Renowned Marxist economist dies

Issue 

By Allen Myers

Ernest Mandel, a world-renowned Marxist scholar and revolutionary, died in Belgium on July 20, at the age of 72.

Mandel is best known for his numerous contributions to the Marxist understanding of economics. He was one of at most a handful of individuals in this century who could legitimately claim to have added to the science of Marxist economics and to have done so entirely in the spirit of its founder.

Ernest Mandel was born in 1923. In 1940, he joined the Belgian Trotskyist movement, and he participated in the first European conference of the underground sections of the Fourth International, the organisation founded by Leon Trotsky and his followers in 1938. He was active in the resistance to the Nazi occupation until 1944, when he was arrested and deported to a prison camp in Germany.

In 1946, Mandel was elected to the leadership body of the Fourth International, on which he remained until his death. He was also a militant of the Socialist Workers Party, the Belgian section of the Fourth International, during the 1950s and '60s serving as the editor of its newspaper, La Gauche.

Mandel was an important intellectual influence on several generations of revolutionaries. During the 1960s in particular, many of the leaders of the youth and student rebellions looked to him and absorbed some of his hostility to both capitalism and the bureaucratic parody of socialism created by Stalinism. In June 1968, as the de Gaulle government gradually re-established its control in France, it moved quickly to deport Ernest Mandel.

Within a short space of time, Mandel was also banned from entering the United States, West Germany, Switzerland and Australia. He was scheduled to present a keynote speech to a Socialist Scholars Conference in Sydney in August 1970 but was denied a visa by the Liberal government.

After the election of the Whitlam Labor government, Mandel was able to come to Australia for a brief speaking tour in September 1974. The tour aroused considerable interest, drawing audiences of up to 1100 and forcing even some of the mainstream media to try to confront Mandel's views.

Mandel returned to Australia only once, as the featured speaker at the Marx Centenary Conference in Melbourne in 1983. He was scheduled to speak at the 1991 Socialist Scholars Conference but was prevented by poor health.

In addition to countless articles analysing the economic conjuncture or longer-term trends, Mandel wrote several books, any one of which would have been sufficient to establish an enduring reputation as an economic theorist.

Marxist Economic Theory, published in 1962, presented the fundamental ideas of Marx's economic writings in terms of 20th century developments. While theoretically rigorous, the two-volume work is remarkably accessible to the non-specialist reader, free of the needless jargon and convoluted sentence structure that mars so much economic writing.

Indeed, Mandel was a master when it came to the clear presentation of often very abstract economic ideas. His short book Introduction to Marxist Economics is deservedly widely known and appreciated, half a million copies having been sold in many languages.

In 1971, Mandel published The Formation of the Economic Thought of Karl Marx, following the development of Marx's economic theory from his early writings.

Published in 1975, Late Capitalism was Mandel's most original and controversial work. It centres on "long waves" ("Kondratiev waves") in capitalist economy, analysing the evidence and theories of a series of economists and presenting Mandel's own explanation, backed by a masterful summary of more than a century of major shifts and trends in world economy.

A revised version of The Long Waves of Capitalist Development, based on lectures given at Cambridge University in 1978, is due to be published later this year. The Second Slump, also in 1978, represented Mandel's initial application of his ideas to the onset of world capitalist recession in 1974-75.

Mandel's inquiring mind also dealt with many other historical and political questions. His other published books include From Class Society to Communism (1978), From Stalinism to Eurocommunism (1978), Revolutionary Marxism Today (1979), The Meaning of the Second World War (1985) and Power and Money, a 1993 analysis of bureaucracy. There is even a study of the murder mystery in European culture.

Right to the end of his life, Mandel remained as active in revolutionary politics as his health would permit. He travelled to Nicaragua to attend the third Sao Paulo forum of left parties in 1992. Just last month, he participated in the world congress of the Fourth International. With his death, the world Marxist movement has lost one of its most devoted and original theoreticians.

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