Biopolitics in Russia: History and Prospects for the Future
Biopolitics, a field of research employing biological concepts, data, and methods in political science, took shape in the West (originally in the USA) in the 60s and 70s. To a considerable extent, this development can be regarded as a "response" to a conceptual crisis in political science within the United States as some political scientists expressed their concern about the insufficient attention given to human nature and, more generally, inadequate conceptual foundations of political science (see Degler, 1991). For example, this concern was voiced in a Presidential Address to the American Political Science Association by John Wahlke (1979), who reproached his discipline with "pre-behavioralism" despite its professed focus on a science of behavior.
It was also in response to a crisis that biopolitics took root in Russia (and some other countries in Eastern Europe). But in these countries it was not just a conceptual crisis. It was a profound political, social, and economic crisis, associated with a general collapse of the pre-existent social system. Many millions of people have had to go through hard times. Prices skyrocketed, and unemployment soared. Many certainties of Soviet life (e. g., free education and medical care), formerly taken for granted, did not exist any longer. Ethnic strife intensified and resulted in fratricidal conflict (e. g. in Moldavia) and the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and Stalin's empire (first Afganistan, the Baltic countries and Eastern Europe, later the disintegration of the the C.I.S. and Chechnya). The economic system became increasingly dependent on mafia structures. In this situation, Russian scholars, politicians, and people at large tried to use any available idea (no matter from what field of science) in an attempt to get an insight into the extremely complex political situation and to find a way to improve it. "In short, Russia and Eastern Europe are industrialized societies characterized by intense social conflicts and the absence of conceptual maps (emphasis added—authors) or intellectual doctrines with which to understand them" (Masters, 1993, p.244).
Biopolitics concentrates on the biological dimension of the human being as "political animal" (Homo politicus) and emphasizes the common behavioral trends in humans and other forms of life. Obviously, this subfield of political science is expected to gain in social importance whenever the political situation favors biosocially determined human behaviors, as distinguished from those that are psychocultural, to use the term suggested by P. Meyer (1987). Such a situation is likely to arise in a period characterized by the collapse of a formerly dominant value system. In this case, normally suppressed or culturally controlled biosocial behavioral trends may become more manifest than usual. Many people in Russia were concerned about uncontrollable outbursts of "bestial" aggressivity, occurring during ethnoconflicts or clashes between different mafia "clans". Another interesting example is provided by presidential (and other politically important) elections in post-communist Russia, which are evidently dominated by "gut feelings". Although political campaigns in all modern societies are heavily influenced by non-verbal communication and primate dominance-submission relationships (cf. Masters, 1989), these effects may seem especially pronounced where institutions and partisan attachments are new and weak. Under such circumstances, evolutionary biology and its socially important ramifications such as biopolitics acquire additional weight, and its concepts can provide the theoretical foundations for a new social "cognitive map".
Biopolitics is also of special interest for Russians because their political life has another significant "biological component", which was the focus of the seminal paper by L. Caldwell (1964). In Russia, the environment has not yet been adequately protected against industrial pollution and destruction. One important issue is the overpopulation stress ("the effects of noise and of crowding on human population", according to Caldwell, 1964), and much public concern is also caused by the abortion issue as well as by other bioehical and bio-medical problems. Hence in many areas of public policy, biopolitics offers necessary substantive information as well as a more generalized "cognitive map" for understanding human nature and politics.
The history of biopolitics on the Russian soil has been short but eventful. It began in the August of 1987, when the 8th International Conference on Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science was held in Russia (partly in Moscow and partly in the Pacific harbor town of Nakhodka). A relatively young scholar in the field of philosophy of science, Dr. Anatoly T. Zub, presented a talk on "Biopolitics—Methodology of Social Biologism in Political Science". Thie presentation, subsequently published by the organizers of the conference, was the first extensive Russian review article on biopolitics1, with references to the works by L. Caldwell, A. Somit, T. Wiegele, R. Masters, S. Peterson, C. Barner-Barry, P. Corning, G. Schubert, J. Schubert, J. Wahlke, J. Laponce, H. Flohr, W. Tonnesmann, and other prominent scholars. In this paper, A. Zub demonstrated his profound knowledge and expertise in the field of biopolitics, which he had been studying since the early 80s. Nevertheless, because scholars at this time had to pay tribute to the still powerful Marxist-Leninist theory, biopolitics was described as a product of bourgeouis thinking in this paper by him.
