CIVILISATION AT THE CROSROADS, PART 1 (DISPLAY) – THE INFRASTRUCTURES OF REVOLUTION

Published by vaclav drozd on

What is the scientific-technical revolution? The starting point for Radovan Richta’s thought was a conviction that at a time of considerable scientific progress, science becomes a “direct productive power” and the main agent shaping the development of modern societies. Automation was to play a crucial role in this process. It was to inaugurate all the ensuing societal changes in a new form of socialist society, which would not be based on hard manual labour but on the development and application of science, which would also – using the achievements of cybernetics – ensure the management of the industrial economy. This new conception of work was to be reflected in a novel conception of human life. Instead of labour efficiency, a greater emphasis was to be placed on play, culture, and education – the new human was to become the vehicle of a new socialist world.

As for the role of modern technologies, Richta’s thought was considerably optimistic in many respects, resting on a conviction that scientific research was inexhaustible – that it would continually bring forth new knowledge. Richta refused critiques of science, insisting that science and scientific rationalism were building blocks of social and economic development. This is why in this part of the exhibition, we ask ourselves the following questions: How are we to approach the optimism of Richta’s team today? What part of his vision was realised, and what remains a socialist utopia? And to what extent are the problems established by Richta and his colleagues reflected in these times? Do some themes of his research return in today’s debates on automation, unconditional basic income, or a society without work?

These problems are explored in the works of eight contemporary artists: Václav Magid, Jan Šerých, Jiří Skála, Vojtěch Märc, Filip Hauer, Max Máslo, Jano Doe and Michal Cáb. The installation is completed by historical materials, particularly diagrams showing the processes of management in socialist companies, computing processes of the first Czechoslovak computers, and schemes of industrial production.

Automation and the transformations of labour

The manual worker, who performs a monotone activity in strictly organised industrial operations, was to gradually disappear with the arrival of automated production. The professions of the future were scientists, inspectors, and tool-setters of automated operations, or managers. The model example for the work of the future was the profession of the scientist, based on collaboration (but also on a large amount of individual activity) and on specialised and continual education. Intellectual activity was also a model for labour which fulfils one, overstepping the boundaries of providing for one’s elementary human needs. The elimination of monotony and physical exertion and its replacement with education and the cultivation of human capacities was to lead to a situation in which work itself would become a key means of human self-development. The preference for intellectual work was also to have a political meaning: Richta emphasised that the source of renewal for the revolutionary ethos of socialism was not a mere struggle for power but pressure on the boundaries of human knowledge, whose implementation in practice would change the world. The revolutionary subject of the future was no longer the labourer or the Leninist party as the avant-garde of the proletariat, but the scientist.

Chemisation

The part of the economy which was to be the flagship of automation was the chemical industry. In the 1960s, production based on the utilisation of chemical reactions seemed to be a source of unlimited growth in the production of widely applicable goods such as plastics. In the imagination of the theoreticians of the scientific-technical revolution, chemical production was a practically ideal example of the future automated economy, as it was based on a wide application of science and modern production technologies. It also did not demand strenuous and monotonous physical labour of a large number of manual workers. On the contrary, production in the modern chemical industry was to be in the hands of a small but highly qualified professional group of labourers-experts. Chemisation linked attempts to find new sources for intensive economic growth with a demand for the introduction of technological innovations and the creation of a new form of human labour.

The new human

The transformation of human labour was to signify the beginning of the formation of a different form of existence. Richta understood the scientific-technical revolution not only as a transformation of the material world and the form of human labour but also as a means to realise a new culture (including audiovisual culture). If socialism after 1948 – despite all the failures of Stalinism – enforced new forms of ownership and created socialist institutions culminating in the declaration of the socialist state (1960), cultural revolution was (according to Richta and a number of his contemporaries) one of the unrealised aims of socialism. The material transformation of the world through the application of scientific knowledge opened the path towards the creation of a new society – from the appearance of the working day, through different mechanisms of political decision-making and ruling, to the new human individual. The transformation of human existence was also to manifest itself with new demands and claims for the quality of the working environment, accommodation, and free time.

Such an extensive change demanded that research into the scientific-technical revolution included not only philosophical considerations or economic and sociological analyses, but also research in the fields of social psychology, pedagogy, the organisation of production, urbanism, and architecture. The goal was a universal analysis of societal transformations and the creation of tools for its control and adequate focus. The scientific-technical revolution was to be a historical transition from the industrial civilisation to a “scientific civilisation” – a new stage of human history leading to the fulfilment of the communist utopia. A vast team of scientists and experts was thus tasked with universally managing and controlling this transition into socialism’s new stage of development, e.g. through explorations of the human psyche or by forming the physical form of socialism through magnanimous urbanist projects.