Obituaries

Death of an internationalist

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Jean-René Chauvin was a French Trotskyist who lived through, and participated in, some of the 20th century's most dramatic events. Ian Birchall looks at his life


On 17 February death finally claimed Jean-René Chauvin. It seems almost miraculous that he has died now, aged 92, and not much earlier. His memoirs contain an unbelievable sentence where he states that, after his incarceration in the Mauthausen and Auschwitz concentration camps, he found the atmosphere in Buchenwald "much more relaxed".

Dorothy Thompson (1923-2011) - Groundbreaking historian of Chartism

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Dorothy Thompson was a socialist and feminist historian who transformed the study of the Chartist movement. Keith Flett considers her life and achievements

Dorothy Thompson, who has died aged 87, was one of the post-1945 era's leading socialist and feminist historians and a political activist of considerable note and impact.

She was married for many years to the socialist historian E P Thompson, who died in 1993, and her work and activity were in some ways complementary to, and at least equal to, his own. Edward studied Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, for example, while Dorothy focused on the period immediately afterwards - that of Chartism, the first great working class movement.

Long distance running: Alan Sillitoe (1928-2010)

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The novels of Alan Sillitoe rejoice in working class defiance. John Newsinger writes about a brilliant writer with a sad political trajectory.

(Photo: Monire Childs)

Author Alan Sillitoe died on 25 April 2010. He will be best remembered for his powerful novels and stories of working class life, such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Key to the Door, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, and a ferocious work of family biography, Raw Material.

Howard Zinn: Bridging generations

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Howard Zinn inspired generations of radicals. Ambre Ivol worked closely with him for the past few years at Boston University and his home

Howard Zinn's book A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present (1980) reached a mass audience by the beginning of the 21st century with over 2 million copies sold by 2009. It actually became part of US popular culture. Only a couple of months before Zinn's sudden death, a documentary film based on the book was released, The People Speak.

Daniel Bensaid - a revolutionary fighter to his last breath

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French revolutionary and intellectual Daniel Bensaïd died last month. Gilbert Achcar pays tribute to his life and work

Current Marxist thinking has been greatly impoverished since last June. With the untimely death of thinkers like Peter Gowan, Giovanni Arrighi, Chris Harman and now Daniel Bensaïd, we are sadly deprived of what each one of these regretted friends and comrades could have contributed, at a time when their intellectual production was in full swing.

Chris Harman 1942-2009

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The news that Chris Harman had died of a suspected heart attack in Cairo is shocking. This loss will be felt by all of us who have worked with him, who have read his articles and books and heard him speak.

Chris was a formidable intellectual, Marxist theoretician and writer, but most importantly he was an activist. For him ideas were never to be separated from action. He was fearless in argument but generous with encouragement. His talent was to make even the most difficult ideas clear and when explaining something he would always say, "Do you follow?" If you didn't he would happily start from beginning and go through it again.

John Saville - 1916-2009

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John Saville, who has died aged 93, was a towering figure in the fields of Marxist and labour history, and in the British labour movement and the left, for more than seven decades.

His enduring legacy may well be the volumes of the Dictionary of Labour Biography that he edited, detailing the lives of many of the women and men who were active in the labour movement from the late 18th century.

Only someone with an extensive knowledge of the movement as a participant could possibly have embarked on such a project.

Augusto Boal has left the stage

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Mike Gonzalez and Marianella Yanes pay homage to the founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed, Augusto Boal, who died last month

It would be wrong to describe Augusto Boal as a theatre director, a dramatist, a producer or an actor, though he was all of those things. Returning to his native Brazil in 1955 from the US with a degree in theatre arts, he was hired to work for the famous Arena Theatre, which challenged the social realism of the theatre of the time with the ideas of Bertolt Brecht.

Edward Upward - 1903-2009

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Edward Upward, the last of the 1930s generation of left-wing British writers, has died at the age of 105. It is astonishing to think that someone who was in his late 20s when the Wall Street Crash heralded the Great Depression should live on to see an equally deep crisis begin to convulse the system once again.

He came from a comfortable background (his father was a doctor and he went to public school and Cambridge). But the disaster of the First World War shook all classes to the core. And like his more famous younger contemporaries, the poet W H Auden and his admirer and fellow novelist Christopher Isherwood, Upward was part of a revolt against the clapped out culture of the past.

Adrian Mitchell - 1932-2008

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There is always opposition to the dominant culture - sometimes hidden, sometimes out in the open: a radical cultural tradition that accompanies our struggles for a different society, to give shape and meaning to our desire for another way of hearing, of seeing, of feeling. I got this from many people as I was growing up, and the poet Adrian Mitchell was one of those people.

Everything stopped for a moment when I heard of his death on 21 December. In that instant I remembered all those times he stood before me, the poetry of love and life and anger and outrage filling whatever space he had come to perform in. I stood with him in the middle of Piccadilly on 15 February 2003 - speechless, as we felt 2 million human beings for peace and against war moving around us like a slow, wide river. Adrian was momentarily the rock midstream.

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