Modes of Foreign Relations, Uneven and Combined Development, and Tektology


In 2007 I did write a review article for the first volume of Kees Van Der Pijl’s magnum opus: Modes of Foreign Relations and Political Economy, subtitled as Nomads, Empires, States. The title of my review article was “Modes of Foreign Relations vs Uneven and Combined Development: The Marxist Legacy and Relations between and within Alienated Societies”, and it was published by the journal of International Sociology in 2008. The text is online and can be accessed here. Just for self-crediting note, it was written before the reviewed book won the Isaac Deutscher prize in 2008, and the topic was discussed by a panel during the sixth Historical Materialism conference, which also hosts the Isaac Deutscher prize ceremony. Thus it was written independently from the separate journal symposium held on Cambridge Review of International Affairs in 2009 on the topic; and more importantly without any knowledge of the exchange (Alex Anievas refers in the intro to the CRIA symposium) took place between Justin Rosenberg and Alex Callinicos on “UE&CD and the international” somewhere in 2007.

The second and the third volumes of Van Der Pijl’s trilogy titled as The Foreign Encounter in Myth and Religion and The Discipline of Western Supremacy. Both volumes did exceeded my expectations, satisfying enthusiasm I got with the first volume. Although it was my intention I could not yet write a review for the entire work, nevertheless it would be just to say that Van Der Pijl’s trilogy has already taken its place amongst the 21st century classics. Along the pages of the three volumes Van Der Pijl applies Marx’ method of abstraction, that is historical and dialectical materialism, to the relations between alienated world societies, thus to the field of ‘foreign relations’, independently. Doing so the whole project not only smashes the cold blooded, state-maniacal, and disciplinary ‘International Relations’ to the ground, by a strong argument politicizing and historicizing it based on rich empirical material; but it also does so by providing a brilliant historical materialist analysis for rethinking modern nationalism. Van Der Pijl also claims that applying Marx methodology, in a similar way, on different fields of social life, as ideology, power and so on, and integrating those analyses that would be possible to develop a more complete Marxian state and class theories that are essential to advance the critique of today’s global political economy.

In my review article, besides enthusiastically welcoming Kees Van Der Pijl’s project; as a Marxist alternative to the certain UE&CD theory of the inter-societal (national) relations; I was asking how comes one has to end up with three patterns, that characterize three modes (of foreign relations in this case, in a way they correspond to the three subsequent modes of production) all identified by applying Marx’ original method of abstraction to the field (where a certain concrete simple is taken as a starting point for abstraction). And how then, after the discovery of relevant pattern trios corresponding to that field, one would merge or integrate those patterns and modes discovered into a more advanced or completed analyses of state, class, nation, world market so on. So what would be the method for this; or as we would be dealing with the methodology of harmonizing the outcomes of historical and dialectical materialism analyses of different fields into one meta-analyses; what would be the meta-methodology for the integration?

In 2008, during the Historical Materialism conference in London, I got the chance to ask this question directly to the author. It was at the book launch sort of panel organized by Alex Anievas, PhD. student at the time, for both 2006 publication of Global Rivalries: From the Cold War to Iraq and 2007 publication of the first volume of Modes of Foreign Relations and Political Economy. The author had to ‘defend’ his Project before the panel of critics composed of Alex Callinicos, Adam David Morton, Gonzalo Pozo Martin, and Alex Anievas; each of whom utilizes a form of Uneven and Combined Development ‘theory’ to analyze and explain the international, in a transhistorical manner; it was sort of an earlier panel version of the journal symposium that took place in 2009 on CRIA. Kees Van Der Pijl, at the time of the London panel didn’t have any ready answer to give me. Nor I was expecting to get an answer at those early days of Van Der Pijl’s methodological innovation. Since then I didn’t know that least such innovation has been waiting some hundred years to be remade.

On the other hand,  the ‘UE&CD front’ had already an alternative answer. Based on a ‘Political Marxists’ grounds, and framed as an International Historical Sociology approach; this was giving of the UE&CD concept of Trotsky; which actually describes only one aspect of complex process of development that can be observed in any expanding, or collapsing system (but not in a stable phase); a degree of ‘universal law’. So that in case one takes this aspect to center of analysis one could explain all internal and external relations of that system and its transformation /change in a trans-temporal as well as tran-spatial manner. Trotsky, at the time of writing a retrospective theory, his problematic was especially strategical; his focus was on how to stop and how to counter the expansion of capitalism, and thus his use of UE&CD was more accurate to his end. Current approach instead with more practical then political motives behind, utilizes the concept for expanding an academic space within the mainstream domain; by suggesting that the ‘unevenness’ and ‘combinedness’ of the social relations and material processes of the development of human societies (or any other complex system) is the main key to grasp that system change more holistically. This is however no different then saying that crisis, or emergence processes; which too are observable in every system, or subsystems, living or nonliving included; could explain everything about change in those systems too. This would mean that every characteristic pattern that are tradable or can be found in each system, and each processes of any system, can be taken as ‘the general theory’ to explain the whole phenomena of ‘systemic change’. This was not and still is not the answer I asked for.

