Paul Temple

A Totalitarian Fantasy —

Technocracy, Fascism, and the War

(April 1944)

From New International, Vol. X No. 4, April 1944, pp. 118–121.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Just as the technocrats would claim to have nothing to do with economics, so also do they assert that the field of politics is equally “alien” to the “world of thought” of the technocrat. This does not mean that Howard Scott and his friends have no political ideas. Far from it.

The political idea which the technocrats return to most insistently is a thoroughgoing slashing attack on all democratic ideas and methods. Do not suppose that they are interested in revealing the fakery of the kind of capitalist “democracy” which we have now and exposing its pretensions to being democratic. Just the contrary: their complaint against the present set-up is that it is too democratic. Scott makes it perfectly clear that, when he repudiates democracy in principle, the more real the democracy, the worse it is as far as the technocrats are concerned.

Inherent in any “price system government,” he writes, is “the grandiose nonsense that the collective multiplication of human opinion was the nearest possible approach to divine omniscience in the solution of all political problems.” (The Evolution of Society, page 7)

America can no longer control its national operation through the obsolete methods of political decision ... The national leaders of yesterday were but the reflectors of public opinion. If this nation continues very much longer under the nominal leadership of the present reflectors of public opinion, America will reach the end of this road in the swamp of mob hysteria .... Political liberty is a dead issue in America today. (Scott: America Prepares for a Turn in the Road)

This and the scores of passages like it are familiar enough nowadays as translations from contemporary German. As an adaptation to circumstances, the Nazis based their anti-democratic propaganda on a mystic “Fuehrer-prinzip,” while Scott bases his on “science.” No one ever took a vote on the law of gravitation, reasons Scott like a precocious schoolboy; why should we rely on votes to tell us how to engineer society?

The law of gravitation deals with physical matter and with human beings as mere masses of molecules; social laws deal with human beings who are divided by class interests and antagonistic social needs. No matter; the prime principle of technocracy is that people are to be treated in the same way as the chemist deals with microbes, or the biologist with cattle. “The people, sir, are a great monster.” When the people give voice to their demands against their exploiters, that is “mob hysteria”; and when millions of workers demand a living wage, that is merely an “unscientific opinion.”

Big Potato in a Small Sack

This technocratic “contribution” to man’s thought – which is as ancient as the Pharaohs – does not end with society in general. It necessarily applies with full force to Technocracy, Inc., itself, which of course must also be run “scientifically.”

Scott is technocracy’s director-in-chief. The organization’s by-laws define the functions of numerous officials and units in great detail but contain no reference to No. 1, any definition of his powers, or any provision for his selection. When Scott was asked how then he became the chief, he replied: “I got here first.” (The Nation, April 4, 1942) Thus does our man on horseback rudely descend from the language of the scientist to the lingo of the gangster.

Scott’s favorite scientific analysis of how Fuehrers come to be is the one about the potatoes:

Pretty soon, you will find all the little potatoes where they apparently want to be. The big ones are at the top, where they belong. That’s the way it will be in technocracy.” (New York World-Telegram, December 20, 1938)

This principle of physics, of course, applies equally today, since the physical properties of potatoes have remained pretty much unchanged by the ages. The “big potatoes” who are on top today – the capitalist bosses, their political mouthpieces, the whip-wielding fascists – are all there by the grace of the law of gravitation. As scientist, Scott has nothing to complain about. As a small-potato gangster, however, he knows that he who gets there first had better watch out for the fellow who gets there next. Science is a wonderful thing.

The newly discovered potato principle applies not only to society and Scott, but also to the internal organization of the modern corporation, which our spud philosophers cite as a model of how technocratic society would be run. “None of our successfully operated industries today resort to democratic methods for the selection of managers and technicians,” argues a technocrat in America Must Show the Way, and the workers in said industries, who are the ones successfully operated on, are supposed to applaud.

The Technocracy Study Course devotes a section to the running of a technocracy, and it goes about it by using the Bell Telephone Co. (notorious for under-paying its employees) as its model. The main point here is that all decisions, and particularly all selection, is toy “appointment from above,” which is given as the’ immutable principle of technocracy. It adds: “Judging from the number of human beings performing quietly within such organizations [as Bell Telephone, that is], it must also be in accordance with the biological nature of the human animal.” (Strikes, grievance committees and labor demands in general are, of course, “unscientific” and biologically anomalous.)


