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Daniel Bensaid

Daniel Bensaid


An Impatient Life: A Memoir
By Daniel Bensaïd, translated by David Fernbach, with an introduction by Tariq Ali,
Verso Books, 2014.

Readers of Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal are urged to order a copy HERE. You can download an excerpt HERE (PDF).



Review by Paul Le Blanc

May 11, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal –

Daniel Bensaïd (1946-2010) was one of the most respected theorists to emerge from the 1960s radicals of Western Europe. Always inclined to think “outside the box”, waving aside venerable dogmas and shrugging off standard formulations, he found fresh ways, energised with the aura of unorthodoxy, to express and apply truths from the revolutionary Marxist tradition.

Sometimes his creativity could provide insights that opened fruitful pathways of thought and action. “We were young people in a hurry, as is inevitably the case”, he writes near the start of his saga. “As if we had to make up for the wasted time of the ‘century of extremes,’ as if we were afraid of missing our appointments, in politics and in love.” In the end, “we had to learn ‘the art of waiting’”, he muses, yet the author remains an unbowed militant: “We have sometimes deceived ourselves, perhaps even often, and on many things. But at least we did not deceive ourselves about either the struggle or the choice of enemy.”

This substantial volume is a parting gift, sharing memories of what he had seen and done, offering a piece of his mind, exploring the meaning of it all – as befits the image, snapped a few years before his premature death, of the gaunt, frail man whose keen intelligence shines out from his now-bespectacled eyes.

Yet a photograph from 1948 reveals an adorable two-year old with long curly hair toddling toward us. We see a boy at ages five, nine and 14, with bright and impish eyes, destined to appear (in half a dozen photos from the 1970s) as a buoyant, handsome, charismatic activist of the famed “generation of 1968”. Daniel was centrally involved in the revolutionary student-worker upsurge that shook France and almost brought down the government of Charles De Gaulle. Out of this experience was born the militant Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) that powerfully impacted the global far left and became a central component of the Fourth International (a network of comparatively small revolutionary socialist parties and groups founded by Leon Trotsky and other dissident-communists over three decades before). In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Bensaïd and his comrades were intimately connected with currents in Latin America utilising the perspectives of Che Guevara and other revolutionary warriors, generating some of his most searching reflections.

The exciting years of upsurge gave way to disaster, disappointment, defeat. It was during this in-between period that I fleetingly met Bensaïd, at a 1990 World Congress and at a 1991meeting of the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International, as I represented the smallest one of three US Trotskyist fragments identifying with this “world party of socialist revolution”. It was obvious that his experience was incomparably richer than mine, and that he had earned profound respect from the other comrades who, with him, made up the inner circle of the Fourth International’s leadership.

A friend who read this book before I did warned that Bensaïd was quite a name dropper, and there are certainly scores of names that flow from these pages. But I came upon his description of the cluster of comrades from the 1980s whose labours maintained “the bonsai Comintern” that was the Fourth International: a dozen names of people – many now dead – whose strengths and weaknesses and life-energy had been essential to the world movement to which I was committed. I knew these people, they were important to me, and I felt grateful that their names with brief descriptions are shared with the readers of this book.

History is the lives of innumerable people, not abstractions, and the history of our revolutionary socialist movement is nothing without the amazing number of names (with all-too-brief descriptions) that Bensaïd weaves into his narrative. Distinctive features of this volume include (with a list of abbreviations) 12 pages of descriptions of left-wing organisations, plus extensive footnotes providing information on the dozens upon dozens of activists he mentions – together with the main narrative, making this an essential source on the international left and on world Trotskyism.

Youth radicalisation

Daniel was born into a working-class family that moved from Algeria to France shortly before his birth – the father a Sephardic Jew, the Gallic mother inclined to self-identify as Jewish. They saved enough money to start a bistro with a predominantly left-wing working-class clientele. Their clever and inquisitive son ascended into the ranks of university students while also, quite naturally, drifting into the youth group of the French Communist Party. But like many of his comrades of the time (influenced by Trotskyists doing “deep-entry” work in the group), partly under the impact of Algeria’s anti-colonial revolution and the tepid response to this by the French Communists, he came to the conclusion that it would be wrong to “confuse the revolutionary project with Stalinism”.

Rejecting the intellectual “ravages of a positivist and authoritarian Marxism” (almost in the same breath he characterises it as “a glacial Marxism without style or passion”), they turned to heretical texts – Herbert Marcuse, Wilhelm Reich, Lucien Goldmann, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, Che Guevara, Daniel Guerin, Henri Lefebvre, Ernest Mandel. Bensaïd adds that for him and many of the young radicals, too, “Lenin was all the rage”, but this was a Lenin having little in common with the immense leaden statues worshiped by older, disapproving Communist Party comrades. The intellectual rebellion quickly culminated in mass expulsions from the mainstream Communist movement, with many of the young rebels (the spirited Bensaïd no less than others) gradually recruiting themselves to a maverick variant of Trotskyism.

This historical moment was one of a youth radicalisation sweeping through Europe and other continents. In France, the young Trotskyists-in-the-making were caught up in the swirl – along with anarchists and Maoists and activists without clear labels – of students pushing for radical educational reforms and sexual freedom. The wondrous days of May 1968 saw huge demonstrations, endless meetings, student strikes and school occupations. Struggles for educational transformation blended into a more general anti-authoritarianism, opposition to imperialist wars, romantic identification with “Third World” insurgencies and the rights of the working class. This last element took on special meaning as many workers – to the horror of Stalinist and moderate-socialist trade union bureaucrats – threw their support to the “crazy” students and began organising militant strikes, matching the student barricades and street battles against brutal police repression. The question of power was being posed – the overturn of the old order seemed on the agenda.

It soon became apparent, however, that the May uprising had neither the strategic vision nor the organisational coherence nor sufficiently deep popular roots to bring on the thoroughgoing revolution that the young radicals dreamed of. This was, many agreed, simply a “dress rehearsal”.

Struggle, violence, principles

As the newly crystallised LCR grew, Bensaïd and its other leaders felt that “history was breathing down our necks”. If May 1968 was the dress rehearsal for revolution, these revolutionary militants had a responsibility to see that an actual revolution would, indeed, be produced. “We were in a hurry”, he writes, and with others he developed theoretical reference points of “an (ultra-) Leninism, dominated by the paroxysmic moment of the seizure of power”. But it had taken the Bolsheviks decades to develop experience and revolutionary seasoning in pre-revolutionary Russia that would be sufficient for the 1917 revolution. As Bensaïd describes it, the group and its young cadres were far from that. Nonetheless, their most respected revolutionary Marxist mentor, Ernest Mandel, was assuring them that “revolution is immanent”, and both in the LCR and the Fourth International they felt a responsibility to make it so. It was a time of “hasty Leninism”, whose “fearsome burden” he poignantly describes:

Our feverish impatience was inspired by a phrase from Trotsky that was often cited in our debates: “The crisis of humanity is summed up in the crisis of revolutionary leadership.” If this was indeed the case, nothing was more urgent than to resolve this crisis. The duty of each person was to contribute his or her little strength, as best they could, to settle this alternative between socialism and barbarism. It was in part up to them, therefore, whether the human species sank into a twilight future or blossomed into a society of abundance. This vision of history charged our frail shoulders with a crushing responsibility. In the face of this implacable logic, impoverished emotional life or professional ambition did not weigh very heavy. Each became personally responsible for the fate of humanity.

