the managerial trinity

“…the modern welfare state: a synthesis of Taylorism in the organization of labor, Fordism in the wage regime, and Keynesianism in the macroeconomic regulation of society.”

-Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, pg. 242

If there is common ground to be found between Le Corbusier’s top-down cityscapes and Foucault’s breakdown of disciplinary practices, then there exists a medium that links the factory’s treatment of the human body to the urban planner’s treatment of the social body. Foucault effectively traces the genealogy of discipline through its identical incarnations in different spaces: the prison, the school, the factory, the prison, providing clear analogues to Vaneigem’s conception of the dictatorial tendencies embedded within the urban geometries. If the modernist city was designed to be a prison, then the question that Foucault asks – “Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” (Discipline and Punish, pg. 228) – is of utmost importance.


Power shifts in accordance with the manner in which knowledge is wielded and applied. Science. The name implies lab coats, specialists, rigorous training, monitoring – expertise. Science, of course, extends itself far from being a matter of chemistry, biology, or physics; the application of specialized knowledge permeates every level of the waking life. The science we will discuss here is the science of labor as it was articulated against the backdrop of the early Progressive Era in America.

Frederick Taylor (1856-1915) had been a foreman at a steel factory in Pennsylvania; previously, he had operated the lathes, large industrial machines that cut through hard metals. Immersed in the working class environment, he observed that tactics in which the labor force deployed in their day to day tasks, most of which revolved around rule-of-thumb reasoning and traditions passed down through the years in the factory. Together, these had formed organic circuits of bottom-up knowledge in the factory proper -constituting, albeit in a strictly intellectual manner, a form of diffuse labor power. For Taylor, this manner of work was archaic and outmoded for the technological changes sweeping society. Furthermore, the actual output of labor changed in accordance to each individual; no two workers shared the same attributes, levels of speed and intelligence, skills and motivation. Armed with stopwatch, Taylor put himself to work to uncovering the reasons behind the infinite array of inefficiencies that he saw as plaguing the factory, and to develop a new format for labor to operate at its fullest potential.

The outcome of this research, known as either Taylorism or ‘Scientific Management,’ demanded a standardization of factory procedures and a perpetual micromanagement of the workers by scientifically-trained experts who primarily concerned themselves with time flow, balanced labor costs, and informational management; the individuality of those on the factory floor collapsed into a succession of uniformity  Their hands were no longer to be the hands of craftsmen, their minds not the minds of quasi-autonomous agents – instead, they became automatons, cogs in the greater productive combines.

A strong division of labor formed within the factory as the standardizations took place: workers were divided up in accordance to their speed and perceived attributes; ‘brain-work’ was relegated to a planning department that would establish the procedurals that would dominate all action occurring on floor. Time and motion studies became essential for these planners, etching out standard times in which even the most minute of tasks would be complete in and devising the most ‘efficient’ ways to accomplish them. In order to accomplish this, managers would act as information gatherers, observing each and every process, “recording it, tabulating it, and, in many cases, reducing it to laws, rules, and even to mathematical formulae…” (Taylor, quoted in Robins, Webster Times of Technoculture, pg. 124) Higher degrees of visibility would be required over the workers to ensure that these methods and formulas were actually being implemented; between the manager’s knowledge-gathering and subsequent task-monitoring, surveillance formed a central part of scientific factory.


Strong arguments can be made that Scientific Management’s consolidation of hierarchy, power, and command infected the contours of surrounding society – after all, Taylor’s developments formed in conjunction with the rise of the Progressive Movement, whose quasi-populist brand of top-down democracy placed a strong emphasis on efficency and the role of social scientists in the public arena. Kevin Robbins and Frank Webster single out in particular Walter Lippman, the well-respected journalist, former socialist, and wartime adviser to President Woodrow Wilson. A figure in the social elite, Lippman’s anti-democratic and lack of faith in the masses’ ability to properly determine their own destiny coincides precisely with the rigorous command over the factory: he declared that that “society has attained a ‘complexity now so great as to be humanly unmanageable,” a line of reasoning leading to a necessity for a “central government… compelled to assume responsibility for the control and co-ordination of this increasingly diffuse social structure.” (Times of Technoculture, pg. 106) This centralized power formation, in turn, required “systematic intelligence and information control,” the bundling of these areas under the aegis of trained experts whose communication with the masses would operate primarily in the form of “persuasion… and the manufacture of consents…”

Lippman was certainly in a position to help influence these social and political transformations. In the early 1920s he was a founding member of the Council on Foreign Relations, “the most influential of all private policy planning groups… simultaneously both a think tank for foreign and economic policy [with] a large membership comprising some of the most important individuals in U.S. economic, intellectual, and political life.” (Barker, “Elite ‘Democratic’ Planning at the Council on Foreign Relations, Part 1 of 2)