In a technocracy, as described in the organization’s official textbook, each industrial and social function would have at its head a director, whose tenure is for life and whose powers are unlimited, subject only to the top council of all the directors Which has appointed him in the first place. So it goes all the way down the line. At the head of the top council is the continental director. Here Scott’s blueprinting faced the same difficulty with his rigid system of appointment-from-above that theologists come to with respect to the origin of God. A rotten compromise is the result: the continental director is actually elected ... by the members of the top council only – but to counterbalance this unprincipled concession to democracy, he then becomes all-powerful. He can, however, be removed by a two-thirds vote of the top council – provided that the all-powerful continental dictator doesn’t get wind of this unscientific opinion too soon.

The best that might be said of this brave new world ruled by a self-perpetuating elite is that it is another proposal for a benevolent despotism. Scott, however, would resent the “benevolent” part of this description as having nothing to do with the case. “Technocrats,” he explains toughly, “are not filled with any love of humanity or influenced by any ethical idea, but are primarily concerned with function.”

Technocracy in Plain Terms poses the question: “Will it [technocracy] be satisfactory to all concerned?” and answers (pages 8–9):

This question, as it involves the tastes, opinions, habits, emotions, idiosyncrasies, etc., of people, no two alike, is the hardest to deal with. But even the most, hard-boiled and hardest to suit would probably come to like living under a Technate. At any rate it is quite possible that you would have to take it whether you liked it or not.

Then, with the nearest approach to the famous “strawberries and cream” gag ever made with completely humorless intentions, it continues: “The only way to avoid enjoying all these things ... would be to commit suicide or leave the country permanently.”

And you had better not ask: For whom?

Get this fact firmly: Technocracy is not advocated because it may be desirable ... For technocracy, the only test is: Will it function?

Fanciful stories have been published describing the dark future in caricature as a straight-jacketed robot-like society of rigid, bureaucratized regimentation. It has remained for Howard Scott to adopt this caricatured horror as a program.

In the Fascist Groove

Howard Scott – ex-engineer (without an engineering degree), ex-Greenwich Village habitué, ex-floor wax manufacturer, ex-graph and chart fancier – has smartened up a lot since 1933.

In those years, he posed for the newspapermen as the unrecognized scholar-genius, looking up from his academic labors to let the world know what was the matter with it. Technocracy, he said, was not a movement; it was merely a research organization.

Scott’s research, however, turned out to be on the latest-model fascist techniques. In 1939 the organization adopted a uniform: not a colored shirt, but (characteristic of the element it appealed to) a gray business suit with standardized accessories. Technocratic meetings use the gigantic backdrop effect, uniformed color guard, pomp and ritual worked out by the Nazis. The backdrop bears the organization symbol, the monad, upon it. Scott is “The Chief” to his followers (American translation, of Der Fuehrer); he shows himself in public or at interviews flanked by uniformed guards, who salute him; the salute is used also as part of the ritual at technocratic meetings; the technocratic magazines refer to him in idolatrous terms and describe the “rapt” audiences at his meetings, where he has taken to injecting some manly cuss words into his talk as befits a hard man; his photographs show him doing his best to look grimly determined.

More distinctive even than these fascistic trappings is the fact that technocratic propaganda makes a systematic effort to appeal to as many rooted American prejudices as possible. Membership in Technocracy, Inc., is denied by their by-laws to “aliens and Asiatics,” and Negroes are admitted if at all only on a Jim Crow basis. Nationalism, anti-foreignism and the cult of American superiority is as dominant a note in technocracy as the Aryan myth in Hitlerism.

America Incommunicado

Technocracy, in Scott’s doctrine, is for America and Americans only. All other peoples are “unsuited” for it, being on a lower technological level. The rest of the world can go hang. And indeed the rest of the world is doomed to go smash. But technocracy is to rope off America as an autarchic island of bliss and security in the midst of the world shambles.