In North America, in Asia, and especially in Latin America there was also such “hasty Leninism”. A substantial minority in the Fourth International fiercely opposed the course that Bensaïd and others advocated – initially calling for a continent-wide strategy of rural guerilla warfare in Latin America (a perspective soon “modified” to include urban guerilla warfare as well), with similar impulses theorised for elsewhere. This led to a factional battle in the Fourth International, with a substantial minority projecting a more patient orientation grounded in classical Marxism. A prestigious former secretary of Trotsky’s, Joseph Hansen, labelled his 1971 oppositional polemic “In Defense of the Leninist Strategy of Party-Building” (which can be found on-line, as can some of Bensaïd’s writings, through the Marxist Internet Archive). After several years of experience, most of the “hasty Leninists” would more or less swing over to Hansen’s position.

But Bensaïd, a dedicated representative in Latin America from the Fourth International’s “center”, is compelled to share haunting memories: “Our comrades were young and intrepid, full of confidence in the socialist future of humanity. Three years later, half the people I met at these meetings had been arrested, tortured and murdered”. It becomes a poetry of horror:

We were running headlong into an open grave…

So many faces wiped out.

So many laughs extinguished.

So many hopes massacred.

He draws the lessons: “It was clear that we were on the wrong path… Armed struggle is not a strategy… The armed struggle we voted on at the 9th World Congress [1969] was an ill-timed generalization…”

Bensaïd emphasises that “weapons have their own logic”, elaborating:

Buying and storing and looking after weapons, renting safe-houses and supporting underground activists is an expensive business and needs money. To obtain this, you have to rob banks. And to rob banks, you need weapons. In this spiral, an increasing number of militants are socially uprooted and professionalised. Instead of melting into a social milieu like fish in water, their existence depends ever more on an expanding apparatus.

Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky had envisioned revolutionary cadres facilitating the self-organisation and self-activity and revolutionary consciousness of various working-class and oppressed sectors. Central to this was the building reform struggles for democratic rights and economic justice, creating a movement “of the great majority, for the great majority” that would culminate in “winning the battle of democracy” and bring a transition from capitalism to socialism. For revolutionaries – Bensaïd tells us – such a working-class implantation also provides “a reality principle” to counterbalance “leftist temptations”. He and others, including seasoned guerrilla fighters, “drew the conclusion of a necessary return to more classical forms of organisation and the primacy of politics over military action, without which the logic of violence gets carried away and risks becoming uncontrollable”.

A strength in Bensaïd’s searching exploration of violence, to which he devotes a full chapter, is his understanding that violence is at the very core of capitalism and all forms of class society, quoting poetAndré Suares: “Wealth is the sign of violence, at every level”. He shows that the violence of the status quo is intensifying: “the tendency to a privatization and dissemination of violence is accelerating. Ethnic cleansing and religious massacres are proliferating. The world is collapsing into the hyper-violence of armed globalization”. Yet he sees the contamination of violence manifesting itself again and again in struggles against oppression and exploitation – liberators can become criminals, in some cases devolving into common gangsters, in the worst cases bringing in their wake the gulag and the killing fields.

Surveying revolutionary experience for over a century, he concludes: “Violence and progress no longer marched together, at the same pace, in the supposed direction of history”. He insists on the need for a practical-ethical regulation of violence in the perspectives of revolutionaries. He finds it in Trotsky’s 1938 classic Their Morals and Ours:

The “great revolutionary end” thus necessarily spurns “those base means and ways which set one part of the working class against other parts, or attempt to make the masses happy without their participation; or lower the faith of the masses in themselves and their organization, replacing it by worship for the ‘leaders’”.

Exhaustion and affirmation

Exhaustion can afflict a revolution, a struggle, an activist, an idea. A variety of such things are traced for the 20th century’s final decades. His own intensely activist organisation, the LCR, was able to endure, weather more than one storm, making important contributions to liberation struggles. Yet, “we had worked wonders, exhausting ourselves in running faster than our own shadow”. He describes excellent comrades finally asking “what it’s all about” and falling away.

Amid all of this, there appears a fleeting pen-portrait of an important mentor to innumerable Fourth Internationalists, Ernest Mandel – “a tutor in theory and a passer between two generations … who set out during the 1950s to conceptualize the new features of the era, instead of piously watching over the political legacy of the past… This daily contact with Ernest was a wellspring of knowledge and a permanent initiation into the foundations of Marxism.”

As time went on, there was a partial exhaustion of the relationship between Mandel and “the generation of ‘68” – a relationship always inspiring “more in the way of respect than affection”, and “rarely reciprocal and egalitarian”. Bensaïd saw him as at least a partial prisoner of a belief in “the emancipating powers of science and the historical logic of progress”, elaborating: “Ernest was an exemplary case of stubborn optimism of the will tempered by an intermittent pessimism of reason: for him, permanent revolution would win the day over permanent catastrophe. And the socialist prophecy would (almost) always defeat barbarism”.

Yet for many of Mandel’s political children, this seemed increasingly inadequate for the realities they were facing.

This shifting mood went far beyond the ranks of the Fourth International. Wearying leftists with an ambitious bent began proclaiming a set a “farewells” – to Marxism, to the working class, to the passionate logic of revolutionary struggle. Sanctuary could be found, sometimes with considerable comfort and impressive careers, in the power structures that their younger selves had militantly confronted. Among “third worldists” and Maoists who had once enthusiastically proclaimed that “the wind is blowing from the East”, there was a growing conviction that “it was the west wind that now prevailed over the east”, blowing ever stronger thanks to the Reagan and Thatcher revolutions. Some activists migrated from revolution to reformist politics, and some (perhaps frightened by totalitarian impulses they discovered in themselves) veered more sharply to the right.

This reflected a deeper exhaustion – of Maoist China’s revolutionary élan, of the Central American revolutions, of many hopeful aspects of the Cuban Revolution and finally of the so-called “bureaucratised workers’ states” of the Communist Bloc and the USSR itself.

The collapse of Communism was soon accompanied by other exhaustions impacting on Bensaïd and his comrades. In the 1980s, the LCR had been joined by the large, growing, vibrant Mexican and the Brazilian sections as “the big three” in the Fourth International, seeming to promise much in the rebuilding of the global left. Yet the Mexican organisation, “with wind in its sails”, had insufficient theoretical grounding and organisational strength to prevent success from corrupting some of its most prominent militants – soon leading to betrayal, demoralisation and fragmentation.

The Brazilian comrades, with whom he worked closely for many years, had thrived as an integral part of the glorious and multifaceted working-class upsurge that finally pushed aside the military dictatorship. In the form of the massive Workers Party headed by the working-class militant Lula, the insurgents finally won the presidency of the country. But a majority of the comrades found themselves pulled along into the new reformist trajectory and even neoliberal policies of the Lula regime, with a dissident fragment expelled and others splitting away amid exhausted hopes. (There was, obviously, no time for Bensaïd to offer a balance sheet on the LCR’s 2009 decision to dissolve into a broader New Anti-Capitalist Party).

Many activists, not inclined to join the well-heeled legions of the status quo, sought more resources to help them endure the new realities. Those who were Jewish (as he was) felt a need to explore the meaning of that identity and its complex and often horrific history. In such explorations, while in no way turning away from this identity (and joining in “not in my name” protests against Israel’s oppression of Palestinians), Bensaïd affirmed his rejection of “the Chosen People” concept – having no desire “to feel chosen in this way, whether to share the blessings of this election or to bear the crushing responsibility according to which Jews are supposed to be better than common mortals”.

Some, in this troubling period, explored new pathways of spirituality and even mysticism (as he did), as a means to transcend the “instrumental rationality [that] has stubbornly set out to empty time of its messianic pregnancy, to dissolve the surprises of the event with the regularity of the clock”. There is need for transcendence, “when revolution becomes the name of the inconstant event that has refused to arrive, or –still worse – has appeared in the form of its own rebuttal”. Such transcendence of “practical” and “instrumental reality” can open the way “to a new representation of history”. He insists that “the ancient prophet was neither a divine, nor a sorcerer, nor a magician. He or she was someone who switched the points of the present into the unknown bifurcations of the future.”

