Ernest Mandel: A Centrist For All Seasons

SL Confronts USec Leader on U.S. Tour
Spartacist, No. 25, Summer 1978

An abbreviated version of this article was distributed at a meeting in New York on May 4 where Mandel spoke on the world economic crisis. For an account of this meeting see "Mandel Weasels on Pop Front," Workers Vanguard No. 205, 12 May 1978.

Ernest Mandel is a world-class left-wing academic, jet-setting from continent to continent to give lectures and interviews, a prolific author of books and articles, a "star" whose views are eagerly sought by trendy publications and even the most stuffy bourgeois newspapers and journals of opinion. He is perhaps the best-known of the fraternity of economists who claim the Marxist tradition, and much closer to orthodox Leninism than a Sweezy or Bettelheim. He is, finally, the very image of an engagé intellectual darting from classrooms at Louvain or Berlin’s "Free University" to meetings of the "United Secretariat of the Fourth International" of which he is the principal spokesman, to conferences with planning officials in Havana. To the mass media and imperialist governments Ernest Mandel is the embodiment of the "Trotskyite menace," a bête noir to be stopped at borders by secret police or excluded by McCarthyite legislation.

Leaving aside the periodic reactionary hysteria about a "terrorist Fourth International," Mandel enjoys a positive reputation across an amazingly broad spectrum, ranging from out-and-out liberals to unblushing Stalinists. This contrasts so sharply with the opprobrium and persecution directed against Leon Trotsky and the Fourth Internationalist communists of his day that one is moved to ask why. If this man is the irreconcilable opponent of all existing regimes of class rule or bureaucratic oppression on the planet, the resolute defender of authentic Marxism and Leninism against every hue of revisionism, a fiery denouncer of those who betray the cause of the proletariat--then why isn’t he universally hated? The answer is simple: Ernest Mandel is not a Trotskyist but an impostor. Anybody who came to hear a genuine Bolshevik-Leninist should ask for his money back.

In reality, although he knows quite well what Bolshevik intransigence is and can write an orthodox polemic as facilely as he churns out opportunist apologetics, for the last quarter century Mandel has fought against a Trotskyist perspective and program at every crucial juncture. He has employed his agile mind and his impressive erudition to dream up revisionist "theoretical" cover for every petty-bourgeois radical opportunist craze: student power, peasant-guerrilla "armed struggle," popular frontism. In the 1960’s when "student power" was in its heyday he joined right in the New Left fad. Rather than emphasizing that the proletariat was still the key, he wrote that the workers’ struggles had been bought off under "neocapitalism," and his supporters advocated a program for "red universities." When "Che" Guevara was a cult hero on the campuses Mandel, far from insisting on the need for a Leninist proletarian vanguard party to lead the struggles of the working masses, became an armchair guerrillero and ordered his followers to join Castro’s guerrillaist "International," the stillborn OLAS.

Today he is again chasing after the latest fashionable trends in Europe: popular frontism and Eurocommunism. Where Trotsky called proletarian opposition to the Popular Front the key to revolutionary strategy in this epoch and "the best criterion for the difference between Bolshevism and Menshevism," Mandelites in France refused to label the Union of the Left a popular front and, fearful of "isolation," followed the masses in voting for its candidates. And while the Eurocommunists are caught up in Jimmy Carter’s anti-Soviet "human rights" campaign, Mandel says he has "hopes and confidence" that inveterate reformist traitors like Spanish CP leader Carrillo--who crossed a picket line at Yale to demonstrate his appreciation to the State Department for letting him visit America--"will return to the path of revolutionary Marxism"!

Even people who are relatively unacquainted with Trotskyism can easily see that such a man has nothing to do with the heroic Left Oppositionists whose leader was slain on Stalin’s orders in 1940. For if student power spontaneists, Guevarist guerrillaists and the popular front can lead the revolutionary struggle, then who needs Trotskyist parties? In fact, if the Stalinist reformists of the Spanish CP can "return" to revolutionary Marxism, then Trotsky was dead wrong in writing off the Comintern as definitively gone over to the side of the bourgeoisie after Stalin allowed Hitler to march to power unhindered in 1933. Then the founding of the Fourth International five years later was, at best, a terrible mistake.

"The Many Faces and Long Waves of Ernest Mandel"

In New York Mandel will be speaking on the world economic crisis. It is on the subject of economics that he has gained renown as a popularizer and interpreter of Marx in the period of monopoly capitalism. His textbook, Marxist Economic Theory, is the most widely read volume of its kind, and Mandel has a certain aura of theoretical innovation, such as his rediscovery (elaborated in his book Late Capitalism) of the "long wave" theories of the Russian economist Kondratiev. He often appears to be orthodox compared to other pseudo-Marxist economists, such as Paul Sweezy who distorts the labor theory of value to justify his New Left theory of a crisis-free monopoly capitalism; or Charles Bettelheim, who has to redefine capitalism in order to justify the Maoist dogma that the USSR is "social-imperialist." But in reality, Mandel’s economic writings are stepchildren to his political appetites, the purest impressionism dressed up in Marxoid jargon.

