1920s >> 1926 >> no-264-august-1926

Henry Ford or Karl Marx?

In the Sunday Observer (11.7.26) Mr. J. L. Garvin wrote an article headed “Ford or Marx.” The inspiration for the article was Norman. Angell’s book, “Must Britain Travel the Moscow Road,” which professes to be a reply to Trotsky’s book, “Where Britain is going,”

Times out of number we have balanced accounts with the Russians, and incurred much odium by pointing out that Bolshevism was not Socialism, and that Bolshevik policy was entirely opposed to the principle set forth by Marx. But it pleases the opponents of the workers to confuse the two positions in order the better to resist the spread of Socialism.

For this purpose any stick is good enough. Mr. Garvin brings forward the once execrable, but now quite respectable, Bernard Shaw, and even the ghost of the honest and delightful old dreamer William Morris.

A single article is not sufficient to deal fully with the collection of false suggestions put forward by Mr. Garvin, so I will confine myself to a brief examination of one or two of his leading points.

The first point to clear up is the confusion between Bolshevik policy and the principles laid down by Marx.

Briefly the Bolshevik policy was as follows :—

The conversion of Russian industry from a culture that was overwhelmingly a backward peasant culture into a communistic culture at one bound, without the intervention of capitalist methods of organisation. The capture of power was to be accomplished by a small minority who were to lead the backward masses. Parliament was taboo and armed street risings the method of procedure. The providing of suitable “slogans” with which to play upon the emotions of the ignorant majority was an important part of the policy. The final futility of the Bolshevik programme has been amply proved by subsequent Russian history. The peasants were too backward to grasp the meaning of communism, and to get out of their own insular way of looking at things. A small group of quarrelling partners rule Russia at present, but are compelled to rule in accordance with the needs and wishes of the vast mass of the population—the backward peasants. It is the peasant that, in the main, determines Bolshevik policy to-day, and will do so for a long time to come.

What was Marx’s views on the above methods? In the preface to Capital he states in unequivocal language :

“One nation can and should learn from others. And even when a society has got upon the right track for the discovery of the natural laws of its movement. … it can neither clear by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments, the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development. But it can shorten and lessen the birth-pangs.” (“Capital,” Vol. 4, p. xix.)

Marx’s collaborator, and “other self,” Engels, stated, in the last thing he wrote, the introduction to “The Class Struggles in France,” that:—

“The time is past for resolutions carried through by small minorities at the head of unconscious masses. When it gets to be a matter of the complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must participate, must understand what is at stake, and why they are to act. That much the history of the last fifty years has taught us. But so that the masses may understand what is to be done, long and persistent work is required, and it is this work that we are now performing with results that drive our enemies to despair.”

The Bolsheviks took the leap, and have landed in a quagmire.

The above quotations on Marx’s point of view are sufficient to dissociate it from Bolshevism.

The next point we come to is Mr. Garvin’s statement that:—

“Mr. Shaw could do more than any man in Europe to destroy the antiquated Marxist superstition which hinders or paralyses the progress of labour on this side of the Atlantic.”

Mr. Garvin gives us no information about this “superstition,” nor does he point out how it hinders. This is a convenient method of arguing, as it knocks the object down without the trouble of hitting it.

Farther on he says :—

”Marx egregiously over-estimated the importance of manual labour by itself. The single person with the original idea is more important economically than the thousands of workers whose employment never would have existed if he had not created it. When Henry Ford in 1914 had the idea of a minimum wage of a pound a day for his workers with profit-sharing on a large scale—terms improved since then—he knocked the bottom out of abstract Marxism deduced front studies in the British Museum.”

The opening sentence is false; the second is a joke. Marx examined the way in which the wealth of capitalism (commodities) was produced and analysed the part played by capitalist and worker. Up to the present no one has been able to show any essential fault in this analysis, although hundreds of professors of political economy have attempted the task. In the course of his analysis Marx showed the respective places of the so-called “manual” and “mental” workers and demonstrated that each was a member of the working class, and had identical interests as opposed to the interests of capital. It has been a common charge against Marx that he ignored the so-called “intellectual” worker. The charge has been levelled by the professional intellectuals, who feel their importance acutely, and would like to think that they are in a class apart, and distinct, from the “common working man” and the wealthy idler. Many years ago Paul Lafargue, in his brilliant essay entitled “The Intellectuals,” reduced their dignity to the level of carrots and potatoes.