Yet for Bensaïd revolutionary Marxism remained the essential ingredient in his identity as a political person. A remarkable chapter in the book – “Spectres in the Blue House” – focuses on the final Mexican years of Trotsky’s exile, eloquently tracing the revolutionary’s meaning for his time and for ours. “From Marx to Trotsky”, Bensaïd writes, “permanent revolution … welds together event and history, moment and duration, rupture and continuity”. Marx is primary. In some ways the most powerful chapter is “The Inaudible Thunder”, offering an elegant explication of the three volumes of Marx’s Capital —“inescapable, always uncompleted, constantly recommenced, it is an unending project”. The profound influence on Marx of the philosopher Hegel accounts for this chapter’s title: “the still inaudible thunder of Hegelian logic” challenges the “instrumental rationality” used to “explain” and justify the capitalist status quo.

Marx’s method shatters such ideological facades, providing an in-depth analysis of “generalized commodity production” revealing the exploitation and mutilation of human labour and creativity at the system’s very heart. His intricate exploration of the “capital accumulation process” reveals the impact of bending society and culture and the environment to the voracious and destructive need for maximising profits more and more and more, forever. “The important thing”, Bensaïd insists, is “not to bend, not to give in, not to submit to the proclaimed fatality [inevitability] of the commodity order”.

The very nature of this system is such that “the world still has to be changed, and still more profoundly and more urgently than we had imagined forty years ago. Any doubt bears on the possibility of succeeding, not on the necessity of trying.” Inaction in the face of doubt is not a choice. Given the dynamics of capitalism, the oppressed and exploited majority does not have the option of “not playing the game”, and for revolutionary activists “the only compass in this uncertain work is to take the part of the oppressed, even in defeat if need be”.

“Knowing oneself to be mortal – we all do, more or less – is one thing”, Bensaïd muses in the memoir’s penultimate chapter. “Something else is to experience this and really believe it.” Seeing his own impending death as the book comes to a close, and impelled to pass his torch to us, he conveys multiple insights:

Revolts against globalized injustice are multiplying. But the spiral of retreats and defeats has not been broken. Number and mass are not enough, without will and consciousness… A resistance without victories and perspectives of counter-attack ends up being worn out. There is no victory without strategy, and no strategy without a balance of forces… Is it possible to be truly democratic without being truly socialist?… Today’s political landscape is devastated by battles lost without even being fought …

Source: LINKS: International Journal of Social Renewal




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Daniel Bensaid

Daniel Bensaid


An Impatient Life: A Memoir

By Daniel Bensaid



Daniel Bensaid’s beautiful memoir, illuminating a life-long commitment to revolutionary struggle

Translated by David Fernbach 

Introduction by Tariq Ali 


In the classic tradition of the philosopher-activist, Daniel Bensaid tells the story of a life deeply entwined with the history of both the French and the international Left. From his family bistro in a staunchly red neighborhood of Toulouse to the founding of the Jeunesses communistes revolutionnaires in the 1960s, from the joyous explosion of May 1968 to the painful experience of defeat in Latin America, from the re-reading of Marx to the ‘Marrano’ trail, Bensaïd relates a life of ideological and practical struggle in which he unflinchingly sought to understand capitalism without ever succumbing to its temptations.


“France’s leading Marxist public intellectual.” – Tariq Ali

“Daniel’s death is like a wound, not a sadness. A loss which leaves us heavier. However, this weight is the opposite of a burden; it is a message composed, not with words, but with decisions and acts and injuries.” – John Berger

“Daniel Bensaid was my ‘distant companion’ … With his disappearance, the intellectual, activist, political, and what we might call, even though the adjective is today obscure in meaning, ‘revolutionary’ world has changed.” – Alain Badiou

“This absorbing, affecting memoir is a beautiful testament to a richly productive and dignified life…this is an energising book, a book that reminds us of the rightness of refusing the inevitability of capitalism and war, of the promise of international solidarity and socialism, of our responsibility to all those who have made sacrifices in this struggle.” – Dougal McNeill, ISO


Daniel Bensaid (1946–2010) taught philosophy at the University of Paris VIII, and was the author of books on Marxism, Walter Benjamin, the French Revolution and Joan of Arc. The Marxists’ Internet Archive has a list of obituaries here


Hardback, 336 pages / ISBN: 9781781681084 / January 2014 / $34.95 / £24.99 / $38.50CAN

To learn more about AN IMPATIENT LIFE and to purchase the book, please visit


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Crisis Sublime



Registration desk is at SOAS, Thornhaugh Square, Russell Square Underground station.

Thursday at 12:00

Friday at 9.00

Saturday at 9.00

Sunday at 9.00

All those who cannot afford the suggested unwaged contribution rate, or who only wish to attend a few sessions, should come to registration to discuss a fair contribution.

‘Crisis and Critique’: Historical Materialism Annual London Conference 2010

Central London, Thursday 11th to Sunday 14th November

Provisional Programme Now Available online:

Notwithstanding repeated invocations of the ‘green shoots of recovery’, the effects of the economic crisis that began in 2008 continue to be felt around the world. While some central tenets of the neoliberal project have been called into question, bank bailouts, cuts to public services and attacks on working people’s lives demonstrate that the ruling order remains capable of imposing its agenda. Many significant Marxist analyses have already been produced of the origins, forms and prospects of the crisis, and we look forward to furthering these debates at HM London 2010. We also aim to encourage dialogue between the critique of political economy and other modes of criticism – ideological, political, aesthetic, philosophical – central to the Marxist tradition.

In the 1930s, Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht projected a journal to be called ‘Crisis and Critique’. In very different times, but in a similar spirit, HM London 2010 aims to serve as a forum for dialogue, interaction and debate between different strands of critical-Marxist theory. Whether their focus is the study of the capitalist mode of production’s theoretical and practical foundations, the unmasking of its ideological forms of legitimation or its political negation, we are convinced that a renewed and politically effective Marxism will need to rely on all the resources of critique in the years ahead.

Crises produce periods of ideological and political uncertainty. They are moments that put into question established cognitive and disciplinary compartmentalisations, and require a recomposition at the level of both theory and practice. HM London 2010 hopes to contribute to a broader dialogue on the Left aimed at such a recomposition, one of whose prerequisites remains the young Marx’s call for the ‘ruthless criticism of all that exists’.

