Communists Hate Lean


Political Affairs Magazine – High-tech Capitalism and the Class Struggle:

You might not want to click on the above link if you don't want to risk a “cookie” on your computer from a communist publication. I'm not throwing the word around as an insult, the article really is written by a communist:

John Bachtell chairs the Illinois Communist Party and is a member of the national board of the Communist Party USA.

So don't ever say the Lean Blog doesn't promote diversity of thought!

Through the communist lens, I'm sure anything can be viewed as a tool of “the man”:

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production…

Amongst other management practices, the author rails against Lean, as he L.A.M.E.-ly defines it.

The modern form for organizing production is called “lean manufacturing,” also known as “just-in-time production” or “stockless production.” It is defined as the “philosophy of manufacturing based on planned elimination of all waste and on continuous improvement of productivity.” It was developed by Toyota Corporation in the 1950's and was adopted in the US in the 1980's, mainly in the auto industry. Lean manufacturing has its roots in Taylorism and takes scientific production management to a new level.

This basic point couldn't be more wrong. Lean has roots in Taylorism (and Gilbreth) in the sense that work should be analyzed to eliminate waste and determine the best way to do something. The problem with Taylorism is that all analysis and decisions were to be made by educated managers (I guess the “bourgeoisie” in a sense) since workers were too “stupid” to make decisions. Yes, “stupid” is a word Taylor used in his own writings, saying basically that if a worker was stupid enough to choose a job of manual labor, he was too stupid to figure out the best way of doing things. Nice, huh?

It's really the “mass production” system that is Taylorist, top down, and demeaning to workers. It's mass production that says, “workers, check your brains at the door.” Toyota replaced such demeaning attitudes with their core concept of “Respect for People.” The Toyota Production System requires that employees use their brains and creativity to not just “do the work” but also to improve the way their work is done. “Building people before building cars” is their philosophy. Toyota isn't asking workers to work themselves out of a job, as it's a core Lean principle to NOT use efficiency improvements to drive layoffs, since that would obviously destroy employee morale and enthusiasm for Lean.

The author is also opposed to human-free “lights out factories” as GM and Roger Smith had hoped to do during the 80s…. but did this myth ever materialize?? I think he's complaining about something that doesn't exist! Toyota (and many other companies) use robots for jobs that would otherwise be unsafe for human workers — would the communists want people to have unsafe jobs?

Production without human hands or “lights out production” as it is referred to, is a growing phenomenon. Production assembly lines can be run remotely via the Internet by engineers, technicians and programmers, and can be run with the “lights off.” These factories operate 24-7 and shutdown only for scheduled maintenance. A string of factories spanning the globe can be run continuously in sync.

Again, that' s pipe dream. Maybe his source material was a Willy Wonka movie?

Further proving he doesn't get it, he mistakenly ties Lean to Dell:

Lean manufacturing, while it is prevalent in the auto industry is still just growing elsewhere. Because of their power, the transnational corporations use just-in-time manufacturing to push off inventory on the sub-suppliers. For example Dell was able to cut inventory at its Austin assembly plant to four days worth, from the industry average of 60-120 days.

This isn't a Lean supply chain practice, just pushing inventory back on your suppliers. And, honestly, I don't understand the beef a communist would have about this practice. I somewhat understand a communist railing against the loss of jobs (but a business isn't in business primarily to provide jobs, sorry), but I don't understand their complaint against pushing inventory back on suppliers. It's certainly not the same reason I'm against it — pushing inventory back on suppliers doesn't reduce total supply chain inventory, it's primarily an accounting game — propping up profits for “the man” who has leverage over his weaker suppliers. Ah, a perfect parallel to the class struggle! Ugh, OK, I've read enough communist propaganda for the day.

And no, I don't spend my time browsing communist newspapers or trolling left-wing message boards, for the record. This story was brought to you via an automated Google news search.

Poor Lean… hated by top-down command-and-control capitalists AND hated by communists. Lean can't catch a break! :-)

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Comrade Mark, am thinkink here you outdo self in bashink capatilist pigs. Is better sendink jobs to comrades in China. Too bad about Chairman Mao but is China anyway.

    Is vital for Party to be angry even if nothink to be mad about. Makes for good newsletter sales.

    Thinkink Red,

    Comrade Joe

  2. As the comrade really should know, Taylorism was quite popular in the early days of the Soviet Union–indeed, Lenin was a big Taylor fan.


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