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Review of Mandel/Gordon Debate on Economic Cycles

Ernest Mandel - Internet Archive
Andre Gunder Frank Print


David Gordon (Vol. XIV, No. 2) is increasingly tilting towards greater exogeneity in his insider debate with Ernest Mandel and other exogenists. That is fine with me, as long as he also makes ever more exogeneity increasingly endogenous. David amply cites his published backs and forths with Ernest, to some of who's backs David also takes exception. But David does not cite his public debate to the same effect with Ernest in the summer of 1979 at Boston University, where Ernest and I were teaching a summer school course on the world economic crisis together. Since I was there in the outside of that debate, and was still an outside commentator at the also cited 1989 Brussles long wave conference as well, I will go David one better.

Most memorable and influential for me from the 1979 debate was David's argument as to why we should, indeed must, study long waves: If we do study them, and they turn out not to exist; all we have lost is another bad investment of wasted time. However, if they do exist, and we don't study them; we are fully exposed to them time and again without the slightest knowledge or protection. I required little persuasion about the long waves in general and the upper turning point into the down phase in particular, since I had just finished a book on the present world economic crisis as a Kondratieff B phase (Frank 1980). However, David's argument persuaded me that the same moral of his story also applied to the question of the exogeneity or endogeneity of the lower turning point.

Ernest then and now insists on its exogeneity - I always thought that because as a leader of the Trotskyist Fourth international he has to believe in the autonomy of politics, especially of the working class. [In our joint course, Ernest and I agreed about everything except two things, which we disputed in and out of class: He maintained that the working class revolution was around the corner in the West and South, and I that it was not. I maintained that the Socialist East was increasingly being integrated in the capitalist world economy to whose law of value it was subject, and Ernest maintained it was not (see Frank 1977 in Vol. I, No. 1 of Review!)].

David already suggested in 1979 that the lower turning point may be endogenous as well. Applying the moral of his story, it seemed to me then and still does now that if it could turn out really to be endogenous, but we insist on treating it as exogenous like Ernest, we - and he - do so at our peril. As David rightly asks, ex/endogenous to what? Certainly not exogenous to the real world. So we should not make it exogenous to a minimally adequate model/theory of the same. So I have sought to endogenize the "exogenous" as well. Thanks at least in part to David's good advice, recent events in the west, east and south of the world have made my theoretical position suffer less from the perils of the world economy -- which includes the "socialist" countries -- than has that of Ernest. In the meantime, it seems that David's position has become increasingly sophisticated -- and more indecisive: vide his arguments and calculations in the essay under comment and his surprising recent New Left Review article critiquing of the thesis of the existence and importance of world economic forces (Gordon 19xx).

Speaking of the world economy, in a journal dedicated to its analysis, the moral of David's 1979 story applies again: what if there really is a world economy in a world-sytem? And in that case, what if the "what if" long wave wave with both its upper and lower turning points is generated in and by a world economy / system, and not simply in this or that "national" economy or an arithmetic summation of several such? Following [1979 vintage] David, we would fail to study this world-system structure and process only at our peril. For instance, like Ernest, we would exclude understanding how this [Kondratieff B] world economic crisis has been a, if not the, essential factor in the bankruptcy of the "Second" world's "socialist" economies' "system," which has suffered and been made to bear the costs of the crisis just like most of the "Third" World. Instead we would, with probably false short-sightedness, attribute the "socialist" debacle simpli[stically] to "autonomous" "internal" "political" errors and failures, as not only the mainsteam right but also the "mainstream" left, in this sense perhaps including Ernest, are wont to do. The problem - and the gordian knot solution - is really the same as that of the society/unit over which Immanuel Wallerstein has been debating with the received wisdom: Is the relevant social unit this "society" in this country, this valley, this town, this family; or is it this world-system? If, where and when this world system is altogether determinant or even only relevant, the question of exogenous/endogenous to "this" society disappears; for then there is only one system to which everything is "endogenous." Then we must study what makes this system tick, including its long waves and thyeir endogenous turning points, if any.

