Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West
by Susan Buck-morss
Release Date: 07 March, 2002
Having been raised in the ideological wasteland of 20th century America, I found this book an interesting read. It could be seen as a vindication of Chomskii's idea that the Cold War was a fake, in which the 2 sides's respective leaders colluded to pick the pockets of their respective peoples in order to finance the buildup of huge military machines which could be used to suck the blood of the 3rd world. My main disappointment, aside from ocassional annoying forays into psuedo-intellectual gibberish (especially the Soviet "nomenklatura" variety,), was the author's failure to inquire into the cause of the socialistic failure, apparenty assuming the fact that the leaders of neither side actually had any interest in the welfare of their people was sufficient explanation. It seems more likely to me that the collapse of social welfare is an inevitable result of the global population-explosion (i.e. as the population increases & the competition for Earth's resources intensifies & grows increasingly vicious, things are bound to deteriorate). Considering that the Wise Men of yore warned us of this problem long ago (i.e. population-explosion becoming the "Beast of Armagedon" & threatening to drag us to our doom with it's 4 Horsemen of Famine, Plague, War, & Avarice when we had finished the job of replenishing the Earth), it's hard to understand why the global intelligensia don't get it. Perhaps the "dumbing-down of America" has taken it's toll on the rest of the world, as well.
Buck-Morss's tale of the sputtering, guttering end of the modern Fordist disciplinary project both in the U.S.A and in the Soviet Union is a stunner. Most compelling are the historical insights -- told with particular elegance through the comparison of patriotic and advertising images -- that show how similar both projects really were! Some of the historical tidbits stick in the mind never to be dislodged: Daddy Stalin asking Henry Ford to come build him a factory to make tractors in the middle of the Depression. Lenin's admiration for Frederick Taylor. Amazing how the salvation for both communists and capitalists was the same industrial regime, the same worker's paradise of factory labor!
The second half of the book, a kind of diary of cross-cultural US/Soviet cultural exchanges prior to and after the Berlin Wall, is interesting but less intellectually energizing. Still, there is a great deal of wit in Ms. Buck-Morss's observation that Western Marxist critics such as Frederick Jameson (who attended some of the same seminars with Soviet intellectuals that Buck-Morss did) seem less willing to give up on the socialist dreamscape than their Soviet counterparts.
A great companion read is Michael Hardt's and Antonio Negri's "Empire" which really has an interesting take on the near simultaneous end of Fordism and the disciplinary state in both the U.S. and Soviet Union. They suggest it was the "multitude" or proletariat in both nations who rebelled against the industrial factory/modern project and destabilized both, an argument which runs counter to the usual top-down explanations for the rise of postmodern economics.
Interesting how we're told these days that the Soviets, now suffering in the hot bath of capitalism, are nostalgic for the certainty of the Daddy Stalin years. Perhaps their nostalgia is not so different than Baby Boomer Americans' nostalgia for the lost innocence of the early 50s/60s, the Golden Age of American economic hegemony, before the New Deal project finally collapsed. Now that the veil has dropped it seems we had a lot more in common with "them"(us) than we ever thought we did. And still do!