“When European problems are solved, they will be solved by Europeans,” writes Scott, professing no interest in the subject. Technocracy is not what is ordinarily called isolationism. It is literal isolationism carried through to every extreme implication of that term.

Scott’s roping-off, however, is done with a large hand. He has rhe inevitable map showing the boundaries of the “American Technate.” It is the North American Continent – but the lines are drawn far enough west to include most of the Pacific Ocean and far enough south to take in all of Central America and a northern slice of South America, as part of the Technocratic Empire.

This is not done because the darker-skinned peoples so included are considered “suitable,” unlike the benighted Europeans. On the contrary, for some obscure reason, Scott reserves the bitterest vials of vituperation precisely for the South Americans.

“The South American nations are by language, culture and race fundamentally fascist in their program of social action,” writes this quack “scientist” in his national magazine (Technocracy, Nos. A-19 and A-20), and he recurs to a denunciation of the Roosevelt “good neighbor” policy. This social, economic and political ignoramus presents this policy as if it were nothing but a soft-headed, idealistic attempt to brng sweetness and light to South America by taking the shirt off Uncle Sam’s back for the unselfish uplifting of the poor natives – and he denounces it on this basis. The South Americans “do not respect us,” he complains, because we are too

soft with them. “The only action from the Continent they will respect is that of force – force powerful enough to be utterly ruthless and so efficacious in the swiftness of its execution that it will brook no opposition.” Speak loudly and carry a big stick with knobs on it.

“European culture and traditions have nothing of worthwhile importance to offer America,” he writes in the Introduction, in the rampant chauvinist vein of a backwoods tub-thumping flag-waver – but we must exclude from this condemnation the contemporary Nazi “traditions” from which Scott has learned his “social engineering” ABC’s.

This chauvinistic ranting is reactionary enough when directed against the world across the borders, but it becomes doubly vicious in its application within the United States.

Scott wishes to see all “alien cultural intrusions annihilated” in this country. A scientist (not a technocratic medicine-man) would point out that this fair country in particular is nothing if not a more or less integrated mosaic of “alien cultural intrusions.” But Scott is reading his “science” from Alfred Rosenberg and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and comes out of it with the same “scientific” program as the Silver Shirts and the Knights of the White Camellia.

The current program of the technocrats demands that the government, “as a measure of national safety and national welfare, shall abolish all foreign-language periodical publications, foreign-language advertising and foreign-language radio programs for American consumption,” together with “all foreign-language and hyphenated American organizations, associations and fraternal societies, regardless of whether they have been formed to promote political, commercial, cultural, educational, linguistic, artistic or other relationships.”

Technocrats and the War

A sketch of technocracy’s political ideas, such as they are, must divide into two parts – before and after Pearl Harbor. On December 8, 1941, the technocrats made as neck-breaking a flip-flop as did the Communist Party after the Stalin-Hitler pact or the German invasion of Russia, and with even less rationalization. They did not even invoke a law of physics to explain the number of degrees of arc in their somersault.

Before Pearl Harbor, technocracy of course was completely isolationist, with strong pro-German overtones. A pamphlet by Scott, published soon after the war broke out in 1939, played the familiar lying tune:

Technocracy would like to point out that regardless of how we regard Herr Hitler and the Nazi regime of Germany, they are the embodiment of the expression of the will of the German people. (Pax Americana, page 11)

Scott says the same for Stalin (then Hitler’s partner) and also for Mussolini, and praises the increased efficiency brought about by their regimes (this for Scott being the highest meed of praise).

In the same pamphlet Scott makes one of his predictions – all of which, the reader may remember from Part I of this article, “are made with almost the same mathematical and scientific exactitude as astronomers’ predictions of the next solar eclipse.” This prediction is that Hitler’s victory is inevitable:

The imperialism of a far-flung empire of trade will go down to defeat beneath the technological advance of a contiguous continental order. ... The handwriting is on the wall. (Ibidem, page 15)

After Pearl Harbor, the vital difference between German fascism and American democracy became the fact that German production is “chiefly by human toil and handtools,” but before Pearl Harbor it was indeed the “technological advance” of Hitler’s New Order which made the defeat of the decadent democracy a certainty! Technocratic science is flexible.

