Hermann Duncker 1925

Book Review

Jacob Walcher: Ford or Marx?[1]

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol 5, No. 53, July 2, 1925, pp. 731-732.
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive 2021
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For trade unions to stigmatise and conduct agitation against an employer who pays miserable wages, takes advantage of his women workers, produces shoddy goods, etc. is not difficult. But the matter assumed a different aspect when there arose the big capitalist type of employer, who posed as being in favour of agreements with his workers, who welcomed trade union intermediaries with the motto of: "Live and let live", who could not, of course, grant all the demands of the workers, but who was willing to discuss small improvements.

The book published by Henry Ford, the American motor car king and milliardaire, carries us vividly back to these days. Although the luxurious visions of an imperialist world-wide economy have been effectually dispelled in Germany, still the extreme skill with which Ford unfolds his scheme of harmony and reform has won him many blind adherents in Germany. It is the old combination of sugar and whip! Even though in this case the very substantial whip is set off by very unreal sugar.

Comrade Walcher, in his exceedingly thorough, graphic, and impressively written book: "Ford or Marx", has set himself the task of destroying this bulwark of anti-Marxist reformism. This book should be attentively studied by every trade unionist.

It shatters what is undoubtedly the strongest position of the enemy, and thus furnishes an indispensable weapon in the conflict against the German miniature Fords - Fords in theory only, not in practice!

Ford or Marx! It is the old bone of contention: reform or revolution, capitalism or communism. But we know of no other book which instils reformist illusions into the reader so skilfully as that of Ford's. Ford can substantiate his teaching of industrial harmony by amazing results from his own experience as an employer. Ford, the most successful of all the great industrial magnates of America; Ford, whose annual output of motor cars increased from 18,664 cars in 1909/10 to 2,200,682 cars in 1922/23; Ford, who employes about 100,000 workers at the present time, proclaims to the world:

Fordism is good for the workers (6 dollars daily wages and an eight hour day!);

Fordism is good for the Ford company (the initial capital of one hundred thousand dollars (1905) has accumulated till it has now reached 435 million dollars!);

Fordism is good for the consumers (the price of a motor car having been reduced from $ 950 (1909/10) to $ 240 (1923);

Fordism is good for preventing the growth of socialism (the socialist vote sank from 235,000 to 4200 within two years in the province in which Ford has his undertaking!).

Everything appears truly to be working in perfect harmony: high profits and high wages, good work and good products at the cheapest prices. What more can the most exacting demand? No wonder that the German social democrat Ströbel, after reading Ford's book, sees "the social question solved within the confines of capitalism", and only sighs that "all capitalist employers were economic organisers like Henry Ford!" (Walcher page 8). The only obstacle in the way is the lack of insight on the part of the other capitalists"! It is to be seen that the Utopist Ford is highly successful in proselytising German social democracy. But all that the German capitalists take over from Ford is the travelling platform and the other ingenious contrivances of the Taylor system of increasing production and intensifying work. But "on the other hand they cannot afford" the eight hour day and the high wages". (Berlin "Börsenzeitung").

In forming a judgment on Fordism, it is important to differentiate accurately - comrade Walcher does this very skilfully - between: 1. What Ford teaches all backward capitalists; 2. in how far Ford forms and can only form, an exception to the general rule of capitalists; 3. and to what degree the socially valuable factors of Fordism can only be realised under communism.

Ford is never weary of repeating that high wages are not detrimental to profits:

"Our profits prove that high wages are the most profitable of all business principles." (Walcher, page 74.)

We greatly doubt, however, whether even Ford's most urgent representations on the close connection between the decent treatment of employees and profits for the employer will restrain the capitalists of Dawes Germany from squeezing unfair profits for themselves out of the low wages of their workers.

The German employers will show equally little interest in Ford's teaching that accidents can be rendered impossible by "suitable working hours, adequate wages, and the application of the technics of machine construction." (Walcher, page 53.) In Germany human flesh is so cheap that there is no need to give it any consideration!

But the German capitalists will accord their heartiest agreement to Ford's cardinal principle:

"The productive day's work is the most inexhaustible gold mine ever opened up." (Walcher, page 57.)

They are scooping and shovelling out of this gold mine with utter ruthlessness. But they will never give open expression to a principle with such an alarmingly Marxian sound about it. Neither will they ever attain the degree of candour which permits Ford to admit that:

"Everything which we have added to our knowledge and skill during the course of time is due to our workers." (Walcher, page 76.)

