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Engineers Have New Plan to Save Bankrupt Capitalism

(January 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 2, 14 January 1933, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The engineers and technicians are gathering a mass of followers to the movement called technocracy. It is heralded as a new theory having revolutionary implications without revolution. Backing up their argument with a mass of indisputable facts which they state in a very capable manner, they explain the historical development of machine production and how the machine is displacing labor. The light they throw upon the marvelous machine development is most revealing and has positive value. But the light they throw upon the anarchy of capitalist production is nil.

Technocracy denotes the attempt of the scientists and technicians to get out of the impasse which the capitalist mode of production has arrived at without the elimination of the capitalist exploiters. Technocracy deals with the evils of the “price system”, and considers the problem of “energy”. Their survey in no way touches or considers the problem as an evil issuing from the field of production. This shifts the issue to the field of distribution.

When a ruling class nears its end, ideological decay and confusion mark the twilight of its decay. Such was the case when the early French materialists drove religion from, pillar to post – until religion reconciled itself with the new exploiters.

Such, also, is the case with the scientists who function under the present bourgeois rule in the stage of its decay. They are floundering around advocating a thousand and .one remedies. One of these widely heralded “solutions” for the “price system”, for capitalism, is Technocracy. The real rulers have nothing in common with this viewpoint.

These technologists have discovered the following: “that in the last 200 years energy – that is power and machines – has multiplied man’s ability to produce goods and do useful work for himself by 75 to 100 fold,” In their Energy Survey of North America they have assembled many worth-while facts of the productivity of labor and its displacement, but they arrive at no conclusions, or at false conclusions.

Howard Scott says that “technology smashes the price system.” Price system means capitalism. They think they will be able to organize capitalism. Dr. N. Rautenstrauch says, “Technocracy is primarily concerned with ... the problem of organizing a civilization to maintain itself on a given continental area.” Of course not one word is said about how to get rid of the exploiters. They will “organize” capitalism in a vacuum.

The truth of the matter is that these technicians see the handwriting of the approaching revolution on the wall and desire to avoid it. Scott says: “Physical wealth is not measured in terms of labor, goods, or money, but in terms of energy. And with the discovery of this truth the bankers, the industrialists, the Marxists, the Fascists, the economists, the soldiers and the police are things of the past.” To measure in terms of energy, according to Scott, will do away with classes and the class struggle, with revolution and with Marxists. Quite a large order!

Technocratic “Energy”

The whole structure of Technocracy revolves around the axis of “energy”. Scott says, “Energy is defined as the capacity for doing work. All forces of heat transfer or of work done are said to involve a transfer of energy.” Again: “Now energy appears in many forms but it is possible to measure them in units of work – the erg and the joule, or in units of heat, the calorie.”

The “technocrats” hide behind the word “energy” every form of energy used in the present capitalist system of production. They do not make any distinction between determining factors of energy and contributing or auxiliary units of energy. Second, when they deal with human labor as a form of energy they primarily deal with one phase of the problem and ignore the other and most important phase.

The first phase of the problem of labor (energy) they deal with is its displacement by the machine. Scott says: “In other words a price system demands man-power if it is to succeed, and manpower for production steadily becomes more and more a thing of the past as the kilowatt hour takes its place.” To refer to the displacement of labor or “man-power” and not to tell what effect this has upon that part of labor which is left in production, is to state the problem without stating the determining factor. The development of machines, new inventions and processes carry with them greater exploitation of labor.

Scott says kilowatt hours take the place of man-power. What really happens is that the higher Composition of capital – an increase in constant capital (kilowatt hours, etc., means of production) and a decrease of variable capital (wage-labor in the form of labor) causes greater exploitation of the wage workers, a fall in the rate of profit but a rise in the mass of profit which goes not to society but to the owners of the tools of production.

