[OPE-L:1443] Re: Re: Mandel, Mattick, etc.

Jurriaan Bendien (djjb99@worldonline.nl)
Thu, 07 Oct 1999 22:42:08 +0100

Jerry wrote:

 It might be
>interesting to ask how Grossmann's methodological perspectives and
>interpretations affected the works of Mattick, Mandel, and Rosdolsky.

I can comment only provisionally on Mandel, of whom I am preparing a
complete bibliography (currently estimated at around 1700 original
writings, but in the finish probably more like 2500 original writings).
Mandel was appreciative in a non-sectarian way but at the same time highly
critical throughout his life of Grossman and Mattick, particularly in
regard to crisis theory (see the first chapter of Late Capitalism). He
learnt more from Rosdolsky to whom Late Capitalism is dedicated.

Mattick disliked Mandel inter alia because Mandel often tried to integrate
insights from non-Marxist economists such as Schumpeter into Marxism, and
for Mattick this meant a "bourgeoisification" of Marxism. The question
however is raised whether Marx himself was not also a bourgeois, who
critically assimilated bourgeois economists such as Smith and Ricardo, and
why Marx should be the only one allowed to do that for the working class.
When commenting on Mandel, Mattick Jr and Mattick Sr usually distort what
Mandel really has to say, and sometimes the distortion is extreme (e.g. in
the dictionary on neo-Marxism). Underlying this is the basic political
debate between council communism and Trotskyism.

A big difference between Mandel and most other Marxists qua method is that
for Mandel, although the evolution of the rate of profit is central to the
explanation of capitalist development, the evolution of this rate is more
what needs explaining itself, rather than the factor which does all the
explaining. Consequently Mandel's book Late Capitalism is structured more
around basic variables which can affect the rate and mass of profit. By
taking this approach, Mandel believed that it was possible to integrate
economic theory with economic history better. His specific long-wave theory
is a further development of this theme.

In the area of dialectics, Mandel did not really follow Marx so much, but
Trotsky. This meant essentially applying the theory of combined and uneven
development and rejecting "single factor" theories of capitalist
development, history, and crisis. His opponents therefore claim he is
"eclectic". To this criticism Mandel wrote several lenghty replies, and
towards the end of his life he developed a theory of parametric
determinism. For a long time Mandel really rejected dialectics in the
sense of basic ontological principles, but later on he became more
appreciative again of dialectical ontology.

As regards methodology, roughly speaking Mandel claims that Marx's
dialectical method consists of six "moments", namely 1. assimilating the
facts, 2. analysing the facts in their constituent abstract elements, 3.
exploring the connections between these elements, 4. pinpointing the
intermediate links between essence and appearance (movement from abstract
to concrete), 5. practical verification of the analysis in real historical
development, 6. discovering new data and connections through applying the
results of knowledge gained. Mandel puts this more eloquently than I have
done (see Late Capitalism, p16f). But otherwise he did not make a big point
of talking about methodology, because he felt that people who discuss a lot
about "how to" methodology rarely end up doing real and substantive

Mandel's economic writings are a mixed bag. Some are brilliant, profound
and creative, others have to be judged shallow, wrongheaded and largely
speculative. As an economist Mandel engaged in a lot of speculative
thinking I would say, which is highly suggestive but often must be
corrected or rejected. He simply did not have very much time for
comprehensive and systematic economic research that meets the best
scholarly standard (compare for instance the work of Fransisco Louca).
Mandel lacked a profound understanding of mathematical relationships. Often
he only suggested a way of thinking about economic problems, an approach,
rather than doing substantive analysis himself.

Personally I think his best economics book is his first, Marxist Economic
Theory. (finished 1960 when he was 37), although Mandel himself later said
it was "far too descriptive" and not theoretical enough. I personally
believe that book was superior to Sweezy's comparable work The Theory of
Capitalist Development. Isaac Deutscher said the approach of Marxist
Economic Theory was "Cartesian", and there is an element of truth in that.
Mandel's philosophical interest later in life lay more with Spinoza, whom
he studied in considerable detail, as well as Leibniz.

Tariq Ali considered Mandel lacked a sufficient understanding of sexuality
and of sexual needs, which distorted his theorising. Probably Mandel had
little understanding of American sexuality. But I personally estimate that
Mandel did have a quite sufficient understanding of sexuality, although he
did not theorise it, and that if his theorising was distorted, this was due
more to other factors such as political commitments, and trying to do more
than he really could do well.

For some further comment on Mandel, see the book by Gilbert Achcar (ed),
The Legacy of Ernest Mandel (Verso, 1999). The contributors have mostly
only studied part of Mandel's writings, not all of them, however. I did not
write an article for this book apart from translating an article by Mandel
himself for it, called "Why I am a Marxist".

In solidarity


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