Ernest Mandel

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zugzwang
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May 23 2019 22:54
Ernest Mandel

What are people's thoughts on Mandel? I see in his intro to capital (penguin edition) he regarded the soviet union as non-capitalist, and as far as ive read, rejected the notion of state capitalism having existed there. Should readers of capital be wary of Mandel?

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Khawaga
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May 23 2019 23:26

Yes and no. It sort of depends, he is spot on in some places, completely off the mark in others (such as treating the narrative of capital as historical rather than logical).

syndicalist
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May 24 2019 00:09

There were the only pieces by Mandel that I ever read.Actually, there was another piece that I read long ago, an Institute for Workers Control", where he was participant.

Not exactly very libertarian or syndicalist. But, then again, he was a trotskyist.

"Workers’ Control and Workers’ Councils"
https://www.marxists.org/archive/mandel/1973/xx/wcwc.html

"The Debate on Workers’ Control"
https://www.marxists.org/archive/mandel/1968/wcontrol/workontrol.htm

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LeninistGirl
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May 24 2019 05:44

There is also a 400 page anthology he put together about workers' councils and workers power called Arbetarkontroll, arbetarråd, arbetarstyre(or Workers control, workers councils, workers power) that spans texts from the Paris Commune to 1968 but I don't know if it has been translated to English. It includes pretty much everyone from the Austro-marxists, Kautsky, Luxemubrg, a lot of the Bolsheviks, Mao, Karl Korsch, and so on but also "lesser known" struggles in places like Indonesia.

I have translated bits of an included Spartacus Leauge speech before where they tell workers to not strike in the socialized industries and that workers who keep pushing for strikes are agents of the counter-revolution working against the building of a socialist economy.

Dave B
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May 24 2019 06:13

He was a liar and a fraud.

E. Germain
The Theory of “State Capitalism”
(June 1951)

14. …………. When Lenin and Trotsky were in power in Russia they never prevented, to our knowledge, the ultra-left communists from defending orally and in writing the theory of state capitalism. ………. ...

https://www.marxists.org/archive/mandel/1951/06/statecap.htm

Lenin and Trotsky were;

“defending orally and in writing the theory of state capitalism”

when they were in power and the “the ultra-left communists” were opposing the application or introduction of it!

Leon Trotsky 1922
The Position of the Republic
and the
Tasks of
Young
Workers

He regards this task as unconditional; this is explicable in part by an incomprehension of an expression frequently used by us, that we now have state capitalism. I shall not enter into an evaluation of this term; for in any case we need only to qualify what we understand by it.

By state capitalism we all understood property belonging to the state which itself was in the hands of the bourgeoisie, which exploited the working class. Our state undertakings operate along commercial lines based on the market. But who stands in power here? The working class.

Herein lies the principled distinction of our state ‘capitalism’ in inverted commas from state capitalism without inverted commas.

What does this mean in perspective? Just this. The more state capitalism say, in Hohenzollern Germany, as it was, developed, the more powerfully the class of junkers and capitalists of Germany could hold down the working class. The more our ‘state capitalism’ develops the richer the work ing class will become, that is the firmer will become the foundation of socialism.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1922/youth/youth.htm

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jura
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May 24 2019 07:51

He also completely distorts the idea of extra surplus-value. He explains it as if the more efficient capitals "siphoned off" surplus-value off of the less efficient ones.

zugzwang
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May 26 2019 23:27

Thanks for the comments. I thought parts like this from his intro to vol 2 seemed suspect and maybe tied in with him seeing the the soviet union as non-capitalist:

Mandel wrote:
From the outset, Marx makes it clear that capital, in the capitalist mode of production*, appears in three forms: money capital, productive capital and commodity capital.

*This specification is necessary. Although capital may appear and survive in post-capitalist societies (ones in transition from capitalism to socialism), it does so essentially outside the realm of production. In no case can it dominate the main sectors of production. This occurs only with the appearance of productive capital - the form proper to the capitalist mode of production.

I didn't realize 'post-capitalist societies' could have capital (post-capitalist to me would seem to imply there is no longer any capital or sum of money advanced to be expanded in value); I'm not sure I understand his explanation of it not being 'productive capital'.

Anyway I saw Mandel gets mentioned quite a bit in the book State Capitalism, so I might check that out at some point.

ajjohnstone
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May 27 2019 08:03

ALB's take down of Mandel and the "transitional society"

https://socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/2010/02/myth-of-transition...

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jura
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May 27 2019 14:06
zugzwang wrote:
I didn't realize 'post-capitalist societies' could have capital (post-capitalist to me would seem to imply there is no longer any capital or sum of money advanced to be expanded in value); I'm not sure I understand his explanation of it not being 'productive capital'.

