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Historisk tidskrift 126:2 • 2006

Innehåll (Contents) 2006:2

Uppsatser (Articles)

Hesselgren, van Kleeck och IRI – från industri till planekonomi

Benny Carlson

Fulltext (pdf)


Hesselgren, van Kleeck and the IRI – from Industry to Planned Economy

The International Industrial Relations Institute (IRI) was established in 1925 at a congress of welfare and personnel workers in Holland. At first the organisation focused attention on scientific management and industrial relations but during the Great Depression its activities began to centre upon economic planning. The IRI was dominated by Mary van Kleeck from the United States and its radicalisation reflected her development into a dedicated advocate of Soviet style planning.

One of the initiators of the IRI was a Swedish industrial welfare worker and its first president was Kerstin Hesselgren, Sweden’s first female factory inspector and member of parliament. The organisation had about 20 Swedish members around 1930 – mostly female personnel or welfare workers, factory inspectors, trade union activists and a few male managing directors – but over the next couple of years these fell away.

The story of Hesselgren, van Kleeck and the IRI has at least two interesting aspects. Firstly, it reflects the transformation of social engineering from an issue of industrial relations to one of economic planning. Secondly, it tells us something about the American influence on Sweden in the area of industrial relations.

The more precise question to be answered is why a number of Swedes first joined and then abandoned the IRI.

The article argues that Hesselgren had most likely been impressed by van Kleeck before the forming of the IRI and that she brought her fellow Swedes with her into the organisation. However, the Swedes could not follow van Kleeck when she became an advocate for Soviet style planning.


Kerstin Hesselgren, Mary von Kleeck, IRI, social engineering, scientific management, industrial relations, economic planning