Commentary on Between Two Ages by Zbigniew Brzezinski
(From Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, 1971, Viking Press, New York)
Contact between East and West: Discussion of the “Future”
He mentions how Soviet academics established contact with study groups in the US and other Western countries, who studied “the future” and the “political implications of technology” (150).
This is an example of how West and East, supposed enemies during the Cold War, cooperated – through contact between scientists. And what did they talk about? Did they talk about the advantages of allowing people to control their own lives and the advantages of independence, individual freedom, and restraining government power? No, they talked about controlling people with technology and systems of different kinds. This is what we live with now. In retrospect, it’s in your face. But back then, I’m sure it was portrayed as “peaceful” whenever the public was aware of it. How “wonderful” that the two “sides” were talking to each other about their totalitarian research. Oh, isn’t it so “wonderful” how they could talk about how to plan the entire world’s future together! But this discussion is in the context of Brzezinski not being impressed with what he thought of as narrow Soviet attitudes.
The Soviet middle class, he writes, are “conservative in their political and social mores and are only one generation removed from their proletarian or peasant origins” (169).
A New Level of Radical Change
He quotes a Soviet scientist and novelist, Daniil Granin from 1967, who said that the future “is fraught with crises … connected not only with a different conception of freedom, but also a different idea of individuality.” (fn. 151)
Brzezinski quotes from his earlier article “America in the Technetronic Age” – which he claims had angered Soviet observers:
“the world is on the eve of a transformation more dramatic in its historic and human consequences than that wrought either by the French of the Bolshevik revolutions. …these famous revolutions merely scratched the surface of the human condition. … they did not affect the essence of individual and social existence.” (fn. 151, 152)
He said Lenin and Robespierre will be seen as “mild reformers” (fn. 152).
Brzezinski’s Criticism of Soviets
Instead of Lenin’s and Stalin’s more Oriental version of Marxism, Brzezinski says that the peace of the world depends on “the Soviet Union’s return to the occidental Marxist tradition …” (154)
He predicted the gap between the U.S. and Soviet Union would widen economically and technologically (155).
He talks about the unlikelihood that a leader would emerge to democratize Soviet society in the near future (167) (but we now know about Gorbachev).
Technocracy and Cybernetics: East Germany, Social Control
Brzezinski (165) discusses possible paths for Soviet political development, including the alternative of “political disintegration” (which may describe what actually happened).
One of the alternatives he discussed is the “transformation” of the Soviet rulers into “technocrats” where the emphasis is on “scientific expertise, efficiency, and discipline” (165). As in East Germany, “the party would be composed of scientific experts, trained in the latest techniques, capable of relying on cybernetics and computers for social control…” (165).
He talks about Ulbricht’s East Germany and how it may become very relevant. Ulbricht emphasized that ‘the development of the socialist system … is to a growing extent a matter of scientific leadership. … We orient ourselves on the conscious scientific control of complex processes and systems by the people and for the people. We make use of cybernetics….” (170)
East Germany used “cybernetics, operational research, and electronic data processing…” (171)
In 1969, Politburo member Kurt Hager reported that East Germany was “correctly programmed.” (171)
And he refers to a speech by East German official Erich Honecker who emphasized “the technetronic features of a modern society … ” (fn. 171)