Almost ten years later, however, I came to know that a century ago such an innovation was fully developed and presented, and it was done as an upgrade to Historical and Dialectical Materialism. Yet it was out-competed, if not oppressed, politically by Lenin and Stalin. Going through the phases of Empriomonism and Philosophy of Living Experience, from late 1890s to 1920s, Alexander Bogdanov developed and named such meta-methodology ‘Tektology’. He described it as the future science, or universal science of organization. Tektology is accepted as the forerunner of General Systems, Cybernetics, Complexity Analysis, and derivatives of such mainstream bourgeois sciences today. However the difference is that it is the only one that takes social classes and the history into account. Actually in opposition to all others, Tektology  is the only one presented from a labour class point of view. Moreover Tektology, the book, even in the form it is written, provides the precise answers to the questions I have addressed to Kees Van Der Pijl in the review article, as well as in London, at the HM conference.

It can even be said that Tektology is built as an ‘in progress handbook’, of systemic application of Historical and Dialectical Materialism in each and every domain of cosmos; including the social, institutional, ideational as well as physical realms. Seems like Bogdanov applies the method of abstraction to the field of abstraction itself (fields of religion, philosophy, science, art, ideology and culture). A life time dedication allows him to discover the most generalized categories, general principles of ‘organisation’ for complex wholes forming the universe. According to this at a meta-abstract level everything can be seen and understood from an organizational point of view, as organized wholes. Those most abstract patterns of most general categories Bogdanov uncovers in a way explain why Marx or Van Der Pijl discovers certain sets of three key-patterns when they applied the method to different fields of social relations independently. Bogdanov shows that similar meta-patterns underlie all organizational processes during the formation, expansion, stability, crises, or collapse of in any complex whole, living or nonliving systems. Three patterns or principles of organization are systematized by Bogdanov as conjunction, ingression, disingression for the formation (emergence). And again and three principles for the regulation phase are generalized as positive (progressive) and negative (conservative) selection, and dynamic equilibrium. These principles are mainly about the activities and resistances, or the relationships, between the ‘elements’ forming a whole. Certain classes of such elements amongst other, and their relations to each other can be more determining than others in defining the formation and evolutionary direction of complex wholes (or fields on which method is applied) whose parts are also composed of wholes yet with relatively less of complexity. These subsystems forming the whole goes through similar processes too.

Although Bogdanov does not give a private and separate treatment to the  ‘unevenness’ and simultaneously ‘combinedness’ in his writings of Tektology, they are explicitly referred concepts as well as embedded when he was generalizing organizational principles for complex wholes, their development and interaction to the environment; like in the confrontation of two complex systems. As varying magnitude or distribution of activities and resistances between the elements, strength of different parts of the whole, which result in varying speeds, phases, so on for the formulation and regulation phases in different parts of the whole… Hence Tektology does not only explicitly recognize the significance of unevenness and combinedness in relation to the development phases, it provides them as part of an integrally whole meta-methodology; explaining and describing the formation and change in parts and processes of one whole system, as well as between complex wholes. Tektologically they are significant, yet they can be seen as outcomes as well as defining features according to the phase of the development of a whole system. They are not only and the most important characteristics, or general principles; but they are at work together with others. Even if they were the most important generalities observed amongst all other organizational principles, this would not be enough to think of UE&CD as the theory that can explain the whole system change process itself. Instead one would need a meta-methodology, or meta-theory that both recognize those underlying principles and then provide ways to integrate (the historical material) analyses of various aspects of life in all its complexity. No need to say that one of the key aspects of a general theorization can not be taken as the meta-methodology or meta-theory itself. That is why, it makes much more sense to apply the historical and dialectical materialists method to specific subject fields as Van Der Pijl argues for, and then integrate them using the principles of Tektology, developed by Bogdanov, as the meta-methodology of the integration.

[The text is in progress, last update 9.3.2017]


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