#6 - JRL 7171
From: "Alexander Andreyewsky" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Response to John Wilhelm JRL 7168
Date: Tue, 6 May 2003
John Wilhelm's analysis of Abraham Bergson's presumed failures reminds me of an apocryphal story about Joseph Stalin being present at a Kremlin meeting where the speaker blasted a group of Soviet writers. When he was finished, Stalin, the story goes, thanked him, said that he agreed with all that he had to say but that there were no other Soviet writers to be had (drugikh sovetskikh pisateley y menya net).
Having studied Soviet economics with the late Joseph Berliner at Syracuse in the late 1950's, Bergson's writings, incredibly complex were at the time trend-setting.
It may well be correct that his estimates were wrong, but his contributions as a scholar deserve the highest regard.
As for the manner in which CIA arrived at its conclusions about the Soviet economy, the mystery will remain hidden from view for decades to come. However, inferring that CIA was somehow off target because it used methodologies like those proposed by Bergson, seems to come straight from the old Odessa joke about A's opinion that Caruso sings of key, lisps and does not know the words. When asked, whether he has ever heard Caruso sing, his answer is that he did not, but that his friend B hummed a few of Caruso's tunes to him.
Igor Birman wrote many interesting things and, without question, was on the money in many instances. He is, without a doubt, a brilliant man. However, I vividly remember his comments at one of the open meetings years ago in Washington with some of the CIA men conspicuous by their presence. Clearly, they did not respond to any of Birman's criticisms and looked pathetic as any U.S. Government employee would look when his agency was criticized in public. However, it should come as no surprise to anyone if Birman did not get much of a hearing at CIA if he carried on anything like this at Langley.
Birman, Jasny, and scores of other talented and knowledgeable people, as my colleague recently put it, did not fit the Zeitgeist . Behaviorism and structuralism were kings and in 1957 Noam Chomsky was known only for his Syntactic Structures It was almost an axiom then that "the facts we discovered about the world\were not entirely independent of the theories with which we approach it in the first place." The first-hand knowledge of those who went through the Soviet hell was then held to be largely irrelevant, because they lacked the theoretical foundations and spoke bad English.
The late Albert Parry at Colgate has predicted the Sputnik era by following the open sources. There was a wealth of material available on the Soviet underground economy in the late 1950's and the early 1960's yet at Syracuse this was the subject for "journalists" and not scholars until the field was lent some respect by the work of Vladimir Treml at Duke and others.
It may well all be true that Abraham Bergson was wrong and the CIA was all wet. However, one must also bear in mind that by virtue of the very nature of intelligence work it is always remembered for its failures and not its successes. Moreover, considering the stigma attached over nearly the last 50 years to any affiliation with the intelligence community in the Academe and even in some U.S. Government agencies, CIA's failures real or imagined may well have been precisely due to trying to follow the "best practices" with "negative" cooperation from the practitioners and originators.
Finally, John Wilhelm's claim that Bergson's methodological legacy somehow impedes the ability of U.S. economists to assess the outside world seems more than a little bit far fetched. Now what is that epigraph to Gogol's Inspector General about blaming the mirror for the reflection one sees in it?