Ernest Mandel: Revolutionary of the 20th Century

Against the Current, No. 59, November/December 1995

Manuel Aguilar Mora

ONE OF THE most important revolutionaries of this century, by itself full of revolutionary personages, died of heart failure in Belgium on the morning of July 20th.

It is impossible to capture Ernest’s rich personality with only a few essential features. Running all the risks, I would dare to define our comrade as an optimist about life and its potentials, with an inviolable faith in human beings and their capacity, together with nature, to transform this planet, from the hell it is today, into an authentic place for humanity.

That is why he was a revolutionary from his early youth, something which cost him dearly, among other things imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp from which he escaped miraculously. That is why, when the twin stars of Hitler and Stalin were seemingly triumphant in the universe, in the darkest hour of the century, he accepted at the end of the 1930s the call of Leon Trotsky to build the Fourth International.

His contribution always sought to defend the position which he considered most appropriate to the interest of the workers and the exploited, always adding something original, a personal touch of his or an outright innovation. He even had time to add his contribution to the critical study of the detective novel, of which he was a passionate fan.

In Mexico, we knew Ernest well and we appreciated him. Those of us who established in the sixties and seventies a pro-Fourth International current in Mexico worked closely with him and received orientation and assistance. When the PRT was founded in 1976, his support was crucial in the emergence of the party.

During his several trips to our country, we always had the chance to listen to him and to get information about his latest theses and proposals. During my stay in France in 1979-80, I shared unforgettable days with him during which we decided and acted on all kinds of problems facing our international movement.

I recall in particular the difficult problems raised by the triumph of the Sandinistas and the adventurous actions of some who called themselves trotskyists.

Respecting the authority of the FSLN, Mandel nevertheless thought that such authority, if exercised in sectarian fashion against such revolutionary although mistaken groups, could have negative repercussions on the democratic and proletarian character of the recently victorious movement. Today, with fifteen years of hindsight, I can see how right Ernest was in contrast to what I thought then.

We were able to witness how, for Ernest, political militancy determined in large measure everything else. With his departure, the world revolutionary movement loses one of its best minds, “a prophet armed,” one of the most creative and influential Marxists of the second half of this century.

November/December 1995