To take but one example, just why did our "theoretician" come up with Kondratiev "long waves"? (His contention is that the period between 1945 and 1966 was a "long post-war phase of rapid growth," during which supposedly effective countercyclical capitalist state policies made the recurrence of a 1929-style crash impossible. In contrast, we are--according to his view--currently in a long-term downturn in which the economic struggles of labor run up against the bosses’ profit greed.) To begin with, Mandel has no economic data to back up his contentions: none are available in the 19th century, he deliberately ignores the mid- and late-1920’s boom to show the entire interwar period as a down wave, and the "post-war boom" is a myth--being quite uneven internationally, with plenty of ups and downs.

No, the origin of Mandel’s long wave theory is political, not economic. It is a dishonest, objectivist means of excusing the fact that during the 1960’s he wrote off the working class of the imperialist countries as a revolutionary force. At that time he did not refer to "late capitalism" but "neocapitalism" based on the "third industrial revolution" of automation and nuclear power. In his brochure, An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory, Mandel states that: "The neo-capitalist phase which we are now witnessing, is that of a long term expansion of capitalism… ." This directly contradicts the Leninist thesis that the imperialist epoch is that of the decay of productive forces--"the death agony of capitalism" as Trotsky put it in the title of the founding program of the Fourth International.

And what are the implications of this long-term expansion? Mandel writes:

"The long term cycle which began with the Second World War, and in which we still remain… has, on the contrary, been characterized by expansion, and because of this expansion the margin for negotiation and discussion between the bourgeoisie and the working class has been enlarged. The possibility has been created for strengthening the system on the basis of granting concessions to the workers… close collaboration between an expansive bourgeoisie and the conservative forces of the labor movement and is fundamentally sustained by a rising trend in the standard of living of the workers."
An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory

Try presenting that line to the petty-bourgeois radical milieu today! Mandel would be laughed off the stage. But at the time this was a popular theme of all the "new working class" theories and, as always, our "Marxist" economist picked up what was in vogue and elaborated a theory to fit the superficial impression.

As for the bosses’ willingness to "buy off" the workers, it suffices to recall the brutality with which the American bourgeoisie beat down the 1959 steel strike to expose this claim.

But Mandel’s theory is more than a distortion of the facts: it is an excuse for betrayal. The most concrete case is his own treacherous behavior in the 1960-61 Belgian general strike (an event which according to his schema of "neocapitalism" should never have occurred). Mandel was editor of a newspaper, La Gauche, which posed as the voice of a broad left wing in the Belgian Socialist Party (similar to the Tribune in England today) under the mantle of André Renard, a leading union bureaucrat. La Gauche was putting forward at the time a program of "structural reforms" including abolition of the "loi unique" (the Christian Democratic government’s anti-labor austerity program), nationalization of the power industry, government economic planning, controls on the monopolies, halving the military budget, etc. In other words, an extremely modest social-democratic reform program.

As a general strike developed against the loi unique, when the workers were demanding in mass meetings "Down with the Eyskens government!" Mandel’s La Gauche wrote on 24 December 1960 that "The workers fear that if the government falls in the present social crisis, the Belgian Socialist Party will enter a new coalition government…." This, he said, would only be acceptable if "1) the new government abandoned the loi unique, 2) if the essential points in the structural reforms be kept as government policy." So in the name of "structural reforms" Mandel announced his acceptance of a bourgeois coalition government!

But this was not all. The 1 January 1961 edition of La Gauche carried a red headline: "Organize the March on Brussels!" Unfortunately for Mandel he had jumped the gun on his mentor Renard, who was not about to provoke a showdown with the Eyskens government. The next week La Gauche argued against concentrating forces on a single time and place and instead called for guerrilla tactics, and by 14 January Mandel felt constrained to publish a cringing capitulation:

"We have been reproached for having launched the slogan of a march on Brussels.... Since we find that the demand has not been taken up by the leaders, we submit; but we point out that at the moment our call appeared last week, no indications on this subject were yet known."

It’s true, of course. Had Mandel known Renard was strongly opposed to a march he would never have issued a call.

Another of the topics Mandel is speaking on during his current tour is the Paris May events of 1968. What he will not mention, however, is how his theory of "neocapitalism" led him to put forward a program telling the working masses not to fight for state power! At the time there were ten million workers on strike, threatening to break through the bureaucratic control of the CP and the unions. However, since "there is not yet a sufficiently influential, organized, unified vanguard, to the left of the CP, that could lead the masses to victory immediately," Mandel wrote, "It is here that the strategy of anti-capitalist structural reforms, ‘transitional demands,’ assumes all its validity." (Militant, 14 June 1968). For Trotskyists transitional demands are part of a program "unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat." Mandel, however, proclaimed that "the masses cannot seize power" and therefore called for "structural reforms" (workers control of production, opening company books, end of bank secrecy) which were explicitly not seen as a challenge to capitalist rule but only as "guarantees."

