Judith A. Merkle, Management and Ideology:
The Legacy of the International Scientific Management Movement

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CHAPTER 4 The Taylor System [ID] in Soviet Socialism

Prekrasnyi obrazets tekhicheskogo progressa pri kapitalizme k sotsializmu
[An excellent example of technical progress under capitalism toward socialism.]
LENIN, marginal note on Gilbreth's "Motion Study as an Increase of National Wealth," 1915.1

The concerns of Scientific Management -- centralized planning to promote the efficient use of resources, worker betterment through rationalization of working conditions, and the natural right of a guiding sector of society, or vanguard, to reform national conditions on this model -- have more than a coincidental relationship with Marxism-Leninism.

One of the most curious episodes in the history of Taylorism is how this philosophy of private business came to be absorbed by its bitterest enemy, the first socialist state. The results were not only the creation of an apparently universalistic organizational technology in two diametrically opposed political systems, but the diffusion so achieved appeared to reinforce certain statist tendencies of Scientific Management in the country of its origin, the United States. The practical fusion of socialism, centralism, and bureaucratism that was effected under the aegis of Taylorism was to shape, by example, the organizational patterns for economic development and recovery in all states that learned from the Soviet experiment. [One example = Turkey]

The history of Russian Taylorism begins with the attempt to establish a revolutionary proletarian state according to the Marxist blueprint. Karl Marx, acutely aware of the increase in industrial scale [103/104] and technical rationality in the middle years of the nineteenth century, as well as its by-product of increasing misery in the lower classes, developed a "scientific" theory of history which predicted that the working class would seize the industrial establishment at its highest level of development. Given this high level of scientific and productive development in the revolutionary society, he thought that it would be a simple matter for the working class to use the machinery of the state to establish fully rational patterns of egalitarian distribution of the industrial society's plentiful industrial output. The formula was simple, reasonable, appealing, and needed little elaboration of the postrevolutionary phase because the historical development of the advanced industrial countries was not yet at the point of revolution, or at the point where an even more advanced science would make childishly simple the technical means by which advanced societies could rationally plan production and distribution.

The problem was, however, that the "chain of capitalism broke at its weakest link," to paraphrase Stalin. In the country most de­moralized and disorganized by World War I (by the very reason of its weak development of industry), popular uprisings overthrew the monarchist government [5 SAC entries = ID], and a subsequent coup d'etat [ID] by the Bolshevik faction of the relatively small Social Democratic party established the first "dictatorship of the proletariat." The first Marxist socialist revolution had occurred in the country least able, of all the industrial powers, to provide the industrial preconditions for socialist redistribution. The Bolshevik faction, therefore, changed its name to Communist Party and proceeded to wait for the world revolution to put the industrial apparatus of Western Europe at the service of the world proletariat [ID "Third International"].

The failure of the world revolution left the Russian socialist state and the Communist party isolated in a hostile "bourgeois" world, and faced with the terrible tasks of securing power in the process of fighting a civil war [LOOP], rebuilding a war-torn economy [ID], and developing industrial production to a level considerably higher than that of tsarist Russia [LOOP]. None of these tasks  --  not even the Russian revolution itself  --  had been included in the early Marxist blueprint; they complicated the vaguely defined problem of building a truly socialist state almost beyond understanding. The search for organizational and technical solutions to these problems led the Communist party to the very system on which they had declared war: the Taylor system for the organization of bourgeois factory production.


How had the Russians discovered the Taylor system? What advantages led them to overcome their distaste for it? The compatibility of Marxist scientism with Taylorite scientism was impressed upon Soviet communism by no less a person than Lenin himself. The works of Taylor had been introduced into prerevolutionary Russia via the international communications network of the engineering profession.2 During the first big international publicity wave around the turn of the century, French, German, and Russian translations of Taylor's major works were published. The theoretical possibilities of Taylorism in industrial organization had been recognized by Russian specialists. (It must be remembered, also, that most of the big factories in prerevolutionary Russia were run with the aid of foreign specialists, and many industrial establishments were in foreign hands.) Little or no headway had been made in introducing Taylorism into Russian industry, due to near-explosive social conditions which made owners fear any substitute for the most direct forms of coercive control, added to a heavy-handed, conservative anti-intellectualism at the upper levels of society and government. In a country where labor appeared to be so plentiful and cheap, and few legal controls on even the most extreme forms of labor exploitation existed, there appeared to be little reason to make the investment required to change the system over to one of complex and often substantial financial incentives for labor. In this situation, Lenin, while studying the most advanced forms of capitalism in preparation for his work Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism [ID], became acquainted with the writings of Taylor.


In 1916, Lenin prepared a series of notebooks on the detailed working of capitalist finance and production, as part of his search for new conditions in the organization of capital that would explain the delay of the once imminent proletarian revolution in the West. His finding, that the imperialist exploitation of colonial areas had permitted the "buying off of the working class of the imperialist power, led him to elaborate a theory of nationalist revolution as the key to the destruction of world capitalism. However, his researches into the very latest methods of capitalist organization also increased his appreciation of the skillful methods of financial and psychological coercion [105/106] which had been developed by scientists, in the pay of the industrialists, for the purpose of exploiting the workers while, at the same time, decreasing their revolutionary spirit.

Lenin did not trust the motives of capitalist authors, but his faith in scientific data appears to have predisposed him to believe Taylor's results, if not his statements of purpose. The thousands of metal-cutting experiments performed by Taylor apparently impressed Lenin profoundly; Tetrad' beta, one of Lenin's preparatory notebooks, contains lengthy excerpts from the work of F. W. Taylor, with marginal notes indicating his appreciation of the sinister competence which science gave to capitalism. He appeared particularly impressed by the more ruthless but effective methods of Taylorism, which increased production by wringing the most labor from workers through imposing "scientific" control techniques that simultaneously co-opted the most talented (and hence most dangerous) workers away from unionism. Lenin was also fascinated by the lowered costs of production which Taylorism offered, the installation time ("two to four years!!"), the vast multiplication of white-collar jobs and, especially, the increase in paperwork ("printed work forms!").3

Exploring further the literature of Scientific Management, often through the medium of German translations and commentaries, Lenin apparently found in Gilbreth's works on motion study important answers to the problem of capital accumulation in a nonexploitative fashion suitable to the workers' state. Indeed, French socialists in 1914, bitterly opposed to Taylorism per se, had, nevertheless, found Gilbreth's version of Scientific Management acceptable. Gilbreth, formerly a manual laborer himself, sought to simplify motions rather than to intensify the speed-up under the rule of the stopwatch; this made his work more appealing to the European socialists than that of Taylor.4  It is difficult to imagine that Lenin, well-acquainted with the works of both Taylor and Gilbreth, as well as with the European commentaries of them, did not perceive, in the difference between the techniques of Taylor and Gilbreth, potential grounds for developing a new technique of Scientific Management suited to socialism and yet as productive as the more exploitative means used for the increase of national wealth under capitalism. Scientific Management, as he [106/107] remarked on the margins of a Gilbreth article, was the technique for the transition between capitalism and socialism.5

If the precision, competence, and effectiveness of the writings of the scientific managers first attracted Lenin's attention, it was the ability of Scientific Management to provide solutions for the immediate problems of Russian production that held his interest from the time of the preparation of Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism until the October Revolution. On the overt level, Taylorism offered a way to simplify work so that peasant workers could easily be taught the newly routinized factory work in shorter periods of time. Expensive and dangerous bourgeois specialists could be eliminated after the initial transitional period during which industry would be fully systematized. But not only could Scientific Management make the transition to full industrialism quicker, it could raise production to the point where the surplus, if not dissipated into profits, could be used to enrich the workers instead. If work went faster, then presumably one could accomplish the necessary production in ever-shorter amounts of time. The practical means of achieving an immensely shortened working day under socialism had been discovered. Then again, given the vast task of training masses of unskilled labor, and adding to it the problem of controlling the opportunists and other corrupted remnants of the old regime in the proletariat, the increased potential for control of the industrial establishment that Taylorism offered was not entirely unwelcome. Of course, [thought Lenin] this control would be entirely different from capitalist control since it would be exercised by the workers' state.

