Technological Theories

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Technological Theories


one of the principal trends in the social and economic thought of the developed capitalist countries in the epoch of the general crisis of capitalism. Technological theories have submitted bourgeois political economy, economic policy, economic history, and sociology to a reexamination from the standpoint of technical and technological determinism. Whether precapitalist or anticapitalist, they typically deny the most basic contradictions of 20th-century capitalist society and reject the world-historical mission of the working class.

Technological determinism, the absolutized and embellished response of the social sciences to the various processes of the industrial revolution, traces its lineage to E. Bernstein and K. Kautsky (Germany), P. Struve (Russia), and the Russian Mensheviks. Such ideas, clad in pessimistic garb, and, as such, concerned with the “assault of soulless technology” upon human culture, gained expression in the early 20th century in the theories of H. Bergson (France), N. Berdiaev (Russia), and O. Spengler (Germany) and, in later decades, in the theories of W. Ogburn, L. Mumford, and L. White (USA). At the same time, since the leading role of production in social development (rejection of exchange conceptions) is acknowledged, since the fundamental role of productive forces in the development of production is recognized, since many of the actual processes of the scientific and technological revolution and their effects on society are taken into account, the partisans of technological theories have been able to make significant progress in their analysis of socioeconomic phenomena, at least in comparison with the representatives of vulgar political economy and bourgeois sociology of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

The initial tenets of contemporary technological theories took shape in the USA in the 1920’s as the class struggle grew much sharper and as the technology of production began to be restructured by F. Taylor, H. Ford, and other specialists on industrial and assembly-line organization of labor. Such specialists denied that physical labor was “an economic resource of little value,” a notion that had prevailed in the USA since industrialization and that had regarded physical labor as fated to low wages and eventual technological unemployment. To the extent that the technology of industrial and assembly-line production brought higher profits for employers, more employment and higher wages for workers, and the appearance of capacious markets for mass-produced goods such as automobiles and household appliances, it was increasingly thought that modern technology changes all economic laws and does away with the previous antagonism between wage labor and capital.

The subsequent dislocations of the world economic crisis of the period 1929–33 gave pause to the emergence of technological theories. In this period, the predominant trend was the development of technocratic theories, which built on the views of T. Veblen and on the theory of the managerial revolution, as propounded by A. Berle, G. Means, and J. Burnham (USA).

In the 1940’s the principal tenets of technological theories evolved under the impact of P. Drucker (USA) and his theory of the “industrial society.” In the 1950’s such ideas grew into the notion of the “automated economy,” which was formulated by J. Diebold (USA) and P. Einzig (Great Britain), and the notion of the “affluent society” (J. Galbraith, USA). In the 1960’s various theories made their appearance, including the theory of the stages of economic growth (W. Rostow, USA), the theory of the “triple revolution” (R. Theobald, USA), the concept of the “new industrial society” (Galbraith), and the concept of the “economics of knowledge” (Drucker). All these theories and concepts of the 1960’s underlie the current theory of “postindustrial society” (D. Bell of the USA and others).

In Europe, J. Schumpeter (Austria) and M. Tugan-Baranovskii (Russia) proposed as early as the turn of the century that changes in production and in the technology of production exert a decisive effect on the transformation of all social relations. Europeans made a fetish of technology, seeing it as a factor directly transforming all social relations—a view largely explained by the incomplete character of the industrial revolution in most parts of the Continent. The term “second industrial revolution” appeared for the first time in Europe in 1936 and gained wide acceptance after 1949, when N. Wiener (USA) made his widely publicized declaration that the age of automation and cybernetics is at hand. The idea of automation was wielded in an attack on the prevailing schools of bourgeois political economy, initially by J. Fourastié and subsequently by J. Ellule (France), Einzig and L. Goodman (Great Britain), W. Bittorf and L. Emrich (Federal Republic of Germany [FRG]) and by Social Democratic theorists such as F. Sternberg, K. Schmid, and L. Brandt (FRG), and J. Moch (France). Automation opened up vast production possibilities, it was thought, an idea that often went hand in hand with warnings of the accompanying dangers of mass unemployment and the consequent need for a new form of active state intervention in the economy and society for the purpose of accelerating social change. The proposition that the second industrial revolution is a “social revolution” found its way into the programs of the Social Democratic parties of Great Britain (1955), Austria (1958), and the FRG (1959), serving as the theoretical basis by which the Social Democratic reformism of the 1920’s and 1930’s (which saw the path to socialism in the gradual increase of public ownership) gave way to a new social reformism, one that denies the significance of nationalization of the means of production.

Until the 1960’s, American and West European technological theories of the development of production and society differed substantially; in the 1960’s, however, they converged markedly as a result of growing automation and the application of cybernetics in the USA and a more realistic approach to technological change in Western Europe, as exemplified in R. Aron’s (France) theory of industrial society and J.-J. Servan-Schreiber’s (France) theory of the technology gap.

Technological theories have concerned themselves with questions of man’s sociopsychological development (A. Toffler and C. Reich, USA), overstating the cumulative impact on man of a number of changes in work and consumption patterns.

