Is the ‘industrialization of the Third World’ the spectre which now haunts old Europe? Certainly in the apologetic discourse of governments, as well as in the obsessional thinking of trade-union leaders, the resulting ‘unfair competition’ is at the root of the jobs crisis in the old industries. But there is also a quite different point of view. For the dynamic managers of multinational or export-oriented corporations, for philanthropic economists and various Third World leaders, the industrial development of the periphery brings a more equal balance to North–South relations, both offering a way out of the crisis and heralding the end of unequal development. Beyond such unwarranted outbursts of praise or indignation, we must adopt a critical approach to the concept of Third World industrialization through a new international division of labour. It cannot even be accepted, for example, that ‘the Third World’ or ‘the periphery’ actually designates a unitary reality. For while national per capita income varies from 1 to 3 in the oecd ‘centre’, the corresponding spread is 1 to 27 in the rest of the world outside the eastern bloc. Moreover, the crisis in
Still, in three ‘glorious’ post-war decades, a crucial change was introduced by the system of capitalist accumulation that various French economists, following Gramsci, have baptized ‘Fordism’. A ‘centre’, displaying a cohesive internal logic at the level of blocs (North America, the eec) if not individual countries, came to stand against a ‘periphery’ which, whatever the internal dynamic of its component parts, was ever more disconnected from this ‘autocentred’ logic. The onset of crisis, however, affected the centre much more sharply than the periphery as a whole: whereas the annual growth-rate by volume of oecd industrial production fell from 6.4 per cent before 1967 to 4.6 per cent and then to 1.6 per cent between 1973 and 1978, the rate in the ‘developing countries’ rose, without a break in 1973, from 5 per cent to an average of 7.1 per cent since 1967.footnote1
Can we, then, really speak of a ‘world-wide extension of Fordism’? Is it true that, although the rise of Fordism in at least some parts of the Third World stimulated the present capitalist crisis, it is now an element in the solution to that crisis? Which countries would gain, and which would lose, from such a development? In this article, we shall try to answer these questions by building upon the existing analysis of Fordism.
Fordism is intrinsically bound up with the socio-economic formations of the old industrial heartlands, where the problem was to adjust the long-stabilized relation between capital and wage-labour.footnote2 This should never be forgotten when we speak of the extension of Fordism to countries where the problem is the creation or establishment of the wage-relation.
The concept of Fordism denotes two relatively distinct, though historically and theoretically interlinked, phenomena. First, it refers to a mode of capital accumulation: one based upon radical and constant change in the labour process, such that the workers’ ‘know-how’ is incorporated in the form of machinery. This ‘system of intensive accumulation’, combining a rise in apparent labour productivity with an increase in the per capita volume of fixed capital (the ‘technical composition of capital’), presupposes that the body movements of the old craft-worker have been systematized through the methods of Scientific Work Organization. This