On a deeper level, however, Lenin's personality contained many qualities that attracted him naturally to Taylorism. His success as a revolutionary had been built on his puritanical discipline of both himself and others. In place of nihilistic excesses, he had stressed tight, secret, highly disciplined organization [ID], and his own austere dedication to the revolution had been unquestionable. At a time when other revolutionaries had dissipated their energies in sexual excesses and vague (often gloomy) metaphysical discussions, Lenin was practical, direct, and "goal-oriented." The formation of his unusual and strong personality was related to a number of incidents in his own life which appear to form a biographical pattern similar in many respects to that of the other Taylorites.6 For example, Lenin was the product of a [107/108] successful, bourgeois, intellectual family; his father died when he was sixteen, and his education was blocked not only by straitened family circumstances but by the execution of his much admired elder brother, which caused Lenin to be expelled from school as a political risk.

The pattern of blocked schooling and career opportunities was a common one in Russia, for not only had there been a growth in modern education similar to that in the United States in the last half of the nineteenth century, but the government attempted to suppress revolutionary agitation by preventing all but the upper classes from obtaining schooling [ID] (for example, in the famous "cooks' sons" ukase), and by cutting down on employment opportunities for the new intelligentsia.7 The pressure of the ambitious raznochintsy ("men [people] of various origin") on higher education and the scant intellectual employment available was even greater than that in the United States, where an open, actively industrializing economy provided greater opportunity for class mobility. In the United States, organizational innovations promoted by such people as Taylor made greater room for the professional technician in the industrial economy, opening the way for the "white-collar revolution." In Russia, active governmental repression of these members of a would-be middle class drove them underground and marked the beginning of widespread revolutionary activity. Not until the revolution destroyed the aristocratic tradition and the reactionary government was the way clear for the substitution of an ideology of industrial development for one of stagnation in support of traditionalism.

A certain contradiction could be observed, however, between the classless democratic pattern of industrialism, advocated by the Bolsheviks before 1917, and the natural tendencies toward "commandism," exhibited by the intellectuals who directed the operations of this "Vanguard of the proletariat." While on the one hand, the institution of democratic centralism with its strong party discipline made it clear [108/109] that the leaders of the party expected to exercise the strictest control over post-revolutionary development processes, on the other hand, they advocated the control of industry by proletarian Soviets and trade unions [ID], which would eliminate the need for direction by white-collar intellectuals and lead to the "withering away" of the state itself. In this situation, the adaptation of particular elements of the American Taylor system to Russian conditions had a certain air of theoretical and practical compromise between the two extremes.


While Lenin's notes reveal a distinct fascination with Taylorism, his published works prior to the October Revolution certainly give no indication of this. Indeed, having condemned Scientific Management in 1916, he advocated in the following year the complete democratization of the state apparatus through the elimination of bureaucracy built on specialized and technical functions. Only after the revolution did he openly promote the installation of the Taylor system in industry and government. However, in Lenin's pre-revolutionary treatment of the sources of bureaucratic power in The State and Revolution [ID] (1917) certain echoes of the Western management literature with which he was acquainted may be found in what has been called a predominantly anarchistic statement.

Central to Lenin's definition of the "withering of the state" is the idea that the state's essential functions can be reduced to methods of accounting and control so simple as to allow their carrying out by any ordinary citizen without special training. These simplified duties can then be performed on a rotational basis by all citizens, and housewives will rule the state on their day off.8 The democratic control of the Soviets, egalitarian councils of workers in all phases of production, is thus assured over this truncated version of what was once a "state." The dominance of bureaucrats and experts, as well as their claim to special social rewards, will thus be broken by the standardization of public duties according to a rationalized and simplified pattern.

While this pattern of breaking down the state is vaguely reminiscent of the ways in which the introduction of new management methods [109/110] broke down monopolies on craft skills and redistributed power in traditional manufacturing organizations, it also contains two mistaken assumptions common to the great mass of industrial and political literature on management that appeared in the West during this period. In the first place, it is assumed that methods of "accounting and control," despite their origination in the capitalist superstructure of the West, are value neutral. This is, of course, the claim of American civil service reformers, who developed from this idea of neutrality the notion of the "politics-administration" dichotomy. The second assumption is that of the imminence of the development of a science of management suited to statecraft, which is the burden of much of the administrative literature of the period. If this were indeed the case, the Bolsheviks had only to borrow and install these objective and simple methods; but the slowness with which the "science of management" evolved practical techniques suited to state operations was destined to be a source of disappointment to both Russians and Americans alike.

But, whatever the general implications of this plan, Lenin's advocacy of standardization and rotation of state duties at workmen's wages was soon to disappear in the turmoil of revolutionary reconstruction. The Soviets had originally planned that the spread of world revolution would bring the more industrialized powers to their aid. Instead, the war with Germany continued, and to the civil war was added the threat of Western intervention [ID]. Survival required reorganization. But the communists had broken the power of the government to control by dispersing it among the people; they had destroyed the Russian army with internal propaganda; they had broken down industrial production by chasing out the bourgeois engineers and technicians; they had given away huge sections of prime farmland by signing a separate peace with imperial Germany. To rebuild civil order and Russian military capacity, the Bolsheviks set about to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat which was in fact a dictatorship of the party, indeed, of simply the Politburo and Lenin himself.

National survival required the immediate establishment of a series of priorities: (1) the reorganization of the Red Army under firm party control [ID]; (2) the reconstruction and mobilization of industry to support the military effort [ID]; and (3) the establishment of techniques of procurement of the surplus required to keep the army and industry running from a devastated agricultural sector [ID]. These priorities, essentially in effect from 1918 until 1921, went under the euphemistic name of "War [110/111] Communism." They included forced grain confiscation, obligatory overtime, and the resurrection of the political police [ID]. And in spite of the short duration of this period, it set the pattern for sacrifice to attain social goals which seemed to form some sort of ideal model to which party leaders would refer in subsequent decades.

Reassessment of the period of War Communism shows that it contained more than the traditional Russian technologies of coercion in service of the revolution. The influence of the Taylor System of Scientific Management, filtered through the specific theoretical understanding of Lenin, Trotsky, and other party leaders, appears to have been pervasive in the new and superior control techniques that the party developed at this time. The preconceptions of these party leaders appear to have been bolstered by the data of both American Taylorites and Russian Taylorites trained in America whose reports seemed at times to form the outstanding information link between the party's policy centers and the lower levels of industry. The party leaders, hampered in their understanding of industry by lack of direct experience, hampered essentially by their background as revolutionary theorists-in-exile, were greatly dependent on the kind of theoretical "summing up" that the Taylorites could make of the messy reality of actual production; thus, because Taylorites controlled statistical information about technical organizations, their suggested solutions appear to have been influential. Taylorism, added to the turmoil of post-revolutionary Russia, seems to have set the Soviets on the path that led to the Kronstadt revolt [ID].

Although this influence of Taylorism has frequently been denied by later authors,9 examination of the major debates over the reintroduction of bourgeois specialists and "one-man leadership" reveals that the party's position on these questions was heavily influenced by the [111/112] hopes of Lenin and his adherents that Taylorism offered a solution to the problems of socialist organization, and by the insistence of the Taylorites upon specialization, and upon high levels of discipline from above. The general outlines of party policy during this period [War Communism and Revolutionary Civil War] are well-known; they consisted of reestablishing power by a ruthless policy of force. The details of the application of that force in many areas, however, are frequently pure Taylorism, consciously derived, and applied in new and more brutal ways than ever before.

