It may seem strange that Henry Ford, an automobile manufacturer during the early decades of the twentieth century who died in 1947, should suddenly become a major source of contention among those interested in analyzing the contemporary crisis of the U.S. economy. The last few years, however, have seen a vast expansion of the Ford legend, particularly by thinkers working within the left, who have elaborated a whole new mythology of "Fordism," intended to sum up the political, economic, and cultural development of twentieth-century monopoly capitalism. Nowhere is this fetish of Ford and the ism now attached to his name more obvious than in Michael Harrington's latest book, The Next Left (New York: Henry Holt, 1986). Just prior to the First World War, Harrington tells us,
Henry Ford anticipated John Maynard Keynes. Or perhaps he borrowed from Karl Marx, who predated Keynes in some of his insights. Mass production, Ford said, requires mass consumption, which means higher wages. Belatedly--in fact, after the families of workers striking against his company were massacred-John D. Rockefeller agreed. Indeed, this strange history is so important that . . . I call the economic, social, and political transformations of the thirties and forties, "Fordism."
For old Henry Ford had grasped something profound and the Great Prosperity had acted on his wisdom, even if against his will and without knowing too clearly what it was doing. He deserves to have an age named after him, because he, rather than Keynes or Marx, predicted what happened: not simply high wages and a modicum of decency for workers, but those things in order to expand the power of corporate America.
In short, Harrington would have us believe that Henry Ford-despite his notorious antiunion stance and his opposition to the New Deal, etc.-envisioned a new, corporatist age of high-wage, high-consumption, easy-credit and highproductivity capitalism, based on the firm foundation of the mass production assembly line. And that it was the widespread implementation of "Fordism" in this sense in the 1930s and 1940s in response to the Great Depression, its further extension in the 1950s and 1960s during the "Great Prosperity," and its eventual demise in the "slow 1929" of the 1970s and 1980s, that explains the entire history of the last half century or more.
Nor is Harrington alone in advancing such views. Similar arguments are presented in Mike Davis' important new book, Prisoners of the American Dream (Verso, 1986), and in the outpourings of the entire "regulation" school of French political economy, associated with the names of such thinkers as Michel Aglietta and Alain Lipletz.(1) In this view, such key features of the contemporary political economy as scientific management, the modern regulatory environment, Keynesianism, and the "welfare state" are all partial manifestations of a larger institutional structure called "Fordism" that arose out of an "historic compromise" between the contending classes in advanced capitalist society.
Indeed, the current conditions of economic stagnation that date back to the carly 1970s are, in the minds of these theorists, largely an expression of a breakdown in the Fordist compromise, a breakdown brought on by the fact that Fordism stretche"the simple humanity of capitalism" (Harrington's words) to its breaking point, within the boundaries made possible by existing Fordist institutions. The rise of Reagan and Reaganomics was therefore a natural outgrowth of the overextension of Fordist principles. But it too will be transcended, radical theorists of Fordism argue, as the world enters the "neoFordist," "global Fordist," or even "post-Fordist" age.
Before exploring this train of thought any further, it is necessary to go back to the historical roots of these ideas and ask whether Henry Ford was really, as Harrington claims, "the man who anticipated the principles of economic and social organization that were to dominate half a century of the nation's life." (p. 21) The first Henry Ford (not to be confused with his grandson, Henry Ford II) is of course best known for converting the nascent automobile industry into a mass-production system, geared to the cranking out of ever-increasing numbers of standardized Model Ts. Ford's basic innovation at the level of production consisted of implementing the kind of systematic deskilling of labor through the monopolization of conception (as opposed to execution) within the managerial sphere, that is more often associated with the name of Frederick Winslow Taylor, the leading champion of scientific management (or Taylorism). In addition, Ford took over the conveyor assembly-line techniques already developed in the Chicago meat-packing industry and applied them on a heightened scale to automobile production.(2) Within three months of the introduction of the endless-chain conveyor at Ford's Highland Park plant in 1914, the time required to assemble a Model T had dropped to one tenth of what previously had been necessary.
The increased degradation of work and the enormous growth in productivity and profits associated with these innovations created both a crisis in the supply of labor for the early Ford Motor Co. and a convenient means of resolving that crisis. Here it is useful to examine a passage from Keith Sward's book, The Legend of Henry Ford (1986), describing the situation that Ford found himself in soon after he had introduced the assembly line in his Model T factories:
Ford's men had begun to desert him in large numbers as early as 1910. With the coming of the assembly line, their ranks almost literally fell apart; the company soon found it next to impossible to keep its working force intact, let alone to expand it. It was apparent that the Ford Motor Co. had reached the point of owning a great factory without having enough workers to keep it humming. Ford admitted later that his startling factory innovations had ushered in the outstanding labor crisis of his career. The turnover of his working force hadrun, he was to write, to 390 percent for the year 1913 alone. So great was labor's distaste for the new machine system that toward the close of 1913 every time the company wanted to add 100 men to its factory personnel, it was necessary to add 963.(3)
Ford's response to this labor crisis was his famous introduction of the $5 day. As Harry Braverman sums it up:
The crisis Ford faced was intensified by the unionization drive begun by the Industrial Workers of the World among Ford workers 'in the summer of 19 13. Ford's response to the double threat of unionization and the flight of workers from his plants was the announcement, made with great fanfare in 1914, of the $5.00 day. Although this dramatic increase in wages was not so strictly adhered to as Ford would have had the public believe when he launched it, it did raise pay at the Ford plant so much above the prevailing rate in the area that it solved both threats for the moment. It gave the company a large pool of labor from which to choose and at the same time opened up new possibilities for the intensification of labor within the plants, where the workers were now anxious to keep their jobs. "The payment of five dollars a day for an eight hour day," Ford was to write in his autobiography, "was one of the finest cost-cutting moves we ever made."(4)
Having introduced such measures out of necessity, Ford then proceeded to rationalize them in terms of a new order of industry. Yet, cluing us in to the real meaning of this, Sward recounts a contemporaneous report in The Nation which stated that, "two large Wall Street operators fell to discussing this industrial Barnum in 1923. 'Ford talks like a Socialist,' said one. 'Yes, but he acts like one of us,' the other replied softly, 'and he gets away with it.'"(5)
Ford's action, though ideologically packaged by his publicity department to make him out as a great friend of the working class, simply reflected the reality, already enunciated in Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management (1911), that "management must . . . recognize the broad fact that workmen will not submit to . . . more rigid standardization and will not work extra hard, unless they receive extra pay for doing it."(6) A "broad fact" which, however, carries less weight as the new methods become common practices throughout industry, as traditional skills are broken down and skilled labor is replaced by labor of a cheaper variety, and as the entire process increases the reserve army of the unemployed who compete for the limited job opportunities, thereby holding down wages.
Ford immediately recognized the enhanced leverage that the $5 day gave him in his battle with workers. A few days after the new pay scale was introduced, he fired between 800 and 900 Greek and Russian immigrants for remaining away from work during a non-American holiday celebration. (It happened to be Christmas, as celebrated by the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, using the Julian calendar.)
At the same time, Ford established his famous "Sociological Department" to manage certain features of the $5 day. According to the new payment plan, which was dubbed a "profit-sharing arrangement"-but which in reality was not at all connected to the rate of profit and was merely a form of increased wage-workers were supposed to receive a basic hourly wage rate (34cts per hour) plus a "profit-sharing" rate (28.5cts per hour). The "profit-sharing" component was not, however, received automatically, but depended on the worker living up to certain special conditions. These included, in addition to being a satisfactory worker on the production line, such requirements as thrift; having a home that was worthy of a Ford worker; not letting out rooms in one's house to boarders; not having an outside business of any kind; not associating or allowing one's children to associate with the wrong people; not occupying or intruding upon sleeping rooms while others are asleep; cleanliness; "good manhood"; good citizenship; demonstrating proof of marriage; not drinking or smoking excessively; prohibiting one's wife (in the case of a male worker) from working outside the home; demonstrating progress in learning English; etc. To make sure these requirements were met, Ford established the Sociological Department, consisting at the outset of some 200 investigators (the number later fell to about 50) whose job was to visit the homes of workers (and of their neighbors and acquaintances) to determine whether they were eligible for their "share of the profits." If workers did not qualify at first, their "profits" still accumulated on the pay stub, and they could, by qualifying, receive them retroactively.
During the first two years, some 28 percent of the workers were disqualified for one reason or another. Some were disqualified for spending their money too freely; some for lying or not cooperating; some for not demonstrating proof of marriage; some for having "domestic troubles"; some (men) because their wives worked, etc. In the beginning of the program all women workers were automatically disqualified (although this was later changed). In this way, the legendary $5 day which had made Ford a national hero, became a means of human engineering, allowing the employer to determine not only the production conditions within the factory to the minutest detail, but also the conditions under which labor power was reproduced within the home. As one Ford worker later reported, "They went to my home. My wife told them everything. There was nothing to keep from them. Of course, there was a lot of criticism of that. It was a kind of funny idea, in a free state.'
