Ernest Mandel
Ernest Mandel

Ernest Ezra Mandel (Dutch: [manˈdɛl]; also known by various pseudonyms such as Ernest Germain, Pierre Gousset, Henri Vallin, Walter (5 April 1923 – 20 July 1995), was a Belgian Marxian economist, Trotskyist activist and theorist, and Holocaust survivor. He fought in the underground resistance against the Nazis during the occupation of Belgium.[1]


Born in Frankfurt, Mandel was recruited to the Belgian section of the international Trotskyist movement, the Fourth International, in his youth in Antwerp. His parents, Henri and Rosa Mandel, were Jewish emigres from Poland,[2] the former a member of Rosa Luxemburg's and Karl Liebknecht's Spartacist League. The beginning of Mandel's period at university was interrupted when the German occupying forces closed the university.

During World War II, while still a teenager, he joined the Belgian Trotskyist organisation alongside Abraham Leon and Martin Monath. He twice escaped after being arrested in the course of resistance activities, and survived imprisonment in the German concentration camp at Dora. After the war, he became the youngest member of the Fourth International secretariat, alongside Michel Pablo and others. He gained respect as a prolific journalist with a clear and lively style, as an orthodox Marxist theoretician, and as a talented debater. He wrote for numerous media outlets in the 1940s and 1950s including Het Parool, Le Peuple, l'Observateur and Agence France-Presse. At the height of the Cold War, he publicly defended the merits of Marxism in debates with the social democrat and future Dutch premier Joop den Uyl.


After the 1946 World Congress of the Fourth International, Mandel was elected into the leadership of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International. In line with its policy, he joined the Belgian Socialist Party where he was a leader of a militant socialist tendency, becoming editor of the socialist newspaper La Gauche (and writing for its Flemish sister publication, Links), a member of the economic studies commission of the General Federation of Belgian Labour and an associate of the Belgian syndicalist André Renard. He and his comrades were expelled from the Socialist Party not long after the Belgian general strike of 1960–61 for opposing its coalition with the Christian Democrats and its acceptance of anti-strike legislation.

He was one of the main initiators of the 1963 reunification between the International Secretariat, which he led along with Michel Pablo, Pierre Frank and Livio Maitan, and the majority of the International Committee of the Fourth International, a public faction led by James Cannon's Socialist Workers Party that had withdrawn from the FI in 1953. The regroupment formed the reunified Fourth International (also known as the USFI or USec). Until his death in 1995, Mandel remained the most prominent leader and theoretician of both the USFI and of its Belgian section, the Revolutionary Workers' League.

Until the publication of his massive book Marxist Economic Theory in French in 1962, Mandel's Marxist articles were written mainly under a variety of pseudonyms and his activities as Fourth Internationalist were little known outside the left. After publishing Marxist Economic Theory, Mandel travelled to Cuba and worked closely with Che Guevara on economic planning, after Guevara (who was fluent in French) had read the new book and encouraged Mandel's interventions.[3]

He resumed his university studies and graduated from what is now the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris in 1967. Only from 1968 did Mandel become well known as a public figure and Marxist politician, touring student campuses in Europe and America giving talks on socialism, imperialism and revolution.

Although officially barred from West Germany (and several other countries at various times, including the United States,[4] France, Switzerland, and Australia), he gained a PhD from the Free University of Berlin in 1972 (where he taught for some months), published as Late Capitalism, and he subsequently gained a lecturer position at the Free University of Brussels.

Mandel gained mainstream attention in the United States following the rejection of his visa by Attorney General John N. Mitchell against the suggestion of Secretary of State William P. Rogers in 1969.[5] Attorney General Mitchell acted under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (also known as the McCarran–Walter Act). This act states that those who "advocate the economic, international and governmental doctrines of world Communism" and "who write or public any written or printed matter advocating or teaching the economic international and governmental doctrines of world Communism" can have their visas barred. Mandel had been granted visas in 1962 and 1968 but had violated the conditions of his second visit unknowingly by asking for donations for the defence in the legal cases of French demonstrators.[5] As a result of his rejected visa, a number of American scholars came out to vouch for his right to visit the United States. They attempted to highlight that he did not affiliate with the Communist Party and had publicly spoken out against the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.[5]

In 1971, a Federal Court in New York voted to void Mitchell's decision, stating that the United States could not bar a visitor, but on 29 June 1972, the Supreme Court ruled, 6 to 3, that Mitchell had acted within his job description in rejecting the visa. In 1972, his exclusion from the United States was upheld in the US Supreme Court case Kleindienst v. Mandel.

