Energetika: Gleb Krzhizhanovskii’s Conception of the Nature–Society Metabolism

In: Historical Materialism
Daniela Russ Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto Toronto Canada

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In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the relation between Marxism and the Soviet productivist economy. While historical scholarship rarely explores the intellectual context in which the Soviet experiment unfolded, ecomarxists tend to describe the Soviet Union’s mistaken path as a result of the loss of ‘metabolic’ thinkers following the rise of Stalin. This article challenges the neat, purported divide between a ‘metabolic’ and ‘productivist’ Marxism by analysing the energy-economic thinking of Gleb M. Krzhizhanovskii, a Bolshevik engineer and old friend of Lenin. As chairman of both the electrification commission (GOELRO) and the State Planning Commission (Gosplan), Krzhizhanovskii conceptualised the energy economy as something embedded in the metabolism of nature and society and as the technical-economic basis of the socialist economy. This argument drew its strength from his idea that production is part of the general, ongoing life-process, and the hope that large-scale electrification and electro-chemistry could help govern the metabolism between nature and society more rationally – both arguments commonly found among contemporary natural scientists. Any ecomarxist attempt to recover the concept of metabolism today has to come to terms with its productivist and technocratic history.

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