The Ford Motor Company's experiment in what is sometimes referred to as "welfare capitalism" was gradually undermined by increasing competition from other Detroit manufacturers, by growing labor unrest, and by an economy that after the First World War showed signs of becoming more and more unstable. During the First World War, the Ford Sociological Department became the base of operations within the Ford Motor Company for the national spy network associated with the American Protective League (APL). This was a patriotic "citizen's group" which had as its object the discovery of IWW and socialist opponents of the war effort, and the enforcement of the Espionage and Sedition Acts of the federal government. Ford Sociological Department investigators working for the APL examined the files on the home lives of Ford workers for evidence of disloyalty, and used these as a basis for coercing or firin"wrong elements."
In the depression of 1920-21 that came after the war the Ford Motor Co. was especially hard hit. Total sales of vehicles dropped from 998,029 in 1919 to 530,780 in 1920. In the drastic reorganization that followed, which included massive layoffs and an enormous speed-up on the production line, the strategy of the Ford Motor Co. turned from one of "welfare capitalism" to more ruthless forms of exploitation. Explaining the general atmosphere at this time, one Ford executive stated, "We were driving them, of course. We were driving them in those days. . . . Ford was one of the worst shops for driving the men." As part of this reorganization, the Sociological Department was disbanded in 1921. Yet, its more repressive function, associated with what Leo Huberman was to call "the labor spy racket," was retained and given a new home in the notorious Service Department, which became the headquarters for Ford's struggles against unions throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
Nevertheless, the folk myth of Ford as an enlightened employer who sought to promote general prosperity by high wages and high consumption became firmly entrenched in the economic literature during the fabled "New Era" of the 1920s. This tendency to see Ford as "the worker's best friend" was bolstered somewhat by his introduction of the five-day week in his company in 1926--a move that was paid for by more layoffs, a further speed-up, and by reducing the weekly earnings of the workers. The five-day week was, as Ford later admitted, a"cold business proposition." "In the purchase of labor as of any other commodity, you must be sure you are getting your money's worth."(8)
Still, such realities behind the newly rationalized managerial methods were little understood at the time. Thus it comes as no surprise that New Era economists-particularly those associated with what is known as th"institutionalist" tradition-came to think of U.S. capitalism as a qualitatively new, regulated system in which business had finally learned to provide, through higher wages to its workers, the basis for almost permanent prosperity. Such views were expounded not only by influential economic publicists like Rexford Tugwell who wrote Industry's Coming Of Age (1927), but also by thinkers like Wesley Mitchell, one of the most respected U.S. economists of his generation, and the leading force behind the National Bureau of Economic Research. In his concluding essay to the report on Recent Economic Changes in the United States (1929) of the President's Conference on Unemployment (Herbert Hoover, chairman), Mitchell explained that "belief in the economy of high wages has become prevalent among the abler business executives, much as belief in increasing productivity has become prevalent among the abler trade union representatives."Intelligent management" had done much to stabilize the economy. By promoting consumption as well as production, far-seeing business executives might be able to "iron out" the worst aspects of the business cycle, and ensure continuing prosperity.