By the spring of 1918, conditions in industry had reached hitherto unknown depths of demoralization and disorganization. War casualties and the retreat of workers to the villages had created a labor shortage that was to become more severe with the civil war and famine [ID]. The breakdown of the money economy and intermediate economic organizations left workers to barter factory output, spare parts, and equipment on the black market in order to obtain the means of survival. The Congress of the Supreme Council of Public Economy met in May of 1918 to set up commissions to deal with the most urgent problems of restoring the economy. These problems had been presented by the Central Soviet Executive, following a series of speeches by Lenin in which he demanded that the economy be rebuilt by making capitalist science serviceable to a socialist regime. In particular, strong administrative measures were required to eliminate shortages by raising labor productivity through the reestablishment of labor discipline. As he stated in his speech, Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government:

We must ponder over the fact that in addition to being able to conquer in civil war, it is necessary to be able to do practical organizational work in order that the administration may be successful.10

This organizational work, which was crucial to the success of the revolution, involves a number of steps, as Lenin made clear, among them differential high salaries for specialists, and bonuses, which were crucial in overcoming the industrial backwardness that was costing the proletariat far more than the bonuses would cost. In particular, however, Lenin said that productivity must be raised, and that this could be done only by improving labor discipline -- the intensity, skill, and organization of work. [112/113]

In a passage which set American industrialists to crowing when its translation first became available in the United States, Lenin went on to say:

The Russian is a bad worker compared with the workers of the advanced countries. Nor could it be otherwise under the tsarist regime and in view of the tenacity of the remnants of serfdom. The task that the Soviet government must set the people in all its scope is -- learn to work. The Taylor system, the last word of capitalism in this respect, like all capitalist progress, is a combination of the subtle brutality of bourgeois exploitation and a number of its greatest scientific achievements in the field of analyzing mechanical motions during work, the elimination of superfluous and awkward motions, the working out of correct methods of work, the introduction of the best system of accounting and control, etc. The Soviet Republic must at all costs adopt all that is valuable in the achievements of science and technology in this field. The possibility of building socialism will be determined precisely by our success in combining the Soviet government and the Soviet organization of administration with the modern achievements of capitalism. We must organize in Russia the study and teaching of the Taylor system and systematically try it out and adapt it to our purposes. At the same time, in approaching the task of raising the productivity of labor, we must take into account the specific features of the transition period from capitalism to socialism, which, on the one hand, requires that the foundations be laid of the socialist organization of competition, and on the other hand the application of coercion, so the slogan "dictatorship of the proletariat" shall not be desecrated by the practice of a jellyfish proletarian government."

This method could not be adopted, however, without directly overriding the workers' committees in the factories and the trade unions; like their Western counterparts, these had been bitterly opposed to Taylorism, and they sensed the imminent betrayal of labor interests and union independence by the party. This argument, published in Vpered, April 1918, was scornfully quoted by Lenin in his denunciation of the Menshevik opposition:

The policy of Soviet power, from the very outset devoid of a genuinely proletarian character, has lately pursued more and more openly a course of compromise with the bourgeoisie and has assumed an obviously anti-workingclass character. On the pretext of nationalizing industry, they are


pursuing a policy of establishing industrial trusts, and on the pretext of restoring the productive forces of the country, they are attempting to abolish the eight-hour day, to introduce piecework and the Taylor system, black lists, and victimization. This policy threatens to deprive the proletariat of its most important economic gains and to make it a victim of unrestricted exploitation by the bourgeoisie.12

The trade unions, through their leader Riazanov, raised strenuous objections to the adoption of Taylor piecework norms; they proposed a system in which industry trade unions would have collective responsibility for government-set minimums of production. The union representatives argued that workers in the West had fought piecework and Taylorism for years and that, if the Soviets adopted such a system on the plea of raising production, they would have sacrificed all the conquests of the revolution. The Taylor system would exploit the swift and break the weak. With deep emotion Riazanov addressed the meeting:

Do not, I beg you comrades, commit this terrible mistake, which the organized workers of Western Europe, with greater experience than you, have spent years trying to avoid.11

The Bolshevik leaders rose to denounce collective responsibility as a cover for industrial sabotage. Only the Taylor system could establish the individual discipline in each worker which the revolution had failed to give him. Lenin himself wrote a powerful polemic against the "Left Communists" who opposed the introduction of labor discipline, and, specifically, Taylorism, into Russian industry, and he compared their anti-Taylorite "theses" with those of the Mensheviks, who had claimed that the introduction of Taylorism amounted to handing back the country to the bourgeoisie. The use of capitalist "management" is not capitalism, Lenin said, when it is used only in the organization of work, and when the workers' commissars "watch the manager's every step."14 Taylorism became the labor policy of the Soviet State as Lenin dictated the final form that the decree on labor discipline should take:


In the decree it is essential to make a definite statement on the introduction of the Taylor system, that is to say, to use all the scientific methods of labor, which this system suggests. Without it, it will be impossible to raise productivity, and without this we will not introduce Socialism. For the construction of this system, [we should] attract American engineers. Naturally, in its introduction it is indispensable to take into account bad nourishment, therefore we ought to establish famine norms of manufacture. The further organization of manufacture ... in the transition to socialism will give us the possibility of shortening the working day. In the decree it is necessary to refer to accounting and the printing of accounts, relating to the production departments of enterprises. . . .5



While Lenin's theoretical espousal of Taylorism, and his orders to import American engineers trained in Taylorism were important in setting Russia on the path toward big-government Scientific Management, the influence of Trotsky appears to have had greater effect in actually impressing Taylorism upon the day-to-day operations of Soviet organization. More than Lenin (who concentrated on party organization) Trotsky influenced actual state and economic organization, first through his position as Commissar of War and his organization of the Red Army, and then through his interest in logistical support for the army, which led to his attempts to influence factory management and his takeover of the transport industry. His ideas of organization, long considered a manifestation of his secret Napoleonic leanings, as well as the foundation of Soviet bureaucracy, were, in truth, direct outgrowths of the demands of Taylorism in the Russian situation, influenced (as he later ruefully admitted) by the data on industry supplied to the largely ignorant, new Soviet leaders by Taylorite engineers with their own ideological axes to grind.16 Many authors point out that Stalin first discredited Trotsky and then [115/116] stole his ideas, In the sphere of industrial organization, what he stole was Taylorism, ready-made, and forced into Russian industry by all the coercive power at the command of a totalitarian regime.

Trotsky's reorganization of the Red Army out of the disintegrated fragments of the Russian army not only established, by its success, certain patterns of operation in Soviet society, but impressed Trotsky himself to the point that he espoused the systematic transfer of the techniques involved as the solution to the problem of post-revolutionary chaos in industry and labor relations [ID]. Men and regimes both lend to repeat the pattern of their first successes. Coming to the army with no previous military experience, Trotsky at once saw the inadequacy of traditional methods of keeping order in a period when revolutionary enthusiasm was the only motivating force left for organization. At the same time, however, that enthusiasm had to be balanced with expertise and adequate logistical backup if it were to succeed against the traditional armies of the Whites (Russian counter­revolutionaries) and of Western Europe.17

For the revolutionary army, then, Trotsky established a new mix of charismatic leadership, propaganda, and strong discipline. Taking over the Commissariat of War in early 1918, he came out in direct opposition to previous Bolshevik military propaganda in his speech, Trud, distsiplina. poriadok, spasut Sotsialisticheskuiu Sovietskuiu Respubliku [Work, discipline, and order will save the Soviet Socialist Republic], in which he called for a return of the bourgeois specialists, the "technicians, engineers, doctors, teachers, and former officers" because "in them is invested our true people's national capital, which we are obliged to exploit, to use, if we want to resolve the basic problems which stand before us."18 [ID]

Both in the army and in the armaments industry, the luxury of eliminating the technicians as ideologically unfit had to be foregone. Trotsky brought the "bourgeois" officers back into service, and to insure their loyally, established a parallel system of ideologically reliable, political commissars, whose countersignature was required on every order. Of necessity, he found that he had to hold the balance of power between these two hierarchies himself. The essential element in this organizational plan, however, was not the mechanics of control [116/117] but Trotsky himself. Relying upon his oratorical gifts, he appeared to be everywhere at once on the front, urging, exhorting, and inspiring the makeshift army as his special train crossed and recrossed Russia. Commanders begged for his presence as "worth a division," while his charismatic stature grew.

