CHAPTER 3 INTRODUCTION: ORBITING WIENER WORLD
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The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. . . . Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbances of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations . . . are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.
The Communist Manifesto
My own studies of the activities of the Cybernetics project of the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation, dates from the very early 1950s, a study based, to a significant degree, on backtracking primary sources of the material reflected in the publications of that Foundation.
In early July 1966 Lyndon LaRouche ("Lyn Marcus") began teaching his first class on "Elementary Marxist Economics" at the Free University of New York (FUNY) on 20 East 14th Street, just off Union Square.2 If you had met LaRouche at FUNY you would have encountered a tall man with a thick Karl Marx beard and an upper-class New England accent. You would also realize that his class on Marx was like nothing traditionally offered before. Along with discussion of Capital, LaRouche explored the ideas of the "young Marx" in The German Ideology as well as Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity and Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Yet LaRouche didn't stop there. He incorporated Emile Durkheim's Elementary Forms of the Religious Life and Suicide: A Study in Sociology into an examination of the social roots of alienation and personal identity; explored concepts like "negative entropy" and the mathematical ideas of Kurt Godel; and discussed the politics of creativity drawing from the writings of Erich Fromm as well as Lawrence Kubie's book Neurotic Distortions of the Creative Process all as part of a course on Marxism. His intellectual eclecticism, however, also seemed very much in the spirit of the time.
LaRouche's classes gradually attracted student radicals from Columbia and CUNY. As the "SDS Labor Committees" branched out to Philadelphia, LaRouche found new followers at Swarthmore and the University of Pennsylvania. This core group instinctively felt that LaRouche's new conceptualization of Marxism was superior to both the antiquated "dialectical materialism" ("diamat") version of Marx promoted by the old leftist sects and the forever-alienated "young Marx" heralded by the early New Left. Beyond all his specific arguments, however, there was also the core belief both that the LaRouche took ideas "seriously" and that ideas "really mattered."
LaRouche's brand of Marxism so different from the very beginning was his refusal to view the working class from the cultural and ideological prism of the 1930s. LaRouche saw the working class as important strictly in terms of social reproduction of society as a whole. He did not deify workers per se as if they possessed some organic unique quality or were made noble victims by suffering. It was just this approach that alienated many on the Left who viewed him as an insufferable intellectual elitist who shamelessly "talked down to the masses."
LaRouche, I will argue, tried to reinterpret Marxism from the prism created by Norbert Wiener's vision of cybernetics. LaRouche "read Marx" not from the standpoint of the first industrial revolution but from the second one promised by cybernetics.3 In so doing, LaRouche developed arguments remarkably similar to ones then being articulated in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union even as the CPUSA remained steeped in the "class struggle" paradigms of the 1930s.
LaRouche's idiosyncratic interpretation of Marxism had been shaped by the intellectual world of Boston (and MIT in particular) of the late 1940s that was then dominated by mathematician Norbert Wiener's famous 1948 book Cybernetics. Inspired by Wiener's idea, a series of remarkable intellectual debates took place in the late 1940s and early 1950s that were sponsored by the Josiah Macy Foundation which, in turn, was intimately tied into the American military-industrial complex generally and the CIA in particular.
Now three basic points:
In the 1988 version of The Power of Reason, LaRouche remarks on page 49 that "My understanding of this error of Wiener's [namely, Wiener's acceptance of the classic Boltzmann definition of statistical entropy -- HH] is the key to my discoveries in economic science . . . ." Yet fully understanding LaRouche's relationship to "Wiener World" raises complicated questions of LaRouche's own personal biography and here he has frequently proved highly evasive. For example, Norbert Wiener's name never even appears in the text of LaRouche's major Marxist opus Dialectical Economics.
LaRouche's distortion and concealment of much of his past raises yet another flag. Given the massive role that U.S. intelligence played in the field of cybernetics and with the Macy Foundation specifically, it is legitimate to wonder if somehow Lyndon LaRouche may have been "recruited" as some kind of intelligence agent. As far as I can tell, LaRouche's involvement in the heady world of the Macy Foundation strictly was limited to his careful reading into topics raised at Cybernetics Group conferences. Even his awareness of the world of cybernetics seems the result of quirks in his personal biography.
LaRouche says he received an early Paris Hermann et Cie edition of Cybernetics shipped from Paris courtesy of this father who was in France at the time. In his 1988 version of The Power of Reason, LaRouche tells who he first became aware of the work:
LaRouche then asked his father to purchase a copy for him from France.4
It's almost impossible today to understand the enormous impact Cybernetics had when it was first published in 1948 and almost immediately became a surprise best seller although the success of Steven Hawkings' A Brief History of Time might be analogous. For LaRouche to first learn about the book in draft form from a friend of Wiener's daughter Barbara could only have heightened its impact on him.
