This is a useful introduction to the development of Marx’s economic thinking. It is particularly focused on the debate – prevalent since the publication of Marx’s early writings, and particularly the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts – about whether there is a break in the development of Marx’s thought between the youthful writings and the mature economic work of Capital.
In the earlier chapters, Mandel provides a useful outline of the development of the key concepts of Marx’s economic thought. It does not however seek to explain those key concepts, and is best read with a fair grasp of Marx’s economics. Mandel attempts to show how Marx’s thinking developed from the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts through Grundisse and eventually to Capital.
This description of growth and development is important, because it allows Mandel in the final chapters to refute the idea that the ‘real’ Marx resides either in some philosophical, humanistic, early Marx or in a mechanistic and determinist late Marx. Mandel’s analysis is persuasive in arguing that both of these approaches are underpinned by assumptions about the unchangeability of economics, and therefore the impossibility of moving away from capitalism.
In fact these later chapters prefigure later work by Paul Mason, Nick Srnicek, and Alex Williams in books such as “Inventing the Future” and “Postcapitalism” by identifying increasing automation and abundance as the opportunity to remove alienation in the future and create a society where everyone is truly able to realise their potential.
Despite being written in the 1960s this book still therefore feels very relevant to the debates going on in the modern left today.