But even as the success of this military organizational effort was becoming apparent, the industrial establishment that supported it was decaying at an ever-increasing rate. A fuel crisis had been developing since 1915, and even if the Germans and then the Whites had not captured the Donets basin, source of most of Russia's coal, transportation difficulties would have drastically cut the supply available. Agriculture had been devastated by war as well as by government requisitions. The result was a severe decline in industrial production, not only because of the material conditions of industrial supply, but due to the breakdown of "labor discipline." Absenteeism, lateness, and strikes not only accounted for a sharp drop in actual work hours by 1919, as opposed to 1914, the beginning of the World War, but a severe labor shortage arose when the semi-peasant work force fled to the countryside because of food and fuel shortages in the city.19

In the fall of 1919, engineer Lomonosov, in charge of the transport system, made a diagram of the "locomotive epidemic" for the government. Locomotive repair was declining to the point that the railway transportation system of Russia, upon which the war and the economy depended, was doomed. Sixty percent of the engines were already "sick"; twenty-five percent were needed to transport the bulky wood fuel required by the railways themselves, so that as the number of inoperative locomotives reached seventy-five percent, actual transport declined to zero. As Trotsky was later to recall:

Indicating a mathematical point in the year 1920, he [Lomonosov] declared: "Here comes death."
  "What is to be done then," asked Lenin.
  "There are no such things as miracles," Lomonosov replied.


"Even the Bolsheviks cannot perform miracles." We looked at each other, all the more depressed because none of us knew the technical workings of the transport system, nor the technical workings of such gloomy calculations. "Still, we'll try to perform the miracle," Lenin muttered dryly through his teeth.20

To restore transportation and industry, Lenin turned to Trotsky, who advocated the tactics that had worked so well in the army. The Commissariat of the Army should be converted into a Commissariat of Labor, and transport in particular should be singled out for restoration by new methods. The army passbooks should be converted into labor passbooks; the entry for "occupation before entering the army" should be used for determining the amount and disposition of labor available. Labor should be conscripted and transferred when needed, and "labor deserters" (those who had fled to the countryside) put in concentration camps. All possible coercive and psychological management-control devices should be put to work to raise labor productivity and break down all obstructions. The trade unions, once necessary to protect the worker against his capitalist bosses, were no longer needed to protect him against the workers' state; therefore, the independent power of the trade unions should be broken, and they should become arms of the state. "Socialist competition," stringent piecework rates, bonuses for the despised "bourgeois specialists," and "shock brigades" composed of udarniki were advocated. (This military terminology for "rate breakers" or exceptional workers was introduced into the language by Trotsky.) The plan, backed by Lenin but put forth by Trotsky, was the celebrated "militarization of labor" advocated at the Ninth Party Congress.21

The proposal evoked a storm of opposition within the party (categorized as "left SRs") and Trotsky defended it in the following way: "militarism" is a bad word to the left SRs, symbolizing barbarism in their minds, but this, he said, should only refer to bourgeois militarism. In advanced countries, the military hinders progress, but, in backward countries, with its demands for advanced [118/119] technology, the military is a force for advancement. (This argument, too, is one we hear repeated to this day [1980].) He goes on to equate his concept of the militarization of labor with Taylorism:

The whole list of characteristics of militarism, not in the Left S-R sense of the word, merges with that which we call Taylorism. What is Taylorism? On the one hand, it is a refined form of exploitation of the labor force, the most merciless, when every movement, each breath is accounted for and watched for by the henchmen of capital, in order to convert this breath into profit. On the other hand, it is a system of wise expenditure of human strength participating in production... This side of Taylorism the socialist manager ought to make his own, and if we take militarism, then we will see that it had always been near to Taylorism.23

How did Trotsky come to this curious espousal of "militarized" Taylorism? The answer lies in those engineers who provided the sources of data for his analysis of industry. In his defense of Taylorism, he points to the disorganization of industry, the loss of the best manpower to the administrative Soviets and to the army; he gives the source of his apprehension:

The American engineer Kili [sic: Kelly?], a Taylorist, who came for the Taylorization of our economy, hoping that a nationalized economy would serve as a favorable base for Taylorization, for its scientific wise construction, now paints the condition of our industry in the darkest colors. According to his account, loafing occupies about 50% (of all productive time) and the general expenditure of energy of the worker in the procurement of food he counts at 80%, while 20% remains for actual industrial work. I did not check these data, but Kili -- this man, who has an excellent reputation in America, who came to us of his own free will in order to be of assistance, is accounted by everyone to be an absolutely honest and dedicated man. He is, in America, accounted to have great authority in matters of production. All these data force us to regard his numbers with no less faith than those of our Soviet statisticians -- the more so because there are no contradictions between them.23

But according to engineer Kili's report, Trotsky goes on to state, [119/120] transport is in a worse state than industry as a whole. Here we find that Lomonosov's "death" pronouncement was Taylorite in origin and Taylorite in its aim:

Engineer Kili in his report says that the fate of the country is linked with industry, the fate of industry with transport, and this is linked in its turn with the repair of locomotives; consequently, it is possible to say that the fate of the country depends on the repair of locomotives. I think that he is unconditionally correct.
   He says, according to the information of engineers, that our railroad network will come to a stop at the end of this winter. He does not say that he has the means [to combat] against this, but he says that he cannot imagine how this country will live without transport . . . Comrade Lomonosov, who is a big authority in railroad matters, a theoretician and specialist [who] arrived from America with Kili, is now occupied with the matter. In the Defense Soviet he demonstrated a scheme from which it concluded that if the falloff in engine repairs continues at the same tempo as now, then in the course of 1920, in the fall or the winter, we will not have one "well" engine.24

Continuing his recital of industrial conditions, Trotsky declared that the party must put the facts before the masses, telling them that the Soviet Republic is menaced with total ruin, examining the means of survival as a nation under these conditions and in the face of an endless blockade which prevents the import of the necessary machinery. The means he preferred, of course, was the "militarization of labor," whose details corresponded to an enlarged plan of Taylorism, applied on a national scale. The Taylorites had at last come within reach of their dream of a scientifically managed state: an entire nation run as a huge Taylorite factory, rationally, without waste, friction, or dissension. The Taylorites had shown the Bolsheviks the ultimate weapon against chaos.

Opposition to this program of action formed quickly. Apathetic and exhausted from the long war, the masses wanted to see some sort of materialization of the promises of the revolution, and in this they were supported by certain factions among the Bolsheviks, who wanted a strengthening of the systems by which labor and the conditions of [120/121] production could be controlled by the trade unions and other workers' groups. Trotsky had, in fact, foreseen this exhaustion; he had suggested to Lenin the prototype of the New Economic Policy (NEP), a period of somewhat more liberal relaxation; he had plunged to the opposite extreme when Lenin vetoed the scheme.25 As the opposition formed to the latter plan, however, Lenin disassociated himself from Trotsky and took a middle-of-the-road stance in the trade union and labor question. The liberal opposition to militarization, known as the "Workers' Opposition," formed within the party -- at first informally, and then as an organized group, headed by Shliapnikov and Mme. Kollontai, which operated on the slogan "Soviets without Bolsheviks." As the Ninth Congress was in session, a workers' revolt against the Bolshevik regime broke out [ID]. The naval base at Kronstadt, which had played such an important role in the revolution, was now pressing for the continuation of the revolution. Trotsky's troops put down the revolt by force as Lenin backtracked to present the New Economic Plan to the Tenth Congress. Later, the Workers' Opposition was condemned and factionalism outlawed. The Kronstadt revolt marked the turning point in the consolidation of Communist authoritarianism. It also marked a tactical retreat from War Communism to the looser system of the New Economic Plan.



The defeat of War Communism and the plan for militarization of all labor did not end Russian Taylorism, but rather forced it deeper into the fabric of Russian organization, giving it, eventually, the appearance of a native phenomenon. Trotsky had, in fact, taken over all land and water transport, and got the railways running again by means of systematization and standardization of locomotive repair and operations along Taylorite lines, the takeover of the transport workers' union, and the establishment of centralized bureaucratic control.26 And as the history of the United States arsenals shows, Taylorism, once established, can be dislodged in name only. During [121/122] the NEP period [ID], agriculture and petty industry were left to the private economy, but the "commanding heights" -- industries of national importance -- were still run by the state and the party. Lenin never considered the NEP more than a temporary expedient, designed to allow an increase in the supply of goods and services prior to the reestablishment of total state control and a more ambitious program of national economic development through the application of the general systems of social planning which Soviet economists attributed to Marx.

