William Marx “Bill” Mandel was a long-time KPFA broadcaster, left-wing political activist and author, best known as a Soviet expert, died on Thanksgiving. Bill was 99. His books, including “Soviet Women,” and the latest, his autobiography, “Saying No to Power (1999).”
Considered a leading Sovietologist during the 1940s and 1950s, Mandel was a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, but lost his position there due to the political pressures of the McCarthy era. He is perhaps best known for standing up to Senator Joseph McCarthy during a televised 1953 Senate committee hearing in which Mandel pointedly told the senator, “This is a book-burning! You lack only the tinder to set fire to the books as Hitler did twenty years ago, and I am going to get that across to the American people!”
In 1960, Mandel was again subpoenaed, this time by the House Un-American Activities Committee. He testified on May 13 in a hearing held at the San Francisco City Hall. Outside the hearing, hundreds of protesting Bay Area college students were blasted with firehoses and dragged down the marble steps by police officers, leaving some seriously injured. Newsreel cameras recorded Mandel’s scathing response to the question posed by Lead Counsel Richard Arens, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”:
Mandel replied: “Honorable beaters of children, sadists, uniformed and in plain clothes, distinguished Dixiecrat wearing the clothing of a gentleman, eminent Republican who opposes an accommodation with the one country with which we must live at peace in order for us and all our children to survive. My boy of fifteen left this room a few minutes ago in sound health and not jailed, solely because I asked him to be in here to learn something about the procedures of the United States government and one of its committees. Had he been outside where a son of a friend of mine had his head split by these goons operating under your orders, my boy today might have paid the penalty of permanent injury or a police record for desiring to come here and hear how this committee operates. If you think that I am going to cooperate with this collection of Judases, of men who sit there in violation of the United States Constitution, if you think I will cooperate with you in any way, you are insane!”
For 38 years, Mandel hosted a weekly radio program on KPFA-Berkeley until 1995 as commentator and interpreter on Soviet affairs. He died peacefully at his home in Kensington.