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Walter Jason

Books in Review

Folklore of Fordism

(August 1948)


From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 6, August 1948 pp. 191–192.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).



The Legend of Henry Ford
by Keith Sward
Rinehart & Company, N.Y 1948, 550 pp., $5.00.

An excellent, authoritative and devastating exposé of the legend of Henry Ford, billionaire auto manufacturer, has been written by Keith Sward, college professor, clinical psychologist and CIO journalist. It is the kind of work that one adds to a library collection alongside Ferdinand Lundberg’s America’s Sixty Families and other comprehensive studies dissecting American capitalism and its capitalists. Sward has put together a truly fascinating study of Ford. What was the real story of Ford’s anti-Semitism? Sward presents it so fully, with so many authoritative quotations, facts and evidence, that we doubt if the Ford Motor Company will venture an answer. How many people have forgotten that for years one of America’s wealthiest and most influential capitalists poured out thousands of dollars and utilized the power of his great industrial empire to agitate for Jew-baiting? Sward’s book is a good refresher course. It helps explain the deep roots that anti-Semitism has acquired in Detroit, for example.

Was Henry Ford an industrial genius? Yes and no. Sward presents the real story of the growth of the Ford Company, the part played by many brilliant engineers and the limitations of the mechanic from the backwoods of Michigan.

Although it is difficult to single out any single “robber baron” as a villain par excellence, Ford certainly is a contender for top honors. How he acquired the Lincoln Motor Corporation, for example, compares with anything any other robber baron pulled in the lusty days of capitalism. Sward has the facts.

Has the reader heard of the sinister organization known as, the Ford Service Department, directed by Harry Bennett? Of the tie-up between. Detroit’s tough gangsters of the ’20s and the auto industry? Of the brutal violence against any signs of revolt in the Ford empire? Of the murderous campaign against UAW-CIO attempts to organize in the late ’30s? Well, it is all told in exact detail by Sward. What an indictment of a “great capitalist” and his beloved system!

Surely this foretaste of the book should attract some reader attention. Here is a book that every UAW-CIO militant should read and understand. For Marxist scholars it is an invaluable contribution to a clinical analysis of American capitalism. This book destroys the myth of the five-dollar-a-day wage and the paternalism of Ford; it portrays the life of the auto workers in harsh terms of reality such as only Upton Sinclair achieved in his pamphlet: The Flivver King.

Perhaps the only serious weakness of the book is its failure to explain the reason why the myth of Henry Ford grew and developed into a powerful tradition in the era of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover, and the shameless role that the bourgeois press (including the New York Times) played in perpetuating the legend. The America of the 1920s, challenged by a revolutionary Russia transformed into a workers’ state by the October Revolution, needed myths of its rich to deceive the American working-man. “Every man a president or a Ford! Anybody can get rich in America.” This folklore had its purpose. If Ford didn’t exist, he would have had to be created.

Nevertheless, this and other lacks aside, Sward has contributed greatly to a genuine need in the field of social study. Fortunately also, his personal politics, which smack of Stalinism in the discussion of World War II, are at an absolute minimum and do not detract from the worth of this outstanding work. Finally: Detroit’s newspapers have not yet seen fit to review the book – a good recommendation in itself!


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