Translation:Proletarskaya Kul'tura/No.7-8/Essays in Organisation Science

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Essays in Organisation Science  (1919) 
by Alexander Bogdanov, translated from Russian by Wikisource

What is organisation science?[edit]

I The unity of the organisational point of view[edit]

I

Throughout humanity's struggle with the elements, their task has been to assert their power over nature. Power is the attitude of the organiser to organised. Humanity successfully procedes step by step, which means that step by step they organise the world - for themselves and for their own advantage. This is the meaning and content of humanity's secular work.

However Nature resists humanity, with a countless and endless army of elements, whose tremendous force is spontaneous and blind, dark and chaotic. To defeat Nature, humanity must organise itself into a mighty army. And this organising has been going on for a number of centuries, from when labor groups emerged from small tribal primitive communities to the modern era of co-operation of hundreds of millions of people. This is still unconscious but very real.

If humanity organised itself in face of the world only using those forces and means which have been granted by nature, humanity would have gained no advantage over other living beings, who are also fighting for themselves against the rest of nature. However humanity takes tools from external nature and implements it in their work. This is the basis of success. This gave and continues to give humanity a growing superiority over even the most powerful and fearsome threats. This is how life that sets humanity apart from the rest of her kingdom. But humanity faces an even more difficult task for humanity - to organise themselves, their efforts, their activity at the individual and at the collective level. There are contradictions hidden amongst the complexity of the human body and natural forces of society. These contradictions can be as menacing and destructive, as the very forces of nature, which spawned mankind. Fate has made us witnesses of the monstrous immensity of total warfare. The full story is played out through chains of history, covered with fire and blood, full of the subjugation of millions to the horrors of starvation and hard labour while the few enjoy the parasitic luxury which arises from their cruel domination. The self-organisation of humanity is the struggle with our inner spontaneity, at a biological and social level. Just as humanity takes up tools to fight external nature, the tools of the organisation are no less necessary to humanity. Mankind produces them only with great difficulty and great sacrifices.

  • The first such instrument was the word. All the conscious co-operation of people is facilitated through the word: a call for work, in the form of requests or orders combining staff, and the distribution of roles between them in their work, an indication of the sequence and context of their activities, encouragement to work, concentrating their forces, a warning where a disagreement starts, stops work, rearrangement, change of direction of effort - all this is done verbally. Giant teams are created by the power of words, and giant teams are managed by this power. The people of the twentieth century saw the imperious word direct millions of people in an unprecedented hell of iron and dynamite to kill and die. ... No wonder the old way of thinking, immersed in innocence, gave rise to the myth of the creation of the world in a word. No wonder people believed in the limitless power of the word over the elements: water and mountains, storms and tempests, disease and death all thought to obey those who knew and spoke the proper word ... The organising power of these instruments was fetishised and generalised to the whole world. But this broke free from the primitive mind, just as it can break free from the modern mind.
  • The second such instrument is more complex and subtle, it is the idea. The idea fulfils its role in the organisational scheme as technical regulations, scientific knowledge, or artistic concepts, whether expressed in words, other signs, images or art. The idea of ​​the direct technical and apparently co-ordinated employment of the efforts of people up to the scientific level - does the same thing only more indirectly and on a broader scale. It becomes an instrument of the highest order, as illustrated by the scientific technology of our era, by the idea of ​​art is a living tool for rallying the team in the unity of perception, feelings, moods. In this way we are brought up one for our life in the community, we are prepared for the organisational elements of the group, we are introduced to its internal structure. The old way of thinking was vaguely aware the organisational role of ideas, seeing them as guidance from above: the latest in most cases and it has lost consciousness(?).
  • The third such instrument is the social norm. In all its forms - a custom, law, morality, decency - the social norm sets the attitudes of people in the collective, and fixes their relationship. Thus patriarchal consciousness created the specifc rules of its times understood as a legacy of the ancestors or the command of the gods, fetishised, to suit the collective life, and the latest abstract thinking. It did not penetrate into the socio-organisational nature of these regulations. Nor did it seek the spiritual foundations of their individual experiences.


Where does humanity find such instruments as speech, ideas and norms? Not from external nature, as with material tools, but from our own nature - from our activities and experiences, from my experience. All of this - the products of organising experience are performed by mankind in the course of millennia. The word is not an empty phrase. The social views and aspirations are crystalised and passed amongst the collective from person to person, as with more complex forms of ideology.


We can now summarise how the overall scheme of the content of human life unfolds before us. Let's summarise: Engels, the founding father of scientific socialism, created the formula: the production of people, the production of things and the production of ideas. The term "production" contains hidden within it the concept of organizing activities. Let's refine the formula more accurately: the organisation of the external forces of nature, the organisation of human power, the organisation of experience.


