Alexander Bogdanov’s reply to critics of Tektology

bogdanov_alexander_tektology_book_1ON CRITICS OF “TEKTOLOGY”

[Reproduced in Bogdanov’s Tektology, Book 1, trans. Vadim N. Sadovsky, Andrei Kartashov, Vladimir V. Kelle and Peter Bystrov, ed. Peter Dudley, Hull: Centre for Systems Studies, University of Hull, 1996, 322 pp. (English). Trans. of the first volume of the 1989 reprint of the 3rd edition (1925).]

“Tektology” has excited very few critical comments up until now. I shall not speak here about the two to three more or less impartial reviewers, but as far as I know, the strictly polemic literature directed against “Tektology” for these last 11 years may be placed on ten if not less pages. However quantity is not the point: many things may be said in a few words. So I must respond to the examples of this literature that are known to me.

Firstly, a part of V.I. Nevsky’s paper “Dialectical materialism and the philosophy of dead reaction” (in an addendum to the second edition of the book “Materialism and Empiriocriticism”, by V. I. Lenin) is devoted to tektology. three main accusations are advanced in this paper. Here is the first: “Probably A. Bogdanov is the only person who knows what the laws of ingression are; but a reader can not fish out of two parts of his “Tektology” anything more than naked schema that say nothing” (p. 379).

Should I object? I think that any reader, who has at least looked through the book, is already able to judge how flattering V.I. Nevsky’s affirmation of his reader’s inability to “fish out” something more than “naked” schema is to him.

Further: “…However, besides these schemes, both books of Tektology contain a numerous multitude of new terms confusing the description of a metaphysical system that is already vague. A. Bogdanov himself who likes to protest against the barbarian terminology of bourgeois science piles up scores of new terms. What are the names that he has and where are these taken from copulation and conjugation (terms taken from biology), ingression, egression, disingression and system differentiation; and how many combinations of all these symbols he has!” (pp. 379-380).

“Metaphysical system”! According to the ordinary usage of words in philosophy, it means a system operating beyond the limits of experience and possible verification; according to the Hegelian- dialectic usage of words – a system that is alien to the idea of development and proceeds from something motionless, invariable and absolute. The reader will evaluate for himself the composure or, perhaps, the ignorance of terminology that is needed to give such names to the contribution the whole of which is devoted to methods of solving practical and scientific-theoretical problems.

“A numerous multitude of terms”… There are quoted seven terms that is about a half of all the terms really introduced by me. Does V.I. Nevsky believe that it is possible to create a new science of a universal scale, a general methodology of any praxis and theory without using new terms? How may new concepts – so new as V.I. Nevsky himself was unable to understand these and to “fish out” anything from these – be expressed then? There are hundreds and thousands of specific terms in any special science. I have no doubts that many new terms will be worked out in tektology in the process of its development, but its methods will open the possibility of rejecting thousands of the old terms of the different sciences since its task is to find a general thing hidden under a variety of “special” covers.

The third main accusation is “idealism”.

What it is based on? It is argued from the fact – it is fearful even to say – that “Tektology” deals with “different complexes composed of elements of different kinds” (p. 378). But Mach has “complexes” and “elements” also! But Mach is an idealist according to all decrees! Should the proof be continued?

Alas, a science, that does not decompose studied phenomena into such or other elements and then pass to combinations of these, i.e. to complexes of elements, has not existed so far and does not exist now. Chemistry has as its elements, say, the atoms of simple bodies, biology has other elements – say, cells; sociology – human beings, etc. But all sciences call their simplest elements “elements”; combinations of these have many different names: in chemistry – combinations, in biology – organisms, colonies, species, etc., in sociology – groups, classes, etc. Mach has nothing to do with these; he deals with a special decomposition of experience into its sensual elements and complexes correlating to these special elements. If V.I. Nevsky knows a science that has not its own “elements” and their “complexes” let him name it. That would be extremely interesting.

