International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International (1990): 50 years since the assassination of Trotsky

Ernest Mandel defends Stalinism

On November 4, 1989, over one million workers and youth in East Berlin demonstrated against the Stalinist bureaucracy. Within days, the East German government resigned, along with most of the Politburo of the ruling Stalinist party, the Socialist Unity Party, the SED. At the rally, the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter distributed several thousand copies of a central committee statement, “Overthrow the Stalinist Bureaucracy! Build Workers Councils!” which they had smuggled through the Berlin Wall. A few days after the mass rally, Ernest Mandel, leader of the revisionist United Secretariat, was invited into East Berlin and was interviewed by the daily paper of the SED youth organization. In this interview, he supported the SED bureaucracy against the BSA statement, and denounced the BSA.

This article originally appeared in Neue Arbeiterpresse on December 1, 1989.

Just a few days after the November mass rally in East Berlin, where the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter distributed thousands of copies of its statement, “Overthrow the SED Bureaucracy! Build Workers’ Councils!,” the East German Stalinist party brought Ernest Mandel, the leader of the revisionist United Secretariat, into the GDR as an expert in the struggle against Trotskyism.

Mandel was officially invited by Humboldt University in East Berlin. In an interview with Junge Welt (Young World), the widely distributed daily paper of the SED youth organization FDJ, on November 15, he supported the SED bureaucracy against the BSA’s statement.

The half-page interview with Mandel included the following:

“Junge Welt: On the Berlin demonstration on November 4, Trotskyists from the FRG [West Germany] were also on the streets and distributed a 28-page statement. What do you think about it?

“Mandel: It is tactlessness and reveals a lack of political understanding, when forces from outside cut into that huge mass movement in the GDR. The main concern should be to give GDR citizens the opportunity for sovereign self-determination without any interference from outside.”

Junge Welt gave Mandel a fawning introduction as the “Belgian Professor Ernest Mandel, leading theoretician of the Trotskyist IV International.” However, the fact that Mandel brands the intervention of the BSA as “interference from outside” exposes him as a petty-bourgeois nationalist and an irreconcilable enemy of the perspectives of the Fourth International.

In the first place, Marxists are—since Marx and Engels published the Communist Manifesto in 1847 under the banner “workers of the world, unite”—internationalists. They base themselves on the working class as an international class and consider it as their primary task to arm it with a revolutionary program in every country of the world. What else did Marx intend with the foundation of the First International, the then Marxist social democracy with the Second, Lenin with the Third and Trotsky with the Fourth International? At the center of Trotsky’s struggle against Stalinism was the defense of the program of the international socialist revolution against the nationalist theory of “socialism in a single country.”

Mandel’s view is that of the bourgeoisie and their Stalinist and social democratic supporters, who are forever slandering Marxists by labeling them “foreign agents” and “traitors of their country,” persecuting and, in the case of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, killing them.

Lenin was hunted for months in 1917 by the Mensheviks with the allegation that he was an “agent of the German Kaiser.” Trotsky himself was smeared by the Stalinists as an agent of either French, British or German imperialism, depending upon what imperialist power Stalin was currently collaborating with.

Obviously Professor Mandel must consider Trotsky’s bitter struggle against Stalinism in almost every country of the world—his continuous campaign for the united front in Germany against the Stalinist policy of “social fascism” in 1929-33, his warnings of the disastrous consequences of the popular front during the Spanish Civil War—as a “tactless interference from outside in a huge mass movement.”

The Fourth International never accepted the results of the agreements of Yalta and Potsdam. These agreements between Stalinism and imperialism had only one purpose: to split the working class in Europe and especially in Germany in order to prevent a socialist revolution. This is why the BSA is fighting as a section of the Fourth International both in the FRG and the GDR. The political revolution in the GDR, the overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracy, and the socialist revolution in the FRG, the overthrow of capitalism, are inseparably connected.

If Mandel labels the intervention of the BSA an “interference from outside,” he is only repeating the position of the SED bureaucracy, which on the one hand is maintaining close ties with representatives of West German imperialism, but on the other hand is deathly afraid that the working class in the GDR might get in touch with revolutionary representatives of the West German working class.

Mandel’s demand that the Fourth International should not “interfere in the mass movement in the GDR” expresses the deepest concerns of Modrow and Krenz. At all costs, they want to prevent the working class from organizing itself independently of the SED bureaucracy and the petty-bourgeois “democratic” opposition and formulating its own class interests, to prevent the spontaneous mass movement against the Stalinist bureaucracy from linking up with the program of the Fourth International.

Mandel even goes so far as to carefully avoid the expression “working class,” referring instead to the “citizens of the GDR.” Together with his supporters, who are organized in the GDR as the Democratic Socialists, he is seeking to spread illusions in the possibility of reforming the bureaucracy in order to prevent workers from overthrowing it. Recently in an interview with the West Berlin newspaper Prowo, a representative of the Democratic Socialists advocated a common government with the SED, consisting of “delegates from the factories and competent representatives of the ‘reform wing’ of the SED.”

This is not the first time that Mandel has defended the Stalinist bureaucracy against the perspectives of the Fourth International. What is new is only that he has done it in the columns of an official government organ, which has elevated him to the SED bureaucracy’s official “model Trotskyist.”

In the late 1940s, Mandel together with Pablo, then secretary of the Fourth International, came to the conviction that Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinism as a thoroughly counterrevolutionary agency of imperialism was no longer correct. Under the pressure of the cold war, they stated, the Stalinist parties would play a progressive role and consequently there would be no room for an independent intervention of the working class under the banner of the Fourth International.