Themes discussed by the Conference include: Activism * Adorno: Philosophy, Aesthetics, Politics * Aesthetics of Crisis * Art and Activism * Althusser and the Aleatory Encounter I: Conceptual Aspects * Althusser and the Aleatory Encounter II: Philosophical Contrasts * Applying Value Theory * Approaching Passive Revolutions * Art in Neoliberalism * The Arts and Capitalist Triumphant: American Culture in the 1940s * Between Political Economy and Political Struggles *  Beyond What Is and Isn’t to Be Done: The Question of Organisation Today * Biocapitalism * Bolshevik History * Book Launch: Jairus Banaji’s Theory as History * Capital and the Crisis of Nature * Capitalism, Labour, Photography * Centenary of Hilferding’s Finance Capital * China: Internal Struggles and External Perceptions * Class, Gender, Crisis: The Attack on Public Services and Welfare * Class and Nation in the Middle East * Climate Change and Ecological Crisis: Law, Gender, Technology * Commodities, Labour and Space * Conjuncture, Contingency and Overdetermination * The Contemporary Global Economy (Marx and the ‘Global South’ 1) * Crisis and Accumulation in Asia * Crisis of Representation: Philosophy, Politics, Aesthetics * Crisis in Greece, Crisis in the Eurozone * The Crisis this Time * Commons and Commonwealths * Commons and Communism, Past and Present * Confronting the Right * Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism * Death and Utopia: Bloch and Benjamin * Dependency and Exploitation in Latin America * Dimensions of the Crisis: History, Finance, and the Labour Process * Energy and Crisis * The End of Old and New Labour: What’s Left? * Eurozone Crisis: Causes and Ways Out * Feminism and the Critique of Political Economy * Financial Capital Before and After the Crisis * Financialisation: Theory and Practice * Forgotten Space: Capitalism and the Sea * Forms of Working-Class Resistance * From Crisis To Crises: Marxist Perspectives On Latin America In The Global Economy * From Crisis of Capitalism to Crisis of the Public Sector * Gender, Labour and the Future of Feminism * Geographies of Crisis and Critique I * Geographies of Crisis and Critique II * German Crises * Georg Lukács and the Aspiration Towards Totality * Gramsci * Historical Materialism, Universal History, and East Asia * Histories of Workers’ Struggles * The Ideology of the ‘Big Society’ * Imperialism: History and Theory * Intellectuals, Public Discourse and Education * International Relations, Militarism and Modes of Foreign Relations * Japanese and Western Marxism * Korsch, Lefebvre and Hegelian Marxism * Labour and Migration * Labour Power and the Marxian Analytics of Crisis * Latin America, Resistance and Political Economy * Legacies of Bolshevism * Lenin, Luxemburg and the Russian Revolution * Limits of Citizenship and Democracy * Managing Crisis: Fair Trade, Cooperatives,  Degrowth * Marx Against Eurocentrism (Marx and the ‘Global South’ 2) * Marx and Critique * Marxian Investigations * Marxism and Geopolitics * Marxism and International Law * Marxism and Politics Today * Marxism and Theories of Politics * Marxist Theories of Finance and Risk * Marxist Theory and Cultural Politics * Marx for Our Times * Marx, Normativity, Justice * Marx’s Capital and the Development of Capitalism Today * Music and Resistance * Neoliberalism and World Cinema: A Double Take * Palestine and Global Justice: Current and Historic Challenges for the Left * Poetics, Painting, Politics * Political Ecology in a Time of Crisis * Political Economy and Value Theory * The Politics and Political Economy of the Media * The Politics of Housing * Profit and the Crisis * Radicalism in Contemporary Art and Literature * Red October: Left-Indigenous Struggles in Modern Bolivia * Rethinking the State * Rosa Luxemburg  and the Critique of Political Economy * Screening: Comuna Under Construction * Servicing the Crisis * Sex in Crisis * Slavery and American Capitalism * Stasis, Contradiction, Hostility * Strategies for Art Today I * Strategies for Art Today II * Theorising the Crisis I * Theorising the Crisis II * Theorising the Crisis III * The Transformation of Chinese Marxism * Ultra-Leftism, Insurrection, and the City * Useless But True: Economic Crisis and the Peculiarities of Economic Science * Value and Struggles in China * Varieties of Capitalism I * Varieties of Capitalism II * Violence and Non-Violence * Walter Benjamin and Anthropological Materialism * Walter Benjamin and the Critique of Violence * Whither Feminism? * Who Rules the World? Contemporary Views on Ruling and Capitalist Classes * Workers, the Union Movement and the Crisis * Workers’ Self-Management and Alternative Work Organisation I * Workers’ Self-Management and Alternative Work Organization II * The Working Class after Neoliberalism: From the World to the East End of Glasgow * The Work of Daniel Bensaid *

Speakers include: Greg Albo * Bueno Aldo * Görkem Akgöz * Idris Akkuzu * Donatella Alessandrini * Anne Alexander * Jamie Allinson * Elmar Altvater * Marko Ampuja * James Anderson * Kevin Anderson * Alex Anievas * Caroline Arscott * Sam Ashman * John Ashworth * Tara Atluri * Maurizio Atzeni * Antonio Azevedo * Dario Azzellini * Abigail Bakan * Jeff Bale * Jairus Banaji * Laurent Baronian * Luca Basso * Amita Baviskar * Wesley Baxter * Dave Beech * Riccardo Bellofiore * Aaron Benanav * Marc Berdet * Janis Berzins * Beverley Best * Brenna Bhandar * Alain Bihr * Cyrus Bina * Robin Blackburn * Paul Blackledge * Joost de Bloois * Iain Boal * Roland Boer * Armando Boito * Patrick Bond * Bill Bowring * Chris Boyd * Umut Bozkurt * Honor Brabazon * Craig Brandist * Pepijn Brandon * Lutz Brangsch * Colm Breathnach * Peter Brogan * Heather Brown * Sebastian Budgen * Jonah Butovsky * Alex Callinicos * Liam Campling * Bob Cannon * Thomas Carmichael * The Carrot Workers Collective * Warren Carter * Noel Castree * Aude de Caunes * Maria Elisa Cevasco * Giorgio Cesarale * Sharad Chari * Matthew Charles * François Chesnais * Danielle Child * Christopher Chitty * Joseph Choonara * John Clegg * Perci Coelho * Sheila Cohen * Alejandro Colás * Nathan Coombs * John Cooper * Luke Cooper * Gareth Dale * Neil Davidson * Chuck Davis * Tim Dayton * Shane Deckard * Radhika Desai * Li Dianlai * Katja Diefenbach * Angela Dimitrakaki * James Dunkerley * Bill Dunn * Cedric Durand * Nick Dyer-Witheford * Caroline Edwards * Steve Edwards * Evie Embrechts * Katsuhiko Endo * Theresa Enright * Adam Fabry * Mauro Farnesi Camellone * Sara Farris * David Featherstone * Romain Felli * Oliver Feltham * David Fernbach * Michele Filippini * Ben Fine * Eoin Flaherty * Paul Flenley * Keith Flett * Kirsten Forkert * Des Freedman * Alan Freeman * James Furner * Nicola Fusaro * Jin Gao * Lindsey German * M.A. Gonzalez * Sara Gonzalez * James Goodman * Jamie Gough * Nicolas Grinberg * Agon Hamza  * Adam Hanieh * Bue Rübner Hansen * Jane Hardy * Lea Haro * Barnaby Harran * Barbara Harriss-White * Johan Hartle * Dan Hartley * Mike Haynes * Amrit Heer * Paul Heideman * Christoph Hermann * Chris Hesketh * Andy Higginbottom * Jan Hoff * John Holloway * Charlie Hore * Nik Howard * Peter Hudis * Ian Hussey * Ursula Huws * Anthony Iles * Ozlem Ingun * Robert Jackson * Dhruv Jain * Sang-Hwan Jang * Anselm Jappe * Olivier Jelinski * Heesang Jeon * Seongjin Jeong * Jonny Jones * Jyotsna Kapur * Marina Kaneti * Ioannis Kaplanis * Elif Karacimen * Rebecca Karl * Ken Kawashima * Alexander Keller Hirsch * Mark Kelly * Anneleen Kenis * Paul Kellogg * Christiane Ketteler * Sami Khatib * Jim Kincaid * Don Kingsbury * Stathis Kouvelakis * Sam Knafo * Juha Koivisto * Stathis Kouvelakis * Michael R. Krätke * Clarice Kuhling * Alexi Kukuljevic * Anne E. Lacsamana * Mikko Lahtinen * Ishay Landa * Costas Lapavitsas * Amanda Latimer * Nick Lawrence * Philippe Lege * Emanuele Leonardi * Esther Leslie * Alex Levant * Les Levidow * Iren Levina * Norman Levine * Ben Lewis * Aiyun Liang * Lars Lih * Jacob Carlos Lima * Por-Yee Lin * Duncan Lindo * Nicola Livingstone * Alex Loftus * Domenico Losurdo * Nikos Lountos * David Mabb * Denis Mäder * Yahya Madra * F.T.C. Manning * Paula Marcelino * Fábio Marvulle *  Pierre Matari * Paul Mattick * Patricia McCafferty * Daniel McCarthy * Andrew McGettigan * David McNally * James Meadway * Eileen Meehan * Antigoni Memou * Zhang Meng * David Michalski * China Miéville * Owen Miller * Seamus Milne * Andrew Milner * Dimitris Milonakis * Gautam Mody * Simon Mohun * Kim Moody * Colin Mooers * Michael Moran * Vittorio Morfino * Adam David Morton * Avigail Moss * Sara Motta * Tadzio Mueller * Sara Murawski * Douglas Murphy * Mary Jo Nadeau * Yutaka Nagahara * Immanuel Ness * Susan Newman * Michael Niblett *  Stephen Norrie * Benjamin Noys * Sebnem Oguz * Francisco Ojeda * Chris O’Kane * Kosuke Oki * Ken Olende * Ozlem Onaran * Ahmet Öncü * Ozgur Orhangazi * Judith Orr * Reecia Orzeck * Ceren Ozselcuk * Leo Panitch * Giorgos Papafragkou * Rose Parfitt * Mark Paschal * Jody Patterson * Laurie Penny * He Ping * Simon Pirani * Charles Post * Nina Power * Gonzalo Pozo-Martin * Lucia Pradella * Tim Pringle * Toni Prug * Muriel Pucci * Besnik Pula * Thomas Purcell * Sam Putinja * Uri Ram * Gene Ray * Jason Read * John Rees * Oliver Ressler * Felicita Reuschling * Larry Reynolds * John Roberts * John Michael Roberts * William Roberts * Ed Rooksby * Sadi dal Rosso * Christina Rousseau * Giorgos Sagriotis * Spyros Sakellaropoulos * Gregory Schwartz * David Schwartzman * Ian J. Seda-Irizarry * Ben Selwyn * Richard Seymour * Greg Sharzer * Greg Shollette * Jan Sieber * Oishik Sircar * Murray E.G. Smith * John Smith * Jeffrey Sommers * Panagiotis Sotiris * Michalis Spourdalakis * Kerstin Stakemeier * Julian Stallabrass * Guido Starosta * Engelbert Stockhammer * Robert Stolz * Ted Stolze * Kendra Strauss * Bronislaw Szerszynski * Jeff Tan * Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor * Kampagiannis Thanassis * Tzuchien Tho * Martin Thomas * Peter Thomas * Peter Thompson * Hillel Herschel Ticktin * Vladimir Tikhonov * Oxana Timofeeva * Bruno Tinel * Tania Toffanin * Massimiliano Tomba * Stavros Tombazos * George Tomlinson * Samo Tomsic * Jan Toporowski * Alberto Toscano * Nicos Trimikliniotis * Ben Trott * Pei Kuei Tsai * Alan Tuckman * Deborah Tudor * Lori Turner * Alexej Ulbricht * Steve Vallance * Giovanna Vertova * Marina Vishmidt * Keith Wagner * Hilary Wainwright * Gavin Walker * Andrew Warstat * Ben Watson * Michael Watts * Mike Wayne * Alexis Wearmouth * Jeffery R. Webber * John Weeks * Brian Whitener * Evan Calder Williams * Frieder Otto Wolf * Xinwang Wu * Wu Xinwei * Galip Yalman * Faruk Yalvaç * Eddie Yuen * Rafeef  Ziadah * Mislav Zitko *