Thus, during the 1920s, the party, from its position on the "commanding heights," prepared the First Five Year Plan, using the services of foreign Scientific Management specialists and all of the multitude of techniques in the Taylorite armory. Such services, by this time, were indeed extensive -- for as Stalin estimated twenty years later, two-thirds of Russian industry had been built by Americans. Not just transportation, but electrification was to play an important role ("Communism equals Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country"), and American influence was strong in this field as well. Charles Steinmetz himself, later to become one of the early movers in the organization of the technocracy movement, aided the Russian electrification effort, and a constant stream of engineering exchanges to train Soviet engineers in American methods was a feature of the period.27

Walter Polakov, formerly a disciple of Gantt's and a member of the "New Machine" which had once aimed to reorganize American government on Scientific Management principles, came to the Soviet Union, and, serving as consulting engineer to the Supreme Economic Soviet, gave valuable aid in shaping the form and content of the Plan. He had the entire First Five Year Plan drawn up on Gantt charts, and he served in general as a link between the Russian and American Scientific Management movements.28 The Marxist dictum that national planning should replace the capitalist market economy was being fleshed out with Taylorism. [122/123]

The 1920s complete the shift of Russian Taylorism from the organization of factory production to a generalized administrative technique via its introduction into the heart of the economic planning apparatus. The publicity for Taylorism and for American efficiency, along with the official worship of Ford, rather than ceasing with War Communism, went to an all-time high, as the party attempted to convince an entire nation that Scientific Management was identical with Scientific Marxism. Taylor's books were reprinted and numerous commentaries published. Scarce foreign exchange was used to purchase Scientific Management movies (most probably Gilbreth's pioneering films on motion study).29 Clark's book on the uses of the Gantt chart was published and republished beginning in 1925;30 the cadre of domestic experts on Taylorism grew through the recruitment of the old bourgeois technical specialists, using a combination of incentives and strict party control.31 The Scientific-Technical Committee of the Supreme Soviet was set up, apparently with the help of American specialists, to conduct continuous scientific experiments related to the setting of industrial output norms, to investigate standards, to do fatigue studies, and to carry out all the other operations of a Taylorite scientific planning department.32

The Soviet apologists for Taylorism echoed Lenin in claiming that Taylorism was not exploitative in the socialist context, but only when it was established in bourgeois society. Such authors make it clear that the Russians were already acquainted on a wide scale with the works of Taylor, Gilbreth, Gantt, Barth, Hoxie, and even of Hugo Munsterburg and Walther Rathenau.33 Gantt's system of piecework premiums, which involved special premiums for supervisors, foremen, and specialists, especially impressed them.34 This very system, indeed, turns up in the abuses of the 1930s and is frequently castigated as a Russian invention. [123/124]

Most interesting of all of the work of the apologists is the attempt that takes place in the 1920s to use Taylor as a justification not only for the victorious policy of "one-man command," but to explain the role of managers and specialists in terms of functional foremanship, thus laying claim to the preservation of principles of collegial leadership. Even the multiple controls on bourgeois specialists, including the parallel hierarchies of party "political specialists" could be explained as a return to "collegiality," thus countering the complaint that the party had abandoned democratic control. Functional foremanship, claimed the party, was going to be the basis of an emerging rule of interlocking councils of technical specialists. Conciliar government did not mean that everyone ruled, but that the qualified ruled. This was the true meaning of socialist democracy.35

The industrialization drive of the Stalinist era picked up and magnified the themes of the early 1920s. Lenin had died in 1924, with the NEP still in operation. Not until Stalin had finally triumphed in the subsequent power struggle was the way clear for him to attempt to solve the problems of inadequate agricultural supply and weak industrial development by the implementation of the First Five Year Plan, in 1928 [ID]. The plan called for the raising of agricultural productivity by collectivization -- the replacement of petty landholders by large-scale operations -- and mechanization. At the same time, priority in the industrial sphere was given to the large-scale development of heavy industry: coal, steel, hydroelectric power, and so forth. The influence of the American model of mass scale and bigness was highly visible in this scheme; it had been consciously chosen by the planners on the grounds that it was more suited to Russia's broad expanse and abundant, if untapped, natural resources, than the Western European model of smaller and more flexible industries.36 While the collectivization plan was a domestic creation, the projects of labor discipline and rapid technical training (the replacement of old bourgeois experts with Red experts) bore the marks of the Russian experience with Taylorism. Stalin's opening speech on the project of labor discipline was a verbatim reproduction of one made by Trotsky during his infamous attempt to militarize labor.37 [124/125]

The shortage of engineers at the beginning of the plan, and the later depression in the West meant that during the initial, or training, phases of the plan, the Soviets could import great numbers of foreign specialists who were unemployed at home. Some specialists were German, British, and Swiss, but most were American, and well-versed in Scientific Management techniques. This second influx of American-trained engineers had far less influence than had the first, however. Imported into what was essentially a going operation, the foreign experts, however needed they might be in setting up industries and training Red experts, ran almost immediately into an impenetrable wall of Russian chauvinism and professional jealousy. The Shakhty trials and subsequent trials of engineers for "wrecking" and "sabotage" indicated that the respect for technology and for the genuine difficulties of applying the plan were not primary factors in the industrial drive. The visiting Americans, both professional men and laborers -- many of whom were convinced communists -- recognized with amazement the grotesque methods of Taylorism that prevailed in factory management. Just how had the fad for Scientific Management during the period of "War Communism" been transformed into Stalinist techniques?

An examination of the Stalinist techniques indicates that none of the internal control mechanisms which Taylorites claimed for their system actually functioned; the only limits on Scientific Management as a disastrous form of exploitation of the working class were provided by external environmental controls, these being a product of American culture and government. In the Soviet Union, where policy removed these controls, Taylorism assumed a monstrous form. All the potential flaws of the system became visible, and the consequences were suppressed by force. The source of power for a "new class," the suppression of trade unions, and the potential for worker association were all present. Amazing combinations of techniques uncovered new potential for deranging skilled production. For example, the Gantt bonus system, combined with an excessive passion for piecework in a context of extreme worker deprivation, brought about extensive damage to capital equipment, which was noticed over and over again by foreign engineers who were powerless to stop it.

The piecework system became the fetish of the Soviet industrializa- [125/126] tion effort; it was extended to all possible, and some impossible, types of application. With piecework came the speed-up -- ostensibly from below, by a combination of scientific setting of rates and worker enthusiasm, but actually from above, by setting exaggerated quotas from the central planning system, and placing responsibility for their fulfillment with party members who were mostly without technical expertise. These party managers and ratesetters were given monetary awards for success (the Gantt plan), or shot for sabotage in case of failure (the Stalin plan). In this way, such procedures as machine maintenance, for example, were put on piecework. The machine requiring repairs was disassembled; the parts went to a white-collar, rate-setting specialist who set a time and rate for the repair of each piece, usually without understanding the different types of labor involved. If the time set was decreased, the rate setter, but not the repairman, got a bonus. The result was, of course, exaggerated estimates of the speed arid savings on machine repair. Frequently, however, when the time came to reassemble the machine, vital parts were missing; they had been stolen by the workers and sold on the black market in exchange for food. The whole fiasco would be covered up by the management, understandably anxious to avoid charges of wrecking; as a result, the quota would be too high for the remaining machines to fulfill.38

Observers repeatedly noticed machinery (usually valuable American, German, or Swiss imports) either rusting outside the factory for lack of spare parts, or screaming and smoking as the workers tried to fulfill their quotas on piecework rates set so low that they could not take time to fill the oil cups and still make a living wage. Workers, desperate to meet their daily minimum, exasperated the technical advisors by taking bigger cuts than the machinery could make without damage. Disillusioned foreigners would estimate (as the Russian technicians themselves complained years later, when on loan to the Chinese during the Great Leap Forward) that the loss in machine damage was greater than the value of factory output.

