The Ghost of the Executed Engineer: Technology and the Fall of the Soviet Union

The Ghost of the Executed Engineer: Technology and the Fall of the Soviet Union

Loren R. Graham

Language: English

Pages: 160


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Stalin ordered his execution, but here Peter Palchinsky has the last word. Palchinsky tells of Soviet technology and industry, the mistakes he condemned in his lifetime, the corruption and collapse he predicted, the ultimate price paid for silencing those who were not afraid to speak out. The story of this visionary engineer’s life and work, as Graham tells it, is also the story of the Soviet Union’s industrial promise and failure.

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technology at first seemed quite successful. On Soviet soil during the Five-Year Plans launched before World War II arose the world's largest steel mills and largest hydroelectric power plants. Foreign obsetvers and participants, from the photographer Margaret Bourke-White to the labor leader 'Walter Reuther, came to witness and admire the "Great Soviet Experiment." The Soviet economy continued to lunge forward in a spasm of expansion and modernization that fascinated obsetvers everywhere.

12 If one defines technocracy as rule by people who were educated in technical subjects, the Soviet Union by the last quarter TECHNOCRACY , SOVIET STYLE 73 of this century was clearly a technocracy. And this was a technocracy ruled by engineers with more narrow educations than anywhere else in the world. The poet Boris Pasternak protested, "Does a canal justify human sacrifices? He is godless, your engineer, and what power he acquired." 13 The restricted engineering educations of the great

Current Digest of the Soviet Press 40:27 ( 1988), from Pravda, June 30, pp. 4, 9. 3. Edwin T. Layton, Jr., The Revolt of the Engineers: Social Responsibility and the American Engineering Profession (Cleveland and London: Case Western Reserve, 1971 ). 4. I am indebted to Victoria Post Ranney and George A Ranney, Jr., for insights on the qualities of mining engineers. 5. Solzhenitsyn draws this conclusion in The Gulag Archipelago, vol. 1 (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), p. 375. NOTES TO PAGES

would permit TH E R A DI CAL EN G IN EE R 13 workers to "achieve the maximum result with the least effort." 23 He was what the American historian of technology Thomas Hughes would call a believer in "technological systems."24 To Palchinsky a seaport was similar to a large mine in that both required the movement of voluminous materials over considerable distances. The various parts of the operation must mesh as perfectly as possible, which meant that both the technology and the workforce must

had been reading Tolstoy:31 I have just read again, thoughtfully, the "Kreutzer Sonata" .. . The way life is "arranged" would certainly be great if every- l 6 T H E G H 0 ST 0 F T H E E X EC U T ED E .N G I N E E R thing turned out as he says: marriage would be a spiritual arrangement, i.e ., a spiritual closeness and friendship, a living comradeship; physical relations would be restrained in frequency, and only for reproduction. Such relations would not be elevated to a means of pleasure,

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