Sunday, 4 November 2012

See the difference – follow-up

… to one of my first posts which I published as a third-year student. After two years of working for a huge capitalist corporation, I see more semblances between capitalism and socialism and some similarities are disturbingly striking. The post would not have appeared here today, if it had not been for the violent crackdown on some of my fellow colleagues that took place in the third last days of October. Accidentally the ruthless moves in personnel policy coincided with an e-mail reminding about renewing the commitment to follow the social media use policy guidelines, observance of which prohibits me from revealing my identity and name of my more and more often hated employer…

I have taken the trouble to compare some workings of the political system of 1945-1989 socialist Poland and features of American-style corporate capitalism and within five minutes I managed to discern (and put down on a piece of paper) the following similarities (in random order)…

Brain-washing – in both systems you are told is more or less thinly-veiled way what you should think. Your mindset is shaped by someone who has interest in controlling how you perceive the world, what your hierarchy of values is…

Because efforts to wash brains of employees / citizens go in vain, omnipresent duplicity emerges. Officially people declare one thing, while unofficially they speak their mind and do their bit. In both systems they have to watch their tongues though! Self-censorship is natural in such circumstances. You weigh up every word you say, before something politically incorrect comes out of your mouth You never know who the sneak, waiting to tell on you to their principal, is.

Your workplace, as well as a totalitarian country, is not a place where you should make friends. Individuals are to co-operate with each other to serve the corporation / the system and should be discouraged from any closer interactions. Of course integration (after-work meetings) is encouraged, but its extent is attempted to be controlled. In the corporation one of crucial unwritten rules tells you to pursue your private life outside work. Having committed a sin of violating this rule, I admit there is a profound rationale behind it, but people should be free to pursue happiness their own way.

The two worlds, one real, dejecting and murky, the other full of bright prospects, exist thanks to wide-spread success propaganda, aimed to make you believe how well your company / country is doing. Poland is 1970s was catching up with mid-African developing economies, while official e-mail from the CEO of your corporation will inform you that the company has gained 50 clients, passing over the fact in the meantime it has lost 150 accounts. Censorship is thus not confined to individuals who muffle most of their thoughts, but is applied on much wider scale on the level of corporation.

Hollow words, spread far and wide, are distinguishing features of both corporate capitalism and communism. In pre-1989 you formally had democracy, free speech and other stuff guaranteed by constitution. Your employer promises you work-life-balance if you work eleven hours a day and do not get paid for overtime, instils integrity in you, while senior executive have no qualms lying through their teeth…

Once socialism was described as a system that bravely fights problems unknown in other political systems. The same applies to some big corporations where processes cannot run smoothly, but are impeded by self-created obstacles. This probably has an economic explanation is diseconomies of scale – a corporation which grows in size become too big to manage and turns marginally inefficient. Socialism fell apart because socialist economies had to reach frontiers of development and could not grow any further due to built-in inefficiencies. Big corporations are doomed to fall apart because they focus on themselves rather than on clients.

Dissent… is a crime (not on this blog, comments are highly appreciated). If you think free-market corporations foster ingeniousness, you are under the same delusion I used to be. Firstly, only selected individuals are allowed to come up with innovative ideas, secondly, if their innovations does not turn out to fetch expected enhancements, they are bound to bear the brunt of it. And do not hope for the second chance. In corporate capitalism it is safer to swim with the tide and not to stand out.

Targets are what socialist economy planners and corporate productivity managers are obsessed with. In the socialism there were five-year plans, always exceeded, in a corporations, you have sales target or other targets, depending on your position. Try not meeting them…

A human for a corporation has little value, just as in totalitarian systems. It is just a cog in a machine, an item on, respectively, a payroll or census list. It can be easily swapped for another one, if there is a need, or liquidated, if no longer necessary. A human is subjugated to the overriding goal which is, either the bottom line of profit and loss account, or interest of the system. And end justifies the means.

Recent goings-on at work reminded me of leitmotiv of disappearing people from ‘Master and Margarita’. During the big purge in 1930s people did not know the day nor hours when some ominous men knock on their door and make them disappear without the trace. In an American corporation you come to the office and never know if this is not the last day in your office. On Tuesday I saw head of one of department talking about lay-offs, glad he was not affected by this. A few hours later his job contract was terminated. On Wednesday morning I shook hands with one of the best (meaning having a portfolio of profitable accounts) corporate dealers, the previous day he had agreed on 20% salary cut and hence was sure he would not be given the notice. An hour later he was proved wrong…

Not to make this post one-sided, let’s highlight some differences between the two systems. Socialism offered job security, while in corporate capitalism you can be fired every day and if you corporation claims to be “socially responsible” (what a twaddle!) it can give you a generous severance package. Corporations, unlike socialist enterprises focus on work efficiency and can appreciate those who do the good job. Beware though, if one day you receive accolades, the next day you may be given the sack. I am in two minds about the distribution of income. I lean towards more pointing at bigger gaps between salaries of rank and files and key executives, but in the socialism there also were ‘equal and more equal’ comrades…

Plus note the fundamental difference between firing people and murdering them. In a corporation you are just given the severance pay and are free to pursue your career somewhere else. In a totalitarian system, there is no such things as freedom.

Having written this, I will return to my office tomorrow, with smile put on my face and hoping my position will not come under restructuring, at least this month. Once I heard people living in socialist have experienced so many humiliations, but what about staff of big corporations, exposed to so many similar disgraceful treatments?

5 comments:

Michael Dembinski said...

An excellent post.

If this economic crisis leaves one legacy, it SHOULD be the exposure and public pillorying of the corporate fat-cats that have created this small-S system. Toxic corporations should be left alone, clearly identified as such by the Regulator, and punished by the consumer.

Rent-seekers, from bent Russian traffic cops, to Polish notaries, to American and British bankers, those who extract more value from society than they add, are the drag on human progress.

Xntrik1 said...

What a great post! You've nicely encapsulated similar frustrations I have had with the inner workings of the corporate world. Here in North America such environments are, sadly, the rule rather than the exception and represent a massive drain on human potential. Those truly talented and dedicated rarely rise to the top. Such scenarios tend to favour those adept at playing the game, who curry favour with superiors and tow the line to further their own ends.

One can only imagine how much further our societies' might progress were individual talents more effectively nurtured and harnessed. Your comparison to socialist Poland is an apposite one. While the two systems are diametrically opposed to one another, socially and economically, both have been plagued by a similar sclerosis that has prevented each from operating to its maximal effectiveness.

DC said...

I've enjoyed reading many of your posts over time, even when I've disagreed. Now, would you consider writing a post about the way you think things should be?

P.S. - Did someone hack Michael's account? :-)

student SGH said...

Thanks DC, a pleasure to learn somebody appreciates my job!

Unfortunately, I won't grant your request. Such post would have to be constructive and don't have any concept of rearranging things in mind.

For me Micheal's words are not surprising. I heard him telling me the same face to face a few weeks ago.

DC said...

Well, I'm a little disappointed since if I remember correctly, one of your objections to the Occupy Wall Street people was that they did not spell out a clear idea of how to fix systemic problems.

But it's your blog, of course. I hope things settle down with your job. It sounds brutal.