The techniques of mass production, so highly touted by the official party line, were undermined even further by immediate needs in a situation of weak economic coordination. The five year plans ap- [126/127] peared to encourage the multiplication of paperwork and of supervisory levels at the same time that the effectiveness of the organizational underpinnings of such growth was lost through enthusiastic overapplication. By 1931, the Ford plant at Gorky, for example, which had been established with such fanfare, had degenerated into a management nightmare. The much-heralded Ford assembly line was in operation, in conjunction with Taylorite controls, but under conditions which negated many of the benefits of these systems. Instead of mass-producing the same model, the factory was turning out individual trucks, buses, and passenger vehicles. No two vehicles on the line were of the same type!39

If Taylorism did not, in this disordered context, show positive results in the form of lowered production costs, it nonetheless had advantages that compensated for these immediate losses in efficiency. It was still a valuable scheme for the rapid training of workers through the simplification and recording of tasks. It was a useful form of control over labor that went hand in hand with the extension of government control over the trade unions. In addition, it elevated the place of the white-collar planner and technician in industry; just as it had done in the United States, it increased the number of advantageous positions in factory management that might be offered to party members.


Nowhere are the social and disciplinary advantages of Taylorism (as opposed to its cost efficiency) more clearly illustrated than in its application to labor discipline in the Soviet Union. These are particularly clear in the campaign of speed-up and labor discipline known as Stakhanovism, which became one of the most important features of the Second Five Year Plan.

The Second Five Year Plan brought with it an intensive campaign to "master technique," continuing the drive for the development of heavy industry by emphasizing remedies for those conditions which had presented unforeseen difficulties in the First Five Year Plan. Coordination was the theme; one-man command was the guiding principle, and an increase in labor discipline was first among the new priorities. Severe penalties were now laid down for lateness and absenteeism. [127/128]

Labor-books, on the Trotsky model, were established as a control on labor turnover. Given the general condition of the economy, these measures look rather like draconic attempts to repair major social defects by fiat and coercion. A delay of twenty minutes in arriving at work resulted in a transfer from remunerative to forced labor, and absence without a medical excuse was punished similarly. Admittedly, many Russian workers were villagers lacking habits of punctuality, and so forth, but at this late date, much of the "labor discipline" problem came from a profound disregard for the quality of life of the working class because of the Stalinist policy of single-minded investment in industrial development.40 Workers were late on cloudy mornings because they rose by the sun, having no clocks. Mothers were absent caring for sick children -- the promised nurseries and medical care were nonexistent. Labor discipline under conditions of want took on a sinister new meaning. But more than punctuality was needed to raise labor productivity beyond the levels of the First Five Year Plan; in 1935, a systematized form of piecework speed-up, backed by extensive government propaganda, was introduced. This system, known as Stakhanovism, in honor of a coal miner who mined fourteen times the normal amount of coal in a single shift, was soon recognized to be based on an intensive application of Scientific Management methods. Yet the style of this movement was authentically Russian in many ways. Specifically, it outreached the farthest excesses of Taylorism itself, pushed on by Slavic zeal in a national environment now freed, thanks to Stalin, from the counterpressures of organized labor.

Several common questions arise in relation to Stakhanovism. First, what was its relation to the older "shock worker" system? Next, was it an extension of Taylorism, or was it domestic, invented and promoted by ingenious workers, as advertised? And last -- did it really work? The answers to these questions indicate to what extent Scientific Management had penetrated the official thinking of the Communist party of the Soviet Union.

The old udarnik ("shock worker") system was set up under Trotsky, borrowing its glamour and nomenclature from the practices of the Red Army in the field. But it appears to have had, originally, a group [128/129] basis: a "shock brigade" of advanced, high-output workers would be established in a factory as a model of action and new work techniques. Subsequently, norms (the standard piecework rate) would be raised, ostensibly because of emulation and the effects of the teaching of this advanced experience. In practice, foreign engineers found that the system really did work more or less as intended, in the first phases, "because of the novelty,"41 the Mayo "human relations" effect, in other words. But the practice was applied ever more widely, wherever a shortage existed that needed to be caught up (in short, everywhere), in factories, in whole industries, and as a widespread technique for increasing the rewards to higher-output workers in general. When every worker and every group that could manage to do so became a "shock worker" or a "shock brigade," then the special output effects of having first priority were dissipated. The term passed into generalized use, and while it had some value as a job classification entitling special ration privileges, it lost most of its specific effect on labor productivity.

Stakhanovism came to have elements resembling the shock brigade practice, but in its original conception, it stressed individual achievement. While high output was in fact attained by a better division of labor and the trimming off of superfluous functions in approved Taylorite style, the rewards, as in Taylorism, went to individual "rate breakers," setting them in competition with their fellow workers. Stakhanovism ideally tapped the hitherto hidden abilities of workers, who, being close to production, could spontaneously invent techniques enabling them to double and triple their output without excessive physical strain. As in the udarnik movement, the thrust for improvement of standards, officially speaking, came from below -- as did the subsequent raising of norms.

This official emphasis on the movement's grass-roots origin is the source of the dissociation of Stakhanovism and Russian Taylorism. Not only did the Russians themselves insist that there was no connection, but some Western authors, following their lead, concluded that this was indeed the case. Maurice Dobb, in his authoritative history of Soviet economic development, states:

When the Stakhanovite movement began to develop, it was commonly discounted abroad as a propaganda-facade; while some dismissed it as simply Taylorism in Russian clothes. But subsequent events as well as closer enquiry into the movement show that it cannot be so lightly [129/130] dismissed as this. The methods used in the main introduced no new principle, and it is true that few of them will surprise students of American Scientific Management.... [W]hat was novel about it was that it represented a movement to rationalize working methods that arose from the initiative of individual workers themselves; and as such its achievements came as a definite surprise to the management of industry.42

Dobb goes on to contrast this picture with that of the forceful introduction of Taylorism in Western countries by "efficiency engineers"; he indicates that the new types of rationalization devised made possible permanently higher levels of production without excessive stress on the workers. This is as fair a summary of the Russian sources as exists.

The social context of Stakhanovism -- Russia in the mid-1930s, subscribing to a doctrine of capitalist encirclement and on the brink of a new era of bloody purges within the party, having just emerged from the wholesale slaughter of collectivization -- makes it apparent that the official sources would do nothing but stress the authentic grass-roots ethnicity of the system. The fascination with things American, at its height during War Communism, faded gradually until it was destroyed by the failure of American machines and engineers to bring about the miracles expected during the early years of the First Five Year Plan.43 In this early period, even Stalin himself had spoken enthusiastically about the American example: American practicality is an antidote to such phrase-mongering and "flights of revolutionary fancy." It is

that indomitable force, which knows and recognizes no obstacle, which by its businesslike perseverance washes away all and every impediment, which simply must go through with a job begun even if it is of minor importance, and without which any serious constructive work is impossible.

But American practicality, Stalin maintained, runs the risk of degenerating into narrow and unprincipled commercialism, unless it is fused with the wide outlook of the Russian revolutionist. Only a combination of both, he concluded, produces a finished type of Leninist worker, the Leninist style of work.44

But when it became apparent that the Americans possessed no extraordinary secrets, anger followed disillusionment. The "Leninists" (including Stalin himself in his younger days) had stressed learning from capitalism and stealing its thunder; the latter-day "Stalinists" stressed [130/131] self-sufficiency to the point that the Soviet Union tried to lay claim to most of the major inventions of technological society. It could not be much different when organizational techniques were the subject of debate. In addition, to stress the Russian, and, indeed, the popular origins of Stakhanovism was to avoid the ticklish problem of the denunciation of the Taylorite speed-up made by Lenin and organized labor -- and most of all to exorcise the spectre of the Workers' Opposition. Stalin might borrow Trotsky's words, but he could not do so without being reminded of the fate of the project for the militarization of labor which they espoused. Some appearance of "spontaneity" was essential. But even the stress on worker innovation was not "un-Taylorite," for Taylorism's specific work techniques frequently relied on the recording and propagation of techniques evolved by talented workmen. Gilbreth stressed the importance of developing regular channels for the centralization and transmission of the innovations of individual workers. The difference in the Russian system was only one of emphasis, a more strident populism.

The argument that Stakhanovism is Taylorism, then, rests on several factors. First is the recognition by foreign engineers and workmen then employed in Russia. American workers recognized, frequently with dismay, that Stakhanovism represented the techniques of piecework and speed-up which their unions had taught them to combat.45 Visiting engineers immediately felt a familiarity with many of the methods of labor control, and used the common American names for them; yet at the same time they complained that their grandiose application in such a desperate economic situation totally undermined any pretense of scientific rationality.46 While they felt that the older generation of engineers was competent and cultured, it had been too abstract and theoretical. The new Red experts inherited the older engineers' traits of impracticality and hatred of manual labor; to these weaknesses they added arrogance, envy, and a penchant for big ideas whose failure would be covered up by systematic lying. Thus, visiting technicians despaired at the conditions the Russian specialists created, referring to them, for example, as lessons on "how not to run a blast furnace," and stating flatly that "labor efficiency is a joke."47 [131/132] Yet while the joke was Russian, the common opinion was that the lines had been borrowed, in all seriousness, from the West.

The second argument for the Taylorite origin of Stakhanovism is the continuity of institutions set up under War Communism for the training of personnel, the continual revision of organizations, and the general dissemination of Scientific Management. These institutions never seem to have ceased functioning, even in what appeared to be entirely inappropriate and even hostile environments. In the 1930s, for example, with sixteen to seventeen-hour days and "voluntary" work on holidays the rule, institutes for the scientific study of management problems were turning out fatigue studies with a remarkable resemblance to those of the Gilbreths.

Third is the direct connection of the techniques of Stalin's plan of labor discipline to the proposals made for the militarization of labor made by Trotsky in 1920, which Trotsky himself did not hesitate to call Taylorite in inspiration. This connection, it must be emphasized, is so close that Stalin used long passages from Trotsky's proposal verbatim when introducing Stakhanovism into the five year plans.48

Yet, even though the guiding techniques of Stakhanovism were those of Scientific Management, they were not those of Midvale and Tabor, but were distorted tremendously by official sponsorship on a nation-wide scale in a command economy. In this distortion, as in a caricature where the disagreeable features of the subject are enlarged, the most unpleasant of the implicit organizational assumptions of Taylorism were made apparent. The Russian speed-up was Taylorism with teeth; the punitive piecework rates were dropped below the level necessary for the minimal decencies of life, and supplemented with legal penalties. Worker resistance having been destroyed, no set of inner controls prevented the rates from being set beyond the levels of physical endurance. Worst of all, in conditions of industrial disorder, the line between legitimate gains due to reorganization and outright fakery became rather indistinct. This tendency had, indeed, been present in Taylor's first experiments, and it is difficult to imagine how Soviet management specialists, under pressure to duplicate Taylor's results, could resist the temptation to turn to his occasionally dubious methods. Pressure from the center for Stakhanovite achieve- [132/133] ments could actually lead to an overall decline in production, and subsequent cover-ups.

A former chief engineer of a newly built steel plant at Nikopol had this to say about the difficulties that the Stakhanovite campaign presented:

Orders began to pour into Nikopol from Kharkov and Moscow headquarters. Every order was a blunt threat. We must instantly create Stakhanovite brigades, as pace-setters. . . . Engineers or superintendents who raised objections would be treated as saboteurs.
   Our plants had been operating less than six months. They worked on three shifts under many handicaps. Neither the amount nor the quality of the steel and other raw stuffs was adequate. The workers were mostly green, the staff mostly inexperienced.... Rhythmic teamwork, rather than spurts of record-breaking, was the key to steady output. More than fifteen hundred workers engaged on a common task, in which every operation meshed into the next, couldn't speed up arbitrarily without throwing the whole effort into chaotic imbalance.49

Had Taylor himself been in the place of this Soviet engineer, he would have stated no differently the problems involved, particularly after his experience with the disastrous speed-up at Tabor. Constraints of time, lack of skilled technical manpower in the planning apparatus itself, and the threat of dire legal penalties produced their inevitable effects in the Soviet plant:

In the end, in my own sub-plant, I was obliged to resort to artificial speed­up. ... On direct orders from the Party Committee, I regrouped my labor, putting the best workers, foremen, and engineers into one shift. Then we selected the best tools and materials, setting them aside for the special shift. . . .
   At eleven o'clock one evening, with reporters and photographers present, the "Stakhanovite" shift got under way. As expected, it "overfulfilled" the normal quota by 8 per cent.... Congratulations arrived from officials in the capitals. ... As the responsible technical leader I was given a lot of credit.
   But this "Victory" ... was, at bottom, fraudulent and must boomerang. The other two shifts, deprived of their best personnel and their best tools, lost more than the favored group had won. By contrast they seemed ineffective if not actually "lazy." They naturally resented being made the scapegoats.50


The end result of the campaign, according to this witness, was that the sharply graded system of rewards and legal penalties drove a wedge (certainly not Taylor's "hearty spirit of cooperation") between, first of all, the technical staffs and the workers, and then between the different categories of workers themselves. This individualization and division of labor was characteristically Taylorite, and must be considered one of the purposeful outcomes of the Stakhanovite campaign, made possible only by the destruction of autonomous trade unions.

Stakhanovism, only one of the elements of Russian postrevolutionary Taylorism, did not disappear with the death of Stalin. A recent [1980] resurrection of the publicity on Stakhanov himself indicates the nostalgia of the Brezhnev-Kosygin regime for the earlier, heroic days of industrialization.51 Increasing prosperity and popular weariness with stern measures of labor discipline resulted, in the post-Stalin world, in a relaxation of the original patterns of industrialization. The five year plans lengthened into seven year plans; consumer goods industries increased. But it cannot be doubted that, within the system, the pattern of Taylorism, so flamboyantly institutionalized, remained.


Although the influence of Taylorism on the development of Soviet management practice is an important, if neglected, chapter in Russian industrial history, the general influence of Scientific Management on Soviet government should not be overemphasized. Scientific Management did not cause the emergence of so-called Soviet state capitalism, but reinforced certain characteristic patterns that were already present. To the centralism, autocracy, and paternalism typical of the "command economy" of the tsars, Taylorism added techniques of statistical control, planning methods, and an increased capacity for the training of specialized industrial labor. Its influence, then, was confined to the development of systems of rationalization that adapted what was, in many ways, an essentially Petrine system to the demands of mass technology.

There was also in Scientific Management a vein of latent pseudo-scientism that reinforced similar tendencies in Marxism-Leninism. And the postrevolutionary introduction of Taylorism, with its powerful arguments for the dominance of a technocratic class, finished the [134/135] work that Lenin had begun when he advocated the direction of the "spontaneous" sentiments of the proletariat by a more enlightened and systematic vanguard. The vision of the governance of industrial society by a system of interlocking councils, or workers' Soviets, could not withstand this double onslaught of the advocates of expertise. Several decades were to pass before an active system of workers' control was again to be advocated by a national Communist party; in the meanwhile, the powerful influence of the Soviet model of planned and centralized economic development dominated both communist and capitalist models of industrial development. Besides influencing the process of five year planning in such disparate nations as China and India, Soviet patterns of industrial mobilization left important traces in the West, from the platform of the American Technocratic party to Hitler's Four Year Plan.

In a somewhat indirect way, then, it may be said that through its influence on Soviet planning, Scientific Management has added considerably to the world legacy of statism, both in theory and in practice. And this elevation and advancement of the most authoritarian elements in Scientific Management, most ironically, has not been carried out in the name of conservatism, but in connection with a model of workers' revolution.



  1. V.V. Adoratskii, V.M. Molotov, M.A. Savel'er, V.G. Sorin, eds., Leninskii sbornik (Moscow: Partiinoe Izdatel'stvo, 1933), 2:226. Annotations on Frank B. Gilbreth's "Motion-Study as on [sic] increase of national wealth," Annals of the American Academy, May 1915, p. 9659.
  2. Urwick, Golden Book of Management, p. 108.
  3. V.I. Lenin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe Izdatel'stvo Politicheskoi Literatury, 1962), 28:126-32.
  4. Pouget, pp. 42-51.
  5. Adoratskii et al., p. 226, and pp. 104, 254, 262, 264.
  6. See such biographies as Leon Trotsky, Lenin (New York: Minton, Balch & Co., 1925); Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station (Garden City, N.Y. Doubleday & Co., 1940); and Bertram Wolfe, Three Who Made a Revolution (New York: Dial Press, 1948).
  7. L. Tikhomirov speaks of this in 1892, as do most modern historians. See his Russia, Political and Social, vol. 2 (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1892). Also see M. Florinsky, Russia: A History and an Interpretation (New York: Macmillan Co., 1947), 2:1113 ff. See also a letter sent by V.A. Dolgorukov, head of the Third Section, to the Governor-General of Moscow in May of 1958, quoted in Franco Venturi, The Roots of Revolution (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960), p. 232.
  8. V.I. Lenin, The Stale and Revolution (New York: International Publishers, 1954), pp. 83-84.
  9. Such as Maurice Dobb, Soviet Economic Development Since 1917 (New York: International Publishers, 1948), p. 429. More specifically, there is a problem of determining how much of the impetus toward a planned "command economy" is Marxist in inspiration and how much has been read back into Marx by Soviet advocates of the new transplanted management technologies. Bukharin wrote in 1920, for example, that Marx and Engels (who had in fact little to say about planning), in predicting the end of political economy after the proletarian revolution, had implied that the end of the spontaneous forces of the market would require conscious and prearranged control of an organized national economy by national plan. George R. Feiwel, The Soviet Quest for Efficiency: Issues, Controversies and Reforms (New York: Praeger, 1976), p. 18.
  10. V.I. Lenin, Selected Works (London: Lawrence & Wishard, 1937), 7:316.
  11. Ibid., p. 332. This translation soon became available in pamphlet form and was widely quoted in the United States in the early 1920s -- frequently by conservative business circles.
  12. V. I. Lenin, Selected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1971), p. 450.
  13. M. Philips Price, My Reminiscences of the Russian Revolution (London: George Alien & Unwin, 1921), p. 283.
  14. Lenin, Selected Works (New York), "Left-Wing Childishness and the Petty-Bourgeois Mentality," pp. 450-51.
  15. Lenin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 36:212-213. "Statement to the Meeting of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the National Economy" concerning the project of labor discipline, and made during a period of famine -- hence the reference to lowered norms of production.
  16.  ". . . during the following months the situation grew steadily worse. There was cause enough in actual conditions, but it is also very probable that certain engineers were making the transport situation fit their diagrams" (the "death" prediction in 1920, that is). Leon Trotsky, My Life (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1930), p. 463.
  17. Trotsky discusses this problem in depth in chs. 34-36 of My Life.
  18. Lean Trotsky, Trud, disisiplina, puriadok, spasm Sotsialislicheskuiu Sovieiskuiu Respubliku, Monograph (Moscow: Izd, "Kommunist," 1918), p. 15.
  19. L. Pasvolsky, The Economics of Communism (New York: Macmillan Co,, 1931), pp. 168-73. The author deplores the lack of figures on lateness, but cites extensive numerical data which show that absences approach 80%, as opposed to a prerevolutionary average of 15%. Strangely enough, this numerical data, published in the Russian press from 1919-20, pertains to transport workers and railroad shops. One suspects that the availability of this type of data bears a direct relation to the influence of Taylorites in the transport industry.
  20. Trotsky, My Life, p. 463.
  21. Summarized from Leon Trotsky, "Khoziaistvennoe stroitel'stvo Sovetskoi Respubliki" Sochinenii, vol. 15 (Moscow: Gos. Izd., 1927). See also, in the same work, "Osnovye zadachi i trudnosti khoziaistvennogo stroitel'stva," 6 January 1920. Trotsky's innovative terminology is discussed in I. Deutscher, The Prophet Armed: Trotsky, 1879-1921 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954).
  22. Trotsky, Sochinenii, vol. 15, p. 92. Gramsci also stresses the identification of Trotsky's "militarization of labor" with "Americanism," or Taylor-style rationalization. Antonio Gramsci, Americanism and Fordism, in Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York: International Publishers, 1971), pp. 301-302.
  23. Trotsky, Sochinenii, vol. 15, p. 85.
  24. Ibid., p. 86. American aid for Russian transportation was not a brief interlude, but continued long after Trotsky's exile. During the First Five Year Plan and the Second Five Year Plan, Ralph Budd, president of the Great Northern Railroad, became transportation advisor to Soviet engineers. See W. H. G. Armytage, The Rise of the Technocrats: A Social History (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965), p. 223.
  25. Trotsky, My Life, p. 464.
  26. Trotsky, My Life, p. 465, describes this process, leaving no doubt as to the technology employed. The year of work in Taylorizing the railroads was like a year in school, said Trotsky, for "all the fundamental questions of socialist organization of economic life found their most concentrated expression in the sphere of transport."
  27. See Armytage, pp. 223, 219-39. For an excellent discussion of the key role of the Goelro Plan (electrification) in the formation of the Soviet planning system as a whole, see Eugene Zaleski, Planning for Economic Growth in the Soviet Union. 1918-1932 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971).
  28. Alford, p. 215. Polakov seems to have been one of the main links in this process. He made the Russian charts available for publication in the United States, and did the translation of Clark's The Gantt Chart into Russian.
  29. F. Barghoorn, The Soviet Image of the United States: A Study in Distortion (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1950). This source was suggested, in conversation, by S.N. Silverman.
  30. See Wallace Clark, Grafika Ganta, trans. Walter Polakov (1st trans. ed., 1926; Moscow: n.p., 1931).
  31. Chakhotin in 1923 speaks of having taught Scientific Management in Russia; see Sergei S. Chakhotin, Organizatsiia: printsipy i melody v proizvodstve, torgovle, administratsii i politike (Berlin: Izd-vo "Opyt," 1923).
  32. I. Rabchinskii, O sisteme Teilora (Moscow: Gos. Tekh. Izd., 1921).
  33. Chakhotin mentions all of these authors, along with the original Taylor-White experiments. They are also cited by Rabchinskii, O sisteme Teilora.
  34. Rabchinskii, O sisteme Teilora, pp. 60-61.
  35. Ibid., pp. 66-68.
  36. Lincoln Hutchinson, American Engineers in Russia, 1928-1932. Unpublished manuscript survey in Hoover Library, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California.
  37. Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, p. 515, shows that Stalin's 1929 Sixteenth Party Conference resolution on "socialist emulation" is identical to Trotsky's resolution of 1920.
  38. Andrew Smith, I Was a Soviet Worker (New York: E. P. Button, 1936), p. 45, describes this system. Smith wrote a letter directly to Stalin to inform him of the condition of the machinery and the high rates of injury. These conditions were, however, commonly observed, and Stalin appears to have been uninterested in such details.
  39. Ibid., p. 189.
  40. Victor Kravchenko, I Chose Freedom (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1952) describes in detail the effect of these well-known directives in the context of day-to-day operations.
  41. Hutchinson, pt. 1, pp. 33-34.
  42. Dobb, p. 429.
  43. Hutchinson, pt. 1, p. 19.
  44. Barghoorn, pp. 28-29.
  45. See Peter Francis, I Worked in a Soviet Factory (London: Jarrold's Publishers, 1939), p. 103, and Smith, I Was a Soviet Worker, p. 294.
  46. Hutchinson, pt. 1, pp. 7-8, pt. 2, p. 46.
  47. Ibid., pt. 2, pp. 19-25, 48.
  48. I. Deutscher, Russia in Transition (New York: Grove Press, 1960), p. 134.
  49. Kravchenko, p. 187.
  50. Ibid., p. 188.
  51. Pravda, 24 September 1970, p. 2.