In this context, David's and his [and my] friends' efforts to work out an SSA interpretation of a long wave is most laudable. It is especially welcome in the context of this discussion insofar as it endogenizes previously exogenous "non-economic" factors of social structure in the model/theory of the world -- for, of course, they were endogenous to the real world all along. It is only lamentable, as I already observed in my commentary at the Brussels conference, that this extension and sophistication is at the expense of limiting this work, not only to a short period of little more than one Kondratieff long cycle but also to no more than a single country, the United States. In my innocence at Brussels, I thought that this limitation of scope was only or at least mostly an unhappy consequence of the increase in depth and sophistication of the analysis. After all, David and his friends do make repeated references to US foreign economic and political relations. However, since reading David's NLR article about the near autonomy of "national" economies; I learn unhappily that there seems also to be some method to David's "madness" of limiting SSA to the United States. For now it turns out that he really believes the American SSA economy and society to be beholden onto itself -- against all real world evidence to the contrary! In that case [vintage 1989/91] David is taking a giant step backward and threatening to pull others backward behind him.

For what we need, even at some sacrifice of David's statistical method and sophistication, is an SSA analysis of the world-sytem and its world-system wide long waves -- including the [ex] socialist countries.

My own place has been outside these insider endogeneity/ exogeneity debates. Nonetheless for my own part, I have long sought to help identify and analyze the endogeneity of economic, political, social, and cultural/ideological long waves and their upper and lower turning points. "Low Profit Invention and High Profit Innovation in Technological Change" (1988) is an endogenous review of my own writings on this endogeneity/exogeneity issue. Crisis in the World Economy (1980) and "Crisis of Ideology and Ideology of Crisis" in Dynamics of Global Crisis (1982), and "American Roulette in the Globonomic Casino" among many others examined the present world economic crisis between the last upper turning point in 1967 and the next lower turning point, probably later on in the 1990s. "Long Live Transideological Enterprise! The Socialist Economies in the Capitalist International Division of Labor" (1977) and The European Challenge (1983/4) argued how and why the socialist economies were part and parcel of this world economic system, cycle and crisis; and foretold the unification of Europe for this reason. "Civil Democracy: Social Movements in Recent World History" in Transforming the Revolution (1990) extended this inquiry to "non-economic" cycles of social and political movements over the past two centuries. World Accumulation 1492-1789 (1978) traced and analyzed Kondratieff cycles back into the 15th century. Now, "World System Cycles, Crises and Hegemonial Shifts 1700 BC to 1700 AD" (1992) identifies and analyzes long cycles and their upper and lower turning points for some 4,000 years back in this same world system.

The questions posed and the tentative answers offered under these and other titles may not be so easily suseptible to statistical manipulation and easy demonstration. But they are relevant questions; and if we fail to pose them, we are even less likely to find answers than if we do seek out endogeneity in the world system over the long pull.


Frank, A.G. 1977. "Long Live Transideological Enterprise! The Socialist Economies in the Capitalist International Division of Labor" Review I, 1, Summer.

----- 1978a. World Accumulation 1492-1789, New York: Monthly Review Press and London: Macmillan Press.

----- 1980. Crisis: In the World Economy. New York: Holmes & Meier and London: Heinemann.

----- 1982. Dynamics of Global Crisis (with S. Amin, G. Arrighi & I. Wallerstein). New York: Monthly Review Press and London: Macmillan Press.

----- 1983 & 4. The European Challenge. Nottingham: England, Spokesman Press 1983 and Westbury Conn.,USA: Lawrence Hill Publishers 1984.

----- 1988a. "Low Profit Invention and High Profit Innovation in Technological Change" in Technology Transfer by Multinationals H. W. Singer, N. Hatti & R. Tandon, Eds. New Delhi: Ashish Publishing House, New World Order Series: Three, Part I, pp 183-202.

1988b. "American Roulette in the Globonomic Casino: Retrospect and Prospect on the World Economic Crisis Today" in Research in Political Economy, Paul Zarembka, Ed. Greenwich: JAI Press, pp. 3-43.

---- 1992. "World System Cycles, Crises, and Hegemonial Shifts 1700 BC to 1700 AD" (with B. Gills) Review, Binghamton, No. 4, Fall 1992 forthcoming.

Frank, A.G. and Fuentes, M. 1990. "Civil Democracy: Social Movments in World History" in S.Amin, G. Arrighi, A.G. Frank & I. Wallerstein Transforming the Revolution. Social Movements and the World-System. New York: Monthly Review Press.



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