By the 1970’s, technological theories of production and social development had given rise to two independent offshoots. Ecological theories study the destructive effects of machinery and technology on nature (K. Boulding, P. Ehrlich, E. Meadows and D. Meadows, and J. Forrester of the USA and E. Mishan of Great Britain). Human capital theories study the effect of new machinery and technology on the development of the labor force, consumption patterns, and human needs (Drucker, G. Becker, T. Schultz, K. Lancaster, F. Machlup, L. Thurow, and Y. Ben-Porath of the USA).

Most proponents of technological theories nonetheless still use the terminology and concepts developed by the neoliberal and neo-Keynesian economists. After the works of Drucker and Fourastié became known, however, an independent technological school of economists also made its appearance. In actuality, technology discloses man’s active relationship with nature, the process of production of his own life, and thereby also the production of the social conditions of his life, and the production of the mental concepts that flow from them, thus revealing the production-related sources of change in capitalist society (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, p. 383, note).

By attributing absolute importance to technological change, however, technological theories obscure the essence, the lawlike regularities of the development of production relations, and their social-historical significance. For the relations of production, they substitute organizational-technological relations. Instead of the fundamental production relation of capitalism—that between capital and wage labor—which determines the position of various groups of people in social production, they propose, as the primary relations, the relations within the hierarchy of professional-production groups of wage labor itself. Thus, they either deny the existence of the working class altogether (S. Chase and K. Boulding, USA) and assert the classless character of American society (F. Stern, USA) or they “demonstrate” the decline in the proletariat’s importance to production and society, reducing the proletariat only to those who perform physical labor (Aron of France and H. Marcuse of the USA).

Technological theories maintain that the 19th-century antagonism between wage labor and capital has given way, in the course of the scientific and technological revolution, to a new, 20th-century antagonism—that between the workers, on the one hand, and the new “technological class” (engineers, technicians, and office workers), on the other, that between the educated and the uneducated, that between the “technocrats” and the “producers” (Galbraith and Z. Brzezinski of the USA and A. Touraine of France).

The principal historical transformations of capitalist production are easily listed—the transition from simple cooperation in primitive agriculture to manufacture, to factory production, with its semiliterate workers, and finally, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, to modern production, with huge assembly lines and semiauto-mated plants and with educated workers, technicians, and engineers, and at the same time, the transition to “sophisticated” management methods vis-à-vis office workers, teachers, and scholars in the capitalist sphere of services and intellectual production. What these transformations really signify is not only a fundamental change in organizational-technical relations and social relations of everyday life but also a modification of all production and superstructure relations in this society. All the same, the production relation between capital and wage labor, far from disappearing with each successive transformation, has come to embrace an increasingly larger part of society.

Technological theories depict the capitalist social relations of ownership merely as the preeminence of scientific and technological rationality, scientific knowledge, and advanced technology. The corporations are seen as the “technologically conditioned” complexes driving the engines of progress (Schumpeter) and as entities acting in the interests of the mass consumer (Drucker) or of steady growth in the scales of production (Galbraith). Contemporary technocratic theories typically deny the importance of capitalist ownership in the economy of capitalism and thereby deny all meaning to any struggle by the working class for the social transformation of capitalist society.

The partisans of technological theories believe that with the scientific and technological revolution, the exploitative essence of capitalism is being eliminated (seeFUNDAMENTAL ECONOMIC LAW OF CAPITALISM). Glossing over the working class’s true role in the social division of labor as the creators of surplus value, they focus on factors of productivity, above all on scientific knowledge (Drucker of the USA and B. Monsaroff of Canada). Factors-of-production theories are being reexamined from this point of view, and the previously dominant theories of scarcity, marginal productivity, and utility (seePRODUCTIVITY, THEORIES OF, and MARGINAL UTILITY THEORY) and theories such as that of the company and that of employment (Fourastié and others) are being rejected. It is as if the object of exploitation is no longer man, but nature’s riches themselves (Stern).

Technological theories of redistribution and income have revived the conception of profit as “payment for risk,” for “innovation” (for example, Drucker and Schumpeter), a conception that utterly denies the existence of exploitative monopoly profits. Opposing salaries to wages, they view salaried workers as a growing, independent class—the “salariat” or “new middle class”—which is mitigating the class struggle. The proletariat’s social gains, won through struggle, are treated as the mere consequence of technical discoveries, which “equalize incomes,” which turn labor remuneration into “basic income,” and which even lead to the idyll of the “affluent society” (Galbraith). Other technological theories portray automation as the inevitable transition by which the basic mass of the population comes to depend on the state for its livelihood (Theobald) or to serve the technocratic elite (F. Pollock and Bittorf, FRG).

Technological theories of classes and social groups have emerged as one of the mainstays of Western sociology (T. Parsons, USA) and have found a home in the arsenals of the rightist Social Democrats, leftist groups, and revisionists (O. Šik in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and M. Djilas in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia). Several theorists of technology have concluded that the capitalist system and the socialist system seem to be “converging” as a result of the use of analogous machinery and technology.

The most serious failing of technological theories is their denial of the fundamental conclusions of Marxist-Leninist social science—namely, that the class struggle of the proletariat is the primary driving force behind economic and social progress and that the popular masses have created the history of society. It is precisely the degree to which the masses are emancipated and to which their cultural and personality level is raised that ultimately determines the possibility of transition from individual production records and achievements to the universal application of scientific discoveries. This also serves as the measure of a society’s democratic and progressive character. A technological theory’s treatment of this problem will classify it as bourgeois-democratic, elitist, or authoritarian (see).


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