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New Left Review I/98, July-August 1976


Bob Rowthorn

‘Late Capitalism’

Three years after its publication in Germany, Ernest Mandel’s Late Capitalism has now appeared in a revised and updated English edition. [1] Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism, nlb, London, and Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1975. Whatever one’s criticisms, it is a major contribution to the revival of Marxist economics now occurring in Britain and some other Western countries. Indeed it is, in my opinion, one of the two most important works of Marxist political economy to have appeared in English during the past decade, the other being Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital. Mandel, like Braverman, takes as his startingpoint capitalist production, rather than income distribution and demand, which for many years have dominated socialist and radical thought in Britain. Naturally, he considers demand and distribution; however, these are seen, not as independent entities, but as conditioned by and dependent on what happens in the sphere of production. This approach represents a return to the concerns of classical Marxism; at the same time, potentially, such an approach could herald a new era in the development of Marxism in Britain, where until recently it has existed under the shadow of left Keynesianism, lacking any genuine theoretical basis of its own. Late Capitalism is not an easy book to read; its subject matter is extremely complex, its approach is often eclectic and its arguments are at times confused or unnecessarily abstruse. Nonetheless, to anyone patient enough to master its contents, it contains a wealth of ideas and empirical material and is a work of truly creative Marxism. In the space of a single review it is impossible to do justice to a book whose coverage is so vast, so I shall consider only those aspects which I have found particularly interesting.

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