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A Senator and an Engineer

AT THE END of the Hotel Carlton ballroom, with its sumptuous crimson curtains, painted beams and imitation Renaissance chandeliers. Senator Norris, his face pink from a strong lamp, is addressing the progressive conference in front of a dark expensive-looking tapestry and behind a shiny nickel-plated microphone. He is an old-fashioned political speaker, with hard Western r's and the rhetorical flowers of another age; the power trust is “the most gigantic, far-reaching and comprehensive monopoly which has ever been devised by the mind of man” and has “secretly enmeshed its slimy fingers into the warp and woof of human life," but before the “onward march” of public opinion, "the influences of monopoly, corruption and dishonesty” will “fade away as the morning mist disappears before the rising sun.”

He is a short gray-haired man in a neat black suit, with a white shirt, low collar and old-fashioned black blow-tie, a thin gold watch-chain stretched from the top of his vest pocket to a lower vest pocket on the same side, and trousers that wrinkle over black polished shoes. His hair, brushed straight back in a crest, has a fine Western breeziness and defiance. He has dark circumflex eyebrows, old eyes, a small mouth with a gleam of gold teeth in one corner—a gentle sensitive face, very stubborn, though beginning at last to break down under unyielding opposition and old age. His carriage is straight; he lifts his head and raises his eyebrows with exhilarating haughtiness and disdain over a letter from Senator Watson, the Republican leader of the Senate, in which the latter tries to bait the progressive conference: “The people of Indiana are as fine as people as live anywhere, but they sometimes do comical funny things and they certainly perpetrated a gigantic joke upon the country when they elected little Jimmy Watson to the United States Senate….We cannot waste our time with men who are as far behind the march of civilization as he is and as far backward. This is not a kindergarten. Moreover, little Jimmy Watson ought to, to be in his proper sphere and in his real class, gather together his marbles, go out and hunt up that boy Lucas and together they could have a fine game in the backyard of the White House!”

But there is no virulence in his sarcasm—even his denunciation of Watson reveals an essentially sweetnature. And his gestures—old-time orator’s gestures of exceptional elegance—show fine white hands with tapering fingers. But after a career which has included an effort to oppose America’s entrance into the War and which has recently culminated in an attempt on the part of the National Committee of his ownparty to prevent his election by accusing him of cruelty to his children and of luxurious living in a cottage built partly by his own hands, and confusing the voters by putting a grocery clerk with the same name on the ballot—his defiant look of pride sometimes passes into a pathetic look of pain.

He speaks at length about the power trust, which he has been fighting since Roosevelt's time and looking tothe memory of Roosevelt for inspiration. He shows that Buffalo, which depends on the power trust, has to pay more than twice as much for its electricity as Toronto, which owns its own power, though Toronto is obliged to transmit its current more than four times as far from the same river; that Rochester, with a population of more than 300,000, is charged four times as much as Ottawa, with 120,000; that the city light superintendent of Seattle who was on the point of getting the city to vote for public ownership, has just been discharged by the mayor, at the instigation of the power trust; and that Hoover’s Power Commission, dominated by the same interests, has just thrown out one of the ablest of its experts, who had attempted to prevent the padding to the tune of more than five million dollars of the cost of the Clarion River dam. “So, my friends, this power trust gets in its work….What is the object of government, my friends? As I look at it and as our forefathers looked at it when they enunciated the Declaration of Independence, they said that the object of government was life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness….Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness! That is what we are here for. That is what Congress is up there for. That is what the President ought to be there for. That is what you have your state governments for. That is what we ought to get out of government….The object of government is human happiness….Old Ben Adhem in the ancient days, that old soldier, was awakened one night from his slumber by an angel writing in a book…Oh, my friends, we ought to lead our political life and our religious life so that when the end comes our names can be written upon that scroll in eternity’s language that we are down as those that loved their fellow men!”


The Taylor Society of scientific managers are giving a dinner for one of the American engineers who has been in Russia working with the Soviets. The dinner is not a very good dinner: it is a wholesale production without taste or imagination and rather unappetizingly cooked. But it makes no pretense to be anything else: the Taylor Society is an organization of efficiency experts and the discussion of efficiency is to be the main feature of the
evening. From the point of view of scientific management, the whole affair has been admirably arranged: dinner is announced and served early, on the dot of 6:15, so that there may be plenty of time for speeches afterwards, although the speeches themselves, on the other hand, are to be rigorously limited and expedited by planting an egg-boiling glass which runs exactly three minutes under the noses of the speakers.

For the rest, there are certain amenities: the dinner takes place in the Fraternity Club under festively painted beams of precisely the same kind as those in the ballroom of the Hotel Carlton at Washington, where Senator Norris spoke on the power trust; and there is a fancy niche behind the
speakers' table in which one vaguely imagines the 
ikon of Frederick Taylor, that great Pennsylvania
 engineer, factory organizer and inventor of labor-
saving devices, the patron saint of scientific management. Over a handsome and convivial stone fireplace is the strangely incongruous motto: “Dum vivimus vivamus.”

Mr. H. J. Freyn is the president of the Freyn Engineering Company of Chicago, and he has lived for four years in Russia advising the Soviets on the construction of their steel mills. He is a shortish but very solid and strong-looking man all in one piece, with an extremely thick bull-neck, hair that bristles {straight up on his head and rather small greenish eyes behind thick-lensed rimless glasses. He has a slight German accent, and speaks earnestly but with occasional irony. One somehow has a feeling that he expects an attitude of opposition on the part of his audience.

