MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms





Totalitarianism is the form of government in which the ruling party penetrates the entire population and uncompromisingly enforces conformity to the party line in every aspect of life without exception.

The term was coined by Mussolini in the early 1920s to describe his own fascist state in Italy: “All within the state, none outside the state, none against the state.” Victor Serge was the first to use the term to describe Stalin’s Soviet Union, in a letter written in 1933 before his arrest by Stalin. Stalin’s regime is probably the most effective totalitarian regime in history, and this arises from the fact that it grew inside the party of the most irreconcilable opposition. For this reason Stalinism lasted longer and was more total than fascism. But fascism and Stalinism shared in common (i) that they rested on absolute terror, and (ii) that they based themselves on mass movements which were able to extend into the heart of every household.


Totalisation, Totality

Totality and Totalisation are concepts used by Georg Lukács and Jean-Paul Sartre to refer to the objective and subjective processes whereby an entity, composed of a multiplicity of parts, constitutes itself as a totality or thing — either a thing-in-itself or a thing-for-itself.

Sartre uses the example, in the first instance, of a painting, which is made as a thing (or totality) by a single act of the imagination, which makes all the bits of paint, etc., exist as a single painting. As soon as it ceases to be looked at and maintained as a single thing, it ceases to be a totality.

But more importantly, the totality is not just a material thing, but a living institution or organisation, a social totality. For example, how does a “state” constitute itself as a single entity, recognised by itself and others as a single totality? This process, which involves both the activity of those who “inhabit” the totality (the state bureaucracy), and those who labour or social action has constituted it in the first place (the social forces who established the state and recognise it in their actions), is a process which is both subjective and objective, both a self-consciousness and an act of recognition.

“Totalisation” is the process, the activity of living people, which maintains a totality as such, without which, to use Sartre’s term, it would “erode” and disintegrate into its parts, like any material object.

See The Intelligibility of History: Totalisation without a Totaliser, from Critique of Dialectical Reason, Jean-Paul Sartre, 1960, and The Standpoint of the Proletariat, from History and Class Consciousness, Georg Lukács, 1923.

The concept of “totalisation” is often connected, by opponents of Marxism, with concepts like “grand narrative,” and regarded by many as oppressive, because it is connected, by Lukacs with the concept of the proletariat as the “universal subject of history,” and by Sartre with the Communist Party as a “practico-inert” totalisation of History. Nevertheless, the concept of totalisation does not have to be pushed to the limit in the way both these writers have taken it.



Totyotism (or Toyota-ism) is the term often used, by analogy with Fordism and Taylorism, to refer to the management culture and labour processes dominant in Japan, the US, Europe and other developed capitalist countries in the latter part of the twentieth century.

There are a number of features of Japanese industrial relations which are specific to Japan and which are not implied in the term “Toyotism”. These features include the compliant enterprise unions which represent workers in the large Japanese industrial firms. These enterprise unions are the result of the purge of the Japanese Communist Party carried out by the US Occupation Forces in the “Red Purge” in 1947-48. Public services such as the railway workers and teachers remained under militant leadership. A similar move was instituted by the occupation forces in Germany as well. US support for reconstruction as a bulwark against communism contributed to a rapid achievement of prosperity and industrial peace. Other features of Japanese industry include a number of factors associated with the status of Japan as a defeated power and the need for national reconstruction, as a relative late-comer to modern industry and its relatively recent feudal past, all of which contributed to high levels of labour-management cooperation; the practice of lifetime employment security for employees and promotion according to seniority in the major corporations. It should not be forgotten that inseparable from these conditions which apply to employees of the big corporations is the condition of the majority of Japanese workers who are employed on low wages, on a part-time casual basis with no employment security whatsoever.

This division of the workforce into a relatively privileged, full-time relatively secure core of loyal, male, skilled workers on one hand, and a mass of part-time casual, often female or immigrant, labourers on the other, is however one of the features of what is called Toyotism. Toyotism depends on this culture of labour-management cooperation, multi-skilling and cross divisional problem solving, and the creation of such a culture is the first requirement. Concessions such as employment security, seniority-based wage systems, twice-yearly bonuses, regular promotion from the shop-floor to senior management, as well as management bonuses tied to the bonuses paid to blue-collar workers and a strict work ethic for white-collar employees and managers were used in Japan to cultivate this spirit of cooperation.

In part because the union leader of today may well be the manager of tomorrow, large firms generally practice union-management consultation over broad strategic decisions. They also endeavour to elicit employee participation in day-to-day problem solving and quality improvements in the workplace. Quality circles and employee suggestion systems are widespread. Problems in product and technological development are tackled by cross-functional teams.

Toyotism also alters the relationship between buyer and seller. While demanding of its suppliers just-on-time delivery of components, the producer tirelessly polls its market for direction about the product to be produced. Instead of producing a product and then drumming up a market, the market is found first, and then the product produced to fill the demand.

Toyota is one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world. It began in 1933 as a division of the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, Ltd. and during the 1960s and ‘70s expanded rapidly. From a negligible position in 1950, Japan surpassed West Germany, France, Great Britain, and the United States to become the world’s leading automotive producer. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Japan’s principal auto makers enjoyed such impressive export gains in North American and western European markets that restrictions were imposed on Japanese imports.

The Japanese industrialists learnt the new approach to manufacture off the American management consultants who were sent to help restart the Japanese economy under the Occupation. Foremost among what the Japanese learnt were the theories of Elton Mayo [George Elton Mayo, Australian psychologist, born 1880, Professsor of Industrial Research at the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, author of The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization; died 1949]. The origin of Mayo’s theory was an experiment he conducted between 1927 and 1932 at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company, in Illinois. The drift of his discovery was a kind of placebo effect [the “Hawthorne effect"]: if workers believed they were being consulted about their work, then they worked harder. It should be emphasised that there was nothing in Mayo’s theory which suggested that workers actually had anything useful to contribute to organising production; his theory was solely concerned with motivating workers.

The most illustrious pioneer of Japanese industrial methods was Ohno Taiichi (1912 – 1990), Toyota’s production-control expert, who devised the just-in-time system (kanban) of manufacture, which raised Toyota from near bankruptcy in 1952 to become the third largest automobile maker in the world, behind General Motors and Ford. Under the unique conditions of post-war Japan, Taiichi was able to take Mayo’s theories further and workers’ involvement in developing production methods went beyond the “feel good” effect for which it was designed and gave a genuine measure of autonomy to the Japanese worker, autonomy of course that was predicated on his absolute loyalty to the company.

These methods allowed automation to be used in a quite new way: instead of the production workers’ role becoming more and more abstract, workers were responsible for the final product and small numbers of highly skilled workers could achieve very high levels of productivity, subjecting production methods to continuous improvements. It is this kind of labour, and its complement in the labour of the casual contract labourer outside the corporation’s core of permanent employees, which began in the Toyota factory in Japan and provided the basis for the “knowledge worker” of the postmodern world.

This kind of labour process generates its own class structure: a working class divided between a mass of very poor, utterly alienated workers who have no job security or on-going relationship with their work on one side, and a core of skilled workers with relatively satisfying work and good employment conditions on the other. At the same time, the boundaries between commerce and production, manufacture and service, worker and manager, all become very murky.