The following tribute to Daniel Bensaïd appeared on the website of the New Anticapitalist Party on Tuesday 12th January, 2010.
Gravely ill for some months, our comrade Daniel Bensaïd died this morning. A revolutionary militant since his adolescence, he had been one of the founders of the JCR (Revolutionary Communist Youth) in 1966 and then one of the organisers of the Movement of the 22nd of March and and actor in the movement of May 1968 before participating in the creation of the Communist League in April 1969.
Daniel Bensaïd spent a long time as a member of the leadership of the LCR. Engaged in all the international battles, he was also one of the principal leaders of the Fourth International. He had actively participated in the creation of the New Anticapitalist Party.
As a philosopher, teaching at the University of Paris VIII, he published many works of philosophy and political debate, organised the reviews Critique Communiste and ContreTemps, participated actively in the creation of the Louise Michel Foundation and led the struggle of ideas incessantly, inspired by the defense of an open, non-dogmatic Marxism.
A private funeral will take place.
The NPA will organise a memorial evening on Saturday 23rd January in Paris.
Martin Thomas writes:
Daniel Bensaid, the leading writer of the LCR (Revolutionary Communist League) and then NPA (New Anti-Capitalist Party) died on 12 January, aged 63, after a long illness.
I met him only in his last years, at congresses of the LCR. He worked as an academic, not as an organiser or journalist at the LCR office.
Yet he was without pomposity. At the congresses he spoke rarely but lucidly. He was always willing to consider questions and explain: an interview he did with AWL members Ed Maltby and Vicki Morris at the February 2009 LCR congress is an example.
He was a fine and sometimes brilliant writer. Only one of his books is in English: Marx l'intempestif (1995), rather clunkily translated as Marx for our times (2002).
Alan Johnson reviewed Marx for our times for Solidarity 3/40 as "the most important book to have been produced by revolutionary Marxism in recent times". Alan Johnson himself was to renounce Marxism a few years later, and at the time I offered a more critical assessment of the book.
But the book, which like others by Bensaid draws heavily on the writings of the 1930s dissident-communist Walter Benjamin, has much of value in its main themes:
- The centrality of political initiative in the fight for working-class liberation: a rejection of shallow economistic or "movement-ist" agitationalism. There, he was criticising the LCR's ultra-left "triumphalism" of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
- That history is uneven, criss-crossing, crisis-torn, full of uncertain branching-points and overlapping patterns with different tempos, not a linear process. There, he was criticising the "evolutionism" of the international "Mandelite" "orthodox Trotskyist" current of which the LCR was part, which from 1951 through to the 1980s lived on successive reports of a supposed ever-ascending "rise of the world revolution". (In fact, advance of Stalinism).
- That the Stalinist states were "bureaucratic societies", or "bureaucratic collectivist", and that Marxists should take an independent stance rather than rallying to the supposedly progressive "camp" represented by those states. There, he was explicitly rejecting the old "Mandelite" or "orthodox Trotskyist" idea that those had been "degenerated and deformed workers' states", or "post-capitalist".
I thought Bensaid allowed too many old "Mandelite" ideas to subsist alongside his critique, and did not push it through to rigorous conclusions such as would have, for example, scotched the LCR's still-strong weakness for "Guevarism".
Bensaid came from an Algerian Jewish family of Communist Party sympathies which moved from Oran to Toulouse, where after Bensaid's father's early death his mother kept a cafe. He joined the Communist Party youth movement in 1962, at the age of 15, in response to a police massacre (of maybe as many as 200 people) on a October 1961 demonstration in Paris in support of the Algerian independence struggle.
In the mid-60s, a student in Paris, he was drawn to the Trotskyist opposition within the Communist Party student movement, led by Alain Krivine and others. In and after 1968 he became one of the chief leaders of the Jeunesses Communistes Revolutionnaires (JCR), forerunner of the LCR.
Bensaid was part of a "young Turk" current in the JCR, somewhat impatient with the older Trotskyism, which toyed briefly with the idea of organising for Guevara-type revolutionary guerrilla warfare in France.
His chief comrade in arms then, co-author with him of a book on May 1968, was Henri Weber. Weber too was Jewish, and unlike Bensaid had a background in Jewish politics, in the left-Zionist group Hashomer Hatzair. To what if any degree Bensaid and Weber were responsible for the LCR generally steering away from the root-and-branch Israelophobia of other "orthodox Trotskyist" currents, I don't know.
Weber is still alive, but, alas! as a routine figure in the French Socialist Party hierarchy. Bensaid lived and died a revolutionary; and one capable of learning from mistakes and explaining the lessons in fine and clear prose. In a "ceremonial" article to commemorate the 30th anniversary of May 1968, for example, you can find him writing straightforwardly that the LCR's failure unequivocally to oppose the USSR's attempt to conquer and annex Afghanistan, from December 1979, had been a great and grievous mistake.
Our condolences go to Bensaid's comrades in the NPA, and our hope that they will continue his combination of unflinching commitment with critical thinking.