Testimony of a revolutionary: Daniel Bensaïd's An Impatient Life reviewed in Capital & Class


John McIlroy has reviewed Daniel Bensaïd's An Impatient Life in October's Capital & Class, tracing Bensaïd's narration of the political landscape through which he lived; notably the turbulent events of 1968, and the defeats in Latin America, about which McIlroy is particularly effusive. He writes:

  'An Impatient Life mingles autobiography with meditations on politics, philosophy and history. The thematic thread is Bensaïd’s induction into ‘a hasty Leninism’ in the 1960s and 1970s, when ‘history was breathing down our necks’; and his incomplete apprenticeship in patience and a more measured, questioning, strategic approach. He writes evocatively of his origins and lifelong dedication to the oppressed, underlining how intellectual engagement is rooted in identity, emotion and morality:

The people of my childhood were not imaginary but flesh and blood. They were capable of both the best and the worst, the most noble dignity as well as the most abject servility … But they were my people I had taken their side. I chose my camp very early on. From the heart initially. The reasons for this passion remained to be found.(p. 46)

Memory – and commitment – endured. They suffuse the book, and help to explain Bensaïd. The seeds sown in Toulouse blossomed into a lasting belief in the transformative mission of a class envisioned through the lens of the insurgent moment of 1968.

Bensaïd disdains denigration of les événements and their reduction to rites of passage by those who long ago made their peace with capitalism, passing into its academic, cultural and political establishments. He interrogates 1968’s changing meanings over 50 years: its localisation and restriction to students; the marginalisation of a mobilised working class and a general strike which challenged the state; and ‘68’s co-option as a hiccup in a preordained modernisation which cleared the ground for a neoliberalism that delivered on personal liberation. The 1970s are remembered as years of possibility and magic: ‘1972 slipped by like a fairytale’ (p. 113). He recounts his experience in Argentina, where ‘this student from the Latin quarter’ (p. 132), as he was dismissively dubbed by orthodox Trotskyists, encountered the realities of the armed struggle. The romantic aura Guevarism had radiated in Paris dissipated. Together with the essays on the enigmas of Mexico and his love affair with Brazil, where Trotskyism once more proved incapable of sustaining an ascending arc, this section stands as among the best chapters in the volume.'

Read the review in full here.

See more from Daniel Bensaïd here.