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Everything According to Plan

Soviet time management — from accelerating time during the GOELRO era to slowing it down during stagnation

Wikimedia Commons

The creators of the Soviet Union’s economic development plans had a complex relationship with time — either overlooking it completely and including it only nominally in their calculations, or else counting every minute. Their goal was to make the Soviet economy leap into the future, but the plans they devised were not always attuned to the realities of the present. Early Soviet efforts at organising labour scientifically were almost Taylorist, focusing on budgeting and not wasting time. These ideas were ‘repressed’ and forgotten in the 1930s, but ‘rehabilitated’ in the 1950s. Then, in the 1960s, the idea of using time wisely became popular on both sides of the Iron Curtain. And in the 1970s, when time seemed to stand still in the Soviet Union, temporality gradually sounded in the footsteps of scientific and technological progress — a key marker of the ‘development’ of socialism. With the help of a report by Alexander Bikbov, IQ.HSE looks at how the Soviet Union conquered time.

A leap into the future and back —

Stretching everywhere, calling everyone,

The whistle screamed at the top of its voice:

Get up, work quickly, keep going,

Start drilling, the machine tool is fresh.

Alexey Gastev. ‘A Woman Worker’s Thought’. From the collection ‘The Poetry of Hard Work’.

The hard-driving Soviet work glorified by Alexey Gastev — ideologue of proletarian culture, poet and theorist of the scientific organisation of labour (SOL) — was tasked in the 1920s with speeding up the passage of time, with commanding it: ‘Forward!’ The economy was expected to accelerate, leap and fly straight into the future, ‘landing’ as soon as possible in a communist utopia.

Of course, the word ‘landing’ is from a later era, when the Soviet Union had conquered space and scientific and technological progress had practically eclipsed communism as the country’s mantra. True, the period of stagnation itself was something of a ‘downer’, including for labourers. It was already impossible to say, in the same spirit as Gastev did, that ‘My today is rushing, and the lights of my tomorrow are already flashing…. And I will live for another million years. And there will be no limit to my run’.(‘My Life’, from the collection ‘The Poetry of Hard Work’. In the 1970s, and even more so in the 1980s, people clearly felt the ‘limit’ of these utopian visions and this influenced their desire to work.

It is interesting, however, that both the early and late Soviet eras — that differed so greatly — shared an interest in SOL. Still, while SOL and time budgeting seemed fresh and inspiring in the 1920s (what Gastev called ‘The Poetry of Hard Work’), by the 1970s it was routine and bureaucratic. And, whereas SOL set the rapid rhythm of time at the dawn of the Soviet Union, it partly justified a slowing of time during the country’s decline.

CITadel, SOL and the first Soviet plans

In the 1920s, there was a need to boost the economy, develop production, make the best use of time and even manage it. Unlike American SOL ideologues Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford (with the latter of which Gastev even corresponded), the author of ‘The Poetry of Hard Work’ underscored the human factor in the organisation of labour. He emphasised that the efficiency of an organisation begins with the efficiency of each person in the workplace. This requires a labour culture (that Gastev felt Soviet workers still lacked) and the rational use of time.

In the early 1920s, Gastev founded the Central Institute of Labour (CIL) that developed the ideas of SOL to meet the need for increased production. The revolutionary time management theorist began with his flagship book ‘How to Work’ in which he formulated the relevant instructions.

Alexey Gastev advocated calm, purposeful and rhythmic work — along with breaks for rest. Work is based on planning, ‘First, think through all the work thoroughly’, he wrote. He also advised, ‘Don’t tackle too much at once, but work at it gradually’; ‘work steadily, work in bouts, rashness spoils both work and your character’; ‘should you fail completely, take a step back, show restraint and start working again’; and finally, ‘Don’t work to exhaustion and take regular breaks’.

Gastev presented his ideas in February 1921 at the First Conference on the Scientific Organisation of Labour, and the press immediately published them. In June of the same year, Vladimir Lenin spoke to the herald of SOL and expressed his support. By the end of 1921, the CIL was recognised as a citadel of the new approach for training the workforce. Fast-forwarding to the second half of the 1930s, the same institute was criticised and applied labour studies were labelled ‘bourgeois’. Although Alexey Gastev himself was shot in 1939, the CIL survived under the sheltering wing of Soviet aviation when it eventually became the National Institute of Aviation Technology.


