Henri Lefebvre, The Survival of Capitalism – how to reconstruct an English version of the French text

SC Fr.jpgSC EngHenri Lefebvre’s 1973 book La survie du capitalisme: La reproduction des rapports de production (Anthropos, third edition 2002) was one of the relatively few of his books which was translated within a few years of its initial publication. Many of Lefebvre’s books appeared in translation only decades afterwards, or await translation. This translation appeared in 1976 as The Survival of Capitalism: Reproduction of the Relations of Production, by Frank Bryant with Allison and Busby. It is long out of print, but there are scans online (i.e. here).

L'irruption 1stThe ExplosionBut the French and the English translation are not the same. The reason is that the French text reused parts of one of Lefebvre’s earlier books, L’irruption de Nanterre au sommet (Anthropos 1968, 2nd edition, Syllepse 1998). Because that book had been translated by Alfred Ehrenfeld as The Explosion: Marxism and the French Upheaval (Modern Reader, 1969), the decision was made not to translate most of the overlapping material. The result, however, is that the English reader of The Survival of Capitalism reads a different book, one which is less immediately political. The difference is not noted in the English text.

The full discussion is here; but what follows is the summary. In order to read the book as Lefebvre intended you’d need to move between the two English books – The Survival of Capitalism (SC) and The Explosion (Ex) – and read things in this order.

Introduction/The Discovery (SC Ch 1)
I. Reproduction of the relations of production (SC Ch. 2)
II. Is the working class revolutionary? (SC Ch. 3)
III. Ideologies of growth (SC Ch. 4)
IV. Contestation, Spontaneity, Violence (Ex Ch 7)
V. Strategies for Outflanking and the Outflanking of Strategies (Ex Ch 8)
VI. On Dual Power (Ex Ch. 9)
VII. On Self-Management (Ex Ch. 10 or first half of SC Ch. 5)
VIII. The World Situation (Ex Ch. 11)
IX. Urban Phenomena (Ex Ch. 12)
X. Mutation (Ex Ch. 13)
XI. Alternative or Alibi? (Ex Ch. 14 or second half of SC Ch. 5)
XII. Old and New Contradictions: Theses and Hypotheses (Ex Ch 15)
XIII. The Twofold Status of Knowledge (Social and Theoretical) (Ex Ch 16)

Survival of Capitalism Ch. 5 ‘Alternatives’ is the only overlap between that book and The Explosion. A comparison of those two translations would be instruction to see how Ehrenfield and Bryant have translated the same terms. Combining two translations to read a single French book needs to be done with care, but this shows how to construct an English version of the book Lefebvre intended.

My guide to where to start with reading Lefebvre in English is here.

Thanks to Martin Jones for the idea for this post.

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