Frederick Taylor- the biggest bastard ever

Part One:

Part Two:

Frederick Taylor- the biggest bastard ever

At the turn of the century many historians wrote cute-sy fluff pieces in the media about who had been the most influential person of the 20th century. Many names were floated: Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, Einstein, Ghandi, etc. One name that didn’t appear on many lists was Frederick Taylor. While Taylor is a common name in labor history circles, his name is unfamiliar to most. Yet Taylor’s impact on the 20th century was profound, so profound that his ideas continue to shape the day-to-day lived experience of most people today.

Taylor was a management theorist- a theorist of the labor process. In an era where the capitalist firm was becoming larger and larger, employing more and more workers, a fundamental problem was emerging: How do we get workers to work more? Of course this had always been a problem for capitalists. But the rapidly expanding size of the factory was demanding more nuanced control over workers to ensure maximum output.

(When the length of the working day can’t be extended then one must turn to the labor process itself. One must find a way of increasing the intensity of labor so that it produces more per hour. Remember that the capitalist doesn’t buy labor. He buys labor power- the ability of the worker to labor. How long and hard those workers work is an issue to be struggled over. )

During the late 1800′s and the early 1900′s Frederick Taylor studied, experimented with, and wrote about the theory of work. His goal was to find ways of controlling the motions of workers so as to attain the highest possible output for every dollar spent on wages. His writings are an incredibly lucid and frank distillation of the capitalist perspective on class struggle. Very rarely do we see the capitalist class engaging in such open discussions about how to control and exploit a labor force. The frankness of his writings almost eliminates the need for interpretation- thus much of this video will just be excerpts of his writings.

For Frederick Taylor there was an enormous problem afflicting modern society: workers didn’t work hard enough. He called such laziness “soldiering”.

“We can see our forests vanishing, our water-powers going to waste…. The end of our coal and iron is in sight. But the larger wastes of human effort, which go on everyday through such of our acts as are blundering, ill-directed or inefficient are less-visible, less tangible and are but vaguely appreciated…. And for this reason, even though our daily loss from this source are greater,… the one has stirred us deeply while the other has moved us but little.” (Taylor, iii)

Taylor is shocked that the inefficiency of workers hasn’t created a national outcry: “As yet there has been no public agitation for ‘greater national efficiency’, no meetings have been called….” (Taylor, iii)

Taylor was often upset that others around him didn’t share his obsession with efficiency- and it was an obsession. Taylor was obsessive-compulsive. As a child he counted his steps and timed all of his actions so as to make his motions as efficient as possible. In his adult life he sought to impose his obsessive compulsions on all those around him and eventually the entire capitalist world. And the capitalist world was ready for a Taylor. In the late 19th century capitalism was growing fast, competition was accelerating, the firm was growing in size and with it the number of workers employed on a single shop-floor. The need for increased control over this mass of workers was growing as was the need for them to work more efficiently to stay competitive.

“…in a majority of cases the man deliberately plans to do as little as he possibly can- to turn out far less work than he is well able to do- in many instances to do not more than one-third to one-half of a proper day’s work…. This constitutes the greatest evil with which the working people of England and America are now afflicted.” (Taylor, p.3)

For Taylor a “proper days work” meant the maximum level of output humanly possible. He often called it “a fair days work”. When workers were not physically capable or unwilling to work “a fair days work” he fired them.

Why did workers soldier? Taylor never was able to give an answer to this question. To him it represented one big misunderstanding between capitalists and workers. Actually, Taylor argued, there was no fundamental antagonism between workers and capitalists.

“The majority of these men believe that the fundamental interests of employees and employers are necessarily antagonistic. Scientific management, on the contrary, has for its very foundation the firm conviction that the true interests of the two are one and the same.”(Taylor, page 1)

Soldiering was made possible because management didn’t even know how much work it was possible to extract from workers.

“The greater part of the systematic soldiering is done… by the men with the deliberate object of keeping their employers ignorant of how fast work can be done.” (Taylor, page.7)

Taylor’s goal was to seize this knowledge of the labor process from the worker and put it in the hands of management to be used as a tool for control. He called this “scientific management”. As a science management could refine the labor process to a point of efficiency far greater than any worker could achieve on their own.

“..the science which underlies each workman’s act is so great and amounts to so much that the workman who is best suited to actually doing the work is incapable, either through lack of education or through insufficient mental capacity, of understanding this science.”

Note the wording “the workman who is best suited.” Who were these workers who were best suited for particular jobs? Workers who were too intelligent, too strong-willed, or incapable of working at maximum speeds were not best suited.

Taylor envisioned a perfectly harmonious social order where all workers were employed in occupations where they could work most efficiently. They would be accompanied by a strata of scientific managers who analyzed their motions and reorganized them for maximum output. Anyone one who didn’t fit into this perfect vision of the world would be fired.

“the greatest prosperity can exist only when that individual has reached his highest state of efficiency; that is when he is turning out his largest daily output.” (p2)

“The search for better more competent men… was never more vigorous than it is now…. It is only when we fully realize that our duty as well as our opportunity lies in systematically cooperating to train and to make this competent man… that we shall be on the road to national efficiency.” (iii)

The entire structure of production and society would revolve around the creation of this new efficient human. “In the past man has been first; in the future the system must be first.” “The fundamental principles of scientific management are applicable to all kinds of human activities, from our simplest individual acts to the works of our great corporations…. the same principles can be applied with equal force to all social activities: to the management of our homes; the management of our farms; the management of the business of our tradesman, large and small; of our churches, our philanthropic institutions, our universities and our governmental departments.” (iv)

We can just imagine how satisfying such a rationalized fantasy-world must have seemed to his obsessive-compulsive mind. A big part of this fantasy world was Taylor’s concept of harmony between classes. Taylor believed that all the workers he was retraining to work harder were his friends and that he had their best interest at heart even if they didn’t know that. He persisted in this fantasy even when workers threatened to kill him (p.24)

“…the men who were under [me] were [my] personal friends…. [I ] used every expedient to make them do a fair day’s work, such as discharging or lowering the wages of the more stubborn men who refused to make any improvement….” (p.23)

Midvale Steel- testimony before Special Committee of the US House of Representatives:

Taylor started his management career at the Midvale Steel Company outside Philadelphia.

“As soon as I became gang boss the men who were working under me and who, of course, knew that I was onto the whole game of soldiering or deliberately restricted output, came to me at once and said, “Now Fred, you are not going to be a damn piecework hog, are you?”

“I said ‘If you fellows mean you are afraid I am going to try to get a larger output from these lathes,’ I said ‘Yes; I do propose to get more work out.’ I said ‘You must remember I have been square with you fellows up to now and worked with you…. I have been on your side of the fence. But now I have accepted a job under the management of this company and I am on the other side of the fence, and I will tell you perfectly frankly that I am going to try to get a bigger output from those lathes.’ They answered ‘Then you are going to be a damned hog.’”

“I said ‘Well if you want to put it that way, all right.’ They said, ‘We warn you Fred, if you try to bust any of these rates, we will have you over the fence in six weeks.’ I said, ‘That is alright; I will tell you fellows frankly that I propose to try to get a bigger output off these machines.’”

“Now that was the beginning of a piecework fight that lasted for nearly three years, as I remember it… in which I was doing everything in my power to increase the output of the shop, while the men were absolutely determined that the output should not be increased….”

“I began, of course, by directing some one man to do more work than he had done before, and then I got on the lathe myself and showed him that it could be done. In spite of this, he went ahead and turned out exactly the same old output and refused to adopt better methods or to work quicker until finally I laid him off and got another man in his place. This new man- I could not blame him in the least of circumstances- turned right around and joined the other fellows and refused to do any more work than the rest.”

Notice that Taylor says he couldn’t blame this man for not wanting to work harder. In several accounts of his battle at Midvale Steel Taylor does admits to some sort of fundamental antagonism between management and workers.

“As a truthful man, [I] had to tell them that if [I] were in their place [I] would fight against turning out any more work, just as they were doing, because under the piecework system they would be allowed to earn no more wages than they had been earning, and yet they would be made to work harder.” (p.24)

Taylor was convinced that workers needed a material reward for working harder. A fundamental part of his theory of scientific management was the permanent raising of wages for workers who conformed to this new scientific work ethic. Taylor thought that capitalists would consent to higher wages because the increased cost of higher wages would be compensated for by the increased size in output and by the diminished size of the workforce(increased efficiency and “scientific selection of workers” meant massive layoffs for many of the firms Taylor laid his hands on.) But, to Taylor’s great dismay, once new levels of efficiency had been reached most employers chose to slash rates and wages returned to normal or even lower.  In fact, the effect of scientific management was to reduce the skill-set of the working class as a whole which in turn reduced labor’s bargaining power and lowered wages. It seemed there were fundamental class antagonisms immune to Taylor’s utopian philosophy.

But back to Midvale…

Taylor decided to take the next step:

“I hunted up some especially intelligent laborers who were competent men… and I deliberately taught these men how to run a lathe and how to work right and fast. …and every solitary man, when I had taught them their trade, one after another turned right around and joined the rest of the fellows and refused to work one bit faster.”

Frustrated Taylor decided to take the next step. He said to the men, “Now, I am going to cut your rate in two tomorrow and you are going to work for half price from now on. But all you have to do is to turn out a fair day’s work and you can work better wages….”

Eventually the men caved in and production rose at the Midvale Steel factory.

“After that we were good friends, but it took three years of hard fighting to bring this about.”

Emboldened by this success Taylor went on to become a highly sought-after and influential management consultant. Over the years he perfected his system of “scientific management.” Here’s how the system worked.

First Taylor would observe the labor process as it existed. He cataloged all the motions of the workers and timed them. He then set about, through trial and error, devising the most efficient flow of motions possible.

“…there are many different ways in common use for doing the same thing…. there is always one method and one implement which is better than any of the rest. And this one best method and best implement can only be discovered or developed through a scientific study and analysis of all the methods and implements in use, together with accurate, minute, motion and time study.” (p.9)

No job was too simple or complex. Taylor famously spent 26 years studying the best way to cut metal. (The task seemed impossible to rationalize as there were too many variables. Even famous mathematicians told him it couldn’t be done. But Taylor’s obsessive compulsive genius prevailed.) But simple work could be rationalized as well.

In a famous example Taylor sought to come up with a more efficient method for loading pig-iron into a train car. Men had to pick up a piece of pig-iron, walk up a plank and drop the pig-iron into a train car. On average a worker could load about 12 1/2 tons of pig iron a day. After careful study Taylor “discovered” that 47 tons a day was a “proper day’s work”. He did this by analyzing the tiring effect of physical labor on muscle. He discovered that a man’s muscles require a certain percentage of rest for an amount of work exerted. The trick was to time the ratio of work to rest for each worker so that they could work the hardest without tiring out.

The second step was to pick the right worker. Any old worker wouldn’t do. In fact only about one in eight men could load 47 tons of pig iron a day.

“With the very best of intentions’ the other seven out of eight men were physically unable to work at this pace. Now the one man in eight who was able to do this work was in no sense superior to the other men who were working on the gang. He merely happened to be a man of the type of the ox, — no rare specimen of humanity, difficult to find and therefore very highly prized. On the contrary, he was a man so stupid that he was unfitted to do most kinds of laboring work, even.”

Taylor started with just one man: a large Pennsylvania Dutchman named Schmidt. These were his instructions to Schmidt:

“…you will do exactly as this man tells you to-morrow, from morning till night. When he tells you to pick up a pig and walk, you pick it up and you walk, and when he tells you to sit down and rest, you sit down. You do that right straight through the day. And what’s more, no back talk. Now a high-priced man does just what he’s told to do, and no back talk. Do you understand that? When this man tells you to walk, you walk; when he tells you to sit down, you sit down, and you don’t talk back at him.” (p.21)

Taylor’s next comments tell us more about the “scientific selection of workers”:

“This seems to be rather rough talk. And indeed it would be if applied to an educated mechanic, or even an intelligent laborer. With a man of the mentally sluggish type of Schmidt it is appropriate and not unkind, since it is effective in fixing his attention on the high wages which he wants and away from what, if it were called to his attention, he probably would consider impossibly hard work.” (p.21)

Throughout his writing Taylor stresses the idea of selecting only workers who are able to work at the very highest level of efficiency. This always meant firing all of the other workers. Taylor had no sympathy for these displaced workers.

