In Tribute to Ernest Mandel

— Andre Gunder Frank

WE HAVE LOST not only a most humane human being, but the world’s greatest optimist. I don’t know which is the greater loss. Moreover, Ernest was also a great democrat: He not only fought for it; he also practiced it as few others have done.

My relation with Ernest was professional, political, and above all personal. It began with his professional/political published praise of my early work on Latin America and my request to him for help with my work on dependence, to which he acceded logistically by receiving me in the Hague, taking me back to Brussels in his car, and lodging me at his home in or about 1969.

Ernest later changed his mind about, and became ever more critical of, dependence “theory” and my work; but our personal relations continued to flourish. Another professional tie was our interest in Kondratieffs (long waves —ed.) in general and the Kondratieff B phase world economic crisis of accumulation since 1967, about which we both wrote so much.

A recent manifestation was the 1989 Brussels Kondratieff conference he organized, whose papers then appeared in a book edited by him, Kleinknecht and Wallerstein. Another was our concern with whether Kondratieff lower turning points are exogenous, as he maintained,or possibly endogenous as I suggest, as for example in our debate which began between him and David Gordon in Boston in 1979, summarized and continued by the three of us in Review (Binghamton, NY: 1994).

Also in 1979, we co-taught a summer school course on the world economic crisis together at Boston University. As I have recounted many times, Ernest and I agreed on everything with each other (and very little with almost everybody else).

We disagreed in class and in private on only two issues. Ernest said the revolution is arond the corner in several countries, and I said that it is not. I claimed that the same capitalist economic law of value also operates in the “socialist” economies, including the Soviet Union, which really exist as part and parcel of the (capitalist) world economy; and Ernest Mandel denied the same.

On several occasions both before—and all the more so after—1989-91, I found it increasingly difficult to avoid saying and writing to Ernest that “I told you so.”

I also recall standing on a street corner with him in Brussels waiting for his first wife Gisela to get some film she had left for developing at a photo shop. Ernest asked me, “don’t you agree that we Trotskyists have the best analysis of what is going on in the world?” and I answered, yes I do.

Well, he replied, “then you have to also agree that we have the best political practice,” Ernest continued. NO, I answered, I do NOT agree; and I do not have to, because what you say is a complete non-sequitur. It was born, perhaps, more from his own great optimism and humanity than from his analysis of the evidence.

Even with all his humanism, I never understood how Ernest Mandel maintained his inveterate optimism in the face of all the evidence; and yet, the more the evidence comes in, the more do we need his optimism and humanism—as well as his analysis—to get out of it.

So we shall miss him—and continue to need him!

November/December 1995