In those days, then, Scott and his technocrats were as “anti-war” as the Nazi Bund. The demagogic phrases rolled off his pen:

The idiocy of the propaganda that America has to stop Hitler in Germany ... Those Americans who conspire to make war off this continent are guilty of continental treason ... The Futility of Intervention ... England expects every American to do his duty and die for dear old Britain ...

The content of this fake anti-war agitation may be seen from the following passage, introduced by Scott as Technocracy’s Declaration:

Technocracy, Inc., is for Asiatics in Asia, Europeans in Europe, and is for America for Americans. Technocracy, Inc., is opposed to Americans participating in any war of any kind anywhere off this continent ...

Technocracy has no objections to Europeans killing off Europeans. Technocracy has no objections to Asiatics eliminating their fellow Asiatics. Technocracy is opposed, however, to Asiatics and Europeans killing North Americans for any reason. When the people of other continents kill citizens of those continents in warfare, it is their business ...

All men die and death is the end of life ... Technocracy is opposed to the high cost and inconvenience of Americans dying en masse in a foreign country. Technocracy contends that Americans should die at home. It is cheaper, and it is preferable that the dead of America should rest only in America. They would never rest beneath the soil of an alien country. (Pax Americana, pages 7–13 passim)

Enough. This master mind of technocracy, high priest of science, grand lama of technology, and author of several pamphlets claiming that the root of all political evil is democracy, after December 8 announced that the “American way of life” was at stake and that “freedom” must be preserved. Everything was swallowed from lend-lease to the Four Freedoms, and the technocratic magazines stopped quoting Charles A. Lindbergh. Scott placed the “entire research organization of technocracy” (non-existent) at the government’s disposal and also let it be known that he was willing to assume the burden as the country’s “director-general of defense.”

Then in March 1942 appeared the series of nation-wide advertisements in more than thirty newspapers launching the campaign for “Total conscription of men, machines, matetrial and money” which became and remains the present stalking-horse of the technocrats.

“Total Conscription”

This slogan was seized upon by the technocrats as perfectly suited to their needs. The bare slogan of total conscription is a catch-all into which quite different contents can be poured. It can be given the democratic content of a real equality of sacrifice through the expropriation of the capitalists’ wealth to bear the war burden; or it can have the totalitarian meaning of a complete regimentation of society, and of labor in the first place.

Which of these two it means to technocracy should be clear enough from the foregoing. But the popular acceptation of the slogan expressed a deep desire of the people with which the technocrats attempt to conjure.

The technocrats’ proposal has three planks:

  1. Conscription of all men and women, 18 to 65, with all workers placed under a militarily-organized “technological command” coordinate with the Army and Navy.
  2. “National direction” of all industrial and commercial facilities.
  3. Suspension of all corporate and “ordinary” commercial operations, including the suspension of dividends, profits, taxes, etc.

Point 1 is clear enough. It has teeth in it. What does technocracy’s touted “conscription of business and wealth” add up to, according to its own explanation in its pamphlet, Total Conscription – Your Questions Answered.

To begin with, an obeisance is made in the direction of ... “free enterprise”! This from the cynical Mr. Scott is only another indication of the new leaf they have turned over, and it is not the only similarity we shall find with the National Association of Manufacturers. “Free enterprise,” they write, is “motivated by the highest patriotism” – sure enough, but the trouble with it is that it just isn’t the most effective way to carry on the war. Conscription is necessary.

And what is this “conscription of industry” they propose? Is it nationalization of the war industries?

Not at all. The term “conscription” appears in sloganized statements, but it is explained to mean merely the “freezing” of corporate facilities for the duration of the war, and the “national direction” of them during that period. The private capitalists retain ownership. Six months after the war, all “conscripted” wealth reverts back to the pre-war status. No one’s monetary wealth – in the form of bank deposits, for example – may be touched or used by the government; it too is “frozen,” not taken over.

The government then is taking over “control” only of the industrial facilities – the factories, shipyards, mines, etc. Who will run them! The technocrats answer: they will continue to be run, “not under a political bureaucrat, but under the operating heads of the industry itself.”

