The Beaver, the Canadian History magazine has a great article on Technocracy Inc. in Western Canada. Here is a short excerpt.
Walter Fryers lives in Edmonton and leads the Technocracy chapter here. Which meets at the Stanley Milner Library Tuesdays and Sundays at 1:30 Pm
I disagree with the authors claim later in the article that the idea of the Technate, technocracy's model of governance over production and distribution systems, is authoritarian and anti-democratic. He mistakes representative parliamentary democracy as being the only form of democracy.
THE LAST UTOPIANS
by Ray Argyle
Technocracy promised Depression-weary Canadians an end to their hardship. But the offer came with a catch.
The abandoned farms and empty streets of Depression-ridden rural Manitoba filled the view through the windows of the railway coach as Walter Fryers, a twenty-three-year-old university student, journeyed back to Winnipeg.
It was the fall of 1936 and Fryers had spent the summer trapping muskrats in the delta of the Saskatchewan River, working for little more than “board and a bunk.” Now he was anxious to return to his science studies at the University of Manitoba.
During the long train trip from The Pas, the young student took to heart the dark reality of the dust bowl. It had been the hottest North American summer on record. Across the Prairies, dark clouds of dust rose off the drought-stricken land, burying livestock that lay dead and dying in the fields, and caking the faces of the hungry and haggard families who grimly trekked to the cities, leaving their devastated farms behind. Against this backdrop, Fryers pondered the failure of society to provide a better life for the millions impoverished by the Great Depression.
This continued to weigh on Fryers’ mind after he arrived in Winnipeg, with its bread lines and its boarded-up businesses. Here, a chance encounter — spotting a poster for a lecture on something called “Technocracy” — was to rapidly change the direction of his life.
The lecture introduced the young man to a radical new doctrine that seemed to satisfy his yearning for a scientific solution to the world’s problems. Technocracy’s adherents claimed it would eliminate want by putting power in the hands of a capable few — not politicians, but an elite group of engineers and technicians, known as the Technocrats.
Within months, Fryers was himself preaching Technocracy’s merits to the media. The Winnipeg Free Press gave front-page space to his declaration that the existing economic system was the root of the problem, because, in order for it to work, “a scarcity must be created and maintained. That is why, in a world of plenty, we have widespread poverty.”
Technocracy flared like a comet in the darkness of the dirty thirties, promising to replace a collapsing capitalist system with a non-political government of scientists and technicians. It attracted thousands of members in Canada, survived a wartime banning, and enjoyed renewed, but brief, popularity after World War II amid short-lived fears that Canada might return to Depression-like conditions.
Of all the protest movements that flowered in the Depression, Technocracy was a unique creation. Largely overlooked by historians and neglected by most political scientists, the movement never elected an MP or fomented a riot. But to workers without jobs and farmers without crops suffering through the hungry thirties, Technocracy’s proffered world of plenty seemed a utopian paradise: Unemployment would be a thing of the past and all would share equally in the abundance of the machine age. Sir Thomas More’s sixteenth-century conception of a “happy island” stricken of all poverty and crime might at last become a reality, thanks to modern technology.
Founder Howard Scott’s design for what he called the “Technate of America” did away with borders and merged the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America into a single nation under a regime of engineers and technicians. Political parties, along with money and all the trappings of the present price-based economic system — which Scott saw as incompatible with the distribution of industry’s output — would be things of the past. The economy would be based on energy (the capacity to perform work) and the new currency would be “energy certificates,” qualifying every citizen to an equal share of the continent’s wealth. People would work four hours per day, four days per week, between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five.
Technocracy spread quickly in Canada — although its strength here, as in the United States, was concentrated in the West. Eight chapters were soon organized in Vancouver, and the magazine Technocracy Digest was launched. Branches were set up throughout British Columbia, as well as in Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Hamilton, and Toronto. For many, Technocracy served as a fraternal organization. The Winnipeg Free Press reported on a 1940 technocratic wedding, noting the groom and his attendants wore Technocracy grey suits and “twelve men in Technocracy grey formed a guard of honour.” In Vancouver, a Technocracy orchestra was formed.
It is a technical model for production and distribution.Indeed the idea of the technate is the administration of things not people. Technocracy did not offer up a political system to replace capitalism per se.
And in fact in a paper I presented on Technocracy, Socialist Industrial Democracy and Syndicalism, available upon request until I post it, I showed that it coincides with North American models of workers control. That is the Technate can be adapted to be used by worker controlled industries as an alternative to the wage system. Especially in light of the Norbert Weiners applications of cybernetics to industrial production that was attempted in Allende's Chile.
The fact that it was popular in Western Canada shows again that radical alternatives to capitalism were sown here for most of the early years of the twentieth century. And that radicalism was NOT conservative individualism as the right wing pundits and other neo-cons of today assert.
Today many of the predictions of Technocracy about the crisis of energy demand in an advanced industrial society are being accepted as common knowledge; namely their assertion of the crisis of Peak Oil.
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utopians, Howard Scott, Western Canada, Peak-Oil, Hubbert,
Veblen Technocracy, Energy