“And indeed it should be understood that the removal of these men from pig-iron handling, for which they were unfit, was really a kindness to themselves, because it was the first step toward finding them work for which they were peculiarly fitted…” (p.31)

The result was a drastic reduction in the number of workers employed and at the same time a rise in output. Workers were given raises though, as mentioned earlier, these raises usually did not stay in effect. Meanwhile the size of management grew. There was an office where labor was planned out. When workers came to work in the morning they were given a set of written instructions as to how exactly to work. Time-study men patrolled the factory floor timing motions. There was a proliferation of managers all dedicated to different aspects of labor control.

Divorced from the knowledge of the labor process, the worker became less and less skilled. Work was more repetitive and it was harder to bargain for higher wages when it was so easy for employers to replace a workforce.

Taylorism was also fiercely resisted. It produced much shopfloor conflict and militant strikes. Taylor consistently left this detail out in his own versions of his successes claiming that: “…during the thirty years that we have been engaged in introducing scientific management there has not been a single strike from those who were working in accordance with its principles….” Such blatant omissions were typical of a man who could not tolerate anything the interfered with his utopian vision of a planned, rational universe.

While Taylor’s perfect world- a world free of class conflict, where worker and capitalists worked toward a common goal of perfect efficiency- never came into being, his ideas about the labor process became part of the basic fabric of working life. The planning of motion in work and management’s monopoly over the knowledge of work are a basic fact of the way we experience much of modern work. Scientific management is still taught in industrial engineering schools and its concepts still inform the way workplaces are built and the way jobs are structured.

While some of management theory has moved on since Taylor the basic questions he was grappling with are still crucial. As the productive powers of labor increased rapidly over the course of the 20th century there was much thinking about how production and society were to be organized and how the worker would be habituated to the demands of capital. As we begin to look at the history of capitalist crisis it will be important to keep these basic questions in mind.

Bibliography:
“The Principles of Scientific Management” Frederick Winslow Taylor; Dover Publications 1998; originally published in 1911. I have condensed some sentences/paragraphs to make some quotes more You-tube friendly. This is indicated by the traditional “…”. (I have not in any way changed the meaning of the text. See my comment below.) “Principles” can be read online at the marxist internet archive: http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/economics/taylor/principles/index.htm

Taylor’s narration of the Midvale battle comes from Taylor’s testimony before “A Special Committee of the House of Representatives to investigate the Taylor and other Systems of Shop Management” as quoted in Harry Braverman’s “Labor and Monopoly Capital”, 1998 Monthly Review Press

I also enjoyed “Frederick Taylor: A Study in Personality and Innovation” by Sudhir Kakar. MIT Press 1970

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37 Responses to Frederick Taylor- the biggest bastard ever

  1. Pingback: Frederick Taylor: The biggest bastard ever « Dandelion Salad

  2. That was a very interesting, well-written article about Taylor and the birth of labor exploitation.

    • thanks… but the exploitation of labor by capital predates Taylor. He was more of a modern manifestation of the new challenges of exploiting labor in the era of monopoly capital.

  3. Thanks for your work putting these videos together, as you can see I’ve reposted to share with my readers. Keep up the great work.

    Also added your blog to my blogroll.

  4. I am leaving this comment to defend my use of quotations in this blog entry. I read a critique of my Taylor piece on Reddit (the substance of which I don’t think is interesting enough to bother refuting here) at the end of which the author insinuates that there is something dishonest about my use of Taylor’s quotations. (Ironically (s)he quotes me out of context in the process.)

    I have done two things in my quoting of Taylor. First, Taylor refers to himself in the third person all the time: “The writer told them plainly he was now working on the side of the management.” Aside from being annoying this would seriously confuse a youtube video where I am using a different voice to read Taylor’s quotes. So I have changed the text to be in the first person. I have indicated this change with the traditional [I].

    Secondly, I have edited some sentences to make them shorter and easier to fit into my allotted time for a youtube video. For instance Taylor writes:

    “But our larger wastes of human effort, which go on every day through such of our acts as are blundering, ill-directed; or inefficient, and which Mr. Roosevelt refers to as a lack of “national efficiency,” are less visible, less tangible, and are but vaguely appreciated.”

    I omitted “and which Mr. Roosevelt refers to as a lack of ‘national efficiency,’”. Because I didn’t think it was useful at all, and because it doesn’t change the meaning of the text to remove it.

    I have posted a link to Taylor’s “Principles” and I encourage any interested persons to read the work for themselves. But I would not recommend using my blog entry as a source of quotes from Taylor because of my edits. Neither one of these edits is out of character with traditional uses of quotes in literature.

  5. Dennis Nezic says:

    I’m not sure what, if any, larger picture was being implied :P. Sure Taylor may have been a cold and delusional and dictatorial person, and sure there may be many “bad” people like him — but so what? :P We have no more a right to control Taylorites as they have a right to control us.

    But also, what is so wrong about efficiency? I mean, what alternative “paradigm” would you suggest? IN-efficiency? :P Maybe 80% efficiency? No specific efficiency?–but then, what does that mean from the perspective of an employer?

    • A Taylorite without the right to control is like a cop without a badge- not a Taylorite

      Nothing is wrong with efficiency divorced from its class context. In its current class context it is an expression of the basic contradiction inherent in capital: that capital seeks to shrink expenditures on the very thing that creates value in the first place. The alternative paradigm: no capital.

  6. Dennis Nezic says:

    Since when, and how, does a Taylorite control anybody else? (And by control, of course, I mean force… ie. with a gun to someone’s head :s)

    I guess that’s my main point. If someone doesn’t want to work in a draconian Taylorite pig-iron factory, they can easily join (or start) their own laissez-faire more enjoyable less hierarchic etc factory — but who is anyone to tell Taylor how to run /his/ own factory? :P. I mean, if the intent of this article/site is simply to poke fun at cruel people, that’s fine and good and I mostly agree with all those criticisms… I just hope it’s intention is not to *force* it’s views on him (or anyone else :P).

