Friday, January 31, 2003

From "Sloan Rules", David Farber's delightful little book on Alfred Sloan's career at General Motors, comes this little proof that Lenin was right about the capitalists and the rope.

At the beginning of the Great Depression, Sloan was trying quite hard to push a scheme to sell used cars to the Soviet Union, with financing from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a new government agency. This posed certain difficulties, as the Bolshevik government was one that the United States didn't even recognize at the time. But Sloan had an in, as he explained to President Hoover's Secretary of Commerce:

In view of the fact, however, that I have a very close friend, Colonel Hugh L. Cooper, who I believe is closer to the "powers that be" in Russia than any other individual and who recently left for four months' stay in Russia, I took the liberty of asking if he would discuss the matter with Mr. Stalin, whom he stays several days with each time he visits Russia, just to see if there was any possibility of it --- all other things being possible.

The response came back cautiously in the affirmative:

Cooper assured Sloan that Stalin would take a reasonable approach to business matters if they were in the Soviet interest. Stalin, Cooper also believed, was remarkably intelligent and "kindly minded", if a bit too "firm and confident that their economic plans are correct".

But the plan fizzled --- for lack of support from the American government, not from the capitalists.

Sloan would take business wherever he found it. In 1941, he was asked to cut ties with pro-Nazi car dealers in South America. He refused, and angrily mused, in a letter to Walter Carpenter of DuPont, that

I told those who have been dealing with me on this matter, that I thought rather than pick on these things which are more or less inconsequential in relation to the total in South America, that somebody might get busy putting in jail, or exporting, some of the Communists who are causing the many labor troubles in this country.

Evidently, he found home grown Communists less to his taste than the genocidal Mr. Stalin. But maybe Communists just look better from a distance...


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