The late 19th century and early 20th century are known for the emergence of various ideologies regarding the organization of industry and manager theory. These were intertwined with the raging political climate and revolutions which sought to redefine social norms, which were influenced mainly by industry standards and workers’ rights. Taylorism, otherwise known as scientific management, became a paradigm-shifting theory to improve productivity and efficiency through managerial practices. This report seeks to outline the basic concepts of Taylorism and discuss its influence on the revolutionary movement and ideals of the Soviet leadership emerging at the time.
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Concept of Taylorism
The growing importance of factory management during the 19th century emphasized a search for effective methods to fix production processes and the movement of capital amongst industries and product lines. Tremendous pressure was placed on capital goods, and competition emerged in this sector. There was a concentrated effort to reduce costs and improve control, primarily through technological innovations. By the 20th century, the capital goods sector was a center for change in labor processes and management practices, becoming “the cradle in which scientific management was born” (Silver 132).
Taylorism was developed by Frederick Winslow Taylor, who was an American engineer and management consultant. He sought to improve industrial efficiency through the use of the scientific method. His ideas were first published in 1911 in the book The Principles of Scientific Management, which outlined four fundamental principles:
- Traditional methods should be replaced with procedures based on scientific evaluation of the tasks.
- Selection, training, teaching, and development of workers should be made on a scientific basis.
- Detailed instruction and supervision should be provided to workers on any given task.
- Workloads should be split equally amongst workers and managers. Managers use the scientific method to create plans while workers perform the tasks.
The principles sought to structure the workforce in the industry so that workers performed tasks and physical labor while managers were provided with more authority to command the process and run the organization (Koumparoulis and Vlachopoulioti 420).
Taylor wanted to develop the most efficient foundation for the organizational structure. At the time, the separation of regular workers and management proved to be very effective. Each job position required a specific type of employee, and the two were matched to produce the best output. Companies began to operate efficiently on practically every indicator. While workers performed daily tasks with careful instruction and oversight, managers could now concentrate on more complex areas of the business. Managers had the time and resources to adequately participate in decision-making processes by finding the best course of action through examination, study, planning, and implementation of standards. The manufacturing process became viewed as a part of an integrated system that managers were encouraged to dissect and evaluate each step. This way, improvements made to any given stage would most likely lead to overall efficiency growth. One such aspect was to determine and eliminate potential bottlenecks in production (Koumparoulis and Vlachopoulioti 421). Overall, the concept was based that each part of an organization, factory, or production process could be broken down, analyzed, redesigned, and optimized by dedicated managers in order to maximize output.
Analysis and Reaction to the Management Model
The biggest concern of Taylor when creating the scientific management model was that the capitalist system in the US-led to the emergence of vast enterprises. Managers no longer maintained control of the production process on the factory floor, and changes were often slow to take effect as they were passed down from top executives. Taylorism finds a solution by providing managers with more power and opportunity to implement methods that out lead to maximum production efforts from employees in return for higher wages since the company benefited as well (Kelly 301). The biggest criticism of Taylorism is that it led to the creation of mass production and economies of scale. Although seemingly effective and positive development for the economy, as technology developed, the narrow job focus outlined by the theory led to workers being seen as gears in a machine. This led to the prevalence of materialism and the degradation of workers’ rights (Koumparoulis and Vlachopoulioti 424).
Criticism of Taylorism is based primarily on the idea that capitalism has reached a precipice where primary workers were completely demeaned and worthless. Scientific management sought to create a solution to various issues in production but completely alienated the labor force and overhauled the concept of managerial control to an unprecedented level. Under the Taylorism model, the basic worker would essentially be seen as the lowest level of the chain, undifferentiated and adapted to a wide variety of tasks. Meanwhile, power is concentrated amongst management which can be unregulated and abusive (Kelly 300).
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Most workers and labor unions highly criticized and protested against the adoption of Taylorism in practice. The model was thought to be a purposeful power play for workplace control and intensification of the workload. It assumed that economic drivers were the biggest motivation for workers. However, the promise of potential monetary rewards was not enough to give up freedoms and influence. Furthermore, the capacity and competency of managers under Taylorism are significantly overestimated. The erosion of control and unfavorable worker conditions and rights were further emphasized by “fragmenting skilled jobs and separating the conception and execution of tasks” (Kelly 302). Essentially, scientific management sought to portray workers as interchangeable parts in the machine of industry and production. The process was broken down by managers to create simple tasks which were fulfilled by the division of labor. Workers, like mechanical parts, were mostly rid of humanity and individuality.
