International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International 1991: Oppose imperialist war and colonialism!

The Political Bankruptcy of Ernest Mandel

This article originally appeared in the March 15, 1991 issue of “Neue Arbeiterpresse,” weekly newspaper of the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter, German section of the ICFI.

On March 8, 1991, one week following the end of the barbaric colonial war of the imperialists against Iraq, Ernest Mandel, the leader of the Pabloite United Secretariat of the Fourth International, gave a lecture in Bochum, Germany entitled “The Political Link between Third World Solidarity and Trade Union Struggle in the Metropolitan Nations”—and he managed to do that without so much as mentioning the war in a single sentence.

At least 200,000 workers, peasants, women and children of an oppressed former colonial country were slaughtered in an unprecedented genocide; their country, economy and culture were devastated—and Mandel does not have a word of condemnation, of assessment of this war! The reason for his silence is that this war has exposed the complete bankruptcy of his politics, and he literally has nothing to say about it.

Ernest Mandel was the leading “theoretician” of the strategy of “armed struggle against imperialism.” After their break with Trotskyism and the Fourth International in 1953, the Pabloites advanced this strategy in place of the mobilization of the international working class for the program of world socialist revolution. Mandel asserted that the “armed struggle” in individual countries, even when it was led politically by bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces, would lead to the victory over imperialism. According to him, it was not the working class in the imperialist, industrial metropolitan nations which would form the decisive force for the anti-imperialist struggle, but “armed” bourgeois regimes as in Algeria or in Iraq, petty-bourgeois nationalists such as Fidel Castro or guerrilla fighters such as Che Guevara in the “third world as the epicenter of world revolution.”

On the basis of this political line, Mandel and Hansen, the leader of the American Socialist Workers Party, broke the SWP from the International Committee of the Fourth International in 1963 and organized the unprincipled reunification out of which the United Secretariat emerged.

Thousands of Mandel supporters in Latin America, led astray by his glorification of “armed guerrilla struggle,” were not only disoriented politically during the sixties, but driven into senseless death. In Europe, Mandel was merchandised by the bourgeois media and bourgeois publishing houses as a “revolutionary Marxist” and “strategist of world revolution” and provided with the academic rank of professor.

Now that his political bankruptcy with respect to the horrible carnage perpetrated by the imperialists in the massacre of the Iraqi army has become obvious even in Europe, he has nothing to offer the working class on the burning question of how to stop and defeat the murder machine of the imperialists aside from a proposal that is just as absurd as it is cynical: follow the example of the Swiss Alpine republic!

“We should no longer,” he says literally, “rack our brains, as we have done previously in the Marxist movement, about how the armed apparatus of the bourgeois state, such as the army, might be liquidated and brought under control. No, we should, instead, simply take Switzerland as our model. In a referendum there at the very first try, 35 percent voted for the abolition of the army! Abolition of the army that is the slogan of 12-year-old school children on the antiwar demonstrations—let’s take it up!”

Impotent pacifism of the kind that every parson preaches from the pulpit and every trade union bureaucrat lauds to veil his collaboration with the imperialist regime—this is all that Professor Mandel now has to offer.

In the one reference in his speech which indirectly touched on the gulf war, Mandel, like every social democratic bureaucrat, supported the imperialist war propaganda. That “the dictator Saddam Hussein” had bought weapons from the capitalists he depicted as the actual cause of the war and as proof of the “irrationality of the profit system.” “The sales of weapons,” he argued, “occurred because every capitalist said to himself: ‘If I don’t sell, someone else will.’ “ Mandel, the “theoretician of armed struggle against imperialism,” portrays as a crime the purchase of weapons by an oppressed, former colonial country such as Iraq, to defend itself against the imperialist powers!

The gulf war has brought to the fore the immense and complex problems faced by the international working class today. It is confronted with an unparalleled globalization of the productive forces and of the processes of production. These make it impossible for the working class to solve any of its fundamental problems within the national framework, whether it be the defense of jobs, wages, democratic rights or emancipation from imperialist exploitation and oppression. At the same time, the world economy is again fragmenting into rival, hostile nation-states and economic blocs. Brutal trade wars, colonial wars and war for the redivision of the world are on the agenda, leading to violent class war in every country. The traditional leaders of the working class, the Stalinist and social democratic bureaucracies, all without exception, base themselves on a nationalist program of class collaboration. Under these conditions, they no longer organize class compromise and reforms, but impose mass unemployment, cheap labor and imperialist wars on the working class and oppressed peoples.

