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’ 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, 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’ 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