It was very moving to hear the tributes and the stories, to listen as contempories of Singer praised his commitment and admired his consciousness as they said goodbye to a writer and thinker who had graced the pages of their magazines. I felt badly not to have been asked to speak, but I deferred to my elders, to the old men of the official, and always-at-war with itself, left.
At that tribute in a midtown church better known for honoring great jazz artists, I rose from the pew to add my stories, which had less to do with the fine meals and wonderful wines that a procession of visitors had enjoyed in his home on the Left Bank, on the street where François Mitterrand lived and Rosa Luxemberg's spirit ruled (I had been there many times myself) and more to do with why my generation owed him a big debt. He was in his own ways a jazz artist whose music offered infinite and always compelling improvization.
I was troubled because I felt Daniel was being treated like some kind of messiah and left theorist when, instead, he was like me, a journalist. He was a truth seeker of conscience who also respected facts and never glossed over problems, including the ones movements for change inflict on themselves.
He was been grounded in a European left tradition that I was privleged to be exposed to when I lived in London in the mid sixties. He was a journalist whose objective analyses flowed from his own subjective truths, and from exposure to and, most importantly, immersion in, the culture and activism of the left. I was younger than he and Jeanne, one of those 60s people who had the good fortune to run in the streets of Paris in May-June, a defining time for many of us because it showed the decay of yet another ancien régime and also the sources of its possible renewal in the uprising of the students and the workers. Daniel was always the participatory journalist, there at the barricades quite literally. He shared the sense that many intellectuals only write about of what it feels like to face down the police or shout slogans with hundreds of thousands of others.
That's when I first met him, back in '67 or '68 (good years for the wines we long for). It was the start of a friendship that was nurtured by visits and meetings over three decades. The late Nation editor Andrew Kopkind, a close buddy then, was another of his friends, and the two of us appreciated his willingness to break with all the ideological old left orthodoxies and baggage to reach out to a new generation and listen to what we/they had to say and to feel. That ability to listen, and to hear, was a talent that was learned and practiced. I am sure what he heard was in part responsible for him deciding to leave the better-endowed payroll of The Economist and reach across the Atlantic to the pages of The Nation. It infused his writing with a sensibility and a style that captured so many nuances of how change happens. His work, his books and articles enriched my understanding of events with a political and a cultural take. Its internationalist perspective was part of what inspired me, later in life, to found a film and TV company called Globalvision.
Daniel may have lived a comfortable modest Parisian bourgeois life style, but he was always driven by the fire of revolution and the hopes of a socialism with a human and democratic face. We are all living with the frustrations of achieving that dream. Daniel never abandoned it, but he never permitted himself to live with illusions either. He took a stand -- and stood by it. He was a bottom-up man, a struggler who wouldn't give up.
He remained bullish on the left -- but never a bullshit artist about it.
Whenever he came to New York, as he did in his annual pilgrimages to the Socialist Scholars Conference, which in its own way tries to bridge the sectarianism of the left, he would call me; sometimes he would trek over to my office. His first question was always personal, even intimate: "How are you doing? Is everything OK?"
We didn't only talk about our mutual dissents but also about our lives, including the pain of my divorce and how hard it is to keep certain flames flickering and projects growing. I think he recognized that I, like him, had left the mainstream for what often felt like the margins. Many of my French friends didn't know of his work that appeared in an American magazine. That never bothered him. He was voice of global solidarity that goes beyond boundaries and borders. When I created the Mediachannel,org, a global website aimed at monitoring media worldwide, he happily came onboard as an advisor and supporter. He was not a child of the Internet age, but he embraced its possibilities as he had social movements in France, America and his native Poland.
I spoke to him on the phone to say goodbye just a few days before he left us, left with his dignity intact, well aware that his options had run out. He faced death the way he faced life, without blinkers or compromise.
When I read just yesterday about the Spanish activist who died in the streets of Genoa, Italy protesting the Globalization-8 summit, and the capitalist market culture it idealizes, I thought of Daniel Singer, who would have been there if he could and whose spirit certainly was there.
In his last book, he dissected the idea associated with Margaret Thatcher that there is no alternative to the system we live under and the problems we confront. He tore apart the idea of the slogan TINA, "There is no alternative."
I never had a chance to tell him about the slogan that South Africans
have adopted in response.
The Chileans chanted after the poet Neruda died: "Neruda, Presente!" He is present. And Jeanne, his partner and running mate, carries on with the love and support of all of those who knew him.
She is present.
Singer. Au Revoir.
Presente.Tributes * danielsinger.org