A Commentary on Stalin's Opposition, Central Plans and Utopian
2 of 3)
By Louis Proyect
One of the
most perceptive critics of "information revolution"
hype is Doug Henwood, whose indispensable Left Business Observer
covers the high-technology beat on a regular basis. Henwood is
no neo-Luddite himself and maintains an electronic version of
LBO on the World Wide Web while making his presence felt on numerous
Internet mailing lists.
In his review
of James Brook and Iain Boal's Resisting the Virtual Life, Henwood
makes a number of keen observations about the "information
revolution" hype and Robert Reich's role in it. Leaving aside
the unlikely possibility that American capitalism is capable of
improving its public schools to the level necessary to turn out
"symbolic analysts," Henwood questions of the availability
of such jobs in the future:
any truth to Reich's blather? How big is the high- tech, infobahn
workforce now, and how big is it likely to get? The share of the
workforce employed directly in information superhighway kinds
of tasks is well under 2% -- and that includes people who design,
make, and program computers, chips, and telecommunications equipment.
Business purchases of computer and telecommunications equipment
totals just over 2% of GDP. What the Bureau of Labor Statistics
(BLS -- an agency within the department Reich now heads) calls
scientists, engineers, and technicians now constitute about 5%
of the total workforce. By 2005, it reckons, these workers will
account for all of 5.6% of total employment. Looking at high-tech
industries rather than workers gives an even less impressive picture;
now they account for just over a quarter of total employment,
but by 2005 their share is likely to fall by over a percentage
point. The number of systems analysts and computer scientists
will grow dramatically, yes -- by almost 80%. But since there
are under a half-million of such folks now, their share of the
workforce will remain nearly invisible to the naked eye. The same
can be said of computer programmers, electronics engineers, and
us to another premise accepted uncritically by cy.Rev, the "disappearance
of jobs." Is it the case that machines are replacing human
labor to the extent that we face a totally redundant workforce
beyond the 21st Century?
In his review
of Jeremy Rifkin's "End of Work," Henwood observes that
"People have been worrying about machines replacing human
labor since the beginning of capitalism. Yes, machines do replace
workers -- but employment nonetheless continues to expand, quadrupling
in the U.S. over the last 60 years. In most parts of the world,
aside from Europe and Africa, employment is growing. Throughout
history, capitalism has constantly drawn new people into paid
labor, though the demand for jobs always outstrips the system's
capacity to provide them."
task of mapping the future trajectory of capitalism in the 21st
century will test the capacities of any professional "futurist",
especially those of the Marxist persuasion. Immediately after
WWII, the Marxist left in the United States anticipated economic
depression and revolutionary upsurge. Instead we got the growth
of suburbia, widespread availability of consumer goods and a quiescent
there are profound changes occurring in the American economy,
but it would be a mistake to rule out the creation of many new
industrial jobs. For example, the current generations of mostly
middle-aged auto workers are getting ready to retire. Some experts
in the auto industry predict wide-scale hiring over the next ten
years. The critical question of course remains whether these will
be well-paying union jobs or not.
with cy.Rev is that it seems to never consider the possibility
that the progressive movement has alternatives to Sale's neo-Luddism
or a brokered marriage between the Tofflers and Karl Marx.
To start with,
there were alternatives to polluting heavy-industries in the USSR.
What happened historically had little to do with Marxism's embrace
of a "Second Wave" model, but instead had more to do
with Stalin's go-for-broke rapid industrialization schemes. Stalin
put through his wasteful and grandiose projects against the advice
of the Soviet Union's most talented and pro-socialist engineers.
"Ghost of the Executed Engineer" is a penetrating study
of the fate of one such engineer who stood up to Stalin.
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 socialism.
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.
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.
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.
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 two years later. More