Henri Lefebvre, The Survival of Capitalism – comparison of the French and English versions

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.

Here’s the table of contents of the English

The Survival of Capitalism: Reproduction of the Relations of Production

  1. The discovery
  2. Reproduction of the relations of production
  3. Is the working class revolutionary?
  4. Ideologies of growth
  5. Alternatives

And of the French:

La survie du capitalisme: La reproduction des rapports de production

Introduction
I. La reproduction des rapports de production
II. La classe ouvrière est-elle révolutionnaire?
III. Les ideologies de la croissance
IV. Contestation, spontanéité, violence
V. Stratégies de débordement et débordement des strategies
VI. Sur la dualité des pouvoirs
VII. Sur l’autogestion
VIII. De la mondialité
IX. Les phénomènes urbaines
X. La «Mutation»
XI. Alternative ou alibi?
XII. De quelques contradictions anciennes et nouvelles, theses et hypotheses
XIII. Le double statut de la connaissance (social et théorique)

Chapters I (2), II (3), III (4) are obviously the same; the English Chapter 1 is the French Introduction, and Chapter 5 ‘Alternatives’ comprises translations of La survie du capitalisme Ch. VII and XI;

The contents of The Explosion shows where the other chapters come from:

The Explosion: Marxism and the French Upheaval

  1. Events and Situations
  2. On Marxist Thought
  3. On the Need for Theory
  4. The Revolutionary Crisis
  5. French Society in 1968
  6. Three Tendencies
  7. Contestation, Spontaneity, Violence
  8. Strategies for Outflanking and the Outflanking of Strategies
  9. On Dual Power
  10. On Self-Management
  11. The World Situation
  12. Urban Phenomena
  13. ‘Mutation’
  14. Alternative or Alibi?
  15. Old and New Contradictions: Theses and Hypotheses
  16. The Twofold Status of Knowledge (Social and Theoretical)

So, to read an English equivalent of La survie du capitalisme, you’d need to move between two English books – The Survival of Capitalism (SC) and The Explosion (Ex).

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)

What this means is that The Explosion chapters 1-6 are the only part of that book which is not reprinted in 1973. La survie du capitalisme provides dates after most of the chapters; this is dropped in the translation.  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 hopefully shows how to construct an English version of the book Lefebvre intended.

Thanks to Martin Jones for the idea for this post.

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