powerful mind and indomitable spirit of Ernest Mandel was
forged, not under revolutionary conditions, but in the darkest
days of our epoch.
who complain in the mid-1990s, and with complete justification,
about the new rise of right wing populism and the supremacy of
the global corporate agenda, can scarcely imagine life under the
conditions of Europe of the 1930s, when Ernest Mandel first came
to political consciousness. It was the triumph of fascism, the
destruction of the European labour movement and left wing
forces, the physical liquidation of millions of people, the dark
and horrendous conditions of Nazi occupation. It was, as Victor
Serge called it, "midnight of the century."
not just from the standpoint of such horrible material
conditions of life. It was the darkest hour also in terms of the
political defeat and moral decline of the European workers'
movement, especially the German working class, hitherto the most
class conscious and politically sophisticated section of the
international labour movement.
independence crumbled under the weight of bureaucracy and
reformism. Sectarianism triumphed over reason. Stalinist and
Social Democratic parties declared each other to be the
"main enemy." They allowed Hitler to take power
without a fight.
Belgium, where Ernest Mandel grew up and was active in the
Resistance to Nazi occupation, the leader of the Belgian
Socialist Party, then the deputy Prime Minister, made a public
appeal to collaborate with the Nazis and was supported by an
important section of labour officials. The Communist Party
published a legal newspaper under the occupation, basking in the
deadly rays of the Stalin-Hitler Pact.
treacherous spectacle disgusted the young Mandel, but it did not
destroy his confidence in the working class or his resolve to
fight for change. Why? Because he based himself on a scientific,
materialist, class analysis. He was able to absorb, utilize and
further develop Marxism. The Marxist method enabled Mandel and
others to explain the cancerous trends inside the workers'
movement, to explain the incurable contradictions of world
capitalism that would give rise to new waves of class struggle,
and to project a programme and perspective necessary and capable
of achieving human liberation. Ernest Mandel never flagged in
the effort to advance that method, that perspective, and the
organization required to lead the struggle to victory.
was born in Frankfurt, Germany in April 1923. His parents sought
refuge in Belgium in the 1930s, settling in Antwerp. The Mandel
home was a safe haven and centre for German political refugees,
most often Trotskyists. Ernest's father, Henri Mandel, had been
a member of the German CP, worked as a journalist for the Soviet
Press Agency, and was a personal friend of Karl Radek, Lenin's
emissary to the German party.
Mandel learned quickly in this intense political environment,
speaking German and Flemish at home, and later mastering
English, French, and Spanish. At age 16, he joined the Belgian
section of the Fourth International. The FI was founded by Leon
Trotsky, co-leader of the Russian revolution, plus other leaders
of the International Left Opposition who dedicated their lives
to rehabilitating the world communist movement from the scourge
year later, in 1940, Leon Trotsky was assassinated by an agent
of Stalin, one Ramon Mercador, at Trotsky's fortress home in
exile near Mexico City. Many other Trotskyist leaders, including
Trotsky's son, Leon Sedov, were killed by Stalinist agents, or
captured, tortured and killed by the Nazis. These tragic losses
placed a big question mark over the capacity of the Fourth
International to survive. Demoralization was rampant. But Ernest
Mandel made a huge contribution, perhaps the biggest one,
towards answering that question in the affirmative. He worked
with unparalleled brilliance and tenacity to ensure the survival
of revolutionary Marxism.
age 18, comrade Mandel was a member of the Central Committee of
the Belgian FI section, working underground. At age 23, he
became a member of the International Secretariat of the FI, and
he continued for nearly half a century more, to play a leading
early in his political career, Mandel came close to his demise.
Both times he escaped incarceration by the Nazis. The first time
he was arrested for distributing anti-fascist leaflets to the
occupying German soldiers. As a revolutionary and a Jew, Mandel
was sent to a transit camp for prisoners en route to Auschwitz.
Ernest was a strong believer in his own capacity to convince
anyone of the merits of socialism. On this basis he started
talking to his jailers. The other Belgian and French prisoners
regarded their captors as hopelessly reactionary, even
sub-human. But Ernest talked to them, soon discovering that some
of them had been members of now-banned Social Democratic and
Communist parties. He impressed them so much that they helped
him to escape. This experience also deepened Mandel's
internationalism. He refused to write off a whole nationality
because of the crimes of its leaders.
story is reminiscent of the tale of Trotsky who was arrested and
temporarily held by the British navy at the Citadel in Halifax.
Trotsky was making his way back to Russia, from his New York
exile, to participate in the 1917 Russian Revolution. But after
a month in the compound he had politically convinced and won the
support of the other prisoners, most of them German navy men
conscripted to fight in World War I. For fear of an uprising, as
well as in response to international petitions, the British
released Trotsky who kept his appointment with destiny.
