“Fordism” has been used in different disciplines – politics in the first place, but also economic and social sciences – as the key concept to understand labor organisation and industrial relations at the core of the “Age of Extremes” in Europe, the USA, Japan, and also the Soviet Union. Furthermore, it has been instrumental to describe its decline in the 1980s and 1990s: the “End of Fordism” is an often-misused tagline, employed not only by social scientists to understand the decline of workers’ power and rights but also by politicians to foster such transformations. The very fact that the era we live in is often called a “post-fordist” one, deriving from the French regulation school, means that we still depend on such a category and, at the same time, that we haven’t developed yet a clear idea of our present.
If understanding the deep structures of the global crisis requires rethinking the conceptual machinery we use to look back at the XXth Century as we are driven in the XXIst, “Fordism” must be thoroughly analyzed from different perspectives: economic, social and intellectual history. We are bound to compare the organization put into practice by Henry Ford in his Highland Park and River Rouge factories between 1913 and the 1940s with highlights of its adaptations made by European capitalists and Soviet planners and, last but not least, with conceptions of the Fordist phenomena developed by thinkers such as Antonio Gramsci, Georges Friedmann, Alain Touraine, Friedrich Pollock, David Harvey. The activity of the State, the shaping of the markets, the position of the labor movement will appear very different, depending on social and political contexts.
Such an outline will show us a plurality of Fordisms at work, and therefore will cast a new light on both industrialization processes and de-industrialization.
Bruno Settis, PhD Scuola Normale Superiore