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Susan Green

Henry Ford versus Karl Marx

(9 August 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 32, 9 August 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Under the above controversial heading the Bank of New York, a Wall Street house, ran a memorial “ad” on the financial pages of the press, the occasion being the death of Edsel Ford.

The “ad” itself consists of a quotation from an editorial in the anti-labor New York World-Telegram. This editorial asserts, of course, that Marx, the socialist, was wrong and Ford, the capitalist, is right, Needless to say, the editor arrives at this conclusion by misrepresenting Marx and by heavily sugar-coating Ford.

How would a jury of workers decide the case of Ford vs. Marx?

Edsel’s Will on the Stand

A very material bit of evidence in this case is none other than the will of Edsel Ford, late of the Ford Motor Co. THE ATTORNEYS FOR SAID DECEASED ESTIMATE THE ESTATE AT APPROXIMATELY $200,000,000 – a pretty penny, indeed!

Interesting it is to note that Edsel – whose fortune the editorial assures us was acquired because the principle of “security of opportunity” flourishes for all – saw his opportunity to by-pass the government on inheritance taxes and left the bulk of this money to the Ford Foundation, “an inheritance tax-exempt organization.”

This immediately arouses the justified suspicion that Edsel had during his life accumulated another fortune directly in the names of his wife and children – for surely he would not leave his loved ones penniless and unprovided for. THEREFORE, NOBODY KNOWS WHAT EDSEL’S WEALTH REALLY AMOUNTS TO. However, one can surmise.

Next appear in evidence some facts about workers’ wages. The most rosy estimate of the average wartime wage of labor cannot exceed $40 a week, or around $2,000 a year. This gives the bosses every benefit of every doubt – and practically disregards the 16,000,000 workers who get around $16 a week. And remember these are wartime wages.

Information on the possibilities of abundance for the whole population must also be brought into this case. Here it is: After World War I many economists believed that on the basis of the means of production and labor productivity then prevailing, IT WAS POSSIBLE FOR EVERY FAMILY IN THE COUNTRY TO LIVE ON THE SOCIAL LEVEL OF A HOUSE AND A $5,000-A-YEAR INCOME. That was a quarter of a century ago.

In the last twenty-five years the technological improvements and the increase in labor’s productivity have been almost phenomenal. So that today the latent, potentialities for a good life for the whole population are tremendous, going far beyond the possibilities of twenty-five years ago.

The Essence of the Case

Therefore, if the case of Ford vs. Marx is to be stated in its essence, it is this: Will you, workers on the jury, decide in favor of a system that permits the Fords to amass fabulous fortunes while depriving the majority of our 130,000,000 people of the good life, making them constantly battle against the wolf of want ($40 a week for a worker and his family is no bed of roses)?

In this case of Ford vs. Marx, the Bank of New York, the New York World-Telegram and the Fords mean by their pretty phrase “security of opportunity” the right of the few to filch peacetime and wartime profits at the expense of the many. Whereas Marx and the revolutionary socialists who follow him fight for the welfare of the many against the gluttony of the few.

To this formulation of the case the Ford supporters come back with the stock-in-trade argument that the capitalists further progress. The quoted editorial from the New York World-Telegram asserts that “the pioneering in the mass production of motor vehicles has created opportunities for millions in the stimulation of the oil industry, the development of a nation-wide highway system, the rebuilding of communities.”

The Socialist Is Not Floored

This argument does not floor the socialist – he doesn’t consider it an argument. Ford drew on the inventive genius of all mankind and utilized the brain and brawn of mental and manual workers – TO EXPLOIT THEM. A socialist government – with the workers instead of the capitalists in control of industry – can use the same assets and get better results because economy is planned on a national non-profit-seeking basis. Furthermore, a socialist government will employ the resources of the nation for no other purpose than to provide for the people the very highest standard of living – a standard upon which there will be no “freezes” – no “lines” – no “ceilings.”

The memory of the working class is not as short as the Fords would like it to be. Workers remember that along with his boasted $5.00-a-day wage. Ford maintained one of the worst sweat shops in the country, one of the most brutally efficient labor spy systems, one of the most gangster-like anti-union set-ups.

It is many, many decades since there has been any justification at all for the capitalist class. The capitalist class now hampers progress, in its quest for profits. And nothing has made this fact more clear than the war. For the government, to fight a war to establish the supremacy of the American capitalist system as a whole, has had to reveal and somewhat curtail the individual monopolists sitting on the lid of progress.

Thus, workers on the jury, the case of Karl Marx is further strengthened by the well known fact that the formula for synthetic rubber was tucked away in a safe, of no use to the world, because of the profit schemes of the international oil cartel – that the shipbuilders, for their own profit, install outdated engines instead of the newest and best – that the railroad monopoly in its own interest holds up the development of air, motor and water transport and the laying of pipelines. THESE, ARE ONLY A FEW INSTANCES OF HOW CAPITALISM NOW RETARDS PROGRESS.

Bosses, War and Fascism

Furthermore, would you call this war progress? What’s the use of developing highways and, rebuilding communities that are subject to instant destruction by bombing? The responsibility for the war must be laid at the door of world capitalism, of which the Bank of New York, the Fords, and their lackeys, the Peglers and the press, are a part. ON THE OTHER.HAND, ALMOST A CENTURY AGO KARL MARX CALLED ON THE WORKERS OF THE WORLD TO UNITE IN INTERNATIONAL SOCIALISM TO MAKE IMPOSSIBLE SUCH A CATASTROPHE.

Finally, workers on the jury, let me remind you that in every country capitalism has arrived at the critical stage where it turns to the use of fascist methods to maintain itself over the seething, discontented masses. Thus Henry Ford is known to subsidize and support anti-Semitic and fascistic elements in this country. In the interest of “national unity,” all this is hushed up – but by no means ended.

In the final analysis, the case of Henry Ford vs. Karl Marx resolves itself into the case of FASCISM vs. SOCIALISM, THAT IS, FASCISM vs. REAL FREEDOM AND SECURITY.

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