Six months later, in October 1929, the stock market crash occurred, ushering in the Great Depression of the 1930s. After an initial period of embarrassment, institutionalist thinkers like Mitchell and Tugwell shifted gears, emphasizing a weak consumption base and growing monopolization as "internal destabilizing factors behind the crisis. Meanwhile the more orthodox theorists who dominated the economics profession took their revenge on New Era institutionalists by arguing throughout the Depression-and even after the appearance of Keynesian theory in the United States in the late 1930s--that the chief sources of continuing economic crisis were: (a) financial mismanagement, (b) "inflexible wages," and (c) undue government interference. 9
Ford's own response to the crash was a dramatic piece of showmanship that drew attention away from his real motives and actions. Summoned along with other leading industrialists to the White House on November 22, 1929, Ford responded to Hoover's characteristically New Era request for employers not to lower wages by announcing that he would actually raise them to a new $7 day for unskilled workers in his company-an announcement that put him on the front page of every newspaper in the country. The reality behind the new wage, which remained in effect at the Ford Motor Company for the next two years, was, however, a good deal more prosaic. just before and after the introduction of"depression-beating wage" Ford fired between 25,000 and 30,000 workers. The departments at his Rouge plant responsible for making brakes, rear axles, shock absorbers, and differential housings were closed down, and the work formerly done was subcontracted out to lowwage sweatshops. The number of subcontractors that the Ford Co. utilized rose from 2,200 in 1929 to 5,500 in 1931. Meanwhile, in order to receive the 17 percent pay increase associated with the $7 day the ordinary Ford workers that were left were required to fulfill a production quota 47 percent higher.(10)
In March 1932, during the famous "Ford Hunger March," workers, opposed by the Ford Service Department under the leadership of the notorious Harry Bennett, and by the Dearborn, Michigan, police force (the chief of police was a former Ford detective), were fired on with pistols and a machine gun at point blank range. Three marchers were killed and 50 wounded; a photographer for the New York Times received a bullet in the head. Thus began Ford's response to the great revolt from below during the 1930s, a response that was to end only with Ford's surrender to industrial unionism and the United Auto Workers during the 1941 sitdown strike against this last bastion of the open shop in the automobile industry.
In fact, not only did Ford fight labor unions every step of the way, he also fought any form of external regulation of capitalist enterprise and was a virulent opponent of Roosevelt's New Deal. Refusing to support the National Recovery Administration (NRA) code because of its recognition in principle of collective bargaining, Ford wrote in his notebook in 1933: "Our competitors are behind all tax and NRA plans with the bankers' international and they are running all the governments of the world." Government, Ford argued, should "stick to the strict function of governing. That is a big enough job. Let them let business alone." Hoover, the foremost political representative of the New Era, not Roosevelt, was Ford's candidate for president in the 1932 election. (In 1936 he supported Alf Landon.) Nevertheless, when members of Hoover's cabinet sought out the help of "the economic hero of the New Era" during the banking crisis of February 193 3, in the final hours of the Hoover presidency, Ford responded by saying, "Let the crash come."(11)
It was impossible under these circumstances for the Ford legend to survive completely untarnished in the United States. But in Europe, where social commentators avidly read the three books that Crowther put together for Ford-My Life and Work (1922), Today and Tomorrow (1926), and Moving Forward (1930)-the Ford experience was regarded not so much as the story of one man's showmanship and one company's driving power, but as the beginning of a whole new regime of rulingclass domination that came to be known a"Fordism." Thus the ideology associated with Ford's name was seen as an object for theoretical investigation in and of itself largely remote from Ford the individual or his actions (neither of which were perceived as directly relevant in Europe). (12)
The most penetrating analysis of the new ideology of "Fordism" issued from the pen of the Italian Communist leader Antonio Gramsci. While held in captivity in one of Mussolini's prisons, Gramsci authored in 1929-30 a study of "Americanism and Fordism" in his Prison Notebooks, in which he attempted to explore the emerging dialectic between the system of mass production and what appeared to be a new hegemonic ideology. Gramsci scrutinized both Taylor's system of scientific management and the social relations surrounding the introduction of the mass-production assembly line in Ford's factories, trying to perceive the extent to which "Fordism" entailed a fundamental restructuring not only of production but also of the conditions in which the hegemony of
particular classes would operate in the modern world. According to this view, the phenomena of "Americanism and Fordism" raised wide-ranging questions about the effects of Europe's feudal legacy on its future development- about the conditions leading to the rise of fascism in Italy; and about the limits within which the "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat" would have to be exercised in the Soviet Union.
