Friday, June 19, 2015

Reading :: The Communist Manifesto

I read this famous manifesto in the Kindle book Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Collection of 26 Works with analysis and historical background, but it's available in many places, including Obviously I don't expect to be able to do justice to it. But I'll note some passages that connect to later Soviet works, to themes on this blog, and to activity theory.

Marx and Engels indict the bourgeoise for tearing apart bonds, even feudalism's exploitative bonds: "for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation." It, they say, has reduced even venerable occupations to mere "paid wage labourers"; it has "reduced the family relation to a mere money relation." The authors argue that by its composition, the bourgeoise must destroy such relations:
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. 
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.
Readers may recognize this passage as describing the dark side of Schumpeter's "creative destruction." Marx and Engels charge that this state of affairs has spiraled out of control ("Modern bourgeois society, with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells") and has compulsively reproduced ("it creates a world after its own image"). It has also introduced deskilling, separating the laborer from his or her labor:
Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him. Hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for maintenance, and for the propagation of his race. But the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labour, is equal to its cost of production. In proportion, therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases. Nay more, in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labour increases, in the same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of the working hours, by the increase of the work exacted in a given time or by increased speed of machinery, etc.
 But this historical period has created its own antagonists, the proletariat. Marx and Engels argue that although there are other classes, the great fight will be between the proletariat and bourgeoise. The other classes are not candidates for revolution. The lower middle class?
The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance, they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests, they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat.
The dangerous class?
The “dangerous class”,  the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.
And here's the famous passage that Krushchev referenced when he said "we will bury you!":
The essential conditions for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois class is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable. (my emphasis)
In the second part, the authors allege that the Communists have no factions and represent the proletariat as a whole (cf. Stalin). They also allege that the Communists, with their theoretical grounding, are best situated to lead the revolution (again, cf. Stalin):
The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.
The authors argue for the abolition of private property. "Property, in its present form, is based on the antagonism of capital and wage labour." After some argument, they allege a theme that shows up again and again in the communist literature:
In bourgeois society, therefore, the past dominates the present; in Communist society, the present dominates the past. In bourgeois society capital is independent and has individuality, while the living person is dependent and has no individuality.
The authors go on to scorn the bourgeois family:
The bourgeois clap-trap about the family and education, about the hallowed co-relation of parents and child, becomes all the more disgusting, the more, by the action of Modern Industry, all the family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labour.
And the idea of nations:
In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another will also be put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.
Here's the root of the Bolshevik vision of the worldwide socialist revolution.

The authors conclude with this ringing cry, which entranced so many socialists over the subsequent years:
The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. 
Working Men of All Countries, Unite!  

Reading :: Critique of the Gotha Programme

The link above, like some of the other Marx and Engels books I'll be reviewing soon, goes to the Kindle book Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Collection of 26 Works with analysis and historical background. It's cheap ($1.99), but you can read the Critique even more cheaply at if you like. As with my other recent reviews, I'll be copying and pasting quotes from that source.

It's a short read. I picked it up because Solzhenitsyn quotes it in his critique of the Marxist view of labor:
Engels discovered that the human being had arisen not through the perception of a moral idea and not through the process of thought, but out of happenstance and meaningless work (an ape picked up a stone—and with this everything began. Marx, concerning himself with a less remote time ('Critique of the Gotha Program'), declared with equal conviction that the one and only means of correcting offenders ... was not solitary contemplation, not moral soul-searching, nor repentance, and not languishing (for all that was superstructure!)—but productive labor. (Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago p.215) 
Solzhenitsyn cites this claim as the rationale for the work camps of the Gulag. Since I'm interested in the Marxist view of labor and the implied work ethic, I had to read the source itself.

The 1875 Critique, according to the (unsigned) background section, critiques "the draft programme of the United Workers' Party in Germany." As a critique, it quotes specific sentences from the draft programme, followed by Marx's extensive commentary. Essentially, it's a fisking of the programme.

Part 1 begins by critiquing how the programme characterizes labor and how this characterization implies rights. He argues that the programme still accepts a bourgeoise definition of rights:
 The right of the producers is proportional to the labor they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labor.
Since individuals vary in their ability, and since some individuals have greater needs than others (for instance, some are married and support families while others are not and do not), this definition leads to inequality:
To avoid all these defects, right, instead of being equal, would have to be unequal. 
But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby. 
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!
For our purposes, note that the last paragraph implies the eventual dissolution of the division of labor (cf. Lenin, Ilyenkov); the "all-around development of the individual" (cf. Vygotsky's New Soviet Man); and the eventual emergence of a new order in which the socialist ethic can work (cf. again Lenin, Ilyenkov, Stalin). Marx continues this future vision in Part 4. He first critiques the programme for not orienting to the future:
The German Workers' party — at least if it adopts the program — shows that its socialist ideas are not even skin-deep; in that, instead of treating existing society (and this holds good for any future one) as the basis of the existing state (or of the future state in the case of future society), it treats the state rather as an independent entity that possesses its own intellectual, ethical, and libertarian bases.
Then he contrasts the programme, which attempts to work within the current framework, with the future state of affairs to which it should be oriented:
In this sense, it is possible to speak of the "present-day state" in contrast with the future, in which its present root, bourgeois society, will have died off. 
The question then arises: What transformation will the state undergo in communist society? In other words, what social functions will remain in existence there that are analogous to present state functions? This question can only be answered scientifically, and one does not get a flea-hop nearer to the problem by a thousand-fold combination of the word 'people' with the word 'state'. 
Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat
Now the program does not deal with this nor with the future state of communist society.
Instead, he says, it describes present-day states. That's inadequate:
all those pretty little gewgaws rest on the recognition of the so-called sovereignty of the people and hence are appropriate only in a democratic republic.
He argues that in the programme, "by the word 'state' is meant the government machine, or the state insofar as it forms a special organism separated from society through division of labor": the programme doesn't look forward to the future abolition of the division of labor.

Here we see the seeds that Lenin cultivated in The State and Revolution: the dictatorship of the proletariat, leading to the ideal future state in which the division of labor is abolished. Stalin later developed (and prolonged) the dictatorship of the proletariat, arguing strenuously for an epoch in which a division of labor had to exist, one that sounded lot like "the government machine, or the state insofar as it forms a special organism separated from society through division of labor" that Marx critiqued.

In all, a short read, and an illuminating one when put in conversation with later Soviets.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Reading :: The Foundations of Leninism

As with the previous review, I have linked above to the Kindle version that I read, but you can also read this book at

And, as with several of my reviews lately, I'm looking at a text that should help me to better understand the milieu in which activity theory developed. Today's book was published in 1924, which was a momentous year for the Soviet Union and for activity theory. Lenin died; Ilyenkov was born; Vygotsky was invited to join Psychological Institute in Moscow as research fellow, where he began working with Luria and Leont'ev.

Although Lenin and Stalin had tensions that year, when Lenin died, Stalin immediately took advantage by appointing himself the leader of the Lenin cult. The Foundations of Leninism can be understood as one way he developed this cult and his role in it.

In the Introduction, Stalin uses a question-and-answer format. I suggested that Stalin's Dialectical and Historical Materialism could have been called Dialectical Materialism for Dummies; based on its format, The Foundations of Leninism could have been called The Leninist FAQ. Except, of course, these were not frequently asked questions per se; they were leading questions that Stalin posed in order to provide his answers.

Here's one example from the introduction, framing the book as a whole:
What, then, in the last analysis, is Leninism? 
Leninism is Marxism of the era of imperialism and the proletarian revolution. To be more exact, Leninism is the theory and tactics of the proletarian revolution in general, the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular. Marx and Engels pursued their activities in the pre-revolutionary period, (we have the proletarian revolution in mind), when developed imperialism did not yet exist, in the period of the proletarians’ preparation for revolution, in the period when the proletarian revolution was not yet an immediate practical inevitability. But Lenin, the disciple of Marx and Engels, pursued his activities in the period of developed imperialism, in the period of the unfolding proletarian revolution, when the proletarian revolution had already triumphed in one country, had smashed bourgeois democracy and had ushered in the era of proletarian democracy, the era of the Soviets. 
That is why Leninism is the further development of Marxism.
Stalin deftly retains Marx and Engels as unimpeachable authorities while adding Lenin as a further, more specific authority.

