Forcing Change, Volume 4, Issue 8

August 2010

Engineering a New World - Part 2

Great Scott! The Rise of the Soviet Technicians

By Carl Teichrib, Chief Editor

See Part 1




Index to previous articles

NOTE: In Part 1 of Engineering a New World, we examined the core philosophy of Technocracy – the Religion of Humanity. In this section we’ll probe into the organized side of the movement as it entered Western culture during the Great Depression. This is an historical overview, yet it’s very relevant to our times. The lessons are in front of us; Man seeks to control the behavior of Man, and when that happens, arrogance becomes the bedrock. Who knows better than the controllers?

The Twenty-First Century is fast turning into the Technical Century; where technology and behavioral sciences shape the masses. But somehow we don’t see it. Could it be that we too are blinded by our own pride? Will we learn from history?

Suggestion: You may find it helpful to revisit the July issue of Forcing Change before reading Part 2.

“Out of the ferment of modern science, education, organization, technology, there will emerge new shapes and spirits of cooperation and control, with new institutions and values, facing a new civilization.” – Charles E. Merriam [1]

“We at Technocracy consider Communist so far to the right that it’s bourgeois.” – Howard Scott [2]

The Revolution of the Soviet!

Technocracy as an organization cropped up immediately after World War I. It started as the New York-based Technical Alliance, a study-group built on Thorstein Veblen’s ideas and later organized by the enigmatic and flamboyant Howard Scott. Both believed that the technical remaking of society was inevitable.

Veblen, a professor and published economist, designed his theories around the “positivist science” of Darwinian evolution. One commentator noted that Veblen’s Darwinism was the “loom upon which the whole fabric of economic thinking could be rewoven.”[3] In his case, social evolution ended with the success of the “machine age.”[4] Therefore, it was engineers and technicians who represented the highest form of advancement. The business community, the professor lamented, was overlooking the potential of technicians as shapers of a coming new world.

What Veblen ultimately envisioned was a “Soviet of technicians” to replace the present era of Capitalist waste.[5] This Soviet, or collective, would be headed by a central directorate or General Staff, which would extend its reach through “sub-centers and local councils.”[6] Then, the General Staff could focus on the heartbeat of the nation’s economy: Industry and transportation.

Understand, Veblen’s idea wasn’t the Marxist version of “Workers of the World Unite,” it was a higher form of socialist evolution; it was the technicians of the world coalescing, sabotaging the system, and placing themselves at the helm.

While Veblen was promoting an American Soviet of engineers in the United States, the Soviet Union welcomed American industrial technocrats as heroes. Henry Ford, who once said “Rightness in mechanics and rightness in morals are basically the same thing and cannot rest apart,” recommended certain engineers to the Soviet government.[7]

The most prominent Russian technocrat of the day, Gleb Maksimilianovich Krzhizhanovsky, an idolizer of Ford, made the following statement,

“In reality, our age is the age of energy. Behind the machine there is energy…Mr.Ford in this instance hits the nail on the head… the production of energy is the base which guarantees the maximum possibility of possessing the earth.”[8]

Krzhizhanovsky believed that the Soviet system, and not capitalism, was properly designed to handle technology. This isn’t hard to understand. Capitalism allows the freedom necessary to develop technology, but it’s viewed as inefficient. The market determines the life of the technology, but the market may also choose a different version, and in all probability there will be multiple options! A collectivist system, so the thinking goes, will rather harness the full potential of a technology and efficiently employ it within a greater, unifying ideal.

Lenin and Stalin recognized the importance of technocrats. Lenin was adamant; “We need more and more engineers, agronomists, technicians, scientific experts of every kind.”[9] And in 1920 he said; “No dark power can withstand the union of the representatives of science, the proletariat and technique.”[10] Later he added that, “science…should really penetrate the skin and blood.”[11] Accordingly, a multitude of technical institutions dotted the Russian landscape.