If the technocracy school would realize that private ownership of the tools of production must be abolished and that social ownership must replace it, they would be a long way toward the proper utilization of the facts they have accumulated. Also this would be the opening of the door out of the blind alley they are now in. Failing this understanding their positive facts are lost or else they are utilized by reaction to mislead the workers.

Is Labor’s Importance Decreasing?

Many are already using the “movement” for this purpose. But the technicians and scientists who want to be of service to mankind must see beyond the decay of capitalism into the future social system which is going through its birth stage in the Soviet Union now.

The change from hand-tool production to the machine age is viewed by the school of technocracy as the passing oi man-power (labor) to kilowatt hours of energy units, etc. Where they see the replacement of man-power by machines they conclude that the importance of man-power (labor) in a machine society diminishes. The truth is that the importance of labor in the relation of profits and exploitation increases with machine development.

Let us restate the problem froiu a Marxist point of view and see what light it throws upon the school of technocracy. The foundation of the use-value (products or commodities) of every society is labor and nature. The determining factor in society is not nature but labor. The relation of labor to production and to the ownership of the means of production determines its status in that society, no matter how productive labor is.

All value, wealth of use-values in society, no matter what its form may be – buildings, machines, trains, roads, electric power, clothes, and other necessities – can be reduced, not to energy in the abstract, but to labor and natural properties, no matter if they were made by hand-tool production or machine production under capitalism. The social relationship of labor is the determining factor and the form of “energy” of LABOR is the decisive factor in the energy of’ any and every society. This determining “factor” is what the Technocracy school ignores.

In other words, if we were to find the basis of the equation of all use values of society we must reduce the use-values to the amount “of socially necessary labor time embodied within them.” (Energy?). Constant capital (machines, buildings, raw material, power, etc.) can be reduced to congealed labor time. The other part, necessary for capitalist production and the vital part – variable capital (wage labor) – can be transformed into labor, living labor, in the process of production. All forms of energy, “measured by the kilowatt hour can be reduced to so many hours of socially necessary labor time. The equation of Dr. Rautenstrauch and Peral-Reed deals with an entirely different phase of the problem and does not touch the basic factors of the present day economic problems. The problem their equation does not touch is the problem that must be solved if we are to have an orderly and planned society. Many technicians desire this but do not know how it is to be attained.

The Key to the Problem

Let us consider the “energy of technocracy” in the field of capitalist production. So many yards of linen in value equal so many pounds of wheat not because we have some arbitrary “price system” but because each can be reduced to so many hours of labor embodied within the commodities. The only way to measure all forms of energy which are the result of man’s labor is to reduce them to socially necessary labor time embodied in them. This labor time is the measure of value and the key to the understanding of the problem the technicians have unearthed but have not explained properly nor solved.

To regard “energy” in the abstract and leave out of consideration the meas ure of its value, labor time, is to leave the ground of concrete reality and lose the key to an understanding of the class problems an the contradictions of the capitalist mode of production. To find a way out of the capitalist contradictions, it is necessary first to state the problem correctly. This Marx and the Marxists did long ago. The displacement of man power by the machine, which is a progressive development under capitalism, was analyzed by Marx long ago and its consequences predicted. The school of technocracy has just now discovered the fact but has not yet drawn the conclusions which flow from them. What a difference between the dialectic materialist method and the bourgeois methods! And how superior it proves itself to be in analyzing and pointing the way to the solution.

Kilowatt hours, capital, commodities, or any other form of use-values can be reduced to congealed labor – to “dead labor”. Under capitalism we have a system where “dead labor” – capital – controls and subjects living labor – the labor of the workers, in the process of production. Thereby capital controls the lives of the wage earners.

Only when the control of the capitalists over the means of production is broken can the workers be liberated. For this a revolution is required. Technocracy cannot solve the problem in a vacuum. It cannot eliminate the class struggle. There is no substitute for the proletarian revolution and the expropriation of the expropriators. For that reason “technocracy” remains an imposing deception.

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