Trotskyist activist and philosopher
Saturday 27 May 2006
Boris Fraenkel, political activist and philosopher: born Danzig 1921; died Paris 23 April 2006.
Boris Fraenkel achieved his brief moment of notoriety in 1997 when he revealed the Trotskyist past of the French socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin. In the smaller world of the French far left he was known as an original thinker and an impressive speaker.
Born in Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland, but then a free city) in 1921, Fraenkel was active in Zionist circles, and with the rise of Fascism he considered moving to Palestine, but was unable to do so because of British immigration restrictions. He went to France in 1938 and moved to Switzerland in 1940, where he was interned. Here he met various exiled Jewish intellectuals, including the literary theorist Lucien Goldmann, and first became involved with Trotskyist politics.
Returning to France in 1949, he did not involve himself actively in politics. But in 1958 he believed, wrongly but understandably in the tense climate of the Algerian war, that Charles de Gaulle represented a threat of military dictatorship. The French Trotskyist movement was tiny and divided; Fraenkel opted for the group headed by Pierre Lambert which became the Organisation Communiste Internationaliste (OCI). Despite its insistence on Trotskyist "orthodoxy", the OCI attracted gifted intellectuals, notably the historian Pierre Broué.
Fraenkel held important responsibilities in the group, including the training of new recruits. One of his protégés was Jospin, a student at the ENA (the Ecole nationale d'administration), the prestigious college for civil servants. Fraenkel became his cornac ("elephant-keeper") and took him through a systematic study of basic Marxist theory as well as having long discussions with him.
Together with the publisher François Maspero, Fraenkel was involved in the journal Partisans, launched in 1961 and aimed at the new left formed by opposition to the Algerian war.
Fraenkel did not fit easily into the constraints of a disciplined organisation. He was becoming increasingly interested in the links between sexuality and politics, notably the ideas of the pre-war German Marxist Wilhelm Reich. (France was then a conservative society on sexual matters - the sale of contraceptives was only legalised in 1967.) Himself bisexual, Fraenkel became an advocate of sexual freedom.
In 1967 Fraenkel used the OCI presses to publish translations of the writings of Reich. He was promptly expelled from the OCI, accused of forming a "sexual-sectarian" clique.
In March that year Fraenkel gave an influential lecture to students at Nanterre on sexual repression. Perhaps its importance has been exaggerated (sex, drugs and rock'n'roll were not as central to the 1968 events as is often claimed), but he alarmed the French state. Being stateless (he got French nationality only in 1986), he was in June 1968 put under house arrest in a convent in Lozère. Reputedly he encouraged the Mother Superior to read Marcuse. Fraenkel received support from many parts of the left, but from his erstwhile pupil Jospin not a word.
Fraenkel remained a well-known figure on the left, as a translator (of Trotsky, Georg Lukács and Herbert Marcuse), writer and above all speaker. Despite his experiences he never renounced Trotskyism - in 2000, at the age of 79, he briefly joined the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire.
His revolutionary commitment inspired his intervention in the Jospin affair. In far-left circles, Jospin's Trotskyist past was well known, but as his career prospered, his enemies used it against him. This was massive hypocrisy - 30 years after 1968 there were many in French public life who had been youthful revolutionaries. Jospin stupidly denied the accusation. Fraenkel explained his intervention with contemptuous rage: "Trotskyism is not a shameful disease . . . it is not syphilis."
Fraenkel's chosen death - by jumping from a bridge into the river Seine at Paris - was a suitably dramatic end to an eccentric but fascinating life.
Wellcome Image Awards: The most striking images from the world of science, including breast cancer cells under chemical attack and a photographer’s own kidney stone
Missing Malaysia Airlines plane: Terrorism explanation 'cannot be ruled out', says CIA
Bob Crow death: 'Admired by his members, feared by employers' - Tributes pour in for RMT union leader and 'working class hero' Bob Crow
Oscar Pistorius murder trial: Athlete repeatedly sick as court hears 'graphic details' of Reeva Steenkamp's post-mortem
How climate change helped Genghis Khan: Scientists believe a sudden period of warmer weather allowed the Mongols to invade with such success
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Katie Hopkins continues campaign to become Britain's most hated talking head with poorly timed Bob Crow tweet
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
The quiet diplomat: Catherine Ashton - recognised and admired in all the world’s troubled countries, yet ridiculed at home
Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
- 1 Bad cattitude: Family call police after crazed and 'hostile cat with a history of violence' attacks baby before attempting to 'flee custody'
- 2 Family forced to flee home after discovering 'terrifying' nest of spiders in bananas
- 3 First Kiss: Filmmaker gets 20 strangers to make out on YouTube with awkward results
- 4 Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
- 5 Bob Crow death: 'Admired by his members, feared by employers' - Tributes pour in for RMT union leader and 'working class hero' Bob Crow
£20000 - £25000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: One of the largest mobile advert...
£20000 - £23000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: Our client specialises in creati...
£30000 - £50000 per annum + Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: Private Cli...
£30000 - £35000 per annum + Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: Residential...