More of the late Ernest Mandel. When we, as Marxists, critique our past as we must do, we sometimes fail to place the past firmly in its time. The point of looking at the past is not, as an example, to say that the Bolsheviks “should not” have banned factions, but to ask why the Bolsheviks banned factions. The elements of the 20th century experience still reflected in the Marxist movement that we rightly wish to shed, as well as those we’d be stupid to abandon, came about in reaction to concrete realities, real events. Ernest Mandel was a participant in many of those events and an astute observer of those realities. As such his life is a wonderful guide into that time’s maddening complexities.
A revolution in retreat is a terribly disconcerting and confusing experience. That Mandel and Trotskyists defended Marxism and the perspective of workers self emancipation in the midst of great reversals speaks to their Marxism as much as to their courage. I can’t imagine Marxism surviving as something recognizable as an emancipatory movement without their struggle. However, and we imagine Mandel would agree with this, Marxism defined by its defense against those whose distortions claim to speak in its name can’t help but also, in its way, distort Marxism. It’s one of those awful contradictions of history: the defense of Marxism necessarily limits it.
Our wish to reclaim Marxism from the perfidy of the past and redefine it in terms of today will be defined by other experiences, not unrelated, to those faced by earlier generations. While we come to terms with the past in order to face the future we do a disservice to that project if we reject the mistakes without absorbing the lessons. It is so easy to throw stones at the past without learning a thing but the ability to be self-righteous. We had much to learn from Mandel when he was alive and we still do. This film has been around the net for a while, but only recently have I discovered it in English. The rest of the film can be found here.