Ernest Mandel

A Tribute to George Breitman

(June 1986)

From Naomi Allen and Sarah Lovell, editors, A Tribute to George Breitman. Writer, Organizer, Revolutionary, FIT: New York 1987, pages 69-72.
The memorial meeting for George Breitman was held in New York City on June 7, 1986.
The introductory paragraph is taken from the book.
Thanks to Joseph Auciello.
Downloaded with thanks from the Ernest Mandel Internet Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Ernest Mandel sent these greetings on behalf of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. A leader of the Belgian Socialist Workers Party as well as the Fourth International, he is well known internationally as a Marxist lecturer and author, especially for his works on Marxist economics. Reactionary US legislation prohibits affiliation to the Fourth International, but the SWP and the other Fourth Internationalist groups remain in fraternal solidarity with the FI.

With George Breitman, the Fourth International has lost the last survivor of the central cadre which founded the Socialist Workers Party and assured the continuity of revolutionary Marxism in North America for half a century, a mainstay of that continuity on a world scale, too. Those who, like George, made up their minds in the thirties to support Trotsky against Stalin, to build new revolutionary parties instead of trying to operate through the traditional organizations of the working class, did not act because this was the easiest solution to the current problems of the class struggle, nationally and internationally. On the contrary; they were very conscious of the fact that they chose the difficult road, that they were swimming against the stream. Their opponents in the labor movement supported themselves on huge apparatuses, those of mass trade unions and of a mighty state, the USSR. They had tremendous material means at their disposal, all of which could not fail to exercise a power of attraction on many people. In addition, they had the political credibility of strength. They were leading masses. They were going places, or at least so many supposed.

There was only one little thing the matter with these mighty opponents. They didn’t consistently act in the interests of the working class. At decisive moments of world history, they strangled the opportunity for the workers to make a leap forward towards socialism. They caused terrible defeats. They had done so in Germany in 1918-1919. They had done so in China in 1927. They had caused the terrible defeat of Hitler seizing power unopposed in 1933. They had prevented the American workers from building a labor party independent from the bosses during the rise of the CIO in the thirties. They would strangle the Spanish and French revolutionary possibilities in 1936. And the list would be stretched on and on, at the end of World War II, later in Indonesia, in May 1968 in France, then in Chile, in Portugal, in Iran.

Those who answered Trotsky’s call for the Fourth International understood that it was necessary to challenge these misleaders of the working class. One had to challenge them on the field of program and theory. One had to challenge them on the field of action. There was nothing dogmatic or sectarian in that challenge. It meant acting side by side with millions of workers throughout the world, refusing to subordinate their ongoing struggles, their instinctive endeavors, their resolution and their hopes, to brakes and restrictions which in the last analysis express the interests of social forces alien to the working class. That is what people of George’s generation started to understand. That is what history has proven ever since, again and again.

To build a new revolutionary party, a new revolutionary international against the stream, against the pressure of great bureaucratic machines, and against the disorienting and demoralizing effects of defeats caused by these machines, necessitated not only great lucidity and deep convictions regarding the future of the working class and of the socialist revolution. It also required great moral qualities: courage, resolution, patience, firmness of character and of will power, the capacity to resist political and individual temptations. All of these qualities George Breitman mustered to a high degree, rarely encountered in a single individual.

He was what all revolutionary cadres should strive to be: an all-round revolutionary, at home in the library as well as on the picket line, a gifted writer and an excellent organizer, great at organizing election campaigns and at helping others to develop theory, an outstanding editor and a real workers leader. His qualities as educator and popularizer, which stemmed from a rare gift of perceiving the essential and expressing it in a clear and simple way so that many can understand it, did not prevent him from being at the same time a deep and independent thinker, one of the few in our movement who have made a genuine contribution to the development of theory, in his case in the field of Black nationalism, and more generally the nationalism of the downtrodden and oppressed everywhere in the world.

I first met George when he was in Europe in the aftermath of World War II and assisted, as an observer, in rebuilding a functioning center for our world movement. As the youngest participant in that effort, I learned a lot from him. In fact, if I would want to single out the persons from whom I learned most during the years following the war, I would name two SWP leaders: Morris Stein and George Breitman. This collaboration established the basis for a friendship which would last nearly forty years. It was interrupted once, after the 1953 split in our movement. George and I were in the opposite camps of that split. But right after that split we exchanged a series of letters which became public, the only correspondence which maintained a dialogue between the two sectors of the split movement. For sure we both hotly argued for our – at the time different – causes. But if one rereads these letters today, one cannot fail to feel that behind the arguments there was a sincere, even desperate wish to prevent all bridges from being burned, to keep open an avenue for healing the split. That’s why the blind factionalists in both camps disapproved of that correspondence. That’s why we both were so happy when the split was healed in 1962-1963, and felt that in a modest way we had prepared that reunification through our initial dialogue.

When George and his comrades started to be harassed, pestered, and ostracized inside the SWP because they continued to defend the program of the Fourth International, the overwhelming majority of its cadre and militants had no difficulty in defending them and standing beside them in that ordeal and after their unacceptable expulsion. We owed that to our Leninist tradition of programmatic firmness and of defending workers democracy, to start with, inside our own ranks. We shall continue to do so in the future.

George Breitman understood more than anybody else the importance of history, of historical continuity and historical causes for giving workers and the labor movement the drive and self-confidence necessary to realize the gigantic tasks they are confronted with. It is a great pity he had not learned before leaving us that we have just won a great historic victory: the complete rejection by the Chinese Communist Party of all the criminal slanders launched by Stalin and his henchmen against Leon Trotsky and his followers in the thirties.

This victory is symbolic for many others which will come to us. There is no future in this world for Stalinism, reformism, Social Democracy, labor fakers, or bourgeois nationalists. The future belongs to the working class, to revolutionary socialism to the Fourth International! Forward in the footsteps of Jim Cannon and of George Breitman towards a revolutionary vanguard party of the American working class. Forward in the footsteps of Lenin and Trotsky towards a revolutionary vanguard international of the world proletariat.


Last updated on 5.8.2007