By the 1970’s Mandel was no longer talking of "neocapitalism" and he soon discovered that the long wave of the "post-war boom" had now headed downwards. What had changed, however, was not the economic situation. The economic conditions in France in 1968 and during Italy’s "hot autumn" of 1969 were similar to the early 1960’s. What happened was that in the French May events, the student vanguardists Mandel had been tailing discovered the working class. As the Maoist/syndicalist groups began to grow, the Mandelites, threatened with being outflanked on their left, shifted gears and began chasing after a "new mass [later, broad] vanguard" including radicalized workers. Mandel’s current economic prognoses, while superficially more orthodox than his "neocapitalist" contortions, are in reality no closer to Trotskyism. They merely serve as an excuse for tailing after spontaneous working-class militancy and refusing to raise the full transitional program in the unions.

The Measure of the Man: How Mandel Became a Pabloist

Ernest Mandel broke with Trotskyism more than 25 years ago at a time of a great crisis in the Fourth International which led to a split in 1953 and the consequent destruction of the FI as the world party of socialist revolution. The cause of this terrible blow to world Trotskyism was Pabloist liquidationism, and after an initial hesitant step to oppose this revisionist current, Mandel soon broke and served as a lawyer, a cover for the liquidators. This capitulation revealed a key aspect of his character--political cowardice--which is incompatible with being a revolutionary leader. Ever since, Mandel has been essentially an intellectual prostitute, a pen for hire to whatever is the left cause of the moment. It is this which explains his wide popularity, for he takes up whatever is in style this season. But the price of this popularity is a constant refusal to provide revolutionary leadership—"to tell the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be."

In the late 1940’s the Stalinist parties of West Europe, particularly France and Italy, were able to greatly extend and consolidate their influence as a result of their leading role in the resistance to Nazi occupation. The forces of the Fourth International, which had been greatly weakened through assassination by both the Stalinists and fascists during World War II, were largely on the margins of the workers movement. At the same time the onset of the Cold War led to a hardening of the Kremlin line, while the appearance of bureaucratically deformed workers states in East Europe and China led impressionists to conclude that perhaps the Stalinists could be forced to the left.

It was under these circumstances that the pressures of isolation took their toll on the Fourth International. The revisionist current which appeared was led by Michel Pablo, the head of the International Secretariat of the FI. In a January 1951 article entitled "Where Are We Going?" Pablo developed his "war/revolution" thesis according to which World War III between the U.S. and the USSR was imminent, and the West European workers movement would be subordinated to this dynamic. Moreover, under the pressure of the masses, wrote Pablo, "The Communist Parties retain the possibility in certain circumstances of roughly outlining a revolutionary orientation." Therefore, seeing the possibility of revolutionary situations developing before the Trotskyist vanguard could amass significant resources, Pablo called for a policy of "entrism sui generis," in which the sections of the FI would enter the mass Stalinist and social-democratic parties with the perspective of staying there for a long period to pressure the reformists to the left.

This program deprived the Fourth International of its reason for existence. Consequently resistance to Pablo’s schema began to appear in many sections. When the leadership of the French section refused to go along with the recipe for "deep entrism" in the Communist Party, Pablo declared them suspended, in a bureaucratic move worthy of a petty Stalin. The first opposition to Pabloism, interestingly, came in the form of a document by Ernest Germain (the party name of Mandel), which became known as the "Ten Theses." On the face of it this was just a restatement of home truths about the counterrevolutionary policies of Stalinism. In actuality, though it bent over backwards not to attack Pablo by name, this was a veiled attack on the program put forward in "Where Are We Going?" Germain’s tenth thesis stated:

"it is because the new revolutionary wave contains in embryo the destruction of the Stalinist parties as such that we ought to be much closer today to the Communist workers. This is only one phase of our fundamental task: to construct new revolutionary parties."

Mandel/Germain, however, was not able to get the Pablo-dominated International Secretariat to adopt his theses. Having no stomach for a hard factional struggle--even though the very existence of the Fourth International was at stake--he succumbed to Pablo’s pressures. Subsequently he became the hatchetman for the dictatorial general secretary against the majority leadership of the French section (PCI), which had supported his now abandoned "Ten Theses." In response to this cowardly treachery, Favre-Bleibtreu, head of the French anti-Pabloists wrote to Germain in July 1951:

"We always take the same pleasure in reading your documents, whose cultural level, richness of imagery, and style remind us that you remain the most brilliant writer of the International. But this reading confirms my belief that you lack one quality, the one most necessary to a leader: firmness of your political ideas.

