Mandel, for decades the most widely known leader of the Fourth
International (FI) – the World Party of Socialist Revolution
founded by Leon Trotsky and his co-thinkers – died on July 20.
in his early 70s, but his health had been deteriorating markedly
for some years. Nonetheless, he continued to participate in the life of the
Fourth International and to work on book projects and public
any other FI leader since Leon Trotsky, Mandel established
Trotskyism (revolutionary socialism) in the world of books and
ideas. His first
major work, published in French in 1962 and subsequently
translated into many languages, was his two-volume “Marxist
will probably be remembered as his central literary legacy.
Mandel’s work was a monumental rewriting of Marx’s Capital
for the 20th century, using modern evidence to
reinforce the Marxist explanation of economic laws and the
evolution of society.
Economic Theory” and subsequent works prepared the way for
Mandel’s emergence as a culture-hero of the international
youth radicalization of the 1960s and early 1970s.
joined the Trotskyist movement at the age of 16.
He was active in the resistance to the Nazi occupation of
his native Belgium, and was captured by the Nazis and held in a
concentration camp. After
he was imprisoned, the German authorities discovered his Jewish
origin. It was only
because this occurred near the end of the war that avoided
mistreatment or death.
war, Mandel played a leading role in rebuilding a new leadership
of the Fourth International centered in Europe.
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which was the
strongest Fourth Internationalist party at the time, contributed
importantly to this work.
various Trotskyist parties and groups, the SWP was distinguished
by its organizational professionalism and consistent work. I
remember Mandel telling me that he learned a lot about
organization from the SWP in those days.
work as a Marxist scholar was prepared by his involvement and
activity in Marxist politics, a fact overlooked by those who
sought to imitate him as a scholar without going through the
school of revolutionary struggle.
immediate background to the publication of Mandel’s major work
was his editorship of the revolutionary newspaper, La
Gauche (The Left) during the Belgian general strike of 1961.
At its height, this newspaper had a circulation of 30,000
in a country with a population less than that of New York City.
It succeeded in becoming the organ of the left wing of
the general strike movement.
Mandel’s editorship, La
Gauche showed a remarkable effectiveness in translating
revolutionary Marxism into slogans and symbols that could appeal
to masses involved in one of the most powerful class struggles
in recent times. The
newspaper also dealt sensitively with the complex nationalities
question that arose in Belgium out of the uneven economic
development between Flanders and the French-speaking Walloon
years, Mandel wrote analyses of the evolution of the world
capitalist economy for La Gauche, which remained the newspaper of the Belgian section of
the Fourth International. In
these articles he showed an extraordinary ability to seize the
essence of complex developments and explain them in a clear and
focused way. They
were translated into many languages and served the press of the
Fourth International as a whole.
Fourth International fractures
disastrous split that occurred in the Fourth International in
1952 – 1953, Mandel lined up with the leader of the Fourth
International center in Europe, Michel Pablo, against the
orthodox Trotskyist forces led by the Socialist Workers Party of
James P. Cannon and Joseph Hansen.
the spread of Stalinist regimes after World War II and the
revolutions led by Stalinist parties in Yugoslavia and China,
Pablo developed the theory that Stalinism had a dual nature,
that it could play a revolutionary as well as a reactionary
developed a political strategy based on the theory that World
War III was imminent and that its impact would push the mass
reformist Social Democratic and Stalinist parties decisively to
the left. In order
to participate in this process and not be marginalized, he
argued that the sections of the Fourth International had to
enter the mass parties without any definite project.
This was unlike the entry that Trotsky called for in the
1930s in order to capture the left wings that were then
developing in the Socialist parties.
International split when Pablo tried to use the authority of the
international center to impose this policy on all sections, even
those sections where the majority of the membership was against
however, the entry operation had some success.
The Trotskyist-led faction became a major force in the
Socialist Party. But after the Social Democratic leadership expelled the
Trotskyists and their supporters in December 1964, the Belgian
Fourth Internationalists failed to turn the forces that followed
them into a strong revolutionary party.
they formed three small centrist parties respectively in
Flanders, the Walloon Country, and Brussels.
These groups – which were linked in the Socialist
Workers Confederation, of which Mandel was the general secretary
– withered away rapidly.
