The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Yuri's Night

Fifty years ago today, the working class began the conquest of space. Whatever else may be said by way of criticism of that remarkable section of society, this achievement is forever theirs.

Yuri Gagarin's flight is being celebrated around the world, and even off it. Glory to Yuri, and to all who followed - and to all who will, a number that will some day be millions, and that will still be the beginning.

[Image source: Museum Victoria]


The class aspect of the whole story is something I hadn't really picked up on before, Ken. I was aware that the Titov was the son of a teacher but not much about Gagarin's background. One nice correction to my understanding that I'd erroneously concluded Gagarin was regarded as a bit of a jock and not all that intelligent - nice to read that he was an erudite guy but still pretty laid back.

Thanks for adding to my knowledge of the working class, Ken. Your statement here is as good as the one that, as you know, affected me the most: the opening of Chapter 6 of "The Sky Road," which btw I showed to the owner of the Uppsala English Bookshop, last Monday (while buying your latest).

Korolev was of bourgeois background (father a teacher, stepfather an electrical engineer); Keldysh was from a noble family; Tikhonravov was the son of teachers and suffered from his "non-proletarian" background after 1917.

So it's more a case of the bourgeoisie supplying the ideas, the skill, the planning and the leadership, and the working class supplying the spam in a can...

In a way you're right ajay, but it highlights how the Soviet Union was never participatory, egalitarian or, in most ways, socialist. The Soviet system allowed a professional managerial class to put man into space. The same co-ordinator class usurped the revolution, and ran an undemocratic class-based non-capitalist alternative.

Which is why, as an anarcho-commie, platformist , pareconist (it fluctuates…) I found the Cassini Divisions, eh, division of labour so interesting.

The potential of AI-fueled, round-by-round participatory economic planning...

Nothing bourgeois about being a teacher or an engineer.

In any case, the point I was making wasn't that Gagarin was of proletarian origin - he wasn't, he was the son of peasants - but that the USSR was a workers' state, and therefore its triumphs and disasters, all its good and bad sides were (at some level of abstraction) those of the working class.

You don't need to be a Marxist to think that the USSR was a workers' state. That can be and was figured out by mainstream ('bourgeois') Western sociology.

How about Chuck Yeager's background. Not incredibly different...

True, "bourgeoisie" = owners of capital.

Dave Bell: nope, Chuck Yeager's parents owned a farm; that makes them kulaks, rather than peasants, and would therefore probably have made Chuck an orphan by about age 14 had he grown up in the workers' state.

Nothing bourgeois about being a teacher or an engineer.

Not much that's proletarian about them either, then as now. Most workers employed lucratively enough to do a little employing of their own get to thinking like employers.


ajay - I'd say more like 'very possibly' rather than 'probably', unless there's good evidence that the majority of alleged kulaks were killed, or perished.

Del - what teachers or engineers are lucratively enough paid to do a little employing of their own? (I don't mean hiring household help or the like, I mean actually making money of hired labour.) Builders and plumbers, yes. But teachers?

When I checked up, I came across the suggestion that "peasant", for Gagarin's parents, was a general classification for workers on a collective farm, and his father was a carpenter.

Son of a carpenter ascends to heaven? If you put that in a novel you'd never get away with it.

On the other hand, the man who, more than anyone else, made the moon landing possible, Wernher Von Braun, was an aristocrat, a Count, no less...

I'm happy to acknowledge that the bourgeoisie got to the Moon first! (And, of course, accomplished many other outstanding space firsts.)

And with tongue in cheek, let's not forget the rumour that Yuri was a descendent of Prince Gagarin...

The kleptocratic regime that has ruled Russia for the last 20 years is responsible for unprecedented degradation of the society in every way imaginable, including cosmonautics. Which makes this anniversary very bittersweet indeed.

Well, one day we'll return, going to Mars and beyond.

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