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Yanks for Stalin
Interview Transcript

Stephen Kotkin    (cont)

Q. You might talk about Ford in that model.  I think they probably were involved in finally getting Henry Ford.  I guess originally they could not convince him to actually invest and build a factory in Russia, so, you might tell the Henry Ford story and how that factory was built.

A. Henry Ford is a god to the Soviets, because he is something that they want to be, an authoritative authoritarian advanced Capitalist with modern technology who knows how factories work, especially factories with heavy industry which produce strategic goods.  The Soviets both make fun of Henry Ford as the quienisential Capitalist and they envy him for something he has that they want very badly.  Ford, himself , has very little sympathy for the Communist cause, although I think he does recognize the Authoritarism as potentially useful.  What the Soviets are able to do is to convince Ford that since he can't build anything at home in the United States, there are opportunities for him in the Soviet Union.  The primary goal, originally, is for automobiles, vehicles.  This, then, moves into tanks and the possibility of using the automobile factories to produce tanks and other military equipment.  Ford is not necessarily interested in building up the Soviet military, but he is interested in selling his technology and his factories and he enjoys the platform and the notoriety that comes from being a major player between the two countries.  The word 'Fordism' becomes a slogan inside the Soviet Union and in a way, it defines the whole epic. 'Fordism' means, large factories producing , perhaps, low quality, but big quantities of goods which can be used to further industrialize.  So, the goods become inputs for other industrial goods as well as finished products in some cases. So everything that we recognize as part of modern life, not only automobiles, but refrigerators, street lamps, staircases made out of steel, large buildings made out of glass and steel, all of these indispensable material basis for modern life is what Ford represents to the Soviet Union. Moreover, he represents it in a factory setting whereby there is a hierarchy and control over the work force and costs can be controlled as well perhaps, but, certainly output can be expanded and the more output the better of these goods.  So, Ford takes like wildfire to the Soviet Union and it is mutual.  He himself sees the Soviet Union as a place he can bring his own philosophy and he thinks they accept this philosophy, whereas, they are using him for their own purpose.  Looking back on the epic, Ford remains in the Soviet mind later on after the war and even today in post-Soviet Russia mind as the symbol of the era because of his assembly lines, because of his factories, because of his heiarchy and because of his modern industrialism, which is across countries and has little to do, in many ways with the political system, whether Democratic or Authoritarian.

Q. Talk about, we see them unloading Ford tractors before they built the factory, the plants, you might talk about, I guess he was exporting tractors there, or automobiles, probably not, you might talk about that.

A. The Soviets would try to identify the technology which they thought they acquired by sending people abroad to look at it, by leafing through magazines of the period.  The more famous it was, the more likely it was the Soviets would discover.  At first, they would try to purchase it, then they would try to acquire it some other way, the capability of producing it on their own. Ford was a famous, international personage. Anything associated with Ford caught the Soviet eye.  They were very happy to buy his tractors. They were even happier to acquire the capability of producing his tractors, especially since those assembly lines could be converted to make takes with a little bit of extra technology.  As with Ford, so were the other Capitalist firms.  Perhaps you buy their product, then you try to interest them in selling the capability to produce their product and as we said earlier, this was attractive to the Capitalists because no one else at the time , during the Great Depression, was very much interested in their product.

Q. They tried to get him to invest money originally and he would not do it.  You might talk about that nuance to the story for us.

A. The Soviets were very confused about what type of model was appropriate in their collaboration with the Capitalists.  They did not have private property, they perhaps could.   The Soviets were not sure how to attract the Capitalists.  The Soviet Union was non-Capitalists, meaning it did not allow private property.  So, on what terms were the Capitalists to be invited in?  There was a model of concession, whereby, you would sell, release, for a certain amount of time, the rights to operate whatever it was was built , but, ownership would remain in Soviet control. How much concession? 51%? 75%?25%? Moreover, what if the Capitalist decided that concession was not enough?  They wanted ownership, meaning a long term stake and control.  The negotiations are rather comical.  The Soviets are not sure what it is they want ,on what terms they are going to be able to attract the Capitalists and the Capitalists themselves, including Henry Ford, have certain goals that they are pursueing.  In the end there are tremendous shifts, difference of opinion, contracts that are proposed and then are taken away, these terms are no good, those terms are no good, but the bottom line is the Soviets refuse to grant ownership to the Capitalists.  They retain ownership, therefore they want to purchase only the technology and the know how for installation.

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