One way or another, early Soviet work involved planning. This also applied to the economy as a whole. Even before the creation of the country’s main planning body — the State Planning Commission (Gosplan) — its prototype appeared, GOELRO (the State Commission for the Electrification of Russia). The lead author of this plan was the energy scientist and former Bolshevik Gleb Krzhizhanovsky. He also headed Gosplan in the second half of the 1920s. It was also his idea to have both a minimum and a maximum version of each plan, and when the indicators of the real economy approached the minimum benchmarks, it indicated clearly that the national economy had problems.

The five-year plan did not appear immediately. Thus, according to the prominent economist Stanislav Strumilin, who worked for Gosplan from the early 1920s and helped draft the Soviet program for industrialisation, it was more realistic to plan for only one year at a time, in keeping with the rhythm of agricultural harvests. But they nevertheless headed into the future by leaps and bounds, adopting five-year plans and even anticipating that they would accomplish their goals ahead of schedule.

‘Forward! The five-year plan in four years // Let’s do it, we’ve got this, let’s finish it!’, wrote Mayakovsky in his ‘March of the Shock Brigades’ (1930).

Any plan is the placement and ordering of actions in time. It is, therefore, interesting to know the connection between time in the Soviet Union and the idea of planning the development of the national economy.

A tale of time wasted

In a speech at HSE, the author of the famous book The Grammar of Order: An Historical Sociology of the Concepts that Change Our Reality , Alexander Bikbov, noted that, paradoxically, ‘just at the moment that the economy was redefined through a plan, there was very little room for time in the plan itself’.

‘The debate that accompanies the planning process comes across as a dialogue between people who are up to their eyeballs in time’, the researcher said. ‘They are so deeply immersed in this new temporality that it ultimately seems difficult to get the necessary distance, positivise time and turn it into a calculable, definite quantity’.

The researcher noted that in the supporting documents that preceded the adoption of the first Five Year Plan of the National Economy for 1928-1932, ‘the only written mention of time is the promise that the workweek will be reduced to 40 hours’. In his speech, for example, Gleb Krzhizhanovsky spoke about limiting the workweek in this way (in a form that was a cross between a promise and a statement of fact).

In other cases, the participants referred to time in a way that was not subject to measurement, terms such as ‘deadline’, ‘propose’, ‘foresee’, ‘we will’ and ‘we will be able to’. Thus, notes Bikbov, ‘time in the Soviet plan turned out to be a modal, not categorical characteristic’. The question arises: how did the quantification of time occur and what place did it find in Soviet management practices?

The question is not trivial because even in everyday life it was not entirely clear how the Soviet people spent their time. The familiar phrase ‘time budget’ was just coming into use then, largely through the light touch of Stanislav Strumilin.

In his work ‘The Time Budget of the Russian Worker and Peasant in 1922-1923’, Strumilin admitted that ‘the question has never really been raised of rationalising the worker’s off-hours through the optimal use of his “free time”. And how could such a question be raised when we do not really even know how these hours are employed, or how rationally or irrationally?’

Strumilin also noted fairly that the hours spent outside of the workplace were only nominally ‘free’ (and it was no coincidence that he put the word in quotation marks). ‘The working class’, he wrote, ‘does not have…a special staff of cooks, maids, laundresses and nannies to serve their daily needs. He, therefore, meets those [needs] himself during his “free” non-work hours. Nobody pays him for this domestic work’, the economist underscored. Strumilin lamented that the question regarding housework was dropped from the 1920 and 1923 censuses of the city. ‘Nevertheless, without a reckoning of domestic work, it is absolutely unthinkable to form an idea of the conditions and the social cost of labour’, he wrote.

It was Strumilin who, in 1922-1924, initiated major studies of time budgets. He made the first attempt at capturing and analysing changes in time use.

Very different plans: calories vs developing territory

It seems that top Gosplan officials themselves admitted that the new economic time management was somewhat utopian. The system was based on ‘foresight’. Krzhizhanovsky wrote about such ‘vision’ in the preface to Strumilin’s book of memoirs. He spoke about the first congress of the Presidium of the State Planning Committee of the Soviet Union (in March 1926): ‘S. Strumilin created the main report concerning the five-year outlook of the State Planning Committee of the Soviet Union. Looking now at the report’s provisions and its 33 tables of statistical summaries shows clearly what an exceptional master Strumilin was both in erudition and the boldness of his “suppositions”, raising his predictions and prescriptions in this most difficult endeavour to a very high level’.

Note that the keywords here — ‘suppositions and ‘foresight’ — do not fit well with the grammatical present tense, but are more related to the future.