"Today you magnanimously offer the PCI leadership a peaceful haven ‘within the ranks of the International majority’ where you yourself ingloriously found refuge, after a few passing impulses of resistance to Pablo’s revisionist impulses. Pardon us for not following you on this path because in our view the International will not be built by maneuvering and especially not by your pitiful maneuvers." "Comrade Ernest Germain, renounce diversionary maneuvers, renounce your puerile and irresponsible double-crossing game, put forward and defend your ideas as we ourselves defend them."
—translated from Spartacist (edition française) No. 7, Autumn 1974

It is not hard to imagine the bitterness of these comrades, who were being read out of the International, when the erudite "leader" Mandel collapsed at the slightest pressure. But the harm which befell them because of his perfidy does not compare to the crime perpetrated against the Chinese Trotskyists then being held in the jails of Mao Tse-tung’s Stalinist regime. This horror story is documented in a letter by Peng Shu-tse, head of the Chinese section of the FI, to American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon in December 1953. Peng was first shocked to learn, some time after arriving in Europe, that Pablo considered Mao’s party centrist and claimed Mao had absorbed the central theses of the Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution. Since Peng had been forced to flee China under the blows of Stalinist repression, this was a little hard to stomach.

So, too, was Pablo’s resolution on China adopted by the International Executive Committee (IEC) in June 1952. "The worst thing is," wrote Peng, "that nobody can find a perspective for the Chinese Trotskyists in this resolution." Its supporters, he reported, called for dissolving the Chinese section in order to join the Communist Party. But the real shock came when he reported to a November 1952 IEC plenum on the brutal repression of the Chinese Trotskyists by Mao. Pablo replied that the massacre was not a deliberate action but a mistake and an exception. In May 1953 Peng submitted to the IEC an international appeal for aid from the Chinese Trotskyists and an open letter to the Mao regime protesting the killings and jailings. Pablo agreed to publish the former, but then suppressed it.

As to the open letter, Germain (by now Pablo’s flunkey) informed Peng--who was a member of the IEC, and of the International Secretariat until Pablo purged him--that it should have expressed total support of the Maoist regime, praising its revolutionary achievements, and only then mentioned the facts of the persecution. Because Peng opposed the Peking regime as Stalinist, Mandel/Germain denounced him as a "hopeless sectarian" and refused to circulate the open letter to the International. The Chinese Trotskyists, said the revisionist Germain, were "refugees from a revolution"!

As if it were not enough to whitewash the Maoist repression--praising the Stalinist regime as revolutionary, slandering their own comrades and refusing to publicize their persecution and even assassination--Pablo & Co. also instructed Peng not to give information concerning this witchhunt to a group of Vietnamese Trotskyists who were returning to their country to enter the party of Ho Chi Minh. Yet Ho was himself responsible for the assassination of Vietnamese Trotskyist leader Ta Thu Thau and scores of Fourth Internationalists who led the August 1945 uprising against the reimposition of Western colonial rule! The group of Vietnamese emigrés returned innocent of any knowledge of the Stalinist repression being carried out in China--which would no doubt have dampened their enthusiasm for Pablo’s tactic of "deep entrism"--and were never heard from again.

Peng wrote in his letter that he had considered Mandel/Germain "one of the most promising new leaders of our movement," although "I had also noticed his lack of penetrating analysis in observing various problems, his impressionist temperament, wavering and conciliationist spirit manifested very often on important problems, and his facility in modifying his own positions." It was the latter characteristics--impressionism and cowardice--which drove Mandel into the arms of Pablo and ruined him as a revolutionary leader. But this was more than a personal tragedy. It was a major factor in allowing Pablo to tighten his bureaucratic grip on the FI apparatus and ultimately to destroy it. Mandel’s craven political capitulation facilitated the victory of Pabloist revisionism over the weak, disoriented Fourth International--the political destruction of the world revolutionary instrument founded by Trotsky. And it directly sabotaged the urgently needed defense of the Chinese Trotskyists, who to this day remain in Mao’s jails (if they have not already died in prison).

Because of his personal weaknesses, Mandel became not only a revisionist but a traitor to the Trotskyist movement.

Not only did the revisionist program of Pabloism mean liquidation of the struggle to construct a Trotskyist vanguard, it was soon expressed externally as well in a series of political capitulations to Stalinism. When on 17 June 1953 the working class of East Berlin rose up against their bureaucratic rulers--in the first instance against the Russian army of occupation--the shock waves spread throughout Europe. Playwright Bertold Brecht, a longtime Communist Party member, penned an epigraph of bitter irony and resignation: according to the authorities, "the people had lost the confidence of the government and could only win it back through redoubled effort. Wouldn’t it be easier if the government dissolved the people and elected another." What was the response of Pablo’s International Secretariat to this event, the first abortive attempt at political revolution in the Soviet bloc? It issued a manifesto calling for "real democratization of the Communist parties"--i.e. bureaucratic self-reform--and failed, deliberately, to call for the withdrawal of Soviet troops (Quatrième Internationale, July 1953).