‘I believe in the afterlife.

It starts tomorrow,

When I go to work’

Cold Hands & Quarter Moon, ‘Human Herbs’ at: (recording) and (live)

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Dear All

The Marxism in Culture reading group will resume its monthly meetings on Friday the 22nd of October 2010 at 5.30. The group meets on Friday evenings in SR5 at the UCL History of Art Department, 20-21 Gordon Square, and discusses key texts, both historical and contemporary, that have a bearing on Marxist aesthetics and radical cultural theory and practice more generally. Thus far, we have looked at texts by Marx and Engels, Lukács, Brecht, Adorno, Bensaid, Eagleton, Debord, Bakhtin and the Retort collective, to name just a few.

In our first meeting for this term we will discuss Alain Badiou’s The Communist Hypothesis.

If you are interested in participating then please contact Antigoni Memou at:

Best Wishes
Warren Carter, Maggie Gray, Antigoni Memou

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Recession 2


Out now!

This issue leads with an article on “Marxism and feminism today”. Neoliberal capitalism promised women genuine equality and personal fulfilment. But the realities of women’s oppression persist, reinforced by a debased culture of lap-dancing and cosmetic surgery that has taken the transformation of women into objects to new extremes. This has provoked a new wave of feminism in reaction.

Judith Orr gives the new feminism a critical welcome, arguing for a materialist analysis of the relationship between women’s oppression and class exploitation. Genuine liberation, she concludes, is inseparable from the struggle against capitalism.

The issue also includes interviews with Shlomo Sand (author of The Invention of the Jewish People) and Richard Wilkinson (co-author of The Spirit Level). John Newsinger looks at the great wave of sit-down strikes in the mid-1930s that broke bosses’ resistance to the unionisation of basic industry in the United States. Gonzalo Pozo looks at the theory of the permanent arms economy developed by Tony Cliff, Mike Kidron, and Chris Harman. The late French Marxist philosopher Daniel Bensaïd is remembered in an article by Sebastian Budgen. Plus analysis, feedback, reviews and pick of the quarter

Issue 127

The mould cracks

Marxism and feminism today
Judith Orr

Interview: Zionism, socialism and nationalism
Shlomo Sand & John Rose

Interview: Reviving the spirit of equality
Richard G Wilkinson & Iain Ferguson

1937: the year of the sitdown
John Newsinger

Reassessing the permanent arms economy
Gonzalo Pozo

The Red Hussar: Daniel Bensaïd, 1946-2010
Sebastian Budgen

Empire and literature
Gareth Jenkins


Another side of anarchism
Ian Birchall

A response to the sex work debate
Gareth Dale and Xanthe Whittaker

Book reviews

Economic development
Joseph Choonara

Sharing history
Penny McCall Howard

Gramsci rendered whole
Chris Bambery

Driving American decline
G Francis Hodge

Philosophy on the barricades
Stacey Whittle

Drama in three acts
Louis Bayman

Dispelling “the Malthus myth”
Martin Empson

Poles apart?
Adam Fabry

Irrational records
Paul Blackledge

Contesting the revolutionary tradition
Leo Zeilig

Pick of the quarter

This quarter’s selection

To order, contact the office on 020 7819 1177, email or visit the website at


International Socialism
+44 (0)20 7819 1177

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The journal Historical Materialism is looking for book reviewers.