V.I. Nevsky quotes the following thesis from my paper in “Socialism of science”2: “Organizing activity is always directed to the creation of systems from some parts and elements”. Then he notes: “As we see, one can not take a step without Bogdanov’s elements”(p. 381). I thought that the thesis quoted simply expressed an immutable fact. But apparently V.I. Nevsky knows of such an organizing activity that dispenses with any elements. That would be very interesting again and V.I. Nevsky has no right to hide such a discovery, he must publish it as promptly as possible!

However, there is yet another evidence of “idealism”.

As I point out, organized elements are always activities-resistances. At the same time I do not explain what their “basis” is, whether matter or spirit. It should be noted that the point here is not the matter studied by physics and chemistry; they are only phenomena.

The point in question is matter as a substratum of phenomena, matter as “thing in itself’. And when speaking of elements-activities in “Tektology” as I do not speak about matter, it is clear that I mean these to be “spirit” and bide this meaning only to escape responsibility.

In my book I speak about such matter-phenomena that earlier were thought to consist of solid pieces – atoms but now are decomposed by physics into electrical charges and their power fields; I do not speak of matter as thing in itself, or spirit either.

I think that my reader bas bad time already to understand why it is so. Simply bere is no room for matter and spirit. A science is restricted by scientific limits and “things in themselves” are philosophical concepts. Whether I am right in supposing that, besides all else, tektology eliminates philosophy in general – is another question. But it is clear that if tektology is a science then it is obliged to study phenomena and their connexion and regularity leaving all else to philosophy. Tektology does not refute these philosophical concepts but there is no room for these in a solution of its tasks.

I do not understand who or what prevents V.I. Nevsky or somebody else who wants to say: “But elements-activities bide a thing in itself, that is, matter affecting our sensual bodies and produces the sensations concerned with these activities” – all is as it is supposed. If it gives you something more, and you believe it to be a better thing – please, let it be. However, it simply does not concern tektology as a doctrine of organizational regularities.

That is V.I. Nevsky’s critique. P.M. Kerzhentsev’s critique is much more concrete. Here is what be wrote about me: “His reactionary character in the scope of organizational problems is illustrated well enough by the following, tbe most favourite theses of “organizational science”: “the chain is no stronger than its weakest link: – the points of least resistance determine the fate of any system as a whole” (see A. Bogdanov’s lecture at the I. Conference on Scientific Organization of Labour)”.

“A. Bogdanov takes this law from mechanics (“the strength of the chain is determined by the weakest of its links”) and transfers it entirely to the field of the social sciences proceeding from bis unproven theory according to which there exist universal organizational principles that are equally valid in the field of technology as in the field of economics and the fields of other scientific disciplines.”

“Thus, arbitrarily applying a law of mechanics to social phenomena, Bogdanov raises one of the most reactionary principles to the status of an immutable law according to which human society is called to compete with its most backward, weakest and most undeveloped part. Transferring the doctrine into the political sphere we must, for example, arrange our economical work proceeding from the interests of the most backward peasant farms and subordinate our party work to the wishes of the minimally self-controlled and stable elements of the party etc.”

But here is what I wrote on that occasion in my previously unpublished letter to the editorial board of the newspaper “Pravda”: “I have stressed in the quotation the words “is called” because it is precisely that which contains the essence of an incredible misunderstanding: a viewpoint diametrically opposite to my real one is ascribed to me. Nevertheless I must confess that I do not understand how this misunderstanding may arise. Whether, really, somebody ever considered the proverb “the chain is no stronger than its weakest link” to be reactionary? Is it, really, a call even to the whole from the thinnest and the weakest of its parts? The proverb states facts reducing a countless number of facts to a merely figurative generalization. And its application may consist only in “a call” from the thin to the fum and the weak – to the strong so as the chain would not be broken.

I use formulae, not proverbs or images; but exact formulae of how facts take place, these can not be “a call” to reduce the facts to the level of the worst. Lybykb discovered the same “law of the minimum” for agronomy: crop capacity depends on the most insufficient factor of all the factors that determine the development of plants. Is it a call for all the factors of crop production to be reduced to the level of the least? Fortunately, nobody from amongst the agronomists understood Lybykb in that way, and his law remains one of the basic tenets of agronomy – it was perfected over time again and has taken the form of Mitscherlich-Boulee’s exact formulae. For example, when I point out that the break of an enemy line occurs at the sector of “the least relative resistance” (the least with respect to reSisting enemy forces) – does it means that the army “is called” to reduce the strength of the whole front to the strength of its weakest point?