About a year later, Dr. Alexander Oleskin from the Biology Dept. of Moscow State University (MSU), inspired by the work by A. Zub he had just browsed through, established a seminar on Biopolitics with the help of his colleagues. Originally entitled "Seminar on Bioethics, Biopolitics, and Biotechnology", this seminar is still in operation at the Biology Department of MSU. Once a fortnight, the Seminar brings together a mixed collective composed of professional biologists (E. R. Kartashova, I. V. Botvinko, T. A. Kirovskaya, and others) including mammal ethologists (N. L. Nesterova) , political scientists such as O. V. Borisova (a postgraduate student at the Political Sociology Dept.2 of MSU), philosophers (E.N. Shul'ga) as well as, in some cases, invited politicians and public activists. The Seminar has been repeatedly attended by the Dean of the Biology Dept. of MSU, Prof. Mikhail V. Gusev. Dr. A. Zub gave a talk on biopolitics at one of the Seminar meetings. Some of these meetings took place in the presence of foreign guests, such as Prof. G. Teuchert-Noodt, a neurologist from Bielefeld (Germany) and Mr. J. Briggs, a senior staff member of the Coca-Cola Company (USA).
In 1989, A. Zub produced a comprehensive paper dealing with biopolitics and sociobiology, which appeared in the collection of articles entitled Western Theoretical Sociology in the 80s (published by the Institute for Information in Social Sciences, USSR Academy of Sciences). Zub also suggested a biopolitical research project for his postgraduate student N. Sidyakina. In 1990, she completed her Ph. D. dissertation, largely focusing on the works by R. Masters, P. Corning, and the German astronomer and biopolitician E. Jantsch. P. Corning's attention was attracted by Sidyakina's brief contribution to the materials of an international conference, and he sent her a letter. Shortly thereafter, Prof. Roger D. Masters began to correspond with Dr. A. Zub.
In 1990, N. Sidyakina and A. Oleskin gave talks on biopolitics at the Annual All-Russian Fyodorov Conference (Moscow) dealing with gerontology, life span prolongation, and bioethical issues. In 1991, the year of the failed hard-liners' coup and the collapse of the Communist regime, a group including Prof. M. V. Gusev and Prof. V. D. Samuilov (Director of the Biotechnology Center) from the Biology Dept of MSU, as well as Prof. M. Manakov made two consecutive visits to Athens (Greece), where they met with a charming lady, Dr. Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis. She was the President of the Greece-based Biopolitics International Organisation (B.I.O.) focusing on the ethical, cultural, legal, environmental, and technological aspects of biopolitics. The second visit (in May, 1991) had an unpleasant surprise in store for the Russian guests, who arrived by boat at the Piraeus Harbor. The Greek frontier guards considered their "shipman's passports" as invalid, and Profs. M. V. Gusev and V. D. Samuilov spent three days and nights in the transit lounge under arrest, having only 250 drachmas (= USD 1.25) with them. On the fourth day, the hapless visitors were released with the personal help of A. Vlavianos-Arvanitis. They were rewarded for their trouble by the very friendly, almost affectionate, treatment they received at the B.I.O. conference. Prof. Samuilov burst into tears on the day of their return to Russia (on another occasion, Mrs. Vlavianos-Arvanitis also shed some tears—this happened when she received a letter from Prof. Samuilov).
A long-term contract was concluded between MSU and B.I.O. On the basis of this contract, A. Oleskin was sent to Greece for 4.5 months. This project resulted in producing the book (by A. Vlavianos-Arvanitis and him) entitled Biopolitics - The Bio-Environment. Bio-Syllabus, published in English (1992) and Russian (1993). Dr. A. Vlavianos-Arvanitis made a number of visits to Russia, and she gave several talks at MSU, the Institute of Philosophy (Russain Academy of Sciences), and other research centers. In December, 1991, a Hellenic-Russian Symposium on Bio-Diplomacy took place in Athens, with participation of Mr. Valery Grishin, one of President Yeltsin's aides. In 1994, B.I.O. organized an international festival commemorating Academician A. Sakharov (the Soviet physicist and political dissident) in combination with a biopolitics conference.
