- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Verso Books; 1 edition (31 Aug. 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1781681082
- ISBN-13: 978-1781681084
- Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3.6 x 24.2 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 620,779 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
An Impatient Life: A Memoir Hardcover – 31 Aug 2013
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More About the Author
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 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. --Alain Badiou
About the Author
DANIEL BENSAïD (1946 - 2010) was a founder member of the Ligue Communiste and a leader for many years of the Fourth International. His many books include Walter Benjamin, sentinelle messianique; Jeanne de guerre lasse; Eloge de la politique profane; and Marx for Our Times.
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I was for years a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), and I remain a supporter. But this review (and all my reviews) represents my personal opinion; no one has asked me to write any of them. I admit to wanting to promote Pathfinder books, but I often make suggestions for other books as well.
Daniel Bensaid was a leader of what was in theory the SWPs "sister organization" in France, the largest group in the Fourth International, which had been launched by Leon Trotsky and other revolutionaries in 1938. Yet the relations rarely were very fraternal. (The SWP wasn't formally a member of the Fourth International due to reactionary legislation, but fully participated in the discussions).
After a split in the post World War II period, the International reunited in 1963. Some did not take part in this, like Michel Pablo, who was associated with the idea of "centuries of degenerated workers states." A rather bleak proposition, and it turned out to be less than ¾ of a century. One of the things the reunification was based on was agreement that the new Cuban leadership had a revolutionary character (see Dynamics of the Cuban Revolution: A Marxist Appreciation).
The French Trotskyists functioned mostly as an entry group in the French Communist Party. In the 1950s and 1960s, there were people in and around the Communist Party turning to the left; around the colonial revolution, especially the Algerian Revolution, which the CP didn't support, around the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which the Stalinist leadership claimed was a counterrevolution. Then the Vietnam War, the Black struggle in the US, and many other things happening in the world. A significant youth group formed of former members and others around the CP, which called itself the Revolutionary Communist Youth, known by its French initials JCR. The JCR played a major role in the student revolt and general strike by a major part of the working class in May-June 1968. While this event is in some ways at the center of what Bensaid writes, he actually doesn't say much about the event itself. (For this I recommend the now out of print books Revolt in France May-June 1968 A Contemporary Record Compiled from Intercontinetal Press and the Militant., and Red Flag/Black Flag: French Revolution 1968). After these events, the small Trotskyist group and the much larger JCR fused to form the Communist League. The best known leaders were Alain Krivine and the longtime Trotskyist leader Pierre Frank (for his political history see Crisis of the French Section 1935-1936).
But what were these youth really won to? So much of the book is discussion of every petty bourgeois philosophical trend claiming to be Marxist (and many not even making that claim), and mad ultraleftism when they were adapting to the Maoists in the "new mass vanguard"; a term not used in the book, but their documents were full of it at the time. Then later, adaptation to left social democrats in the Workers Party of Brazil. There isn't much discussion of the working class, although they had a fair number of working class members. A physical attack on cops protecting a fascist group resulted in the banning of the Communist League in 1973. It later reformed as the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR). But they never took the question of maintaining legality seriously. They would talk about "minority violence." Small groups taking on the repressive apparatus of the state has nothing to do with Marxism. To them, the revolution would happen any minute, so why care about such things.
I was not impressed with Bensaid reading Lenin's Collected Works from cover to cover. It seemed like he did it for the sake of doing it. But you can't really understand Lenin that way. Ideally, you read Lenin as part of a study group and share ideas. But if you read it on your own, you need to carefully examine the particular context in which the pieces were written. Both Stalinists and anticommunists continually quote Lenin out of context. But only idealists (in the philosophical sense) think that words mean anything without a context. So to study Lenin, you have to read exactly what was happening in the world and in his party at the time. And you have to read at least some of what the people Lenin was polemicizing against had to say, whether Plekhanov, Martov, Trotsky, Luxemburg, or Kautsky.
The Socialist Workers Party leaders were put trial under the new Smith Act on the eve of US entry into World War II. They were up against Roosevelt, Daniel Tobin (leader of the Teamsters), other union bureaucrats, and the Communist Party. The Post Office was also trying to take away the second class mailing status of the Militant. There's a considerable amount of literature on how the SWP fought to maintain legality, and to use the attack as an opportunity to spread their ideas. (Teamster Bureaucracy, Socialism on Trial (Testimony at Minneapolis Sedition Trial), 50 Years of Covert Operations in the US. Washington's Political Police and the American Working Class., Fighting Racism in World War II.
In an act of organizational adventurism (which failed badly) the LCR tried to launch a daily paper, having a weekly with a circulation of their weekly only between 20,000 and 30,000. But they never published many books. Pathfinder Press at that time published a huge amount of Trotsky, as well as books by central leaders like James P. Cannon (The History of American Trotskyism, 1928-38: Report of a Participant, The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, which Trotsky called "the writing of a genuine workers' leader," and much more), Farrell Dobbs, Joseph Hansen and George Novack. Did the European Trotskyists ever take advantage of all these valuable resources? Mostly not. Bensaid hardly mentions the American leaders, and then mostly in connection with the Trotsky household and the Dewey Commission (see The Case of Leon Trotsky: Report of Hearings on the Charges Made against Him in the Moscow Trials and Not Guilty: Findings of the 1937 Commission Chaired by John Dewey Investigating the Charges Against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trials). The SWP leaders didn't go into retirement after that!