To Stalin, the Socialist Revolution and America’s technical prowess were united. Indeed it was. American technical expertise practically built the Soviet Union; Stalin admitted that two-thirds of Communist Russia’s industrial capacity had been built with American aid or assistance.[12] Chemical and fertilizer plants, tractor factories, hydro-electric facilities, and miles of railways were completed with direct involvement from American firms and engineers. Mr. Ford’s production partner, Albert Kahn, went to Russia in 1928 where “he built 521 factories and trained 4,000 engineers.” [13]

Charles Steinmetz, head of the research section at the General Electric Company of America, offered Lenin his assistance to electrify Russia. Lenin regretted that he couldn’t take Steinmetz up on the offer but he sent the engineer a personal picture, which Steinmetz hung in his laboratory. Steinmetz “saw electrification as the chief agency of Socialism.”[14]

Charles Steinmetz was a friend of Veblen, and a part of the New York Technical Alliance study group – along with Howard Scott, Basset Jones of the American Standards Association, and Walter Rautenstrauch of Columbia University. It was through these meetings that Veblen gathered his thoughts for what became his 1921 book, The Engineers and the Price System.[15]

Veblen’s Price System book energized the idea of organized Technocracy. Moreover, he wrote that this American “Soviet of technicians” would only be accepted after revolutionary action – a general strike by engineers to “incapacitate the country’s productive industry sufficiently.”[16] Then the captains of industry and finance would see the need for this “new order of production,” and a “self-selected, but inclusive, Soviet of technicians” could effectively “take over the economic affairs of the country…[and] take care of the material welfare of the underlying population.”[17]

A general plan was needed. Veblen, therefore, proposed a roadmap. First, produce a comprehensive survey of industry, energy, and transportation. In doing so the “underlying population” – the average citizen – could see the excessive waste inherent in the system. The population would then be more inclined to a better way.

More importantly, engineers would have access to complete data sets regarding skilled manpower, energy distribution, and material resources across North America. With this crucial information at hand, the technical soviet could effectively take control at the right time.[18] But all of this would take a special leader, one who could capture the public’s imagination and unite the technical community.

Howard Scott was the man.

Great Scott!

Howard Scott seemed to pop up from nowhere. He claimed to be an engineer, yet this was contestable. Arriving in Greenwich Village just before the close of World War I, he spent much of his time rubbing shoulders with New York progressives, including Veblen and Steinmetz. Historian William Akin describes him as a “bohemian engineer.”

“In appearance, Scott looked the part of a flamboyant engineer-adventurer. Tall, lean, and rawboned at six feet five inches and two hundred pounds, his physical presence was commanding… he looked every inch like a project engineer out of place but self-confident in Manhattan.”[19]

Akin further tells us,

“Scott absorbed many of Veblen’s fundamental themes. Veblen’s scientific positivism and technological determinism was basic to Scott’s subsequent thought. He adopted the technological tenor of Veblen’s thought, seeing society as a mechanical operation.”[20]

Scott was charismatic. He seemed to be the quintessential leader for organizing Technocracy. Dynamic and authoritative, he epitomized the type of person who could rally the public and the engineering community. In the Technical Alliance he took the title of “Chief Engineer.”

Through the Alliance, Howard Scott hoped to form “one big union of professional experts.” Membership would come from all specialty branches, including statisticians, educators, architects, and physicians. It would be a union of technical elite,[21] and behind the Technical Alliance was a unifying ideal: “Science Applied to the Social Order.”[22]

However, the organization didn’t live long. In 1921, the same year that Veblen published The Engineers and the Price System, the Alliance fell victim to financial woes. Ironically, the shortage of money was attributed to “bad management on the part of the chief engineer.”[23]

The Technical Alliance folded, but this didn’t stop Howard Scott. Enamored by his own grandiose schemes, Scott continued promoting his technocratic dreams, including the replacement of money – a product of the “price-based system” – with an economic unit designed around energy measurements.

