Sherwood Anderson’s powerful “Life up thine eyes” is posted at
The following is commentary by an anonymous writer on the site.
Reprint of a 1930 article by American author Sherwood Anderson published in Agitator, laying bare the essential nature of exploiting society: the subordination of human beings to an alien will in the production process.
The following article, written in 1930 by American author Sherwood Anderson lays bare the essential nature of exploiting society – the utter subordination of human beings to an alien will in the process of production.
Political ‘sophisticates’ will no doubt argue the superior merits of ‘planned production’ and ‘state control’ as opposed to the ‘anarchy’ of competitive capitalism. For such people Socialism has been drained of all human content and hence of all meaning. They are obsessed with the legal forms of property, as if these were the fundamental reality and not the social relations between men at the point of production.
What Anderson describes here are the relations of production prevailing in a class divided society. He bases his story on an American plant; but who can doubt that similar relations exist in the nationalised British coal mines or in the tractor factories of Stalingrad.
Anderson’s article points implicitly to the primary and most urgent task confronting the socialist revolution: the domination of the producer over the labour process, and the end to the degrading division between rulers and ruled.
Lift up thine eyes
by Sherwood Anderson
It is a big assembly plant in a city of the Northwest, They assemble there the Bogel car. It is a car that sells in large numbers and at a low price. The parts are made in one great central plant and shipped to the places where they are to be assembled. There is little or no manufacturing done in the assembling plant itself. The parts come in. These great companies have learned to use the railroad cars for storage.
At the central plant everything is done to schedule. As soon as they parts are made they go into the railroad cars. They are on their way to the assembling plants scattered all over the United States and they arrive on schedule.
The assembly plant assembles cars for a certain territory. A careful survey has been made. The territory can afford to buy so-and-so many cars per day. .
‘But suppose the people don’t want cars ?’
‘What has that to do with it ?’
People, American people, no longer buy cars. They do not buy newspapers, books, foods, pictures, clothes. Things are sold to people now. If a territory can take so-and-so many Bogel cars, find men who can make them take the cars. That is the way things are done now.
In the assembly plant everyone works ‘on the belt’. This is a big steel conveyor, a kind of moving sidewalk, waist-high. It is a great river running down through the plant. Various tributary streams come into the main streams the main belt. They bring tyres, they bring headlights, horns, bumpers for cars. They flow into the main stream. The main stream has its source at the freight cars where the parts are unloaded, aid it flows to the other end of the factory and into other freight cars. The finished automobiles go into the freight cars at the delivery end of the bolt. The assembly plant is a place of peculiar tension. You feel it when you go in. It never lets up. Men here work always on tension. There is no let-up to the tension. If you can’t stand it, get out.
It is the belt. The belt is boss. It moves always forward. Now the chassis goes on the belt. A hoist lifts it up and places it just so. There is a man at each corner. The chassis is deposited on the belt and it begins to move. Not too rapid. There are things to be done.
How nicely everything is calculated. Scientific men have done this. They have watched men at work. They have stood looking, watch in hand. There is care taken about everything. Look up. Lift up thine eyes. Hoists are bringing engines, bodies, wheels, fenders. These come out of side streams flowing into the main streams. They move at a pace very nicely calculated. They will arrive at the main stream at just a certain place at just a certain time.
In this shop there is no question of wages to be wrangled about. These men work but eight hours a day and are well paid. They are, almost without exception, young, strong men. It is however, possible that eight hours a day in this place may be much longer than twelve or even sixteen hours in the old carelessly run plants.
They can get better pay here than at any other shop in town. Although I am a man wanting a good many minor comforts in life, I could live well enough on the wages made by the worker in this place. Sixty cents an hour to begin and then, after a probationary period of sixty days, if I can stand the place, seventy cents or more.
To stand the pace is the real test. Special skill is not required. It is perfectly timed, perfectly calculated. If you are a body upholsterer so many tacks driven per second. Not too many. If a man hurries too much too many tacks drop on the floor. If a man gets too hurried he is not efficient. Let an expert take a month, tow months to find out just how many tacks the average good man can drive per second.
There must be a certain standard maintained in the finished product. Remember that. It must pass inspection after inspection.
Do not crowd too hard. Crowd all you can. Keep crowding.
There are fifteen, twenty, thirty, perhaps fifty such assembly plants, all over the country, each serving its own section Wires pass back and forth daily. The central office – from which all the parts come at Jointville – is the nerve centre. Wires come in and go out to Jointville. In so-and-so many hours WIlliamsberg, with so-and-so many men, produced so-and-so cars.