Later, a new, small section of the Fourth International
was built, principally out of the youth radicalization of the
late 1960s and early 1970s.
of the youth radicalization
became an international political personality essentially on the
impulse of the May-June 1968 upsurge in France.
For rebelling students, he was the personification of the
an impressive command of English and spoke German and Flemish
with native fluency, as well as having a passable Spanish.
But French was the main language of his political life.
He was a central figure in the revolutionary ferment in
the French universities during the 1968 events.
All over the
world, whenever students occupied a campus or a building, their
first thought was often to ring up Mandel at any time of the day
or night to ask him for a message of support – a request he
was always happy to meet. In
many countries, crowds of revolutionary minded youth came to his
lectures and responded to them with enthusiasm.
this during the heady days of the Portuguese Revolution in 1974
-1975. Although I
did not agree with the line Mandel proposed for the Portuguese
Revolution, there was no denying that, for better or worse, he
was broadcasting in the wave length of the radicalized youth.
opinion, that was a source of weakness as well as strength for
radicalization of the 1960s and early 1970s was a great outburst
of moral indignation against capitalist society and imperialist
brutality but it lacked practical organization and perspectives,
as well as social depth. It
lived too much on the level of generalities.
atmosphere, Mandel tended also more and more to become detached
from practical reality. His authority among political cadres then waned along with
the decline of the youth radicalization.
the Fourth International
For all his
political life, Mandel retained a fervent belief in the future
of the Fourth International, even when his ideas for tactics or
theoretical innovation led him dangerously away from
programmatic clarity. His
authority was important to maintain the cohesiveness of the
Mandel went along with Pablo in the 1952-53 split, he and the
other younger leaders of the FI center soon came into conflict
with Pablo. Mandel
played a key role in bringing about the reunification of the FI
in 1963 and reorienting it to the new era inaugurated by the
victory of the Cuban Revolution.
At the end
of the 1960s, a new division arose in the Fourth International.
Mandel sided with one wing of the FI, which had been
influenced by ultraleft tendencies in the youth radicalization
and by the ideas of the Cubans that revolutionary processes
could be set in motion everywhere in Latin America by forming
small guerrilla groups. The
experienced Trotskyist leadership of the SWP again resisted this
the International came close to a split.
But, however much Mandel may have bent to the winds of
the time, he remained committed to the unity of the
SWP leadership was able to negotiate with him and his
collaborators to avert a split and ultimately resolve the main
issues of the dispute through debate and accepting the test of
just as the dispute was successfully resolved, a political
struggle broke out in the SWP itself.
The party’s former proletarian leadership had died or
had been set aside by a new young leadership.
Now, the majority of the SWP’s central leaders aimed to
integrate themselves into what they termed the “World
Communist Movement.” SWP
national secretary Jack Barnes proclaimed that by the end of the
1980s no one but sectarians would call themselves Trotskyists.
to defend the Fourth International against Barnes’s new
political orientation. He
brought all of his influence to bear to get the Fourth
International to start a new English-language international
magazine in opposition to Intercontinental
Press, the magazine founded on the 1963 reunification, which
had been taken over by the Barnes leadership and now reflected
their revisionist views.
leadership of the Australian Socialist Workers Party also
decided to abandon Trotskyism, Mandel wrote a powerful answer to
them in a special issue of the new FI magazine, International
Mandel had a
great belief in the power of books.
I remember once in the very large Paris bookstore of the
French section of the Fourth International that he pointed out
to me all the books the Marxist movement has produced.
“There are the great Marx and Engels – and the little
Mandel,” he said.
almost as if he saw virtue being rewarded in the literary sphere
even when it was not rewarded in practical life.
There is some truth to that, but the two spheres cannot
really be separated.
produced by the Trotskyist movement are the best and most useful
guides for revolutionists to interpret and intervene in the
struggles of our time. But
they are rooted in the practical experience of our movement, and
their range cannot extend much beyond the limitations of this
achievements of Mandel himself – the most widely known writer,
after Trotsky, that the Fourth International has produced –
have their roots in the struggle to build the World Party of the
Socialist Revolution that Trotsky founded.
an impressive literary heritage.
But his most important heritage for the Fourth
International today is his confidence in the future of the World
Party of the Socialist Revolution, his devotion to its unity,
and his perspective that all but fundamental differences in the
revolutionary movement can be overcome by discussion and by
accepting the test of events.