So what have we found out? Mankind has no activities other than the institutional; there are no problems other than the organisational. Do we not see destructive work of disorganisation wherever we look? Yes, but it is - a special case of the same trend. We are in a society, where classes and groups face each other in a destructive way. They disorganise one another, precisely because each such group seeks to organise the world and humanity for themselves in their own way. This is the result of isolation in which social forces are organised separately - they do not reach a point of unity with a shared simplified organisation. This is the struggle of organisational forms.


So, the conclusion is confirmed: all the interests of mankind are organizational. And from this it follows: there cannot and should not be any other point of view on life and the world, except for the organizational one. And if this is not yet admitted, it is only because people's thinking has not yet completely broken out of the shells of fetishism that enveloped it on the path of development.

II

Well, so be it: we, people, the organisers of nature, ourselves, our experience, our practice, cognition, and artistic creativity, we will consider this from an organisational point of view. But is spontaneous nature an organiser? Wouldn't it be naive subjectivism or poetic fantasy to apply the same point of view to her events and actions?

Yes, of course, nature is the great first organiser; and humanity itself is only one of its organisational products. The simplest of living cells, visible only at a thousandfold magnifications, in complexity and perfection of organisation far surpasses everything that humanity can organise. It is a student of nature and is still very weak.

But if the phenomena of life can be investigated and understood as organisational processes, is there not apart from them a vast area of ​​the "inorganic" world, a dead nature that is not organised? Yes, life is a small part of the universe, lost in the ocean of infinity; but non-living, "non-organic" does not mean unorganised. Until recently, this old delusion reigned over the thought of mankind precisely because of its organisational weakness; it comes to an end.

Science now destroys the impassable boundaries between living and dead nature, fills the gap between them. The world of crystals has revealed the typical properties of organized bodies, which were previously considered exclusively characterizing the kingdom of life: a crystal in a saturated solution maintains its shape by "metabolism"; it repairs any damage, as if "healing the wound"; under certain conditions of supersaturation, it "multiplies", etc. And the connections of the kingdom of crystals with the rest of inorganic nature are such that there can be no question of fundamental, unconditional differences. Among liquids there are formations, the so-called "flowing crystals", which have most of the crystalline properties. And supposedly "living crystals" Lehmann, obtained at known temperatures from para-azoxy-brown ethyl ether are capable of not only multiplying by fission and "copulating", that is, merge in pairs, but also feed and grow, taking matter inward, and move like amoebas: all the essential features that are usually determined by the lower unicellular organisms.

However, even a simple drop of dew on a leaf of grass in an atmosphere supersaturated with steam grows and multiplies by fission. And its surface layer, which is physically similar to an elastic film, "protects" its shape like thin elastic membranes of many living cells, for example, bacteria.

It would be strange to consider the graceful, titanically stable systems of suns with their planets that have taken shape in myriads of centuries as "unorganised". But for the modern theory, the structure of each atom is the same in its type, with its striking stability based on the immeasurably fast, cyclically closed movements of its elements.

Complete disorganisation is a concept without meaning. This is, in essence, the same as naked nothingness. In it one must accept the absence of any connection; but that in which there is no connection can present no resistance to our effort; but only in resistance do we learn about the existence of things; therefore, for us there is no being here. And one can think of absolute incoherence only verbally, no real, living representation can be put into these words, because an absolutely incoherent representation is not an idea at all and, in general, is nothing.

Even the imaginary emptiness of the world space – the world ether – is not devoid of a lower, elementary organisation: and it has resistance; only with a limited speed does the movement penetrate through it; and when the speed of a moving body increases, then, according to the ideas of modern mechanics, this resistance also grows, first with an imperceptible slowness, then ever faster; and at the limit equal to the speed of light, it becomes completely irresistible – infinitely great.

So, proceeding from the facts of experience and ideas of modern science, we inevitably come to the only integral, the only monistic understanding of the universe. It appears before us as an infinitely evolving fabric of forms of various types and levels of organisation, from elements of the ether unknown to us to human collectives and stellar systems. All these forms, in their mutual interweaving and mutual struggle, in their constant changes, form a world organisational process, infinitely fragmented in its parts, continuous and indissoluble in its whole.

II Unity of organisational methods.[edit]

This is the organisational point of view. It is completely simple and immutable in its simplicity. What does it give us, what paths does it reveal?

It would be of little use to practice and theory if it boiled down to the philosophical proposition: "everything is organisation." Methods are needed and important for practice and theory. The conclusion in relation to them is clear: "all methods are organisational." Hence the task: to understand and study all and sundry methods, as organisational. This could be a big step forward, but on one condition: that organisational methods are scientifically generalizable.

If the organisational methods in one area were alike, but in another had other methods, completely dissimilar to them, and in a third, for example, in the organisation of things, that is, techniques that have nothing to do with the methods of organising people, i.e. economics, or the organisation of experience, i.e. the world of ideas, then it would become no easier to master them all by designating them all as organisational. It is completely different if, according to research, it turns out that it is possible to establish a connection, kinship between them, that it is possible to subordinate them to general laws. Then the study of this connection, these laws will allow people to master these methods in the best way and develop them systematically - and this will become the most powerful instrument for any practice and any theory. But which is real, the first or the second?