    I also can’t help but squirm at your anthropomorphizing “capital”. It is nothing more than accumulated value, ideally at the discretion of each individual person. To make any kind of generalization about it is tantamount to generalizing individuals (which I would certainly take offense to), especially if the generalization is negative. For example, from your previous comment, you seem to be implying that /I/ would be a Scroogian employer, to which I would be greatly offended :). I believe Google might be The famous current example of a good employer — though I’m sure there are countless others — that does /not/ “seek to shrink expenditures on the very thing that creates value in the first place”. That is, they “waste” a great deal of their “capital” on pampering their employees.

  7. ksud says:

    What he’s trying to point out is that Taylor’s theories have been utilized by capital in order to set standards of output for workers on pain of dismissal – the entire workplace based around maximum worker efficiency and greater surplus extraction, the better to combat a falling rate of profit. He could have just pointed to the ‘idea’ of scientific management, but considering Taylor was a major exponent of this theory, making reference to him was entirely justified. If you take a look at some of his other videos, you’ll find that kapitalism101 takes the view that capitalists as people aren’t so much an object of villification as the position they occupy in relation to the structure of capitalism itself, with the exception of some individuals like Taylor.

    “If someone doesn’t want to work in a draconian Taylorite pig-iron factory, they can easily join (or start) their own laissez-faire more enjoyable less hierarchic etc factory”

    … Come on, really? There are reasons why this doesn’t work. The imperatives of capital accumulation compel petit-bourgeois enterprises like these to go under. They’re structurally incapable of growing at a rate that will allow them to compete with firms that exploit workers more intensively. In light of the fact that such firms are structurally incapable of existing for long, or existing on a widespread basis, I think that workers have every right to tell Taylor how to run ‘his’ factory.

  8. Reindeer Scarf says:

    Dennis Nezic: “laissez-faire more enjoyable less hierarchic”

    How is laissez-faire “more enjoyable” or “less hierarchic” than more regulated forms of capitalism? If anything, it must be the opposite, since it leaves capital completely unrestrained, by definition.

    “who is anyone to tell Taylor how to run /his/ own factory?”

    Who is anyone to tell politicians how to run /their/ own government? Ah, but that’s a silly question; the people, who are the source of all political power and who make government possible, clearly ought to run it.

    “I just hope it’s intention is not to *force* it’s views on him”

    Capitalism is *forced* on everyone who lives where the laws are designed (usually by capitalists) to maintain capitalism (that’s what, 99% of the planet?). It’s often condescendingly claimed that anti-capitalists are “allowed” to exist under capitalism, but this is not merely offensive — it is also a lie.

    “I also can’t help but squirm at your anthropomorphizing ‘capital’.”

    Oh please, not this again. This is all one seems to hear from the libertarian-right, who “anthropomorphize” government in their next breath. Capital can be generalized because the interests of capitalists are known. “Capital,” in this sense, means “capitalists in action.” It’s a perfectly homogeneous group with a singular interest. It makes no difference that capitalists are unique individual snowflakes when they go home at night.

    “they [Google] ‘waste’ a great deal of their ‘capital’ on pampering their employees.”

    This is like saying that the local mafioso “wastes” money when he buys new bikes for all the neighborhood kids — with protection money he extorted from their shopkeeper parents.

    P.S. Why do you keep sticking out your tongue?

    ksud: “The imperatives of capital accumulation compel petit-bourgeois enterprises like these to go under. They’re structurally incapable of growing at a rate that will allow them to compete with firms that exploit workers more intensively.”

    Exactly. There’s a reason Joe’s Hardware goes under when Wal-Mart comes to town, and it’s NOT simply because of “individuals making subjective decisions to buy cheaper goods,” as the marginalists like to pretend.

  9. Dennis Nezic says:

    I’m not sure what you mean by “capitalism being forced on us”. Especially with respect to the libertarian/Randian idea of capitalism, that just doesn’t make much sense. For the sake of argument, let’s take health care as an example. Both within Rand’s capitalism and even our current pseudo-statist-capitalism, there is nothing preventing communist-minded people from organizing a common insurance plan — however they see fit — they don’t even need to use money — they can use their own ration cards or whatever :P. The point is, the basic idea behind capitalism is supposed to be freedom, and you guys seem to be taking this and twisting the words and ideas around to make it appear as though this freedom is actually oppression–ie. it doesn’t automatically provide you with health care.

    You guys don’t seem to appreciate what freedom means. (Correct me if I’m wrong.) You seem all to willing to punish people merely for what YOU consider to be “selfish” behavior. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Taylor actually saw himself as a virtuous man. Efficiency really isn’t all that bad.)

    I just don’t see how you guys make the mental leap from allegedly respecting people’s own personal decisions, to forcing Taylor to run his own private business however the mobs see fit.

    Comparing Google to a mafia extorting money really weakens your position :|. Sergei had a really good idea in a garage one day, and people liked it. How is that extortion??

    • Dennis,

      The domain of freedom is greater than the exchange of commodities in the marketplace. Capitalism is more than commodity exchange: it is a social relation governing the way social labor is apportioned in a society of private ownership of the means of production and wage labor. These are inherently coercive social relations. If you are not able to acknowledge the social dimension of the labor process, or the class relations underlying capitalist commodity exchange- or to make a reasoned argument why we should abstract away from these relations when analyzing capital- then I see no reason to distinguish you from a vulgar troll and to delete your comments. This is not a space for boring bourgeois ideological soundbites. It is a space for intelligent discussion. Dissenting view are welcome if they show an ability to think for themselves and not to parrot obnoxious propaganda- leftist or rightist. There are other websites for that.

  10. Dennis Nezic says:

    I can’t help but feel you’re hiding behind vague words and concepts. Let’s take Google again as a real example, since I’m having difficulty following your abstractions. What role can society possibly have in telling google which algorithm to use in it’s queries, or how many electrical engineers it needs to maintain it’s servers, or what it should barter or pay willing volunteers to “work”/play in it’s bean-bagged buildings?