In Greenwich Village, Scott was “haranguing all who would listen.”[24]

And someone from Columbia University was listening: Former Alliance member Professor Walter Rautenstrauch, chairman of Columbia’s prestigious Department of Industrial Engineering (the first of its kind in the United States) still saw the validity of Technocracy (Note: Scott was rooming with another Columbia figure at the time, M. King Hubbert, later known as the father of “Peak Oil”). Now a new project started: Rautenstrauch and Scott formed the Committee on Technocracy. Professor Rautenstrauch then introduced Mr. Scott to Nicholas Murray Butler, the President of Columbia, and the door of opportunity opened.[25]

Michael Rosenthal, Professor of Humanities at Columbia University, explains Butler’s excitement.

“Enthralled by Scott’s messianic fervor, Butler invited him in 1932 to come to Columbia, working in the Department of Industrial Engineering, to conduct research into the history of American industrial development as seen through a complex series of energy measurements. When it became known in August that Scott and his fellow technocrats were established at Columbia, interest in Technocracy exploded. A dance was named after it, Scott became a sought-after speaker, and The Nation proclaimed his theories revolutionary. Butler tried to dampen expectations about its potential… but it was clear that he was excited to have captured it for Columbia.”[26]

Time Magazine called Technocracy “good meat to Nicholas Murray Butler.”[27] And the January 17, 1933 edition of the Berkeley Daily Gazette was quick to point out that “without the cloak of Columbia University,” technocracy would have remained in “obscurity.”[28] Columbia was the goose that laid the golden egg for Technocracy.

All of this took place in the earlier phase of the Great Depression. With this economic crisis as the backdrop, and now linked to one of the most influential universities, Scott was hailed as a man “spouting a gospel of salvation.”[29] From the platform of the Columbia his grandiose vision of the engineered society sparked a firestorm of excitement and hope, and the hype spread beyond America’s borders. William Akin explains,

“In 1932-33 the ideas of the technocrats overshadowed all other proposals for dealing with the crisis… Newspapers spread technocracy across the front pages; periodicals devoted more features to it than to Franklin D. Roosevelt; spontaneous organizations and study groups sprung up across the United States and spread across the boarder into Canada. For a moment in time it was possible for thoughtful people to believe that America would consciously choose to become a technocracy.”[30]

For the masses struggling to make ends meet, the “engineered society” offered a wonderful vision,

 “A job for everyone between the ages of 25 and 45; support by the state after 45; 16-hour working week; no debts; more and higher quality of goods; and a standard of living corresponding to at least a $10,000-a-year income.”[31]

Ten-grand was a tidy sum in those days. In a society torn by unemployment, this bright vision of technical prosperity shone like a new Sun. Mechanization and automation, harnessed for efficiency and guided by non-biased experts would rescue all. The great and ostentatious Howard Scott looked to be a hero; “Science, in short, in the person of Howard Scott, come to save the world.”[32]

Harking back to Veblen, who died in 1929, the Committee on Technocracy started a survey of North America’s material resources. Data was being compiled in Columbia with the vision of forming a Technate – the ordering of the continent along technical lines. Proposals were discussed for a money replacement: “Energy Accounting” or “Energy Certificates.” And a hydrology study was initiated with the idea of diverting entire river systems, including Canadian waterways, into an efficient means of trans-continental transportation and hydropower. Socially speaking, Technocracy ridiculed Biblical standards while upholding Darwinian evolution, thus behavioral approaches to human management were taught in its 1934 Study Course.[33]

Harold Loeb, a (former) comrade of Scott and Veblen, was even willing to tackle sexuality in a scientific manner as opposed to the “taboos, originally imposed by Christian and Calvinist dogma.”[34] From the perspective of Social Darwinian eugenics, and foreshadowing today’s trans-humanist movement, Loeb stated that,

“Technocracy envisages another form of domestication, a form in which man may become more than man… Technocracy is designed to develop the so-called higher faculties in every man and not to make each man resigned to the lot into which he may be born… Through breeding with specific individuals for specific purposes… A technocracy, then, should in time produce a race of men superior in quality to any now known on earth…”[35]

A new, high-powered way of creating and managing material wealth and human relationships sounded good to a desperate America. Across the US, other Technocracy organizations were birthed, including the Technocratic Party, which wanted to make Howard Scott the dictator of North America. Another group, the American Technological Society, “proposed the use of the Soviet Union as a model for the new order.”