Bensaid was, it seems too busy reading the Kabbala to read and learn from these Marxist works. I leave that task to my nephew the Chasidic rabbi. I'm satisfied with Abram Leon's comment: "The worsening of the situation of the Jews weakens the old ideological bases of Judaism. Poverty and persecution create a propitious terrain for the development of mysticism. Study of the Kabbala begins to replace that of the Talmud...." (The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation). Although Leon might have added non-Jewish Jews in the midst of a prolonged midlife crisis....
Bensaid puts the electoral victory of the Workers Party in Brazil in the same category as the Sandinista revolution, and thinks that revolution ended because of an electoral defeat, when it was clearly over a year before that (see New International no. 9: The Rise and Fall of the Nicaraguan Revolution). Of course Brazil is a more important country than Nicaragua, but an election is not a revolution or a counterrevolution. I'm not opposed to revolutionaries voting for a party like the Workers Party, even participating in its formation (as the SWP sometimes calls for a labor party in the US as a first step to workers breaking with bourgeois politics). But revolutionaries taking governmental positions and responsibility for administering the capitalist state? No, he can't tell the difference between an election and a revolution! The Workers Party government ended up as any genuine Marxist would have expected from knowledge of class collaboration. Bensaid might have read about Millerandism in "Socialist Crisis in France" (in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks) and Trotsky on popular frontism (in Leon Trotsky on France), to name just French examples. Adapting again, but this time to left reformism.
I can assure you that Bensaid didn't see any SWPers wearing Khomeini T-shirts when he visited the US! He must have had a near lethal case of jet lag. The SWP made some errors around both Iran and Afghanistan, but they were quite short-lived, something that he chooses not to mention. He gets demagogic around this, claiming that the SWP stand was "politically questionable" since "our comrades who had returned from exile were already imprisoned and threatened with the death penalty"! Several comrades were in prison, and one faced the death penalty. The SWP and others organized a campaign to save his life, based on getting people who supported the Iranian Revolution to sign petitions. Whether our campaign helped to get the sentence lifted (it was), I don't know for certain, but it seems clear to me that signatures of people proclaiming the revolution dead would have had the opposite result.
Khomeini had hijacked the revolution, but he wasn't able to kill it. And given that it took eight years for the majority to change their disastrous ultraleft line on Latin America (see The Leninist Strategy of Party Building: The Debate on Guerrilla Warfare in Latin America), which certainly did lead to unnecessary deaths of comrades, Bensaid's chutzpah knows no limits! The people who viewed that the Iranian Revolution was dead generally ended up supporting the Iraqi invasion of Iran, although I doubt if Bensaid went that far. (See the two resolutions by the Workers Unity Party of Iran in New International no. 7: Opening Guns of World War III: Washington's Assault on Iraq, and take a look on the Pathfinder website at all the Pathfinder books being translated into Farsi and printed in Iran today to see who was more correct).
I could have very well done without Bensaid's overly dramatized view of Trotsky in Mexico (it's been done so many times); better to read Joseph Hansen who was actually there (in his introduction to the Pathfinder edition of My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography), and if you really must know about Trotsky's affair with Frida Kahlo, get it from Jean van Heijenoort's book; he also was there.
He fails to mention anything about the struggle in South Africa (see The Coming Revolution in South Africa: New International no. 5), or the huge importance of Cuba's internationalist role in it (see Cuba and Angola: Fighting for Africa's Freedom and Our Own). But he's sure that Ochoa was innocent, claiming that "it was a caricature of a trial." His argument is not just about Ochoa; it's about Bensaid breaking decisively with the Cuban Revolution, ironically just when the rectification process was seriously coming to grips with some of the Stalinist baggage of the Revolution! Here in the US we had the spectacle of bourgeois journalists, commentators, and such, along with some soul-sick radicals, explaining that someone they had never heard of before was executed because his huge popularity posed a threat to Fidel Castro's rule! Bensaid doesn't even put forward a theory as to why Ochoa was executed. He's sure Castro was lying; the reason doesn't matter. I'll put Castro's record of honesty above Bensaid's any day of the week!
He can't make up his mind whether the collapse of the Stalinist regimes was a good or bad thing. The Socialist Workers Party proclaimed that U.S. Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War (New International no. 11). Since that came out, Russia and the other former workers states have become capitalist, but only if the US had been able to open the country wide for their investment and exploitation would they have won the Cold War. Instead world capitalism is in its biggest crisis since the Great Depression.
There's no crisis of Marxism; there's a crisis of capitalism, and those who falsely claimed to be Marxists are disappearing or becoming irrelevant. That's good news! Yes, it will certainly take time to build new, genuinely revolutionary parties and an international. The question is not whether any individual militant lives to see the revolution; it's whether a party is created that can pass along the lessons of more than 160 years of the revolutionary workers movement. An organization that always looked for some kind of shortcut to revolution can't do that.
In the midst of his long philosophical ramblings, Bensaid "wonder[s] sometimes if politics was really me, and if I didn't have some other vocation." It was a bit late in life to be thinking about that. As for the LCR, it dissolved itself in 2009 to be part of The New Anticapitalist Party, whatever that is.
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