FROM LECOMTE DU NOUY TO WIENER
LaRouche explains his fascination with Wiener and his 1948 book Cybernetics this way. In the 1988 edition of The Power of Reason, LaRouche writes how his initial critique of Cybernetics first emerged:
There is much that is curious here. LaRouche is writing about the time when he again dropped out of Northeastern. As for the "Anglican-sponsored discussion group," this could mean almost anything. It is even possible the group was involved with the Communist Party's more popular front operations in Boston. In any case, the Pierre Lecomte du Nouy book that LaRouche refers to is almost certainly Human Destiny, that first appeared in print in late 1946 or early 1947. (The book was reviewed in the New York Times on 23 February 1947, the same year Lecomte du Nouy died.) Another Lecomte du Nouy book, The Road to Reason, appeared in English translation in 1948 and continued his arguments.
Lecomte du Nouy was a French biologist who worked for both the Rockefeller Institute and the Pasteur Institute. In Human Destiny, he argues against statistical ideas of entropy and evolution in order to prove that God had a role in the creation of the universe, as otherwise there could be no progress given the extreme state of randomness in the physical world. He explicitly attacks Laplace's notion of the universe as a machine as well. One of du Nouy's core arguments as a biologist is that life could not have simply begun out of random processes and that there was a colossal leap (not a slow evolution) between non-living and living matter. In this way, ideas of mechanical determinism or materialism had to be incorrect as being only limited to non-living matter. In Human Destiny, du Nouy argues that "God" is using evolution to produce morally perfect beings.
Lecomte du Nouy was very much influenced by the Swiss physicist Charles Eugene Guye and, in particular, by Guye's book Physico-Chemical Evolution, that appeared first in Paris in 1922 and in English in 1925. In it, Guye -- a teacher of Einstein and a participant at the 5th and 7the Solvay conferences -- argued that chance alone could not produce life. Lecomte du Nouy took some of Guye's ideas to stress in his bestselling 1947 book Human Destiny what he believed were the limitations of the Second Law of Thermodynamics:
For du Nouy, the idea of a different kind of order for "life" led him to what he called his "telefinalist hypothesis" that man "must continue to evolve toward spirituality" and triumph over his "animal" aspects. As he put his case:
It may be that Human Destiny was used in a liberal-leftist study group at the time as a foil to introduce "dialectical" ideas about evolution based on Engels and Soviet writers such as Alexander Oparin, whom LaRouche later cites with approval in his bibliography in Dialectical Economics. Essentially, the left had a very hard time as well with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, as formalized by Ludwig Boltzmann in physics. The issue at hand was "negentropy," a very hot topic starting with Erwin Schrodinger's 1944 lecture turned short book entitled What Is Life, a book LaRouche referenced quite a bit. (Schrodinger discusses "negative entropy" in his book.) It is also possible that the "Anglican-sponsored discussion group" that LaRouche says he attended tried to use Human Destiny in an attempt to try to reconcile science with religion and refute mechanical materialism of the type that du Nouy despised in 1930s "scientific Marxism."
LaRouche relates that after he first learned about the existence of Wiener's book from a college friend of his (who, in turn, had been given a copy by Wiener's daughter), he was very impressed with it until he realized that Wiener's view of negentropy was based on the same mathematical-statistical view outlined by Boltzmann. Wiener saw ripples of negentropic systems being created in an overall universe still defined by the Second Law of Thermodynamics as opposed to seeing a living or evolutionary universe moving not to "heat death" but to higher "manifolds" of complexity. The origins of life debate then became a kind of critical test as to what conception of negentropy ruled the universe and whether or not the Second Law was itself really a subset of some much higher law of cosmic negentropy that du Nouy had identified with God. In LaRouche: Will This Man Become President, the issue with Wiener is defined this way:
Wiener knew Rashevsky from at least the early 1940s when they corresponded with each other and two of Rashevsky's students Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts (both of whom would become members of the Macy Foundation conferences) first developed the concept of "neural networks." In short, LaRouche was following the Macy Foundation/MIT discussions on these key questions largely inspired in biology by Schrodinger's What Is Life, and Rashevsky's attempts to understand that question from the point of view of mathematical biophysics.
Simply put then, LaRouche's background in religious thinking and his postwar interest in Marxism prepared him to adopt in the late 1940s and early 1950s his own version of a hylozoic monist worldview that he saw most clearly expressed in theory in Marxism and that he tried to extend into a view of the economy itself in which higher and higher breakthroughs in science and technology through the process of scientific creativity would induce evolutionary shifts in the economy to higher and higher levels of complexity and the development of new "singularities." This view, in turn, led him to examine the issue of Soviet central planning, automation, the role of artificial intelligence and its limitations, and how this related to the credit system, a view that he first tried to develop in public starting with his 1966 class at FUNY on Marxist economics. LaRouche states that all his ideas on economics emerged from this key period.
