Technocratic Theories

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Technocratic Theories


a component part of most technological theories in contemporary bourgeois social and economic thought. According to these theories, the management and control of capitalist production and society should be transferred from property owners and politicians to an intelligentsia of engineers and technicians—known as technocrats—and to management specialists allegedly acting as the chief driving forces of progress. Technocratic theories reflect in a distorted form the reality of the scientific and technological revolution, with social production and government becoming increasingly dependent on the application of science and the employment of specialists.

The origin of technocratic theories can be traced back to T. Veblen’s harsh criticism of the financial oligarchy, whose dominance according to Veblen was contrary to the advance of technology and production. The transfer of power to engineers, technicians, and management specialists was advocated and made into a slogan in the 1930’s by such proponents of a radical antidemocratic technocracy as G. Scott and S. Chase in the United States and Bend in France. Fascism made use of technocratic theories, combined with the organismic theory of society and the concept of corporatism, to justify the harsh repression of the working class. Supporters of the theory of the managerial revolution in the 1930’s and 1940’s proclaimed the transfer of power to managerial specialists as an accomplished fact in the US economy. In their view, this had ended the rule of the property owners and transformed the entire capitalist system.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, technocratic theories gained many adherents in Western Europe; for example, a modified version of M. Weber’s theory of bureaucracy was developed in Germany. This theory, with its initially moderate critical positions, assumed a different form in the USA in the 1950’s with the technical and bureaucratic neorationalism of H. Simon and J. March. Another version of technocratic theory was represented by the ideology of scientism, which unrestrainedly extolled science and technology. In this view, science and technology are a “rational and painless” means by which the technocrats can solve the problems of production and all economic, social, and political problems. In reality, however, the highest principle of scientific rationalization is the all-around development of the masses’ productive and social activity and initiative. It is the masses who fight for the control of production and the acquisition of spiritual riches, and it is their struggle that can overcome the obstacles to productive growth and social progress.

In the late 1960’s, it was claimed that a new and progressive development had taken place—namely, that power had passed into the hands not so much of the managers as of the engineers, technicians, and other employees of the leading corporations. Insofar as they were decision-makers, such employees were said to constitute a technostructure that was interlocked with the government bureaucracy, and the government thus became the executive organ of the technostructure. This idea, advanced by J. Galbraith in the United States, was paralleled by an alleged mounting opposition to the technostructure—opposition from scientists and university professors working for wages but aspiring to a certain degree of power in society. This concept of a meritocracy, wherein power is sought, if not yet held, by deserving individuals, was incorporated in the theory of the postindustrial society, which camouflages the formal and actual subordination of wage labor to capital.

Technocratic theories can be divided into three basic groups. (1) Elitist technocratic theories ascribe power to an elite that must act as the chief force for progress in society. This elite consists of the industrial, political, scientific, and cultural technocracy—that is, the educated people who constitute the growing “technological” or “new” middle class. Among the proponents of these theories are some bourgeois liberal authors, such as D. Bell and J. Galbraith in the United States and R. Aron in France, as well as some militant anti-Communists, such as Z. Brzezinski and H. Kahn in the United States. (2) Authoritarian technocratic theories are of two types. Some—as expressed, for example, by J. Ellul in France and F. Pollock in the Federal Republic of Germany—call for a firm hand on the part of the government bureaucracy and heads of corporations as a necessary condition for rationality and planning in the era of automation. Others, taking left radical positions, attack the kind of “totalitarian” technocracy that is said to have achieved unlimited control over the “government of the corporations” and society. C. Reich in the United States exemplifies this point of view. The elitist authoritarian technocratic theories actually regard the masses—in their development and changing situation—not as the starting point and chief constituent of the modern revolution of productive forces, but merely as “social consequences” of the scientific and technological revolution effected by technocrats and specialists in state and corporation management against the will of the masses. (3) Bourgeois-democratic technocratic theories idealize the condition of the masses. The proponents of such theories—for example, P. Drucker in the USA—seek to reconcile the “historical merits” of technocracy with the acknowledged enormous significance of the general cultural development of the toiling masses as the chief productive force, or even the chief social force.

All three types of technocratic theories conceal the fatal contradiction in capitalist society between—on the one hand—the working class as the chief productive and socially progressive force and—on the other—the “traditional” position of the masses as the object of subordination, exploitation, and oppression in the economic and political systems of capitalist society. Some technocratic theories make an overt distinction between those who do mental as opposed to physical labor and thus aim at dividing the army of wage labor against itself.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.