Writing of Fordism in its U.S. context, Gramsci observed: "Hegemony here is born in the factory and requires for its exercise only a minute quantity of professional and political intermediaries." America (and Americanism) is thus a "'rationalized' society in which the 'structure' dominates the superstructures more immediately and in which the latter are also 'rationalized' (simplified and reduced in number)." Moreover, the increasing "rationalization" of capitalism in the United States had generated a need for "a new type of man": Taylor's ideal of the "trained gorilla." Casting his mind upon that same degradation of work that was later to strike Braverman in his analysis of Taylorism, Gramsci wrote:
Taylor is in fact expressing with brutal cynicism the purpose of American society-developing in the worker to the highest degree automatic and mechanical attitudes, breaking up the old psychophysical nexus of qualified professional work, which demands a certain active participation of intelligence, fantasy and initiative on the part of the worker, and reducing productive operations exclusively to the mechanical, physical aspect.(13)
For Gramsci, it was essential to understand that in trying to control the sexual habits and drinking proclivities of his workers, Ford, while ostensibly pro"puritanical" values, was actually carrying out the requirements of a "rationalized" productive system. This was not entirely a conscious design, of course. Hence, Gramsci refers to Vico's "ruses of providence" (meaning much the same as Hegel's "cunning of History") which refers to the fact that the historical process often works covertly through individuals whose actions only dimly reflect their own wills. Thus, the attempts of Ford through his army of Sociological Department investigators to invade the workers' homes and determine the conditions under which labor power was reproduced showed that
American industrialists are concerned to maintain the continuity of the physical and muscular-nervous efficiency of the worker. It is in their interests to have a stable, skilled labor force, a permanently welladjusted complex, because the human complex (the collective worker) of an enterprise is also a machine which cannot, without considerable loss, be taken to pieces too often and renewed with single new parts.(14)
In Gramsci's view, it was this that lay at the root of what he referred to as the "so-called high wages" of Fordism. Here he made three important observations. First, "so-called high wages are a transitory form of remuneration" that go along with the temporary monopoly profits that accrue to the first firms to introduce a new method of production. Once the new methods were generalized the premium paid to labor would decrease (as was actually the case in the Ford plants). Second, the so-called high wages "are of necessity connected with a labor aristocracy and are not granted to all American workers." Third, and most important, th"so-called high wages" were accompanied by continuing problems of labor turnover, which suggested to Gramsci that
Ford's industry requires a discrimination, a qualification, in its workers, which other industries do not yet call for, a new type of qualification, a form of consumption of abor power and a quantity of power consumed in average hours which are the same numerically but which are more wearying and exhausting than elsewhere, and which, in the given conditions of society as it is, the wages are not sufficient to recompense and make up for.(15)
Hence, for Gramsci, the "so-called high wages" were at best a necessary form o"persuasion" for workers called upon to endure an especially monotonous, degrading, and life-draining work process. There is no trace anywhere in his thought of this constituting a new form of "high consumption" capitalism as such. Rather the significance of Fordism, in Gramsci's analysis, lay not in what it gave to workers, but what it took away.
Although ostensibly rooted in an understanding of the actions of Henry Ford, and in Gramsci's brilliant account of hegemony "born in the factory," the modern discussions of "Fordism" among radicals are in fact rooted in neither, but constitute a new mythology. Indeed, what is most astonishing with regard to the refurbished image of "Fordism" now propounded by Harrington and others on the left, is that the false ideology that Ford's PR department (mainly Crowther) concocted after the fact to rationalize his actions is frequently mistaken for reality. Thus, Harrington's own version of Ford's historical role-one that puts ideas before material events-is as follows:
"In underpaying men," Ford said, "we are preparing a generation of underfed children who will be physically and morally undernourished; we will have a generation of workers weak in body and spirit who, for this reason, will be inefficient when they come into industry. It is industry which will foot the bill." But Ford did more than simply talk about the necessity of decent wages. He paid five dollars a day in his own plants and was attacked by some ofhis fellow capitalists as "socialist" for doing so.(16)
Of course, the facts of the matter, despite such windowdressing, cannot be entirely denied. Hence, it is sometimes acknowledged by thinkers in this tradition that Ford himself was violently opposed to trade unions, government regulation, an"welfare state" spending; and that big business' commitment to so-called "high wages" and "high consumption" in the 1920s was much more a matter of words than actions. Indeed, radical theorists of Fordism are unanimous in claiming that the crisis of the 1930s was a crisis of "underconsumption." Nonetheless, such facts are largely glossed over in the heroic attempt to defend this characterization of twentieth-century capitalist institutions. Thus the Great Depression is only supposed to have proven that Fordist methods of mass consumption had not yet developed to the point that they could compensate for Fordist methods of mass production. The solution to this problem, it is suggested, was only gradually worked out as a result of the New Deal and Keynesianism. Fordism as a relatively stable economic regime therefore fully exists only in the post-1945 era (during the last two years of Ford's life) and depended, we are told, for its final "realization" on the dual foundations of (1) a "social contract" with organized labor to share the benefits of enhanced productivity; and (2) a system of "collective consumption" based on the moder"welfare state."
