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Book Review: 'Marxist Economics in the Modern World'

Marxian Economics

Marxist Economics in the Modern World (Traité d'Economie Marxiste) by Ernest Mandel, Rene Julliard (Paris). 2 Vols. 516 & 550 pages. 46.25 Fr.

Ernest Mandel put an enormous amount of work into the writing of this two volume study of Marxian economics in its application to the modern world, published in 1962. With its nearly 1,000 pages of text, innumerable footnotes and quotations (the sources take up 65 pages, with another 50 pages of quoted works) it makes an invaluable book for students.

Mandel deplores, and offers an explanation for, the neglect and contempt of Marxian economics displayed in academic circles.

Starting with Marx's division of economists into the classical, in the period of the rise of capitalism and ending with Ricardo; then the post-Ricardian economists in the period when the capitalists were not yet finished with the elimination of the old ruling class but were becoming pre-occupied with their struggle with the working class; then the "vulgar" economists, after capitalism had consolidated its position. So far, says Mandel, the capitalist economists had still been concerned with economic theory even if in the later phase it was nothing more than the invention of shoddy theories to justify the position and actions of the capitalists.

But then came a fourth period, marked by the "Keynesian revolution", in which the economists have had little or no interest in theory and have been concerned solely with devising practical expedients to save capitalism.

But at the same time Marxian economics suffered a vulgarisation. Just when it was becoming obvious in the depression years that capitalist economic theory was bankrupt, Marxism was vulgarised by the apologists for Russia who turned it into a propaganda instrument for defending the political and economic policies of the Russian government; for bolstering up the fiction of Socialism in Russia; and for hiding from the workers in Russia that their standard of living was in fact below that of the industrially developed countries.

As well as going over the ground covered by Marx, Mandel examines a number of questions in detail, including the idea that Marx foretold necessarily increasing working-class poverty; Marxian and other theories about crises ; and the question whether the twentieth century has disproved Marx's conception on historical development.

While it would be too much to expect that Mandel would see everything from a standpoint identical with that of the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain, the present writer knows no other work which, from a Marxist standpoint, covers modern capitalism anything like so fully and so well. It is to be hoped that some publisher will get out an English translation.