In Chapter 1, Stalin discusses the historical roots of Leninism. "Leninism grew up and took shape under the conditions of imperialism," he tells us, recalling Lenin's Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism. As the title suggests, Lenin saw imperialism as the last stage of capitalism, threatened by three contradictions: "the contradiction between labour and capital"; "the contradiction among the various financial groups and imperialist Powers in their struggle for sources of raw materials, for foreign territory"; and "the contradiction between the handful of ruling, "civilised" nations and the hundreds of millions of the colonial and dependent peoples of the world." These contradictions, Stalin says, have made capitalism moribund. Stalin alleges that this moribund capitalism was behind World War I, the result of the three contradictions.

Although Marx had expected the socialist revolution to take place in the most developed, industrialist countries, it happened in Russia
Because Russia was the focus of all these contradictions of imperialism. 
Because Russia, more than any other country, was pregnant with revolution, and she alone, therefore, was in a position to solve those contradictions in a revolutionary way. 
Stalin discusses the issues, then concludes: "As we know, the course of the revolution in Russia has more than vindicated Lenin's prediction." (He does not discuss Lenin's further prediction that the worldwide socialist revolution was imminent.)

In Chapter 2, Stalin discusses the method of Leninism. This discussion starts with some fulmination about the Second International, the international socialist organization in which Lenin had participated before the Revolution. Socialists had disagreed on what tack to take, with Lenin characteristically taking an aggressive stance. Stalin tells us that the Leninist method was developed here:
What are the requirements of this method? 
Firstly, the testing of the theoretical dogmas of the Second International in the crucible of the revolutionary struggle of the masses, in the crucible of living practice-that is to say, the restoration of the broken unity between theory and practice, the healing of the rift between them; for only in this way can a truly proletarian party armed with revolutionary theory be created. 
Secondly, the testing of the policy of the parties of the Second International, not by their slogans and resolutions (which cannot be trusted), but by their deeds, by their actions; for only in this way can the confidence of the proletarian masses be won and deserved. 
Thirdly, the reorganisation of all Party work on new revolutionary lines, with a view to training and preparing the masses for the revolutionary struggle; for only in this way can the masses be prepared for the proletarian revolution. 
Fourthly, self-criticism within the proletarian parties, their education and training on the basis of their own mistakes; for only in this way can genuine cadres and genuine leaders of the Party be trained.
After some historical discussion, Stalin concludes the chapter:
What is contained in Lenin's method was in the main already contained in the teachings of Marx, which, according to Marx himself, were "in essence critical and revolutionary." It is precisely this critical and revolutionary spirit that pervades Lenin's method from beginning to end. But it would be wrong to suppose that Lenin's method is merely the restoration of the method of Marx. As a matter of fact, Lenin's method is not only the restoration of, but also the concretisation and further development of the critical and revolutionary method of Marx, of his materialist dialectics.
This transition takes us to Chapter 3, on theory. Stalin argues that

  • Theory was central to the proletarian movement. He lauds Lenin for developing theory connected to revolutionary practice, specifically his Materialism and Empiro-Criticism (n.b., I began this work but was unimpressed and didn't finish it). 
  • The party needed a vanguard. He notes that theory had to ground the proletarian movement by guiding the vanguard. The alternative, he notes, is the theory of spontaneity: that a movement can effect change without disciplined and theoretically guided leadership. What results, he claims, is opportunistic compromises with capitalism rather than a true revolution. (Compromises are bad, dialectical synthesis is good.)
  • The party needed a theory of proletarian revolution. And Lenin's theory had three theses: (a) The "grossly parasitic character of monopolistic capitalism," shown in various guises, would lead the masses to revolution; (b) colonialism had "split the population of the globe into two camps: a handful of 'advanced' capitalist countries which exploit and oppress vast colonies and dependencies, and the huge majority consisting of colonial and dependent countries which are compelled to wage a struggle for liberation from the imperialist yoke"; and (c) imperialism and resulting imperialist wars "leads to the intensification of the struggle on the third front, the inter-capitalist front, which weakens imperialism and facilitates the union of the first two fronts against imperialism: the front of the revolutionary proletariat and the front of colonial emancipation."
The theory of proletarian revolution implied three "conclusions"—by which I think Stalin means tactics:
  • "intensification of the revolutionary crisis within the capitalist countries and growth of the elements of an explosion on the internal, proletarian front in the 'metropolises.'"
  • "intensification of the revolutionary crisis in the colonial countries and growth of the elements of revolt against imperialism on the external, colonial front."
  • "under imperialism wars cannot be averted, and that a coalition between the proletarian revolution in Europe and the colonial revolution in the East in a united world front of revolution against the world front of imperialism is inevitable."
Thus, he argues, we must 
  • think of the socialist struggle in global, not national terms;
  • accept that no matter the local conditions, the global conditions are ripe for revolution;
  • understand that "the separate national fronts of capital have become links in a single chain called the world front of imperialism, which must be opposed by a common front of the revolutionary movement in all countries." It's the capitalists vs the socialists, all over the world.
Stalin finishes the chapter with some mop-up work defending Lenin from charges of inconsistency. 

In Chapter 4, "The Dictatorship of the Proletariat," Stalin argues for this peculiar institution:
The revolution can defeat the bourgeoisie, can overthrow its power, even without the dictatorship of the proletariat. But the revolution will be unable to crush the resistance of the bourgeoisie, to maintain its victory and to push forward to the final victory of socialism unless, at a certain stage in its development, it creates a special organ in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat as its principle mainstay.
Notice the language of inevitability here: socialism creates a special organ at a certain stage in its development. Stalin here recapitulates and amplifies Lenin's argument in The State and Revolution. But Lenin had implied that the dictatorship of the proletariat would last for just a short while—until the imminent worldwide socialist revolution had occurred—and then the state would wither away. Seven years later, the worldwide revolution hadn't yet happened. Stalin brazenly gives us a new story:
It scarcely needs proof that there is not the slightest possibility of carrying out these tasks in a short period, of accomplishing all this in a few years. Therefore, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the transition from capitalism to communism, must not be regarded as a fleeting period of "super-revolutionary" acts and decrees, but as an entire historical era, replete with civil wars and external conflicts, with persistent organisational work and economic construction, with advances and retreats, victories and defeats. The historical era is needed not only to create the economic and cultural prerequisites for the complete victory of socialism, but also to enable the proletariat, firstly, to educate itself and become steeled as a force capable of governing the country, and, secondly, to re-educate and remould the petty-bourgeois strata along such lines as will assure the organisation of socialist production.
Forget the imminent withering away of the state: the country was stuck with the dictatorship of the proletariat, likely for "an entire historical era." Stalin deftly pivots to a Marx quote and then back to Lenin for another quote that seems to make the case Stalin is trying to make.

He adds:
Briefly: the dictatorship of the proletariat is the rule-unrestricted by law and based on force-of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, a rule enjoying the sympathy and support of the labouring and exploited masses (Lenin, The State and Revolution).
And, he says, two things follow:

  • "The dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be 'complete' democracy, democracy for all, for the rich as well as for the poor. ... Under the dictatorship of the proletariat, democracy is proletarian democracy, the democracy of the exploited majority, based on the restriction of the rights of the exploiting minority and directed against this minority."
  • "The dictatorship of the proletariat cannot arise as the result of the peaceful development of bourgeois society and of bourgeois democracy; it can arise only as the result of the smashing of the bourgeois state machine, the bourgeois army, the bourgeois bureaucratic apparatus, the bourgeois police."
The "democracy" involved in the dictatorship of the proletariat was exercised, he said, through the Soviets: 

Wherein lies the characteristic features of Soviet power?
In that Soviet power is the most all-embracing and most democratic state organisation of all possible state organisations while classes continue to exist; for, being the arena of the bond and collaboration between the workers and the exploited peasants in their struggle against the exploiters, and basing itself in its works on this bond and on this collaboration. Soviet power is thus the power of the majority of the population over the minority, it is the state of the majority, the expression of its dictatorship.

The next chapter addresses "The Peasant Question." You may recall that previous attempts at revolution in Russia attempted to rely on the peasants, but they didn't come through. Lenin decided instead to focus on the proletariat as allies. Stalin provides a hagiography of this period; according to him, when the peasants joined the revolution, they recognized the heroism and leadership of the proletariat and fell in line. Stalin discusses the leaps in agriculture that he expects from collectivization.

The next chapter addresses "The Nationalist Question," essentially focusing on how to support other nations who are ripe for revolt. 

Chapter 7 is "Strategy and Tactics." This sounds exciting, but it's mostly a discussion of intraparty tactics Lenin followed, plus some discussion of reformist tactics and compromises aimed at "flanking movements, of reforms and concessions to the non-proletarian classes-in order to disintegrate these classes, to give the revolution a respite, to recuperate one's forces and prepare the conditions for a new offensive." I'm pretty sure Stalin is trying to justify Lenin's New Economic Policy as well as his own plans to end it.

Chapter 8, "The Party," lists the features of the Leninist party:
  • "The Party is the political leader of the working class," having absorbed the proletariat spirit but having armed itself with revolutionary theory. Stalin likens the Party to "an experienced General Staff" that can correctly see conditions and guide the "revolutionary millions."
  • "The Party as the organised detachment of the working class": essentially, delegates of the working class sent to do its work.
  • "The Party as the highest form of class organisation of the proletariat": The proletariat have other organizations, such as "trade unions, co-operatives, factory organisations, parliamentary groups, non-Party women's associations, the press, cultural and educational organisations, youth leagues, revolutionary fighting organisations..." but the Party furnishes leadership across all these organizations.
  • "The Party as an instrument of the dictatorship of the proletariat." The proletariat itself runs the dictatorship; the Party is merely the instrument that works for them. "The proletariat needs the Party for the purpose of achieving and maintaining the dictatorship." Stalin adds: "But from this it follows that when classes disappear and the dictatorship of the proletariat withers away, the Party also will wither away."
  • "The Party as the embodiment of unity of will, unity incompatible with the existence of factions." 
  • "The Party becomes strong by purging itself of opportunist elements," which are the source of factionalism. Stalin plays on (embodies?) the Bolsheviks' paranoia here, warning that such factionalists are the agents of the bourgeoise. 
In Chapter 9, "Style in Work," Stalin says that the Leninist style of work combines "Russian revolutionary sweep" and "American efficiency." He warns that "Russian revolutionary sweep has every chance of degenerating in practice into empty "revolutionary" Manilovism if it is not combined with American efficiency in work," while 
American efficiency, on the other hand, is an antidote to "revolutionary" Manilovism and fantastic scheme concocting. American efficiency is that indomitable force which neither knows nor recognises obstacles; which with its business-like perseverance brushes aside all obstacles; which continues at a task once started until it is finished, even if it is a minor task; and without which serious constructive work is inconceivable. 
But American efficiency has every chance of degenerating into narrow and unprincipled practicalism if it is not combined with Russian revolutionary sweep. 
And he concludes the book:
The combination of Russian revolutionary sweep with American efficiency is the essence of Leninism in Party and state work. 
This combination alone produces the finished type of Leninist worker, the style of Leninism in work.

I found this book to be (mostly) fascinating. Stalin is attempting to consolidate leadership in the wake of Lenin's death by setting Lenin up as an infallible visionary and himself as Lenin's interpreter. In places, he has to manage some elaborate retconning in order to make this work. Not admirable, by my lights, but certainly skillful.

I have been approaching these Soviet works as historical documents that speak of a very different time and place. Not to sound naive, but when I search for them on the Internet, I am startled by how many people see these documents as useful in themselves, useful for understanding the upcoming capitalist revolution that Lenin thought was imminent 98 years ago. Where I see skillful maneuvering and retconning, at least some people see wisdom about how to better run a liberatory society. For those people, I do not recommend this book. But for those who are interested in how the Soviet Union developed, yes, pick it up.

Reading :: Dialectical and Historical Materialism

I've dropped in the Kindle link, since that's the version I read, but this slim book is also available in its entirety at; I've copied and pasted quotes from that version.

Published in 1938, this book provides a concise and simple accounting of dialectical materialism as Stalin saw it. It could have easily been named Dialectical Materialism for Dummies or The Little Golden Book of Dialectical Materialism, and it resembles a catechism more than a theoretical work.

It begins:
Dialectical materialism is the world outlook of the Marxist-Leninist party. It is called dialectical materialism because its approach to the phenomena of nature, its method of studying and apprehending them, is dialectical, while its interpretation of the phenomena of nature, its conception of these phenomena, its theory, is materialistic
Historical materialism is the extension of the principles of dialectical materialism to the study of social life, an application of the principles of dialectical materialism to the phenomena of the life of society, to the study of society and of its history.
Stalin hastens to distinguish the dialectical method of "Marx and Engels" from that of Hegel as well as that of the ancient Greeks:
Dialectics comes from the Greek dialego, to discourse, to debate. In ancient times dialectics was the art of arriving at the truth by disclosing the contradictions in the argument of an opponent and overcoming these contradictions. There were philosophers in ancient times who believed that the disclosure of contradictions in thought and the clash of opposite opinions was the best method of arriving at the truth. This dialectical method of thought, later extended to the phenomena of nature, developed into the dialectical method of apprehending nature, which regards the phenomena of nature as being in constant movement and undergoing constant change, and the development of nature as the result of the development of the contradictions in nature, as the result of the interaction of opposed forces in nature. 
In its essence, dialectics is the direct opposite of metaphysics.
So what is a Marxist dialectics? Effectively using subheadings, Stalin breaks Marxist dialectics into its major tenets:

  • "Nature Connected and Determined": Marxist dialectics understands each phenomenon as part of a dynamic system that must be understood as a whole.
  • "Nature is a State of Continuous Motion and Change": "The dialectical method therefore requires that phenomena should be considered not only from the standpoint of their interconnection and interdependence, but also from the standpoint of their movement, their change, their development, their coming into being and going out of being."
  • "Natural Quantitative Change Leads to Qualitative Change": Citing Engels, Stalin argues that Marxist dialectics understands change in terms of incremental (quantitative) changes that reach a tipping point, resulting in qualitative changes. "The dialectical method therefore holds that the process of development should be understood not as movement in a circle, not as a simple repetition of what has already occurred, but as an onward and upward movement, as a transition from an old qualitative state to a new qualitative state, as a development from the simple to the complex, from the lower to the higher."
  • "Contradictions Inherent in Nature": "dialectics holds that internal contradictions are inherent in all things and phenomena of nature," specifically contradictions between past and future versions of a phenomenon undergoing continual development. "The dialectical method therefore holds that the process of development from the lower to the higher takes place not as a harmonious unfolding of phenomena, but as a disclosure of the contradictions inherent in things and phenomena, as a "struggle" of opposite tendencies which operate on the basis of these contradictions." Stalin quotes Lenin here for support. 
Based on these tenets, Stalin argues that "every social system and every social movement in history must be evaluated not from the standpoint of 'eternal justice' or some other preconceived idea, as is not infrequently done by historians, but from the standpoint of the conditions which gave rise to that system or that social movement and with which they are connected." Yardsticks must be relative. For instance, he says, slavery and capitalism both represented steps forward when they respectively emerged; but now, he claims, both are clearly undesirable. The world is changing, these systems represent the old world, and 

Hence, the capitalist system can be replaced by the socialist system, just as at one time the feudal system was replaced by the capitalist system. 
Hence, we must not base our orientation on the strata of society which are no longer developing, even though they at present constitute the predominant force, but on those strata which are developing and have a future before them, even though they at present do not constitute the predominant force.

Side note: Stalin likes using the word "hence" to suggest that his arguments are orderly and logical. The more he wants to appear this way, the more he produces one-sentence paragraphs, like the ones that succeed the block quote above:

Further, if the passing of slow quantitative changes into rapid and abrupt qualitative changes is a law of development, then it is clear that revolutions made by oppressed classes are a quite natural and inevitable phenomenon. 
Hence, the transition from capitalism to socialism and the liberation of the working class from the yoke of capitalism cannot be effected by slow changes, by reforms, but only by a qualitative change of the capitalist system, by revolution. 
Hence, in order not to err in policy, one must be a revolutionary, not a reformist. 
Further, if development proceeds by way of the disclosure of internal contradictions, by way of collisions between opposite forces on the basis of these contradictions and so as to overcome these contradictions, then it is clear that the class struggle of the proletariat is a quite natural and inevitable phenomenon. 
Hence, we must not cover up the contradictions of the capitalist system, but disclose and unravel them; we must not try to check the class struggle but carry it to its conclusion. 
Hence, in order not to err in policy, one must pursue an uncompromising proletarian class policy, not a reformist policy of harmony of the interests of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, not a compromisers' policy of the "growing" of capitalism into socialism. 
Such is the Marxist dialectical method when applied to social life, to the history of society.

Stalin applies the tenets of dialectical materialism directly and broadly here. It's a little longer than "we will bury you!" but the import is the same: communism was a historical inevitability. 

Next, Stalin discusses Marxist philosophical materialism. It has these characteristics:
  • "Materialist": "Marx's philosophical materialism holds that the world is by its very nature material, that the multifold phenomena of the world constitute different forms of matter in motion, that interconnection and interdependence of phenomena as established by the dialectical method, are a law of the development of moving matter, and that the world develops in accordance with the laws of movement of matter and stands in no need of a 'universal spirit.'"
  • "Objective Reality": "the Marxist philosophical materialism holds that matter, nature, being, is an objective reality existing outside and independent of our consciousness; that matter is primary, since it is the source of sensations, ideas, consciousness, and that consciousness is secondary, derivative, since it is a reflection of matter, a reflection of being; that thought is a product of matter which in its development has reached a high degree of perfection, namely, of the brain, and the brain is the organ of thought; and that therefore one cannot separate thought from matter without committing a grave error." Stalin cites Engels here.
  • "The World and Its Laws Are Knowable": "Contrary to idealism, which denies the possibility of knowing the world and its laws, which does not believe in the authenticity of our knowledge, does not recognize objective truth, and holds that the world is full of "things-in-themselves" that can never be known to science, Marxist philosophical materialism holds that the world and its laws are fully knowable, that our knowledge of the laws of nature, tested by experiment and practice, is authentic knowledge having the validity of objective truth, and that there are no things in the world which are unknowable, but only things which are as yet not known, but which will be disclosed and made known by the efforts of science and practice." 
Appealing to the laws of dialectics again, he applies the lessons to society, declaring that political and social events can no longer be seen as accidents and that "the practical activity of the party [must be based] on the laws of development of society and on the study of these laws." Socialism isn't just a hope, it's a science; socialist humanities can be as scientific as the hard sciences. And he concludes: "The strength and vitality of Marxism-Leninism is derived from the fact that it relies upon an advanced theory which correctly reflects the needs of development of the material life of society, that it elevates theory to a proper level, and that it deems it its duty to utilize every ounce of the mobilizing, organizing and transforming power of this theory."

In the next chapter, "Historical Materialism," Stalin asks: "What, from the viewpoint of historical materialism, is meant by the 'conditions of material life of society' which in the final analysis determine the physiognomy of society, its ideas, views, political institutions, etc.?" 

"What Is the Chief Determinant Force?" he asks. "This force, historical materialism holds, is the method of procuring the means of life necessary for human existence, the mode of production of material values – food, clothing, footwear, houses, fuel, instruments of production, etc. – which are indispensable for the life and development of society." He notes the roles of 
  • productive forces in society (constituted by instruments of production, "the people who operate the instruments of production," production experience and labor skill) and
  • men's relations of production (since production is always social production.

"The first feature of production is that it never stays at one point for a long time and is always in a state of change and development, and that, furthermore, changes in the mode of production inevitably call forth changes in the whole social system, social ideas, political views and political institutions – they call forth a reconstruction of the whole social and political order." (Recall that Stalin had at this point collectivized the farms and launched industrialization.) He argues that history must be understood in terms of production; "the prime task of historical science is to study and disclose the laws of production, the laws of development of the productive forces and of the relations of production, the laws of economic development of society."

"The second feature of production is that its changes and development always begin with changes and development of the productive forces, and in the first place, with changes and development of the instruments of production." Here, Stalin gives us a history lesson reminiscent of Engels' works:
Here is a rough picture of the development of productive forces from ancient times to our day. The transition from crude stone tools to the bow and arrow, and the accompanying transition from the life of hunters to the domestication of animals and primitive pasturage; the transition from stone tools to metal tools (the iron axe, the wooden plow fitted with an iron coulter, etc.), with a corresponding transition to tillage and agriculture; a further improvement in metal tools for the working up of materials, the introduction of the blacksmith's bellows, the introduction of pottery, with a corresponding development of handicrafts, the separation of handicrafts from agriculture, the development of an independent handicraft industry and, subsequently, of manufacture; the transition from handicraft tools to machines and the transformation of handicraft and manufacture into machine industry; the transition to the machine system and the rise of modern large-scale machine industry – such is a general and far from complete picture of the development of the productive forces of society in the course of man's history. It will be clear that the development and improvement of the instruments of production was effected by men who were related to production, and not independently of men; and, consequently, the change and development of the instruments of production was accompanied by a change and development of men, as the most important element of the productive forces, by a change and development of their production experience, their labor skill, their ability to handle the instruments of production.
Stalin declares that "Five main types of relations of production are known to history: primitive communal, slave, feudal, capitalist and socialist." He discusses the basis of each system, ending with the socialist: 
The basis of the relations of production under the socialist system, which so far has been established only in the U.S.S.R., is the social ownership of the means of production. Here there are no longer exploiters and exploited. The goods produced are distributed according to labor performed, on the principle: "He who does not work, neither shall he eat." Here the mutual relations of people in the process of production are marked by comradely cooperation and the socialist mutual assistance of workers who are free from exploitation. Here the relations of production fully correspond to the state of productive forces; for the social character of the process of production is reinforced by the social ownership of the means of production. 
For this reason socialist production in the U.S.S.R. knows no periodical crises of over-production and their accompanying absurdities. 
For this reason, the productive forces here develop at an accelerated pace; for the relations of production that correspond to them offer full scope for such development.
(Indeed, the USSR did not generally suffer from overproduction.)

"The third feature of production is that the rise of new productive forces and of the relations of production corresponding to them does not take place separately from the old system, after the disappearance of the old system, but within the old system; it takes place not as a result of the deliberate and conscious activity of man, but spontaneously, unconsciously, independently of the will of man." This is because "Their conscious activity did not extend beyond their commonplace, strictly practical interests"; they did not have a scientific understanding of history to help them foresee changes in production.

Stalin ends with a long quote from Marx, describing the essence of historical materialism. Then he ends the book:
Such is Marxist materialism as applied to social life, to the history of society. 
Such are the principal features of dialectical and historical materialism.
And there it is, the end of this short book. 

I found this book tremendously useful for understanding dialectical materialism, specifically the version that was described and sanctioned during the long Stalin years. Certainly this is a simpler formation than the ones Leont'ev and Luria may have been using, but it supplies the baseline orthodoxy against which applications of dialectical materialism would be judged. If you're interested in a well formulated, critical theoretical argument, this book may not be for you. But if you're trying to understand the atmosphere and assumptions of the Soviet Union, pick it up. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Reading :: Understanding Entrepreneurship

Understanding Entrepreneurship
By Bjorn Bjerke

I picked up this 2007 textbook on entrepreneurship at the UT Library to see what it had to say. It's written by a professor of entrepreneurship, and its central premise is in the title of Chapter 1: "Our New Entrepreneurial Society."

In this chapter, the author argues, based on Toffler's The Third Wave, that a new societal paradigm is developing (p.5). He associates the third wave with "our new entrepreneurial society" (p.6, his emphasis). This entrepreneurial society's characteristics include a list that I'll directly reproduce from p.7, but with later commentary appended:

  • "A new kind of change"—New changes contain genuine uncertainty (p.7)
  • "IT and other technologies play a decisive role"—He cites Castells here (p.8) and argues that IT is more pervasive, efficient, and global, and thus speeds up innovation (pp.8-9)
  • "Knowledge is central"—here, he agrees with Drucker that our society is now a knowledge society, then agrees with Castells that we should not be paying attention to post-industrialism but to informationalism (p.9). 
  • "Business has a new content"—services and information (p.10).
  • "New kinds of organization at work"—contrasting with hierarchical, centralized ones (p.10).
  • "Relationships and networks are more important to us"—Again, he cites Castells and argues that "Our new entrepreneurial society is based on networking" (p.10).
  • "Globalization"—Citing Castells again, he argues that "Our new entrepreneurial society is global because its central activities and its components are organized globally" (p.11).
  • "A new view of distance and time"—He argues that "the limitations of physical distance on decisions and actions in our companies and organizations as well as limitations of time have, by and large, disappeared" (p.11)
  • "New types of capital"—Not just financial capital but "capital invested in, say, business knowledge, local data bases, willingness to learn, networks, contacts and so on" (p.12)
  • "Industrial boundaries are more blurred"
  • "Members of the economy are, on average, older"
  • "Words are more important"—since new actions must increasingly be based on new ideas, concepts, and understandings, we must communicate them more (p.13)
So, he argues, "We need more entrepreneurship": success comes from innnovation, not optimization (p.13). And 
What is needed today is innovation at all levels and in all camps, not only in the traditional sense of new goods and services, but in the very way in which our societies operate, in the way in which we look at ourselves, and in those mechanisms, groupings and organizations which can develop and commit our resources in the most meaningful way to changing our setup in order to start a normal, steady, and continuous innovation process (Kanter, 1983). And it is precisely those everyday innovations—which are not necessarily planned but aimed at possibilities and needs—which will keep any society, economy, industry or company flexible and in a continuous flux. (p.14)
He goes on to list three definitions of entrepreneurship (p.16), then offers what he terms a conceptualization of entrepreneurship:
Entrepreneurship = to create new user value (p.17)
And he immediately expands it in relationship with creativity and innovation:
Entrepreneurship = to come up with new applications which others can use (as well) to fill a need and/or satisfy some demand, existing or created. (p.17)
This conceptualization rules out small businesses, since these often do not create new value (p.20). (See also Schumpeter.)

Furthermore, he warns that the modern corporation has a hard time being entrepreneurial because it is built on five points, all of which are being questioned (paraphrased here):

  • The corporation is the master; employees are the servants
  • Most employees work full-time
  • Efficiency comes from bringing all activities under one roof
  • Suppliers and manufacturers have information that customers don't, so they have more market power
  • Each technology pertains to one industry and vice versa (p.27). 
Let's skip to Ch.3, where the author discusses entrepreneurship theorists. The author provides a broad characterization of economists and non-economists who have studied entrepreneurship, including the current multidisciplinary study of entrepreneurship and schools of entrepreneurship. As I said, this characterization is broad, and thus difficult to characterize in a review. 

The rest of the book was less interesting to me, so I'll call it a day here.

My review? For my purposes, the first chapter was the most interesting, although I am cautious about taking it at face value. The author's understanding of entrepreneurship is rooted in the knowledge economy literature, which I know reasonably well, but I wanted a stronger articulation between this literature and entrepreneurship as a field of study. The overview of different entrepreneurial schools was valuable and gave me a better lay of the land. And the book is engagingly written (although the author doesn't care much for parallelism). If you, like me, are trying to figure out how a rhetorical angle on entrepreneurship might fit into its general multidisciplinary study, yes, take a look. 

(Two origin stories)

Origin stories are interesting to me. When people tell origin stories, it's typically because they want to draw a moral.

For instance, Greek myth explained echoes through the myth of Echo, who tried to protect Zeus from Hera; from then on, she could only speak the last few words spoken to her. Moral: Don't cross Hera. In more recent mythology, Spider-Man's moral origin comes when the newly powered Peter Parker ignores a petty crime, then later discovers that the criminal has killed his beloved uncle. Moral: With great power comes great responsibility.

So let's examine two different origin stories, both about where human beings come from. You will probably be familiar with both. Both have fantastical elements, but the point is not to evaluate those elements but to see what morals arise from them.

Origin story 1: "In the beginning"
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). In this origin story, God labors for six days to create the different components of the Earth, ending on the sixth day with land animals and a pair of human beings. (Genesis 1:1-2:2). On the seventh day, God rested (Genesis 2:2). (Notice that Genesis 2:4-25 gives a distinct account that doesn't easily mesh with this one.)

According to later Christian doctrine, that rest has continued—God didn't get up the next morning and start working again (Hebrews 4:3-4). At first, the pair of humans also enjoyed this rest from labor. But when they sinned, they were cursed with labor: woman with childbirth (Genesis 3:16), man with toiling:
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 
It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 
By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
God's labor was a blessing; humanity's labor was a curse.

But, as Max Weber argues, labor was reinterpreted under Protestantism, specifically Calvinism. Calvinism argues that human beings cannot do anything to earn their salvation; they must be called (and predestined as part of the elect) by God. This belief, carried to its conclusion, is nerve-wracking: how does one know one is part of the elect?

To borrow from my previous review of Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: people wanted to be assured of whether they were the elect. They did not believe that their works would save them, but they did believe that works were the result and evidence of a saving faith. "Thus the Calvinist, as it is sometimes put, himself creates his own salvation, or, as would be more correct, the conviction of it. But this creation cannot, as in Catholicism, consist in a gradual accumulation of individual good works to one's credit, but rather in a systematic self-control which at every moment stands before the inexorable alternative, chosen or damned" (p.115). So Calvinism demanded, "not single good works, but a life of good works combined into a unified system" (p.117). Labor was a sign of eventual salvation in the afterlife—and in the Kingdom of Heaven that God would eventually set up at the end of history.

In the Protestant ethic, one saw one's occupation as a calling. One strove to pursue one's calling as to the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31). That meant maximizing profits—not for one's own enjoyment but for God's glory. And that in turn meant asceticism. The individual was torn away from his closed ties; everything, even social activity, was pursued solely for God's glory—and that included labor, conceived as "a calling which serves the mundane life of the community" (p.108).

Weber concludes that this ethic, once established, became independent of Protestantism. The Calvinists may have chosen it, but now it constitutes our "iron cage" (p.181).

In short, in this origin story:

  • God created humankind through labor
  • Labor proves our closeness to God
Origin story 2: "the decisive step in the transition from ape to man"
In Dialectics of Nature, published posthumously, Engels provides a different origin of humanity. It is also intricately tied to labor.

The first operations for which our ancestors gradually learned to adapt their hands during the many thousands of years of transition from ape to man could have been only very simple ones. The lowest savages, even those in whom regression to a more animal-like condition with a simultaneous physical degeneration can be assumed, are nevertheless far superior to these transitional beings. Before the first flint could be fashioned into a knife by human hands, a period of time probably elapsed in comparison with which the historical period known to us appears insignificant. But the decisive step had been taken, the hand had become free and could henceforth attain ever greater dexterity; the greater flexibility thus acquired was inherited and increased from generation to generation.  
Thus the hand is not only the organ of labour, it is also the product of labour. Only by labour, by adaptation to ever new operations, through the inheritance of muscles, ligaments, and, over longer periods of time, bones that had undergone special development and the ever-renewed employment of this inherited finesse in new, more and more complicated operations, have given the human hand the high degree of perfection required to conjure into being the pictures of a Raphael, the statues of a Thorwaldsen, the music of a Paganini. (p.281)
According to Engels, the evolution of the hand set off other developments as well, both physical and social: "the development of labour necessarily helped to bring the members of society closer together by increasing cases of mutual support and joint activity, and by making clear the advantage of this joint activity to each individual" (p.283). Entities had something to say to each other, so they developed the larynx and other organs of speech (p.283). The combination of labor and speech eventually yielded society (p.285) and then tools, beginning with hunting and fishing implements (p.286). Hands plus organs of speech plus the organ of the brain, Engels says, yielded the division of labor: "men became capable of executing more and more complicated operations, and were able to set themselves, and achieve, higher and higher aims. The work of each generation itself became different, more perfect and more diversified" (pp.288-289).

Labor was a good in one's own service. But eventually, under capitalism, human beings had to sell their labor to others and thus became alienated from their labor. Marxists looked forward to a time, after the worldwide socialist revolution, when everyone would share the same ideology, the division of labor would disappear, and the State would eventually wither away.

Solzhenitsyn notes the practical effects of this story:
Engels discovered that the human being had arisen not through the perception of a moral idea and not through the process of thought, but out of happenstance and meaningless work (an ape picked up a stone—and with this everything began. Marx, concerning himself with a less remote time ('Critique of the Gotha Program'), declared with equal conviction that the one and only means of correcting offenders ... was not solitary contemplation, not moral soul-searching, nor repentance, and not languishing (for all that was superstructure!)—but productive labor. (p.215) 
Solzhenitsyn cites this claim as the rationale for the Gulag's work camps—and he also says that Marx never had to work!

In short, in this origin story:

  • Humankind created itself through labor
  • Labor improves us, individually and collectively
Commonalities—and convergence
Both origin stories are creation stories, but the agent is different: we are created either by God or by ourselves. Both stories imply that we should labor, both to improve ourselves and to draw closer to an ideal that is larger than ourselves. For the Calvinist, labor is the sign of individual salvation and points to the eventual end of history: the Kingdom of God. For the Soviet, labor is the sign of individual and collective improvement and points to the eventual end of history: the withering away of the state.

One origin story gave us the Protestant ethic, which rooted and spread beyond the Protestant world. The other gave us a Soviet ethic—one that was arguably less successful as a global ethic, but still shifted the course of Soviet thinking on a range of issues. One was activity theory: Leont'ev chose to make labor, not signs, the root of its investigation

The stories converge in one other way related to labor. Echoing II Thessalonians 10:3, Lenin lays down a "socialist principle": "He who does not work shall not eat."

Reading :: Producing Culture and Capital

Producing Culture and Capital: Family Firms in Italy
By Sylvia Junko Yanagisako

In this ethnography, the author investigates 38 family-owned firms in northern Italy's silk industry. "Instead of assuming that capitalists in the silk industry of Como, Italy, pursue rational strategies motivated by a universal bourgeois interest in capital accumulation, I ask what cultural sentiments, meanings, and subjectivities motivate and shape their entrepreneurial actions" (p.xi).

In Chapter 1, the author notes the difference between her approach and Marx's. Marx's "universal model of capitalism entails two assumptions":

  1. "those who own and control the means of production and purchase labor power everywhere engage in the same 'economic action' in pursuit of the same goals"
  2. "workers who sell their labor power are everywhere endowed with identical moves and subjectivities"
"In other words, a universal theory of capitalism is predicated on a universally homogeneous bourgeoisie and a universally homogeneous proletariat" (p.5). But "labor is never abstract, but is always provided by people with particular social identities and histories," and the same goes for capital. Thus "capital is accumulated, invested, dispersed, and reproduced through historically specific cultural processes" (p.5): 
I view capitalism as a complex and uneven historical process that entails heterogeneous capitalist practices shaped by diverse meanings, sentiments, and representations. I argue for a model of culture and capitalism that posits neither the existence of a single homogeneous capitalist mode of production nor culturally specific capitalist modes of production that are enacted by culturally distinct groups located in different national or regional spaces. ... the model I propose is not one of distinctive "cultures of capitalism" or "capitalist cultures" but one in which diverse capitalist practices coexist in the same geopolitical spaces and flow across their boundaries. The forms that these diverse capitalist practices take and their articulation with each other must be empirically investigated rather than assumed. (p.7)
She argues that if the bourgeoise are not homogeneous, they don't necessarily share a set of common interests (p.8). One example is family capitalism, whose study, she argues, "has been marginalized in both Marxist and Weberian theories" and which "enables us to see that its marginalization is itself part of the hegemonic process through which capitalism is made to appear as an economic system that is autonomous from family and kinship processes" (p.13). Got that?

From here, she overviews Marx's understanding of capitalism. In Capital, he argues, the bourgeoise are merely the agents of capital (p.15). Marx denies capitalists the ability to plan—the same ability that, he says, distinguishes us from animals (p.17)!

In contrast, "Weber built a historical link between capitalist subjectivity and economic action that is missing in Marx"—yet "Weber shared Marx's vision of capitalism as a self-reproducing institution that, once established, is independent of the historical forces that created it":
it quickly becomes detached from the specific religious motivations that initially produced it. What was once an entrepreneurial practice driven by a spiritual ethic becomes an "iron cage" that determines the lives of all those born into it. (p.18)
All of this determinism doesn't wash with the author: "My critique of the concept of economic 'interest' has led me to propose an alternative theory of capitalist motivation in which sentiments operate as forces of production that incite particular kinds of capitalist action" (p.32). Through her ethnography, she examines individuals' and families' decisions about entrepreneurship. She finds several things that complicate the Marxist and Weberian views. For instance, she notes, in the wealthiest family firms, "flows of capital follow consanguinity and marriage," while in "in the least-capitalized fraction labor and technical knowledge flow through these networks" (p.116). She also examines family oral histories and founder stories.

The author concludes:
These findings emphasize the need to move beyond theories of culture and capitalism that tend toward essentialist characterizations of capitalism as "Western" or "Asian," "early" or "late." Rather than seek out distinctive "cultures of capitalism" or "capitalist cultures," we need to employ approaches that enable us to understand the articulation of heterogeneous capitalist approaches that coexist in any particular location. (p.188)
I'm not steeped enough in discussions of capitalism to judge how sound the argument is. However, the ethnographic work seems solid enough to demonstrate that individual families are making entrepreneurial decisions and describing entrepreneurial histories in ways that reflect their own kinships and alliances. If you're interested in the question of entrepreneurship, take a look.

Reading :: Soviet Politics

Soviet Politics 1917-1991
By Mary McAuley

I picked this book up for fifty cents at a used bookstore. It caught my eye because (a) I am continuing to piece together a broad understanding of the context in which activity theory developed and (b) I figured that for fifty cents, I couldn't go wrong. Amazon's reviewers agree, giving it 4.4 stars.

The book is fairly thin, but gives us a 50,000 foot view of politics across the lifespan of the USSR. Much of the early history has been discussed in earlier reviews, so I'll begin by grabbing a couple of representative quotes.

This one is from the Leninist era in the late teens:
They never considered this option [backing out of the Revolution] because they saw themselves as representing the working class in an era when socialism was on the agenda as an international fact. If in Russia the working class was disintegrating as a consequence of an imperialist war, and a civil war accompanied by foreign intervention, that in no way undermined their belief that socialism was waiting just round the corner in Europe and in America, and that they must keep the flame alight. They saw themselves as representing not merely the Russian working class but the international proletariat: that was their constituency. Telephone operatives sat, expecting that any minute, any hour, the news would come through, from Berlin, from Paris, from London, that the revolution had happened there. Then the hours turned into days, and the days turned into weeks. Such a belief justified to the Bolsheviks their holding on, despite the protests, and it allowed them to argue that if an election did not return a Bolshevik majority, it could be ignored. (pp.26-27)
This passage made me consider that this belief in the imminent global socialist revolution was the Soviets' Great Disappointment.

Until that global revolution, the Bolsheviks believed, the state could not yet wither away.
The perception of society as made up of competing, conflicting interests, reflected in institutions, and in which the government advances some, denies others, and itself needs to be checked, was absent. And not surprisingly. For the Bolsheviks, as Marxists, the government performed that role in a class society, but with the end to private ownership the source of conflict dried up, and the clash of interests died. Until the old owners were finally defeated, the government's repressive functions would remain, but in the meantime it could act on behalf of the great majority, and thereafter gradually fade away. As a result, as state-builders the Bolsheviks made little attempt to delineate spheres of competence, to establish the rights of different government institutions vis-a-vis each other, or clarify the relations between central and local bodies. (p.28)
This lack of delineation did not hinder the Soviet states from becoming more bureaucratic and hierarchical, especially under Stalin, under whose watch the Soviet states experienced a "Revolution from Above" in 1928-1932, "in which the political leadership established a system of state ownership of the means of production and a centrally planned economy" (p.39). From the 1930s onward, the economy was "a hierarchical system, with commands being issued from the centre to the producing units" (p.41).

Stalin also cultivated a cult, as did Mao, Ceaucescu, Kim Il Sung, and others who ran Stalinist states. The author argues that the phenomenon's roots "lie in the concept and practice of a vanguard party. The party's right to rule, it was claimed, lay in its ability to find the best, true, way forward for the society." But leaders disagreed, undermining the party's claim. Their political tactics in trying to reach agreement, the author says, affected the system of leadership itself (p.46).

In Ch. 4, "Terror," the author discusses the Great Purge (1936-38) (p.50). I won't recount this period here, but it sets up the next chapter on Krushchev and party rule. As the author recounts, Krushchev made his Secret Speech to the closed XXth Party Congress in February 1956, undermining the power of the MVD and attempting to replace Stalinist policies with new ones (p.64). Krushchev argued that the Soviet base had not been well laid by Stalin, and expressed optimism that "with Stalin and the secret police gone, socialism would show its paces" (p.65). "The impact was shattering. Some who heard it in the hall fainted, others subsequently committed suicide. The speech was not published" (p.65). But Krushchev's reforms did make a broad impact, leading the country away from the Stalinist cult of personality and remaking the bureaucracy (p.69).
A new party programme, and party rules, presented to the XXIInd Congress in 1961, outlined a shining future. The vision and the targets were still there: communism would be built in twenty years, the Soviet Union would overtake the USA in per capita production by 1980, and the difference between town and country, mental and manual labour, would disappear. The state would wither away, but the party would grow stronger. To understand the optimism, we must recognize the strength of Krushchev's conviction that, with Stalin gone, the Soviet socialist system with its industrial base, which had proved its military ability in the war and was now the leader of a world Communist movement, could fulfil its potential and overtake capitalism. War with capitalism was no longer necessary, economic superiority would win the day. (pp.71-72). 
Krushchev made significant changes, some involving shifting around and sacking officials in the bureaucracy. "He failed to realize that [the Politburo] would not follow him blindly. In October 1964 his Politburo colleagues, concerned at his erratic behaviour, and the grumbling in the apparatus, joined ranks and forced his resignation" (p.74).

Next was Brezhnev, who in 1964 led a collective leadership with Kosygin and Podgorny. They restored the traditional structure and emphasized stability of personnel (p.75).  Brezhnev became president of the Soviet Union in 1977 and remained in that post until he died in 1982. As the author states, "The twenty years from 1954 to 1974 were the best period in Soviet (and Russian) history for the ordinary citizen of the Soviet Union in terms of rising living standards, and peace. By the mid-1970s, however, the momentum seemed to go; it was as though the system had run out of steam" (p.78).

Brezhnev was succeeded upon his death by Andropov, who served from 1982 until his death in 1984. He was in turn succeeded by Chernenko until the latter's death in 1985, upon which Gorbachev became General Secretary; in 1989 he was elected Chairman of Supreme Soviet. Gorbachev's reforms, of course, were meant to strengthen and legitimize the government, but instead exposed the tensions (contradictions?) that underlay the Soviet enterprise. By 1991, the Empire had dissolved.

As I said, the book gives a brief overview of the political history of the Soviet Union. It does this engagingly, providing a broad sweep rather than details. If you're looking for a book that does this job, pick this one up—especially if you can find it for fifty cents.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Reading :: The Essence of Winning and Losing

The Essence of Winning and Losing
By John Boyd

This is another in my series reviewing the briefings of John Boyd.

The Essence of Winning and Losing
This briefing is comparatively short (just four slides), but dense. It's also consequential in that it contains a diagram of the fully articulated OODA loop.

Since the presentation is so short, I feel as if I am cheating by presenting the entire text of Slide 2 below:
Without our genetic heritage, cultural traditions, and previous experiences, we do not possess an implicit repertoire of psychophysical skills shaped by environments and changes that have been previously experienced.
Without analyses and synthesis across a variety of domains or across a variety of competing/independent channels of information, we cannot evolve new repertoires to deal with unfamiliar phenomena or unforeseen change.
Without a many-sided, implicit cross-referencing process of projection, empathy, correlation, and rejection (across these many different domains or channels of information), we cannot even do analysis and synthesis.
Without OODA loops, we can neither sense, hence observe, thereby collect a variety of information for the above processes, nor decide as well as implement actions in accord with these processes.
Or put another way:
Without OODA loops embracing all of the above and without the ability to get inside other OODA loops (or other environments), we will find it impossible to comprehend, shape, adapt to and in turn be shaped by an unfolding evolving reality that is uncertain, everchanging, and unpredictable (Slide 1, his emphasis)
Just a quick unpacking. Boyd is summarizing the contents of the other briefings here, strongly arguing that we must draw on what we have to build up a repertoire of skills to understand our environment; analyze and synthesize to develop new repertoires; cross-reference across domains; and set up loops to allow us to interact with the environment and improve based on those interactions. Without that work, we can't cope with change and unpredictability.

He offers the full diagram of the OODA loop to help us better understand it (Slide 3). This diagram includes a distended Orientation module with subcomponents (recall that Orientation is the Schwerpunkt of the OODA loop) and it includes multiple arrows indicating feedback loops across the system. That is, the OODA loop represents a process rather than a stepwise sequence, as he makes clear on the next slide:
By pulling all this together, we can see that the key statements, OODA loop sketch, and related insights represent an evolving, open-ended, far-from-equilibrium process of self-organization, emergence, and natural selection. (Slide 4)
 That's it—short and sweet.

Reading :: Organic Design for Command and Control

Organic Design for Command and Control
By John Boyd

This is another post in my series on John Boyd's briefings.