It can only mean that Mandel views "post-capitalist societies" as compatible, in principle at least, with the existence of commercial or interest-bearing capital (i.e. capital outside the sphere of production).

zugzwang
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May 31 2019 05:12

Yeah so he didn't actually regard the Soviet Union as 'socialist' but as a 'post-capitalist' society in transition to 'socialism', which he also saw as distinct from 'communism' where people could satisfy their needs more freely and with less restrictions, which seems to just go along with Lenin's re-defining of the two terms, as in State and Revolution

Mandel wrote:
It is neither a capitalist nor a socialist society but a society of transition from capitalism to socialism combining features of the socialist future with those of the capitalist past and surroundings.

Mandel wrote:
We have seen that, according to Marx, there will be a modification of the mode of distribution after the establishment of a new mode of production based on collective ownership of the means of production. In his Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx distinguishes two successive modes of distribution: a) distribution according to amount of work done, through the means of labour ‘vouchers’ in the phase termed socialism; b) distribution according to need in the phase termed communism.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/mandel/1972/06/sovecon.htm

I guess what counts as 'post-capitalist' depends on how you define capitalism; his citing parts of Capital in the above essay to 'show' how the Soviet economy was non-capitalist is also pretty weak imo.

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May 31 2019 23:30

I did read the "Late Capitalism' from him, and that book has some good insights and bad takes as well. The good one's refers to his monetary view that was very interesting at moment when inflation had starts to getting out of control in the 70's altogether with the collapse of Breton Woods. Inflation for Mandel was a way to avoid a huge devaluation that could bring down the whole system by means of expanding credit to the weak capitals that were on the verge of bankruptcy. The inflation could temporally sustain an accumulation beyond the profitable level at expense of wages, and this dynamic would reach a limit when a ''creeping inflation' gives way to ''unstoppable inflation', what would fuel speculative attacks on domestic currency, forcing central banks to act and curb the credit expansion. His notion is very important in order to understand the specificities of post-war capitalism,and especially today with MMT's proposals that envision controls money to stabilize the accumulation process and achieving full employment within the capitalism.

The 'bad' side is his interpretation of crisis, which try mechanically put together all the ''causes'' set by different strands as under-consumption , overaccumulation, disproportionality between departments, and so on. He's generically stand that the crisis is a ''multi-causal' phenomenon but does not explain how these different factors interacts with each other to produce it. So the overall result is a confusing and unsound theory of crisis.

About his USSR's approach i don't know very much, but considering the soviet union as 'non-capitalist' isn't problematic by itself because actually that regime was mainly a transition from a semi-feudal society to a modern industrialized one, laying the foundations for the proletarization and then for capitalism. As i've said above, i do not know if that view was the same as Mandel's one.

slothjabber
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Jun 1 2019 13:13

What's a 'semi-feudal' society?

Russia was capitalist by 1913. Serfdom (the basis for feudal society) had been abolished by 1861 and industrial development had gone on apace especially since the 1880s. Russia was the 5th biggest economy in the world by 1913, it was no more 'semi-feudal' than Britain (which also had an emperor, and had been the world's greatest capitalist power) or Germany (also had an emperor, also like Russia never had a 'bourgeois revolution', was in 1913 vying for top spot as number 1 capitalist nation).

Difficult to see how Russia could have both been 'post-capitalist' and 'pre-capitalist' at the same time, especially as it's being denied it was ever really 'capitalist'.

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Jun 1 2019 22:58

By 'semi feudal' i mean a society that is largely composed by peasants that are aside from the accumulation circuit M-C-M', producing for own needs without great relevance attributed to money . More than 60% of the population was living in theses conditions, which was seen as main obstacle to ''development of the productive forces' by the party. The collectivization and forced industrialization executed in 30's were the means by which a large population of peasants was converted into proletarian.

The Robert Allen's book "Farm to Factory" has a lot of empirical work that shows very incipient industrialization and mostly a predominant subsistence production in the countryside in Russia prior to 1920's.

ajjohnstone
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Jun 1 2019 20:44

And was not the pre-1917 capitalist enterprises mostly foreign-financed state institutions, many of which being largely extractive industries, with French capital being the foremost to invest?

I'm sure there is a long detailed discussion on this matter somewhere on the forum

Perhaps proto-capitalist rather than semi-feudal, is a better description as only St Petersburg (and perhaps Moscow) had a majority being wage workers?

slothjabber
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Jun 2 2019 22:37

Does it matter if the owners are a French (or British, Swedish, German or any other) company rather than a Russian one?

It doesn't if you're discussing the creation of the working class. Workers work for their wages. It doesn't matter where the bosses are situated.

