What is the role of the two world wars in the evolution of Fordism ?

I've read that Fordism entered Europe due to the WW I, but I've also read that the Fordism began to be effective after the WW II. Because in the 1920s and 1930s, there were too much inequalities and so Fordism led to surproduction. But this was not the case after the WW II.

Is it true ? Have you further information on the role of the world wars, even in the U.S. ? Is it the "militarization" of the society that permitted to give to Fordism a stature ? Thank you very much.

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    Some citations would be very helpful in decoding this. Those unacquainted with fordism, Marxism and the Regulation school are likely to be confused by the question. Who said that fordism entered Europe during WWI? WHo said it was effective after WWII? Why are those two assertions incompatible? How is inequality and surproduction measured? What is the relationship between militarization and fordism?
    – MCW
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 17:55
  • Sorry, this website may not be a place for me, who is a french math student following his first course of economic history. All that I say has been said by my teacher ; the two assertions are not incompatible, I just try to clarify the situation ; the relationship, I think, is that the fordist methods are quite straightforward and so a little military.
    – Arnaud
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 18:24
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    I think you should ask your teacher why he goes into such a little-heard-of theory as Fordism when covering economic theory instead of starting with the basics; if he is a good teacher, he'll be willing to explain and you'll be able to improve your question accordingly
    – Drux
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 21:11
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    @Arnaud is French, "Fordism" and "Regulation Theory" are French theories. I have no idea how well accepted they are outside France. I find French economics to be littered with assumptions that are alien and incomprehensible; they still seem to think that Marx has validity. I can't answer the question, but I think it is legitimate.
    – MCW
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 21:47
  • Arnaud could generally improve their questions by more fully specifying the economic and social-science theoretical categories and theories they're using. By citing sources for major concepts. They could also benefit from an understanding of the difference between history as a social-science and history as a humanity: most humanities histories do not attempt to test explicit theoretical hypotheses from "small theories" produced from models. The humanities way of doing history dominates the discipline. Commented May 22, 2013 at 23:30

1 Answer 1


Fordism is widely accepted outside France and isn't restricted to regulation theory. It pops up, independently in marxist industrial sociology (Johnson-Forest / Braverman) as the concrete results of research. It appears as a concrete research object, a theoretical category, and a transcended political and theoretical moment in Autonomism (Cleaver, Reading Capital, libcom).

One issue with Fordism is that one needs a stable definition if you're going to move forward. Considering Fordism as both

  • A method of social and technical relations of production within the factory, focused on Taylorism, deskilling, management imposition of machines and brutalisation to [attempt and fail] at taking the knowledge of control of actual production out of the hands of workers; and,
  • A method of ordering and distributing the products of widespread consumer production (ie: increasing sector IIb) as a way to stave off declining rates of profit, including, but not limited to, a widespread consumer economy, increased male full time worker (unionised) pay, increased male majority ethnicity permanency and work availability, an attempt at "full" employment, restriction of women from the work place, forced domesticity for women, the development of a "fuller" welfare state aimed at increasing the quality of labour (health and education mainly)

This is a relatively standard definition: Fordism is both a social and technical arrangement of production *AND* a channelling of social product to the working class in general by soaking up the reserve army of labour (unemployed) and increasing wage and non-wage returns to labour.

Fordism entered Europe due to the WW I

The following is an Autonomist answer:

Fordism entered advance industrial societies as a form of social and technical relations of production, largely as a reaction to radical syndicalism (US's IWW, UK's shop steward, France, Germany, Soviet Union) and workers' revolutions (Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Soviet Union). This happened slowly, sector by sector, as the increased productive potentials of firing a whole bunch of skilled tradesmen and replacing them with unskilled general labour operating machines that "embodied" the skill (Gramsci on this) indicated a higher level of profit.

However, if you're aware of the least Marx you'd know that an increase in the Organic Composition of Capital, the "machiney"-ness of production, causes over-production (your "surproduction" in English) and leads to a declining rate of profit and a momentary crisis such as, why, a great depression.

The working class remained undisciplined through until the end of WWII. Why after WWII did the working class become "disciplined" generally, and retreat to mere industrial militancy and occasional insurrections in the East?

Because after WWII Fordism's broader elements developed: a method of ordering and distributing the widespread consumer production.

What roles did WWI and WWII play in this? Directly, little. The Marshall plan was directed against working class self-activity, as was the imposition of Comecon. The introduction of Fordist production methods in the 1920s was directed against the skilled workers who lead syndicalist unions.

The broader point is: War empowers workers. Total wars impose elements of Fordism as a general economic relationship: forced labour quality standards (even if they fail) and full employment. Full employment is generally considered to empower workers, as it indicates capital is no longer able to use a reserve army of labour (the unemployed) against the employed. So WWI and WWII both strengthened and aggrieved labour movements.

And these strong and aggrieved labour movements had to be dealt with.

In the 1920s Capital turned to Fordism in the factory. In the 1950s Capital turned to Fordism in society.

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