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Exporting the American ModelThe Post-War Transformation of European Business$

Marie-Laure Djelic

Print publication date: 1998

Print ISBN-13: 9780198293170

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198293170.001.0001

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(p.222) (p.223) Part IV Cross-National Transfer: National Limits

(p.222) (p.223) Part IV Cross-National Transfer: National Limits

Exporting the American Model
Oxford University Press

After the Second World War, several types of transfer mechanisms rapidly became operative in Western Europe, and particularly in France and in West Germany. A network of individuals in positions of institutional power and working in close synergy across national borders was responsible for setting up and operating those mechanisms. This took place, for France and for West Germany, in the context of national geopolitical dependence. It was made possible by the significant infrastructural power of state institutions in both countries over the national economy and industry. The large-scale structural transfer process, however, launched and monitored by the small cross-national modernizing network, was not a laboratory experiment. It took place within preexisting institutional environments and necessarily disturbed the social balance in each country. This process was bound to challenge vested interests and to run into more or less significant resistance and organized opposition in each national context. As it turned out, resistance stemmed mostly from within civil societies and more precisely from those very communities directly concerned by changes to come: the business and labor communities. Business leaders had trouble accepting the radical questioning of their traditional ways of organizing and doing business which the modernization project implied. Those parts of Western European labor communities under communist influence reacted violently against the projected transfer and mostly on political grounds. Non-communist labor groups, finally, feared that voluntary cooperation and participation on their part might in return be used to manipulate and exploit them.

While resistance and opposition stemming from those communities could undeniably create obstacles to the cross-national transfer process, the capacity of these various groups to mobilize and organize on the ground differed for each country and through time. This capacity naturally depended on whether or not these groups had an institutional reality but also on the fit that existed between the resources they were able to muster and their concrete goals and strategies. The capacity to rally and mobilize was also contingent upon the homogeneity of those groups and upon a relative identity of views and interests between their members. Those three elements defining the capacity of opposition groups to mobilize and organize resistance on the ground are brought together in summary form in Table 18.

The organization of resistance can be difficult in situations where opposition (p.224) groups do not have any institutional or structured representation—whether official or non-official. Indeed, institutional or structured representation helps bring about group consciousness. It also establishes patterns of resource mobilization and communication and significantly increases the likelihood of collective action. In addition, representative organizations will be effective only if there is a degree of ‘fit’ between their structures, strategies, and resources and the social, political, and institutional framework of the particular context in which they are trying to have an impact (Skocpol, 1992). Finally, diverging views and interests between members of a group tend to limit its capacity to mobilize and act, irrespective of other conditions.

Table 18. Capacity of opposition groups to mobilize and organize

Institutional Representation

Relevance of resources

Community of interests

In the period that followed immediately the end of the Second World War, business communities did not have the means to mobilize effectively against the structural transfer process, in both the western territories of Germany and also France. They were neither allowed nor able, for reasons to be specified later, to have institutional and structured representation. This directly translated into a lack of resources and significantly impaired their capacity to organize systematic resistance. After a while, however, those communities would come to regain power and influence. Once they were allowed to organize and have institutional representation, they managed to reassert control, collectively, over a number of resources. The fees of participating members in newly restored business associations were naturally essential. The control of press outlets with wide readership or privileged relationships with political actors, possibly nurtured through donations for campaign funds, were also important. Making use of these resources, French and West German business communities did initiate and monitor, as early as they could, organized and systematic resistance against those features of the transferred model they were reluctant to accept. In West Germany, business communities were particularly opposed to the break-up of cartels, to a redefinition of the competitive environment, and to the transfer to the West German industrial scene of American antitrust tradition. In France, business communities reacted first and foremost on issues of size and ownership structures. In both countries, the strategies of business communities were essentially a combination of large-scale and violent communication or propaganda campaigns with political lobbying.

With respect to labor communities, on the other hand, the situation was quite different in each of the two countries. In France, communist influence was significant in the working class through the dominant trade union, the Confederation Générale du Travail (CGT). A strong presence at the grass-roots level combined with rigid centralization to explain how the French communist (p.225) trade union could very rapidly mobilize a large share of the working class. The CGT could also count on those resources controlled by the Communist Party: funds, press outlets, or other propaganda tools. Making use of these institutional strengths and resources, French communist labor did monitor violent movements bordering on the insurrection to resist, starting in 1947, the projected large-scale transfer. Together with the Communist Party, it also launched and fueled violent propaganda campaigns.

At the same time in West Germany, labor communities mostly belonged to a christian and social democratic tradition and communist influence was all but non-existent. In the postwar period, West German labor hesitated between an alliance with national business communities against the projected transfer of antitrust tradition and voluntary cooperation, under certain conditions, to the politics of productivity and to the more technical and technological side of the modernization project.

In Italy, business and labor communities shared many common features with their French and West German counterparts. However, the resistance, and opposition stemming from those communities was a lot less significant. In reality, there was not much for members of the business and labor communities to oppose in Italy. The modernization project of the American foreign aid administration had not been relayed in that country within the national administrative and political élite. Under such conditions, systematic resistance and opposition was neither justified nor necessary. Under Soviet pressure, the Italian Communist Party and communist trade union did prompt and monitor a series of violent strikes to denounce Italian participation in the Marshall scheme. Labor protest, however, rapidly died down. As it turned out, the labor and business communities would frequently be objective allies of the Italian administrative and political élite in its resistance to the American sponsored transfer project.

These three empirical cases in effect clearly reveal that the characteristic features of opposition groups can define in part the nature of the obstacles that might emerge to the cross-national transfer process in a particular national context. At the same time, however, it seems that the impact of a group might be relatively limited despite a capacity to mobilize and to organize resistance. Both in France and in West Germany, for example, powerful opposition groups were not able to call the cross-national transfer process to halt, although this clearly was their ultimate objective. They managed at best to impose a partial adaptation and redefinition of the original model. Such limited impact can be explained in the following way. First of all, the national élite supporting the modernization project was small but institutionally powerful both in France and in West Germany. Throughout the postwar years, the modernizing groups in both countries were relatively shielded from civil society pressure. Their partial autonomy was strongly reinforced, furthermore, by the control they exercised over a set of powerful institutional tools allowing them to have influence on national economies and industries. Building on these two empirical (p.226) cases, we can therefore identify those conditions which seem necessary for an opposition group to have any real and significant impact in a particular social context, beyond its capacity to mobilize. These conditions are presented in summary form in Table 19.

Table 19. Conditions for an impact of opposition groups

Group with capacity to mobilize and organize

Porosity of state institutions

Limited infrastructural power of state

The very nature of an institutional and political system can make it more or less subject to the influence of various civil society actors. The values and objectives of politicians and state administrators might come to reflect, to a greater or lesser extent, the values and objectives of particular interest groups, depending precisely on the nature of the system. The ‘porosity’ of state institutions will make it possible for certain interest groups to increase their power significantly while drastically reducing the autonomy of political and administrative actors. On the contrary, insulated state institutions will create a sphere of autonomy for political or administrative actors thanks to which they might be able to get things done in spite of strong opposition from civil society. This capacity to get things done will naturally increase with the infrastructural power of state institutions (Mann, 1986). Leverage in the national economy may be gained through a control of credit sources or even through the direct involvement of the state on the economic and industrial scene as investor, buyer, supplier, or producer. On the other hand, those state institutions with limited infrastructural power may clearly find it difficult to impose their policies on the ground in the face of a strong and organized opposition movement.