Another model for how Scientific Management can rapidly transfer from the factory to society at large can be found in the German analogue to Taylor, an industrial engineer and head of the country’s primary electric company A.E.G., Walther Rathenau. Against the backdrop of the first world war, Rathenau secured a position in command of the Office of War Raw Materials; from this vantage point, he “realized that the planned rationing of raw materials and transport was key to sustaining the war effort.” (Seeing Like a State, pg. 98) From there, he transformed the German economy into a managed and planned marketplace:

“In the war, private industry had given way to a kind of state socialism; ‘gigantic industrial enterprises had transcended their ostensibly private owners and all the laws of property.’ The decisions required had nothing to do with ideology; they were driven by purely technical and economic necessities.” (Seeing Like a State, pg. 99)

For Rathenau, this highly structured societal model, born in the fires of war, served as the foundations of a new peace-time era, a “machinic order… [and] a consolidation of the world into an unconscious association of constraint, into an uninterrupted community of production and harmony.” (Seeing Like a State, pg. 100, my emphasis)


As the Bolshevik Revolution on 1917 rumbled on the horizon, a mere weeks away, Lenin wrote of the inspiration he saw in Germany’s industrial planning – swept up in the managerial zeitgeist, the revolutionary found in Rathenau’s methodology the blueprint for Soviet collectivization. His eyes also turned directly to Scientific Management  “The Soviet Republic must at all costs adopt all that is valuable in the achievements of science and technology in this field… We must organize in Russia the study and teaching of the Taylor system and systematically try it out and adapt it to our purposes.” It is no surprise then that Lenin and the Party Bolshevik’s outlook on revolution, with its placing of supreme importance on the necessity of the vanguard party in forming the dictatorship of the proletariat, comes so close to ideals of the vehemently anti-communist Lippman. Both saw the rising of the managerial elite in guiding the under classes; for Lippman, it was a progressive science and its technocrats that would move the forces of public opinion through the powers of persuasion, while in the Soviet schema, the revolutionary vanguard would act as “propagandists” and “organizers.” In both models, a “manufacturing of consent,” built around industrial process, was the central rationale of governance.

“Many find it repugnant that we want to deal with human beings as a screw, a nut, a machine. But we must undertake this as fearlessly as we accept the growth of trees and the expansion of the railway network.” -Alexej Kapitonovik Gastev, founder of the Central Institute of Labor, Moscow

“…the year of our ford”

Revolutionary agency. Marxist lineage tells us that the proletarian masses are saturated with it, each member, inserted by their masters into the combines of industry, holds it within themselves, an inert force ready to explode at the critical juncture – an energetic explosion created by a series of catalyzing factors. But why hasn’t it happened yet? Is this not the most critical question? Have we not merely arrived at the proper dialectical moment, the cosmological wheels not turned enough to produce the alchemical substance of Communism? No, best not entrust the inevitability of revolution to a materialist theology; there are no predetermined destinies for man nor machine.

Yes, the working classes may possess revolutionary agency, but they are not the only ones. The Passive Revolution – a slow-moving, seemingly organic evolution of society to accommodate the power of the working class, directed and conducted by the bourgeoisie to round off extreme or radical solutions. It occurs over time, over years, but its existence is apparent – ask yourself, when have so-called ‘Progressives’ operated in true opposition to Capital? For them the red banners read “Reform! Not Revolution”

The first acknowledgement of the Passive Revolution comes in the prison writings of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937). Gramsci, who had witnessed the incorporation of the poor into the factory during the mass industrialization brought on by the corporate cartels of FIAT and Lancia, was a prominent intellectual and journalist – for example, for some time he served as a co-editor to the Italian Socialist Party’s official organ, Avanti! While Gramsci saw himself squarely in the Bolshevik tradition of Marxist-Leninism, his own views ran towards the syndicalist tendency, urging the bottom-up formation of worker’s council as the most important means of seizing the modes of production. Despite the frictions generated by this conceptual clash with Lenin’s state-centric vanguard, by 1924 he had become the de-facto head of the Communist Party of Italy (PCI).

The iron-fisted managerialism of the Soviet Union under Stalin was mirrored in Italy by the proliferation of fascism; despite many commonalities (central authority of the state, the etching in stone of hierarchy, etc), the left and right wing currents operated in strong opposition to one another. The government of Benito Mussolini initiated a series of emergency laws in order to combat the Communist movements, leading the capture and detainment of many leading PCI members. Gramsci was among those rounded up – for his crimes, he received a sentencing of twenty-five years. It was during his imprisonment, however, that his most important contributions to Marxist theory were produced, bundled together into what is now known as The Prison Notebooks. In these writings he set to accomplish a twofold task: 1) to discern whether or not the world had entered a new historical age; and 2) to capture exactly what the drivers behind this zeitgeist were. In other words, Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks are an early exploration of modernity itself. The Passive Revolution, he argued, was an important feature – but he lent a name to that complex moment that still remains to this day: Fordism.

