The Meaning of the Second World War (1986) Ernest Mandel

The Meaning of the Second World WarThe Meaning of the Second World War by Ernest Mandel
Powerfully written provocative slim volume by the Belgian economist Ernest Mandel, one of the most important Marxist intellectuals in post war West. Short tightly packed chapters titled like- Social Forces, Resources, Logistics, Ideology demonstrate the explanatory power of historical materialism in his hands. Somehow Mandel writes of the period WWI/WWII with an historical scope and distance that he could have been writing of the Thirty Years War in Central Europe exactly 300 years earlier. Declining colonial empires, nationalist rebellion, rising imperialist spheres of influence, rival social systems with great power and appeal, are terms that constitute frame of view. And modernity.. industrial creation and destruction. Total dehumanization of the “other” is a feature of the modern world; a necessary ingredient for the success of “New World” settler colonialism’s displacement/genocide of native people and of the Enlightenment era establishment of plantation society for wealth production by enslaved Africans. The origin of Final Solution anti-semitism, Mandel suggests, is found in this our modern Atlantic world as much or more than it is a direct line from the Classical and Medieval pogroms of the Mediterranean world. This point is made in a single paragraph. Elsewhere I understand he has written on this topic. His own experiences (1922-1995) as a Jewish intellectual in mid century Europe is worth looking up in the biographical literature.

I have not been impacted by book on war like this before. In the same way that Mandel allows ones historical imagination to consider his account in terms similar to the Thirty Years War (or the Trojan War) his moral stand and critique of the “future” is implicit in the discussion of bullets, boots, radios, supply lines, aircraft, tanks, battleships, blitzkrieg, carpet bombing, atomic bombs– all of this in the hands of the major states- in conflict over how power is held, exercised, (shared?) across the globe can only be repeated one more time. The destruction can’t be imagined.


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