Institutions of higher learning gravitated to the progressive concept of Technocracy. Elements were either embedded in, or spread to universities far and wide; the California Institute of Technology, Cornell, the New School for Social Research (started by Veblen and American Fabians, and now known as The New School), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, and many others had professors with Technocratic leanings.

In Canada, Technocracy was making headway in the Western Provinces. This was the same period when the Co-operative Commonwealth movement swept the prairies. The 1933 Regina Manifesto, although not an official Technocracy document, had a distinctive technocratic flavor in its call for the “planned society.”

“The [Co-operative Commonwealth calls for the] establishment of a planned, socialized economic order, in order to make possible the most efficient development of the national resources and the most equitable distribution of the national income.

"The first step in this direction will be setting up of a National Planning Commission consisting of a small body of economists, engineers and statisticians assisted by an appropriate technical staff.

"The task of the Commission will be to plan for the production, distribution and exchange of all goods and services necessary to the efficient functioning of the economy; to co-ordinate the activities of the socialized industries; to provide for a satisfactory balance between the producing and consuming power; and to carry on continuous research into all branches of the national economy in order to acquire the detailed information necessary to efficient planning… It is now certain that in every industrial country some form of planning will replace the disintegrating capitalist system.”[36]

Nazi Germany too witnessed a Technocracy upswing. In 1933, The New York Times noted that Germany was “rising to the heights of prosperity through the proper application of technocracy.”[37] Dr. Gottfried Feder, the author of early Nazi economic theories, [38] told an audience in Danzig that, “National socialism… realizes that mighty technical tasks and possibilities have remained which can only be solved by the planned mobilization of technique… the wealth of every people is measured by its capacity to organize its resources.”[39]

Germans formed their own technocratic groups. The Technokratische Union, which had an office in Berlin, was in contact with Howard Scott while in Columba, and dreamed of jointly “creating an international technocratic organization.”[40] And the German Technocratic Society produced a journal that published articles translated from the American Technocrat side.[41]

As National Socialism gained in power, these Technocracy groups dissipated under pressure from the Nazi regime. According to an essay in Science, Technology and National Socialism, “The Third Reich had room for individual technocrats, but not for a technocratic movement.”[42]

Nevertheless, the ideals of technocracy as a system of social control were well rooted in Nazi operations; “ the end of the war and the ‘Thousand Year Reich’, technocracy – and with it science and engineering – was emerging as one of the most powerful and last pillars of the National Socialist state.”[43]

Strains of National Socialism also visited Howard Scott. One of his organizers, William Knight, worked for an American subsidiary of the German aviation industry. According to Akin’s history of Technocracy, Mr. Knight “introduced paramilitary features to the organization.” This included the wearing of a grey, double-breasted suit with a red and white yin-yang monad pinned to the cloth, and a special salute.[44] By 1940 individuals could order “Technocracy Grey” as an option for Mercury, Ford, Nash, and Chevrolet cars.[45]

In the brief span that Technocracy was in Columbia, the techno-ideal had spread internationally. In fact, had the Committee on Technocracy not come under the umbrella of Columbia, it’s doubtful if Scott would have gone much beyond Greenwich Village, no matter how outspoken he was.

Scott was certainly the mouthpiece for Technocracy, but his tongue was a double-edged sword. His dynamism was appealing, but he was arrogant, and he became publicly abrasive. The Committee started to falter, and then collapsed.