Mandel offers nothing in opposition to the political bankruptcy of the previously dominant social democratic and Stalinist bureaucracies and their nationalist programs, to the dangers that have arisen for the working class as a result of these policies but the ludicrous caricature of an international program. In his lecture he proposed the “telephone strategy,” which he personally developed years ago, and which today can perhaps be further developed as a fax strategy. This revolutionary “strategy” consists of nothing more than having “the trade unionists of a factory reaching for the phones and communicating with their fellow workers in other plants and countries whenever a labor conflict breaks out.”

As a typical example he cited a case that occurred at the Ford plant in Mexico. During a strike there a picket was shot dead. “Whether this was caused by the employers or the police or even by the trade union bureaucracy in collaboration with the police and the employers makes no difference whatever,” said Mandel. “What is important is the reaction of the work force. Each year on the anniversary of this murder the Ford workers in Mexico wear a black ribbon on their jackets. And the Ford workers in the USA were immediately informed of this action and then adopted the same form of protest, making of it an international action.” This, according to Mandel, was a small but important step in the right direction.

What a farce! Basing themselves on the trade union bureaucrats and the armed power of the state, the capitalist corporations and banks are intensifying their terror against the working class around the world, organizing the murder of strikers, the destruction of the unions, mass layoffs, the devastation of entire countries! And Mandel proposes that workers in every country should wear black ribbons! The only difference he has with DGB (equivalent of the AFL-CIO) President Meyer, who proposes a “weekly minute of silence against the war,” is that Mandel wants to make a “worldwide trade union strategy” of these demonstrations of political impotence called by the trade union bureaucracy.

Since all nationalist programs for class struggle have collapsed and even radical forms of union struggle such as plant occupations of multinational corporations have become ineffective as long as they do not begin with the mobilization of the working class under a socialist program, Ernest Mandel, like his idol Gorbachev, draws the conclusion that the class struggle itself must be thrown overboard.

Feeble petty-bourgeois protest policies—this is the recipe of the “great Marxist” Mandel for the working class in the imperialist metropolitan countries. Out of “solidarity with the third world,” these policies are to be complemented by an “alternative model of development for the third world.”

Unperturbed by the fact that the joint imperialist forces have just completed bombing Iraq back into medieval conditions, destroyed its entire laboriously constructed industry, its infrastructure and culture, Mandel proclaims: “The differentiation in affluence between the countries of the third world and our industrial nations can and must be overcome. Social security, for example, must be extended to these countries, higher wages must and can be achieved by self-acting, self-conscious union movements in these countries. That is possible in the world of today [!]. We in the prosperous countries must help them from feelings of moral guilt and obligation!”

Mandel propagates a reformist utopia of the kind right-wing bureaucrats in their Sunday speechifying have been preaching for years, while at the same time they sit in the corporate boardrooms of Siemens and Bayer, assist in organizing the exploitation of workers in Peru or South Africa and then make the European working class and their wages responsible for the suffering in Africa and Latin America.

“The workers movement in the industrial countries can and must make great efforts to evolve alternative strategies to carry out alternative models of development,” Mandel demanded. He admitted there was a difficult problem standing in the way of these efforts: “the crisis of the credibility of socialism.”

Here again are Mandel’s actual words: “Given the historical experience with Stalinism by people in their hundreds of millions, given the developments in Eastern Europe”—he means the collapse of Stalinism and its regimes—”in the eyes of these people socialism is no longer credible. Hence, we have the task of employing new methods to familiarize broad masses with the historical content of socialism. To accomplish this we have to perhaps also abandon old concepts and make use of a new vocabulary. To do this we must certainly also tax our energies and develop new, imaginative forms of struggle.”

In the discussion that followed, a supporter of the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter dealt with the role of Ernest Mandel as the leader of Pabloism. The Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter is the German section of the International Committee of the Fourth International, which was founded in 1953 to defend the program and perspectives of Trotskyism against the opportunist betrayal of Pabloism.

“You, Mr. Mandel, have spoken of the ‘crisis of credibility of socialism’. But in reality it has to do with the crisis of Stalinism. One can speak of a ‘crisis of the credibility of socialism’ only to the extent that millions of workers have identified socialism with Stalinism. A principal factor responsible for the emergence of this confusion in the working class was, however, the policies that you, Mr. Mandel, have pursued for 40 years.

“You broke with Trotskyism 40 years ago and since then have conferred the title of ‘revolutionary socialist’ to all possible Stalinist bureaucrats or petty-bourgeois nationalists like Fidel Castro. Even in today’s lecture you speak of the Eastern European Stalinists as ‘former socialists.’

“In 1957 in a resolution bearing the title ‘Decline and Fall of Stalinism’ you defined an alleged ‘leftist’ tendency in the Polish Stalinist party, ‘which had allied itself with the centrist Gomulka faction’ as the possible ‘nucleus of a new revolutionary Marxist leadership of the Polish proletariat.’ Barely 14 years later, Gomulka ordered the shooting of striking workers in Gdansk and more than 200 of them were killed.

