An Impatient Life: A Memoir

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

A philosopher and activist, eager to live according to ideals forged in study and discussion, Daniel Bensaïd was a man deeply entrenched in both the French and the international left. Raised in a staunchly red neighbourhood of Toulouse, where his family owned a bistro, he grew to be France’s leading Marxist public intellectual, much in demand on talk shows and in the press. A lyrical essayist and powerful public speaker, at his best expounding large ideas to crowds of students and workers, he was a founder member of the Ligue Communiste and thrived at the heart of a resurgent far left in the 1960s, which nurtured many of the leading figures of today’s French establishment.

The path from the joyous explosion of May 1968, through the painful experience of defeat in Latin America and the world-shaking collapse of the USSR, to the neoliberal world of today, dominated as it is by global finance, is narrated in An Impatient Life with Bensaïd’s characteristic elegance of phrase and clarity of vision. His memoir relates a life of ideological and practical struggle, a never-resting endeavour to comprehend the workings of capitalism in the pursuit of revolution.


  • “France’s leading Marxist public intellectual.”
  • “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.”
  • “Daniel Bensaïd 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.”
  • “His ideological fervour comes through in the memoir. Part autobiography, part activist’s logbook, and part political treatise, it’s the story of how a working-class boy went on to co-found a party that twice participated in French presidential elections, and became a leader of the Fourth International, the global organisation of Trotskyist followers.”
  • “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.”
  • “Bensaïd crafts each chapter with a painter’s hand, stroke by stroke, offering us musings, vignettes, and reflections that are intricately argued, sometimes speculative, and always subtly insightful.”
  • “From love to Leninism, journalism to Jewishness, Bensaïd always has something interesting and original to say.”


  • Badiou on Bensaïd: "He would often say that essentially I believed in miracles…"

    Alain Badiou reflects on some of the debates that defined his relationship with Daniel Bensaïd, his "distant companion". Read the original French interview, conducted by Ballast magazine for their Bensaïd week, here

    Photo by Maya Mihindou for Ballast.

    It’s an April morning, and France’s most-discussed Red Guard leads us into his home: tall, and not without a little mischief in his eye, he takes his place on his sofa. We’d read Badiou, certainly—and he was no fan of the anarchists who held our affections—but this wasn’t about his work. Or not directly, anyway. Bensaïd was well-known to Badiou, and he immediately agreed to an interview precisely because of the "friendship" between the two. And anyway, it wasn’t really a matter of posing him questions: rather, we sprung a few expressions on him that we’d pulled from Bensaïd’s texts, asking for his view. The two of them didn’t always see eye-to-eye; and their "very major disagreements" (as Badiou describes it) fed into some of the debates that Marxists hold most dear.

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  • We Are Alive: A film about the thought, activism and legacy of Daniel Bensaïd

    A day after what would have been Daniel Bensaïd's 69th birthday, we publish this interview with Chilean director Carmen Castillo, whose film We Are Alive draws continuities from his writing and activism to contemporary struggle across two continents. Here she recounts her meetings with Bensaïd as a young activist and her experience making the film.

    Daniel Bensaïd in 2008.

    Carmen Castillo was born in Chile, and worked for the Allende government before entering the clandestine resistance together with her partner Miguel Enriquez after the Pinochet coup of 11 September 1973. Arrested and then expelled from her homeland (after an international campaign for her release), she recounted her tragic history in two books and then her 2007 film Calle Santa Fe.

    The director continues to be haunted by a number of questions. How can we pass on the memory of the defeated without suffocating it with nostalgia or bitterness? What can we do today to keep loyal to the ideas of friends, loved ones and comrades who are no longer of this world – a world that they were so passionate about changing? How can we hope, now that we know that nothing is written in advance (as some of us used to believe)?

    Castillo’s next film, We Are Alive, comes to French cinemas on 29 April. Making use of the thought of philosopher Daniel Bensaïd, Castillo portrays the daily struggles of all those across two continents who throw themselves into the ‘joyous passion’ of struggle – despite everything, and however ignored they are by the big media cartels.

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  • From the archives of Atlantis: Ken Macleod reviews An Impatient Life

    To review the memoir of an activist who lived well to the left of official Communism is usually to begin with an apology for its subject's obscurity, and for the difficulty of explaining to the average reader the weight given in the text to storms in teacups and brawls in backstreets. All the more so when the activist concerned was a leading member of an organization usually (though in this case imprecisely) referred to as Trotskyist. 

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Other books by Daniel Bensaïd Translated by David Fernbach Foreword by Tariq Ali

Other books of interest