Interestingly, the authors of the first plans had very different understandings of them (depending on the nature of their biographies, specialisations, political convictions, etc.). Bikbov holds that, for Krzhizhanovsky, the plan is ‘primarily the development of territory’. This is less operationalized in temporal categories and refers more to ‘what later becomes central to Soviet planning, that is to the system of indicators of material production’. In the mid-1920s, for example, these were indicators of the provisions of electricity to the territories.

Strumilin understood the plan somewhat differently. In the early 1920s, he primarily saw it as a plan for the exchange of energy — in calories. Agriculture produces the necessary calories and workers consume them and can return them through production. Although Strumilin’s views evolved during the Stalinist era, he ‘energized’ the plan starting from the 1920s.

Despite all the disagreements, nobody questioned the need for persistent, productive labour and the modernisation of production technologies. As one ROSTA propaganda poster at the dawn of the 1920s proclaimed, ‘Yesterday, a plough — tomorrow, a tractor!’

In general, though, as Bikbov noted, ‘both the subject of the plan and the timeframe in which various competing experts conceived it’ differed. The plan effectively involved multiple approaches to time.

The NEP period: calculations and rhythmisation

When, and under which political conditions are quantified, countable time finally introduced? It appeared along ‘with a compromise on the private economy as part of the NEP’, the researcher said. The bearers of this ‘calculated’ time are structures that today would be called associations. The most striking example is the Vremya (Time) League that was established in 1923. Its founder, Platon Kerzhentsev, was a diplomat, journalist, theatrical figure and a forerunner of Soviet time management. The League also included Gastev, Strumilin, Mayakovsky and other prophets of the new times.

Kerzhentsev considered the struggle for time ‘the struggle for the economic restoration of this country’.

In his work, The Struggle for Time (1924), Kerzhentsev responded to criticism, writing that ‘the meticulous planning of the day’ turns a person ‘into an automaton, into a machine’. His arguments included psychophysiological rationale. ‘It is first necessary to eliminate the misunderstanding according to which a person’s automatic actions are something undesirable’, wrote Kherzhentsev. ‘As psychophysiology shows us, automatism in work is a significant advantage for a person because it saves the energy of the higher nerve centres….’

According to Kerzhentsev, ‘the machinisation of a person’ is only ‘an expression of the great rhythm of a person’s work and life’. The same precise, mechanistic rhythm of labour sounded in Gastev’s lines: ‘The columns and concourse of machine tools, the underground gurgling of the fiery furnace, the ascent and descent of loaded cranes, the breathing of mighty chained cylinders, the roar of gas explosions and power, the silent press — these are our songs, religion, music’. (‘We have encroached upon’ from the already cited collection). The phrase ‘man-machine’ did not seem like an oxymoron.

The calculation and quantification of time were first expressed ‘in attempts to transfer Taylorism to a wide variety of structures of the new Soviet order’, commented Alexander Bikbov. Vremya League members essentially had three duties:

• Monitor how you spend your personal time (both in and outside of work).

• Observe how your colleagues spend their time in the workplace.

• Report any wastage of time so as to overcome the problem.

The researcher notes that few League documents remain that would make it possible to reconstruct the ‘implantation’ of its concept ‘into the routine of the functioning of institutions and industries, as well as into attempts to regulate personal life’. Nevertheless, ‘there are traces that allow us to see that thanks to their high-ranking positions in the party leadership, or thanks to the important influence that League members (meaning Kerzhentsev, Gastev and Strumilin) held as experts, these practices were instilled’ — in particular, the League’s principles were applied to regulating Soviet Army life.

Adapting to a different political course (Stalinisation) in the 1930s, Kerzhentsev was much less revolutionary in his views. This is an example of the same professional adaptation that led Strumilin ‘to a radical change in his views on the rate of development of the Soviet economy and on the planned indicators, that required a huge leap forward from participants in economic activity’, commented Alexander Bikbov.

Although Strumilin initially took more measured positions (in a sort of ‘balance between the idea of a necessarily sparing attitude to production time and the resources required for investment in the future and the breakthrough economy’), it was the breakthrough that won — even though such a jump-and-jerk economy largely ignored the objective population and the available production capacity indicators. One way or another, a more realistic view — that is, correlating plans with actual conditions — could be regarded as a ‘Menshevik’ bias that the specialists of the Central Statistical Office were accused of holding. And by the 1930s, this had become a threat not only to people’s careers but also their lives.

