Vygotskian Writings Теоретическая психология Выготскианские тексты

Conveyor-belt to produce relations

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Conveyor-belt to produce relations

If the above argumentation is true and the totalitarian states really turned upside down because the logic of processing industry, which was developed for handling things’ attributes had been applied by them to persons’ relations, then a social psychological feature of the basic organization of the Bolshevik-type society requires special attention.

In the preceding we have seen the difference between the group-orga­nizing effect of people’s attributes and that of relations: how bald-heads and people with a fine crop of hair identify themselves and each other, and how people in majority versus those in minority do so. Now, the Soviet-type societies retrace their existence to a social group whose his­tory began by marking themselves off from the opponent group not in terms of an attribute but by evoking that relation according to which this group once happened to be in majority; that is, in their native Russian: Bol­she­vik. The members of the group went on identifying themselves by this name later as well. They were Bolsheviks, that is, in majority even when their fraction happened to be in minority within the Russian socia­list de­mo­cratic Party; or later on when this fraction broke with the origi­nal par­ty where the Mensheviks, i.e., those in minority not only got the ma­jority but constituted the totality of the membership. And they called themselves by this name when after the revolution those “in majority” liquidated (first in terms of organization and later physically as well) those “in minority”.

This psycho-social peculiarity of the Bolshevik party would have de­ser­­ved marked attention because it constitutes a special case of a general cha­rac­teristic, namely that the Bolshevik-type parties referred themselves much more to relations’ form then to attributes’ substance. Thus, it was more important to have a disciplined unity among the rank-and-file of the party than was the program in relation to which that unity was es­tab­lished and maintained: the same indissoluble unity of disciplined mem­bers charac­terized the Bol­shevik-type parties when the program cal­led for a fight against social de­mocratic leaders; when somewhat later it rallied com­mu­nists together with so­cial democrats in a popular front against Hitler; when it urged a fight against Trotsky who was accu­sed of having entered in­to a secret pact with Hitler; when Stalin actually had en­tered into such a pact, so this motive was omitted from the mobilization a­gainst Trotsky; when the sole point of the program was mobilization a­gainst the Ger­mans, in alliance with the Anglo-Saxon states; and also when after the world war the mobilization exalted the fight against Anglo-Saxon imperialism.

It is a further well-known historical fact that Bolshevik-type parties stress not only their disciplined unity but also efficiently brandish the political weapon called “salami-tactic” against their enemies whom they can markedly divide into those who are willing and those who are unwilling to enter into a tactical union with the communists.

This intention to unite and divide is usually considered from a so­cio-tech­nical viewpoint, in terms of the advantage that a political organiza­tion gets nearer to the realization of its goals if it is united and its ene­mies are di­vided. In the case of the Bolshevik-type parties, however, a much dee­per ef­fect than the socio-technical is involved which is again me­dia­ted by rela­tions’ paradox. Unlike attributes, relations can also be defi­ned by the way they are thought about by those involved in them: for in­stance, whe­ther people elaborate their similarities and differences in a similar or different way may reinforce (or weaken) the elaborated similarity or difference.

If a group is unified by claiming that they are marked by the relation of u­nity, this relation characterizes it at once to some extent. By contrast, when the consensus is reached about the group being divided, it is at once less divi­ded. Finally, if a group is divided by the question whether it is unified or divided, then the former opinion weakens and the latter strengthens its grounding by its mere emergence.

By elaborating their relations in this way, people define their social identity, and by means of these elaboration paradoxes, the defined social identity may either establish or undermine itself. Now,


First, by over-emphasizing their unity, the members of such a party get more uni­fied indeed just because this over-emphasizing unifies them still mo­re: thus, the Bolshevik identity defined by this relation established itself.

Second, by applying the salami-tactic to the non-Bolshevik section of so­ciety, it achieves that those who are willing to enter into some alliance with the communists and those who are unwilling to deal with them at all shall over-emphasize their division; hence, they manifest their unity in this regard: the non-Bolshevik identity defined by this relation is undermined.

