Journal of Cold War Studies 1.1 (1999) 119-122
Time and Revolution: Marxism and the Design of Soviet Institutions
Stephen Hanson, Time and Revolution: Marxism and the Design of Soviet Institutions (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 258 pp.
It has long been the practice of historians and social scientists to ignore the effects of ideas and ideologies on the design of political institutions. In particular, some scholars have argued that Communism had a negligible influence on the behavior of Soviet leaders. Instead, scholars have preferred to explain the decisions and policies of world leaders on the basis of rational calculation, interest group pressure, or bureaucratic politics. It is therefore refreshing to come across books like Stephen Hanson's Time and Revolution that seek to focus our attention on the importance of Communist ideology for the making (and unmaking) of the Soviet Union.
Hanson isolates and describes the Marxist understanding of the concept of time, persuasively demonstrating its significance for Soviet politics. He argues, quite rightly, that it is necessary for scholars to show "concretely, rather than speculatively, how ideological visions get translated into institutional outcomes" (p. xiii). Nonetheless, because the book relies almost exclusively on published material, it too remains somewhat in the realm of the "speculative." Valuable as Hanson's contribution is, future scholars will need to use the newly available archival sources to trace more concretely the effects of ideology on Soviet institutions.
Explicitly borrowing Max Weber's categories of "legitimate domination," Hanson distinguishes three general categories of attitudes toward time: traditional, rational, and charismatic. Traditional conceptions of time, Hanson explains, measure time according to the occurrence of certain events (such as festivals on a religious calendar) or according to the duration of certain processes (harvesttime, summertime, the length of a day). Rational time, which emerges in modern, industrial societies, is defined as [End Page 119] "an abstract grid outside all concrete events" (p. 11). It becomes a regulated system of reference, according to which all other events and processes are scheduled, and it is considered impersonal because it is seen as lying beyond all subjective interpretations. Finally, there is charismatic time, which, like Weber's "charismatic leadership," emerges during crises or revolutionary situations and claims to transcend all ordinary rational and traditional conceptions of time. According to Hanson, revolutionaries wish to manipulate time so that their actions can exist "in the unpredictable realm of the extraordinary" (p. 12). Charismatic groups and leaders claim that they can rearrange time to suit their own purposes and for the greater good, and they often argue that they are able to "start time over again" (p. 13).
Hanson traces the development of this last, charismatic, conception of time through the work of Immanuel Kant, Georg Hegel, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, and Josif Stalin, all the way through the Gorbachev era. The book is clever and convincing in its interpretation of Marx's revolutionary philosophy, arguing that in calling for revolution Marx desired to transcend "rational" time. For Marx, the capitalist mode of production used rational time as another means of exploiting labor: By measuring productivity in work hours, it failed to respect the intrinsic value of a worker's product. The Communist revolution, according to Marx, would smash the tyranny of the abstract, impersonal chaining of humans to time lines and, in apocalyptic fashion, would thrust the power to control time back into human hands. Marx was, however, simultaneously fascinated with the efficiency of rationally organized modern industry. In his view, only the assembly line, with its timesaving methods, would allow workers to find the leisure time needed for their own fulfillment. Hanson labels Marx's desire to combine these two opposed approaches to time as "charismatic-rational" (p. 33). For Hanson, Marx's problem in reconciling the rational and charismatic notions of time was analogous to other major contradictions in his revolutionary theory, and his successors inherited these difficulties.
In what is arguably the most interesting and convincing part of his book, Hanson reveals how Lenin and Stalin shared Marx's...