Workers Vanguard No. 1077
30 October 2015
Myriam (Fetneh) Benoît
On October 15, our comrade Myriam Benoît died of cancer. She was a leading cadre of the Ligue Trotskyste de France, the French section of the International Communist League, for more than three decades. We extend our heartfelt condolences to her comrades and friends around the world, as well as to her children and grandchildren, her brothers Abdi and Sadegh and their families. Myriam was particularly close to her sister-in-law Mojgan, whom Myriam described as “the most incredible person that I’ve ever known in my life.”
Myriam was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1949 into an urban, atheistic and aristocratic Persian family. She was a born rebel, but also the product of her time and her familial circumstances. Her secular family revered women; during her childhood she was pampered by attentive servants brought to the city from her family’s landed estate. She received a bilingual (French-Persian) education at Tehran’s elite Jeanne d’Arc School. She married a Kurdish man, socially taboo in a country where the Persian Shi’ite ruling class lords it over a slew of oppressed minorities, including Kurds, Azeris and Baluchis. Her subsequent divorce was considered a scandal and kindled her later commitment to the fight against women’s oppression. After obtaining a degree in social work from the University of Tehran, she moved to the south of the country, where the abject rural poverty moved her tremendously and influenced her subsequent politicization.
In 1978 she moved to France, as turbulent struggles rocked Iran. A massive revolt among students and strikes by workers encouraged reactionary Shi’ite mullahs aligned behind the Ayatollah Khomeini to challenge the repressive regime of the U.S.- and British-installed Shah of Iran. Myriam had been around a Maoist group in Iran. But she was repulsed by leftists who embraced Khomeini and who adopted the veil as a supposed symbol of rebellion. She was drawn to the LTF by the call of the international Spartacist tendency (predecessor of the ICL): “Down with the Shah! No support to the Mullahs!” and our slogan “No to the Veil!” Myriam was active in translating our propaganda into Farsi. In 2001, she toured our European sections, giving a powerful presentation on “Iran 1979: Proletarian Revolution or Islamic Reaction” that was later printed in Workers Vanguard (No. 784, 12 July 2002).
Myriam was invited to attend our founding international conference in late summer 1979 and joined the LTF shortly thereafter. Around that time, Khomeini came to power in Iran and began slaughtering his leftist supporters. Khomeini’s rise had spurred a rebellion by U.S.-backed Islamic reactionaries in neighboring Afghanistan, where tribal-based fundamentalists fought the Soviet-backed, modernizing nationalist PDPA government, which had implemented land reform, lowered the bride price and introduced compulsory education for girls. Myriam had been sympathetic to the Soviet Union in her youth, and our military side with the PDPA regime in Afghanistan was part of what impelled her into membership. Impressed by the history of the Bolsheviks, who led the 1917 Russian Revolution and fought to liberate women and the peoples of the East, she was passionate about our January 1980 call, “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan,” which we raised as Soviet troops entered the country in support of the nationalist regime.
Tremendously energetic until the very end, Myriam worked on a memoir as her health deteriorated. She fondly recalled the work that our comrade Susan Adams did to educate and train her, noting: “Understanding that you are a cadre is important, without false modesty, because it confers on you a responsibility. If you don’t take responsibility, you are not a cadre.” While still a relatively new member, Myriam became organizer of the LTF’s Rouen local and later helped set up an organizing committee in Lyon. In 1985 she became a full member of the LTF Central Committee. She was an effective and exuberant activist and spokesman for the LTF and recruited numerous young people. In April 1989, after the Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan, the Partisan Defense Committee undertook an international fundraising campaign around the slogans “No to the Veil—Defend Afghan Women! Support Jalalabad Victims of CIA’s Cutthroats!” Myriam recalled the phenomenal support, even from veiled women, our efforts received at a local immigrant market in Lyon.
Shortly thereafter, when the Berlin Wall fell, the ICL threw all our resources into the fight to defend the East German deformed workers state and the fight for proletarian political revolution. Some leading LTF cadres had a limp response to these events, but Myriam fought for the intervention, traveling to Germany in 1990 to assist with the campaign. In 1992, after the LTF leadership imploded, Myriam was unique in being willing to come forward to help lead the section and was brought onto the International Executive Committee as a consultative member.
Myriam played an important role intervening into the huge defensive strike wave of public-sector workers that rocked France in December 1995. She strove to improve her English and in 1996-97 worked with our British section. In the 1990s and 2000s, she was a central public spokesman for the LTF’s legal defense organization, Comité de Défense Sociale, which campaigned in support of American class-war prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal; she played a key role in getting broader elements of the French workers movement, including the French Communist Party, to take up Mumia’s case. Myriam also frequently intervened in key public meetings of other left groups in Paris to skewer their opportunism.
In more recent years, Myriam was instrumental in helping our Canadian section intervene into the student strikes that rocked Quebec beginning in the spring of 2012. She helped to recruit young comrades in Montreal and to build and consolidate our Montreal local, an important extension for our international into French-speaking Canada. A Canadian comrade described Myriam’s important contributions: how she marched in the massive demos and argued with people we met, noting that she “in pretty much every way shaped this work.” A young cadre in Montreal wrote to her: “We are better communists thanks to your work.” When the local advertised her campus forum “Marxism or Feminism: For Women’s Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!” the feminist student bureaucrats tried to censor us. The successful forum, which Myriam gave despite the stir on campus, provoked lively debate (see “UQAM Feminists Fail to Gag Marxists,” Spartacist Canada No. 183, Winter 2014-15, reprinted in WV No. 1062, 20 February). Myriam did much of this between chemotherapy sessions, which she was undergoing in France.
Myriam had an irrepressible zest for life. As a comrade close to her remarked recently, she didn’t live by politics alone. Although lacking formal training, Myriam was an accomplished singer, often moving friends and comrades to joyous dance, or mournful tears. Late in life she learned to read music. She successfully auditioned for the prestigious Bahar Chorale, a UNESCO project, which she performed with. She also gave theater performances, wrote a play and translated various works from Farsi into French. The latter included a book of poems titled Travail au Noir [Illegal Work] (l’Harmattan, 2015) by Mehrdad Arefani, a secular Iranian poet and former political prisoner now in exile. Myriam deeply appreciated her doctors, nurses and medical staff, actively discussing politics with them and selling them subscriptions to the LTF’s press. Myriam was a force to be reckoned with and will be sorely missed.
For those who wish to join Myriam’s comrades, friends and family to celebrate her life, a memorial meeting will be held in Paris on Saturday, November 14. Please contact the LTF at 011-33-1-42-08-01-49 for more information.