In the 1988 edition of The Power of Reason he writes the issue of negentropy:
This thinking led LaRouche to a critique of science's stress on the determining factor of genetics, a view I believe he imported from Oparin, a defender of Lysenko. Oparin's The Origin of Life was first translated into English in 1938 but LaRouche most likely read the 1952 edition that appeared as a Dover paperback. Hence in the 1988 edition of The Power of Reason, he writes:
LaRouche's Marxist Lysenko-lite neo-Lamarckianism is also on display in the 1983 EIR biography LaRouche: Will This Man Become President?:
[In Dialectical Economics, 432, fn. 13, however, LaRouche strongly attacks Engels for having a Lamarckian mechanistic outlook. At the time of his writing Dialectical Economics, LaRouche was a strong Marxist and the book is dominated by Hegel, Marx, and Feuerbach. In that same book, page 478, he writes about Oparin's The Origin of Life,: "The seminal work in modern holistic biophysics: a brilliant, though substantially reductionist summary of the case for developing a universal theory embracing inorganic and organic processes within a single historical principle of evolutionary development.'' My guess is that LaRouche's dissatisfaction with Darwinian theory led him not to Lamarckian views but more to a sympathy for a kind of neo-Lamarckian point of view that he viewed both critically as being too reductionist but also favorably as providing an opening to a fuller critique of Darwin. Yet he rejected classic Lamarckianism as highly unscientific.]
With the phrase "directed character to evolution," LaRouche's ideas remain in harmony with his early experience first reading Lecomte du Nouy's Human Destiny (and, most likely, du Nouy's 1948 book The Road to Reason) decades earlier as well with his encounters with Oparin and the "hylozoic monist" tradition expressed in Russian Marxism starting with Plekhanov.
Remarkably, in LaRouche's key overtly Marxist work Dialectical Economics, neither Wiener's nor Rashevsky's names appears in the index. However he cites Oparin and in another footnote on page 469 of Dialectical Economics, LaRouche writes:
(For more on LaRouche and 1950s Soviet science, see the appendix "Machines of Communism.")
LaRouche's bigger argument is that the mathematics and physics developed by Descartes and Newton led to the notion of the clockwork universe that only avoids entropic wind-down thanks to a deus ex machina that keeps the whole system going. When this view became "atheistic" in the 19th century, a kind of cultural pessimism began to spread into science. The core of the Descartes/Newton problem was that their mathematics had developed out of a Euclid/Aristotle view of mathematics as being premised on a reductionist "axiomatic-deductive" method. In contrast, the correct view of the universe is based on not taking points and lines as axiomatic but seeing them derived from "constructive geometry" as developed first around the idea of the five Platonic solids and later in the modern era as emerging from the tradition of Gauss, Riemann, and Cantor and represented by "self-similar spiral action." Thus Wiener could not truly understand the meaning of negentropy because, for Wiener, the notion was linked to Boltzmann's wrong way of framing the issue mathematically. Hence he could not see negentropy as involving a transition from lower to higher order manifolds in a kind of gestalt processes in nature as well as in human creativity which is both part of nature and also increases man's ability to further develop nature. Instead, Wiener took the Second Law of Thermodynamics as an absolute law with negentropic processes within it being something like "exceptions to the rule." In contrast, LaRouche believes there is a fundamental Logos at work throughout the universe that is intrinsic to it and not somehow outside of it.
Contrast this with Wiener's views as described in Ronald Kline's 2015 book The Cybernetics Moment:
Like Cybernetics, The Human Use of Human Beings was another best seller with some 50,000 books sold by the end of 1956.
LaRouche further explored cybernetics because his own father made his living as a management consultant. When LaRouche decided to pursue a similar path as an independent business consultant in New York in the late 1950s, he tried to learn about the emerging technology of his day – computers. Computers, however, were intimately related to the broader issue of "information theory" made famous at the time by both Wiener and Claude Shannon. The cybernetic revolution and its related technological and scientific practical applications directly affected a new generation of business consultants and industrial relations experts. The fact that LaRouche was trying to work as a consultant in the field of emerging automation and later more directly with the new computer industry -- combined with the simple reality that he lived in the Boston area -- led him to discover almost by accident an early version of Cybernetics as well as the Macy Foundation discussions.