The Soviet timesheet: the ‘card’ system

What did the calculus of time look like from a purely technical point of view? In his work on time budgets, Strumilin proposed a relatively simple technology that harmonized with what the Vremya League was calling for — describing one’s day in terms of minutes and hours spent on various activities.

The survey that Strumilin initiated in 1921 involved either the respondent filling out a card or else the interviewer himself recording, down to the minute, all the activities that unfolded before his eyes. In other words, the ‘timesheet’ showed how long a person drinks tea, gets ready for work, travels to the workplace, etc.

After Strumilin’s work on time budgets was published, the trade unions quickly adopted this technology. They distributed time report cards to their members, who could fill them out on their own.

Did the introduction of time calculations pertain to that part of the Soviet plan focused on increasing production and which was subsequently expressed in the ideology of industrialisation? Or was it, rather, a kind of emancipatory practice, however, strange might seem the application of Taylorist schemes to the idea of saving energy?

Strumilin had a rather unexpected argument for such time management: it was needed to prevent activists from physical burnout (what he termed ‘exhaustion’). It was no idle question whether, for example, Komsomol members who were overly active (in production, political associations, at meetings and in social work) were not exhausted.

By positivising and calculating an entire lifespan of time (including a person’s daily existence), Strumilin frames this question in a new context that resonates well with the emerging Soviet order. ‘Thanks to the time budget, it is possible, on the one hand, to describe the ineffective use of time and, on the other, to characterise an individual’s superfluous activity that prevents his recovery and physical regeneration’, explained Bikbov.

Such a technique for measurement looked so convincing that it was supposed to be included in the 1936 census. However, this never happened. Quantified time did not become part of the plan; it did not become ‘the material on which a productive model of the national economy could be built’.

Dialogue vs imperative

It is interesting to trace how the language of the plan changed in each era. Like many other languages, including science and art, it was significantly less bureaucratic in the 1920s than in the following decade. In 1929, Krzhizhanovsky, referring to a note by Lenin, distinguished the technical plan from the political, pointed out the possibility of ordering the proletariat to behave a certain way and no other, and to the possibility of dialogue through the plan with a ‘mobilised’ population. At the same time, this dialogue would not be limited to the language of technical indicators. ‘Whereas back in the late 1920s such a political project was present at the linguistic level, and even the financial report on the implementation of the first plan was replete with reports about the triumph of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the elimination of bourgeois rule and lifestyle, the plans of the 1930s already lacked this dimension’, said Alexander Bikbov.

As the order changes, so does the ‘grammar’. ‘The language of the 1930s, the language of the law that lays down the main indicators of the plan’ the sociologist notes, ‘is the language of verbal imperatives, where the text simply “orders” which material indicators should be fulfilled during the five-year plan: to smelt such and such an amount of pig iron, build so many factories and produce such and such a quantity of products’.

Another shift occurs in the discourse of the 1970s plan. It is flooded with the language of timelessness, which is reflected in grammar that is devoid of verbs. In documents, verbs — that convey time — increasingly give way to verbal nouns such as ‘raising’, ‘providing’, etc.

A plan without time, language without an agent

The Swiss Slavonic scholar and discourse analyst Patrick Serio drew attention to the disappearance of verb constructions in the Soviet bureaucratic language. The avoidance of predicates and the abundance of nouns was because, unlike the 1930s, when the plan prescribed the material characteristics of production, by the 1970s it was shaping coordination between ministries. It mostly contained instructions on how agencies should interact to ensure the ‘increase’, etc.

‘Reading the plan’, Alexander Bikbov suggests, ‘in some cases (though not always) it is possible to say which ministry is entrusted with harmonisation, but it is impossible to understand by what means the action described by the nouns will be performed: ‘increasing well-being’, ‘increasing the rate of production’, etc.

One of the simplest explanations for why the language lost its subjectivity is the bureaucratisation of management practice. The surviving developers of the first plans — such as Strumilin, who clearly articulated his political and technical position in the 1920s — were leaving the political stage, not helping to draw up plans and, accordingly, no longer guaranteeing the time in which the Soviet economy would be located in five years. ‘Executives without a chief’ replaced them. One example is Nikolai Baybakov, Gosplan chairman in the mid-1960s. (He spoke of his work in his memoirs Forty Years in the Government and From Stalin to Yeltsin .

Baybakov joined the planning system back in the Stalin era. At that time, it was dangerous for functionaries to hold political convictions that differed from the party line. As the political dimensions blurred, the temporal dimensions also disappeared from planners’ speech.