What happened? Two developments occurred almost simultaneously. A split happened when Dr. Rautenstrauch found himself squarely facing the reality of Technocracy – the ascribing of “limitless powers to engineers” and absolute social engineering.[46] In a word: dictatorship. It was time for the professor to distance himself from what was looking like a subversive movement.

At the same time Howard Scott was unraveling in the media. His larger-than-life persona had caught up with him. It didn’t help that when questioned he often refused to give tangible responses, and at times silenced questioners with a “pontifical belch.”[47] After all he was Howard Scott, “the greatest prophet since Jesus Christ.”[48]

Hence, in the last days of 1932, Time magazine had framed his character in one line: “Technocracy was an idea; he was its intelligence; his person and personality did not matter; listen and understand, if you can, but do not interrupt or pry into Howard Scott.”[49]

Finally, in a highly publicized radio address given in front of the New York Society of Arts and Sciences, Scott fell apart. His speech was clumsy and in anger he refused to answer queries from the floor. Proverbs 16:18 tells us: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Even though Howard Scott disdained Christianity, he seemed to live that verse.

Columbia, and more importantly President Butler, was now on the hot seat. By providing a home for Technocracy, Butler had given Scott enormous credibility. Now, Butler had to evict and distance himself from the dissolving Committee. But something happened on the way out that demonstrated staying power.

The month the Committee was expelled, President Butler announced the creation of a special task force to examine technological progress in the nation. Named to the commission were Edmund Day of the Rockefeller Foundation, Fabian socialist Walter Lippman, Alvin Johnson from the New School of Social Research (Veblen’s university), Benjamin Anderson from Chase National Bank, and an assortment of professors from Yale, Harvard, and the University of Chicago.

Bulter explained, “The inquiry will be directed in particular to the technique of production and the technique of exchange… for the service of society.” The topic of choice: The price-based economy and the adequacy of the present system in respect to “social welfare.”[50] In other words, Technocracy.

This wasn’t ironic. Technocracy was a perfect fit for Columbia. For as we will see, the heartbeat of Technocracy – complete with its design for social control – paralleled the heartbeat of one of the most important international figures of the day. And this individual, whose goal was the remaking of the world, resided in Columbia. From his ivory tower this man surrounded himself with the most important personalities; flirted with the most promising movements, including fascism; and partnered with the most powerful players. His core resonated with the ideals of Technocracy.

Without this individual and his phenomenal power matrix, Technocracy wouldn’t have spread as fast or far as it did. This Columbia-man was, arguably, the “most brilliant mind in the educational and political life of America.”[51] And if we want to understand how power flows, how Technocracy took firm root, and how today’s quest for global governance – international management – fits in, we need to examine the remarkable life of Nicholas Miraculous.

Note from Berit: May I suggest you subscribe to this great online magazine and read the rest. This vital information will help us prepare for the  challenges we will be facing in the years ahead. 

Carl Teichrib is editor of Forcing Change, a monthly online publication detailing the changes and challenges impacting the Western world.

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1. Charles Edward Merriam, The Role of Politics in Social Change (New York University Press, 1936), pp.121-122.

2. Howard Scott, 1970 speech.

3. Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought (George Braziller, 1965), p.155. For more on Veblen’s evolutionary concepts of economics, see pages 152-156.

4. George Liagouras, “Socio-economic evolution and Darwinism in Thorstein Veblem: A Critical Appraisal,” Cambridge Journal of Economics, 2009, 33, p.1053.

5. William E. Akin, Technocracy and the American Dream: The Technocrat Movement, 1900-1941 (University of California Press, 1977), p.12.

6. Thorstein Veblen, The Engineers and the Price System (Batoche Books, 2001. Originally published, 1921), p.89.

7. W.H.G. Armytage, The Rise of the Technocrats: A Social History (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), p.222.

