Obituaries

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.

Harold Pinter: 1930-2008

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Harold Pinter was the greatest writer of dramatic English we had. He wrote mouth-filling meals for actors, where what you want is who you are, and what you say to get it is provoked by what was said to you only a second earlier. I got to say his words on stage, screen and radio, and I count myself lucky.

His first full-length play, The Birthday Party, contains what Pinter came to think was the most important line he ever wrote: "Stan, don't let them tell you what to do." At 18 he had become a conscientious objector - a decision which marked him as a non-conformist for life. But Pinter's work isn't just dry, agit-prop drama of resistance.

Obituary: Ousmane Sembene

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Ousmane Sembène was one of those rare people whose death feels like a personal loss even to those who did not know him. We have lost a great mind.

Sembène had an extraordinary life. Born in 1923, he was sent by his father to an Islamic school in the Casamance - the poor southern region of today's Senegal, then part of the huge French West African colonial empire. Expelled from the school in 1936 for indiscipline, he worked as a fisherman before leaving to find work in the capital, Dakar.

Criticising Capitalism in Order to Save It

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John Kenneth Galbraith, who died last month aged 98, received very mixed obituaries. This was because he challenged some of the conclusions of mainstream capitalist economics while continuing to accept many of its assumptions.

Karl Marx divided the history of mainstream economics into two stages. The first he called "classical political economy". It was the product of thinkers, most notably Adam Smith and David Ricardo, who identified with the capitalist model of society when it was battling to establish itself in place of the feudal society that preceded it. Their desire to push capitalism forward led them to investigate its fundamental features-especially sources of value in productive labour and, by implication, profits in exploitation.

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