“In 1982 you and Pierre Frank, another leader of the United Secretariat, glorified the head of the Solidarity Movement, Lech Walesa, without regard to his petty-bourgeois nationalist program as the ‘leader of the political revolution,’ the same Lech Walesa, who today plays a decisive role in the restoration of capitalism in Poland.

“And in 1989, barely two years ago, in your book, The Gorbachev Experiment, you wrote about Gorbachev, who initiated the course of capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union and without whose agreement and collaboration the imperialists would have been unable to organize their savage war of destruction against the Iraqi people, you wrote the following about this man: ‘Unquestionably he is numbered among the most gifted and capable politicians of the twentieth century... (p. 12). It would be absurd to impute to him and his team a desire to restore capitalism in the USSR... (p. 125). Hence, under present circumstances it would be irresponsible to advocate the weakening of Gorbachev.... Further developments do not depend primarily on Gorbachev and his team but much more on the relationship of forces between the powers presently engaged—in the final analysis on the mobilization of the masses on behalf of either the one camp (Ligachev) or the other (Gorbachev)... (pp. 268-69).

Whoever analyzes Gorbachev’s reform course in this sense will perceive that this enlightened absolutism (the Gorbachev bureaucracy) under current conditions in the Soviet Union remains the only alternative to an ominous dictatorship’ (p. 271).

“Since 1953 you have ascribed a progressive character to the Stalinist bureaucracy and have maintained that in the course of centuries, under the pressure of the masses, it could be moved to the left and compelled to gradually introduce socialism. Thus, to this very day you have rejected the Trotskyist perspective of the political revolution. When, after the overthrow of Honecker in the GDR, the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter distributed an appeal calling for the political revolution, for the complete overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracy through the formation of workers councils, you attacked this in the Stalinist youth paper Junge Welt as an ‘unprecedented interference from the outside’ and explicitly defended Gorbachev and his policies....”

The supporter of the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter then responded to the perspectives and “strategies” that Mandel in his lecture had proposed for the trade union movement:

“Behind your words about ‘worldwide strategies’ is concealed nothing less than a right-wing, nationalist trade union policy. You speak of worldwide trade union strategies, but your own organization, the United Secretariat, decades ago broke programatically with internationalism. Although it deceitfully still refers to the name ‘Fourth International,’ today, even organizationally it explicitly rejects the construction of a world party in the working class. Here is what the journal Inprecorr of the United Secretariat writes in its issue of January-February 1991, p. 30: ‘It is important to understand that the Fourth International is not a world party. The International is the sum of its national organizations, each of which is rooted in its own society.’ This is a proclamation of programmatic and organizational nationalism, which Stalin himself never formulated more openly.

“The only movement which can ‘familiarize the masses with the historical content of socialism’ is the Trotskyist movement. It has defended the program of internationalism, of socialist revolution against Stalinism. You yourself broke with Trotskyism in 1953 and have since done nothing more than misrepresent its program and perspectives. That is why in your lecture today you never so much as even mentioned Leon Trotsky or his program of world socialist revolution!”

Thereupon Professor Mandel lost his air of academic composure, which he had assumed up to that point, and, in a fit of rage, made his reply.

He charged that his critic, along with the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter, represented “a sect that begins with the word, like biblical scribes cite old texts and gets all worked up over certain words.” On the other hand he, Mandel, sides with the old dialectician and Marxist, Goethe, who had said that “in the beginning was the deed.”

Among millions of people, he said, socialism had lost credibility not because words and theories were adulterated, but on the basis of the deeds of Stalinism. These had been “practical experiences” not differing theories. “These millions of workers have never in their lives read Marx, Engels or Lenin, and will not do so in the future!,” exclaimed Mandel, underscoring his contempt for the working class. The workers in Russia, he continued, likewise did not make the October Revolution on the basis of some kind of theories, but through practical experiences. In any case, these hundreds of millions of people, he went on, certainly never read him, Mandel, so that it was utterly absurd to maintain that he, Mandel, had had any influence upon them through any kind of incorrect words or theories. “It was deeds which led to the crisis of credibility of socialism, and practical deeds, new and imaginative deeds, are now necessary!”

Like every opportunist, after expressing in this way his glorification of the spontaneous movement and his hostility to the struggle for Marxism and its scientific program in the working class, he turned his attack directly on the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter and the International Committee of the Fourth International.