Taylorism is closely associated with the Russian Revolution and the coming to power of the Soviet government in the early 20th century. The revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin, a student of Marxist teachings, was appalled by the concept, according to his notes from 1913. He viewed it as a capitalist attempt to degrade the working class. However, in April of 1918, Lenin’s Soviet government was tasked with rebuilding the country and its industry. He admitted that accounting and managerial control proved to be challenging. Furthermore, the country required Western specialists and engineers, which required high salaries that were far beyond the reach of any level of the working class. Labor productivity was at an all-time low because of the low educational and cultural attainment of the population. Taylorism became an appealing model to create much-needed discipline and production efficiency. The piece-rate system from the Taylor model that matched wages to productivity was helpful as well in this situation (Whitaker 99).
Lenin believed that scientific management could become applicable and adaptable in the Soviet Union if adequately controlled and adapted. The objective was that the working class would implement the system themselves instead of it being forced upon them. This would have theoretically eliminated the obligatory and oppressive nature of the model towards the working class. Instead, the increased efficiency would reduce the length of the working day for citizens in a short amount of time. Lenin described this objective as “six hours of physical work daily for every adult citizen and four hours work in running the state” (Scoville 621).
It is unclear why Lenin had such a drastic change of mind. It can be argued that the implementation of Taylorism in various industries led to outcomes and increased productivity that was strongly desired by the Soviet government. This was conducive to the establishment of socialism and significantly pushed for Lenin’s ideal of the communist society. The appeal of Taylorism was in its scientific method. When Karl Marx was creating his political framework, he used the basis of ‘scientific socialism.’ Work was an exact science that was adopted as part of the social design. Therefore, a non-scientific approach to management would be inherently un-Marxist. Using this logic, scientific management, which is an aspect of capitalism, becomes suddenly consistent and acceptable to use in a Marxist socialist state such as the Soviet Union (Scoville 625).
The adoption of Taylorism did not come to the Soviet Union during the turbulent time of the post-war period and the spread of communism. It arrived during the equivocal time of the New Economic Policy and stability. However, the economic downfall called for increased discipline and labor productivity (Sochor 249). Two distinct groups of politicians clashed over scientific management in the Soviet Union. The Time League, led by Kerzhentsev, strongly opposed the theory as contradictory to the communist perspective. Meanwhile, the Central Labor Institute, led by Gastev, took upon a pragmatic and supportive of managing labor using the scientific method. The groups reconciled their differences by creating the Scientific Organization of Labor to adopt Soviet Taylorism fitting to the cultural demands of the population (Sochor 246).
The Scientific Organization of Labor had a task that was different from traditional increases inefficiency. It had a primary objective to develop “the cultural infrastructure essential to the development effort” (Sochor 247). It became a critical part of the country’s transition to socialism, which provided Soviet Taylorism with unique characteristics. Although some groups sought to reject the theory under Marxist anti-capitalist ideology, they did not present an adequate alternative. However, in the end, Taylorism became widely accepted and adopted. In fact, one of the main opposition leaders, Kerzhentsev, stated that scientific management was more beneficial for the Soviet Union than the United States since it helped to organize labor with scarce availability of resources. The Scientific Organization of Labor could induce maximized output with minimal loss of production capabilities (Sochor 247).
Taylorism or scientific management was a theoretical concept created in the early 20th century to optimize managerial and production practices in the industry. It effectively split the jobs of workers and managers. While workers were interchangeable and assigned to necessary tasks, managers focused on growing the company and enhancing the production process. This was not well-received by the labor force, who viewed it as dehumanizing. Furthermore, the capitalist-based theory was initially rejected by Marxists. However, eventually, Lenin adopted Taylorism to fit the Soviet industry and societal structure, attempting to use the increase in efficiency as a method to spread communism and raise the country out of poverty.
Kelly, Diana. “Perceptions of Taylorism and a Marxist Scientific Manager.” Journal of Management History, vol. 22, no. 3, 2016, pp. 298-319.
Koumparoulis, Dimitrios, and Anathalia Vlachopoulioti. “The Evolution of Scientific Management.” Academic Research International, vol. 3, no. 2, 2012, pp. 420-426.
Scoville, James G. “The Taylorization of Vladimir Ilich Lenin.” Industrial Relations, vol. 40, no. 4, 2001, pp. 620-626.
Silver, Beverly. Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization Since 1870. Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Sochor, Zenovia A. “Soviet Taylorism Revisited.” Studies in Political Economy, vol. 33, no. 2, 1981, pp. 246-264.
Whitaker, Reginald. “Scientific Management Theory as Political Ideology.” Studies in Political Economy, vol. 2, no. 1, 1979, pp. 75-108.