‘Limits to growth’ in Soviet perspective: critical discourses on modernity in the USSR during the 1960s and 70s

‘Limits to growth’ in Soviet perspective: critical discourses on modernity in the USSR during the 1960s and 70s

Thursday, 8 October 2015 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Venue: 
Pavilion Room
Speaker(s): 
Professor Malte Rolf (Otto-Friedrich University, Bamberg)
Convenor: 
Professor Dan Healey (St Antony's)

In 1968 Andrei Sakharov wrote his essay "Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom". In his memorandum – which quickly circulated in samizdat – Sakharov not only pointed at the growing threat of a nuclear world war, but launched a debate on the intensifying industrial and technical exploitation of nature and its resources. Sakharov and other authors took part in a critical discourse that in the 1960s and 70 started to reconsider the basic notion of growth and modernity even in the USSR. In my paper I want to highlight aspects of this Soviet critical assessment of modern times. I will show how some of the assumptions of a “reflective modernity” were shared in the USSR. The presentation follows traces of this critical re-evaluation in different layers of Soviet society and describes how even the party-state under Brezhnev was partially promoting such forms of “reflections on the future”. Finally, the paper argues that these changes were not simply induced by a transfer of contemporary Western debates on the “limits to growth” (promoted by institutions like the “Club of Rome”). On the contrary, critical Soviet voices on modernity in its traditional form were participating in a global circulation of ideas and –partially– were influential in international organizations and networks. Reconsidering modernity in the 1960s and 70s was an endeavor in which the Soviet Union played an active and visible role.