But it is only the honest practician Ford who recognises all this. Ford the theoretician, the capitalist Utopist, confuses the essentials of what he has recognised in the most pitiable manner. Here he all at once discovers that wealth originates with the consumer. The requirements of the consumer are insatiable, and the possibilities of sale thus unlimited. Therefore, Ford has expanded his production into the limitless, and looks into the capitalist future with childish optimism.

The decisive point to be kept in view when judging of any of Ford's successes, is the economic fact that Ford possesses a huge monopoly. His monopolist dominance of the market leaves play for many varieties of reformism, gives much opportunity for "social sport". Ford has worked his way into an exceptional position in the motor car manufacturing world. It is not solely the possession of capital which has enabled him to do this, but mainly his sharp insight with regard to methods of business and management, his utilisation of technical advantages, and his exploitation of all the favourable factors of American economic life.

Ford has converted Taylorism into an omnipotent system. His travelling platform - a platform gliding past the workers at a speed compelling the utmost exertion - diminishes, for instance, the time required for manufacturing the motor car frame from 12 to 1˝ hours! "Every necessary second is allotted to the worker, but not a single second more". (Walcher, page 25). A barbarous division of labour makes the worker a "virtuoso" in his special performance! The factory doctors have not reported any physicial or mental ill effects upon the workers, so we may assume that there are none!

According to Ford, there are only two kind of human being: Those with creative instincts, like Ford himself, revolting at the idea of being allotted one special work only, and - let us say, work beasts, preferring the most soulless and mechanical piece of work possible! - Proletarian show animals of this description, products of the ruin which capitalism has wrought among humanity, flock to Ford in response to the high wages. A capitalist having at his disposal such an elite troop of servility and coolie mentality can accomplish much. Such workers can be trained to such a point of patriarchal attachment to their factory, that they regard the welfare or misfortune of the business as their private affair. German proletarians died with hurrahs upon their lips for Hindenburg and parched vegetables, why should American workers not slave and cheer for Ford and high wages?

But Ford is an adept at stimulating his workers by a skilled abolition of troublesome bureaucracy and arrogant titular aristocracy. The road is open for the capable! The strictest discipline in the works, accompanied by a control extended to the private life of the workers, keeps all unruly elements in check. A production school, working on the latest pedagogic methods, ensures a sufficient number of recruits of the same stamp for the next generation of workers. These and similar methods of obtaining exceptional productivity and intensity of work, added to the opportunity of exploiting successful technical inventions, and the concentration on one ingeniously thought out universal model of motor car construction, have built up Ford's monopolist position. At the present time Ford is already producing about 60% of the American motor car output.

His systematic price policy has, however, been decisive his further success. Ford has refrained from pocketing the profits which lower wages for his workers would have brought him, and in the same manner he refrains from pocketing the extra profit to be gained by his advanced methods of production, of the usurious profit to be won by his business monopoly. This has enabled him to cut prices with a boldness which has gained him enormous markets, and again enabled him to increase his output to an enormous extent.

The banal catchword of "Small profits and large returns" has been converted by Ford from a mere advertising phrase to a real business maxim. The suitable framework has been supplied by the virginal industrial markets of America, the war boom, and the world monopoly of American capital. This is the explanation of Ford's unique success! The capitalist "normal profit", that the surplus value produced, has been made by Ford his sole source of profit. The productive day's work has truly proved an inexhaustible gold mine to Ford, this most successful of all the surplus value extractors of America! But though the wages of his workers, in money and in kind, may be higher than others, the relative wages, that is, the ratio of wages to profit is more unfavourable to the proletarians in America than anywhere else. The degree of exploitation is the highest, and the economic class antagonisms are the most acute, though the coolie in Ford's employ may be unable to see it.

All this is efficiently demonstrated by comrade Walcher with the aid of admirably selected quotations from Marx and Engels, giving the reader a graphic survey of the essentials of Marx's criticism of capital. We are clearly shown that Fordism is exceptional case, a mere stage of transition to open Barbary. And when Ford's monopoly has once been broken through, or his production exceeds the demand of those able to buy (and this is the sole point playing any real role in capitalism), then even the external glory of Ford's enterprise will wane. Even Ford will be shipwrecked when the crisis comes, and every increase in productivity will dig the grave of his undertakings deeper.

It is a very different matter if communism and even in preliminary stage: Soviet Russia, can utilise Fordist methods of organising production, Fordist conceptions of the decentralisation of industry, of equilibration between town and county, etc. [...] the capitalist Utopianism of Ford has recognised important communist truths, but his having done so is merely further confirmation of the correctness of Marxism.

Comrade Walcher's book is an exemplary application of Marxist teachings to modern economic phenomena.


[1] Jacob Walther: "Ford oder Marx?" Publishers: Neuer Deutscher Verlag, Berlin, 1925.