This revision of the perspectives of the Fourth International by Pablo and Mandel represented an adaptation to petty-bourgeois layers which, based on the suppression of the revolutionary movement of the working class by Stalinism and imperialism and the emerging postwar economic boom, were strengthened and dominated the labor movement

In the course of the struggle against Pabloite revisionism, the International Committee, whose German section is the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter, was founded in 1953 to defend the program of the Fourth International.

Since then, Mandel has always put in a political appearance when the predominance of the Stalinist and social democratic bureaucracy or the petty-bourgeois nationalists over the working class was threatened.

In 1956, as a workers’ uprising emerged in Poland, Mandel helped the Stalinists disarm the working class by praising Gomulka—who 13 years later would order the shooting of the shipyard workers with tanks—as a representative of a “new revolutionary Marxist leadership of the Polish proletariat.” More than 20 years later, Mandel glorified Walesa, who today is offering the Polish workers up to be freely exploited by leading imperialists all over the world. Mandel worked closely with Jacek Kuron until the day he joined the Polish government. Now, as the minister for labor relations, Kuron is responsible for pushing through intensified speedup. For years Mandel praised him as a Trotskyist.

In other countries, the role of the United Secretariat has been no less criminal; everywhere that it controlled sections of the Fourth International, it subordinated them to the predominant political tendencies, such as the Stalinists, social democrats, petty-bourgeois nationalists or protesting college youth.

In 1964, the Pabloite LSSP in Sri Lanka became part of a bourgeois coalition government and participated in the massacre of 15,000 peasant youth. In Latin America, thousands of workers lost their lives when they followed Mandel’s advice and substituted adventurist and hopeless guerrilla struggle for the political struggle in the working class. In the meantime, Mandel was sitting in Brussels, enjoying his comfortable life as a professor and successful author.

More recently, Mandel has appeared above all as a defender of Gorbachev and his policies of capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union. In the Junge Welt interview, Mandel explicitly defended Gorbachev—and therefore also Modrow and Krenz, who overnight became 150 percent Gorbachev supporters—against the criticisms of the BSA:

“Junge Welt: Even Gorbachev has been attacked as the ‘leader of the Stalinist bureaucracy in Moscow.’ Do these Trotskyists still orientate themselves by reality?

“Mandel: You can of course—like those in their little booklet—criticize the policies of Mikhail Gorbachev. I am myself not in agreement with a part of his economic policies. But everybody in this world who has elementary common sense, not to speak about Marxist judgment, understands clearly that Gorbachev’s overthrow, the return of the old days of Brezhnev, would mean a disaster of world historic dimensions. Not to see that we have to defend the nucleus of the achievements of ‘glasnost’ against all its enemies, as a huge step forward for the Soviet working class, the Soviet people, the international working class and all democratic forces in the world, that seems to me a dangerous political blindness, delusion or mania.”

With his “elementary common sense” Mandel is moving in the best circles. Just recently US President Bush declared, “There is no stronger supporter of perestroika than the president of the United States.” Even this highest representative of US imperialism has grasped that the restoration of capitalism is at the center of perestroika and therefore is willing to assure Gorbachev every possible support to suppress the resistance of the Soviet working class.

The purpose of glasnost, which is so praised by Mandel, is above all to tie petty-bourgeois layers to the bureaucracy. It does not at all conflict with oppressive laws against strikes and the concentration of dictatorial power in the hands of one man—Gorbachev.

Mandel’s open hostility to the BSA statement exposes him as an attorney of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Unable and too discredited before the masses to deal with the program of the BSA by itself, the SED bureaucracy needs the authority of a supposed “Trotskyist” to slander the Trotskyist program of political revolution.

His smear campaign against the program of the Fourth International was published in the central organ of the youth organization of a party which has suppressed Trotsky’s writings for 40 years and jailed anyone who declared himself a Trotskyist.

Oskar Hippe, for example, a leading member of the German section of the Fourth International, who managed to escape—as one of the few Trotskyists in Germany—the claws of the gestapo, was thrown into a GDR prison for eight years. Mandel and his German ally Jungclas did not lift a finger to free Hippe or even to assist his wife, who had been badly abused by the gestapo.

Mandel’s open performance as an attorney of the SED bureaucracy at the time of its deepest crisis is a historical vindication of the 35-year-long struggle launched by the International Committee of the Fourth International against Pabloism.

Now it is becoming clear that this struggle—followed and understood for a long time only by a few thousand people and presented by all different centrists as evidence of the supposed “sectarianism” of the Fourth International—has decisive importance for the revolutionary struggles of millions of workers.

The struggle of the International Committee against Pabloism has the same historical importance for the revolutionary development of the international working class at the end of the twentieth century as Luxemburg’s fight against Bernstein and Lenin’s fight against the Mensheviks, which finally culminated in the victory of the Russian October Revolution at the beginning of this century.

That struggle has been decisively strengthened by the fight which was carried out since 1982 by the present sections of the International Committee against the Pabloite degeneration of the British Workers Revolutionary Party. The break with the WRP in 1985-86 enabled them to launch a new offensive against Stalinism.

The fact that Mandel is no longer able to hide his right-wing policies behind “left” pseudo-radical phrases, as he did in the past, that he is exposed before the eyes of thousands of workers as an attorney of the SED bureaucracy and an enemy of Trotskyism, is an important gain for the international working class and an immediate result of the active intervention of the BSA in East Germany.