In the later years, Soviet plans offered more of a cross-section of entire industries than a picture of how they would change or their dynamics as such.

According to Bikbov, ‘The categories in which the plan operates in the 1970s — particularly the growth in production rates and general welfare — are seldom translated into quantified form in the main documents, unlike industry indicators. The latter is expressed in tons of cast iron, harvested crops, products produced, etc. But neither the growth rate of living standards nor any other temporal characteristics of this plan are quantifiable’.

However, a different era existed before the 1970s, one that included the planning of culture and leisure, which was a kind of fetish in the late 1950s and mid-1960s. Surprisingly, quantified time had made a ‘comeback’ from the 1920s. But after a lapse of 30-40 years, this return took a circuitous route.

A minute-by-minute (re)count

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, economists — particularly the Ural and Siberian economic groups — began working with time budgets again, and using precisely the same methodology as Strumilin. ‘These budgets were thought of as descriptions of an individual’s total day or week, although a number of their indicators had changed’, explained Alexander Bikbov. Strumilin did not take part in this initiative, even though he was an academician and still worked as an economist and headed important expert commissions with the government. In other words, new generations of economists who effectively became sociologists as well were now dealing with time budgets.

Moreover, time budgets had become an object of international interest, thanks to the attention given them by Pitirim Sorokin, an American sociologist of Russian origin. As early as the 1920s, he and Clarence Berger published a small work called Time Budgets of Human Behaviour – but this story begins even earlier.

At a meeting of the Academic Council of the Institute for the Study of the Brain and Mental Activity in May 1920, Sorokin delivered a report titled ‘The subject of reflexology of social groups, its methods and objectives’. In an article based on these reports, the researcher listed ‘aspects of human behaviour’ that ‘exhaust’ almost ‘the entire lifestyle of an individual’. He called the first item on this list ‘a person’s time budget’.

In a later article published in 1922, he wrote that two sociology students at Petrograd University helped him conduct two studies, one of which dealt specifically with time budgets. A ‘systematic record of the use of a day’s time, estimated and actual, was carried out according to a certain programme with varying degrees of detail: from 3 to 15 minutes’. A great deal of material on the topic had already been collected and the process of analysing it had begun, ‘but exile interrupted it’.

Sorokin’s works, as well as American works on temporality within the framework of UNESCO (those of its research groups that were formed in the early 1960s), became a subject of interest in different countries. Neither were the Strumilin studies forgotten. Hungarian sociologist Sandor Sallai was one of those who helped introduce the early Soviet version of time budgets into the international community.

‘As the head of a UNESCO commission, Salai initiated an international survey in 1964 on a modified Strumilin method’, Bikbov notes. ‘It was used in the Soviet Union, the U.S., France, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Belgium’. True, the results of that survey can now be found only among archival documents that have not yet been digitized.’

As part of the study, small and medium-sized cities of comparable size were selected in all of the countries listed and surveyed to study time budgets. In 1965, the results were ready, making it possible to compare how long the Soviet and French people slept, how much time Americans and Belgians spent for lunch, etc. The results of the survey came to the attention of planners on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

As a result, the expert community of sociologists developed the approach further. Calculating time budgets has become a routine practice at the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, created in 1968, and the sociology departments of economic institutes in Novosibirsk and Sverdlovsk.

‘Time budgets, without becoming a planned practice in the strict sense of the word and not getting into the final or, conversely, the initial documents describing what the Soviet economy should look like in five years, nevertheless, turn out to be an accompanying tool for the expert description of the Soviet order’, emphasized Alexander Bikbov. For example, this tool helped in planning cultural infrastructure: the number of clubs or movie theatres that were built in a region largely depended on the results of studies of time budgets. This is essentially a concrete manifestation of quantified time in the administrative order of the Soviet leadership.

French five-year plans

These studies also found an audience in Europe, including in the planning process in France. Starting from the late 1940s, the French state administration has actively applied planning technologies within the framework of European programs. According to archival records of those discussions, the results of the 1964-1965 survey captured the imagination of French planners and influenced an expansion of the cultural infrastructure.

In the second half of the 1960s, temporality (along with industry-specific indicators) became increasingly common in French planning discussions. Because there were multiple influences, it is impossible to trace the connection with early Soviet methods of time quantification, but the fact remains that the category of time does appear in planning language. For example, many documents are devoted to space and time as they pertain to the city, leisure and the national economy.