When I recall that sometimes all our factories worked only half-time because of the lack of lamp-glasses – is it “a call” to preserve such a situation?

During my report to the First Conference on the Scientific Organization of Labour that is mentioned by P.M. Kerzhentsev I was asked about those branches of industry that must be considered as “shock” branches, I.e. that must be in the first place in the queue for restoration after devastation. My answer was the following: the relatively maximally undermined and the most backward branches will inevitably delay all others, and, therefore, these are to be supported with greatest energy. Is it “a call” to reduce the level of all branches to that of the backward ones?

Now I am afraid that I unjustly divert the attention of my reader. Was there, really, a need to refute the comprehension of law of the leasts and the proverb “the chain is no stronger than its weakest link” that P.M. Kerzhentsev has shown? Was it not completely sufficient simply to state it?

Now I pass to the third critic – I. Wainstain, (Tektology and Tactics /I Under the Banner of Marxism 1924, N 6-7)5.

I must confess that I am in much more awkward situation here. The point is that … I am ashamed of this confession but … I did not understand this paper.

It is written in an extraordinary scientific style that rarely may be met unless in seminar lectures given by first year students and that. being insuffiCiently clear to the Professors themselves, forces them to ask the speaker in perplexity: “What did you want to say in fact?”. Certainly, having no right to address that question to the honourable author, I tried intensely to understand. What I was successful in comprehending is reduced approximately to the following.

Tektology is reactionary. Why? Since it prevents the revolutionary tactics of the proletariat. How? In what mode? Because it “gnoseologically leads to the denial of political revolution proclaiming its tektological indifference” (pp. 91-92).

Where? When? How? Where did the honourable author read that? How can tektology lead “gnoseologically” not only to such a disgraceful thing as the “denial of pOlitical revolution” but to anything else at all, when tektology denies any “gnoseology” as scholasticism? Where is the “tektological indifference to revolution enunciated”? It is inconceivable! Or perhaps it is too unpopular…

Then tektology is reactionary because “the tactics resulting from Bogdanov’s organizational philosophy are not the tactics of revolution. The tactics resulting from the organizational principles of Bogdanov’s philosophy are the creation of a “unity of cognitive methods that breaks the limits of specialization and gives an integral well-composed and harmonious organization of social experience” … Bogdanov thinks that the tactics of the proletariat are the working out of a “world methodology” that must “comprehend human and world activities” (p. 92. passim).

Understand. my God! I thought up to now that I knew what the word “tactics” meant. Apparently I was mistaken. I believed that, in accordance with all the dictionaries. tactics are methods of current struggle. for instance: parliamentary tactics. terrorist tactics. military-fighting tactics, etc. I thought that the creation of a world methodology may be a program, a vast scientific-cultural program. But it turns out to be tactics competing with strike tactics, partisan tactics, etc.

It is clear that there is a profound difference of principle between me and the honourable author. The reader knows what principles I proceed from. Apparently, the honourable author proceeds in his criticism from the principle that is expressed by folk wisdom in the Russian proverb: “There is an elder in the kitchen garden and an uncle in Kiev “. Nobody disputes this in principle. I shall abstain from a dispute also.

Apparently there is need for a critique of Tektology.

If it must be, then in first place it must answer the question: “Is a universal organizational science possible?” I.e. is it possible to investigate organizational processes scientifically and to state their regularity?

If not, then why is it impossible? This conclusion, would be very sad for humanity, because it deprives it of the hope of organizing life as a whole scientifically, and of any hope that this science could be strictly and exactly grounded.

If yes, then certainly, one may ask whether the laying of the foundations of this science has been carried out well, by me, its initiator.

If it is carried out badly then the critics must show how, really, it. may be done better.

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