >>