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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin visits her 1990s work ‘My Bed’ at Tate Britain in London, where it is back on display from today
artsBut how does the iconic work stand up, 16 years on?
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor