While infinite thought was in San Francisco recently, we talked a bit about Shulamith Firestone’s amazing concept of “cybernetic communism.” Regrettably, my mind has been warped by teaching introductory comparative politics classes, so that the term “cybernetics” now makes me think, not of our glorious robot future, but of systems theory, the impetus behind David Easton and Robert Dahl’s invention of political “science” in the 1950s. Not only is systems theory pseudo-scientific nonsense, it’s fundamentally reactionary, as it constructs society as an object to be manipulated by elites (I’ve been listening to Žižek’s “Embedded in Ideology” lectures recently, where he makes the point that American pluralism is a fundamentally elitist doctrine; Dahl particularly is one of the chief architects of this).
So given this, I was interested to discover that the USSR had its own analogous cybernetic moment. According to this review of the splendidly titled 1959 work, Cybernetics at Service of Communism (3 volumes, US Department of Commerce), cybernetics seems to have been adopted in the USSR as something like an extension of Taylorism to the whole of society. This brings up all kinds of Dialectic of Enlightenment-type questions about whether the rationalization of society doesn’t also always involve an objectification of society and hence unfreedom. Firestone is interesting here because she applies a Marxist method of a sort, without the productivist assumptions that made rationalization seem like a non-problem. Now, Firestone is certainly a rationalist of a sort (most obviously in her resolutely anti-psychoanalytical account of post-revolutionary sexuality); is this a rationalism which, enlightenment-style, transforms into its other? Or will the future cybernetic communism acheive what actually existing cybernetic communism only parodied?