MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms



Tao (a.k.a. Dao)

One of the key categories in classical Chinese philosophy, first defined in the book Tao Te Ching in around 500 B.C.E.: "The Tao that can be talked about is not the true Tao."; "it is nothing, and yet in everything" – what is it? "Thirty spokes on a cart wheel / Go towards the hub that is the center / – but look, there is nothing at the center / and that is precisely how it works!". Tao, explained Lao Tzu, is no more elusive than the basic processes that can be witnessed in nature: that opposite and contradictory aspects (yin/yang) are present in all things.

Tao is explained as being within all things. Translated literally Tao means "movement above"; when put into the context of the Tao Te Ching where everything is explained as being full of contradiction – for life there is death, for happiness there is sorrow; when one exists its opposite also exists – the Tao encompasses the contradictions and at the same time supersedes them. In this way Tao can be interpreted as an ancient formulation of the dialectical synthesis. Since its widespread introduction into Chinese culture, Tao took on the meaning of "the way" and also as the "path" of nature. In relation to the Daoist, the action of being both encompassing of the contradictions and yet superseding them is called wu-wei (actionless-action), the way of water.


Taoism (a.k.a. Daoism)

The practice of Tao, the way of nature, originated in China in around 500 B.C.E. Introduced by the materialist philosopher Lao Tzu ("ancient child"), he practiced life in accordance to nature, explaining the laws of nature are guided by necessity (further elaborated by Yang Chu). Hence, in part, the expression "wu-wei" (actionless-action) – a central component of taoist understanding – accepting and not interfering with the movement of nature, while at the same time using the movement of nature towards action. The dialectic is the underlining philosophical tool of Taoism; that opposite and contradictory aspects are present in all things (yin-yang), and that the motion of nature is the movement of something towards its opposite.

Taoism has three founders: Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and Lieh Tzu. Lao Tzu wrote the first explanation of Taoism, the Tao Te Ching, in around 500 B.C.E.; in it he explained the material existence of Tao and the practice of Te in accordance to that material base. The book of Chuang Tzu, written about 100 years after the Tao Te Ching, is a humorous work that attacks rationalistic forms of logic (namely that of Confucius), and explains that politics, government, and social issues are based within people themselves, not laws, codes of conduct, nor moral virtues. The Lieh Tzu, written during the warring states period in China (around 300 B.C.E.), deals primarily with Te and the materialist basis of the sufferings of humanity.

Several elaborations of Taoism emerged in ancient China after the passing of Lao Tzu. Yang Chu, who severely criticized religion and belief in immortality, explained that by observing the natural laws of life (tao) humans would "preserve their nature intact", while Yin Wen believed that adherence to Tao would yield every human wisdom and knowledge of the truth. Yin Wen explained that the human soul consists of delicate material particles, which come and go depending on the "purity" or "pollution" of the mind (hsin). Chuang Tzu saw the object of cognition in the dialectic of the single and the plural, the absolute and the relative, the constant and the changing. Chuang Tzu is sometimes criticized, however, for separating tao from things, and thus making absolute the single in the plural. Some argue that this served as the ideological basis for the taoist religion.

Starting in around 300 B.C.E., the practice of Taoist alchemy began with Tsou Yen. Taoist experiments initiated Chinese chemistry, mineralogy, and pharmaceuticals, and resulted in the production of various dies, alloys, and porcelain. The greatest achivements of Taoist alchemy were the world's first compass and the creation of gunpowder, a millenum before any other society would repeat such advances. Taoist alchemists, however, did not have a need to objectify their methods and observations, and thus alchemy never transformed into modern science.

By around 250 B.C.E., while materialist Taoists were following their way, a movement of Neo Taoism took root, which can roughly be generalized in two new directions: revisionist and hedonistic. The revisionists (led by Wang Pi and Kuo Hsiang) moved heavily towards Confucianism, explaining it as the fulfillment of Taoism in practical world affairs. While the most well-known hedonists (also called the lyrical or romantic Taoists) were the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove (led by Chi K'ang), who swung in the opposite direction – evading every duty, neglecting every convention, and indulging in every whim. The revisionists gradually gave way to the seeds of a Taoist religion (soon to be dominated by the hereditary theocrats Chang), while the hedonists ended up in a nearby tavern, drinking themselves into a state of "spiritual communion" with the Tao.

