Title page book Soziologie der Arbeit

Soziologie der Arbeit ---- Original and controversial

Publication: Verlag Die Wirtschaft (1988, Berlin)

First insertion on Heterodox Gazette Sam de Wolff: 23 march 2015

E.A. Bakkum is a blogger for the Sociaal Consultatiekantoor. He loves to reflect on the labour movement.

In the former Leninist states labour was seen as the core of human life. It is intriguing to check whether this ideology has been a stimulus for the sociological research of labour. In 1988 in the former GDR the book Soziologie der Arbeit was published, by the sociologist Rudhard Stollberg. Now some suspicion with respect to Leninist books is justified, also when it concerns scientific publications. At home your reviewer has three book-shelves filled with GDR-publications about the social sciences, and three quarter of it is actually ripe for a museum of curiosities. The science in the GDR suffered from censorship and from the output of ideological preudo-scientists. Besides, only applicable scientific research was financed1.

But despite the objectionable repressive regime, again and again individual scientists were able to generate an acceptable publication. The human mind is unyielding. Also Stollberg has written an acceptable book, which presents at least a credible contents. That deserves respect, and all the more so because Stollberg is not a seasoned critic of the regime. Thus this review is also a warning against repressive regimes and an ode to good will. Besides, it testifies to originality, that Stollberg couples his analysis to the Leninist culture. The Leninist paradigm assumes, that the institutions of the state are very effective in forming the individual. Stollberg takes the state morals as his starting point, and tries to support it with sociological studies of reality. It is fascinating, that he tries to find an alternative indicator as a replacement for the job satisfaction.

Stollberg attaches much value to the collective property of the means of production. For, that eliminates the conflict of interest between the workers and the owners, and thus changes the character of labour. It is done. He is convinced, that thus man can at last truly integrate in society, and can develop into a subject (that is to say, into an autonomous person). Here one recognizes the materialistic view on the world2. The Leninist sociology has first changed since the sixties, when it also began to study domains beyond labour, such as leisure time and the family. The individual yet realizes his personality mainly within the labour collective. Therefore it is important that each collective is led by an ideologically educated person. That must further the propagation of a sound attitude towards labour. The improvement of the job quality is mainly sought in an increased participation of the workers, notably in planning.

It has just been said, that Stollberg questions the importance of job satisfaction, because she can degenerate into love of ease. More important is the attitude, which is expressed in behaviour and human values. Participation implies, that the workers identify with the social goals, namely the central plan. Here Stollberg also cites western sociologists, such as Maslow. He acknowledges that the worker is driven by various motives, but they are difficult to separate. Therefore Stollberg has developed an index for the attitude towards labour, which is composed of 19 indicators. An empirical study shows, that already in 1967 the attitude of the workers has clearly Leninist hallmarks. A good education correlates positively with the attitude. And changing a job is a sign of a poor attitude! However, the wage height is irrelevant for the attitude (perhaps a matter of definition).

In 1977 the study has been repeated. The development of the attitude towards labour, which is measured, displays a mixed picture. In particular, the job satisfaction decreases! One hears Stollberg gnashing his teeth3. The labour motive is still a mix of social and material factors. There is competition also in Leninism, but it occurs between collectives. The leaders purposively stimulate this. Therefore Stollberg can warmly recommend the working in collectives. They are a part of what he calls the Leninist democracy. Also interesting is, that the job satisfaction can be found with both the easy-going and ambitious persons. However, the good attitude towards labour is mainly found with the ambitious persons, and much less with the easy-going persons (almost by definition). Stollberg appreciates the ethical aspect of the attitude towards labour. Satisfaction is too materialistic and capitalistic - incidentally a criticism which is often heard.