Mr. Garvin, however, makes a variation, and puts Henry Ford among the band of economic giants. The argument is a joke.

Taking it at its face value Henry Ford introduced more economical methods of production. The result of improvement in methods is the production of a given quantity of goods with the employment of less workers, and the more rapid satisfaction of the demand for goods. Carried out on a sufficiently extensive scale this means that relatively fewer and fewer workers are required to meet the international demand for goods, an increase in the number of workers seeking jobs ‘that have ceased to exist. The final El Dorado is a small number of workers enjoying high wages and producing all the world requires to meet its needs, and a vast number of workers without employment or the means to purchase goods so lavishly produced ! Not long ago Mr. Ford himself experienced the effect of his methods. So rapidly had motor cars been produced by his system that the market was glutted and he had to close down his works ! A curious way of providing employment !

Another aspect of the question is given by the following quotation from the American Appeal, June 5th, 1926 :—

“Labour’s share of the automobile dollar is shrinking under large-scale mass production, as revealed in the United States census of manufactures for 1925. These figures show that last year only 32.4 per cent. of the value created in the industry went to wages, compared with 40 per cent. in 1923 and 38.6 per cent. in 1919.
In 1899, the first year in which automobile production appears in the census, the workers received 44.8 per cent. of the value they created.
“In 1925, according to the figures, automobile manufacturers received $3,371,855,805 for their output, an increase of $208,257,931 over 1923. Deducting the cost of materials leaves the actual value created by manufacture at $1,168,868,466, an increase of $153,003,944 over 1923. In 1925, however, those who actually produced the motor vehicles received only $379,284,935, a decrease of $27,445,343 from 1923. While employer receipts increased 15 per cent. in 2 years, labour’s receipts for operating the industry decreased nearly 7 per cent.” (“American Appeal,” 5/6/1926.)

The above figures show clearly the object and result of the Ford method—more profit for the employers and less return to the workers for the energy they use up.

Mr. Garvin concludes his article with the statement that:—

“Karl Marx, the mid-Victorian Calvin of economics, is as dead as a dodo. That practical, original, Henry Ford—as the epoch-making symbol of high wages and profit-sharing—is the real spirit of the morning.”

In the land in which Henry Ford is a financial king the Federal Trade Commission reports that:—

“One per cent. of the population of the United States owns 59 per cent. of the wealth.
“Thirteen per cent. of the population own 90 per cent. of the wealth.
“Eighty-seven per cent. of the population own 10 per cent. of the wealth.” (“Labour,” June 5th, 1926.)

So much for the land of high wages and profit sharing !

Finally the following quotation may help to dispel any delusion as to who benefits by the prosperity of Ford industries :—

“Last year’s profits of the Ford Motor Company, which started business in 1903 with a capital of $28,000, amounted to $145,000,000, approximately $23,000,000, according to reports filed by the company yesterday.
“Only three persons, Mr. Ford, his wife, and his son, own the stock of the company. On the basis of the published figures it is estimated that every vehicle manufactured by the Ford works brings in a profit of 44.90 dollars (£9), to the shareholders.” (“Daily News,” 9th May, 1926.)

If Marx is “antiquated,” and “is dead as the dodo,” why all the excitement? We have been reading for years that he was “dead,” but he seems to be a pretty lively corpse, and a pretty awkward one.

The facts are he ruthlessly exposed the groundwork of capitalism, and correctly foreshadowed the general methods of its future development. The main propositions he laid down are as true, but more obvious, to-day, as when he wrote. The worker is poor because he is robbed of the product of his mental and manual labours. He is kept in a subject condition by a class that lives like a leech on his back. The means of subjection are the public coercive powers that are centred in Parliament. By preaching “brotherly love” between capitalist and workman the emissaries of the masters seek to disarm the worker’s growing suspicions and induce him to send to Parliament representatives whose object is either to conserve the power of capital or to mislead and make futile any real attempts of the workers to remove wage-slavery.

When Mr. Garvin and Mr. Ford are as dead as a dodo the people of future generations will be celebrating the memory of one of the greatest thinkers of all times— Karl Marx.


(Socialist Standard, August 1926)

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