Books to be Reviewed:

If you wish to review any of these books, or would like to propose other books for review, please write to 

Theodor W. Adorno, Current of Music (2009)

Chris Alden et al. (eds.), China Returns to Africa: A Rising Power and a Continent Embrace (2008)

Chris Alden, China in Africa (2007)

Bastian van Apeldoorn et al. (eds.), Contradictions and Limits of Neoliberal European Governance: From Lisbon to Lisbon (2009)

Paige Arthur, Unfinished Projects: Decolonization and the Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre (2010)

Maurizio Atzeni, Workplace Conflict: Mobilization and Solidarity in Argentina (2010)

Simon Baker, Surrealism, History and Revolution (2007)

Giorgio Baratta, Antonio Gramsci in contrappunto (2007)

Luciano Barca, Cronache dall’interno del vertice del PCI, 3 vols. (2005)

Andrew E. Barshay, The Social Sciences in Modern Japan: The Marxian and Modernist Traditions (2004)

Peter Beilharz, Socialism and Modernity (2009)

Daniel Bensaïd, Strategies of Resistance + ‘Who are the Trotskyists?’ (2009)

Olivier Besancenot and Michael Löwy, Che Guevara: His Revolutionary Legacy (2009)

Roland Boer and Jorunn Okland (eds.), Marxist Feminist Criticism of the Bible (2008)

Sergio Bologna, Ceti medi senza futuro? Scritti, appunti sul lavoro e altro (2007)

AA.VV. Condizioni e identità nel lavoro professionale. Riflessioni sul saggio di Sergio Bologna Ceti medi senza futuro? (2008)

Werner Bonefeld (ed.), Subverting the Present, Imagining the Future: Insurrection, Movement, Commons (2008)

Derek Boothman, Traducibilità e processi traduttivi. Un caso: A. Gramsci linguista (2004)

Philip Bounds, Orwell & Marxism: The Political and Cultural Thinking of George Orwell (2009)

Sarah Bracking, Money and Power: Great Predators in the Political Economy of Development (2009)

Peter Bratsis, Everyday Life and the State (2006)

Dennis Broe, Film Noir, American Workers, and Postwar Hollywood (2009)

Michael E. Brown, The Historiography of Communism (2009)

Alex Callinicos, Bonfire of Illusions: The Twin Crises of the Liberal World (2010)

Andrew Chitty and Martin McIvor, Karl Marx and Contemporary Philosophy (2009)

Mike Cole, Critical Race Theory and Education: A Marxist Response (2010)

Sam Coombes, The Early Sartre and Marxism (2008)

Cristina Corradi, Storia dei Marxismi in Italia (2005)

Sean Craven, Against the Spiritual Turn: Marxism, Realism and Critical Theory (2010)

Eric Leif Davin, Crucible of Freedom: Workers’ Democracy in the Industrial Heartland, 1914-1960 (2010)

Michael Decker, Tilling the Hateful Earth: Agricultural Production in the Late Antique East (2009)

Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter, Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games (2009)

Terry Eagleton and Matthew Beaumont, The Task of the Critic: Terry Eagleton in Dialogue (2009)

Stuart Elden, Terror and Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty (2009)

Ben Fine, Theories of Social Capital: Researchers Behaving Badly (2010)

Roberto Fineschi, Un nuovo Marx. Filologia e interpretazione dopo la nuova edizione storico-critica (Mega 2) (2008)

Maurice Godelier, In and Out of the West (2009)

Jane Hardy, Poland’s New Capitalism (2009)

David Harvey, A Companion to Marx’s Capital (2010)

David Harvey, The Enigma of Capital (2010)

Wang Hui, The End of the Revolution: China and the Limits of Modernity (2009)

Mobo Gao, The Battle for China’s Past: Mao & the Cultural Revolution (2008)

Richard H. Immerman, Empire for Liberty: A History of American Imperialism from Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz (2010)

Ken Jones et al. Schooling in Western Europe: The New Order and its Adversaries (2008) 

Paul R. Josephson, Would Trotsky Wear a Bluetooth? Technological Utopianism Under Socialism, 1917-1989 (2010)

Ray Kiely, Rethinking Imperialism (2010)

John Milios and Dimitris P. Sotiropoulos, Rethinking Imperialism: A Study of Capitalist Rule (2009)

David Laibman, Deep History: A Study in Social Evolution and Human Potential (2007)

Luca La Rovere, Storia dei Guf (2003) and L’Eredità del fascismo (2008)

Gianpasquale Santomassimo, La terza via fascista. Il mito del corporativismo (2006)

Tommaso Baris, Il fascismo in provincia (2007)

Loreto Di Nucci, Lo Stato-partito del fascismo. Genesi, evoluzione e crisi, 1919-1943 (2009)

Domenico Losurdo, Marx e il bilancio storico del Novecento (2009)

Manning Marable, Beyond Black & White, 2nd ed (2009)

Marco Maurizi, Adorno e il tempo del non-identico (2004)

George E. McCarthy, Dreams in Exile: Rediscovering Science and Ethics in Nineteenth-Century Social Theory (2009)

Terrence McDonough et al. (eds.), Contemporary Capitalism and its Crises: Social Structure of Accumulation Theory for the 21st Century (2010)

Patrick McGee, Theory and the Common from Marx to Badiou (2009)

Jim McGuigan, Cool Capitalism (2009)

István Mészáros, The Challenge and Burden of Historical Time: Socialism in the Twenty-First Century (2008)

Claire Metelits, Inside Insurgency: Violence, Civilians, and Revolutionary Group Behavior (On the Front Lines with the FARC, SPLA, and PKK) (2010)

Andrew Milner (ed.), Tenses of Imagination: Raymond Williams on Science Fiction, Utopia and Dystopia (2010)

Sandra Moog and Rob Stones (eds), Nature, Social Relations and Human Needs: Essays in Honour of Ted Benton (2009)

Rosalind C. Morris (ed.), Can the Subaltern Speak? Reflections on the History of an Idea (2010)

Jerry Z. Muller, Capitalism and the Jews (2010)

Antonio Negri, The Labor of Job: The Biblical Text as a Parable of Human Labor (2009)

Jose Neves, Comunismo e Nacionalismo em Portugal. Politica, Cultura e Historia no Seculo XX (2008)

Aldo Pardi, Il sintomo e la rivoluzione. Georges Politzer crocevia tra due epoche (2007)

David Parker (ed.), Ideology, Absolutism and the English Revolution: Debates of the British Communist Historians, 1940-1956 (2008)

Elizabeth J. Perry, Patrolling the Revolution: Worker Militias, Citizenship, and the Modern Chinese State (2006)

Colloque de Cerisy. La Philosophie Déplacée. Autour de Jacques Rancière (2006)

Jonah Raskin, The Mythology of Imperialism: A Revolutionary Critique of British Literature and Society in the Modern Age, new ed. (2009)

Ferruccio Rossi-Landi, Ideologia (2005)

Andrew Sartori, Bengal in Global Concept History: Culturalism in the Age of Capital (2008)

Simon Skempton, Alienation After Derrida (2010)

Kate Soper et al. (eds.), The Politics and Pleasures of Consuming Differently (2009)

Marc Stears, Demanding Democracy: American Radicals in Search of a New Politics (2010)

Simon Stewart, Culture and the Middle Classes (2010)

Yvette Taylor, Classed Intersections: Spaces, Selves, Knowledges (2010)

Kenneth Surin, Freedom Not Yet: Liberation and the Next World Order (2009)

Leila Simona Talani (ed.), The Global Crash: Towards a New Global Financial Regime? (2010)

Hiroshi Uchida (ed.), Marx for the 21st Century (2006)

Paolo Virno, Multitude Between Innovation and Negation (2008)

Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Inc.: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (2010)

Mark P. Worrell, Dialectic of Solidarity: Labor, Antisemitism and the Frankfurt School (2008)

Li Xing (ed.) The Rise of China and the Capitalist World Order (2010)

Update 6th July 2010 – Revised List


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Daniel Bensaid


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Activist-academics Gilbert Achcar, Stathis Kouvelakis and Alex Callinicos are among the speakers invited to address the memorial meeting for Daniel Bensaïd. The gathering on Tuesday 9 February will celebrate the life of France’s most famous Marxist intellectual, who played a global role in leading the Fourth International and influencing a wide range of other Marxists. The meeting will start at 7.30pm in the University of London Union on Malet Street, WC1H.

For more information about the memorial meetings, or to send messages to them, please email

Paris meeting: Tribute in the Mutalité in Paris on Sunday 24th January from 2.30pm to 6pm.