Labour Economist, Revolutionary Agitator
was guided by the same principles of proletarian
internationalism. His internationalism was not of the romantic
or touristic variety; it was solidly grounded in class struggle
and party building activity in his own country. In the 1950s he
took the fight for socialist ideas into the Socialist Party, and
worked closely with the Belgian trade union federation, of whose
Economic Commission he was a member from 1954 to 1962. Mandel
played a major role in the general strike (mainly in the Walloon
region) in Belgium in 1961, for which he came under heavy attack
from the establishment. He was the editor of the weekly
newspaper of the SP left wing, La Gauche/Links, until his
expulsion from the SP in 1964. For many more years he edited and
contributed enormously to the Trotskyist press, and to many,
many other publications. For example, Mandel was part of the
initial editorial team of the French left wing paper l'Observateur.
It was in the 1960s that Mandel became world renown as a leading
Marxist economist and political analyst. He has written
literally dozens of books, some of which we are proud to carry
in this small bookroom. His seminal works, Marxist Economic
Theory, was first published in 1962, Late Capitalism
in 1978, The Long Waves of Capitalist Development, and The
Second Slump, both in 1980, right up to his latest works, Power
and Money, 1992, and Trotsky as Alternative, 1995, continue
to have major influence on activists, radical intellectuals and
academics the world over. Mandel's Introduction to Marxist
Economic Theory, a small book based on lectures published
in 1967, has a circulation of more than two million copies in
about a dozen languages.
I can say that two of his pamphlets had a profound impact on my
political development. I encountered them as a high school
students' rights and anti-war activist in the late 1960s: Revolutionary
Student Movement: Theory and Practice and The Leninist
Theory of Organization. The first one explained to me how
student struggles could, and should, link up with the struggles
of the working class movement. The second explained the
differentiation of sectors of the working class by origin, by
political experience and capacity to act, and the indispensable
need for a revolutionary leadership and party to generalize the
understanding of the vanguard and to galvanize the class for the
seizure of power, against those who would block or sell-out that
possibility of a break with bourgeois society.
spoke in Toronto in 1972 and had a big impact on activists in
the left wing of the NDP and student movements. He came again in
the early 1980s, bearing signs of fatigue. I had the privilege
of attending his lectures at the FI leadership school in
Amsterdam in 1987. Again he seemed more tired, more reserved.
Two years ago he suffered a heart attack. At the fourteenth
world congress of the FI, in June in Belgium where I took the
photo of comrade Ernest on display tonight, he was frail, barely
able to walk without assistance.
he intervened in the discussions. He argued for further
elaboration of our programme, especially in light of the
continuing dangers of the arms race, nuclear power, and the
threat to the environment posed by capitalist greed and
irrationality. He also made the case for a stronger commitment
to what he called "international democratic
centralism"—that is, the need for the FI to stand in
solidarity and unity and to make common campaigns against war
and inter-ethnic and racial conflicts that divide the working
class and prolong the existence of a sick, anti-human social and
Slander Mandel, Again
he passed away on July 20, Ernest Mandel was eulogized by media
around the world, not just the radical press. Le Monde,
the Manchester Guardian, Time magazine, just
to name a few. What ever their political standpoint, almost all
were respectful of his dedication and brilliance. There is,
unfortunately one very dishonourable exception. Not
surprisingly, perhaps, it comes from the Stalinist tradition,
now a shrivelled, dying political current. In the latest edition
of the Peoples Voice, newspaper of the Communist Party
of Canada, there is an article, one-third of a page, devoted to
slandering Ernest Mandel. The CP writer accuses Mandel, among
other things, of defending the views of Russian mystic and
monarchist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and of being a booster of a
Vatican/CIA plot to undermine the "socialist" Poland.
The best that Peoples Voice can say about Mandel is the
following: "Yet there is no direct evidence that Mandel was
a paid agent of imperialism. He probably was not."
very much, comrades, for that clarification. It says a lot more
about the source, than it does about the accused. It also helps
us to understand a small part of what Ernest Mandel and his
co-thinkers had to struggle against throughout his lifetime.
Hopefully we can now move well beyond that sad chapter of the
struggle for basic honesty and democracy in the workers'
Party Builder, With a Mass Orientation
Mandel had weaknesses. He made mistakes. But he had a great
capacity to admit his errors and to take the necessary steps
towards correcting them. He was dedicated to building the
revolutionary party, no matter how modest its starting point,
because of, as he taught us, the essential importance of
programme and revolutionary method. But he was also and at the
same time oriented to the masses, to the big struggles of our
century. He had no patience for sidelined commentators, for
abstract critics, for sectarians of any stripe. His last work is
a polemic against sectarianism, which you can read in BIDOM.
will quote only the closing paragraph, a stanza that is really
more about empowerment and socialist humanism, in the face of
difficult obstacles. And I appeal to each person here. If you
agree with these words, join us. Your place is with us, in
Socialist Action and the FI, in the fight for a better world.
Mandel wrote these words: "Do not succumb to despair,
resignation, or cynicism, given the terrible odds we all have to
face. Do not retreat into "individual solutions" (the
flesh pots of the consumer society are still open for some, be
it on a much more restricted basis than before).... Never forget
the moral commitment of all those who claim to be Marxists: the
intransigent defense of the interests of the exploited and the
oppressed on a world scale, everywhere, all the time.
content yourself with pure propaganda activities. Never forget
the initial and final commitment of Marx: The philosophers have
interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to