The Gantt chart and socialism

Edexcel A-level “Decision Mathematics” (D1) covers the Gantt chart. It was the earliest project management tool, in the run-up to World War 1, and appears now as a simplified version of critical path analysis, simple and flexible enough to be used even for small projects.

Gantt was an American engineer and management consultant. Surprisingly and interestingly, he was also the close associate of the outspoken Marxist and socialist Walter Polakov.

“Gantt and Polakov were… joint signatories in the [1916] breakaway group from American Society of Mechanical Engineers which called itself The New Machine… worked together on numerous Navy projects… a close working relationship until Gantt’s death in 1919”.

There seems to have been a technocratic bias to Polakov’s and Gantt’s vision of socialism: at any rate, Polakov later “[took Gantt plans] to Russia in 1929-31 where he was apparently the only American engineer working as a consultant on Stalin’s first five year plan”.

Gantt, having died in 1919, cannot sensibly be described as a Stalinist: he was a socialist who apparently could not find a place in the (fairly weak) socialist movement of the time. And Polakov, in what he wrote for debates in management circles in the USA, made a clear statement of class allegiance as well as of desire for efficient planning.

“Modern society economically is composed of two classes, those who produce and those who give them the facilities to produce, of owners of physical energy to be sold for a living and owners of means of production such as natural resources, machinery and capital. The interests of these two classes of our society are diametrically opposed”.

Kelly, Diana J, “Marxist Manager Amidst the Progressives: Walter N. Polakov and the Taylor Society”, Journal of Industrial History, 6(2), November 2004, 61-75.