Modern Taoism can generally be divided into two categories: the materialist philosophy of its three founders, and its later conversion into a religion (Tao-chiao).

Relation to Confucism and Buddhism: Confucius was often the butt of Taoist jokes, being so tied up in vast and complicated systems of ideology and laws – all swirling around Confucius in a confusing frenzy – both for himself and those around him!

Taoist folklore also tells of a humorist historical connection to Buddhism: when Lao Tzu left his village to head west (a symbolism of death), he traveled as far as India, where he found Prince Siddhartha, confused about the workings of the world. On meeting Lao Tzu, Siddhartha tried to understand his philosophy, but as the story goes, he could not get it quite right! Hence, the emergence of Buddhism. The two have a little similarity – Taoism explains that desire is an ideal which can distract from an acceptance of the material world, while Buddhism agrees, but places complete emphasis on getting rid of desire and even a strict system of moral guidelines on how to do it. Even further apart with Mahayana, Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, where the individual ego is considered to be non-existent, and the physical world an illusion. Both of these aspects are diametrically opposed to Taoism, which considers the individual ego a material part of the whole (tao), and the physical world as the basis of all practice.



Taxation is the portion of the social surplus accruing to the government.

Taxes are collected by any number of methods, which differ in their effectiveness in preventing tax avoidance, their ease of collection, and in how they manipulate the prices of various categories of commodity; but in essence all are the same. Although taxation can have an impact on supply and demand and thereby affect prices, in general, taxes form a part of surplus-value, alongside rent and profit.

Workers naturally resent income tax and indirect taxes that add to their cost of living, and any increase in these will obviously impact on their living standard at the time the increase is introduced. In the longer term however, the level of taxation does not affect the level of wages; rather, the level of taxes determines the division of the surplus between capitalist, landlord, banker and state – all of whom are supported by the working class.

The capitalists therefore, in a sense, have greater reason to resent taxation, but it is invariably their own government which levies taxes (certainly not the working class!). The reason for taxation is that at any given stage in its development, capital is not able to carry out the whole range of tasks required in the social division of labour for production. Therefore, they club together to pay for police, military, road-works and so on. However necessary these things may be for the maintenance of capitalism, they are functions which do not expand capital, and therefore, from the standpoint of capital, they are unproductive.

“Now, for the capitalist to undertake road building as a business, at his expense, various conditions are required, which all amount to this, that the mode of production based on capital is already developed to its highest stage. ... The separation of public works from the state, and their migration into the domain of the works undertaken by capital itself, indicates the degree to which the real community has constituted itself in the form of capital. A country, e.g. the United States, may feel the need for railways in connection with production; nevertheless the direct advantage arising from them for production may be too small for the investment to appear as anything but sunk capital. Then capital shifts the burden on to the shoulders of the state; or, where the state traditionally still takes up a position superior to capital, it still possesses the authority and the will to force the society of capitalists to put a part of their revenue, not of their capital, into such generally useful works, which appear at the same time as general conditions of production, and hence not as particular conditions for one capitalist or another – and, so long as capital does not adopt the form of the joint-stock company, it always looks out only for its particular conditions of realisation, and shifts the communal conditions off on to the whole country as national requirements.” [Grundrisse]

Further, it is obviously not a matter of indifference for the workers whether health services, housing, prisons, education and so on, are conducted as profit-making concerns or are run as social services. Since the days of Bismarck in Germany, Baldwin’s Britain and the New Deal in the U.S., the state has provided services which capitalism, by its own means, has been incapable of providing for the working class. Initially, this was simply a response to the threat of social revolution on the part of the workers. Later on, capitalist production required more and more skilled labour, and more settled conditions for production. The capitalists are incapable of restraining their own rapacity and over-exploitation, whether of human flesh or of the environment, and this can only be achieved by delegating responsibility to the government. The Ten Hours Act, which limited the working day in England in 1847, was the first real example of a bourgeois government introducing measures to limit the brutality of capitalist production – for its own good!

Where services are provided via taxes, rather than via the market, social-democrats have argued that the value of these public services contribute to the workers living standards as well as the costs of production of labour power, and consequently refer to the value of state services as the social wage.