Antonio Gramsci

Antonio Gramsci

Fordism referred initially to the production processes developing from Ford’s Model T automobile; simple and lightweight, the creation of the vehicle constituted an industrial revolution in the fact that it was built not by individual hand-crafting, but on an assembly line by many hands working different specific tasks. Assembly line methods proliferated through factories across the United States, mass production was truly born – launching capitalism into a new era. Looking at it from the vantage point of the nation, it meant that no longer were the traditional markets, small and localized, the preferred space for trade; the entire country now had to be looked at if a business wanted to maintain a competitive advantage. It also meant major changes for the workers themselves: with labor transitioning from the craftsman model to the task-specific model, the volume of knowledge and requisite skill sets declined. Furthermore, as mass production meant more goods entering the new, expansive markets, the was now a need for a public with proper buying power; for so long worker’s had been excluded from the benefits of their labor by low-wage regimes. Such a model would disrupt large-scale competition, so Ford, among other industrialists and businessmen, began to implement a system of “living wages,” giving the worker the ability to purchase his product.


Ford’s Model T on a factory assembly line

Many of the bourgeoisie saw this in terms that held shades of the populist radicalism – phrases such as “economic freedom” and “industrial democracy” became commonplace. But it was clear that this freedom and democracy had little to do with the Marxist thought spreading around the globe. “The industrial democracy I am discussing,” said Edward Filene, a prominent department store magnate, “had nothing to do with the Cubist politics of class revolution.” (Captains of Consciousness, pg. 27) What was being promoted was a model of integralism, a harmonization between the classes under the dictations of capital.

The streamlined, socially-conscious methodology of unskilled labor that constituted Fordism rapidly spread beyond the borders of the United States, following the pattern set by Taylorism. Speaking of Henry Ford, Adolf Hitler proclaimed “I shall do my best to put his theories into practice in Germany.” (The People’s Tycoon, pg. xi) Portraits of Ford, together with Lenin, proudly adorned the walls of Soviet factories; Joseph Stalin spoke highly of America’s Fordist developments:

“American efficiency is that indomitable force which neither knows nor recognizes obstacle; which continues on a task once started until it is finished, even if it is a minor tasks; and without which serious constructive work is inconceivable… the combination of the Russian revolutionary sweep with American efficiency is the essence of Leninism.”

The embrace of these capitalist techniques by those who were deviating from the system follows closely with Gramsci’s diagnosis of the Fordist turn; for him, the dawn of Fordism meant the dawn of a new man – individuality dissipating in the face of inter-capitalist planning and cooperation, a decline in difference in the name of the same. Concepts of individuality and cultural identities would become a sideshow for advertising as literal cartels consolidated themselves in power: a phase, monopoly capitalism, in which the whole of life is organized as if it were an assembly itself. Through the evolution of Taylorism and Fordism, the American market economy was mimicking the ethnocidal tendencies of state formation. Indeed, Clastres wrote that Western states were more ethnocidal than primitive societies because of capitalism – “It is its system of economic production  precisely a space of the unlimited, a space without a locus in that it constantly pushes back boundaries, an infinite space of permanent pushing ahead.” (Archeology of Violence, pg. 112)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to the managerial trinity

  1. S.C. Hickman says:

    As I’m going back through each of your essays over the past couple years I’m seeing this pattern forming of a sort of history of Oligarchy, Aristocracies, Elites and how they formed out of politics whether of democratic, socialist, fascist, communist the same basic patters of mathematical calculation, control, codings/decodings in both structure (architecture, communications, sciences, education, etc.). Also how they used each other methodologies outside the ideological fence, incorporating this fusion of technic, technology, and psychology into a system of governance which was in all political instances the same. So that the political ideology was not of essence in any of these cultures other than a cover for the base or bare power relations as fantasy covering the actual manipulators of the program behind the scenes… sometimes I wonder: Are we extracting/abstracting this out of the historical continuum and thereby inventing this? Are does this actually exist in the very structures of the historical process itself? In other words are we determined by unconscious forces, therefore even these elites plans do not preexist there implementations; or, is there some other stranger determinism going on here – more like Lacan’s jouissance?

  2. S.C. Hickman says:

    Yes, Stalin’s realization of “American efficiency as the essence of Leninism”, along with Clastres’s “It is its system of economic production precisely a space of the unlimited, a space without a locus in that it constantly pushes back boundaries, an infinite space of permanent pushing ahead.” Both coincide with Zizek’s notion of capitalisms engine as combining three elements: human waste – the surplus value of surplus-jouissance; the bringing together in Taylorism of head and hand in an epistemology of automated relations; and, that the Lacanian Master-Signifiers in each of the political systems though marshalled under different regimes of power were the same, only the masks changed under the names of democracy, fascism, socialism, and communism. In other words the connection between human waste, knowledge-at-work, and the master-signifier tying them together as the extraction and manipulation of the surplus-jouissance in the social body itself.

    I think this aligns nicely with Fabio Vighi’s reading of Zizek in his On Zizek’s Dialectics: Surplus, Subtraction, and Sublimation…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s