Three years later Pablo/Mandel & Co. repeated this capitulation to the Kremlin, this time by turning their backs on the Hungarian workers who rose up against the hated secret police and the Russian army. Contrasting this attempt at proletarian anti-bureaucratic revolution unfavorably to Poland, these fraudulent "Trotskyists" wrote that the absence of a political leadership "provoked exactly those flaws and dangers" which Poland had avoided "thanks to the leadership role played by… the Gomulka tendency… a centrist tendency nonetheless evolving to the left...." (Quatrième Internationale, December 1956). Again the perspective was that of pressuring the bureaucracy, supporting one wing against another, and not mobilizing the workers around an independent Trotskyist party.

With the beginning of the 1960’s, however, the Pabloists’ eyes turned toward the so-called "Third World" and in particular the petty-bourgeois nationalists Ben Bella (Algeria) and Castro. While recognizing that the Cuban bourgeoisie had been expropriated as a class with the nationalizations of fall/winter 1960, they went further and gave political support to the Castro leadership. In this Pablo, Mandel et al. were joined by the American SWP, which in 1953 had belatedly but firmly rejected the liquidationist consequences of Pabloism. The SWP .put forward a document ("For Early Reunification of the Trotskyist Movement") in March 1963 which stated: "In its evolution toward revolutionary Marxism, the [Castroite] July 26 Movement set a pattern that now stands as an example for a number of other countries." This was the founding document of the "United Secretariat" (USec) now headed by Mandel.

In another document at this time SWP leader Joseph Hansen wrote that Cuba was a workers state "lacking as yet the forms of democratic proletarian rule." It certainly was true that it lacked the forms… and the substance. In fact, Castro and Guevara proved this quite conclusively by jailing the Cuban Trotskyists in 1963. Trotsky’s book, Permanent Revolution, was proscribed and the printing plates containing the offending text were smashed on the presses! Guevara, the USec’s special favorite, even suggested that the Trotskyists were Yankee agents, noting that they had long had influence in the city of Guantanamo (near the U.S. base). But at this very moment Mandel was meeting with Guevara at the ministry of industry and counseling "my friend ‘Che’" on economic policies. And what was he advising the "heroic guerrilla"-to-be? Was he "fighting for workers democracy" in the corridors of power, perhaps? Hardly. Here is what Mandel wrote in the journal of Guevara’s ministry, Nuestra Industria:

"The more underdeveloped a country’s economy… the wiser it is in our opinion to reserve decision-making power over the more important investments and financial matters to the central authorities."
—"Mercantile Categories in the Period of Transition," in Bertram Silverman, ed., Man and Socialism in Cuba

This is an unalloyed apology for the extremely irrational economic "planning" by the Cuban bureaucracy, where decisions were so centralized that everything was decided by the líder máximo from the saddle of his jeep.

The Stalinist repression did not faze the Pabloists. It seemed nothing could. Thus when Castro launched his famous, frothing attack against Trotskyism at the 1966 Tricontinental Congress in Havana, USec leader Hansen wrote that,

"however much it satisfied the right-wing CP leaderships, it was taken by all vanguard elements with any real knowledge of the Trotskyist movement as at best a mistaken identification of Trotskyism with the bizarre sect of J Posadas and at worst nothing but a belated echo of old Stalinist slanders, the purpose of which remained completely obscure."
—International Socialist Review, November-December 1967

For the proletarian militants who had been locked up in Castro’s prisons the purpose of his attack was not at all obscure. The USec apologists for Cuban Stalinism were right about one thing, however in denouncing Trotskyism Castro was directing his fire not at them but at those who call for political revolution to overthrow this bonapartist regime and replace it with the democratic rule of soviets. Any equation of the capitulationist policies of the USec with this Marxist program--uniquely upheld by the international Spartacist tendency--is clearly a case of mistaken identity. If the charge is Trotskyism then Ernest Mandel can plead in good conscience: "Not guilty!"

From Guerrillaism to Popular Frontism

The principal focus during the late 1960’s of the Mandelites’ quest for a shortcut to fame and fortune was the Castroite movement in Latin America. Thus a resolution passed at the USec’s "Ninth World Congress" in 1969 stated point-blank:

"Even in the case of countries where large mobilizations and class conflicts in the cities may occur first, civil war will take manifold forms of armed struggle, in which the principal axis for a whole period will be rural guerrilla warfare… ."
—"Draft Resolution on Latin America," in [SWP] International Information Bulletin, January 1969

The first task of USec supporters in Latin America, therefore, would be: "(a) Integration into the historic revolutionary current represented by the Cuban revolution and the OLAS…." This was in essence the same liquidationist perspective put forward in the early 1950’s by Pablo--only the recipient of the political flattery and capitulations had changed.