Taxonomy and Typology

Taxonomy and Typology are two opposed methods of classification. Typology classifies according to the sensuously given attributes of the thing; Taxonomy classifies objects according to the genesis of the thing.

At a given stage in the development of a science, when as yet the genesis of the object is not known, typology is the only possible method of classification. Classification into types and classes aids sensuous perception. Once a notion of the genesis of the object is gained, the types must be re-ordered and objects which appear to belong to the same type, fall into different species and genre of the new taxonomy and vice versa, objects of different type are found to be of the same species.

Typology and taxonomy are necessary stages in making sense of the world, which aims to revealing the inner connections between things.



– after Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) the American inventor and engineer who was the first to make a scientific study of industrial management. Taylor’s system of management corresponds to the early development of mass production and assembly line manufacture and is characterised by extreme elaboration of the division of labour, the reduction of work to machine-like repetitive operations, and extreme labour discipline and supervision of work, aimed at minimising production time per unit of commodity.

Taylor abandoned plans to study at Harvard due to poor eyesight as a result of excessive study. As soon as his eyesight was better, he began work at Midvale Steel as a machine shop labourer, but moved rapidly up the ranks to chief engineer. In 1881, at the tender age of 25, he introduced time-and-motion study at the Midvale plant. The aim was to eliminate every “wasted” action and achieve the maximum possible efficiency; efficiency was conceived in the narrowest way as minimisation of the labour time necessary for the production of a given product. Taylor retired at age 45 but continued to lecture at universities and professional societies.

Prior to Taylor, productivity was assumed to be achieved by reducing the number of “non-productive” workers such as clerks and supervisors; a proportion of 10% was regarded as the upper limit for such non-productive workers. Taylor, however, advocated achieving efficiency by close observation and control of the labour process. By breaking the production process down into its constituent parts and measuring the time required for each minute operation, observing and measuring every movement of the hand, the productivity of individual workers could be greatly increased. This meant, however, employing large numbers of supervisors and clerks, with up to one in four being employed in such supervisory tasks. Not surprisingly, the introduction of Taylorism into factories generates sharp opposition from the productive workers. Taylorism reduces the worker to an automaton and denies the worker any chance for relief or modulation of the pace of work and is enormously stressful and oppressive. The intense supervision means that any resistance or go-slow by the worker is responded to instantly. However, Taylorism’s regime iron discipline brings with it the possibility of buying-off workers by promoting individuals into the swollen ranks of supervisors and other white-collar workers. Since productive work is reduced to automatic activities totally lacking in skill, labour discipline is made easier by limiting recruitment for these roles to the poorest and most unorganised layers of workers.

Nowadays, “Taylorism” is a synonym for the most backward style of management, since it depends on the elimination of all initiative on the part of the productive worker, depending for its success entirely on the effectiveness of labour discipline.

It is easy to see the kind of class composition and class relations that are generated in the society in which Taylorism prevails in the major industries: the productive workers are utterly alienated from society and poor and uneducated to boot; there is a substantial layer of those people who wear white coats and carry clip boards – the inspectors, overseers, foremen, floor managers, clerks and bureaucrats of all kinds, who defend the system and are hated by the mass of unskilled blue-collar workers. The unions, when they are formed, are as obstinate and penny-pinching as the employers. The mass, blue-collar, unionised, class-conscious, hard-nosed and disciplined, unskilled male workers which form the classic image of the proletariat of the early part of the twentieth century is a product of Taylorist capitalism.

In 1915, as part of his studies for Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin made a study of work organisation in the United States, including a close study of the work of Frederick Winslow Taylor (see Collected Works Volume 39, Beta Notebook). After the revolution, facing the severe crisis and the backward state of Russian industry, including its workforce, Lenin was insistent on the introduction of Taylorism into Soviet factories: “We must raise the question of piece-work and apply and test it in practice; we must raise the question of applying much of what is scientific and progressive in the Taylor system; we must make wages correspond to the total amount of goods turned out.” (see Immediate tasks of the Soviet Government, March 1918). Opposition to this practice is alluded to in “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, 1920. In fact Taylorism remained ever after the methodology of the Soviet economy.