It is hard, he begins, to talk about Russia. A friend of his who has been there a good deal found out, when he came back from his first trip, that people who asked you about Russia always did one of two things: they listened to you with interest when you told them what was taking place, or they froze up completely as soon as you began to talk and refused to hear a word you said. And he had finally adopted this policy: when people wanted him to tell them about Russia, he always asked them first whether they wanted to hear good news or bad news.

Now the Taylor Society have asked him to talk to them about the management side of the Five Year Plan. Well, they have sent him a bulletin explaining the Society's own aims. According to this prospectus, it is the Taylor Society's desire to promote “the full understanding and the adoption of the principles of administration and manage- ment which, intelligently applied to organized effort, are conducive to the gradual elimination of unnecessary labor and unduly burdensome toil in the accomplishment of the work of the world”; the Taylor Society is “inspired by the conviction that only those enterprises can sustain themselves which meet a genuine economic need, as ascertained by careful analysis of markets—those which conduct their operations through plans, schedules and methods that eliminate waste of human and material energies employed, and which maintain the spirit of working together toward a common end through harmonious personal relations.” And he will attempt to analyze the Five Year Plan from the point of view of the Taylor Society’s program.

As he proceeds, it becomes apparent that the ideals conceived by the Soviets are precisely those of the Taylor Society and that it is their aim to put them into practice on an unprecedented scale. From his observation of the steel and iron industry, he would say that “the principles of administration and management” are decidedly being “intelligently applied”—that the Soviets are “eliminating unnecessary labor and unduly burdensome toil” at a rate which will eventually make it possible “to replace hard labor by machines and the products of home industry by machines and the products of home industry by the mass production of factories. In this respect, the Soviet Union proposes to go much further than the so-called capitalistic countries. Whereas, elsewhere in the world, and notably in the United States, the trend of the times is toward the creation and organization of large and powerful corporations, toward consolidation of banks, manufactories, steel companies, railroads and power concerns, the Soviet government has frankly embarked upon a policy of complete state control, embracing practically every human activities.” The worker and the small peasant are to be assured of “an existence of contentment and reasonable comfort”—and one of the means to this end has been the establishment of the seven-hour working day and the five-day continuous week. He asserts that “the Soviet state may readily be considered one huge industrial organization, or economic enterprise, ‘designed to meet a genuine economic need’”—and leaves it to the members of the Taylor Society to assign it to the category of “those enterprises” as to which the Society is “inspired by the conviction” that they, and they only, “can sustain themselves.” As for the “careful analysis of markets,” he does not believe that this is necessary, “for the domestic market is virtually unlimited.” And so forth.

The Taylor Society listen impassively—with exception of onesharp-faced old man, who holds 
his hand behind his ear, takes notes and occasionally asks to have figures repeated, and a younger man, the full-blown type of the busy and cheerful prosperity-promoter, florid, with a cigar, round bone glasses and a yellow toothbrush mustache, who begins by laughing at every statement which suggests that the Soviets aren't as smart as they thought they were, but relapses, as the enthusiastic tenor of Mr. Freyn's paper becomes plain, into a kind of dazed smirk.

There is only one item of the Society’s program which Freyn does not explicitly take up: “the spirit of working toward a common end through harmonious personal relations.” He does, however, try to explain what personal relations under the Soviets are like. He reminds his audience that, in view of the fact that “the three most momentous historical events, the American and French Revolutions and the Protestant Reformation, passed over old imperial Russia without leaving any imprint upon the destinies of that vast country,” it is “no wonder that the triumph of modern democracy could not be established.” The Soviet government’s frankly a dictatorship, but a dictatorship at the present stage is thought “essential for the welfare of the people.” And it now appears that Mr. Freyn is far from regarding our kind of democracy as an ideally satisfactory arrangement: “a modern business enterprise can scarcely be operated or managed by applying the principles of democracy . . . on the contrary, the strong hand and mind of business executives are required, who know what they want and what is needed for the good of the enterprise.” As a matter of fact, the Soviets are perhaps still a little too democratic: he has often wished “that more decisions might be made by responsible individuals rather than by committees and commissions.”

He pays tribute to the unselfishness and integrity of the Soviet officials, who live like Spartans and are ready to work themselves to death; explains that the Soviets, far from trying to suppress their mistakes and difficulties, maintain a policy of free publicity for bad news and free criticism of the government, which has supplied the capitalist press with most of its ammunition against them; and denies that the trial of the engineers could possibly have been a put-up job, as these technicians had been badly needed and couldn't have been sacrificed for a sensation. He speaks of “the insidious schemes of these marplots,” and says that he himself had experience of their sabotage.

In all this, he rarely mentions Communism, but as he goes on, one begins to get the impression that he is as much sold on it as any class-conscious proletarian rallying around the Thirteenth Street head- quarters. He talks with conviction and emphasis— he is defending the Soviets, one realizes, he is giving expression to his admiration for them, he seems even to have ended, after four years, in catching something of the fervency of their faith.

The outside world, he says, has been led to believe that if the Five Year Plan fails, the Soviets will fall. “Such ideas have no basis in fact. I believe that should the pressure become too great and lack of capital and credit too serious, the program will merely be slowed up and the time extended. I further believe that if the gigantic Five Year Plan were completed by the end of 1933 even to only 7.5 percent, a remarkable technical and managerial feat, unparalleled in the world's history, will have been achieved.”

So he ends, and sits down. An economist from Brookings Institute gets up to open the discussion which follows: “Mr. Freyn, in his detailed, comprehensive and almost impartial account of the Five Year Plan”—

This article appeared in the May 27, 1931 issue of the magazine.