Publication Details

Kelly, DJ, Marxist Manager Amidst the Progressives: Walter N. Polakov and the Taylor Society, Journal of Industrial History, 6(2), November 2004, 61-75.


In recent years scholars have re-evaluated Taylorism and have shown that the heart of the scientific management movement, the Taylor Society, reflected many of the Progressive ideals that pervaded the first decades of twentieth century America. Indeed, such was the spirit of critical analysis and debate within the Taylor Society that while most practitioners and intellectuals who were members of the society were liberals, individuals whose ideological commitments were more radical also belonged to the Society. That an outspoken and avowed Marxist such as Walter Polakov could find a place in the Taylor Society attests to its ideological pluralism. This paper thus aims to show that far from being an anathema to a socialist such as Polakov, scientific management offered a vehicle which could minimise the deleterious effects on workers in the transition from capitalism to socialism. This paper first discusses ideas about scientific management and shows there are evident differences between the views held by the movement's detractors and those held by the members of the Taylor Society. In the second section the life and times of Polakov are briefly explored, focusing on his involvement in the Taylor Society, while in the third part the nature and extent of Polakov's socialism is surveyed and assessed in order to show that it was inextricably bound up in his scientific management.