Notes on Americanism and Fordism

Arianna Bove

Gramsci on the question offers valuable insights in what will later be the object of sociological research under the name of Taylorisation. This presented itself as one of the major problems in outlining new forms of critique as well as political action which require a deeper understanding of the roots of the hegemonic achievements of the ruling class. Since the shift from capital labour conflicts towards a sort of image of social solidarity, surplus-value production ceased to be put under question and became the starting point for the resolution of power conflicts within productive relations. In other words, the idea of a working class co-operating with its masters towards the maximisation of profit and the consequent redistribution of such surplus value had become the core concern of modern economic policy, as Gramsci described it in his section, and it arguably still remains the root of the unquestionability of capitalism as a mode of production.

Taylorism and rationalisation

The principles of scientific management, F. W. Taylor (1911).

Taylor is against workers solidarity and pushes for individual (economic) remuneration to be the primary motive of workers' activity. His is a productivist philosophy, and a mechanistic vision of human physiology. Lenin approved of it in 1919 as long as the rationalist-objectivism was separated from the capitalist motive. They shared a scientific vision of productivity as a neutral instrument to maximise efficiency. The scientific organisation of production equals a scientific organisation of society. Petri (anarchic ordinovista) approved of it in 1919.

Gramsci's position is in sum the following:

1) critique of speculation: it is one of the parasitic unproductive forms of capital accumulation. Capital no longer circulates in the hands of producers and managers. Taylorisation aims at re-rationalising capitalist production and eliminating political and financial speculativism. What does it represent? Passive revolution or internal counter-discourse? Revitalisation of capitalism in economic (replacing productivity in the hands of producers rather than bureaucracy and speculation) and moral terms (creating a cementing ideology internal to the factory).

2) critique of American Puritanism: he shows how little Taylorisation can be seen as neutral science. It is neopuritanism that aims to counterbalance the tendencies to waste.

Gramsci sees Fordism as the capitalist response to the objective development of the productive forces. He rejects its application on socialism in so far as it separates the executive from the management, the particular consciousness of single tasks of the executors from the general consciousness of the sense, meaning towards which each task tends of the co-ordinator, rationaliser, manager. To this view he opposes that of the collective worker. The key is to view the unity of technical development and the ruling class interests as a transitory historical phase of industrial development.

The situation of the II international was such that it was reasonable to take the objective circumstances and conditions for socialism 'for granted', since the October revolution and the social crisis and development of productive forces which followed world war I. The basic revolutionary problem then and only due to this can become the major theoretical and practical preoccupation. This is contra both Bucharin and mechanism and reformist evolutionism. Once the organic crisis of capitalism is taken for granted, then the preoccupation is to translate the objective structural possibilities at the level of subjectivity through a conscious acquisition, and then to make these possibilities actual and objective through political organisation.

More on Fordism at the excellent Digital Archive on Fordism

And a video illustration of Taylor's ideas

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