It might be important if what you're really concerned about is the creation of a native bourgeoisie, that might be able to develop liberal democracy.

ajjohnstone
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Jun 2 2019 23:17

It is as you say about the creation of a national capitalism

There are similarities to many in the developing world such as Africa where capitalism's role is to concentrated on exploiting its resources by the transnationals and the creation of manufacturing bases a very secondary and subsidiary objective. It seems that the only growing part of the Russian economy was the state-enterprises or its clients. Already on the path to state-capitalism.

The urban African population are certainly incorporated into the cash nexus relationships of capitalism as consumers but as producers, I think perhaps not as much as a working class in the traditional sense as factory workers. Mostly first generation from rural subsistence communities and from what I read, facing the same problems that British faced in the 18th and 19th C, and Russia in the latter 19th and early 20thC - having to be disciplined to factory hours and conditions.

My own experience is that many in the developing world rely on small family business model of buying cheap and selling dear for a livelihood, the Del Boy model of capitalism.

If the Russian capitalist class was so few and politically weak then the role of bringing about the bourgeois revolution had to be carried out by another section of Russian society - the intelligentsia, which was influenced by the ideology of western social democracy, with the objective goal of any nascent capitalist class, political supremacy over the land-owning aristocrats and industrialisation

slothjabber
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Jun 3 2019 12:41

You do know that the SPGB was formed as a rejection of that kind of Second International stagist nonsense, don't you?

If the SPGB formed in 1904 on the basis that capitalism's historic mission was complete and there was no need of further bourgeois revolutions... how come capitalism's historic mission had suddenly gone into reverse in 1917?

Or was the formation of the SPGB a mistake?

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Entdinglichung
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Jun 3 2019 13:42

his Delightful Murder: A Social History of the Crime Story is simply a brilliant little piece ... know a number of people who worked quite closely with him, according to their recollections, he was most of the time a very pleasant and humble guy whose personal weaknesses also found their way in the stuff he authored, many people said that he was generally too over-optimistic in regard to political developments (especially in his later writings) and quite dupable in personal and political matters which did cause a number of political accidents ... on a theoretical level, his writings about political vanguards in the 70ies were at least partly a break with Leninism but he never admitted it being reluctant to drop Leninist paraphernalia

Dave B
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Jun 3 2019 15:43

The SPGB’s position as regards Russia in 1905 was the orthodox leftwing Marxist position, and a bit like Lenin’s, that Russia was still a feudal or primarily peasant economy and/or at a backward immature capitalist stage of development and therefore not ripe for communism.

“…..Marxism has irrevocably broken with the ravings of the Narodniks and the anarchists to the effect that Russia, for instance, can avoid capitalist development, jump out of capitalism, or skip over it and proceed along some path other than the path of the class struggle on the basis and within the framework of this same capitalism.

All these principles of Marxism have been proved and explained over and over again in minute detail in general and with regard to Russia in particular. And from these principles it follows that the idea of seeking salvation for the working class in anything save the further development of capitalism is reactionary. In countries like Russia, the working class suffers not so much from capitalism as from the insufficient development of capitalism. The working class suffers not so much from capitalism as from the insufficient development of capitalism…..”

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1905/tactics/ch06.htm

Although the Mensheviks and the SPGB types would have gagged a bit about singing the praises of capitalism the way Lenin did.

There was clever Bolshevik and former close associate of Lenin who took things to their logical conclusion went all in, in favour of capitalism post 1905.

Can’t remember his name

and for that matter sane as in 1914

“…..Pipe-dreaming about a “different” way to socialism other than that which leads, through the further development of capitalism, through large-scale, machine, capitalist production, is, in Russia, characteristic either of the liberal gentlemen, or of the backward, petty proprietors (the petty bourgeoisie). These dreams, which still clog the brains of the Left Narodniks, merely reflect the backwardness (reactionary nature) and feebleness of the petty bourgeoisie.

Class-conscious workers all over the world, Russia included, are becoming more and more convinced of the correctness of Marxism, for life itself is proving to them that only large-scale, machine production rouses the workers, enlightens and organises them, and creates the objective conditions for a mass movement. ….”

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1914/jun/19.htm

I or we had a useful debate on Revleft some years ago on this statistical artefact of Russia, or the Russian empire, being the 5th largest economy.

That was because it it had a very large population.

When you looked a the relevant statistic of GDP per capita which measures productivity which as a metric of productivity enhancing capitalist production and thus the development of capitalism. Russian slid down the scale and was below Mexico circa 1905, which was the closest data point available.

GDP [per capita] is a bit of a flawed metric but valid in this case as a comparative way of looking at stuff.

But it looked more sensible as a ranking system as had the advanced capitalist countries ranked in a more credible way. Eg Britain , France, Switzerland and the Netherlands [and Denmark?] etc fairly high up.

