The Taylor System—Man’s Enslavement by the Machine
|Written||13 March 1914|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 152-154.
Capitalism cannot be at a standstill for a single moment. It must forever be moving forward. Competition, which is keenest in a period of crisis like the present, calls for the invention of an increasing number of new devices to reduce the cost of production. But the domination of capital converts all these devices into instruments for the further exploitation of the workers.
The Taylor system is one of these devices.
Advocates of this system recently used the following techniques in America.
An electric lamp was attached to a worker’s arm, the worker’s movements were photographed and the movements of the lamp studied. Certain movements were found to be to “superfluous” and the worker was made to avoid them, i.e., to work more intensively, without losing a second for rest.
The layout of new factory buildings is planned in such a way that not a moment will be lost in delivering materials to the factory, in conveying them from one shop to another, and in dispatching the finished products. The cinema is systematically employed for studying the work of the best operatives and increasing its intensity, i.e., “speeding up” the workers.
For example, a mechanic’s operations were filmed in the course of a whole day. After studying the mechanic’s movements the efficiency experts provided him with a bench high enough to enable him to avoid losing time in bending down. He was given a boy to assist him. This boy had to hand up each part of the machine in a definite and most efficient way. Within a few days the mechanic performed the work of assembling the given type of machine in one-fourth of the time it had taken before!
What an enormous gain in labour productivity!... But the worker’s pay is not increased fourfold, but only half as much again, at the very most, and only for a short period at that. As soon as the workers get used to the new system their pay is cut to the former level. The capitalist obtains an enormous profit, but the workers toil four times as hard as before and wear down their nerves and muscles four times as fast as before.
A newly engaged worker is taken to the factory cinema where he is shown a “model” performance of his job; the worker is made to “catch up” with that performance. A week later he is taken to the cinema again and shown pictures of his own performance, Which is then compared with the “model”.
All these vast improvements are introduced to the detriment of the workers, for they lead to their still greater oppression and exploitation. Moreover, this rational and efficient distribution of labour is confined to each factory.
The question naturally arises: What about the distribution of labour in society as a whole? What a vast amount of labour is wasted at present owing to the disorganised and chaotic character of capitalist production as a whole! How much time is wasted as the raw materials pass to the factory through the hands of hundreds of buyers and middlemen, while the requirements of the market are unknown! Not only time, but the actual products are wasted and damaged. And what about the waste of time and labour in delivering the finished goods to the consumers through a host of small middlemen who, too, cannot know the requirements of their customers and perform not only a host of superfluous movements, but also make a host of superfluous purchases, journeys, and so on and so forth!
Capital organises and rationalises labour within the factory for the purpose of increasing the exploitation of the workers and increasing profit. In social production as a whole, however, chaos continues to reign and grow, leading to crises when the accumulated wealth cannot find purchasers, and millions of workers starve because they are unable to find employment.
The Taylor system—without its initiators knowing or wishing it—is preparing the time when the proletariat will take over all social production and appoint its own workers’ committees for the purpose of properly distributing and rationalising all social labour. Large-scale production, machinery, railways, telephone—all provide thousands of opportunities to cut by three-fourths the working time of the organised workers and make them four times better off than they are today.
And these workers’ committees, assisted by the workers’ unions, will be able to apply these principles of rational distribution of social labour when the latter is freed from its enslavement by capital.