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Daniel Bensaïd obituary
French philosopher and leading figure in the events of 1968
By Tariq Ali

The Guardian, 14th January 2010

Online at:

The French philosopher Daniel Bensaïd, who has died aged 63 of cancer, was one of the most gifted Marxist intellectuals of his generation. In 1968, together with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, he helped to form the Mouvement du 22 Mars (the 22 March Movement), the organisation that helped to detonate the uprising that shook France in May and June of that year. Bensaïd was at his best explaining ideas to large crowds of students and workers. He could hold an audience spellbound, as I witnessed in his native Toulouse in 1969, when we shared a platform at a rally of 10,000 people to support Alain Krivine, one of the leaders of the uprising, in his presidential campaign, standing for the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR).

Bensaïd’s penetrating analysis was never presented in a patronising way, whatever the composition of the audience. His ideas derived from classical Marxism – Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, as was typical in those days – but his way of looking at and presenting them was his own. His philosophical and political writings have a lyrical ring – at particularly tedious central committee meetings, he could often be seen immersed in Proust – and resist easy translation into English.

As a leader of the LCR and the Fourth International, to which it was affiliated, Bensaïd travelled a great deal to South America, especially Brazil, and played an important part in helping to organise the Workers Party (PT) currently in power there under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. An imprudent sexual encounter shortened Bensaïd’s life. He contracted Aids and, for the last 16 years, was dependent on the drugs that kept him going, with fatal side-effects: a cancer that finally killed him.

Physically, he became a shadow of his former self, but the intellect was not affected and he produced more than a dozen books on politics and philosophy. He wrote of his Jewishness and that of many other comrades and how this had never led him, or most of them, to follow the path of a blind and unthinking Zionism. He disliked identity politics and his last two books – Fragments Mécréants (An Unbeliever’s Discourse, 2005) and Eloge de la Politique Profane (In Praise of Secular Politics, 2008) – explained how this had become a substitute for serious critical thought.

He was France’s leading Marxist public intellectual, much in demand on talkshows and writing essays and reviews in Le Monde and Libération. At a time when a large section of the French intelligentsia had shifted its terrain and embraced neoliberalism, Bensaïd remained steadfast, but without a trace of dogma. Even in the 1960s he had avoided leftwing cliches and thought creatively, often questioning the verities of the far left.

He was schooled at the lycées Bellevue and Fermat in Toulouse, but the formative influence was that of his parents and their milieu. His father, Haim Bensaïd, was a Sephardic Jew from a poor family in Algeria and moved from Mascara to Oran, where he got a job as a waiter in a cafe, but soon discovered his real vocation. He trained as a boxer, becoming the welterweight champion of north Africa.

Daniel’s mother, Marthe Starck, was a strong and energetic Frenchwoman from a working-class family in Blois, central France. At 18 she moved to Oran. She met the boxer and fell in love. The French colons were shocked and tried hard to persuade her not to marry a Jew. She was bound to get VD and have abnormal children, they said.

With France occupied by the Germans and a bulk of the country’s elite in collaborationist mode with its capital at Vichy, the French colonial administration fell into line. As a Jew, Daniel’s father was arrested, but he managed to escape from the PoW camp, and rashly decided to go to Toulouse, where Marthe helped him obtain false papers. Armed with a new identity, he bought a bistro, Le Bar des Amis. Unlike his two brothers, who were killed during the occupation, he survived, thanks largely to his wife, who had an official Vichy certificate stating her “non-membership of the Jewish race”.

In his affecting memoir, Une Lente Impatience (2004), Daniel noted that these barbarities had taken place on French soil only a few decades prior to 1968. Le Bar des Amis, he wrote, was a cosmopolitan location frequented by Spanish refugees, Italian antifascists, former resistance fighters and a variety of workers, with the local Communist party branch holding its meetings there too. Given his mother’s fierce republican and Jacobin views (when a relative, after a French television programme on the British monarchy, expressed doubts about the guillotining of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Marthe did not speak to her for 10 years), it would have been odd if young Bensaïd had become a monarchist.

Angered by the massacre of Algerians at the Métro Charonne in 1961 (ordered by Maurice Papon, chief of police and a former Nazi collaborator), he joined the Union of Communist Students, but soon became irritated by party orthodoxy and joined a left opposition within the union organised by Henri Weber (currently a Socialist party senator in the upper house) and Alain Krivine. The Cuban revolution and Che Guevara’s odyssey did the rest. The dissidents were expelled from the party in 1966.

That same year, Bensaïd was admitted to the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Saint-Cloud and moved to Paris. Here he helped found the Jeunesse Communiste Révolutionnaire (JCR), young dissidents inspired by Guevara and Trotsky, which later morphed into the LCR.

The last time I met him, a few years ago, in his favourite cafe in Paris’s Latin Quarter, he was in full flow. The disease had not sapped his will to live or to think. Politics was his lifeblood. We talked about social unrest in France and whether it would be enough to bring about serious change. He shrugged his shoulders. “Perhaps not in our lifetimes, but we carry on fighting. What else is there to do?”

Daniel Bensaïd, philosopher, born 25 March 1946; died 12 January 2010

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Collloque: Puissances du communisme
22-23 janvier 2010
Programme (pour tout renseignement :
Université Paris 8
2, rue de la Liberté 93526 Saint-Denis
métro : Saint-Denis Université

Vendredi 22

Matin, 09.00
Table ronde n° 1 : Un communisme sans Marx ?

Participants : Isabelle Garo, Rastko Mocnik, Massimiliano Tomba, Pierre Dardot, Stéphane Rozès

Modératrice : Cinzia Arruzza
Le mot de communisme est né avant Marx et il continue aujourd’hui d’être employé, en des sens très divers. Pourtant, peut-on penser le communisme sans le référer d’une façon ou d’une autre à Marx, c’est-à-dire sans le relier à une critique du capitalisme qui en analyse les contradictions profondes et l’abolition nécessaire ? C’est le poids politique de la référence à Marx aujourd’hui, poids problématique, qu’il s’agit de discuter, en s’interrogeant sur la persistance, voire la remontée d’une telle référence après l’effondrement des pays dits socialistes. Le récent anniversaire de la chute du Mur, salué à grands fracas médiatiques, s’est voulu l’enterrement de toute perspective communiste. Pourtant, ce tohu-bohu de circonstance prouve lui aussi le retour de la radicalité politique et pose à nouveau le problème de son rapport contemporain à Marx et à ses approches marquées par une diversité de plus en plus affirmée. Question multiple bien  évidemment ! Ainsi, elle inclut la question de savoir en quoi le communisme a été ou non pensé et défini par Marx dans son oeuvre. Plus largement, le retour de la question communiste n’implique-t-elle pas le retour de ces questions politiques que sont les problèmes de transition et de médiation ? Loin de faire du communisme une visée qui les néglige ou les dénonce, n’est-ce pas le propre de la référence à Marx que de réfléchir à la place des luttes sociales, mais aussi à la nature et à la structure des organisations politiques, des formes politiques d’intervention ? Parler de communisme aujourd’hui oblige à aborder de front la question de la « vraie démocratie », pour citer le jeune Marx, et à rouvrir enfin le dossier central de la propriété. De ce point de vue, la question communiste oblige aussi à reposer la question du socialisme qui lui est parfois opposé après lui avoir été assimilé. Bref, la question ouverte d’un rapport contemporain et vivant à Marx pourrait bien être au cœur de la discussion si celle-ci doit se poursuivre et parvenir à réassocier les dimensions théorique et stratégique. On pourrait alors envisager que le communisme n’est ni un pur concept ni le nom d’une défaite.

Table ronde n° 2 : Un communisme sans histoire ?

