Aleksandr Bogdanov

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Contextual Citation

On Bogdanov's assessment of the dangers of a revolution:

"Several interesting ideas arise from Bogdariov's analysis of revolution; they indicate how far apart Lenin and Bogdanov were in their thinking. To Lenin, a revolutionary situation existed when the ruling class could no longer rule as before, the suffering of the oppressed classes deepened, and the activity of the masses increased. To Bogdanov in contrast, a revolutionary situation came into being when a progressive, ascendant class eclipsed the repressive ruling class. He placed the stress, in other words, on greater capability rather than on Lenin's greater oppression. One implication of Bogdanov's argument is that revolution can be regressive unless the new class is fully prepared to take power. Another implication, which follows from the first, is that educational and cultural tasks should be considered paramount rather than subsidiary. If the proletariat were not fully equipped to take over the management of society from the bourgeoisie, the end result could be disastrous-a general decline and perhaps disintegration rather than the building of a new socialist society. Moreover, if there were a "cultural lag," as Bogdanov surmised there would be, then the problem would become even more acute. In short, Bogdanov sounded a warning that revolution did not automatically mean progress; nor could the success of revolution be limited to the seizure of power and economic change." (


Source: the Book: REVOLUTION AND CULTURE: The Bogdanov-Lenin Controversy by ZENOVIA A. SOCHOR, from 1988


"To be sure, Bogdanov's alternative was not without its own problems. He predicated many of his hopes for socialism on technological progress, which would alter both the work process and work relations, thus paving the way for "cultural liberation." This position left Bogdanov open to the criticism of "technological determinism." Something of a crude technological bent was, in fact, apparent in his search for all- encompassing "organizational principles," leading him to declare, for example, that relations between humans and their tools were similar to those between humans.18 In addition, he seemed little aware that a world of engineers, operating in a highly rationalistic style, pro- duce its own sources of alienation. Nevertheless, Bogdanov devoted his practical efforts to culture and aesthetics rather than to technology and the organization of labor. Indeed, he attempted to develop "proletarian culture" in a country that could boast only of minimal technological progress. Even according to his own scheme, he might be labeled utopian. It seems that Bogdanov assumed technological advance was essential to sustaining change in authority relations but not nec- essarily to initiating it.

Another problem in Bogdanov's scheme was the underrating of political power. Because he downgraded the significance of the seizure of power as a precondition to the transition to socialism, he exposed himself to charges of reformism. Although he did not deny that revolution was a means of change, it is certainly true that his systems thinking was much more in line with incremental change. He also tended to view political power as a resource, fully in keeping with the systems perspective, rather than as a potential means of domination. He was blind to some of the realities of political life and clearly no match for Lenin in political maneuvering.

The merit of Bogdanov's alternative lies not in a successful answer to the question of how to create utopia but in an aler\ness to the ob- stacles to utopia. In particular, Bogdanov attempted to find means to overcome these hurdles rather than denigrate utopia. Perhaps this at- tempt is the most that could be expected, from even the most zealous believer in socialism. In fact, if there is any "social usefulness" to utopian thinking, it may very well be, as Kolakowski argues, to "anticipate things that are impracticable now in order to make them prac- ticable one day in the future."19

Bogdanov's concerns reflected the basic problems in Marxism that continue to plague the socialist world. Despite, or perhaps because of, the existence of several countries that call themselves socialist, there is an ongoing debate on what constitutes the essence of socialism. The two conceptions that seem to predominate among contemporary Marxists split along the same lines as did those of Lenin and Bogdanov, with one emphasizing public ownership and party control, and the other the end of human alienation."