    I’m sure on an academic scale, on a larger abstract social scale, one may or may not be able to see social patterns — a social dimension of the labor process, class struggles, etc — but individuals, specifically ME, do not operate on these scales. I operate with my friends. If I come up with a better algorithm than google, who is anyone to say I have to give it “to society” (I probably would, but of my own volition).

    I don’t mean to troll — I’m sincerely trying to understand your points of view. I actually kindof hate capital and money myself. I tend to lean toward Buckminster’s visions of the future where technology and better organization can entirely avoid the hassles of inefficient and arguably exploitive primitive labor traditions. But what I simply cannot accept is others telling me how to live my private life — for better or worse. But, I’m sure you don’t mean to advocate that.

    How about this: we’ll have autonomous cities, and you guys can all live on the East end and have your nice social programs, and all us stubborn individualists can live on the West end. Would that be OK? Surely it would! And I suppose that’s my only point. There’s a HUGE difference between arguing the advantages of one system over another, and actually demanding everyone follow it. And you neglected to explain how (Randian) capitalism FORCES people to behave a certain way — how it prevents everyone on this site etc from organizing however you guys see fit.

    • It is robotic, ideological arguments like this that make you appear like a troll. Where in any video or comment have I said anything about wanting to control what you do with your private life? By imposing that vulgar straw-man argument on my video you effectively ended the discussion. This video was about how messed up Taylor was for wanting to micro-manage the labor process- it is a critique of the authoritarian nature of capitalist management. There is nothing “free” about the private ownership of production.

      The other half of your “argument”- that anyone can choose to opt out of capitalism at any time so why bother complaining- is also an ideological assertion meant to close off discussion. You can’t just opt out of capitalism and go start your own post-capitalist economy somewhere else. Capital must be negated from the inside first. You just conflate capitalism with some vague, simple idea of freedom because for you capitalism is only the exchange of goods in the market. But capital is much more than that is a social relation predicated on private ownership of production and wage labor. It must grow at the expense of the laborer or it dies.

  11. Dennis Nezic says:

    Reindeer above in comment #10 says that mobs (ie. “the people) have a right to tell Sergey Brin how to run his private company. Ksud above in comment #9 says that Sergey’s voluntary and under-contract workers have a right to tell Sergey how to run his private company. And you, just now, by saying that there is “nothing free” about private ownership (ie. Sergey’s freedom to invent algorithms and implement them however he likes is nothing like freedom — because of some unrelated third-party perspective.)

    You can make a really good argument that Google is an extreme neo-Taylorite. They focus INTENSELY on efficiency and “cost-effectiveness”. But just because they have multi-colored bean bags and smiles on their faces (whereas the smouldering pig-iron imagery evokes dark and horrid emotions), they fly under the radar. So, either you’re saying Google is a brutal neo-Taylor, or it is an example that extreme and selfish (albeit mutual selfishness) can work.

    I also believe that you are mistaking my position. I am not advocating for capitalism or the exploitation of workers, but actually merely arguing against the exploitation of ANYONE. You guys seem all to ready to exploit “the producers” to help “the masses”. And that’s my ONLY criticism. (Albeit a huge criticism.) With everything else, I believe we are in agreement.

    • Your confusion comes from not being able to think outside the paradigm of capital. We are saying Sergey Brin doesn’t have a right to own a private company. We are saying that private ownership of production, by definition is exploitative and authoritarian. “You guys seem all to ready to exploit “the producers” to help “the masses”. ” What? The producers are the masses. Owning the factory that the workers work in doesn’t make you a producer.

  12. Dennis Nezic says:

    First of all, can we all please drop the patronizing and insulting? :P

    I acknowledge that the system of draconian maximization of capital is not one that I would prefer. Do you acknowledge that there are many people that actually do prefer it? Who may like the challenge of “brutal competition”?

    I don’t understand what you mean by “Sergey Brin doesn’t have a right to own a private company”. At what point does the prohibition kick in: After his mathematical intellectual invention? After he compiles his software on his computer in his garage? After he connects his website “online”? After he asks an old friend to watch over his garage-computer-website in exchange for something? After he asks a random neighbourhood person to watch over it? You see my point? :P

    Owning a factory doesn’t inherently mean anything. It can be a good factory (Google), or a bad factory (Taylor’s metal works). My only point is that it belongs to whoever built it (including all contractual obligations, etc), and that it is simply wrong/evil to arbitrarily take it over because all of a sudden the mobs “feel exploited” — even though they voluntarily decided to enter it, and nothing is really stopping them from starting their own. Are there no communist engineers and planners? Do none of them have factories or farms for people to voluntarily work in? If not, I would be all for protecting a few such startups (in case limited land or resources are the issue).

    • “Owning a factory doesn’t inherently mean anything.” It means that you are a capitalist and that you hire wage labor. Not everyone has that luxury. The labor process is a social labor process and involves the coordination of vast resources. The majority of those resources- raw materials, tools, machines- are privately owned. One does not cook up a ford motor plant in one’s garage in one’s spare time and then magically become a capitalist. Capital entails serious concentration of wealth. This is then put into motion exploiting labor.
      Every once in a while some small fry’s little hot dog stand turns into a big company and then that gets made into a gentle parable about how anyone, if they really want it, can become a capitalist- the subtext, of course, being that therefore poverty and exploitation only exist by choice; that capitalism is just a system of free choices and if people wanted to not work for wallmart, or start a worker’s cooperative they could just opt out of wage labor. Do you seriously think that the billions of wage laborers in the world bust their ass everyday by choice?- because just don’t care to be capitalists?

      “My only point is that it belongs to whoever built it” By which you mean a factory should belong to the construction workers who built it? That google should belong to all the employees who worked to make the company what it is? This I would agree with which is why we should abolish private ownership of the means of production.

  13. Dennis Nezic says:

    Actually, as cruel as it may sound, I do believe that 99.9% of the world’s poverty and exploitation exists by choice — insofar as each adult is responsible for his own actions. (On the other hand, to the extent that you believe we are programmable, obviously you would blame the programmer. But, I for one choose to believe that I control my own actions.)

