Boris Fraenkel

Trotskyist activist and philosopher


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.

Ian Birchall

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game