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Soviet Design: A Comment and an Alternative View

  • Kendall E. Bailes

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The study of Soviet design is an area where knowledge of science, technology, art, and history need to converge; a discussion of it, therefore, seems particularly appropriate for the pages of an interdisciplinary journal. The comments below are offered in the hopes of fostering further discussion across disciplines. In his article, Dr. Hutchings has gone beyond the conclusions of his book (Soviet Science, Technology, Design) to make some rather bold claims for the importance of studying Soviet design as a way of understanding major Soviet problems. He is to be commended for focusing attention on an area which has not received, at least until recently, much attention from Western scholars.

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References

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1. See, for example, Glozychev, V. L., O disable (Mdscow, 1970); Bol'shaia sovetskaia entsiklopediia, 3rd ed., vol. 25 (Moscow, 1976), pp. 527 and 534 (hereafter cited as BSE); Trudy VNIITE: Tekhnicheskaia estetika, vols. 1-9 (Moscow, 1971-75).

2. See Dobrov, G. M., ed., Organisatsiia nauki (Kiev, 1970); BSE, vol. 24 (Moscow, 1977), pp. 989 ff.; Alexander, Korol, Soviet Research and Development (Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1965), pp. 61–71.

3. Great Soviet Encyclopedia, vol. 8 (New York, 1975), p. 155; BSE, vol. 25, pp. 527-28.

4. According to Hutchings's figures for 1971, in Raymond, Hutchings, Soviet Science, Technology, Design (London, 1976), p. 156.

5. Korol, Soviet Research and Development, p. 68.

6. BSE, vol. 21 (Moscow, 1975), p. 39; Orlov, P. I., Osnovy konstruirovaniia (Moscow, 1972).

7. According to Korol, “A longstanding difficulty in defining research and development, of course, has been the location of the ‘cut-off point’ between development and production. There is substantial acceptance of the core of research and development activity as comprising 'systematic and intensive study directed toward a fuller knowledge of the subject studied and use of that knowledge directed toward the production of useful materials, devices, systems, methods, or processes.’ Differences exist as to whether such further activities as the design and development of prototypes are ‘development’ or ‘production.’ Design was excluded from the definition of research and development in the surveys of the Federal Government and the colleges and universities but the industry survey employed a concept which included it …” ﹛Reviews of Data, National Science Foundation 58-9 [February 1958], p. 3, cited in Korol, Soviet Research and Development, p. 67).

8. Solomon, Peter H. Jr., “Technological Innovation and Soviet Industrialization,” in Field, Mark, ed., The Social Consequences of Modernisation in Communist Societies (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976).

9. For example, Joseph, Berliner, The Innovation Decision in Soviet Industry (Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1976); Bruce, Parrott, “Technological Progress and Soviet Politics,” in Thomas, John R. and Kruse-Vaucienne, Ursula M., eds., Soviet Science and Technology (Washington, D.C.: National Science Foundation, 1977); OECD, Science Policy in the USSR (Paris, 1970); and Amann, Ronald, Cooper, Julian, and Davies, R. W., The Technological Level of Soviet Industry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977.

10. Solomon, “Technological Innovation,” pp. 207-8.

11. See, for example, Sutton, Antony C., Western Technology and Soviet Economic Development, 3 vols. (Stanford, 1968-73), which perhaps overstates this point, and also Bruce Parrott, “Technology and the Soviet Polity: The Problem of Industrial Innovation, 1928 to 1976” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1976).

12. Korol, Soviet Research and Development, pp. 66 and 220. My own figures for Soviet industry in 1941 would indicate that design employed a larger proportion of graduate technologists than industrial scientific-research institutes (see Bailes, Kendall E., Technology and Society Under Lenin and Stalin: Origins of the Soviet Technical Intelligentsia [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978], p. 336).

13. Amann, Cooper, and Davies, The Technological Level of Soviet Industry, p. 66.

14. See Iu. B. Solov'ev's article in BSE, vol. 25, pp. 527-28.

15. This is the approach I have attempted for the period 1917-41 (see Bailes, Technology and Society Under Lenin and Stalin) and in an essay on the post-Stalin period (see Bailes, , “Soviet Engineers: Social Roles and Attitudes,” in Solomon, Susan and Lubrano, Linda, eds., Soviet Science and Technology in Social Context [Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, forthcoming 1979]).

16. The evidence for this can be found in Bailes, “Soviet Engineers.”

17. Nikolaus, Pevsner, Pioneers of Modern Design (New York, 1949); and Sigfried, Giedion, Mechanisation Takes Command (New York, 1948).

18. Ergonomics is defined as “the study of human capability and psychology in relation to the working environment and the equipment operated by the worker” (McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms [New York, 1976], p. 505).

19. According to Solov'ev, “the close connection of technical aesthetics with social practice leads to the conclusion that the status of this discipline is very different in different social conditions. Contemporary capitalist society, on the one hand, must develop technical aesthetics and use its achievements since they have a direct influence on the competitive capability of practically all branches of industry… . In contrast to this, under socialism, technical aesthetics plays a valuable role in the creation of the best conditions for work, daily life, and the leisure of people, in the upbringing of a harmoniously developed person, his communist relationship to the material, cultural, and aesthetic values. Technical aesthetics directly participates in the formation of conditions in which ‘the artistic principle more and more inspires labor, beautifies daily life and ennobles people’ “(Programma KPSS, 1976, p. 130) (cited in BSE, vol. 25, p. 528).

20. For example, Hutchings leaves the impression that the Soviet T-34 tank was copied largely from the Christie tank, whereas David Holloway indicates a number of original Soviet elements in the design of this tank (see Holloway in Amann, Cooper, and Davies, The Technological Level of Soviet Industry, pp. 419-21).

21. See the sources cited in notes 8, 9, and IS.

22. Answers to such questions could be sought in more analysis of such Soviet periodicals as Dekorativnoe iskusstvo SSSR and Tekhnicheskaia estetika; and in Kantor, K. M., Krasota i pol'sa (Moscow, 1967) and V. L. Glozychev, O dizaine. Of these sources, only the journal Tekhnicheskaia estetika is cited in the bibliography of Hutchings's book.

Soviet Design: A Comment and an Alternative View

  • Kendall E. Bailes

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