    Why do people keep having children if they can’t support them? (Nor the planet; I strongly believe that overpopulation is a huge source of problems.) Is that not irresponsible behavior? And should “the wealthy” be forced to subsidize such irresponsible behavior? Is uncontrollable virus-like child-bearing “a human right”? Would you legislate procreation like China tries to do? This is one of my new pet theories: you can eradicate all poverty within a generation, simply by behaving responsibly and not creating more babies until you can support them.

    Again, I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t see how it applies to reality :). Please walk me through Sergey’s garage example. Let’s further assume that he’s living in an ideal communist state. But he’s still Sergey, and still a little selfish, and doesn’t want to share his algorithm. Will you force him to? Will you force yourself as the middle-man in any voluntary transfer of “payment” between him and his friends/strangers? I mean, I really wouldn’t mind it if everybody else in the world was communist, if me and my small group of friends were still able to “practice capitalism” — though I have a little difficulty seeing how that would work. I wouldn’t be able to own my own factory? What if I quarried the rocks and cemented it all together myself? “The State/The People” could still walk in and take it over whenever they felt like it?

    • This is the essence of bourgeois ideology- that there is no point analyzing the structural nature of poverty and wealth creation because everything is a result of free choice. And then you conflate the coercive nature of social structures with some proposed political solution: you say that those who critique these social structures are the ones imposing their will upon you. This is absurd. You control your own actions but only within given set of structurally determined options. I propose we change those structures so that people are able to exercise greater collective freedoms on a basis of social equality.

      An algorithm is not means of production unless it is part of a production process. One does not just invent a factory, or power plant in their head. It is this production process that is inherently social. The products of this social labor should not be appropriated by private individuals for the purpose of profit.

  14. Dennis Nezic says:

    I applaud all your critiques of the structure’s problems, and mostly agree with them. But, you don’t seem to realize that all you guys (that I mentioned above) are actually *explicitly* (and with blunt hostility) proposing political action–that is, taking over Sergey’s stuff, all of which was obtained voluntarily and under contract, and he’s not even hurting anyone. I realize I’m slightly building a straw-man here, but you haven’t acknowledged this very real potential *at all*. I’ve asked you several direct and real questions, which you weren’t able to address :S — because they reveal the embedded violence and injustice.

    With respect to the algorithm, you’re missing the point :P, and actually it is at the very core of Google. Without it, and it is still a secret held by Sergey and very few others, Google would not be Google. So, not only do you not seem to have a problem with the mobs take over Sergey’s processing centers, you also don’t mind them taking over all that special secret software. (Incidentally, I am strongly opposed to all “intellectual property”, but I still wouldn’t forcefully steal it from Sergey.) (Btw, please correct me if I’m wrong. Maybe I’m misunderstanding you. Maybe you would allow Sergey to keep doing what he’s doing with his friends and online clients?)

    With respect to the appropriation of a factory, you say “the products of social labor SHOULD not be appropriated by private individuals”. First of all, I’m not sure how many jobs you’ve had, but I’ve certainly worked in places that I really didn’t much care for–mostly due to my own inexperience and youth–which is hardly anyone else’s fault but my own. (Bakeries, warehouses, etc.) I knew full well it was a low-level job that didn’t demand much responsibility. This lack of responsibility was one of the main reasons I chose the job–I had other things I wanted to devote my energies toward. There was no coercion or exploitation involved, except the “unfairness” of nature in creating stupid and inept youth. Now, eventually when I find something I really enjoy doing, I may want a stake in the ownership of it (which means a stake in it’s profits AND DEBTS and other headaches), but you can’t say that everybody wants that kind of responsibility. But, I do agree that *in general* (not by any kind of blunt universal legislation), the workers should control things — in which case I would strongly prefer working in co-operatives and other such organizations.

    My problem is not with your proposals or critiques, but when you (and Reindeer and Ksud etc) *impose* your proposals on others. And you all have, as I’ve shown above. If you agree not to force Sergey to give over his software, or me to not be able to do business with my friends, I’ll stop covering you in straw :D.

    • I do not have a pre-packaged, just-add-water, blueprint for a post-capitalist social order which realizes the social nature of the labor process. I believe we have much work to do in re-imagining the anti-capitalist project in the 21st century after the failures of the 20th century. But sometimes I think the ideological argument goes like this: because you don’t have a blueprint you can’t critique the social order. I think it works the opposite way: we have to critique the present order before we build the blueprint. And that will be a long process.

      When you say that I can’t critique the social relations of capitalism because to change them would involve force I think this is a similar line of reasoning. The social relations of capital are established by force. They are reproduced by force. (I was about to expand on this point when I saw Murray has just chimed in on this very point so I won’t bother.) To change them will require force. It is hypocritical to acknowledge the coercive nature of a dominant social relation but say it is immoral to change that social relation through coercion. Take slavery for example: an immoral social relation based on naked violence. Was it immoral to take away the private property of slaveowners because it impinged on their personal freedom?

      In terms of intellectual property. There is a difference between being rewarded for one’s unique social contributions to social knowledge and using that knowledge as capital to extract value from workers.

  15. Murray says:

    To expand upon a point which Brendan touched on, I think you are missing the point a lot, Dennis. You seem to be ignoring the process of accumulation by dispossession that creates the working class. So, I will attempt to quickly summarise this and then get onto the meat of what I am trying to say.

    Capitalism requires a class of workers who can sell their labour power on the market as a commodity. To do this, there needs to be a separation of labour from a claim or ownership of the means of production – if it had access to these, then it would be the products that are made that would be sold, and not the commodity labour power – hence no capitalist production. Likewise, it needs a class of moneyed people who owned the means of production, and could purchase this labour power and put it to use. This is easily demonstrated as a historical phenomena but occurs to this day; we need only look at the way that land is apportioned worldwide and sold off, forcing communities off their traditional land and compelling their entry into the labour force.

