Profession: Manager Ruthless Criticism

Translated from Die Jobs der Elite: Eine marxistische Berufsberatung (München: GegenStandpunkt-Verlag, 1987)


Under the Nazis, they were called “factory leaders” [“Betriebsführer”] with the emphasis on Führer, and they were supposed to organize the German proletariat into an effective army of workers, with the emphasis on army. The American name is much more civilian and does the thing more justice. It simply emphasizes that everything should work out: success.

A strange profession: to be successful!

At what? – This goes without saying. It’s true that today any sports fan can call himself a “manager” as soon as a sports club entrusts him with worrying about the team’s success. But even then, it remains pretty clear what the managerial profession is actually about: Increasing the wealth that its owners commercially invest for this purpose. The prerequisites and means of this success are all based on the simple fact that everything is for sale in today’s civilized world. Every business item can be bought for money: Means of production and wage laborers, raw materials and distribution channels, land for the necessary facilities, stores, salesmen and factory guards ... Conversely, workers and landowners, manufacturers and traders have only one legitimate opportunity in this world: to offer whatever is theirs – consumer goods, raw materials, land, labor ... – as a means of business and to sell it to anyone who has enough money to start a profitable business. Money is the origin and purpose of all economic activity in the free world, and money is the necessary but also sufficient means for this.

Even money itself is a means of business that can be bought. As such, it is called credit, and its “purchase price” is interest. Credit is granted as the means of business that makes all the material means of business available if the business it serves promises success; and this “promise” is all the more likely to be fulfilled the more wealth is made available to it. For the lender, lending is itself the means of getting the loaned money back with an increase. It’s profiteering with only an indirect connection to its material basis – the availability for money of all the means of production and the organization of a profitable production and sales system.

The content and goals of the managerial profession are thus already itemized. It exists to ensure that the functions inherent in money as a means of business, i.e. as the reason and means of increasing it, are carried out in practice. This service to money separates itself from the ownership of money, production facilities and means of production, in short: the hassles of owning property, at the latest when the commercially functioning wealth is the assembly of the elements of many private financial assets, nowadays mostly in the form of joint stock companies.

By its very nature, the success of such a service is as great as the wealth applied – as is the private success of the employed officials, at least the better ones: Their salary is a not insignificant indicator of the size and success of the company they manage. The fact that this salary corresponds to performance is an absurd but venerable illusion which has its origin in the only difficulty that business encounters in a proper capitalist society: in competition. There are, after all, many companies trying to increase the wealth invested in them; and they are necessarily making life difficult for each other. Because each of them wants to make money, not to squander it, but to constantly increase their “base”: the mass and weight of the financial assets invested. However, this is not possible without fighting for markets and market shares by making production cheaper, i.e. not without restricting the turnover and therefore the business success of other companies. Conversely, attacks from competitors make it necessary for every company to increase its size in order to survive. Wealth that does not prevail – “on the market,” as the saying goes – is not left as modest hidden assets, but is wiped out. Whatever can’t be used to make a competitive business, no matter how useful the commodities, production facilities, or the promissory bills based on them may be, is therefore no longer wealth, but rather proves to be an inflated zero in the eyes of the bankruptcy judge.

All managers do the same thing: serve money. However, the joke of this simple functionalism is that they operate against each other. That is the sting of their success: this makes them, firstly, necessary and, secondly, insecure – precisely because of the competitive struggle, with the emphasis on struggle. This turns mere functionalism into a character question. Buying more cheaply; gaining market share by selling; reducing unit costs to do it, i.e. by making labor more productive – which means a complete class antagonism without managers needing to be aware of it –; landing cheap loans and discrediting the creditworthiness of competitors; getting orders by using bribes; making and breaking agreements; exploiting all opportunities for speculation and getting the competition into a jam while speculating; and as a universal means to this end: knowing, conning, and blackmailing the necessary people who have to play along with all this: A manager has to be an expert at this.

Only: what can one do? Having insights into the various business departments, expertise in the service of money, is merely a prerequisite for a manager’s competitive success, and far from s sufficient one. Unscrupulousness, coupled with the appearance of honesty and sobriety, is also necessary, but no guarantee of anything. If one can’t brag about one’s money and the business one is planning, there’s no point in even starting to manage; but success at bragging is still not success in the market. And time and again, it turns out that using exactly the same methods, character strengths, and sums of money sometimes brings success and sometimes fails due to the competitors’ counter-moves. One, and especially the person concerned himself, always only knows afterwards whether one is a good manager or a “mis”-manager. If he is unsuccessful, everyone – starting with the business journalists – can accuse him of baseless speculation, misguided corporate policy, hiring and firing the wrong people and in the wrong places, unsound borrowing and lending, wrong business associates, excessive spending, in short: everything and precisely that which had previously made his reputation as a skillful, daring, knowledgeable, etc., businessman. The only way to become a successful manager is to outdo your competitors and become one. This stupidity is in the nature of the job. It is the source of the profession’s ideologies as well as its training requirements.

Professional ideology ennobles success in exploiting a company’s workforce as “bold leadership”; it interprets the unpredictable success of business calculations as “a keen eye” or similar symptoms of inscrutable wisdom; success in scheming is a tribute to the manager’s “impressive” and “assertive personality.” The fact of his career counts as proof of this? The fact that he’s a “successful person” is simply the only and the greatest compliment. This is also then the basis of compensation; an ideology turns into a salary account.

By its very nature, preparatory training is not really possible. The few skills in accounting and production planning that a young manager needs are rightly regarded as secondary requirements that any secretary can basically do just as well; they can be learned in three weeks if they have a leisurely schedule. Nevertheless, the eight or more semesters of business administration classes are not for nothing. The ideology of management as an expertise simply demands the burden and dignity of academic examinations; otherwise, where would that leave the appearance of professional achievement in our “rational” and “cerebral” society? In addition, young people can use this time to prove they know how to use their time. The techniques for presenting yourself as a successful person can be practiced quite well among like-minded fellow students, even without a company. And they are not even a completely unprofitable skill, because you can get to know people and get noticed by people who will later be important in your career. After all, not every business studies student can actually become a manager later on, so if you don’t have the right father, it all depends on your ability to maneuver your own advancement. Studying to join the right fraternity – that’s stupid enough, but it’s also a purpose of studying. And this career philosophy is no more mindless than studying philosophy.