Precisely because work is essential, Stollberg rejects a change of profession. It hurts the personality. The changing of the employer is somewhat less hurtful. Incidentally he does acknowledge the need of life-long learning. And whenever possible, tasks must be enriched and expanded (humanization). The conclusion is, that Soziologie der Arbeit presents a reasonable and, from the western perspective, original view on work. Nevertheless, a shadow is cast on this book, namely that at the time this view was dictated forcibly to the society. It was not subjected to the pluralistic criticism, because other opinions were stifled. In the west this criticism does exist, and it had the effect, that Leninism could never establish itself. However, those who can separate the book from this nasty thought, may enjoy reading it.

  1. The system competition with the FRD has energized the GDR productively and ideologically. Moreover, at the time there still was the Prussian culture, which promotes hard work and a hierarchical order. Therefore it is conceivable, that in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia the Leninist literature is less dogmatic than in the GDR. Your reviewer buys his Leninist books in Germany, especially in the second-hand bookshop Helle Panke in Berlin. Among these are just a few German translations of Polish and Czech publications.
    Nonetheless, until far into the seventies of the last century, Leninism was popular in some western circles. For instance, the popular German singer Franz Degenhardt writes in Ja, dieses Deutschland meine ich: Ja, dieses Deutschland meine ich, das endlich denen gehört, / die tausend Jahre lang geschafft und produziert, / in Schlachten abgeschlacht zum Nutzen für paar Herrn, / bis zu der letzten Schlacht, du schlugen sich die Herrn, / wo dieser lange Weg nur noch Geschichte ist / und auch Geschichte bleibt, weil man sie nicht vergißt, / und darum liest du an den Straßen, Plätzen dann / so Namen wie die: Rosa Luxemburg, Ernst Thälmann; / Lumumba, Ho-chi-minh, Ché Guevara, Solidarität, / weil nämlich anderswo der Kampf noch weitergeht; / und ist kein Traum das Land, geträumt aus rotem Mohn, / nämlich ein Stück davan das gibt es schon, / ja, dieser Deutschland meine ich wo wir uns finden / unter den Linden und auch noch anderswo.
  2. The Leninists could appeal to unmistakably literary and musical talents for their propaganda. Thus Bertolt Brecht wrote in 1948 the Aufbaulied: Jeder sitzt mal gerne unterm Dache, / drum ist Aufbaum gar kein schlechter Rat, / aber es muß sein in eigner Sache, / und so baun wir erst 'nen neuen Staat. / Und das Schieberpack, das uns verblieben, / das nach Freiheit jammert früh und spät, / und die Herren, die die Schieber schieben, / schieben wir per Schub aus unserm Staat. / Fort mit den Trümmern / und was neues hingebaut! / Um uns selber müssen wir uns selber kümmern, / und heraus gegen uns, wer sich traut. Later there was a change of opinion, and the Berlin wall was built, the so-called "antifaschistische Schutzwall". (back)
  3. The Leninist satirical magazine Eulenspiegel is filled with jokes to illustrate, that there is a gap between the doctrine and reality. In an almost empty restaurent the waiter orders the guest to sit at the alloted table. Or, in another restaurant the guest prepares a lecture, and the waiter sneers: "Young man, do your homework at home!" Or, in the morning a train commuter sits in the dining-car, and orders a cup of coffee. The waiter refuses: "And what will we do with the knife and fork?" Ridiculous is also the anecdote, that a factory wants to remove a defective product from its assortment. However, the ministry forbids this, because there is no substitute and because the product is so cheap. And then there is the production of a metal bucket, which is not watertight. This is remedied with a sticker: "Do nut use for fluids". A producer of leather goods warns not to expose the shoes and suitcases to rain and water. Or, the time of delivery of a wheelbarrow is two years. Or, in july (the middle of the summer) the clothes shop no longer sells shorts ("The summer has ended"). Or, a farmer wants to sell several crates filled with apricots to the greengrocer's shop. Various customers are in the shop, and display interest. However, the shopkeeper refuses to supply them, and buys the apricots for himself and his colleague. Etcetera. Free markets have their advantages. (back)