Sunday, September 14, 2014

Chapter 19 - The Time-Binding Club: Part 4 - "Ideals of Socialism"

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

The compatibility of Korzybski’s and Polakov’s views extended to socialism. Korzybski may not have wanted to call himself a socialist or to do away with private enterprise, but he certainly admired the goals of socialism. In a letter to Lincoln Steffens in 1922, Korzybski wrote, 
Old capitalism is not scientific, [it is] based on animal standards and therefore it breaks down every little while. Socialism must be built upon REALLY scientific premises or it will also have sad failures. As far as the ideals of socialism go I have nothing to say and am in accord with them. BUT THE METHOD the PREMISES must be made scientific. (11) 
That his biases in the early 1920s inclined towards socialism can definitely be seen in a 1922 letter to Luella Twining, recounting a dinner he and Mira had just attended in Milwaukee:

…Some bankers gave us a dinner, and they asked me what I think about the bloodshed and terror in Russia, it was a trap because obviously the question was idiotic. I answered that as a soldier I have no use for killing whomever, but I said that I refuse to be blind on either sides, and explained that I do not see no [sic] difference between Lenin and Trotzki lets us say and Morgan and Rockfeller [sic] let us say, both groups have corpses behind them, the difference is that the first COUNT them at least the others HIDE them, in this respect I have more use for those who at least are not cowards. (12) 
Throughout his life, Korzybski continued to disparage “commercialism” and felt strong antipathy (perhaps with some justification) towards what he considered the excesses and abuses of the banking system, unrestricted profit motive, etc. (See Science and Sanity, passim.) However, his general political-economic views moved further away from those of Polakov. Perhaps Keyser exerted some moderating influence here. Keyser once wrote to Alfred, “The gabble of a ‘radical’ tends to make me conservative and the gabble of a ‘conservative’ tends to make me radical.”(13) By the mid-1940s, Korzybski had became a qualified supporter of Harry Truman and later felt positive about the possibility of Eisenhower for President—hardly radical political choices.

Nonetheless, he maintained some of his old sympathies until the end of his life. For example, speaking at a luncheon given in his honor in 1948, he was strongly critical of “the anti-human character of Soviet Communism”, and its leadership, but still spoke positively about socialism.(14) In the 1930s, Korzybski had given general support to Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, and apparently continued to have no objection to applying statist solutions to socio-economic problems. Ralph Hamilton had many conversations with him and noted, “He thought the government should take a more decisive hand in controlling and managing natural resources instead of letting them be claimed by any chance venturer. And of course it should support worthy causes like [his work].”(15)  

In his 1944 book, The Road to Serfdom (which Mira got and Alfred may have perused) economist Friedrich Hayek expressed an alternative viewpoint that ran against the current of then popular economic opinion. Hayek, following von Mises and other economists of the Austrian school, argued that inevitable limitations on human knowledge meant that any centralized, “New Deal”-like governmental planning and control would inevitably lead to economic foul-up and point a democracy in the direction of totalitarianism. This suggested that a market economy, whatever the flaws of commercialism, might better serve a time-binding class of life. At around this time, Korzybski had begun to more fully explore the relation of democracy and dictatorship to time-binding, but he never got around to grappling with the implications of the work of Hayek, et al., for his own formulations.

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
11. AK to Lincoln Steffens, 1/28/22. AKDA 8.589. 

12. AK to Luella Twining, June 5, 1922. AKDA 8.205. To place the deeds of Morgan and Rockefeller, whatever their greedy machinations, on a similar scale with those of the two Soviet leaders seems arguable. By this time, Lenin and Trotsky (as Korzybski would acknowledge) already had the blood of millions of Russians on their hands. Despite Alfred’s perhaps-skewed 1922 perception of ‘capitalists’ like Morgan and Rockefeller, he was not an admirer of the Soviet system. 

13. Keyser to AK, 3/17/1924. AKDA 10.362. 

14. See “Summary Of Remarks by Alfred Korzybski” in “Understanding Human Potentialities, Key To Dealing With The Soviet Union” in Collected Writings, p. 640. 

15. Ralph Hamilton, Interview, Oct. 2005. 

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