Now Burkesville is ahead. It stays ahead. What is up at Burkesville? An expert flies there.
The man at Burkesville was a major in the army. He is the manager there. He is a cold, rather severe, rather formal man. He has found out something. He is a real Bogel man, an ideal Bogel man. There is no foolishness about him. He watches the belt. He does not say to himself ‘I am the boss here’. He knows the belt its boss.
He says there is a lot of foolishness talked about the belt. The experts are too expert, he says. He has found out that the belt can be made to move just a little faster than the experts say. He has tried it. He knows. Go and look for yourself. There are the men out there on the belt, swarming along the belt, each in his place. They are alright, aren’t they ? Can you see anything wrong ?
Just a trifle more speed in each man. Shove the pace up just a little, not much. With the same number of men, in the same number of hours, six more cars a day.
That’s the way a major gets to be a colonel, a colonel a general. Watch that fellow at Burkesville, the man with the military stride, the cold steady voice. He’ll go far.
* * *
Everything is nicely, perfectly calculated in all the Bogel assembling plants. There are white marks on the floor everywhere. Everything is immaculately clean. No-one smokes; no one chews tobacco; no-one spits. There are white bands on the cement floor along which the men walk. As they work, sweepers follow them. Tacks dropped on the floor are at once swept up. You can tell by the sweepings in a plant where there is too much waste, too much carelessness. Sweep everything carefully and frequently. Weight the sweepings. Have an expert examine the sweepings. Report to Jointville.
Jointville says: ‘Too many upholsterers’ tacks wasted in the plant at Port Smith. Bellevile produced one hundred and eleven cars a day, with seven hundred and forty-nine men, wasting only nine hundred and six tacks.’
It is a good thing to go through the plant occasionally, pick out some man, working apparently just as the others are, fire him.
If he asks why, just say to him, ‘You know’.
He’ll know why alright. He’ll imagine why.
The thing is to build up Jointville. This country needs a religion.
You have to build up the xxxxx of a mysterious central thing, a thing working outside your knowledge.
Let the notion grow and grow that there is something superhuman at the core of all this.
Lift up thine eyes, lift up thine eyes.
The central office reaches down into your secret thoughts. It knows, it knows
* * *
Do not ask questions of Jointville. Keep up the pace.
Get the cars out.
Get the cars out.
Get the cars out.
The pace can be accelerated a little this year. The men have all got tuned into the old pace now.
Step it up a little, just a little.
* * *
This have got a special policeman in the Bogel assembling plants, They have got a special doctor there A man hurt his finger a little. IT bleeds a little, a mere scratch. The doctor reaches down for him. The finger is fixed. Jointville wants no blood poisonings, no infections.
The doctor puts men who want jobs through physical examination, as in the army. Try his nerve reactions. We want only the best men here, the youngest, the fastest.
We pay the best wages, don’t we ?
The policeman in the plant has a special job. That’s queer. It is like this: Now and then the big boss passes through. He selects a man off the belt.
Now and then a man goes off his nut. He goes fantoed. He howls and shouts. He grabs a hammer. A stream of crazy profanity comes from his lips.
There is Jointville. That is the central thing. That controls the belt. The belt controls me.
It moves. It moves. It moves.
I’ve tried to keep up . I tell you I’ve been keeping up.
Jointville is God. Jointville controls the belt. The belt is God.
God has rejected me.
Sometimes a man, fired like that, goes nutty. He gets dangerous.
A strong policeman on hand knocks him down. Takes him out.
* * *
You walk within certain definite white lines.
It is calculated that a man, rubbing down automobile bodies with pumice, makes thirty thousand and twenty-one arm strokes per day. The difference between thirty thousand and twenty-one, and twenty-eight thousand and four will tell a vital story of profits or loss at Jointville.
Do you think things are settled at Jointville, or at the assembling plants of the Bogel car scattered all over America ? Do you think men know how fast the belt can be made to move, what the ultimate, the final pace will be, can be ?
There are experts studying the nerves of men, the movements of men. They are watching. Calculations are always going on. The thing is to produce good and more goods at less cost. Keep the standard up. Increase the pace a little.
Stop waste. Calculate everything.
* * *
A man walking to and from his work between white lines saves steps. There is a tremendous science of lost motion, not perfectly calculated yet.
More goods at less cost.
Increase the pace.
Keep up the standards.
It is so you advance civilisation.