Organic Design for Command and Control
To put this slide deck in the context of Boyd's other briefings, here's the scheme he outlined on Slide 30 of The Strategic Game of ? and ?:

  • “Organic Design for Command and Control” (C&C) emphasizes interaction.
  • “Destruction and Creation” (D&C) is balanced between interaction and isolation. 
 With that in mind, let's delve into Organic Design. The briefing recounts then-recent failures in military exercises and conflicts and notes that the US military's solutions have tended to involve larger, more centralized command and control (C&C). Yet, Boyd argues, "I think there is a different way—a way that emphasizes the implicit nature of human beings. In this sense, the following discussion will uncover what we mean by both implicit nature and organic design" (Slide 2). This way, he says, involves insight and vision; focus and direction; adaptability; and security (Slide 3):
• Why insight and vision?
Without insight and vision there can be no orientation to deal with both present and future.
• Why focus and direction?
Without focus and direction, implied or explicit, there can be neither harmony of effort nor initiative for vigorous effort.
• Why adaptability?
Adaptability implies variety and rapidity. Without variety and rapidity one can neither be unpredictable nor cope with changing and unforeseen circumstances.
• Why security?
Without security one becomes predictable, hence one loses the benefits of the above. (Slide 4, his emphasis)
Based on our prior readings, we can see that he is indeed emphasizing interaction here—how an entity can interact internally, with allies, and with the environment.  Per usual, Boyd undertakes a quick historical survey to set up his argument (Slides 5-7), then concludes:
• Variety/rapidity without harmony/initiative lead to confusion, disorder and ultimately to chaos.
on the other hand
• Harmony/initiative without variety/rapidity lead to (rigid) uniformity, predictability and ultimately to non-adaptability. (Slide 9)
Thus our goal in this briefing is to "uncover those interactions that foster harmony and initiative—yet do not destroy variety and rapidity" (Slide 9). Boyd lists a large number of activities and linkages on the next slide, categorized into positive and negative aspects (Slide 10), then crystallizes this insight:
Interactions, as shown, represent a many-sided implicit cross-referencing process of projection, empathy, correlation, and rejection. (Slide 11, his emphasis)
He argues that this insight hinges on orientation, which he defines in this way:

Orientation, seen as a result, represents images, views, or impressions of the world shaped by genetic heritage, cultural tradition, previous experiences, and unfolding circumstances.  (Slide 13, his emphasis)
Orientation, he continues, is the Schwerpunkt or center of gravity: since it shapes how we interact with the environment, it shapes the rest of the OODA loop in present interactions, and that loop itself shapes future actions. Thus our orientations must match "the activity of the world" while we deny our adversaries the same opportunity (Slide 16).

One consequence of this insight, he says, is that we should "Expose individuals, with different skills and abilities, against a variety of situations—whereby each individual can observe and orient himself simultaneously to the others and to the variety of changing situations." The consequence, he believes, is that "In such an environment, a harmony, or focus and direction, in operations is created by the bonds of implicit communications and trust that evolve as a consequence of the similar mental images or impressions each individual creates and commits to memory by repeatedly sharing the same variety of experiences in the same ways" (Slide 18). I think he's saying that these individuals are being exposed to these situations along with their teams. The teams share each experience and their collective reactions to these experiences, and in doing so, develop a consensual, implicit understanding of each experience. They synchronize their orientation implicitly rather than explicitly (a big theme in Patterns of Conflict as well). The payoff, he says, is
A command and control system, whose secret lies in what’s unstated or not communicated to one another (in an explicit sense)—in order to exploit lower-level initiative yet realize higher-level intent, thereby diminish friction and compress time, hence gain both quickness and security. (Slide 18)
That is, if a team had had to inductively and consensually build up orientations to a variety of situations, they develop implicit assumptions that allow them to quickly act with initiative. This makes sense to me as far as it goes—but such a team may build up implicit assumptions that can then be exploited. Boyd does not discuss this question, probably because the greater danger is that of a centralized (and more easily exploited) C&C that squelches lower-level initiative. Boyd says:
Now, let us assume, for whatever reason or combination of circumstances, that we design a command and control system that hinders interaction with external environment. This implies a focus inward, rather than outward. (Slide 20)
 Such a system is potentially disastrous:
He who can generate many non-cooperative centers of gravity magnifies friction. Why? Many non-cooperative centers of gravity within a system restrict interaction and adaptability of system with its surroundings, thereby leading to a focus inward (i.e., within itself), which in turn generates confusion and disorder, which impedes vigorous or directed activity, hence, by definition, magnifies friction or entropy. (Slide 20)
Such a system encourages adherents to look inward rather than outward, and the result is disintegration. "Without implicit bonds or connections, we magnify friction, produce paralysis, and get system collapse" (Slide 21). So "The key idea is to emphasize implicit over explicit in order to gain a favorable mismatch in friction and time (i.e, ours lower than any adversary) for superiority in shaping and adapting to circumstances" (Slide 22).

Side note here: I've been drawing connections between Ilyenkov and Boyd in my commentary on previous briefings. One thing that they have in common is that they recognize that activities (I'll play fast and loose here in drawing a rough equivalence between an activity and an OODA loop) may contradict each other, but they disintegrate because of internal contradictions. But I think they part ways here in that Ilyenkov is chiefly interested in those internal contradictions and sees external ones as nudging them rather than playing a central role. Boyd is saying that without continual interaction with the environment, the system will collapse—that is, the system's internal contradictions/instabilities can be addressed only through interactions with the environment.

Let's apply this question analogically back to activity theory: rather than seeing interactions among activities as destabilizing, we can see them as potentially stabilizing and actually necessary for maintaining internal stability. This gives us a different view of third-generation activity theory (3GAT), which expanded AT to address networks of activity systems: perhaps it is only with this next turn that we can account for the dynamic stability of individual activities? The idea intrigues me, partly because (as I never tire of telling my students) I see every stable activity as a remarkable achievement!

Back to the briefing. Boyd argues that we should avoid building up explicit internal arrangements, instead making sure "that leaders and subordinates alike are given opportunity to continuously interact with external world, and with each other" so that they can generate a consensual implicit orientation. Doing so should reduce friction and time; thus allow them to exploit variety while maintaining harmony/initiative; thus get inside adversaries OODA loops; thus magnify the adversary's friction; thus "Deny adversary the opportunity to cope with events/efforts as they unfold" (Slide 23).

Operating within the OODA loop means operating in the C&C loop, he says (Slide 26). But, Boyd asks, how can we get effective command and control (Slide 27)? He reviews some historical snapshots (Slides 28-29). Based on these, he concludes that
• Command must give direction in terms of what is to be done in a clear unambiguous way. In this sense, command must interact with system to shape the character or nature of that system in order to realize what is to be done;
• Control must provide assessment of what is being done also in a clear unambiguous way. In this sense, control must not interact nor interfere with system but must ascertain (not shape) the character/nature of what is being done. (Slide 31; see also Atkinson and Moffat)
Boyd notes that this arrangement sounds more like leadership and monitoring than what we have traditionally termed command and control (Slide 32). He acknowledges that in this light, a better title for the presentation would be "Appreciation and leadership" (Slide 36). And with that and a slide for definitions, the presentation is over.

What can we take from this briefing? As I discussed last time in my review of Strategic Game, I was concerned that the OODA loop relied on an underdefined set of assumptions about each stage. Out of an infinite set of possibilities, how does one select ways to select, process, and act on information, particularly in ways that are fast enough to get inside an adversary's OODA loop? In most activities, I argued, we develop paradigms, methodologies, methods, and techniques that work often enough to get through the day. These become routine and invisible enough that we forget they represent decisions, and thus we have trouble thinking outside of them. Who is tasked with making those decisions? Who is tasked with evaluating and rethinking them?

In a complex, high-stakes activity—for instance, warfare—we tend to assign those tasks to high-ranking people who have gathered a wealth of experience. Yet (a) drawing on a wealth of experience often entails fighting the last battle rather than rethinking the problem based on the facts on the ground; and (b) pushing decisions up the chain means that decisions can be excruciatingly slow to make.

Yet Boyd's alternative poses problems as well, particularly in a volunteer army—the people on whose expertise you rely may not be involved in the team long enough to develop sufficiently consensual implicit orientation. It's hard to trust someone to know what you mean when they just joined up. Similarly, we might expect drift in implicit knowledge across units unless there's a way to continually and systematically synch implicit expectations across units. Perhaps this is what Boyd is trying to address with "clear and unambiguous assessment," but he isn't clear on how broadly scoped the assessment is.

So, as with the previous briefing, I am not clear about the scale at which Boyd proposes to apply the advice. I don't know that it can easily scale, and Boyd has not elaborated enough on mechanisms that would allow it to do so.

But if we apply the advice to activity theory, we do come up with some intriguing collisions. I mentioned one of these earlier in the review: that perhaps activities can be stabilized only through interactions with other activities. Another might be the question of implicit vs explicit rules and division of labor, applied to different kinds of objects.

Again, if you're interested in strategy or if you're just interested in an eclectic take on interactionism, check this briefing out. It's only a total of 40 slides, so it's a quick read.