In Italy in the 1950s and 1960s, not only socialists but also Christian Democrats took an interest in planning and applying time management to the economy. By the 1960s, members of the Italian Christian Democratic Party — that staunchly opposed communism — had become the bearers of the idea of a planned economy for the country. But their plans were not destined to be realized in any tangible form.

‘Menshevik’ thinking against the backdrop of the glorious path to communism

According to Bikbov, ‘neither the Soviet plan at the time of its inception nor when it became a fairly skilful but exclusively bureaucratic way of organising the economy, nor the European planning practices offered any sort of consistent and complete model for the rationalisation of time as such’. Rather, we see a plurality of approaches, of ‘very rapidly shifting structures of thinking and grammar in which, it would seem, the same idea of the five-year cycle of economic development is still thought of in completely different political coordinates’.

The researcher explained: ‘The Taylorist model and the adventures it underwent in the early Soviet years — in the ideas of Strumilin, in Gastev’s experiments and the feverish activity of the Vremya League — turns out to be a rather successful find for it to have been in circulation on different sides of the Iron Curtain 30-40 years later, and for the players to have perceived them as completely non-organic to how they were originally conceived. For example, Christian Democrats among the planners in France or Italy’.

Curiously, the Soviet plans of the late 1950s took a tacit turn towards more moderate and realistic ‘Menshevik’ theses. The population is seen as having certain objective properties that imply not only the potential for ‘reshaping’ and continuously mobilising the people, but also constraints that are very difficult to reconcile with a breakthrough economy.

‘Just as Strumilin studies the totality of the individual’s day, without making political assessments of its political acceptability, as part of the study of the Soviet way of life, surveys since 1959 have included such indicators as the volume of alcohol consumed, church attendance and even listening to American radio broadcasts’, said Alexander Bikbov.

This, however, did not mean an end of political utopias. In 1961, at the 22nd Congress of the CPSU, Nikita Khrushchev solemnly promised that ‘the current generation of Soviet people will live under communism’. It was not entirely clear whether the ‘current generation’ referred to the older, middle-aged or younger generation. The category of time was blurred. But, as Pyotr Weil and Alexander Genis wrote in their book The Sixties: The World of a Soviet Man, ‘we must understand that everyone clearly recognised that communism could not be built in 20 years’.

‘Anyone could look out the window and see for himself that everything remained the same: the broken pavement, the queue for potatoes, the drunks at the bar. And even the orthodox understood that the picture would not change radically in two decades’, the authors concluded.

Time of the progressors

As the 1970s approach, notes Bikbov, ‘there is a transition from the utopian era of communism — a continuous expectation of the future — to those structures that finally tie the view of management to the present. Management methods are reoriented towards scientific expertise. Scientific and technological progress become a key ideologeme, surpassing in the attention given it by experts and managers even the ideologeme of communism.

In The Grammar of Order, Alexander Bikbov notes, ‘Superiority in space exploration, the growth of production indicators and the direct satisfaction of Soviet consumer demands become arguments in the new rhetoric of the advantages of the socialist way of life. In this context, “scientific and technological revolution/progress” is often used as a synonym for “socialist order”’.

A great many monographs on scientific and technological progress and the scientific management of society were published beginning as early as the mid-1960s. They dealt with the management of society as a whole as well as the management of personnel in enterprises and institutions. Academic institutions and expert groups also became very active in this scientific planning. Whereas, according to Bikbov, in the 1930s the expression ‘science in the service of practice’ was set against ‘the emasculated idealism of bourgeois doctrines’, in the 1970s it already embodied the inseparability of academic expertise and routine state planning.

Inertial motion

The ‘scientification’ of the five-year plans is a curious phenomenon. On the one hand, as Weil and Genis noted, science seemed to be the long-awaited lever that ‘would turn Soviet society around and make it into a utopia built, naturally, based on exact knowledge’.

On the other hand, as Alexander Bikbov emphasised, the scientific and technological progress that was itself moderate in political terms, ‘was better attuned to the evolutionary optimism of political constructions, such as the “growth of the material well-being of citizens” or “personal development”’. ‘The radical utopia of the man of the future gave way to the more modest and pragmatic hopes of the people of the present’, the researcher concluded.

This probably represented a certain humanism of time — finally turning to the ‘here and now’, to those living in the present day. In the 1970s, planners stopped trying to rush time and switched to working in a more inertial mode — what the people of that era remember as stagnation.

Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, October 19, 2021