The deepest difference that we know in nature is the difference between spontaneity and consciousness, between the blind action of the forces of nature and the planned efforts of people. Here one should expect the greatest heterogeneity of methods, their greatest irreducibility to unity. This is the best place to start our research.

First of all, it comes across facts of human imitation of nature in the function and methods of organizational activity.

Nature organises the resistance of many living organisms to the action of cold, covering them with fluffy fur, feathers or other outer coatings that do not conduct heat well. A person achieves the same results in the same way by arranging warm clothes for themself. Spontaneous development has adapted the fish to movement in water, having developed a certain shape and structure of its body. Man gives the same shape to their boats and ships, and also reproduces the structure of the skeleton of a fish: the keel and frames exactly correspond to its spine and ribs. The "sail" moves the seeds of many plants, animals with flying membranes, etc .; man has mastered the sail method and widely applies it in the memory of history. The natural cutting and stabbing tools of animals, for example, the fangs and claws of predators, were probably imitated by the knives and spears of primitive savages, etc.

The very possibility of imitation, in essence, is already sufficient proof that there is no fundamental, impassable difference between the spontaneous organising work of nature and the consciously planned work of people. There can be no imitation where there is nothing in common.[1] But this basic community is even brighter and more convincing where a person, without imitating nature, develops the same organisational adaptations that are later found by cognition.

The entire history of the development of anatomy and physiology is replete with discoveries of such mechanisms within the living body, from the simplest to the most complex, which had previously been independently invented by people. So, the skeleton of the human motor apparatus is a system of various levers, in which there are also two blocks (for one cervical and one ocular muscle); but levers were used by people to move weights for millennia before anatomists figured this out this, and blocks for many hundreds of years. Suction and delivery pumps with valves were installed long before the opening of the heart apparatus, which was quite similar to them. Also musical instruments with resonators, with sounding membranes were invented much earlier than the structure and functions of the vocal organs of animals were clarified; likewise, it is highly unlikely that that the first collecting glasses were made to imitate the lens of the eye. And the device of electrical organs in fish that possess them was investigated much later than physicists built capacitor banks on the same principle.[2]

These are the first striking examples from one limited area in which many times more could be taken. But here is a comparison of a different kind: the social economy in humans and in higher insects. Of course, there can be no question of imitation between them. Meanwhile, both in the modes of production and in the forms of cooperation, the parallelism is striking. The construction of complex, dissected dwellings for termites and ants, the herding of many ants, which contain herbaceous aphids in the form of dairy cattle, are well known facts; the embryos of agriculture were also found in some American species: weeding out grasses around edible cereals; it is very likely that human agriculture had such a beginning. It is also well established that leaf ants breed edible fungi inside anthills in Brazil. The extensive cooperation and complex division of labour in social insects are, again, known to everyone; true, the division of labour there is mainly "physiological", that is, directly related to the special structure of the organism of different groups - workers, soldiers, etc .; but it should be noted that among people, the initial division of labor was precisely physiological, based on the difference between the male and female organism, adult, child and senile. The general nature of the organisation of ants is a patriarchal clan life; at the same time, the queen is not the leader of the work, nor the power in her community, but their living, blood connection; there are many reasons to believe that this was the role of the progenitor in the primitive forms of matriarchy in humans. There is, however, an authoritarian division of labor, at least embryonic, in the form of the so-called "slavery” in many ants; and termites, according to some indications, have leaders among the warrior caste - "officers" and subordinate "soldiers". Finally, there are many reasons to assume that ants have some kind of communication methods that allow them to transmit rather complex data, which speaks of the "articulate" nature of these methods; but it is not known whether this is sound or tactile, in which various touches of the ties serve as signs; the latter seems more likely.

The path to organizational science[edit]

II

The primordial unity of the organizational point of view was based on the weakness of human work-experience and the authoritarian structure of a homogeneous society. However social development overcame this weakness and created new social relations. This led to the collapse of primordial unity and the fragmentation of experience, placing it in an entirely new context.

  1. "... This is sufficient proof of the fundamental homogeneity of the organizational functions of man and nature: an idiot cannot imitate the work of a genius, a fish cannot imitate the orator's eloquence, a crayfish - the flight of a swan; imitation is everywhere limited by the framework of general properties, the framework of homogeneity" (Tectology, Part I, page 23).
  2. Nature separately "invented" a collecting lens for the animal and plant kingdoms. In our case, the lens serves to collect rays onto the light-sensitive retina of the eye, which perceives the image of objects formed by the cross of the rays. In "luminous moss" a similar lens made of transparent cells collects rays on chlorophyll grains, which, due to light energy, generate starchy substances for the plant from carbon dioxide in combination with water.