This absorbing, affecting memoir is a beautiful testament to a richly productive and dignified life. Daniel Bensaïd spent over forty years as a partisan of the revolutionary left in France, writing, campaigning, organising and agitating. Drawn into Communist politics as a young man and then radicalised, along with a significant section of his generation, by anti-colonial struggle abroad and the events of 1968 at home, Bensaïd was a leader and theorist in the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire, a Trotskyist party that emerged, as a libertarian, free-thinking and inventive gathering together of the best of 1968. He represents so much of what is admirable about the militants of his generation. As well as being a fine writer, if David Fernbach’s elegant translation is any indication, Bensaïd was a thoughtful and reflective strategist. Too many memoirs of 1968 grub about in complacent nostalgia; Bensaïd’s interest was always in our possible future.
This book ought to be read — or better, studied — by every socialist interested in the Middle East. On second thought, cut out the last five words; that part of the world is of vital interest to every socialist. As the author puts it in the book’s final paragraph:
There are several problems with the use of the term, ‘the sixties generation’. To begin with, it tends to play into the dubious narrative of youthful rebellion followed by gradual conservatisation in the face of of career, family life and disappointed hopes. It’s a narrative that sees the sixties as both defining – ah, the glories of youth! – and long left behind. By linking the generation with the decade (or even the year: a ‘68er’ or soixante-huitard ), the term suggests that those years were the apogee of the participants’ lives. The most recent cinematic expression of this view is Olivier Assayas’ nostalgic 2012 film, Apres Mai.
Jane Shallice reviews An Impatient Life: A Memoir (Verso, 2013) by Daniel Bensaïd and considers what the Left can learn from these beautiful memoirs March 2014.
This book lives up to the description on the tin, but goes rather further. Daniel Tanuro examines why green capitalism is an oxymoron, noting that nature and capital speak different languages. Capitalism requires ever increasing economic growth, because firms need to compete against each other to survive, seeking new profit to reinvest in new capital, so they are not eliminated by rivals. Nature is reduced to monocultures by ever increasing growth and ever increasing growth tends to disrupt ecological cycles. We live in a market based world, so attempts to deal with the climate crisis have used market mechanism such as carbon trading. Tanuro shows that these have failed to halt emissions. and plans for a so called ‘green economy’ aim to commodify nature, yet such commodification values short term exchange value, not long term sustainability.
Long-time revolutionary activist, historian, and analyst Gilbert Achcar has produced a provocative assessment of the Arab Spring. In The People Want, Achcar develops a Marxist analysis of the roots of the Arab revolutions, traces their trajectories since December 2010, and draws a tentative balance sheet of what progress has been made and what possibilities remain.
Cinzia Arruzza’s Dangerous Liaisons: The Marriages and Divorces of Marxism and Feminism (published in English edition by Merlin Press, available from Resistance Books)
For radicals and revolutionaries engaged in rebuilding an anti-capitalist movement in the early 21st century, the 20th century appears to be a record of disaster. Capitalism survived two great economic crises (1914-1934 and 1966-1982) that many on the left believed spelled the end of this form of class society.
This new book, A Freedom Budget for All Americans, by Paul LeBlanc and Michael Yates looks back at a piece of history from the Civil Rights Revolution that gets little if any mention today. It’s a time worth revisiting as the proposals offered in the Freedom Budget remain unfulfilled.
As a 25-year-old revolutionary, South African-born Charlie Van Gelderen was a delegate at the founding conference of the Fourth International in 1938 in Paris. When he died in 2001 he was the final living link with that small group of militants who had tried to keep the continuity of revolutionary Marxism alive under the enormous pressure of fascism and Stalinism. I remember a well-attended memorial meeting for Charlie was held after he died in Conway Hall.