Starting in 1991, the Gruter Institute for Law and Behavioral Research began to explore the interactions between biology, politics, and law in the post-communist region, with special attention to Russia. Established a decade earlier by Dr. Margaret Gruter to bring together the work of scholars in the life sciences, social sciences, and law, the Gruter Institute invited several leading Russians, including Dr. Kemer Norkin, Director General of the Mayor's Office of the City of Moscow, to a conference on "The Infrastructure and Superstructure of the European Market: Implications for the Next Two Decades" (St. Moritz, Switzerland, August 26-28, 1991). Based on discussions at this meeting, the Gruter Institute organized a conference "From a Centrally-Planned Government System to a Rule-of-Law Democracy" at the Siemens Stiftung, Munchen, Germany (May 18-19, 1992), followed by a fact-finding trip to Moscow by members of its Steering Committee (May 20-24, 1992). These deliberations in turn led to a major conference at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC on "The Rule of Law, Human Nature, and the New Russia" with the participation of Russian guests who included Cief Justice Lebedev of the Russian Supreme Court and Dr. Norkin of the Mayor's Office (for proceedings, see Danilenko and Smith, 1993; Masters, 1993). Participants from Russia and other post-comunist countries attended subsequent conferences of the Gruter Institute, such as the international symposium on "Migration from the Perspective of Law and Behavioral Research" at the Freie Universitat Berlin (April 16-29, 1995) at which Dr. Norkin presented a paper on migration in Russia and the former USSR.
In 1992, A. Zub published a detailed study concentrating on the ethological and sociobiological dimensions of biopolitics, under the title "Power as Reflected in the Biopolitical Mirror" (with I. L'vov as co-author). The following year, Vitaly Egorov of the Department of Psychiatry organized an international conference at the University of Crimea at Sebastopol. In addition to scholars from the West were participants from a number of universities from the former Soviet Union. In 1993, R. Masters published his paper on "Evolutionary Biology and the New Russia".
In the same year, Oleskin wrote a paper on a somewhat paradoxical subject, the interactions between biopolitics and microbiology, published in the Russian journal Microbiology (a revised and updated version of this paper appeared in English in The Journal of Basic Microbiology). In 1994, Oleskin published a series of 3 papers on biopolitics in the Russian journal Moscow University Proceedings (Biology Series), and in 1995, a generalizing article on this subject, entitled "Biopolitcs and its Applicability to Social Technologies" in The Problems of Philosophy (Moscow).
As far as the gradual dissemination of biopolitical ideas in Russia is concerned, special tribute is to be payed to the Institute of Philosophy, Russian Academy of Sciences. The Head of one of its subdivisions, the Laboratory for Philosophy of Biology and Ecology, Prof. Igor K. Liseev, received Dr. Vlavainos-Arvanitis during her visits to Russia. The Institute produced a fundamental monograph entitled Philosophy of Nature: the Coevolution Strategy (by R. S. Karpinskaya, I. K. Liseev, and A. P. Ogurtsov), which gave sufficient attention to biopolitics and related subjects.
Since 1986, the Dean of the Biology Dept of MSU Prof. Gusev was a member of the international Commission for Biological Education (CBE) under the auspices of the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS). The CBE goals were to eradicate bio-iiliteracy, to promote a biological educational system for non-biologists, and to cope with various "biopolicy" issues. At the conferences of this organization, M. Gusev gave a number of talks on biopolitics. Under his influence, the former Chairman of CBE, Prof. Gerhard Schaefer (Hamburg, Germany) also developed an interest in biopolitics, and mentioned this term in a number of his recent publications. Prof. Gusev supported Dr. Oleskin in establishing a new subdivision, the Educational & Research Sector for Biopolitics and Biosociology (short title Sector for Biosocial Problems) at the Biology Dept of MSU. This Sector was officially set up in January, 1995. The staff members of the Sector and the associated scientists and scholars have been dealing with both parts of the word bio-politics. They have been doing biological research (on the role of chemical tramsmitters in the social behavior of living organisms), engaging in politics-related activities, such as the Hirama Project, and writing a Biopolitics & Bio-Humanities Thesaurus. This contribution can be considered a preliminary publication in terms of the Thesaurus-related project supported by the Russian Humanities Research Foundation (grant # 96-04089).