The “conscripted” industries, then, are still owned by their capitalist masters, and are still run and operated by them – under a government coordinator. What the technocrats are proposing, even if we believe what they say, is the same fake nationalization which the government announced over the mines and plants closed by strikes. It is the same set-up which the Wilson government in World War I introduced in the railroad industry. This was nothing more than an attempt to save the capitalist system from the worst effects of its anarchy and planlessness and to nurse it through its war crisis in order to insure its continued existence after the “emergency,” with the incidental result of handing back to private exploiters a greatly strengthened and improved railroad industry.

Would it be “different” under technocracy’s proposal? Not possibly, since part of technocracy’s proposal is that all this is proposed for action by the present dollar-a-year-man government of Franklin D. Roosevelt, “the Commander-in-Chief” (page 6). This requirement is made pan of the plan, write the technocrats, who have poured out reams of words in scorn and vituperation of the Roosevelt regime, in order “to preserve national unity and stability.”

Does Howard Scott really believe that through pressure or otherwise the Washington agency of big business, including its stooge Congress, will “conscript business and wealth” in any way as to eliminate the enrichment of the class in whose interests this war is being fought? Perish the thought. Scott has not become so soft-headed as a result of his Pearl Harbor flip-flop. The demagoguery of the entire plan and its slogan is only underlined.

Threatening Words

The technocratic program is vehement enough in its protestations that it does not propose the elimination of the capitalist profit system or the expropriation of the capitalists’ means of production and wealth. It is vehement enough in its denial of any democratic control by the working masses over the nation’s resources. Vehement enough to make clear to its money masters and angels that there is nothing to be feared in its threatening words.

When it comes to the other half of the program – that which hits at labor – the technocrats’ platform becomes more concrete and realistic. This is right up its alley.

There is no shilly-shallying with respect to what labor must give up. “Americans must inevitably surrender certain liberties for the duration of the war,” we read in the program, and these principled opponents of democratic processes and popular freedom add: “in order that we may retain our greater liberties in the future,” with tongue in cheek.

All species of “voluntary participation” must be replaced by “compulsory national service” (page 5) and “technocracy contends (hat such national service must become the permanent national duty of all Americans” (page 13) – except, of course, for the “conscription of business and wealth,” which is not permanent but specifiedly only for the duration.

Nor are the technocrats too vague about what liberties must be given up. Specifically included is “their right to collective bargaining,” which “the people of America must freely [sic] surrender for the duration” (page 12). At the same time, the payment of all dues to trade unions is also particularly listed for suspension (page 8).

This then is the very modest proposal of Technocracy, Inc. – that the organized trade union movement be abolished ... “for the duration,” as if after its disappearance from the scene, the trade unions could automatically snap back to pre-total conscription status, with the same facility as the railroads snapped back to their private corporations after World War I!

Throughout the program, the twin evils which are bracketed together are “war profits, war wages,” in the best style of the anti-labor demagogues, lumping the workers together with the war profiteers. Naturally nothing is said in this connection about the miserably illusory character of these “war wages” in the light of rising prices, the black market, taxes, compulsory deductions, etc. Indeed, while mentioning (elsewhere) that there is “price inflation,” the technocratic program has only kind words for the OPA and the “gallant efforts” (page 11) of its business-man control.

The Payoff – $50 a Month

The solution? “A national scale of pay.” And what is the scale? All wages shall be no higher than that of the Army and Navy.

Total conscription provides that all citizens shall serve on the same basis or scale of pay as the armed forces ... The same scale of pay which aplies to the armed forces will apply to civilians alike ... Technocracy takes the position that if it is good enough for the armed forces it is good enough for the rest of us! (Page 13)

IS $50 a month good enough for the servicemen? That is not questioned. The idea is to tear wage standards down to the pittance allowed by the military machine – and then let the (non-existent) trade unions raise them back again when the returning soldiers put their overalls on again!

And so these graph-and-chart experts, who have made such a hullabaloo about proving over again the socialist contention that this country is rich enough to provide plenty for all, who used to promise a technocratic paradise of equal compensation of $5,000 a year and over – now entice us with “compulsory national service” and $50 a month, with the well known Rickenbacker chatter about the foxholes!

