[OPE-L] Mandel's dialectics

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Thu Mar 29 2007 - 01:39:17 EDT

My sincere apologies Rakesh. I don't know what happened there, one bit from
one mail seems to have slipped into another, it wasn't meant for you. I have
been ill and haven't got around to scanning the harddrive again to figure
out the problems I am having.

However the first bit WAS meant for you. Namely, in his depiction of long
waves of capitalist development, Mandel suggests that "class struggles" are
an EXOGENOUS factor, in contrast to the ENDOGENOUS forces (laws of motion)
which cause a boom to turn into its dialectical opposite.

Point 1: Mandel mixes up the concept of "class conflict" with "class
struggle". A class conflict can exist more or less permanently as a field of
tension between social classes, but it does not automatically mean a class

Point 2: I think that class conflicts and class struggles are ENDOGENOUS to
capitalist development, they help shape it, and I think Marx thought so too.
Workers' resistance to oppressive conditions and terms of work, or protests
with regard to laws and politics, whatever form they take, are simply part
and parcel of everyday life in capitalism, the only thing that changes, is
their scale and intensity. Sometimes they assert themselves in a fairly mute
and oblique way, at other times with furious intensity and on a massified

Now this is important, because if you don't really understand what you are
talking about regarding class conflicts and class struggles, then you cannot
solve the problem of what Mandel liked to call "the subjective factor"
either. What I am suggesting is that, by seeking to be super-objective in
these things, he is in fact severing the relationship between object and
subject. Once that happens, no amount of talk about "dialectics" of
objective and subjective factors can solve the problem of understanding
subjectivities. So essentially I think Mandel reifies the idea of class
struggle in his theory. Behind the "economic categories" I think are human
relations, and if we fetishize economic relations we lose touch with what
that specifically means for human beings. Marx isn't talking about the rate
and mass of surplus value simply as a satire on political economy, he is
talking about numbers which directly impact on the lives of working people,
make no mistake about that.

At the risk of caricature, Mandel has a picture of the "economic engine"
motoring along according to its laws of motion and then breaking down at
some point, and then you get growing tensions between social classes and
explosions of class struggle. But there is no "economic engine" and those
tensions exist all the time.

Mandel was a gifted writer and he wrote an awful lot, getting better at it
over time. But that doesn't mean he's necessarily correct. I think on many
crucial topics he got it wrong. He could for instance perfectly well explain
the Leninist theory of party-building in fine detail, but he couldn't build
a mass party. And that is because his concepts and methods were wrong, all
the rest is apologia.


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