“This sect,” he shouted, “bases itself on the Stalinist methods of the lie! It is a monstrous slander to assert that I have for decades promoted the concept of the ‘self-reform of the Stalinist bureaucracy.’ “ He always advocated the political revolution from below, he insisted, and in his book on Gorbachev there was an entire chapter devoted to this theme. “These sects and their methods of Stalinism must be eliminated from the labor movement, they must be destroyed!” he concluded.

Mandel based his entire tirade against Marxism and the International Committee of the Fourth International on the premise that no one in the audience could really be interested in the historical truth, in the bitter lessons of the class struggle of the last 50 years. Consequently, he withheld the fact that both his treacherous deeds as well as his revisionist theories actually did influence the course of the class struggle and the fate of millions of workers.

In 1964 the section of the United Secretariat in Ceylon entered the bourgeois government of Bandaranaike, which a few years later committed atrocious mass murder of the rebellious youth there. In Chile the Pabloites liquidated themselves into the centrist MIR, which in 1973 supported the people’s front policies of Allende and thus aided the fascist military to come to power. For decades Mandel passed off Jacek Kuron, a right-wing critic of Stalinism in Poland, as a “Trotskyist.” To the very day of Kuron’s entry as minister of labor into the Mazowiecki government, which introduced capitalist restoration into Poland with unprecedented pauperization of the working class, Mandel, as he himself once admitted, maintained the closest political contact with him, as his “adviser and friend.”

Even his assertion that his books have not been read, in no way squares with the facts. On the contrary, this very meeting and its organizers documented the devastating influence which Mandel and his writings—including the theoretical and political conceptions expressed there—have had on the course of the class struggle in Germany as well. Mandel’s appearance here was the result of an invitation from former members of the Red Cell Economics of the University of Bochum, which during the student movement of the sixties subscribed to Mandel’s theories of “neocapitalism” and his petty-bourgeois radical program. They then went into the Opel plant with this program and began work there. Since then they have striven as the “left wing,” using a reformist, syndicalist program cloaked in radical phrases, to neutralize every opposition in the work force hostile to the right-wing union and factory council leadership and thus preventing a break with this leadership which would enable the opposition to rally around a revolutionary socialist program.

To a large extent the audience itself consisted of aging remnants of the student movement, revisionists, so-called trade union “lefts” and grayhaired teachers, who previously had been intoxicated by the revisionist theories of Ernest Mandel.

Even today they listened with rapt attention to his discourse and thereby revealed that since the sixties they had undergone the same intellectual, political and moral degeneration as had this senile professor. They nodded approvingly when early in his lecture, he—in a completely muddled and confused manner—mumbled some Marxist-sounding concepts about “surplus-value,” “profit” and “exploitation,” so as to conclude that labor power was “to be sure, still exploited in the capitalist metropolitan nations,” nonetheless “these conditions of exploitation enabled a worker to have a higher standard of living than at any time in the past.” Only once, when Mandel in the heat of the discussion inadvertently let slip the word “working class,” did the graybeards nervously and skeptically twirl their mustaches; for normally instead of classes he would speak only of “masses,” instead of class struggle only of “what these many people do.”

These elements of the once “radical” petty bourgeoisie were not even remotely interested in the history of the Marxist movement, and thus they did not support the demands of other members of the BSA that Mandel should make clear where he stood on the documents that were cited and quoted from and prove his charge that the BSA critic had lied.

But one participant in the discussion stated that Mandel’s reaction to his political opponents reminded him more of Stalinist methods than the kind of criticism leveled against Mandel. Another called on Mandel to finally take a position this evening on the gulf war.

Mandel then answered that from the beginning, the United Secretariat had unanimously condemned this war as an “unjust war.” The defeat of Iraq demonstrates, however, that the armed struggle against imperialism, in which guns are used to fight against laser-guided bombs, is suicide. Far more effective and blazing a trail for the future—is the struggle of unarmed Palestinian children in the intifada against the heavily armed Israeli soldiers. Of course, these unarmed children would be killed, but the pictures of these happenings would shock the world, jolt and somewhat stir the moral conscience in the West.

In other words, after the bankruptcy of his policy of the “armed struggle against imperialism,” Mandel now propagates the “unarmed struggle,” the slaughter of defenseless children and youth by imperialism—and all this as a means of moral pressure, to produce enough tears to soften the heart of imperialism. The worker and peasant masses of oppressed countries, however, are to continue to remain in isolation from the working class of the capitalist metropolitan nations and kept subordinate to the bourgeois nationalist program of their present leaders.

Mandel has explicitly and definitively broken all ties to the working class, which he had formerly still professed in words, as well as to the traditions of Marxism and internationalism. He still seeks to mobilize right-wing, demoralized strata of the petty-bourgeoisie as a final prop of the tottering capitalist system against the working class. This was graphically illustrated in his lecture and in his outburst of hatred against Marxism and the Trotskyist movement.