These two imagined realities are in fact seen as being interrelated, and constituting the rise of what is referred to as the "social wage." One way in which this is supposed to have occurred was through an accommodation between capital and labor. "Between 1940 and the late sixties," Harrington tells us, "collective bargaining was one of the most important means of socializing the wages of American workers." Not only were fringe benefits built into union contracts, but also wage increases came to be tied to productivity rises in certain key industries, starting with the famous UAW-General Motors agreement of 1948. Indeed, although "there was no serious proposal to transform the nature of the wage system under capitalism," he writes, nevertheless, "that . . . is what happened." After the Second World War, capitalism leaped into a new era in a person's wage in the West was no longer the sum of money that he or she received in a pay envelope. It now included a whole series of financial claims upon the government and it continued to generate income long after a person had stopped working altogether."
As an account of the workings of U.S. capitalism in the post-Second World War era, this is simply false. To be sure, there were agreements such as the UAW contract referred to above during what Harrington has called the "Great Prosperity." This was not, however, a ne"social contract." Simply put, in times of prosperity capitalist firms have generally found it in their own interest to share a small part of their good fortune with the workers in the form of increasing real wages. But when the prosperity fades so does this willingness to grant concessions to workers; and with it goes the implicit "social contract." As for pay envelopes, one might argue-in contradistinction to Harrington-that after the Second World War the sum of money that a worker received in the West was no longer equal to the take-home pay listed on his or her pay stub. It now included a whole series of financial claims by the government that continued to be deducted from the individual's income until he or she had stopped working altogether and could collect some share of what had already been paid in.
Indeed, in the U.S. context, it is easy to exaggerate the role of the "welfare state." Most welfare or "entitlement" spending in the United States has not involved any significant redistribution of income and wealth from capital to labor, but has mainly consisted of transfer payments from one part of the working class to another. Ithas therefore been of limited value in overcoming what Harrington refers to in his book as "the spectre of underconsumptionism." Moreover, the limitations of the so-called welfare state in the United States stand out quite starkly when compared with what Harrington calls the "secondary" factor of military sending. While the United States spent some $6 billion on public housing in the years 1965-1975 it spent approximately $600 billion on direct military spending in the same period. In fact, while the federal government laid out a total of $367.2 billion on the purchase of goods and services in 1986, $2 78.4 billion of this was devoted to direct outlays for "national defense," leaving just $88.8 billion for federal purchases of everything else, including education, highways, housing, hospitals, the 'Justice system," administration, etc. Among the most "surprising lacunae" of radical Fordist theory as it has been developed by its leading proponent, Michel Aglietta-according to Davis-is a failure to take account of the "1.6 trillion dollars devoted to the permanent arms economy since 1946." As a consequence, Davis says, Aglietta "provides no theory of the relationship between spurts of private fixed capital formation (1947-48, 1953-57, and 1960-65) and the 'military-inflationary boosts' which appear to have stimulated them." Instead, the golden age of Fordism is presumed to have rested primarily on fat pay checks, fringe benefits, easy credit, and the welfare state.(17)
But the "Great Prosperity" of the 1950s and 60s is not the end of the story. It is also necessary to understand why the rapid growth supposedly resulting from these institutions subsided in the early 1970s. For radical Fordist theorists the immediate answer is that Fordism simply proved to be too much of a good thing. Although Department 11 in Marx's reproduction schemes (the consumption goods sector) was gradually built up in the post-Second World War period in order to "balance out" the enormous growth of Department I (the investment goods sector)-the intensive development of which was a fundamental feature of Fordist mass production-this eventually went too far. Fordism simply overreached itself Davis has explained the crisis in terms of "the relative saturation of consumer durable markets" under Fordism and the subsequent rise of a yuppie economy of "overconsumptionism." Lipietz, following certain radical U.S. economists, has suggested that capital "too weak" in relation to a U.S. labor force that was too strong, while Harrington has contended that one of the major factors leading to the end of Fordist prosperity in the United State was "a decline in the rate of exploitation due to the relatively strong bargaining position of unions in the late 1960s." In short, the proximate cause of Fordism's downfall, according to these theorists, was the same as what had been at the root of its earlier success: an economy geared to high wages, high employment, high consumption, and high welfare spending.(18) By enlarging costs on the supply-side to hitherto unimagined levels while at the same time failing to revolutionize markets, Fordism, we are told, caused its own downfall.