Third, the salami-tactic usually appears as an alliance policy of the mo­de­rate Bolsheviks inviting the moderate non-Bolsheviks to think (and act ac­cor­dingly) that the moderates inside and out­side the party are natural al­lies against the sectarians, extremists of both sides; meanwhile the party-mo­de­ra­tes watch joint­ly with the party-extremists over the strict dividing li­ne that separates the world inside from the world out­side the par­ty. Thus the di­vi­sion of the mode­rates by the question whe­ther they are united or di­vi­ded, es­tab­lishes the social identity defined by claims of Bolshe­viks to be di­vi­ded and undermines the one defined by non-Bolsheviks who insist on being united.73

If all paradoxes work to the benefit of the Bolshevik-type party by esta­blishing the chosen social identity of (the sincerely committed part of) its mem­bers and undermining the chosen social identity of the non-Bolshevik sec­tion of society, and if we consider that a person’s social identity is nothing but his/her specifically elaborated social relations, then we can venture the statement that


This statement might probably sound queer. But anyone who ven­tu­res in­to a study of modern societies in terms of economic psychology will pro­­bab­ly have a feeling of queerness from the moment he has realized the con­nec­tion between the logic applied by a totalitarian state and the lo­gic of lar­ge-scale production in processing industry. This feeling will pro­ba­bly grow mo­re intense when during this intellectual adventure one can­not help con­clu­ding that the technology that is applied by the totalitarian sta­te ac­cor­ding to the logic shared by processing industry fails just because it can on­ly be used to mass-produce attributes and not to mass-produce re­lations. But now we have just identified the conveyor-belt for the enlar­ged pro­duc­­tion of relations: as a useful product of the material processing in­dust­ry facilitates still more production of useful products, just the same way producing a division among people in respect whether they belong to a defi­ni­te organization or not facilitates the production of still more divi­sion in this respect while producing the unity of the members of this organization facilitates the production of still more unity of people in the organization.

For the Bolshevik-type organizations being a device of an enlarged reproduction of relations we may find a further argument in another odd feature of theirs:


The Center is unified: it makes its decisions with an unanimous vote and never by a simple or qualified majority; at the same time, the mem­ber­ship is organizationally divided into primary units, which can only keep in con­tact through the center, since getting in touch directly constitutes the ca­pi­tal offense of factionalism. The pattern is further reproduced within the Cen­ter: its unified kernel is separated from its institutionally divided membership.74

In general, this aspiration for unity and division within the party and its central structures is also considered from a socio-technical as­pect, in terms of the gain obtained because the more unified a group with­in an organi­za­tion is and the more it can divide its potential rivals, the ea­sier it is for it to acqui­re and retain power. There is, however, a deeper than so­cio-tech­ni­cal ef­fect at work here in the case of Bolshevik-type parties. The same ef­fect is de­monstrable here as the one whose paradox affecting so­cial identi­ty was seen earlier in the discussion of the relation between par­ty-members and non-party members: those in the Center will be even mo­re unified by uni­form­ly preserving their unity, while the Membership preserves their uni­ty by being actively unified in watching over their... being divided.

The complicity of the victim suggesting that the victim took part with the most active agreement, for instance, in dividing its own ranks, was one of the fun­damental determinants of the Bolshevik-type structure. In order to un­der­stand it, we should first clarify the question what lent so much significan­ce to the unity of the center and the division of the periphery in Bolshevik-type parties.

As has been seen, it is obviously useful for any political organiza­tion to be unified and to divide its rivals. But an organization that has emer­ged along the substance of some attribute will not make this a mat­ter of prima­ry importance. Some sort of unity is ensured within the orga­ni­zation by the fact that its members are, for instance, all workers, and this immediately se­parates it from the outsiders who are not. If we are wor­kers while they are not, they may be as united in a party of theirs as we are without being the same workers as we are, and this relation would not change even if within our party we happen to be divided by fractions.

Now, for the Marxian conception of socialism the most important was the thesis according to which the universal human values of socialism we­re claimed to be represented by the particular class interests of the prole­ta­riat, whereby the socialist parties, including the Bolshevik-type ones, we­re founded as workers’ parties. Marxist parties, however, did not conceive of worker quality as a sociological attribute. What made it important for them was the relation in which the assumed historical happening of the whole of society was represented by the activity of its distinguished part. The same relation was then reproduced by the Bolshevik doctrine of the vanguard, which claimed that the happenings of the whole proletariat were to be represented by the activity of its distinguished part, namely the party equipped with the weapon of scientific theory. Likewise, the same relation applies to the party as a whole and a distinguished part of it, the latter comprising the professional revolutionaries of the Leninian old guard at first and the professional party activists of the Stalinian apparatus later.

