By Peter Drucker
New York City 1993
Reviewed by Carl Davidson
Cy.Rev Managing Editor
has long been one of the better theorists of modern business
organizations. He is also a gadfly who enjoys tweaking the conservative
sensibilities of his main readers, the American corporate elite,
with dire forecasts and provocative propositions.
work, Post-Capitalist Society, is well within this vein. On
one hand, Drucker offers a number of keen insights into the
impact of the information revolution on the organization of
work and society. The book's sweeping summaries of the role
of knowledge in a variety of historical settings is especially
lucid and illuminating. On the other hand, more than a few of
his assertions are overblown or oversimplified to the point
of being ridiculous.
one of Drucker's more bizarre claims about politics is that
"no successful business executive was ever greatly interested
in power; they were interested in products, markets, revenues."
What about Ross Perot? Or the Rockefeller brothers? Those are
only the most obvious; there are so many counter-examples it
makes you wonder what planet Drucker is talking about.
makes another bizarre claim about the new rich: Since World
War 1, he argues, "no one has matched in power or visibility
the likes of Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie or Ford in the United
States." Microsoft's Bill Gates, of course, has been making
the cover of the top magazines ever since his software-generated
billions made him the richest man in America.
however, do not undermine the validity of Drucker's main point:
new wealth in today's world is increasingly being generated
by knowledge and information. This new method of generating
wealth, moreover, is transforming every other aspect of the
is by no means original with Drucker--although he unabashedly
claims to be the source of a wide range of new ideas. Many others,
from Daniel Bell to Alvin and Heidi Toffler, have described
the information revolution's impact on modern productive forces
more thoroughly and lucidly. Drucker does make a special contribution
to the discussion, however, by his focus on Frederick Winslow
Taylor and his theories of "scientific management"
as a forefather of the information revolution.
F. E. Taylor,
the author of the time-and-motion studies known as "Taylorism,"
has always been denounced by trade union leaders as the instigator
of speedup and layoffs on the assembly lines. Taylor's methods,
nonetheless, were instrumental in the vast expansion of productivity
that made possible the "middle class" standard of
living for many workers in the advanced economies of the Northern
late as 1910," Drucker points out, "workers in the
developed countries worked...at least 3000 hours per year. Today,
the Japanese work 2000 hours per year, the Americans around
1,850, the Germans at most 1600--and they all produce 50 times
as much per hour as they produced 80 years ago."
explains how Taylor's studies of the work process on the factory
floor went far beyond simply trying to find ways for workers
to move faster. In fact, when a task was isolated as boring
and repetitive, Taylor's proposal was to mechanize the process
with machinery, while assigning the workers to the more complex,
is also where Taylor crossed swords with the craft unions of
his day. At that time, craft skills were to be kept a secret
within the craft, only to be handed down piecemeal from master
to apprentice. Through his studies of the labor process, Taylor
wanted to demystify craft skills, break them down into their
component parts, and standardize them in written form. This
would make it far easier for the average worker to gain the
ability and accomplish the productivity of the skilled craftsman.
Taylor saw this as a means of "democratizing" work
by raising the level of the majority of the workers, rather
than protecting the privileges of the few that were rooted in
the restriction of knowledge.
not only concerned with raising the skill level of individual
workers; he was also focused on how their skills were linked
together and organized. Says Drucker: "The function of
organization is to make knowledges productive...Knowledges by
themselves are sterile. They become productive only if welded
together into a single, unified knowledge. To make this possible
is the task of organization, the reason for its existence, its
analysis here draws on his past contributions to management
theory; he then extends it to other arenas, taking up changes
in the forms of government, education, nation-states and society
generally. In doing so, he makes the point that the information
revolution rendered the previously existing forms of socialism
obsolete; yet he also notes that the existing capitalist forms
are being challenged as well.
same forces," Says Drucker, "which destroyed Marxism
as an ideology and Communism as a social system are, however,
also making capitalism obsolescent."
One of his
more interesting points is made as a side comment on the socialism-vs-capitalism
debate. In the last 25 years, he notes, the rise of pension
funds has completely altered the nature of ownership in the
the United States, these funds in 1992 owned half of the share
capital of the country's large businesses and held almost as
much of these companies fixed debts. The beneficiary owners
of the pension funds are, of course, the country's employees.
If socialism is defined, as Marx defined it, as ownership of
the means of production by the employees, then the United States
has become the most "socialist" country around--while
still remaining the most capitalist one as well."
reveals is that working-class ownership of the means of production
in the U.S. is not that different from the former USSR: it doesn't
mean much without working-class political power. In this sense,
the pension fund phenomenon reveals that a political and economic
democracy enhancing participation, access and control is a more
radical notion than who holds the ownership title to the productive
last point, Drucker simply tries to have it both ways. On one
hand, he argues hard for increasing productivity by vastly expanding
workers' control at the workplace and disparages the idea of
"productivity-by-command." On the other hand, he argues
that politics should be left to politicians; unions and worker
organizations especially should avoid any efforts to achieve
political power. This approach to politics, of course, has always
been management's perspective. But it also means disabling the
motive force for democratic change, even changes that Drucker
himself might want to see implemented.
to editing Cy.Rev, Carl Davidson is director of:
Networking for Democracy
3411 W Diversey, Suite 1
Chicago, IL 60647