At a deeper level, radical analysts of Fordism also refer to far-reaching changes in the underlying structure of the economy, stemming from technological change, that have supposedly reinforced the current tendency toward slow growth. Fordism, by deskilling labor to an unprecedented degree, created mass discontent on the job (threatening productivity) and hence required the compensatory payment of higher wages. The result was a two-pronged attack on the economic basis of this "regime of accumulation." This has served to accelerate, according to Aglietta, the changeover to a new "principle of mechanism": "neo-Fordism" or the automation/information economy. What remains to be seen, however, is whether such a technological environment is viable economically for capitalism; that is, "whether the change in work organization made possible by the introduction of automatic production control can canalize the class struggle into forms compatible with the law of accumulation."
Aglietta and others of this school prophesy that the new technolo"neo-Fordism" will demand a very different, more "flexible" labor process conducted by "semi-autonomous units," as well as extended forms of "collective consumption" and further socialization of wage costs. According to Harrington, Fordist mass-production technology is in the process of being replaced with "new much more flexible technology and the need for specialty products," resulting in the need for a reskilled workforce to replace the older deskilled workers of the Fordist era.(19)
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that a certain technological and institutionalist determinism underpins this analysis. A new "principle of mechanism" is introduced, which requires for its realization a new principle of consumption, and a new "canalization" of class struggle. But missing in such descriptions is any direct, historical consideration of capital accumulation. Indeed, radical Fordist theorists, in this respect, seem to have taken over some of the failings of the old institutionalist economics of the New Era, which based its analysis both on the mystique of a new technological order and on an implicit "underconsumptionist" frame of reference, without directly addressing the problem of investment. Indeed, it was only after Keynes and Kalecki demonstrated, in reaction to the Great Depression, that investment, in an advanced capitalist economy, was not a simple byproduct of the savings/consumption relationship, but the major direct determinant of economic growth, that the fallacy of all approaches that tried to deal with realization crises (or the problem of effective demand) by focusing merely on consumption and savings was revealed. A complete understanding of the laws of motion of advanced capitalism requires that one deal not only with the way in which the surplus product of society is generated, but also with the degree to which it is actually utilized to reproduce and expand the basic character of the system through new capital formation.
Looking at the matter in this way, we can see that the secular tendencies of advanced monopoly capitalism in the United States cannot be accounted for by an alleged shift from conditions of "underconsumptio"overconsumption"; or by a changeover from Fordist technology to neo-Fordist technology. Nor is it true (as Lipietz has argued) that capital is "too weak" and labor too strong. The real secret to capitalism's current dilemma is the long-run stagnation of investment resulting from the constant tendency of the system to produce an overaccumulation of capital in relation to final demand. Indeed, as long as the laws of motion of monopoly capitalism remain supreme, there will be an unremitting tendency to generate more potential profits (as measured by a full-employment level of output) than the system can profitably absorb. Hence, there is no escaping the fact that the inner logic of capitalism promotes the kind of disproportionalities associated with a capitalist class that is "too strong" and a working class that is "too weak." "The very necessity of general political action," as Marx wrote in Wages, Prices and Profit, "affords the proof that in its merely economic action capital is the stronger side."
For Marxists "the truth is the whole." The magic of Fordist theory is that it seems to provide a total vision in which all elements of the capitalist universe are unified. Yet it remains an illusory whole--a contrived solution to the real problems of understanding capitalist development. In this sense, Fordism is merely liberal institutionalist economics rewritten on a more pretentious scale. In order to shorten the labors associated with the investigation of capitalism's laws of motion as they are manifested in real history, the hurried analyst resorts to the deus ex machina of Fordism. But the unity thus achieved is only apparent. Moreover, since it deflects attention from the problem of capital accumulation, it tends to point observers away from such vital issues as the growing concentration of income and wealth and from the stagnation of investment as a dilemma in and of itself The chief contradictions that led up to the present crisis of capitalism, we are told by these theorists (and by the reigning ideology), are too much consumption, too little labor productivity, and changing technological imperatives. Marx's approach was different and more direct: "The real barrier of capitalist production," he "is capital itself."
How does old Henry Ford fit into all of this? Ford prospered in the age of Coolidge and sided with Hoover against Roosevelt. He was a dedicated enemy of unions, government spending, and Bolshevism; and under his direction the Ford Motor Co. attempted to "rationalize" even the reproduction of labor power by enforcing bourgeois family morals. What he stood for in his life is best upheld today by Ronald Reagan and his cronies. And it is here, if anywhere, that the real historical significance of what can properly be called Fordism is to be found.