While the form of the relation attributed to the proletariat thus pro­ved to be transferable to newer and newer substances, one thing became mo­re and more obvious about the substance itself that was constituted by the sociological attribute of the working class. It was what in an essay of his no­vel Semprun, referring to Marx’ idea that “there exists a universal class, which means the elimination of all kinds of classes, which can only liberate itself by liberating all the classes of society”, declared: “the main conclusion of at least the century that separates us from Marx is that this class is not the proletariat”. Supposedly, this issue


We have seen above (cf. pp. 3-4 and pp. 6-7) the peculiarities of social or­ganizations that emerge along relations and not attributes. Now, one of the­se peculiarities implies that such an organization cannot refer the rela­tion of, for instance, unity and division or separation, to any attribute (e.g., to that of being versus not being a worker) but to the relation itself. Conse­quent­ly, such an organization has no possibility to tolerate (as proposed above) ei­ther our division or others’ unity, because the only relevant quality uni­ting us and separating us from them is that we are united while they are divided.

Returning now to that struc­ture of Bolshevik-type societies (con­struc­­ted like Matrioshka-dolls) in each of whose circles there is distingui­shed a mo­re inner circle (the working class within society, the party with­in the wor­king class, the Center within the party, the nucleus of the Cen­ter within it – within the central committee the political committee, the organizing com­mit­tee, the secretariat, etc. – and, finally, at the core of the Cen­ter, al­most as a matter of course, there is the Leader) it can be stated that every in­ner circle has power over the corresponding outer circle. And it can also be es­tablished that this power is taken over from it by the next circle to­wards the center. That is how in a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, the po­wer of the working class over society is exercised by the party; the “lea­ding ro­le of the party” is exercised by the Center; and within a sys­tem of “demo­cratic centralism” the power of the Center is finally exercised by the Leader.

Yet the most peculiar psychosocial feature to be noticed in a Bol­she­­vik-ty­pe social struc­ture is the complicity of the victim. Each circle takes a vo­lun­ta­ry and active part in subjecting themselves to the power of the in­­ner­more circle, no matter how great a role the coercion plays, either in its Sta­linian version (which threatened one’s life directly) or the post-Stali­nian one (which solely eliminated a varying number of conditions of li­ving). The in­ner circle not only surrenders the power that is taken from it by an inner­more cir­cle but it actively hands over this power to this more central circle.

Precisely, it is because the condition of its power is this active handing over. What may explain this paradoxical condition is the above discussed formu­la, which has it that it is not the substance of some social attribute that distinguishes a position of power from positions without power in any of the circles.

There is a long past to the practice of social scientists, politologists, Krem­linologists and journalists trying to pry open the secret of power in Bol­shevik-type societies by searching for the sociological attribute that ac­coun­ted for the similarity of the incumbent of power – the members of the new class – and for their difference from those whom they exercised the power over. The discovery that in a “dictatorship of the proletariat” it is not at all the proletarians who have the power was as shocking for the first ge­ne­rations of revolutionaries as it became a commonplace later. Neither can the other assumptions ó whether power was possessed by the office-hol­ders75 or managers, by those whom the army or the security organs obey, by those who had the capital or who knew the Doctrine, by those who could put to good use the mass media, who were granted a diploma or who had a past in the workers’ movement76 – bring one closer to the secret.

In a Bolshevik-type society the critical attribute we are looking for does not exist. The only criterion also for a power position is defined in terms of relations:


Anyone that hands over his power to the more central circle mani­fests that he has joined the side of unity. The side of power, that is. That ex­plains the extraordinary discipline that is typical of all circles of power. Tho­se ex­pel­led from a circle hardly ever protest or argue against their expulsion: they do not set up the “true” Politburo, the “true” central commit­tee, the “true” par­ty as opposed to the “false” or “treacherous” politburo, CC, or party. Should they do so, they would immediately reveal that they had aban­doned the position of unity for that of division. For the position of powerlessness, that is.

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