Birth of the science of corporate “slave-driving”
Although the technological development increased the speed of production a lot due to the industrial revolution, the organisation of production was not efficient enough even at the end of the 1800s. The problems were that skilled workers sought to make meticulously and slowly elaborated master-works instead of fastness, and they worked expensively. At the beginning of the 20th century, an American industrial consultant, Frederick Winslow Taylor, was among the first ones who recognized the lack of efficiency of the system. Taylor suggested that they should document the workflows of skilled workers in detail, and then they should break them down to subtasks, and get semiskilled workers to do those subtasks.
Taylor was born in Philadelphia, in a rich aristocratic family. He was such a good student that he was even admitted to the Harvard, but instead of the university, he went to study engineering in a factory directly. After finishing his restarted studies successfully, he started dealing with steel industrial consultancy as of 1901, and convinced some factory owners to increase their companies’ productivity by applying his principles. Taylor defined the most efficient coal shovelling method for the operation of the smelting-furnace. He found that the shovelling is optimally efficient with 25 and a half pounds of coal, but he also determined further details accurately by laying measurements and norms. For example, how many times workers had to shovel hourly, and how often and how many minutes they could have a rest. He put shift supervisors behind labourers, whose task was, besides forcing the right working method, to urge employees in order to maintain the continuous working speed. Although this method resulted in improving productivity, employees hated it (even if they got a higher salary). After that Taylor published his principles in 1911, Henry Ford liked it so much that he started applying it in his car-making company. Others followed him as well.
Birth of the party legend
Taylorism roused the communists’ attention too. Lenin was interested in the Taylorist principles, but he also criticised them in his works. Stalin wanted to fit them into the Soviet planned economy. The only problem was that certain elements of Taylorism did not suit to the communist ideology harmoniously, because the method of organised squeezing of productivity could have been linked to the “inhumanity” of the western world’s “wild and rotten capitalism” as it was described by the communists. Presumably, that was the reason why it was so important to the communists that the overfulfilment of the plan should always be voluntary. The denominator of the Stakhanovite movement was Andrei Grigoryevich Stakhanov, a miner from the shaft of Irmino in the Donets Basin. According to propaganda records, he exploited 102 tons of coal during 5 hours and 45 minutes in the night shift on 31 August 1935, instead of the compulsory norm of 7 tons.
Stalin: the Pravda can never make a mistake
Even the Soviet journal Pravda reported on Stakhanov’s grand performance, but made the mistake of naming him Alexei instead of Andrei. When Stakhanov wrote a complaint to Stalin in the case, his reply was that the Pravda could not make a mistake, thus the only solution was that Stakhanov had to adopt the name Alexei. Later in 1985, Stakhanov got on the front page of the Time magazine, because its article questioned Stakhanov’s performance – citing party secretary Petrov’s words – and claimed that the event was a pre-planned party propaganda action. Later several communist writings admitted and also an article in the Russian journal Komsomolskaya Pravda dealt with it in 1988 that Stakhanov did not achieve his performance alone, but several people helped him. However, communists argue that it does not have any importance, because Stakhanov’s real merit is not the record itself, but the fact that he could increase productivity by the reform of work-management. This means that Stakhanov’s real mission in this story was to be the propaganda face of the (Soviet version) “re-invention” of Taylorism.
From the Kossuth prize winning planer to the red baron
The Stakhanovite movement that was introduced in Hungary as of 1949 became a mass movement already in the year of introduction according to party reports. The official recognition of a Stakhanovist performance required several 200-percent overfulfilment of the norm. In Hungary, 115 thousand Stakhanovist certificates were issued until 1953.
Despite that many people received Stakhanovist acknowledgements, only a dozen Stakhanovist celebs were featured in the Hungarian communist media continuously. For example, the famous planer Ignác Pióker or András Bordás and Imre Muszka the two famous Stakhanovists of the Csepel Iron and Metal Works. In addition, only two of them had real careers: Ignác Pióker became an MP and Ede Horváth became the director general of the Rába of Győr and led the company during the Kádár era mostly.
Later, when he became one of the most influential participants of the Hungarian industry, he was called the “red baron”.
Though the time of the Stakhanovite movement has gone by, the underlying Taylorism is still used widely from car manufacturing, TV and computer producing to fast food restaurants. In Hungary, classical Taylorist work-management is used in fast food restaurants like McDonald’s or Burger King among others.
Translated by Zita Aknai
- Csaba Makó: A Taylorizmustól a munkaszervezeti reformokig, (1985). Budapest, ISBN 963-05-3517-3 (In Hungarian)
- Iván Miklós Szegő: Sztahanov és a magyar munkáscelebek (Origo.hu) 30. august 2012. (In Hungarian)
- American Broadcasting Company (ABC) World News Tonight with Peter Jennings: The Century - Taylorism, Canada (1984).
- Komszomolszkaja Pravda, 15. october 15. 1988.
- Troitszkij, Ny.: Sztahanov műve. Mítoszok és valóság - (In Russian), RIA (Ria.ru) 31. august 2010.
- Vlagyimir Iljics Lenin: A tudományos munkaszervezésről, (1975). Budapest, 24.p., ISBN 0599000795493 (In Hungarian)
- Schmemann, Serge (1985). "In Soviet, Eager Beaver's Legend Works Overtime". The New York Times. 2. p.
- Dina Newman: Alexei Stakhanov - The USSR's superstar miner. BBC World Service 30. december 2015.