1. Mike Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream (London: Verso, 1986); Michel Aglietta, A Theory of Capitalist Regulation (London: Verso, 1979); Alain Lipietz, Miragers and Miracles (London: Verso, 1987). Not all thinkers within this tradition, it should be noted, lionize Ford himself to the same extent as Harrington. Aglietta, in his book, makes no mention of Ford as an individual, although his book is replete with references to Fordism.
2. Ford's success, as John Kenneth Galbraith has pointed out in his essay "Was Ford a Fraud?" in The Liberal Hour (New York: Mentor, 1960), rested less on his own "genius" than on that of James Couzens (who was largely responsible for all of Ford's early factory and sales innovations) and Samuel Crowther (the "collaborator" who wrote Ford's books). Crowther, as one Ford biographer has ironically noted, was "an 'amanuensis' with a fine flow of language that he was able to whittle at times into a pretty good imitation of the way Ford was supposed to think and talk." Roger Burlingame, Henry Ford (New York: Quadrangle, 1954), pp. 104-5.
3. Keith Sward, The Legent of Henry Ford (New York: Atheneum, 1968), pp. 48-49.
4. Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974), pp. 149-50.
5. Sward, p. 288.
6. Frederick Winslow Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management (New York: Norton, 1911), p. 83. Taylor had lectured on scientific management in Detroit as early as 1909 at the Packard plant, at a time when the Model T-introduced only the year before-was still being produced in one spot by a group of skilled mechanics. Allan Nevins, Ford: The Man, the Times, the Company (New York: --Charles Scribner's Sons, 1954), p. 468; Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, pp. 146-77.
7. Stephen Meyer III, The Five Dollar Day (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981), pp. 95-147; Stuart D. Brandes, American Welfare Capitalism, 1880-1940 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976).
8. Quoted in Sward, The Legend, p. 178. See also Allan Nevins arid Frank Hill, ['ord: Expansion and Challenge, 1915 1933 (New York: Scribuier's, 1957), pp. 526-28.
9. Wesley Mitchell, "Review," in Report on Recent - Economic Charges in the United States, vol. 2 (New York: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1929), p. 866; William E. Stoneman, A History of the Economic Analysis of the Great Depression in America (New York: Garland, 1979).
10. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., The Crisis of the Old Order, 1919-1933 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), pp. 178, 475-76, The Coming of the New Deal (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958), p. 117.
11. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., The Crisis of the Old Order, 191.%19.33 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), pp. 178, 475-76, The Coming of the New Deal (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958), p. 117.
12. The ideas of "Taylorism" and "Fordism" were particularly attractive to European liberals, technocratic radicals, and fascists during the 1920s, all of whom believed in one way or another in sweeping away Europe's feudal past, and replacing it with a new "rationalized" society. But for some, "Taylorism's stress oil the technocrat had a disquieting potential for subversion; Fordism refurbished the entrepreneur directly" and therefore was more in accord with the needs of bourgeois conservatism (and fascism). See Charles Maier, "Between Taylorism and Technocracy," Journal of Contemporary History (vol. 5, no. 2, 1970) , pp. 27-61.
13. Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York: International Publishers, 1971), pp. 279-318.
16. Harrington, The Next Left, P. 21.
17. Harrington, The Next Left, pp. 30, 39-40; Robert Heilbroner, The Making of Economic Society (Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice-Hall, 1980), p. 288; Economic Report of the President, 1987, p.337; Mike Davis,"Fordism in Crisis," Review(vol.II, no. 2, Fall 1978), pp. 249-52.
18. Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream, pp. 196, 206-21; Lipietz, "Behind the Crisis," Review of Radical Political Economics (vol. 18, nos. 1 & 2, Spring/Summer, 1986), p.13; Harrington, "America's Present and Futures," in Milos Nicolic, ed., Socialism on the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century (London: Verso, 1985), p. 139; and The Next Left, pp.86-88.
19. Aglietta, A Theory of Capitalist Regulation, 111-30, 162-69; Harrington, The Next Left, pp- 74-81.
FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES, BELIEVE IT OR NOT
The Sandinista commanders say they have tried to wage a humane revolution-and by any standard theirs has not been a notably bloody effort to bring social change...The Sandinistas have not carried out a campaign of state terror that slaughters tens of thousands of opponents as the armies of El Salvador and Guatemala did in recent years.
James LeMoyne, The New York Times, December 29, 1987, p. A8…