Tag Archives: Obituaries

Obituary: Daniel Bensaïd

An obituary for Daniel Bensaïd, by Tariq Ali for The Guardian, January 14, 2010

The French philosopher Daniel Bensaïd, who has died aged 63 of cancer, was one of the most gifted Marxist intellectuals of his generation. In 1968, together with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, he helped to form the Mouvement du 22 Mars (the 22 March Movement), the organisation that helped to detonate the uprising that shook France in May and June of that year. Bensaïd was at his best explaining ideas to large crowds of students and workers. He could hold an audience spellbound, as I witnessed in his native Toulouse in 1969, when we shared a platform at a rally of 10,000 people to support Alain Krivine, one of the leaders of the uprising, in his presidential campaign, standing for the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR).

Bensaïd’s penetrating analysis was never presented in a patronising way, whatever the composition of the audience. His ideas derived from classical Marxism—Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, as was typical in those days—but his way of looking at and presenting them was his own. His philosophical and political writings have a lyrical ring—at particularly tedious central committee meetings, he could often be seen immersed in Proust—and resist easy translation into English.

As a leader of the LCR and the Fourth International, to which it was affiliated, Bensaïd travelled a great deal to South America, especially Brazil, and played an important part in helping to organise the Workers party (PT) currently in power there under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. An imprudent sexual encounter shortened Bensaïd’s life. He contracted Aids and, for the last 16 years, was dependent on the drugs that kept him going, with fatal side-effects: a cancer that finally killed him. read more

‘Death of a Comrade: Peter Gowan: 1946–2009′

‘Death of a Comrade’ by Tariq Ali for New Left Review, Sept-Oct 2009

With the death of Peter Gowan on 12 June 2009, the international left has lost one of its most astute political analysts, and New Left Review the most generous and steadfast of comrades. Peter was a socialist intellectual of the highest calibre, combining enormous energy and independence of mind with a truly collective spirit. A contributor to NLR from the 1970s, he joined the editorial committee in 1984; his interventions in the journal constitute a substantial body of analysis in their own right. His work was translated into many languages and he had readers on every continent; unlike some, he was incredibly patient in replying to their e-mails. He loved a good argument, although he was always extremely courteous to his critics. For me the loss is also deeply personal. He was a close friend and comrade since we first met as activists in the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign in 1967. There is little that we did not discuss over the last four decades. read more

‘Victor Kiernan: Marxist historian, writer and linguist who challenged the tenets of Imperialism’

‘Victor Kiernan’ by Tariq Ali for The Independent, February 20, 2009

Victor Kiernan, professor emeritus of Modern History at Edinburgh University, was an erudite Marxist historian with wide-ranging interests that spanned virtually every continent. His passion for history and radical politics, classical languages and world literature was evenly divided.

His interest in languages was developed at home in south Manchester. His father worked for the Manchester Ship Canal as a translator of Spanish and Portuguese and young Victor picked these up even before getting a scholarship to Manchester Grammar School, where he learnt Greek and Latin. His early love for Horace (his favourite poet) resulted in a later book. He went on to Trinity College, Cambridge where he studied History, imbibed the prevalent anti-fascist outlook and like many others joined the British Communist Party.

Unlike some of his distinguished colleagues (Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton, Edward Thompson) in the Communist Party Historians Group founded in 1946, Kiernan wrote a great deal on countries and cultures far removed from Britain and Europe. read more

‘On the Death of Pramoedya Ananta Toer’

‘On the Death of Pramoedya Ananta Toer’ by Tariq Ali for Counterpunch, May 2, 2006

The death of the writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who died in Jakarta on April 30, is an enormous loss to world literature. He was a leading intellectual of the Indonesian left and a brilliant writer of fiction, always in pursuit of a time that never came. Sometimes he would think he had glimpsed the future and this immediately became magnified and was reflected in his fiction. His passion for radical politics was never hidden. Author of the ‘Buru Quartet’, he spent 15 years in prison—first under the Dutch, then under Suharto.

In “Diajang menjerah”, “She Who Gave Up”, a short story published in a 1952 collection (Tjerita dari Blora, “Stories from Blora”), he wrote:

‘In such times too the rage for politics roared along like a tidal wave, out of control. Each person felt as though she, he could not be truly alive without being political, without debating political questions. In truth, it was as though they could stay alive even without rice. Even schoolteachers, who had all along lived “neutrally”, were infected by the rage for politics–and, so far as they were able, they influenced their pupils with the politics to which they had attached themselves. Each struggled to claim new members for his party. And schools proved to be fertile battlefields for their struggles. Politics! Politics! No different from rice under the Japanese Occupation.’

Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, once contained the largest Communist Party outside the actual world of Communism. read more

From the archive

  • ‘Asif Ali Zardari: the godfather as president’

    September 7, 2008

    ‘Asif Ali Zardari: the godfather as president’ by Tariq Ali for The Guardian, September 7, 2008

    He may be a pliant partner for the west, but with his record of corruption, Zardari is the worst possible choice for Pakistan

    Asif Ali Zardari–singled out by fate to become Benazir Bhutto’s husband and who, subsequently, did everything he could to prevent himself from being returned to obscurity—is about to become the new President of Pakistan. Oily-mouthed hangers-on, never in short supply in Pakistan, will orchestrate a few celebratory shows and the ready tongues of old cronies (some now appointed ambassadors to western capitals) will speak of how democracy has been enhanced. Zardari’s close circle of friends, with whom he shared the spoils of power the last time around and who have remained loyal, refusing all inducements to turn state’s evidence  …

  • Pakistan’s future is tied to the Taliban

    February 6, 2014

    Twelve years ago, a few weeks into the occupation of Afghanistan, I suggested (in these pages) that the euphoria aroused by an easy conquest was misplaced. It would be a long war and one of its side effects would be to seriously destabilise Pakistan. Unfortunately, events have not contradicted the analysis. The spillover into Pakistan has been creating havoc for years. The view that this has nothing to do with Afghanistan is too shallow to deserve serious consideration.

    It’s no secret that, since 9/11, successive governments –Musharraf, Zardari and now the Sharif brothers – have agreed to US drone attacks and been aware of covert CIA operations being carried out in Pakistan. Opinion polls, however, reveal that a large majority of Pakistani citizens are opposed to US policies. The capitulation of liberal secular parties to Washington left the field wide  …

  • ‘How do the 99% compare with mass protests of the past – and can they succeed?’

    October 25, 2011

    ‘How do the ninety-nine percenters compare with mass protests of the past – and can they succeed?’, by Tariq Ali for the Sunday Herald, October 23 2011

    “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth glancing at,” wrote Oscar Wilde, “for it leaves out the one country at which humanity is always landing. And when humanity lands there, it looks out, and seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.” The spirit of that 19th century socialist is alive among the idealistic young people who have come out in protest against the turbo-charged global capitalism that has dominated the world ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    The Occupy Wall Street protesters who have taken up residence at the heart of New York’s financial distract, are demonstrating against a system of  …