Bogdanov (Malinovsky), Aleksandr AlEksandrovich

views updated


(b, Tula, Russia, 22 August 1873: d, Moscow. U.S.S.R.. 7 April 1928).

philosophy, medicine,

Bogdanov was the second of six children of Aleksandr Malinovsky, a schoolteacher and later school inspector. An outstanding student at the Tula Gymnasium, where he received state scholarships, Bogdanov early developed an interest in the natural sciences. In 1891 he entered Moscow University, where at first his scientific studies were quite general, including mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. Bogdanov soon became involved in student political activities, initially of the non-Marxist populist variety; in 1894 he was arrested and exiled to Tula. There he became active in factory workers* discussion groups, began j to study Marxism, and lectured workers on popular science and radical politics. A belief in the validity of a union of science and revolutionary activity remained a characteristic of his entire career.

In 1895 Bogdanov resumed his university studies, this time at the Medical Faculty of Kharkov University, where he spent four academically successful and politically active years. Soon after graduation he was again arrested, held for a time in Moscow, and then exiled for three years to northern Russia, where he worked as a psychiatrist. In 1903 he joined the Bolshevik wing of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party; by 1905- 1907 he was second only to Lenin in the party. His intellectual unorthodoxy, particularly his criticism of philosophical materialism, soon led to a split with Lenin. In 1911 Bogdanov left organized politics. During World War he served as a military physician. Following the Revolution he was the theoretician of the “Proletarian Culture” movement, a group calling for the creation of a distinct revolutionary culture. After 1918 he was a member of the Socialist (later Communist) Academy and was a major promoter of universities for students from the lower classes and the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.

Bogdanov’s last years were spent organizing scientific research, particularly in blood transfusion, a practice that had become standard during World War I. He set up the first large-scale research center for the study of blood transfusion in Soviet Russia and tirelessly propagandized the value of cooperative blood transfusion for “rejuvenation.” He often carried out experiments on himself, and his death followed an exchange of blood with a young student who had had both malaria and tuberculosis. He made observations of his condition until just before his death.

Bogdanov’s voluminous writings can be divided into five categories: political economy, historical materialism, philosophy, science, and proletarian culture. Only philosophy and science are discussed here, although his influence in the other areas was probably greater. His most important scientific work was not that on blood transfusion but his attempt to create a “universal organizational science”

In his two major theoretical works, Empiriomon-izm (1904- 1907) and V seobshchaya organizatsion-naya nauka (Tektologia) (“Universal Organizational Science [Tectology]”; 1913–1929). Bogdanov presented a major effort to harmonize Marxism and modern science. In the first he maintained that the key to an understanding of knowledge lay in the principles of its organization, not in a search for “reality” or “essence.” Neither materialism nor idealism, therefore, was an appropriate or useful epistem logical position. Bogdanov followed Ernst Mach and Richard Avenarius in denying the dualism of sense perceptions and physical objects, but he believed that they had not gone far enough in explaining the existence of the subjective and objective realms of experience. Bogdanov attempted to unite these realms in a new philosophical system, empiriomonism, by deriving the physical world from “socially organized experience” and the mental world from “individually organized experience.” The two worlds revealed two different “biological-organizational tendencies.” Why, asked Bogdanov, do men differ so radically about the second realm, the sphere of individually organized values? The answer, he thought, was that men are torn apart by class, race, linguistic and national conflicts, by specialization arising from technical knowledge, and by relations of dominance and subordination of all kinds. If these conflicts could be overcome, he continued, a new consciousness would emerge as a result of which men would be in much greater agreement about values than ever before.

In developing his concept of “tectology,” Bogdanov sought to find, through structural analogies and models, the organizational principles that would unite “the most disparate phenomena” in the organic and inorganic worlds under one conceptual scheme. All objects that exist, he wrote, can be distinguished in terms of the degree of their organization. Entities on higher levels of organization possess properties that are greater than the sum of their parts. Living beings and automatic machines are dynamically structured complexes in which “bi-regulators” provide for the maintenance of order. Recent commentators on Bogdanov have cited this apparent prefiguring of the concept of cybernetic feedback. Bogdanov called for the application of “bi-regulation” and degree of organization in his “universal organizational science” which would embrace the biological and social worlds in the way that mathematics had described classical mechanics.

After the 1920’s Bogdanov’s work was largely ignored in the Soviet Union, no doubt a result both of Lenin’s earlier criticism of his epistemology and of a turn away from theoretical concerns to the practical tasks of industrialization. In the 1960’s a group of Soviet philosophers attempted to revive interest in Bogdanov by relating his work to the later ideas of Norbert Wiener, W. Ross Ashby, and Ludwig von Bertalanffy. Thus far, however, Bogdanov has remained little-known both in the Soviet Union and abroad, and no critical evaluation of his scientific work exists.


I. Original Works. Bogdanov’s works number in the hundreds, but no complete bibliography has been published. His major writings in science and philosophy are Empiriomonizm, 3 vols. (Moscow–St. Petersburg, 1904–1907); and V seohshchaya organizatsionnaya nauka (Tektologia) (“Universal Organizational Science [Tectology]). 3 vols. (Moscow-St. Petersburg, 1913–1929). His best-known work in political economy is Kratky kurs ekonomicheskoy nauki (Moscow, 1897). On historical materialism, see Nauka ob obshchestvennom soznany (Moscow, 1914). Proletarian culture is treated in O proletarskoy culture (Leningrad-Moscow, 1924), a collection of his articles from 1904–1924, and in his two Utopian novels, Krasnaya zvezda (St. Petersburg, 1908) and Inzhener Menni (Moscow, 1913). A short autobiography was published in Entsiktopedi-chesky slovar. XLI (Moscow, 1926), 29–34,

II. Secondary Literature. The major biography is Dietrich Grille, Lenins Rivale: Bogdanov und seine Philosophie (Cologne, 1966), which contains the most complete bibliography of Bogdanov’s works yet published, pp. 253–259 For a discussion of his work on logic, see V. F. Asmus, “Logicheskaya reforma A. Bogdanova,” in Vestnik kommunisticheskoy akademii, no. 22 (1927), 122–144. A discussion of his work in hematology is A. A. Belova, “Odna iz pamyatykh stranits proshlogo,” in Problemy gematologii i perelivania krovi (1967) no. 6. 54–57. An article calling for recognition of Bogdanov’s contribution to systems theory is M. I. Setrov, “Ob ob-shchikh elementakh tektologii A. Bogdanova, kibernetikii teorii sitem,” in Uchenye zapiski kafedr obshehestven-nykh nauk vuzov goroda Leningrada (1967). no. 8, 49–60. Lenin’s criticism of Bogdanov is in his Materializm i empiriokrititsizm (Moscow, 1909), esp. 265–273. English-language discussions devoted primarily to Bog-danov’s political concerns include Peter Scheibert, “Lenin, Bogdanov and the Concept of Proletarian Culture,” in Bernard W. Eissenstal ed” Lenin and Leninism (Lexington, Mass,, 1971), 43–57; and S. V. Ute-chin, “Philosophy and Society: Alexander Bogdanov,” in Leopold Labedz, ed.. Revisionism: Essays on the History of Marxist Ideas (New York, 1962). 117- 125; and “Bogdanovism” in his Russian Political Thought: A Concise History (New York - London. 1963), 207–213.

Loren Graham

About this article

Bogdanov (Malinovsky), Aleksandr AlEksandrovich

Updated About content Print Article