It is called the Mason data set, I can probably dig it out again; it wasn’t a Marxist set of data.

The situation of backward capitalism in Russia was the same in 1920;

“……But the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised through an organisation embracing the whole of that class, because in all capitalist countries (and not only over here, in one of the most backward) the proletariat is still so divided, so degraded, and so corrupted in parts (by imperialism in some countries) that an organisation taking in the whole proletariat cannot directly exercise proletarian dictatorship. …..”

http://marxists.anu.edu.au/archive/lenin/works/1920/dec/30.htm

there was another article by Lenin in 1913 on the backward/ cultural/ feudal peasant economic stage of Russia.

“…..There is no other country so barbarous and in which the masses of the people are robbed to such an extent of education, light and knowledge—no other such country has remained in Europe; Russia is the exception. This reversion of the masses of the people, especially the peasantry, to savagery, is not fortuitous, it is inevitable under the yoke of the landowners, who have seized tens and more tens of millions of dessiatines of land, who have, seized state power both in the Duma and in the Council of State, and not only in these institutions, which are relatively low-ranking institutions....
Four-fifths of the rising generation are doomed to illiteracy by the feudal state system of Russia……” etc etc

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1913/apr/27c.htm

Even im 1917 Lenin was talking about or against some members of Bolsheviks for their “nonsense” of “introducing socialism”.

This other opposing stuff here is the standard deceit and apology for the Anarchist, left SR and Bolshevik experiment of attempting to skip over the capitalist stage; and for that matter the state capitalist stage.

The path or foundation of communism/socialism does involve the establishment and development of capitalism.

But as Otto Ruhle said that should be left the bourgeoisie rather than Do it Yourself bourgeois ‘left’ intelligentsia.

For communism you need the non political/social /cultural? condition of machines, mechanisation/ technology etc.

And the masses including peasants and ex peasants need to have given up on the idea of individual ownership of the means of production;

or small scale family sized ‘private’, ‘self-employed’ and disintegrated? simple commodity production.

Which in the first capitalist countries was the “starting point” [chapter 3?] of capitalism.

In emerging third world economies in a global big capitalist world the peasantry already know the game is up as agricultural big capitalism is already at the gates.

Just as little shop-keepers can see the writing on the Wallmart wall.

ajjohnstone
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Jun 3 2019 15:55

Are we talking about Russia, slothjabber, which I thought we were engaged in, or are we discussing world capitalism as a whole?

Are you saying the SPGB rejected the broad evolution theory of stages of society...primitive communism > chattel slavery> feudalism> capitalism> socialism?

That it rejects the evolution of capitalists from city guilds>mercantilism>industrialism?

Are you telling me that such outlines always possess clear dividing lines and not blurred boundaries between the course of history and class lines.

Is it my passing references to developing countries which bothers you where the main economy is either resource stealing or domestic service industries. Isn't Africa's richest man mainly a cement maker, the building brick industry of the beginnings of capitalist growth.

America is often viewed as something different from the rise of European capitalism in that it did not possess a politically entrenched land-owning aristocracy and that vast regions of territory was available to settle, hence conditions suited to a particular early form of mutualism until it too transformed with industrial barons and the end of the "open range" and home-steaders.

But is it my own analysis of Russia which you perceive as a SPGB heresy?

Quote:
"Capitalism in Russia, which began to develop in the last quarter of the 19th century, had its own special features. The capitalists there were weak and dependent on both the Tsarist government and on foreign investors. As a result they were politically isolated and incapable of leading the revolution against Tsarism which was necessary for the full development of capitalism in Russia. The task of overthrowing the Tsar — Russia’s bourgeois or capitalist revolution — thus fell into other hands, those of the intelligentsia, a social group peculiar to the Russia of that time made up of university-trained people employed in various professional capacities by the government. The anti-Tsarist struggle, and its theory, was started by sections of this intelligentsia. In view of the weakness and cowardice of Russia’s capitalists (and, in the early stages, of the virtual absence of capitalism) it was not really surprising that these revolutionaries should be attracted by anti-capitalist ideas. The great bulk of them, even though they never claimed to be Marxists, always regarded themselves (wrongly in our view) as socialists. Later some, including Lenin, did pick up a few of Marx’s ideas but this still did not mean that their theories served the interest of the working class."
https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/1970/1970s/no-788...

I'm surprised myself at the extent I managed to express my Party's view of pre-1917 Russia.

My apologies for not fully comprehending your criticism and not knowing just where you are coming from, slothjabber.

ajjohnstone
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Jun 3 2019 16:01

Oh, and I didn't seek to make this about the SPGB, but merely personally contribute by raising the possibility of a proto-capitalist society rather than a semi-feudal one which arose within this thread.