We open our series of comparative studies of the advanced capitalist countries in this issue, with Ernest Mandel’s analysis of the development of economy and society in Belgium from industrialization to the present day. The intention of the series is, in the first instance, to help overcome the fixed habit, which is deeply engrained in the Left, of conceiving capitalism as a single, undifferentiated phenomenon, whose universality is equalled only by its anonymity. This habit of thought has vitiated work after work by Labour writers of all persuasions—Strachey, Bevan, Crosland, Crossman—in England; and it has seriously damaged socialist discussion at large. A featureless, composite silhouette of capitalism is customarily created, abstracting indifferently from America and Britain, now and then adding an illustration from West Germany, never stopping to examine the utterly distinct histories of these societies, let alone venturing beyond their arbitrary and provincial limits. In place of this familiar vet unrecognizable archetype, we hope to contribute to a concrete inventory of the extremely wide gamut of societies which comprise the capitalist part of the world today. A respect for the density and irreducibility of the many different historical experiences of capitalist accumulation is a precondition of any serious theory of capitalism as a type of human society. A general model is not denied, but enriched by the diversity of the forms which it integrates. To study the complex and particular destinies of the other advanced industrial societies is not to remove them from the relevant range of our own problems and discussion. It is rather, to deepen our understanding of the fundamental structure of capitalism by exploring all its contingent possibilities, and so, reciprocally, to perceive more clearly—by contrast and similarity—the specific nature of British society today.
Belgium is a practically unknown country in Britain: it is neither major power, nor tourist attraction, at most a fleeting industrial landscape seen from trains speeding towards Germany or Switzerland. The society Mandel describes, with its abbreviated independence, its tentacular trusts, its clerical problem, its bitter linguistic conflicts, is obviously in major respects radically different from our own. But there are also immediate and striking points of