This then is the technocratic program of “totalitarian conscription”:

The Political Perspective of Technocracy

An attractive picture, is it not? As attractive as the technocratic prison-world painted by Howard Scott, to which it is a none too subtle approach. The two pictures have something else in common. Both express, in its most reactionary form, the desperate cry for security of the small middle class seeking to wrench itself free from the crushing control of big capital above by trampling on the working class below. Technocracy – as delineated by the planned direction of its propaganda appeals as well as by (he composition of its membership, confirmed by the nature of its expressed program – is one of the most conscious and explicit political movements of the middle class in the United States. Once again, it is identical in this respect with the Hitler movement under the German republic.

But as in Hitler’s case, demagogic success in mobilizing middle-class discontent and disorientation only produces a more suitable candidate for the role of tool of big business, by securing a mass following which the lords of finance cannot gain on the basis of their own naked program. And Howard Scott himself is under no illusions as to his own class role.

Scott – who rejects the ballot, or any other form of expression of the popular will, as the means of instituting technocracy – clearly expects to be “authorized” to step in and “take over” by the present masters. This is the meaning of his cautiously worded statement in his Introduction to Technocracy:

Around us we hear the rumbling of discontent that voices itself in Marxian philosophies ... Bolshevism, communism, fascism and democracy are utterly impotent to deal with the advanced technological situation in which we, of the North American continent, find ourselves placed. None of these systems of thought and action will be given the mandate when the present system fails to function. (Page 27)

“Given the mandate” ... by whom? The expression recurs in the only other passage in technocratic literature which says anything illuminating on their ideas of how technocracy is to come about. (In general, this interesting question is most intensively ignored.)

Technocracy, Inc., may take political action, but it would only do so when the organization is sufficiently trained, disciplined and widespread to permit the simultaneous execution of that action in all parts of one of this continent’s principal national entities. If Technocracy, Inc., takes political action it will be the last political action, as such action would be taken solely for the abolition of the price system and its accompanying political administration, and the transition into the functional mechanism of a technate.

At this stage, therefore, the objectives of Technocracy, Inc., are, first, the education of the people of North America to a realization of the conditions behind the social crisis and, second, the organization of all those willing to investigate and interest themselves into an informed, disciplined and functionally capable body whose knowledge and ability can be called upon to prevent chaos in North America at the time, now imminent, when the price system can no longer be made to operate. (Back cover of Introduction)

Meanwhile technocracy does not believe in “trying to make present conditions any better, or to obtain any concessions ...” (Technocracy in Plain Terms, page 17)

That technocracy does not want “to make present conditions any better” we can enthusiastically accept as the truth in understatement, after reading its program for totalitarian conscription. What Scott is aiming at, however, is the same promise of a cataclysmic change which Hitler used to capture the imagination of people fed up with compromise and half-measures.

There is no doubt that the heart of technocracy’s appeal lies in its pseudo-socialism, its “black socialism,” its promise of a “scientific” collectivism – if only the people will kneel to an uncontrolled bureaucracy. The gulf between this proposal for a national bureaucratic collectivism on the one hand and proletarian socialism on the other, is clear today. It was dear to Gene Debs, who defined socialism as “government ownership of industry, plus people’s ownership of government.”

There is a common characteristic of the demagogues who take the name or ideas of socialism in vain – from the Stalin Communists who palm off the Russian bureaucratic prison-world as “socialism,” to the Hitlers and Scotts, who promise to hand down plenty and security to the people on condition that they be first gagged and bound. It is the common thesis that on no account must the masses of working people take their fate into their own hands, achieve their emancipation by their own power, guarantee their freedom and abundance by their own independent self-activity, and set up a government under their own control.

But without this condition, pseudo-socialist phrases are fascist demagogy, just as without it Stalin’s state control over industry is bureaucratic tyranny. Socialist plenty for all requires the democratic masses in control of their state, a workers’ government. This is the gulf between the technocratic nightmare and the socialist commonwealth.

Last updated on 15 October 2015