Research work's hypothesis-construction

The starting point of my research is a doctoral thesis in industrial economic history (1966) on the textile and metallurgic industries of the Dauphiné region (1650-1789) in an approach inspired by Perroux (a legacy to my mentor, Gérard de Bernis) rather than Marx, my relation to Marxism at the time being political rather than economic.

1. A progressive and permanent mainspring of my research: ‘the critique of political economy’ based on the economy's ‘exteriorities’ and invalidating any autonomy of the economy and its representation, whether in the framework of the ‘Marxist political economy’ or of the ‘Neo-Classical political economy’ (or ‘standard’ political economy)

In the Western countries of the 1950s-1980s, the different versions of ‘Marxism’ (from the ‘State monopoly capitalism’ beloved to communist parties to Trotskyite, Maoist and other expressions), despite their often virulent oppositions, all referred to a fundamental belief: the almightiness of an ‘autonomous’ economy, that the Marxist political economy accounted for based on the tandem ‘productive forces (capital and labour) / social relations’, the ideological differences among Marxist currents bearing on the importance given to one or the other branch of this tandem.
The Neo-Classical version hardly differed as regards the economy's autonomy, even if its spirit was totally different, preaching the almightiness of the rational calculation of the fully informed individual. Today, one forgets that, in the face of the dynamics of the Marxist currents at work in the 1970s, this Neo-Classical economy was for a time moribund in French university circles.

The theoretical current introduced by L. Althusser opened the way of an initial ‘revamping’ of the traditional Marxism reproduced by communist parties, and others, thanks to the production of a Marxism called ‘structuralist’, which fuelled the academic thinking of the 1960s-1970s. Structuralism marked the reasoning behind my research in the fields of international economics, industrial economics, labour economics, …

Nevertheless, structuralist Marxism forgets that all the economic works authored by Karl Marx bear a subtitle ‘Critique of Political Economy’ in a duality of thought more often than not unrecognized: on the one hand, K. Marx attempts to bring his analysis of the representation of the ‘autonomous’ and all-prevailing capitalist economy of his times to its culminating point in a ‘political economy’ analysis framework, and, on the other hand, he progressively endeavours to destroy its foundations in what are certainly partial reflections, but also in his political works (cf. ‘The Class Struggles in France’, ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon’, ‘Critique of the Gotha and Erfurt Programme’, etc.).

Together with other authors (C. Benetti, J. Cartelier, S. De Brunhoff, and others), we progressively established a ‘critique of political economy’ Marxism (cf. for instance, our collection ‘Interventions en Economie Politique’ published by the Editions Maspéro) based particularly on the ‘exteriorities’ of the economy (exteriorities not reproduced by the economy, which nevertheless uses them ‑or even exploits them‑ and which political economy does not account for:
  • the exteriority of wage-labour coming from the home-labour workshop, the exteriority of the labour force coming from a shared reserve (fond commun), i.e. the exteriority of labour's productive force,
  • the exteriority of natural resources: land, raw materials and non renewable energy,
  • the exteriority of money,
a fact that poses the exteriority of a number of distribution variables, considered of themselves as elements of the political economy (whether heterodox or standard): labour (w); land (λ); the distribution variables linked to credit money and its use, such as the interest rate (i) and other financial variables; only the variable of profit distribution (r) appearing as proper to the field of political economy.

But the angle of this approach introduces the risk of confusing the two levels of analysis (whose development is often differentiated in academic practices):
  • on the one hand, to produce a political economy of capitalism that fits with contemporary developments in parallel to the constraint of abiding by the academic requirements of university publications,
  • on the other, to construct ‘a critique of this political economy’ of capitalism, with the attempts to introduce alternatives.

My works of 1968-1975 on the international economy and multinational firms then fall within the ambit of a construction as yet almost included in a structuralist Marxist political economy. My approach of an international economy of the dominant economies (1969, 1971, 1973), which resolve the constraints of their internal dynamics on a dominated exterior (the Third Worlds), totally in line with the thought of A. Smith, D. Ricardo and K. Marx, continues to be as relevant today as it was in the past (as displeasing as this might be to an author in vogue such as P. Krugman, who has not understood his Smithian and Ricardian classics!), but without the true reach of a ‘critique of political economy’. My other analysis framework of L’internationalisation du capital (1975) also remains acutely opportune as a ‘political economy of world capitalism’, where I certainly assert the need of the ‘critique of political economy’, but without really succeeding. This relative lack of a ‘critique of political economy’ requirement beyond a position of principle explains, at least in part, my subsequent near-silence on these questions.
The ‘critique of political economy’ position ties up again with the international field during the period 1978-82, with the analysis of the new forms of imperialism linked to: an economy of international credit, the multinational firms' practices of delocalisation (already), the international extension of wage-labour, the new forms of an international division of labour, the analysis of the crisis of capitalism (already!), …

My works on industrial economics over the period 1966-75 also fall within this structuralist framework, as indicated in my reminder of 2001 Structuralisme et économie industrielle : petite histoire d’un prologue (1960-1980] [Structuralism and industrial economics: footnotes of a prologue (1960-1980)] in response to a 1999 text by Richard Arena. Only the structures (branch, sector, channel, productive system), «determining in the final analysis» as we liked to stress at the time, were then explicative of industrial activity, to the detriment of taking into account the behaviour of the operators (firms, agents, …).

On the other hand, during the years 1975-80, the ‘critique of political economy’ side, which rests on the economy's ‘exteriorities’, sustains:
  • the analysis of the labour process (Fordism, and Neo-Fordism),
  • the analysis of the industrial economy,
  • the analysis of the agricultural economy,
  • the analysis of wage-labour and industry, particularly in its applications to Algeria,
the analysis of international credit money.

This critique of political economy became a constant feature of my subsequent research (post 1980), but in connection to new contributions: social individuality and modes of socialisation; the American structuralism of the past.