    This is most obviously shown in relation to agricultural workers historically, and to this day. In precapitalist modes of production, agriculture and not industry for obvious reasons had the dominant status; it had access therefore to an enormous workforce – it is integral then to take this workforce off the land, and destroying any other aspects that may tie people to the land (customs, laws etc). Enclosure movements forced people off the land – in Britain for instance, in the reign of George III, 3554 acts of enclosure were passed, expropriating 5 1/2 million acres of land. In Kenya between 1905 and 1941, 4400000 acres of land were expropriated from natives – to add insult to injury, the British administration implemented a poll tax and reduced reservation sizes – the only way they could pay the poll tax was if they left their own land to enter wage labour. I guess similar things could be seen in the reservations that Native Americans have been compelled to live on, and similarly for African Americans once slavery was formally abolished. These expropriations were and still are never peaceful affairs, and the whole hand of the state and capital is brought in to smash them and quell their movements. Violent expropriations like this created and still create the preconditions for capitalism – it makes the worker free in a dual sense as Marx noted – free to work on the market, and free from their previous ownership of means of production.

    So, this creates the conditions by which people are compelled to sell their labour – this process of accumulation by dispossession is undeniably forceful and coercive. However, what of the conditions that it has created? Well, under capitalism, the majority of people – the working class – is compelled to sell it’s labour power on the market for a wage and hence to live. What happens if they don’t? In a lot of places in the world (and a lot of rich folk still wish it was like this in the Western world), it’s a choice of work, or don’t work and starve. I’m sure you’ll say “Well there’s a welfare state” – however, the existence of this depended on working class struggle for it, and as it exists it is woefully insufficient and can’t be looked at as an alternative – after all, exchange still works on a capitalist basis, and in a lot of countries “Welfare to work” schemes are now in place to bring people back into the labour force. If the basis of labour is “Do it or starve”, that’s inherently coercive, surely?

    As for your opt out comment, that requires capital to start with – you’d need to buy land, means of production etc so that you could survive. This is of course very very difficult for working class people, and you could bet that if enough people were to get the ability to do this and then did it, the arms of the capitalist state would come right down on it and exhibit all it’s coercive characteristics once more.

  16. Murray says:

    Dennis, using your hypothetical, why should Sergey have the right to impose these conditions on his workers? Because it’s his idea? Isn’t that tyrannical as well?

    If we’re going to be arguing morality, then let’s recognise that it’s not a one sided thing and that actions do affect other people.

    I fail to see what’s authoritarian or bad about removing the ownership of the means of production from a small class of individuals who use this in a tyrannical way already. If we’re taking your logic, was it wrong for the Tyrranicides to happen? Is it wrong if a dictator gets murdered? Of course not, and we need to recognise that expropriating the expropriators is not a bad thing at all.

  17. Dennis Nezic says:

    Re: Murray’s points

    Any form of coercion is evil. Obviously all those exproriations that you mentioned were extremely evil, and the result of *violence* and statism and crime. Now, if you choose to equate all that to capitalism, umm, fine.

    The slightly more persuasive argument that you mention is the “work or starve” argument, and how that is coercion. And I’ll grant you that, IFF you accept how slippery a slope you’re on when you use it. Is reality really that binary and brutal? Is living on the street and begging the same as starving to death? Is living in a cheap termite infested house starving to death? Is living in an apartment facing land instead of the shore starving to death? In other words, is violently forcing money from an entirely unrelated rich person better than begging on the streets? But also, what role does laziness and bad character play in the misfortunes of “the poor”? Are they (all?) really poor because the system oppresses them, or because they’re just generally bad/incompetent people? Do bad/incompetent people not exist?”

    By the way, Sergey is not imposing his conditions on anyone — they all voluntarily signed up. I suppose you can make the far weaker and abstract argument that The System encourages Sergey to impose unfair conditions on his workers (are they really unfair? when did this element slip into my hypothetical), but then you are saying that Sergey must suffer (in reality, not in abstraction, and with real blood and violence no less, not abstract blood or violence) because of the flaws of this system. It’s easier for you to beat up on Sergey by demonizing him as a dictator — but notice where our absurd abstractions have led us. By the way, I’m really getting worried here — are we really suggesting it is OK to beat Sergey up and steal his algorithms?? (For the good of society, no less.)

    • Dennis, Some of your comments are truly amazing. They sound like they were written by a leftist parodying the libertarian position. I am willing to expect that people are poor because of their character flaws only if you accept that people were slaves because they were less intelligent and that women get raped because they dress to sexy.

      Wage labor as a social phenomenon was not voluntary. The mass of the people had to separated from the means of production for wage labor to become the dominant mode of apportioning labor. I will not repeat this argument again. I don’t have time. If you continue to post elitist and offensive comments about the majority of the world’s population, or if you cannot recognize the existence of private productive property and wage labor I will block your comments.

  18. Dennis Nezic says:

    kapitalism101, and it is hypocritical to evoke the individual rights within the slavery issue, and then violate them here by prohibiting voluntary and mutual agreements among consenting individuals :P

    I do acknowledge that dominant social relations exist — but to say that this is the heart, if not all of capitalism (that capitalism is necessarily dominant and oppressive) is simply logically and otherwise false. With free humans, you will inevitably have some smarter than others, and “dominant relationships” will inevitably form. The smart should have more power than the stupid. This simply makes sense. But from this truism to say that all such dominant relationships are oppressive and brutal and violent, or even that most of them are like this, simply does not follow. Nor can you really measure such a thing. What you see as brutal in Taylor’s views, others may like. Who gets to define the parameters for unacceptable “oppression”?

  19. Dennis Nezic says:

    Nope. I simply said that dominant social relations naturally exist. It is nothing peculiar to capitalism, or capital, and communism is equally afflicted by it. It’s actually the reason why State Communism always fails.

  20. Murray says:

    I’d agree with Brendan – it seems like you’re exaggerating so much that it’s hard to tell if you’re for real or not.

    Accumulation by dispossession is inherently related to capitalism – it creates the preconditions for capitalism, it appropriates land and materials etc for capitalist use, it consolidates class power etc. To distinguish “statism” from Capitalism is a false dichotomy – what constitutes a state for capitalism is unique to capitalism, and what constitutes a non state might in some other society constitute a state (the dictatorship of the proletariat could be argued to be a non state, but others might argue it is a state, for instance).

    Last time I checked, a discussion wasn’t about brokering deals on accepting views either….

