Daniel Singer

Against the Current, No. 90, January/ February 2001

Tariq Ali; David Finkel

DANIEL SINGER, A close friend of Against the Current and longtime European correspondent for The Nation, died December 2, 2000.

Born in Warsaw, Poland in September 1926, Daniel Singer became a committed socialist in the tradition of Rosa Luxemburg, and always a passionate internationalist.  From the destruction of Europe in World War II and the extermination of the Jewish community in Poland, he concluded that the choice between “socialism or barbarism” was a reality.

He was the author of Prelude to Revolution, France in May 1968 (1970), The Road to Gdansk: Poland and the USSR (1981), Is Socialism Doomed?  The Meaning of Miterrand (1988), and most recently Whose Millennium?  Theirs or Ours? (Monthly Review Press, 1999).

A tribute to Daniel by Michael Löwy will appear in our next issue.  We present here three brief messages that were sent to his companion Jeanne Singer for memorial meetings in honor of his life.

DANIEL WAS A role model to so many of us. Like Trotsky, Luxemburg and Deutscher, Daniel continued a line of Eastern and Central European Jews whose exceptional intellectual dynamism—married to a conception of socialist democracy—has provided us a proud legacy.  And like Victor Serge, Daniel’s eloquent voice and memorable writings remain to inspire a new generation.

He represented the best that the revolutionary tradition has produced: clear-sighted, committed, optimistic, and at all times elegant.  His integrity and grand spirit, his honesty and his generosity endeared him to his friends and to his audience.  I already miss him, and mourn the loss of his lucid voice.

Daniel left us a prodigious written record, but his unique contribution, a product of his knowledge, understanding and the particular set of historical and personal experiences which formed his thinking is gone, and we are left with huge shoes to fill.

In his name and memory we set that task before us. To you Jeanne, I salute the love you shared and hope that the many memories sustain you in the days and weeks to come. Daniel Singer—always present!

—Suzi Weissman

TILL THE VERY end Daniel Singer—despite the ravages of the “New Philosophers” and the havoc created by “Humanitarian War-Makers”—remained a clear-eyed champion of socialism and internationalism.  His was a penetrating and inspired understanding of humanity.  His intellectual labors were devoted to promoting the cause of the voiceless and the oppressed, both in the pages of the New York liberal weekly The Nation and in his essays for the leftwing Monthly Review.

He was a fine journalist and his special gift was the art of the lucid statement—never repeating himself—which may explain the fact that despite living in Paris, he had no regular column in the French press.  Daniel was the kind of intellectual whose output was viewed in official circles with a jaundiced eye. It was profane writing which, without ever becoming nihilistic, refused to respect the pieties of the day.

I first met Daniel at the house of his mother, Esther Singer.  As a young girl she had heard Rosa Luxemburg speak and had introduced a young Isaac Deutscher to the volumes of Marx on her bookshelves.  Daniel’s father was one of the most prominent journalists in Warsaw during the inter-war years, contributing brilliant essays to Warsaw’s largest daily paper.  The most important political influence on him was Isaac Deutscher.

It was Esther who introduced me to Daniel in the late Sixties and we became instant comrades, despite the odd disagreement.  We will all miss his optimism, his refusal to compromise and a steadfastness completely unmarked by dogma.

I think he would have liked these words from Lessing: “Wise Providence, move onward, at thine unnoted pace. But let me never, because I mark not, despair of thee, even when thy step seems to tend backwards.  It is not true that the shortest line is always the straight one.”

—Tariq Ali

DANIEL SINGER REPRESENTED a beacon for us on the American left who believe that the struggles for human freedom, whether on the large or small scale, are indivisible.  From the events of May-June 1968 in France, to the magnificent Polish uprising of 1980 that produced Solidarnosc, the greatest trade union in history, to the past turbulent decade, Daniel was a chronicler of the best kind—passionate, engaged, partisan yet open-spirited, always critical yet optimistic, and never under any circumstances sectarian.

Daniel understood that socialism, on one level, “hadn’t failed because it had never been tried,” as he liked to put it; yet he also recognized the many ways in which socialism as a movement had failed to reach its potential.  He understood both the instinctive striving for socialism that is inherent in every genuine working class movement—especially in his beloved analogy of the Polish working class with Moliere’s figure “who spoke prose without knowing it”—but also that this striving cannot succeed until it becomes conscious and self-articulated.

The wonderful books and articles Daniel left behind will make their contributions to the renewal of the socialist movement.  But for those of us who were lucky enough to know him, these works are only part of his legacy.  We will miss Daniel greatly as a friend and a comrade.

—David Finkel, for the editors of ATC

ATC 90, January-April 2001