In 1995, Dr. Zub defended a Doctor of Science dissertation at MSU on the Philosophic and Methodological Foundations of Biopolitics. Dr. Oleskin gave talks on this subject at conferences organized by the International Center for Economics and Ecology in 1994 (Tubingen, Germany) and in 1995 (Miscolc, Hungary). Biopolitical matters were also discussed by him at an international German Limnological Society conference (Berlin, 1995). His presentation was also included into a broadcast by one of the Moscow radio stations. As it happened, the Deputy Administration Chief of the Moscow City Council Mrs. Olga A. Bektabegova heard this broadcast while driving to her office. She set up a creative lab, Future of Russia, under the aegis of the City Council. Biopolitics was incorporated into the research and development projects carried out by this lab, which generally concerned itself with long-term urban planning and optimizing social and political structures in Moscow.
Two talks on biopolitics-related matters (by Prof. Franz Wuketitz from Vienna, Austria, and Oleskin) were given at a Synergetics Conference in Moscow in January 1996. A travel grant from the American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR) enabled Dr. Oleskin to spend six months at Dartmouth College, working under Prof. R. Masters on biopolitics and to establish contacts with M. Gruter from the Gruter Institute for Law and Behavioral Research and with Professors Albert Somit, Steven Peterson, James Schubert, Peter Corning, Peter Meyer, and others during the ESS/IPSA/APLS Meeting in Alfred (July 22-27, 1996). One of the goals of Dr. Oleskin's visit was to intensify the cooperation between Russian and American biopoliticians (and scholars in related fields).
Following is a brief description of selected biopolitical problems which are currently being actively researched in Russia.
3. Biopolitics and Social Technologies. The Network Group (Hirama) Project
Social technologies are interpreted here as including all kinds of techniques aimed at (1) ameliorating interpersonal and intergroup relations in various social settings (families, worker collectives, research teams, artistic creative groups, parliamentary commissions, etc.) and (2) improving the organizational patterns of human social structures per se. With the aid of other scientific approaches (based on game theory, decision-making theory, small group sociology, management theory, etc.), biopolitics can be expected to make its contribution to a number of Russian social and economic problems. Biopolitics-related social techniques should help the country accumulate its "social capital" (Nichols, 1996), i. e. establish dependable relationships between the incumbents of various social roles (bank clerks, clients, sales assistants, production managers, etc.), based on the rule of democratic law.
The project discussed below has been developed by the Sector for Biosocial Problems at MSU and by the Creative Lab at the City Council of Moscow. This project envisages establishing a system of social networks, whose organizational patterns are in conformity with the recent data and concepts of evolutionary biology. The variant of network structures promoted in Russia by biopoliticians has been termed "the hirama model", since these small-scale networks resemble the Middle East hiramas established about 2,000 years ago3. There is, nevertheless, also a modern interpretation of the word hirama (High-Intensity Research and Management Association). The hirama-type networks promote non-hierarchical (horizontal) relationships among people. This principle is in conformity with
the data on primate social structures, suggesting that they do not always represent "close-knit" rigid hierarchies, can easily disintegrate in response to environmental changes, and often coexist with horizontal relations based on friendly bonds (e. g., among young vervets, McGuire, 1982). Ape groups are characterized by prevailing loose, impermanent friendly relationships (food sharing, greeting, grooming, and game behaviors), despite the presence of dominant individuals ("silver-back" males in gorilla groups). the widely accepted concepts on primitive human societies, which are envisioned as relatively small groups (up to 50—100 people) engaged in gathering, scavenging, and/or hunting. Conventionally described as "hunter-gatherers," these were cooperation-promoting, low-density networks which give an individual a chance to migrate and to stay isolated (see, e. g., Maryanski and Turner, 1992). ethological data suggesting the involvement of the following factors in behavioral coordination: (1) hierarchy and imitation of the leader's behavior by most individuals in the biosocial system, a widespread biosocial pattern occurring in primates (McGuire, 1982), social insects (Zakharov, 1991), and presumably even microorganisms (Oleskin, 1993, 1994c). However, it does not represent the only option; (2) local interactions among neighbors which stimulate and imitate each other's behavior (Holzman, 1984)—the practice colloquially known as "keeping up with joneses", such interactions are involved in nest construction by ants (Zakharov, 1991), collective hunting by lions (Stander, 1992), and the movements of "anonymous flocks" (Lorenz, 1966) such as leaderless fish shoals; (3) diffuse behavior-stimulating agents permeating the biosocial system (chemical agents, physical fields). For instance, olfaction is an ancient and evolutionarily conservative communication channel operating even in human face-to-face groups. historical data on horizontal network structures successfully tested in various historical epochs and countries. These structures can be exemplified by Swiss Gemeinden (originally "non-hierarchical, undivided ... valley communities", Steinberg, 1976, p.11), modern Israeli kibbutzim, American communes such as "Twin Oaks" (with communal ownership and communal satisfaction of the members' needs), cooperatives in the US and West Europe (e. g., "Mondragon" in Spain), as well as Russian "informal groups", which flourished under Gorbachov's regime. finally, with the fact that these networks are spontaneously generated by humans. For example, as new scholarly disciplines emerge in universities,we see them everywhere complementing the existing Departments (themselves networks of individuals who cooperate and compete in complex ways). At the other end of the social scale, we find gangs emerging in otherwise anomic ghetto environments. Hence, from the highest to the lowest social strata, we see informal social networks as essential components of more complex institutional or social behavior (cf. Peterson, 1991; J. Schubert, 1991).