    The stuff you use isn’t the same as starving to death but a lot of the time they lead to just that. People who live on the street are very often victims of violence and frequently are murdered; living in a cheap house could lead to respiratory problems etc and hence a reduced lifespan etc (it also presupposes some income, as if there was none you couldn’t pay rent etc). As for your comparing living in an apartment facing the land instead of shore (wtf?!), thats something that a mass of people lack, and to associate my statement with that is the typical nonsense I’d expect to hear from a rich kid (Oh god, not living in a house not near the sea! Oh gosh!), and not in reasoned debate. Your use of “slippery slope” arguments is ridiculous, anything can be argued by a slippery slope, provided you know what it is you want to argue.

    Is violently expropriating wealth from the rich better than begging on the streets? Are you for real? Of course it is.

    The role of laziness and bad character? What are you, Republican party press secretary?

    As I’ve made very clear they haven’t all voluntarily signed up – they were compelled firstly to find a job, and it may also be the case that Sergey is the only employer, for instance. Is that choice? Of course not. Sergey, as capitalist, compels people to work for him, appropriates the surplus value etc etc etc – am I suggesting we “beat him up and steal his algorithms”?

    In short, you betcha.

  21. Murray says:

    By the way, in case you hadn’t guessed and before anyone calls me out on it, I was taking the proverbial when I said I suggest we violently expropriate people :P

    In reality such a thing is a political matter and entirely unrelated to the actual subject at hand.

  22. ksud says:

    “Actually, as cruel as it may sound, I do believe that 99.9% of the world’s poverty and exploitation exists by choice — insofar as each adult is responsible for his own actions.”

    Wow, lol. I know right? Why don’t they just, like, start a factory or something?

  23. ksud says:

    This is even more amazing;

    “Nope. I simply said that dominant social relations naturally exist.”

    Heil anyone?

  24. Aliva says:

    Nope. I simply said that dominant social relations naturally exist. It is nothing peculiar to capitalism, or capital, and communism is equally afflicted by it. It’s actually the reason why State Communism always fails.

    If you have actually would read Marxist Economic Theory at all ou would see that their has not existed one “communist” place on earth contrary to what your history books or “History” channel documentaries have told you. Past and current countries that were/are called “Communist” were/are actually in various degrees of transition between capititism and socialism.

    Here are some basic things to look for in a Communal/communist society:

    General Commodity Production withered away.

    Class relations of domination withered away.

    A State as seperate from/and above society withered away.

    The forces of production fully developed and socialized under the full democratic control of the associated producers.

  25. Enjoyed reading through this. It now appears to me Taylor toiled very very hard against many odds at steel mill. Fair days work lives on.

  26. Tom Hudson says:

    Thanks for posting this essay. Very interesting. As are the comments. Though, the comments from the Ayn Rand supporter seemed thoroughly illogical. Ksud, I’m not going to argue in favour of Communism, I’m actually an anarchist but not the libertarian, lassez-fair type.

    Your logic fails when you both assume away social context to support your idealistic position that people are free to do whatever they want and then, at the same time, agree that dominant power relations do exist. You seem to believe that these relationships are natural. But if dominant power relationships are natural, then who are they natural to? Are you suggesting there is some equalibreum relationship between those who desire domination and power and those who desire to be dominated? How can this be? How is it that those who dominate don’t come into conflict with others who wish to dominate? If person A has land that I want and I think I can dominate person A, then whats to stop me from taking it? Clearly person A is not “free” to do what they want. Their freedom to have their land is negated by my “freedom” to dominate them and take it away.

    Clearly, a world in which some dominate, negates a world in which all people are free to choose. Your only solution to this flaw in your logic is to somehow suggest an equalibreum between those who dominate and those who seek to be dominated. Again, this is simply childish and absurd and no philisopher of note, of either the right or left, from Marx to Rand has suggested this is so.

    Ayn Rands position is simply idealism. Essentially, if we all started from the same place and were completely free to choose, then some would choose this and some would choose that and some individuals and some groups might have material more or less than others. But, as you seem to admit, we don’t live in that world. A materialist analysis of society looks at how we are, not how we might be. And your materialist perspective clearly acknowledges the existance of power dynamics and conflict.

    And you also seem to see a flaw in Rands argument. That is, she assumes an idealistic world which is non-Hobbsian. That is, she assumes that, outside of law and coercive institutions, we are not so selfish as to seek to take by force what others have. That we won’t come into conflict with each other. Rand assumes, that in our natural state, we will all go out into the world pursuing our own interests and that these interests are not a zero sum game. Hobbes assumed that scarcity meant we will come into conflict.

    Hobbes solves this problem for capitalism by arguing the need for an all powerful Leviathan/state. Conflict betweem groups/individuals is resolved through legal arbitration (contract law and courts) or through force (police/ army). And this, of course, limits our freedom. He realized this but saw it as a necessary evil. He wasn’t exactly and advocate for democracy but in his lifetime, England was in the midst of bloody civil wars, so maybe it was somewhat understandable.

    Personally, I see both Hobbes and Rand (and most liberal thought) as simplistically idealistic. It serves no real value to simply imagine this or that kind of world if we don’t actually live in it and have no idea how to get there. Moreover, neither philosopher looked at the actual historical evolution of the societies and institutions they lived under. As well, Hobbes assumptions about human nature were based on little or no anthropological evidence.

    It may be true that we naturally desire domination, though the archeology from European prehistory and evidence of the few remaining cultures that exist outside civilization say that this isn’t so. But if they are wrong, then your arguments about “freedom” and “choice” are clearly negated. Those concepts are mutually exclusive to domination. Person A cannot have freedom or choice if person B desires and is able to control their actions.

    Ksud, I really believe you need to think through your argument or maybe get a dictionary. Or maybe you are just another lonely troll who likes to talk.

    • Dennis Nezic says:

      I think you are doing too much work :P. You are appealing to past “authorities” (philosophers) and historical evidence and such things — none of which have anything to do with me, at least :P. I don’t need you, or Hobbes, or Rand, or anthropological history to tell me what I am, and what my motivations are. You seem to be falling into that dangerous trap of abstraction — lumping me into “we” and other non-sensical labels. Ethics is pretty simple — there is no need to look up to other authorities. Taylor is allowed to be a dickhead, and we are allowed to ignore him. And things will all work out, so long as most people aren’t dickheads. (If they are, an elitist dictatorship would be the way to go.)

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