Yet LaRouche's "spin" on cybernetics, automation, and "the Second Industrial Revolution" was itself highly creative. If LaRouche's ideas on Marxism in the summer of 1966 seemed a bit strange and off-kilter in New York and San Francisco, in both Moscow and Leningrad they would have been almost commonplace. The cybernetics vogue had an almost unimaginable impact in the post-Stalin Soviet Union.5 Rather incredibly, the one and only (at least as far as I can tell) American radical who independently tried to "frame" cybernetic and related concepts in a Marxist world view similar to the one being advanced inside the USSR was none other than Lyndon LaRouche. Yet LaRouche tried to do much more than that. He actually set out to create a political movement around these very same ideas.
Although the relationship between innovations in production and the rise of political movements associated with such changes may seem a bit far fetched, it might be useful to recall two radicals from another era who built their own movement out of radical breakthroughs in production: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. The Communist Manifesto is in part, after all, an encomium to the vast power of capitalist industry to revolutionize the world. Nor was the idea of building a political movement around a radical notion of technocracy unique to Marxism as the strange saga of Howard Scott's Technocracy Inc. illustrates.6
More directly relevant to LaRouche, just two years before he began his first FUNY class, the political and cultural impact of cybernetics and related increased levels of automation crystallized around the once-famous "Triple Revolution" document written for the Kennedy administration but only presented to the White House in 1964 after Kennedy had been killed. The Triple Revolution Statement – signed by a number of leading left liberals including some leaders of the very early SDS – argued that automation in particular would trigger enormous social changes in America. The Triple Revolution Statement was even subtitled "Cybernation, Weaponry, Human Rights."
In a way, LaRouche's arguments were an overtly Marxist response to the left liberal theorists of the Triple Revolution, many of whom had been inspired by Wiener.7 Lyndon LaRouche, however, would prove something like Norbert Wiener's own Golem/Frankenstein Monster; a role LaRouche first played to the hilt in a big room in a loft building just off Union Square in the early weeks of July 1966.
1 See footnote 7 of LaRouche's 13 April 2000 EIR article, "Information Society: A Doomed Empire of Evil".
2 FUNY began as part of a broader SDS free university project. See Kirkpatrick Sale,SDS (New York: Random House, 1973), 264-69. FUNY's teachers included the Fugs' Tuli Kupferberg, Stanley Aronowitz, James Weinstein, the anarchist poet Jackson MacLow, Paul Krassner, and Robert Anton Wilson among many others. For a brief description of FUNY, see Edward Grossman, "New York's Schoolhouse for the Left," in the April 1966 issue of Harper's. For FUNY teachers, see http://www.antiqbook.com/boox/bibman/25388.shtml. Also see chapter one of How It All Began for more on FUNY.
3 In this sense one can see some vague similarities between LaRouche's approach and that of Guy Debord in The Society of the Spectacle as well as Herbert Marcuse in One Dimensional Man and even the French "new working class" and related "praxis" theorists inside SDS, whom the early SDS Labor Committee would attack. All rejected the traditional "Old Left" image of the heroic working class. The fundamental difference was that LaRouche did not buy the argument that capitalism had overcome its tendency to severe economic crisis and he believed the working class would become radicalized once the general economic breakdown crisis finally arrived.
4 In what follows, I try to reconstruct how LaRouche's earlier reading of du Nouy may have shaped his initial enthusiastic but also critical reaction to Wiener. For other possible influences on LaRouche's thinking, see the Appendix on Dirk Struik, the MIT mathematician and leading CPUSA thinker in Boston, whom LaRouche may have heard lecture in the late 1940s at http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Library.RiemannAndTheRedScare.
5 I provide an outline of Soviet interest in cybernetics and Marxism in the appendix "Machines of Communism" at http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Library.MachinesOfCommunism. For Marx's own interest in technology – including his reading of Charles Babbage – see Amy Wendling: Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). Wendling draws in large part on until now largely unknown Marx notebooks on technology from the early 1860s, when he was researching Capital.
6 See the chapter of this study posted on LaRouche Planet entitled "Monad Man" on Howard Scott and Technocracy Inc. for more at http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Library.MONADMAN.
7 For a copy of the Triple Revolution text and list of signers, see http://www.educationanddemocracy.org/FSCfiles/C_CC2a_TripleRevolution.htm. SWP leader James Cannon's talk on the Triple Revolution even is available on You Tube. The Triple Revolution Statement is also cited in Sale, SDS, 100.
Although Norbert Wiener died before the Triple Revolution Statement was published, I think it is safe to say he would have been very much in agreement with it, given Wiener's work with Walter Reuther's UAW. Also see Eric Fromm (ed.), Socialist Humanism: An International Symposium (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, [1966, c 1965] which includes a reprint of the Triple Revolution statement.