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Nigel Harris

Capitalist to manager

(Winter 1960/61)

From International Socialism (1st series), No. 3, Winter 1960/61, p. 32.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Organization Man
William H. Whyte
Penguin Books. 2s 6d.

Here, republished as an anniversary volume, is a classic statement about the face of contemporary capitalism.

Within the limits Whyte sets himself, his is a sensitive and readable account. How true it is as a long-term view, it is impossible to assess. Certainly the decay of individualism, contingent upon the decay of the individual firm and entrepreneur, and the rise in ‘group cohesiveness’, destroying individual deviation or autonomy, implies an increase in class-solidarity and mechanical conformity to class demands. Whyte notes at one point that ‘The group is tyrant; so also is it a friend, and it is both at once. The two qualities cannot easily be separated, for what gives the group power over the men is the same cohesion that gives it its warmth. This is the duality that confuses choice’.

Whyte’s account explains some of the particular ideological forms that class-defence adopts today: the reliance on the expert, the diversion of crucial political questions into the realm of technique rather than of political choice (‘bipartisan’ foreign policies for instance), the theological emphasis on ‘fact’, on rigorously precise but trivial research, the implication that there is, after all, only one real political truth, and that it is common to all ‘responsible’ parties.

The group ethic has also brought to light the interesting discovery that ‘adjustment’ for individuals is a better political course than reform – ‘public opinion’ in America, as in Russia, is a potent and destructive force towards all ‘deviants’ (the word itself has unpleasant undertones). No longer is it feasible to manipulate society for the benefit of individuals within it, the reverse procedure is accomplished without government intervention by the mere working of the cohesive organisation group.

Mr Whyte’s book should be read by all interested in understanding an ideology that is becoming more and more pervasive in our own society and is likely to become its dominant motif (cf. the change wrought in the Conservative Party propaganda since the War). It is also likely to be suggested as first candidate to replace socialism – after all, individualism, like free competition, is outdated.

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