Charles Van Gelderen

Ernest Mandel: Revolutionary Socialist
in Theory and Practice

(Winter 1995/96)

Mandel was more than a theoretician. As a Marxist, for him theory and practice were indivisible. That is why the building and strengthening of the Fourth International were central to his life. Like Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky before him, he knew that the working class could not carry out its historic task without a party, and that that party had to be international, not only in outlook, making mere genuflections to internationalism, but organisationally. Marx’s Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach – ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point, however, is to change it’ – was the foundation of his political life. That is why, since the age of 15, he devoted himself to what he regarded as the central task for today – the building of the Fourth International.

He regarded the argument of the British Socialist Workers Party, that you first had to build the basement and the floor before you can build the roof (the International), as a crude sophism.

‘several important factors are operating in our favour. On a world scale, the wage-earning class is still growing, and growing in an impressive way, although not in all countries and all sectors at the same pace. Internationally, it has long passed the billion mark. If you add to this the semi-proletariat of landless peasants in important Third World countries, you will probably reach the figure of two billion.’ (Ibid.) – the wage-earners are not “workers”

For Ernest, the building of the Fourth International was the primary purpose of his life

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