8. W.H.G. Armytage, The Rise of the Technocrats, p.221.

9. As quoted in Armytage, p.223.

10. Armytage, p.226.

11. Armytage, p.226.

12. Armytage, p.223.

13. Armytage, p.222.

14. Armytage, p.238.

15. Armytage, p.239.

16. Thorstein Veblen, The Engineers and the Price System, p.102, 103.

17. Thorstein Veblen, The Engineers and the Price System, p.102.

18. William E. Akin, Technocracy and the American Dream, p.25. See also Veblen, The Engineers and the Price System.

19. William E. Akin, Technocracy and the American Dream, p.29.

20. William E. Akin, Technocracy and the American Dream, p.30.

21. William E. Akin, Technocracy and the American Dream, p.34.

22. David Adair, The Technocrats, 1919-1967: A Case Study of Conflict and Change in a Social Movement (Simon Fraser University, thesis, January 1970), p.18.

23. William E. Akin, Technocracy and the American Dream, pp.36-37.

24. David Adair, The Technocrats, 1919-1967, p.21.

25. William E. Akin, Technocracy and the American Dream, p.61.

26. Michael Rosenthal, Nicholas Miraculous: The Amazing Career of the Redoubtable Dr.

Nicholas Murray Butler (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), p.422.

27. “Technocrats Expelled,” Time, January 30, 1933.

28. “Technocracy from Various Angles,” Berkeley Daily Gazette, January 17, 1933, p.4.

29. Michael Rosenthal, Nicholas Miraculous, p.421.

30. William E. Akin, Technocracy and the American Dream, pp.x-xi.

31. “Technocracy, Which Promises New Deal for Common Man, Puzzles America,” The Lodi Sentinel, Editorial section, January 26, 1933, page 2. Forcing Change, Volume 4, Issue 8, August 2010, PAGE 11.

32. Michael Rosenthal, Nicholas Miraculous, p.422.

33. Technocracy Study Course (Technocracy Incorporated, 1934), Lesson 20: The Nature of the Human Animal.

34. Harold Loeb, Life in a Technocracy: What It Might Be Like (Syracuse University Press, 1933/1996), p.171.

35. Harold Loeb, Life in a Technocracy, pp.174-178. Although this quote is pieced together from different pages, it accurately reflects the central biological theme found in chapter 6.

36. Regina Manifesto, 1933. Point #1, Planning.

37. “Hitler Demands Troops Lead Reich,” The New York Times, August 21, 1933.

38. Franz Neumann, Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism, 1933-1944 (Ivan R. Dee, 1944/2009), p.229.

39. “Hitler Demands Troops Lead Reich,” The New York Times, August 21, 1933

40. “Germans Modify Our Technocracy,” The New York Times, January 23, 1933. According to Ernst R. Berndt, in a Massachusetts Institute of Technology discussion paper, Howard Scott left the Columbia campus in March 1933. See Mr. Berndt’s paper, From Technocracy to Net Energy Analysis: Engineers, Economists and Recurring Energy Theories of Value (MIT Discussion Paper, N. 11, Studies in Energy and the American Economy).

41. Monika Renneberg and Mark Walker, “Scientists, engineers and National Socialism,” Science, Technology and National Socialism (Cambridge University Press, 1994), p.5.

42. Monika Renneberg and Mark Walker, “Scientists, engineers and National Socialism,” Science, Technology and National Socialism, p.5.

43. Monika Renneberg and Mark Walker, “Scientists, engineers and National Socialism,” Science, Technology and National Socialism, p.9.

44. William E. Akin, Technocracy and the American Dream, pp.100-101.

45. Letter from Technocracy Incorporated headquarters, November 30, 1940. Subject: Symbolization of Technocracy.

46. William E. Akin, Technocracy and the American Dream, p.96.

47. “Science: Technocrat,” Time Magazine, December 26, 1932.

48. William E. Akin, Technocracy and the American Dream, p.111.

49. “Science: Technocrat,” Time Magazine, December 26, 1932.

50. “Vast Study Launched,” Los Angeles Times, January 16, 1933.

51. Michael Rosenthal, Nicholas Miraculous, p.7.

Index to previous articles by Carl Teichrib