What is the structure of a modernized hirama-type network like? It is a creative group of 10 to 20 people. It deals with an interdisciplinary task/problem such as Small-Quantity Generators of Environmental Pollution or Culture as a Self-Organizing Evolutionary System. The problem (task) is subdivided into several subproblems. However, despite subdividing the problem into subproblems, the group is not subdivided into parts. The group members work, in parallel, on several (ideally on all) subproblems. The subproblems, therefore, should overlap and provide for a broad interdisciplinary vision of the group's focus.
Roles or functions in this network structure as not fixed or defined, as with the "offices" in a Weberian bureaucracy. Often only one person, the subproblem leader, is explicitly attached to a particular subproblem (see Fig. 1). This person collects ideas on this subproblem, generated by other group members. A hirama-type network group has also a psychological leader. The individual in this functional role estimates the contributions of all members to the intellectual "money-box" of the network group. The psychological leader, however, does not overemphasize this controller function. This role is rather that of a helper, providing advice, support, and psychological help that is often sought by other group members. Like a "socio-emotional leader" in any task-oriented groups, this individual "can reinforce or reward people on a personal level, take care of the emotional well-being of the group, and behave in ways designed to reduce tension and provide orientation for the group" (Burgoon et al. 1974: p. 146).
A network of this kind typically also includes an "external affairs" leader. This individual with this role is responsible for organizing the activities outside the group itself, propagandizing hirama-promoted ideas, establishing contacts with other network groups and organizations, and shaping the pastime and leisure activities, thus contributing to the development of informal loyal relationships among group members. Both the psychology and external affairs functions entail personalizing and harmonizing the relations among members. Modernized hirama-type networks usually make alterations in the group's organizational pattern. For instance, additional leader roles are introduced:
Figure 1. Hirama networking pattern. This is a "momentary close-up" picture, since this structure is dynamic, and creative subunits included in it are constantly in the process of formation & disintegration (fission-fusion structures, resembling the hunter-gatherer society pattern, see Maryansky and Turner, 1992). Designations: S, subproblem leaders; G - just group members; O - an outsider collaborating with the group on one of the subproblems. Thin-line circles are temporary creative subunits or discussion groups. These relationships all correspond to the "task-fullfillment plane" shown in the picture. The psychology and "external affairs" leader (P and E, respectively), are beyond this plane. Types of relations: \x2192 partial (task-limited) leadership; \x2194 horizontal networking; no symbol between two individuals, standing by and watching.
a commercial leader, responsible for searching for sponsors and grant opportunities and for marketing and other profit-making activities; an organizational leader who is particularly important while a hirama-like group is organizing its work and legalizing its status; a spiritual leader (a "guru"). It is evident from the above historical examples that the operation of community-type structures depends on unitary spiritual values, often implying collective attempts at "attaining certain ideals" (Kanter, 1972: p.2). This conceptual basis is personified by the "guru" image.
The group members strive to attain the goals formulated by the "guru" (King Hiram was probably the first of such "gurus"). Importantly, this "spiritual guidance" by the "guru" should be prevented from transforming into an authoritarian dictatorship, which would be quite incompatible with the decentralized non-hierarchical character of a hirama-like group. For this reason, "hiramists" typically prefer a legendary "guru" (like Wilhelm Tell in Switzerland), a long-deceased person whose ideas are contained in his/her works, or, finally someone sufficiently far away from the group's location (the Moscow University hirama dealing with biopolitics has recently suggested an American biopolitician as the "spiritual leader").