Participants : Alex Callinicos, Alberto Toscano, Etienne Balibar, Catherine Samary, André Tosel

Modérateur : Nicolas Vieillescazes

« J’étais, je suis, je serai » écrivait Rosa Luxemburg juste avant son assassinat, en parlant de la révolution et de l’idée du communisme qu’elle faisait remonter, au moins, à la révolte de Spartakus. Ainsi le communisme s’inscrirait comme une idée de portée presque anthropologique, reflétant la part humaine qui pousse à l’égalité et à la liberté. En ce sens, elle serait, pour ainsi dire, insensible à l’histoire, même si sa puissance dépend des périodes. Sans ontredire directement cette approche, avec Marx et la généralisation du salariat, naît un point de vue matérialiste qui ancre dans les contradictions du capitalisme la possibilité effective de la réalisation du rêve. Un communisme en puissance autrement dit, au sens de la physique, dont les conditions historiques de réalisation prennent un aspect concret, mais dont la mise en énergie dépend des évènements, du tour que prend une conjonction particulière de rapports de force économiques, idéologiques, sociaux et politiques et des évènements qui en découlent. Approches opposées, disjointes ou complémentaires ?

Samedi 23

Matin, 09.00
Table ronde n° 3 : A la recherche du sujet perdu

Participants : Thomas Coutrot, Christian Laval, Elsa Dorlin, Samuel Johsua

Modérateur : François Cusset

Autrefois incarné par une classe ouvrière consciente d’elle-même et de son rôle historique, le sujet de la révolution communiste semble avoir aujourd’hui disparu sous les assauts conjugués d’une mutation du capital ayant totalement intégré la sphère culturelle à la sphère marchande, de forces politiques et idéologiques qui se sont employées à discréditer toute idée d’alternative politique et ont promu le mythe d’une classe moyenne universelle, ou, conséquemment, d’un relativisme généralisé qui a renvoyé aux oubliettes de l’histoire l’idée même de révolution. Comment donc, aujourd’hui, reformuler la question du sujet d’un possible renversement du capitalisme ? Pour Toni Negri, le communisme est appelé à naître spontanément d’un bouleversement des rapports de production qui permettrait à la « multitude » du general intellect de se « libérer » ; et il ne manque pas d’auteurs qui considèrent que la question est mal posée, soit qu’il faille chercher une issue dans les luttes micropolitiques en s’inspirant des travaux de Michel Foucault ou de Félix Guattari et Gilles Deleuze, soit qu’elle ne puisse se trouver que dans un « peuple » non assignable à quelque coordonnée sociologique que ce soit. Dans ce contexte, alors que les inégalités sont pourtant plus criantes qu’elles ne l’ont jamais été et que sembleraient pouvoir se dessiner les conditions d’une solidarité politique minimale, la question même d’un sujet communiste révolutionnaire a-t-elle encore un sens ? Le problème, finalement, n’est peut-être pas tant celui du sujet perdu que celui, plus général, de la construction d’une alternative crédible au capitalisme.

Table ronde n° 4 : Des communistes sans communisme ?

Participants : Jacques Rancière, Slavoj Zizek, Daniel Bensaid, Michel Surya, Gaspar Tamas

Modérateur : à signaler

Selon une célèbre phrase de Lénine, il n’est de mouvement révolutionnaire sans théorie révolutionnaire. La théorie est à la fois ce qui permet de s’orienter dans un réel tumultueux, de conférer une «identité » au collectif révolutionnaire, et de doter ce dernier d’un programme, c’est-à-dire d’un objectif à atteindre via une période de transition. Pendant plus d’un siècle, le marxisme a fourni l’ossature de cette théorie, même si d’autres courants y ont bien entendu également contribué. Parmi les éléments dont les mouvements anti-systémiques (y compris les parties révolutionnaires) se trouvent dépossédés avec la clôture du cycle historique initié en Octobre 1917, et la fin de l’expérience du communisme « réel », on compte cette dimension « doctrinale » de l’activité révolutionnaire. Il existe actuellement des personnes et des collectifs qui se déclarent «communistes » mais, comme théorie (relativement) cohérente et unifiée, le communisme semble introuvable. Faut-il se réjouir de ce fait, l’absence de doctrine hégémonique permettant aux micro-pratiques et micro-théories correspondantes de proliférer (hypothèse des « mille marxismes ») ? Faut-il au contraire le déplorer, et s’atteler à la reconstruction de long terme d’une théorie révolutionnaire ?

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

The Flow of Ideas:

Strategies of Resistance


A new book by Daniel Bensaid:

Strategies of Resistance & ‘Who Are the Trotskyists?’

IIRE/Socialist Resistance, Notebook for Study and Research no. 41/42 (182 pp.)

With shipping to: Europe €13,50 Rest of World €20,00 Pick up in Amsterdam €8,00

The IIRE has just published Strategies of Resistance & ‘Who Are the Trotskyists?’, a collection of works by IIRE Fellow Daniel Bensaïd, including his history of Trotskyism, newly translated into English by Nathan Rao. This 182-page book has been published in cooperation with Resistance Books. The introduction by Paul Le Blanc gives a flavour of the contents:

Daniel Bensaïd’s challenging survey comes at an appropriate moment. It is a gift to activists reaching for some historical perspective that may provide hints as to where we might go from here. Embracing and sharing the revolutionary socialist political tradition associated with Leon Trotsky, Bensaïd is not simply a thoughtful radical academic or perceptive left-wing intellectual – though he is certainly both – but also one of the foremost leaders of an impressive network of activists, many of them seasoned by innumerable struggles.

Daniel Bensaïd emerged decades ago as a leader of the French section of the Fourth International, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR). Coming from the ‘generation of ‘68′ – the layer of young revolutionary activists of the 1960s – he blends an impressive intellectual sophistication with a refreshing inclination for revolutionary audacity, and with activist commitments which have not faded over the decades. In the tradition of Ernest Mandel, Bensaïd has reached for the continuing relevance of revolutionary Marxism not only in the battlegrounds of academe (as a professor of philosophy and author of such works as Marx for Our Times), but even more in the battlegrounds of social and political struggles against the oppressive and lethal realities of capitalist ‘globalization.’

In this particular work – succinct, crackling with insights and fruitful provocations – Bensaïd surveys the history of his own political tradition. We are not presented with a catechism, but with a set of informative and critical-minded reflections and notes. We don’t have to agree with all he says. I certainly question his taking issue with Trotsky over whether or not Lenin was essential for the triumph of the Russian Revolution (Trotsky says definitely yes, Bensaïd suggests maybe not). Nor am I satisfied when he gives more serious consideration to the dissident current in US Trotskyism of Max Shachtman and James Burnham (both of whom ended up supporting US imperialism in Vietnam) than to the tradition connected with James P. Cannon (which played a role in building a powerful movement that helped end the Vietnam war). On the other hand, Bensaïd makes no pretension of providing a rounded historical account of world Trotskyism, or even a scholarly account of the more limited issues that he does take up.

He emphasizes that ‘this essay is based on personal experience’ and is focused on what he views as ‘the major debates’ within the movement. And one is especially struck by the excellent point he makes in his Introduction regarding the necessity of understanding the varieties of Trotskyism around the world in their distinctive cultural and national specificities. Little sense can be made of Trotskyism if it is not related to the actual social movements and class struggles of various parts of the world, and to the left-wing labour sub-cultures, in which it has meaning.

The fact remains that Bensaïd offers us a thoughtful, stimulating, valuable political intervention which leaves the reader with a sense of Trotskyism’s history and ideas and diverse manifestations – and also a sense of their relevance for the struggles of today and tomorrow. For younger activists beginning to get their bearings, and for veterans of the struggle who are thinking through the questions of where we have been and where to go from here, this is an important contribution.

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

The Flow of Ideas: