Revolt of the Engineers, Part IV

2004-11-08

Unfortunately, I have not yet gotten much out of Technology and Society under Lenin and Stalin by Kendall E. Bailes (Princeton, 1978). Bailes mentions ever so briefly that "[d]uring 1918, the strikes by technical specialists and other civil servants against the Bolshevik regime largely ceased" (45) but does not explain why they started in the first place (reading between the lines, we can infer that the Bolsheviks were virulently opposed to the higher socio-economic position of the technical specialists, whom they seem to have regarded as yet another variety of bourgeois exploiters sponging off the labor of the proletariat).

Earlier (22), describing a congress of VSI (the All-Russian Union of Engineers) in 1918, it emerges from Bailes' quotations that the engineers in large measure saw themselves as (and were) consultants or employees, not entrepreneurs:

The majority recognized the impossibility of turning to the owners for a subsidy, even the smallest. If at a given moment, in the struggle to save industry, transport, etc., we find ourselves in agreement with the entrepreneurs, we should not forget that this has not always been so, nor will it be so in the future. The overwhelming majority of members in our union are people who sell their labor and are not entrepreneurs. The union of engineers has been created for the long haul, it has its own road to follow, and it is not necessary to become dependent on either organizations of entrepreneurs, nor on those of workers.

So said M.G. Evreinov, a prominent engineer of the time. Sadly, it soon became clear that the engineers could not truly travel down their own road, and were to be co-opted and corrupted by the Soviet regime, eventually with horrific consequences both for the engineers themselves (thousands of them were sent to prison camps, never to return) and for the workers who slaved on the gargantuan and misguided projects on which the engineers advised the government (especially the White Sea Canal, constructed through the forced labor of well over 100,000 "citizens", over 10,000 of whom died during the project).


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