In 1978, he delivered the Alfred Marshall Lectures at the University of Cambridge, on the topic of the long waves of capitalist development.[6]

Mandel campaigned on behalf of numerous dissident left-wing intellectuals suffering political repression, advocated for the cancellation of the Third World debt, and, in the Mikhail Gorbachev era, spearheaded a petition for the rehabilitation of the accused in the Moscow Trials of 1936–1938. When in his seventies, he travelled to Russia to defend his vision of democratic socialism and continued to support the idea of Revolution in the West until his death.[7]


Het Vrije Woord, October 1940
Het Vrije Woord, October 1940

In total, he published approximately 2,000 articles and around 30 books during his life in German, Dutch, French, English and other languages, which were in turn translated into many more languages. During the Second World War, he was one of the editors of the underground newspaper, Het Vrije Woord. In addition, he edited or contributed to many books, maintained a voluminous correspondence, and was booked for speaking engagements worldwide. He considered it his mission to transmit the heritage of classical Marxist thought, deformed by the experience of Stalinism and the Cold War, to a new generation. And to a large extent he did influence a generation of scholars and activists in their understanding of important Marxist concepts. In his writings, perhaps most striking is the tension between creative independent thinking and the desire for a strict adherence to Marxist doctrinal orthodoxy. Due to his commitment to socialist democracy, he has even been characterised as "Luxemburgist".[8]

Death and legacy

Mandel died at his home in Brussels in 1995 after suffering from a heart attack.[9]

Mandel is probably best remembered for being a populariser of basic Marxist ideas, for his books on late capitalism and Long-Wave theory, and for his moral-intellectual leadership in the Trotskyist movement. Despite critics claiming that he was 'too soft on Stalinism', Mandel remained a classic rather than a conservative Trotskyist: writing about the Soviet bureaucracy but also why capitalism had not suffered a death agony. His late capitalism was late in the sense of delayed rather than near-death. He still believed though that this system hadn't overcome its tendency to crises. A leading German Marxist, Elmar Altvater, stated that Mandel had done much for the survival of Marxism in the German Federal Republic.[10]


Selected bibliography

Books he (co-)edited

See also


  1. ^ Phelps, Christopher (1997). Young Sidney Hook: Marxist and Pragmatist. Cornell University Press. p. 220. ISBN 9780801433283. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  2. ^ The Legacy of Ernest Mandel
  3. ^ "Ernest Mandel, a revolutionary life". Archived from the original on 1 August 2012. Retrieved 10 July 2009.
  4. ^ Sontag, S.; Chomsky, N.; Kolko, G.; Poirier, R.; Mayer, A. J.; Heilbroner, R. L.; Falk, R.; Wolff, R. P. (1969). "The Mandel Case". The New York Review of Books. 13 (9). Retrieved 7 June 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Stout, David (22 July 1995). "Ernest Mandel, 72, Is Dead; Marxist Economist and Writer". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  6. ^ Mandel, Ernest (1995). Long waves of capitalist development (Second revised ed.). London; New York: Verso. p. vii. ISBN 978-1-85984-037-5.
  7. ^ The Marxist Case for Revolution Today
  8. ^ Achcar, Gilbert (29 June 2005). "The Actuality of Ernest Mandel". Archived from the original on 25 February 2021.
  9. ^ "Economist Ernest Mandel Dies at Age 72". The Washington Post. 22 July 1995. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  10. ^ Elmar Altvater & Jürgen Hoffmann, "The West German State Derivation Debate." Social Text, No. 24, 1990, pp. 134–155, at p. 134.


Published in English as: Stutje, Jan Willem (2009). Ernest Mandel: A Rebel's Dream Deferred. Verso. ISBN 9781844673162.