Mandel, as is his wont, expressed himself more circumspectly on the subject of guerrillaism than gung-ho "pick-up-the-gun" Guevarists like Livio Maitan. But as to the continuity of Pabloist methodology Mandel was certainly frank; in an article on "The Place of the Ninth World Congress in the History of the Fourth International" (1969), he wrote:

"The situation began to change in the course of the 1960’s and it was the French May 1968 which most clearly revealed this change.… The Ninth World Congress sought to bring this change to the attention of the entire international revolutionary movement.

"The most striking trait of the change is the appearance of a new revolutionary vanguard on a universal scale which has completely escaped from the control of the Stalinist and reformist apparatuses and is organized autonomously. The first important signs of this new phenomenon go back quite a ways: the ‘July 26 Movement,’ which led the guerrilla struggle which overthrew the Batista dictatorship independently of the CP and of all traditional organizations of the Cuban left…."

"This turn is not only a turn toward the creation of independent organizations, capable of serving as poles of attraction for the militants of the new vanguard who are neither reformists nor Stalinists, and who seek to regroup nationally and internationally. It also implies a change of accent as to the principal forms of activity of the movement. In this sense it has the same importance as the turn outlined by the Third World Congress, but at a much more advanced stage of construction of the International."

The Third Congress of the Fourth International was when Pablo first elaborated his plans for "deep entry" into the mass Stalinist and social-democratic parties. Mandel goes on:

"At the Third World Congress it was a question of breaking with essentially isolated activity and integrating into the revolutionary mass movement. At the Ninth World Congress it was a question of breaking with an essentially propagandist practice--i.e., centered on criticizing the betrayals and errors of the traditional leaderships-- . . . and of passing over to a phase where we are capable of undertaking revolutionary initiatives, within the mass movement."
La longue marche de la révolution (1976)

In both cases the essence of the "tactic" was capitulation before alien class forces. The American SWP under Hansen objected to the "guerrilla turn" of the "Ninth Congress," but only because it wanted to make a bloc with liberals opposed to the Vietnam war. Democratic Party "doves" were not about to get on a platform with supporters of "terrorism" in Latin America. The Mandelites were not able to cash in on their maneuver, however. Castro’s OLAS never did anything to organize "two, three, many Vietnams" after Guevara’s debacle in Bolivia. And the two main USec groups engaged in guerrilla struggle defected: the Bolivians to join the Castroite ELN en masse, and the Argentine PRT splitting from Mandel & Co. in 1973.

As it became clear that there was no shortcut to power in La Paz or Santiago by heading for the hills, the pro-Moscow Communist parties revived their refrains of a "peaceful road." In Chile the vehicle was to be the Unidad Popular (UP), a popular front of the Communist and Socialist parties together with small bourgeois parties, which was headed by Salvador Allende. Meanwhile in Europe, in the aftermath of the 1968-69 working-class and youth upsurge the reformists were looking for means to head off a mass radicalization with revolutionary implications. Their answer was a new wave of popular frontism: the French Union of the Left, the Italian CP’s strategy of an "historic compromise."

The Chilean experience was pivotal. In a certain sense it was a bridge from the guerrillaism of the late 1960’s to the popular frontism of the 1970’s. It was also--and most importantly--the battleground on which the drama of the popular front was played out to the bitter finale. The "peaceful road" ended in a bloodbath. The responsibility of the Stalinists and social democrats, who preached faith in the officer corps and "democratic" bourgeoisie, is patent. But neither does Ernest Mandel’s United Secretariat have clean hands. First its Chilean supporters hailed Allende’s 1970 electoral victory. Then, a year later, the USec itself issued a "unanimous" statement terming the UP a popular front and even declaring:

"Complete independence must be maintained with regard to the popular front coalition. Revolutionists cannot participate in such a coalition even by offering it electoral support. (Revolutionary Marxists can, in certain situations, vote for a labor candidate but not for a candidate of a front that includes petty-bourgeois and bourgeois parties.)"
—Intercontinental Press, 21 February 1972

This policy was put forward only by the international Spartacist tendency at the time of the 1970 Chilean elections. Moreover, at no time since then has the USec refused to vote for all popular front candidates. But this curious declaration does indicate that they are not ignorant of the orthodox Trotskyist policy toward popular fronts… just opposed to it. In any case, none of the several groups of Chilean USec supporters ever carried out this policy. And in September 1973, on the morrow of the Santiago coup, a "Draft Political Resolution" by the USec’s Mandelite majority reversed its previous verdict on the UP, declaring:

"… from the start, it differed from a classical Popular Front regime by the fact that it openly proclaimed its resolve to enter on the road of socialism, and that it openly based itself on the organized workers movement."
—[SWP] International Internal Discussion Bulletin, October 1973

This deliberate confusionism, designed to cover up the USec’s total failure to present a revolutionary alternative to Allende & Co., was soon compounded in Europe. In France in 1973, the Mandelite LCR called for votes to the Union of the Left on the second round in parliamentary elections; in 1974 it called for votes on the second round for the single candidate of the popular front for the presidency (Mitterrand); in 1977 it called for votes for Union of the Left slates (including bourgeois Left Radical candidates) on the second round of municipal elections, and with the scantiest of fig leaves called for abstention only where the slate was headed by a Radical.

Similarly in Italy the USec section ran candidates on the Democrazia Proletaria ticket in the June 1976 parliamentary elections. While standing to the left of the Communist Party’s program for a coalition with the Christian Democrats, the DP advocated a Chilean-style popular front with the minor republican and secular parties of the bourgeoisie. And in Portugal not only did Mandel’s disciples join a front, the FUT, which supported and had the blessing of a wing of the Armed Forces Movement; but in the June 1976 presidential elections USec Mandelite superstar Krivine advocated voting for Otelo de Carvalho, a general of the bourgeois officer corps!

From being handmaidens of the Kremlin in the 1950’s and cheerleaders for the Castroites in the 1960’s, these inveterate renegades from Trotskyism had become a left pressure group on the popular fronts of the 1970’s.


When the United Secretariat was formed in 1963, both parties agreed to let "bygones be bygones," and differences over China, "deep entrism" and other disputed questions were declared off-limits. However, with the first signs of mass radicalization all the old differences resurfaced, with the SWP and its satellites squaring off against Mandel and friends (the old guard of Pablo lieutenants). The result was a factional struggle in the USec that lasted from l969 to 1977, with bitter public attacks on each other by the SWP-led reformist minority and the centrist International Majority Tendency (IMT). When the IMT opened the door last year to dissolution of the factions, by backing off from its previous support to Guevarist guerrillaism, it was with the understanding that previous factional documents would be relegated to the status of "historical material."

Thus even though there is a real approximation of political appetites between the ex-IMT and the SWP during this popular front period, the USec remains a rotten bloc. It is not surprising, then, that Mandel should periodically propose to abandon his phony "Fourth International" altogether, in favor of polymorphous groupings of the broad "far left." Such perverse creatures would unite virulently anti-Soviet Maoists, ostensible Trotskyists and syndicalist-spontaneists, with the only possible political basis being the desire to pressure a larger popular front of the traditional workers parties to the left. Thus in an interview with a Spanish leftist review in late 1976 Mandel stated:

"In my opinion the future of the revolutionary movement is in the kind of groups which are broader than those which call themselves Trotskyist. Groupings which, however, unite with sections of the Fourth International."
—Topo Viejo, November 1976

A few months earlier Mandel had floated the same concept in a dialogue with the left wing of the French PSU, led by none other than Michel Pablo. Asked if the French LCR wasn’t closer to some of the Italian Mao-syndicalist groups than to the American SWP, Mandel responded:

"…the real debate is not over the label, the organizational framework, the statutes, the human relations or references to a fellow with a beard named Leon Trotsky….

"What difference do labels make? If we should find in the political arena forces which agreed with our strategic and tactical orientation, and which were only put off by the historical reference and the name, we would get rid of the latter inside of 24 hours."
Politique Hebdo, 10-16 June 1976

PSU left-wing leader Yvan Craipeau, himself a former Trotskyist, responded that it was not enough to change labels: it was necessary to renounce the Leninist conception of the party as well.

Does this kind of maneuver offer the USec jugglers an effective means of reaching the "new vanguard," and subtly gaining hegemony over it? One only has to cast a brief backwards glance to observe the results of past attempts of this sort. The archetype of such a centrist grouping in the recent past is the Chilean MIR, a Castroite group set up in 1965 with the active intervention of the USec affiliate led by Luis Vitale. All the "labels" were abandoned (Fourth International, Trotskyism, permanent revolution, deformed/degenerated workers states), but on the basis of a vague left-of-the-CP program the USec’s World Outlook (17 September 1965) declared the MIR the "most important Marxist-Leninist party yet to be formed in Chile...."

Less than two years later, however, the MIR leadership began systematically purging all "Trotskyists," soon including Vitale and other top leaders. Undaunted, the European Mandelites (and the expelled Vitale) continued flattering their centrist creation, and it was partly in order to stay close to the MIR that the IMT took a position of de facto "critical support" to the UP. The Latin American commission of the French LCR protested against the December 1971 USec resolution on Chile (quoted above) because of its mild criticisms of the MIR, claiming that the latter had "an absolutely clear position on the question of permanent revolution" and "the influence of Trotskyist positions" ([SWP] International Internal Discussion Bulletin, February 1973). The Mandelites criticized their own fraternal organization in Chile as worse than the MIR, and have frequently raised large sums for the Castroites while leaving their comrades begging for crumbs!

But the classic example of the kind of "broad" grouping, "including Trotskyists," of which Mandel dreams is the Spanish POUM, established in 1935 as a fusion of the Communist Left (headed by Andrés Nin) and Joaquin Maurin’s Workers and Peasants Bloc. It too dropped the labels, and took ambiguous positions on the nature of Stalin’s Russia, popular frontism and other vital issues. Trotsky’s answer to this was to break all political ties to the renegade Nin and to call for a vigilant struggle within the Fourth Internationalist movement against those sympathetic to the POUM and similar centrist roadblocks. With its vacillations, this unstable amalgam became the worst enemy of proletarian revolution in Spain, Trotsky wrote. And that is precisely what would become of the products of Mandel’s opportunist "regroupments" if they succeeded in gaining mass support.

Objectivism and Capitulators

In the last two years the major new development on the European left has been the appearance of a Eurocommunist current. As one might expect from Mandel, ever ready to tail after a new rage, the USec leader saw this process as possibly leading to a conversion of longtime Stalinist hacks like Santiago Carrillo into Leninists! In the second installment of the Topo Viejo interview quoted previously, Mandel refers to the contradiction between the "positive and negative aspect" of the rise of Eurocommunism:

"The leading comrades of the Communist Party, especially its worker cadres, must take on [this contradiction] and resolve it; and I hope and believe that they will be capable of resolving it positively, in the sense of returning to the path of revolutionary Marxism.

"Eurocommunism is a policy of transition, although no one knows what to or where to. Perhaps it represents a transition to the reabsorption of the Communist parties by social democracy, something which in my opinion is rather unlikely, but not totally impossible. Perhaps it will be a transition to a new Stalinism. And also--why not?--it could be a transition, on the part of the worker cadres of the party, to a reacquaintance with revolutionary Marxism, Leninism."
—Topo Viejo, December l976

This brings us right back to 1950’s vintage Pabloism, seeing the "leading comrades" of the CPs as perhaps salvageable for the revolution. Thus once again independent Trotskyist parties and an authentic Fourth International built in struggle against Stalinism, social democracy and all varieties of centrism are superfluous (mere "labels" to be discarded in the course of organizational maneuvers). But it should be obvious even to those unfamiliar with the various ostensibly Trotskyist groups that there is something grievously amiss with a "Trotskyist" who does not seek to build Trotskyist parties and a Trotskyist international. The sickness is diagnosed as Pabloist liquidationism, and Ernest Mandel is one of the prime carriers.

Mandel’s political revisionism is closely linked to his economics, which are marked by a fundamental objectivism. In the early 1950’s he argued that "the relation of forces has evolved decisively in favor of the anti-capitalist camp." Thus by lining up with the pro-Soviet parties one would be in position to capture leadership of the revolutionary mass movements which would inevitably be generated by the CPs. At the same time he argued that the restoration of capitalism in the USSR "is no longer in the realm of the possible" in the short run ("Decline and Fall of Stalinism," resolution presented to the Pabloist "Fifth World Congress," Quatrième Internationale, December 1957).

In the mid-1960’s version of this objectivism, Mandel asserted that capitalism "will not again experience new crises such as 1929" (Temps Modernes, August-September 1964). Consequently under "neocapitalism" the transitional program was transformed into a smorgasbord of "anti-capitalist structural reforms." This objectivism is at the very heart of his outlook. Thus the opening sentence of his Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory reads: "In the last analysis, every step forward in the history of civilization has been brought about by an increase in the productivity of labor." Contrast this, for example, with the Communist Manifesto, which states equally succinctly: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles."

One of the best examples of Mandel’s politico-economic objectivism is his January 1953 letter to Jean-Paul Sartre, written under the impact of the Chinese revolution:

"For us the nature of a period is not determined in the first instance by the leadership of the mass movement but by its extent.... Never in the history of capitalism has there been a period during which, over the entire globe, the number of participants, the violence and extent of this mass movement have been as considerable as today. That is why we consider the present period as an eminently revolutionary period.

"… On the world scale, the relation of forces is evolving in a manner increasingly unfavorable to capitalism."
La longue marche de la révolution

We have pointed out elsewhere the similarities between the economist objectivism of Mandel and Bukharin, with the former’s "long waves" a more generalized version of the latter’s "periods" of imperialism. Trotsky wrote in 1928 in response to Bukharin’s draft program for the Stalinized Comintern--based on the assertion of a "Third Period" of terminal capitalist crisis--a polemic which utterly demolishes the objectivist tailism of Ernest Mandel:

"But as soon as the objective prerequisites have matured, the key to the whole historical process passes into the hands of the subjective factor, that is, the party. Opportunism which consciously or unconsciously thrives upon the inspiration of the past epoch, always tends to underestimate the role of the subjective factor, that is, the importance of the party and of revolutionary leadership. All this was fully disclosed during the discussions on the lessons of the German October, on the Anglo-Russian Committee, and on the Chinese revolution. In all these cases, as well as in others of lesser importance, the opportunistic tendency evinced itself in the adoption of a course that relies solely upon the ‘masses’ and therefore completely scorned the question of the ‘tops’ of the revolutionary leadership. Such an attitude, which is false in general, operates with positively fatal effect in the imperialist epoch."
Third International After Lenin

Posted: 05 May 2005