DANIEL SINGER - 1926-2001
by SAMUEL FARBER New Politics Summer 2001
Daniel Singer, a comrade and friend, died on December 2, 2000.
At the time of this writing (late March 2001), much has been said and written about Daniel reflecting his wide influence and impact as a revolutionary socialist, internationalist, democrat and excellent journalist and writer. These are all true and faithful descriptions of Daniel.
For me, Daniel also constituted a role model (a much abused term which has nevertheless managed to retain a substantial amount of precise meaning). He was a writer in the classical Marxist tradition who at the same time successfully managed to write for a broad liberal and left audience. The end of the century was marked by a neoliberal hegemony and the cynicism if not betrayal by many who had previously claimed to be on the Left. Singer, in sharp contrast, consistently spoke from a radical left perspective with a well reasoned optimism while avoiding both sectarian triumphalism and a "responsible" accommodation to the powers that be.
Daniel had an enormous ability to engage in the political art of "intelligent persuasion." His confidence and security in his own point of view allowed him to relate and build bridges to the readers without "hitting them on the head." He was magnificent in relating to the reader by showing in a sober, reasoning manner, a way of looking at politics from below; he concretely affirmed and demonstrated people's capacity to liberate themselves without the slightest romanticism or sentimentality.
Daniel was a self-declared "Luxemburgist socialist," a libertarian and anti-Stalinist socialist, who in 1980-1981, became a strong defender of the Solidarity workers movement in his native Poland. At the same time, he remained until his death a sharp critic of international social democracy. Yet, he had another quality, that I would call "principled flexibility," which allowed Daniel to function in a variety of environments within the broad left and even liberal milieu. While his "Luxemburgist Socialism" was by any politically objective standard closer to that of smaller left journals such as Against the Current and New Politics, Singer more frequently wrote for bigger journals of other political traditions, mainly The Nation and Monthly Review.
Some admirers have spoken about Daniel as a civilized person referring to his gracious manners and the wonderful hospitality that he and his wife Jeanne showered on those who visited their Paris apartment. While I benefited from both, I think there was an important political dimension to Daniel's civility. He could be a harsh detractor (witness, for example, his well deserved attacks on the so-called New Philosophers in France), but his political arguments always appealed to reason and to what was best in people. It is frequently forgotten that one of the characteristics of antidemocratic ideologies such as Fascism, Stalinism and others, is the attempt to instill and cultivate base instincts. Thus demagoguery, pseudo-populist flattery, character assassination, rhetorical cheap shots, conspiratorial and manichean views of the world have been convenient ways of mobilizing and manipulating people's anger and insecurities without helping them to intellectually and practically empower themselves so they can become masters of their own fate.
I believe that Daniel's approach to these sorts of issues was clearly expressed in his last book Whose Millennium? :
We...look at people and society in a historical perspective. They are neither saints nor sinners, neither noble savages nor greedy monsters. They are the products of circumstances, but also, within the limits set by their physical and social conditions, products of their own action. The "associated producers," on whom we rely to forge a different kind of society, will not be proletarian heroes, red knights in shining armor, with a purity and political consciousness out of hagiographic tales. They will be ordinary people, like you and me, with all our quirks and imperfections, our habits conditioned by the world we live in, our tastes distorted by television and advertising. As these ordinary people search to gain control over their work and their fate, they will begin to reshape society, they will be affected in the process, and, so transformed, will resume their task. (269)
Samuel Farber is a member of the editorial board of the socialist journal Against the Current. His latest book is Social Decay and Transformation: A View From the Left, published by Lexington Books in the year 2000.