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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.

Reviews

  • “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.”
  • “An honest, and often moving, chronicle of a revolutionary life in unrevolutionary times.”

Blog

  • Crowdfunding Politics as a Strategic Art: Selected Writings of Daniel Bensaïd



    Haymarket Books is assembling a collection of newly translated writings by activist and philosopher Daniel Bensaïd, who Tariq Ali called "France’s leading Marxist public intellectual," on his death in 2010. 

    Through the Toledo Translation Fund, the book's editors are currently raising money to finish the translations and add essential annotations, as well as a bibliography and introduction, to the volume. Learn more and donate here.

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  • Revolutions: Great and Still and Silent

    History and Revolution: Refuting Revisionism, edited by Mike Haynes and Jim Wolfreys and published by Verso in 2007, collects essays on the English, French, and Russian Revolutions and the body of revisionist historiography — developed or publicized by historians like François Furet, Simon Schama, Orlando Figes, and Conrad Russell — that dominated public conception of them during the high years of "the end of history."

    "Revisionism generally shares a view of revolutions," the editors write, "as, to paraphrase George Taylor, political acts with social consequences rather than social acts with political consequences."

    The lasting achievement of revisionist historiography of the French Revolution has been to discredit the idea that the event brought about a change in France's social order. Against the "determinism" of social explanations of historical change, which focus on class antagonisms, revisionists emphasize the primacy of the political. Their tendency to see revolutions as narrow political events rather than broader social transformations means that extraordinary circumstances — war, famine, counter-revolution — figure little in explanations of why protagonists sometimes act in ways which would otherwise be considered extreme or intolerable. The focus on elite activity and the attempt to establish a causal link between ideas and events leaves little room for the active role played by groups who do not form part of the elite. Popular insurgencies, violence and insurrection are no longer integral to revolutionary change but an unnecessary distraction, or worse, a reactionary brake on modernization and peaceful reform.

    In the book's final chapter, reprinted below, Daniel Bensaïd takes on some of the broader themes of the revisionist literature, picking up Marx's figure of the old mole to trace the persistence of revolution during even the most apparently static of times.    


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  • Philosophy and Revolution: from Kant to Marx — an interview with Stathis Kouvelakis

    To mark the publication of La Fabrique's new edition of Philosophy and Revolution: from Kant to MarxRévolution Permanente spoke with Stathis Kouvelakis about his 2003 book. Translated by David Broder.  


    Stathis Kouvelakis, 2015. via Youtube.

    Stathis, could you introduce yourself to those who do not know you already? What is your experience as a militant?

    Stathis Kouvelakis: Since 2002 I have taught political philosophy at King’s College London, but my own university education was in France. In terms of my militant record, since my high school days I was active in the anti-capitalist radical Left in Greece and then in France. In 1981 I joined the youth organisation of what was called the Greek Communist Party "Interior," a current that subsequently participated as one of the components that founded Syriza. I also took part in Syriza’s leadership bodies between 2012 and 2015, and then left that party, together with thousands of other militants and cadres, when Alexis Tsipras shamefully capitulated to the diktat from the lenders’ Troika. Subsequently I participated in the foundation of Popular Unity — a formation I am still part of — which rallies the forces that came out of the left wing of Syriza and part of the far-Left coalition Antarsya.

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

Other books of interest