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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 11 New Delhi March 3, 2018

Might of Technology

Monday 5 March 2018

by Samit Kar

The might of Technology had been a major pre-condition in the rise and fall of Socialism in many countries of the world including the Soviet Union and East European nations. But there is hardly any Marxist scholar and practitioner who had delved into this matter to ascertain the critical potential of the state-of-the-art technology to determine the opportunity and crisis plaguing Socialism. The completion of 100 years of the Bolshevik Revolution led by V.I. Lenin under the tutelage of Karl Marx’s doctrine provides the scope to decipher this perspective from a number of hitherto unexplored terrains of thought.

Karl Marx (1818-83) was born in Trier in Germany and later had the privilege to live in two other countries in Western Europe: France and Britain. When he was driven out from France in 1848 he stayed at Brussels for a short stint of three years prior to his departure to Britain where he continued to stay for 32 years until he breathed his last on March 14, 1883. While staying in three countries, Marx had the glorious scope to come across the great classical German philosophy led by Fichte, Hegel, Feuerbach and others. In France, he could have a first-hand account of the famous French socialist ideas. In Britain, he had the distinction to access the world renowned British Museum Library, the burgeoning industrial working class and the classical British utilitarian economics inked by Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Thus, after staying a while in Britain, he could gain exposure to well-known intellectual paradigms relating to the Philosophy of Germany, Socialism of France and Economics of Britain. Moreover, he was able to observe the dynamics of the fast- emerging industrial working class in the world’s most advanced capitalist country, Britain.

From the outset, Marx was known to be a very humble scholar and quite conscious of the limitation to develop a sort of a master-key, which may be able to solve the critical problems besieging the life and livelihood of the industrial working class across the world. He used to say, my social thought can be made use of in Britain and a few neighbouring countries bearing a similar economic condition. He also included the newly discovered America within this purview and believed that his imagination to establish Socialism might be possible where industrial capitalism was able to blossom. He viewed that Britain might be the first country where Socialism could make its appea-rance due to the spectacular progress of indus-trialisation by virtue of the worldwide spread of British colonialism.

The successful completion of the Bolshevik Revolution on November 7, 1917 was indeed possible due to the gallant role played by V.I. Lenin as a master theoretician and revolutionary leader par excellence. The Revolution was possible after 34 years of Marx’s demise. But in order to bridge the gap of 34 years to make the same a handy weapon, Lenin wrote exhaustively and his writings were later compiled in 34 volumes published as the Collected Works of Lenin. He contributed in writing several path-breaking premises that his mentor, Marx, could not foresee. Among these well-known works, his famous ‘The Weakest Link Theory’ deserves special mention as it explains why the socialist revolution was successful in perhaps the most backward nation of Europe like Russia instead of Britain possessing the most advanced capitalist system. Even Marx, the forerunner of the concept of the transition from Capitalism to Socialism by virtue of incessant revolutionary struggle, had also observed that Britain should be the first country to experience this desired transition putting the hitherto subjugated working class at the helm of power dynamics.

Lenin in his theory said that there can be hardly any doubt, the industrial working class in Russia is yet to germinate properly. Thus, their ability to initiate a social change towards the establishment of Socialism is impossible. But the ‘weakness’ of the industrial working class had a unique parallel with the ‘weakness’ of then ruler of Russia, the Tzar. As a result, if the countries of Western Europe are considered as the parts of an inseparable link or chain, the Tzarist regime happened to be the weakest having the least power to subjugate and thwart the revolutionary potential of the teeming millions.

The tremendous backwardness of Russia was a stark indicator of the prevalence of rudimentary technology across the country. Even Rabindranath Tagore during his visit to Russia for a duration of three weeks 13 years later since the emergence of Socialism described vividly how he was taken aback by the utter simplicity in the lifestyle and all possible aspects of society in this country. Therefore, there can be hardly any doubt, the technological backwardness in this country had crippled the Tzarist regime to hold the rebelling working class at bay and soon the rulers crumbled meekly making way to the rise of Socialism.

Like the rise and development of Socialism in the Soviet Union, the disintegration of all the East European socialist countries, including the Soviet Union, happened due to the rapid spurt of a superior technology in the wake of a spectacular turnaround happening in entire Europe subsequent to the colossal devastation in the two World Wars. The emergence of Socialism in all the countries of East Europe was a gift of the Soviet Union. In these countries, Socialism did not grow on the basis of the struggle of the masses. The countries where the Soviet Red Army could make inroads, power was later transferred to the select few of the respective nations. Thus, there had been a widespread allegation, the Soviets had posted their puppets to run these countries on their behalf. The attraction to Socialism was found to be more where the bulk of the population lived in abysmal deprivation and poverty. Universal access to food, shelter and clothing happened to be the fundamental prerogative of Socialism. These pressing prerogatives remained unfulfilled in nations and regions where technology was at a very low ebb. No society, no nation suffers from an unbridled backwardness should there be the spread of modern technology. Therefore, the absence of modern technology and a bare minimum state of Physical Quality of Life Index (PQLI) had been a major reason for the development of Socialism in the Soviet Union. The emergence of Socialism in the nations of East Europe was indeed not a natural conse-quence as it was nothing more than the wish- fulfilment of the Soviet Red Army to transfer power to the chosen few.

The birth of the entire socialist block in East Europe after the emergence of Socialism in the Soviet Union was possible soon after the World War ll in 1945. But within a gap of hardly four decades, the attraction to Socialism plummeted significantly and the fundamental demands of Socialism were unable to gain enough attraction among the masses. Since the end of World War II, entire Europe was in the grip of a tremendous potential to have a complete turnaround. The pledge could become a distinct reality due to the onward surge of the state-of-the-art technology. There was a total overhaul in the nature of technology and the systems of production. The manual labour-driven systems of production and distribution were replaced by sophisticated systems. The abolition of the manual labour-driven factory system of production led to the abolition of the Communist Party, the political organisation of the manual labour-rendering working class that used to run the factory system as envisaged by Marx. The entire population of Europe comprising the western and the eastern parts became agog to demand more luxury, more sophistication and more refined status in their daily lives. Their dream turned to be a reality due to the critical spread of modern technology. The craving towards Socialism succumbed before the onslaught of superior technology. The withering away of the traditional industrial working class replaced by the new ‘service class’ in the event of the spread of the ‘new technology’ had led to the annihilation of the Communist Party and the traditional working class whom Marx could see in western Europe in the mid-19 century while writing Capital in three volumes. He dreamt to figure out the concept of Socialism on the basis of the class consciousness of this toiling class. But is this class visible today?

In this way, technology proved to be the major spoil-sport in the spread of Socialism and Marxism. The appeal of Socialism lies embedded in the desire to have a better life and livelihood. Modern technology was able to prove, it could deliver with more ease having a sustainable effect. Till now, the debacle of Socialism was debated from myriad ways like the introduction of Revisionism, Bureaucratism, Nepotism, Bureau Mania and a host of other related perspectives. But there lies a strong obligation to decipher the reason of the debacle in terms of the severe onslaught that modern technology could have to ruin the ‘rationale’ of Socialism. The success the Bolshevik Revolution could achieve in 1917 could not make a lasting imprint in the annals of social history despite the sacrifice of crores of human lives.

The author is an Associate Professor of Sociology in Maulana Azad College, Kolkata.

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