Future Shock in Moscow
In the past NPQ has looked at Soviet society through the eyes of experts such as George Kerman and Paul Nitze on the American side, or Gyorgi Arbatov and Yevgeni Velikbov on the Soviet side. In the following observations, we approach the subject in afresh way by conversing with Alvin Toffler. His analyses of the emerging future in such books as Future Shock and The Third Wave have been widely read. Reportedly, The Third Wave has sold one million copies in China, making it that country's second most popular book after the collected speeches of Deng Xiaoping.
We talked with Alvin Toffler shortly after be and Heidi Toffler, his collaborator and spouse, returned from a meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow last October.
The Tofflers were in the Soviet Union for a small meeting of intellectuals, unusual because it was not organized by any official agency. Convened in the Republic of Kirghiz by the Soviet novelist and playwright Chingiz Aitmatov, it brought together the French Nobel Laureate Claude Simon, American writers James Baldwin and Arthur Miller, as well as scientists, artists and intellectuals from Asia, Latin America and Africa.
The small group - 17 in all, including Aitmatov issued a statement urging freedom of expression and formed themselves into a continuing body called the Issy-Kul Forum, after the place at which the meeting was held. Aware of the Forum's call for freedom of thought, Gorbachev spent nearly three hours with the group in Moscow and declared himself "a candidate" for membership in it.
What accounts for Gorbachev's push for "openness" in Soviet society? How far is it likely to go? And what does be mean when be speaks about the need for the U.S.S.R. to prepare to enter the 21st century?
Mr. Toffler's observations:
The Soviet Union today is trapped in an ironic contradiction. As defined by Marx, a revolutionary situation arises in a country when its "social relations of production" obstruct the further development of its ''means of production.'' That describes with crystal purity the Soviet Union in 1986.
The social relations of production - the state's monopoly ownership of property, the bureaucratic central planning machinery, the party apparatus - clearly are impeding the development of technology and the economy, and especially the spread of information and communications technologies that are essential for any advanced economy.
The Third Wave vs. Industrial Marxism
Vastly simplifying, if we think of the agricultural revolution of 10,000 years ago as the "first wave" of historic transformation, and the industrial revolution as the second, one can regard Lenin as a "second wave" leader par excellence.
Lenin wanted desperately to propel his country into the modern era, which he identified with industrialism. For him (and for many radicals even today) modernization meant a well-functioning smokestack society based on mass production, mass consumption, mass education, mass media and mass political movements.
In his famous remark that communism equals "Soviets plus electricity," both priorities are given equal billing. But, if forced to choose between them, what would Lenin have done? I think he would have opted for electricity.
But if Lenin wanted to accelerate the second wave" of change, I think Gorbachev wants to go down in history as the man who launched the "third wave" of change in his country.
Today's technological, economic and social changes are creating a radically new kind of society that is technological, but not industrial - in the sense that many of the basic features of industrial or ''second wave" society are being stood on their head.
For example: Marx taught that mass production was the most advanced form of production. For Marxists, this idea is central, because almost everything else. - art. politics, culture, religion and social relationships - flow from the "means of production-"
But, as I've been arguing since the late sixties, mass production is no longer the most advanced form of production. The most advanced factories in the world today, because of computer controls and other new technologies, are increasingly turning out short runs and even customized one-of-a-kind products. In fact, mass production is now a backward, increasingly outmoded form
Notice that virtually all production in pre-industrial or "first wave" societies was "premassified." It was the industrial revolution, the "second wave,'' that brought mass production. And now we move beyond that to "post-massified" or "de-massified" production.
To use Marxist categories, this ''de-massified" production is, if anything, the dialectical negation of mass production.
The same process of de-massification can be seen in the media, where special interest publications and channels are proliferating; in distribution, where markets are increasingly segmented; in weaponry, where precision targeting becomes the goal, rather than indiscriminate mass destruction. We see it in the arts and in social structure. In short, what is happening today, in the US and other "advanced" nations, is the break-up of mass society and its replacement by far more diverse, differentiated - i.e., de-massified - social systems.
The Soviet Union, as perhaps the most massified of mass societies, faces the biggest structural wrench.
Whereas "second wave'' or smokestack societies needed millions of unthinking, robotoid workers, ''third wave" economies, which depend on continual innovation, need creative, authority-questioning workers. Whereas industrialization concentrates energy and population in a few urban nodes, postindustrialization is marked by de-urbanization. Whereas centralized bureaucracy is an efficient form of organization in mass industrial society, bureaucracy is monstrously inefficient in the fastchanging, diversifying third wave economy.
Therefore, the "third wave" poses many challenges to orthodox Marxism.
If society is de-massifying, the economy becomes more diversified. With many smaller enterprises springing up, and with the so-called "basic" industries losing employment, the work force is no longer concentrated or uniform. What becomes of the idea of "the masses" in a de-massified society?
What happens to the "proletariat" when blue collar or manual labor becomes vestigial in this economy?
What happens to surplus value when instead of a tiny minority, the vast majority of producers are engaged in supposedly "nonproductive" services?
What happens to the idea of "property" when the most important property is no longer tangible land, machines or buildings, but intangible and symbolic - information - the ideas in the heads of researchers, managers and workers?
The "third wave" also forces fresh consideration of the Leninist principle of "democratic centralism." Democratic centralism, in practice, has meant a lot of the latter and precious little of the former. But if centralization was one of the dominating principles of the industrial age, considerably decentralized decision-making is essential to good management in the post-industrial age.
I don't believe Soviet ideologists have adequately examined the implications of these ideas. Conventional Marxism cannot contain them. Which is why Gorbachev, while certainly a committed Marxist, wants to crack the shell of ideological orthodoxy and open up the system to accommodate the new facts of life.
He proudly described himself to us as a "realist" and reality has changed since Marxism was formulated.
Since good Marxists believe that all parts of a society are interrelated, the economy can't be changed without also changing politics.
So if Gorbachev really wants the Soviet Union to move into the future, it will require not simply the importation of Western high technology, not just expanded trade with the outside world, not merely the release of Sakharov and other political prisoners, but fundamental changes in ideology, culture and social and political structure. In fact, Gorbachev has said that economic reform will be impossible without democratic reforms. His conception of these reforms does not go nearly far enough, but it is clear that he sees a direct connection between economic advance and the opening up of the system.
But the main obstacle to rapid transition is the bureaucracy, and Gorbachev has targeted it with a two pronged strategy.
To move the economy, the bureaucracy must be broken, and Gorbachev continually inveighs against the bureaucrats who stand like an immovable force against reform. Gorbachev is not the first to tackle the bureaucracy.
Andropov, who also knew how bad things were, tried to whip the bureaucracy into line by launching anticorruption drives, executing a few people and, in effect, saying "Shape up! Stop resisting change."
Gorbachev has kept the anti-corruption campaign going, but he's taken a basically different strategy. Calling for "glasnost" or openness, he has been encouraging citizens and the press to criticize the bureaucracy. In short, he is putting the squeeze on them from above and below at the same time.
Now that, of course, is what a man named Mao tried to do in China, starting a process that ran away with itself, went berserk, as competing forces at the top manipulated protests from below until the whole system ground to a bloody halt. I see no likelihood of this happening in the Soviet Union, but I suspect Gorbachev's opponents are pointing to the recent Chinese student protests and warning against further "glasnost."
Glasnost means "openness" and it is the catch-all term for liberalization in the arts, more criticism of the party and state in the press and, in general, more freedom of expression. The Soviet intelligentsia has seen "thaws" before, only to see their hopes dashed. This one may be different.
Don't misunderstand. The Soviet Union is still a pathetically closed society, Censors, customs officials, police and neighborhood snoops still try to keep people's minds in line, and people still get thrown into psychiatric wards if they open their mouths too much. Censorship still keeps many books (even books that are theoretically available, but printed in such small numbers that they are impossible to get) out of the hands of intellectuals. Many intellectuals we met still spoke in whispers. Many of those who want to emigrate still are given a terrible time.
But something exciting is obviously happening.
The day after our meeting with Gorbachev every major newspaper - Pravda, Izvestia, Liternaya Gazeta, Sovietskaya Kultura - all gave our declaration and out meeting top, front page headlines, It was a clear message from Gorbachev that ideas like freedom of expression or diversity of opinion are no longer subversive. But just how far all this has yet to go is illustrated by the fact that all four of these papers, while hailing diversity, printed exactly the same story, word for word.
Still, since we came back from Moscow striking changes have occurred. The fact that Sakharov was allowed back to Moscow made world headlines. But something else, at least as important, got less attention.
A journalist on the paper Soviet Miner wrote a piece attacking the government agency. Two prosecutors arrested him and hauled him up on charges of "malicious hooliganism'' which is one of those charges that dissidents get accused of. But guess what? The court threw out the charges. The writer got a formal apology. The two prosecutors were actually sacked, and the KGB agent that arrested him was fired! Pravda printed the story so the whole country would know about it. I can't remember any precedent for that in the Soviet Union.
The Necessity of "Glasnost"
A "third wave" society needs more information exchange to retain any degree of equilibrium. The information revolution is, in large measure, a response to the de-massification of socity that began, in the United States at least, in the 1950s.
But the increasing role of information in the economy and in the society itself involves more than belatedly relaxing control of the press. It means the use of advanced information technology as well, And here, more clearly than anywhere else, we can see the way in which the "social relations" of production are obstructing the Soviet Union's advance into the new era.
What would the political consequences for the Soviet Union be if microcomputers were permitted to proliferate, as is necessary in any advanced economy? What are the political implications of permitting millions of desk-top printers to operate? Or local area data networks in a country where the telephone system is an important part of the social control machinery? In a country where even copiers are kept locked and licensed, where samizdats had to be handlettered, where even members of the elite cannot get easy access to information from the outside world, a country where over-zealous censors, police and informers have been a part of the culture from the early Tsarist times, how does one go about deepening "glasnost'' without endangering political stability?
This is the challenge posed by the Soviet Union's revolutionary situation as the "third wave" of change sweeps across much of the rest of the world.
Gorbachev, in his conversations with us and in
his dramatic actions since then, impressed us as more than a shrewd politician
or a highly intelligent tactician. He is a man with a strategic mind.
And an historic vision, His encounter with tomorrow will affect us all.