Ken Tarbuck   |   ETOL Main Page

Ken Tarbuck

Review: Ernest Mandel, Europe versus America?

(Autumn 1970)

From Marxist Studies, Vol. 2 No. 3, Autumn 1970.
Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.
Minor spelling errors have been corrected without indication.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Ernest Mandel,
Europe versus America? Contradictions of Imperialism,
New Left Books, London

In this short book (139 pages) Ernest Mandel sets out to examine the problems and contradictions facing the West European bourgeoisie in its attempts to compete with US imperialism. Also he examines the relative decline of US imperialism in the last decade. The book is extremely well documented with references and illustrative examples of the points Mandel wants to drive home.

One of the most important phenomena that have arisen in the postwar world and especially in the last decade has been the international concentration of capital. (Mandel seems to use this term rather indiscriminately to cover concentration, that is, growth of individual capitals by accumulation, and centralisation, that is, the bringing together of two or more existing capitals by way of mergers, etc.) Mandel distinguishes four forms which this concentration takes:

  1. The complete takeover of a nation’s industry, or at least the most significant portions, by outside capitalists. Thus the country is reduced to a semi-colony.
  2. Where only certain sectors of industry are taken over by foreign capital.
  3. Interpenetration of various capitals without any one country predominating.
  4. Concentration purely within the national boundaries.

He argues, and brings forward material to back up, that all of these processes are taking place, but that the one that is being pushed forward most vigorously is the interpenetration of capital. He convincingly demonstrates that the very nature of capitalism today urges on this process via international competition and technological innovations that this induces on an expanding scale. He writes about the third industrial revolution that we have witnessed since the end of the last war (which comprises atomic power, automation, computers, etc.) and points out how this has been part cause and part effect of this capital concentration. This arises today because there are some projects that need such vast amounts of capital to get them off the ground.

Mandel also brings into his analysis the thesis that since the last war we have lived through an upward movement of a Kondratiev ‘long wave’, and now we are moving into a downward movement. This would partly account for the long and sustained boom in the capitalist world since the early 1950s. However, this does somewhat contradict Mandel’s references to the ‘permanent arms economy’ which are thrown in without any explanation of what he means by this phrase. One can only presume that he means something different from what the Cliff–Kidron school infers from this, since he is at some pains throughout to snipe at Kidron in his extensive footnotes.

We can see then that the main theme of the book relates to the question of whether American imperialism will dominate West Europe completely in the coming decade or whether the West European bourgeoisie can extend the EEC and develop large and powerful units with which they can not only survive but also compete. In the process it becomes abundantly clear that the nation state is no longer a viable instrument for the protection of capitalism in Europe.

However, Mandel does not deal adequately with the question raised by Servan-Schreiber (The American Challenge, Pelican Books): the tremendous expansion of US capital inside Europe and the prospect of its becoming the third largest industrial power in the world within the next decade. Mandel’s treatment of this point is somewhat cursory.

Although there is a chapter devoted to the division of the world market and some very useful material provided regarding the relative decline of the importance of the ‘Third World’ in international trade, there is no attempt to analyse the real changes that this indicates as to the nature of imperialism. One sentence points to very important problems that this trend brings: ‘It is evidence of the increasing trend of industrial nations to exchange their industrial products amongst themselves, thus denying the safety valve of the export of industrial goods to non-industrialised countries.’ Yet this point is never taken up and developed. This is rather disappointing because the whole process raises quite fundamental questions about the theory of imperialism and also the concrete one of the continued impoverishment of the colonial world.

At one point when writing about the working class and inter-imperialist conflict Mandel gives an indication of how out of touch he is regarding the realities of the British scene when he writes: ‘... it should be noted that the attempt by Enoch Powell in England to exploit racist currents politically has so far only found an echo among the most demoralised and backward sectors of the British working class.’ If Mandel does not understand that Powell has in fact found quite wide echoes in most strata of the population and that he (Powell) has in fact legitimised racial prejudice to some extent then he is whistling in the dark.

The above is perhaps indicative of the rather sweeping generalities which are scattered through this short book. It is merely a skeleton on which much more could have been built. There is a great deal of information here but it has been compressed to the extent that it cannot deal with all the questions it raises. At the end of the book there is an impressive list of sources quoted, but unfortunately no index. Whilst it is a book that should be read because of the questions it raises, it is overpriced at 35 shillings.

Ken Tarbuck   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 14 October 2014