Interview/ Tariq Ali
Q. The decline of the Left seems to be a global phenomenon now even though we have examples from Latin America and the renewed interest in Marxism post the global recession. What is to be blamed for this? Is it the fact of fragmentation and a lack of dialogue across the working classes, the hijacking of the leadership by the middling class in the vanguards or the onslaught of neo-liberal economies the world over?
What we have to understand is that the victory of capitalism, its huge triumph in the 1990s, later the total collapse of the Soviet Union and China’s turn to Capitalism, in many ways accelerated and propelled the decline of the Left. Their hold and grip over the masses and mass support declined because increasingly the neo-liberal capitalist mantra that “there no alternative, this is the only way” seemed strong to people, including those who had supported Left parties by and large. It seemed strong because they saw nothing changing, even where the left was in power, such as in India. In other parts of the world, with the exception of Cuba, there was a strong decline.
Interestingly enough, the latest New Left Review has an article on Cuba which shows that its standard of living and its rates in terms of the social index are either the same or higher than most of the former Eastern European countries, which embraced capitalism. There are very interesting counter narratives to the dominant narrative that takes place. But it was essentially this big defeat and the triumph of Capital that laid the material basis for the shift to the right, globally.
However, when I say globally I would exclude parts of Latin America from that map. The Bolivarian republics went in exactly the other direction and are still functioning. Even with all sorts of problems they are still there. But in Asia and Africa, not to mention Europe and America, this was the case.
To add to that, the decline in the industrial proletariat in North America and Western Europe was quite dramatic. From coal and steel, to a certain extent the car industry, went into decline because they had found a new workshop for capitalism in the People’s Republic of China. The production of commodities at low prices by the Chinese Republic impelled its own capitalist development but also played a part in the decline of the industrial working class in the West.
The combination of all these factors political, ideological, economic has brought us to where we are now. So, ironically when the capitalist system has its first huge crisis since the 1930s, which is the Wall Street crash of 2007, no alternative emerges. Neither from within the system nor from the Left, because as the French president said, ‘the poor are toothless and we not scared of them’. Apart from South America no alternatives to mount a challenge were offered.
But this doesn’t solve any problem because a big vacuum exists. In this vacuum jump in the religious parties, whether in India, the Arab World or elsewhere.
Q. While you have been vocal against Russia’s policy vis-à-vis Ukraine and the situation seems to be spiralling out of control, can the history of the removal of a democratically elected government in Ukraine before the escalation be brushed aside? Isn’t this fallout part of the despair coming with failing dreams of Pax Americana and decreasing NATO support as much as a misreading of the situation by Russians?
I have been critical of Putin but much more vocal against US/EU machinations in the region. Gorbachev was extremely naïve to accept US assurances that NATO would not move eastwards instead of insisting as part of an agreement that a unified Germany should not be a part of NATO.
Of course, there was the removal this time and the West engineered that because they didn’t like the government. But then it’s what it does everywhere. Basically, when we talk about the West we mean the United States and one shouldn’t at all assume that it plays with a pack of cards which is same for all. The pack of cards is doctored. There are double standards and imperial interests predominate. Whenever they require something they do it finding one ideology or the other as a cover. The provocation in Ukraine, in my opinion, first came from the West. They had been determined for years now to somehow try and incorporate Ukraine into NATO. They were not succeeding in this. They felt that the regime was weak. So they toppled an elected government. And the results of this are before us.
Russia annexed Crimea. Eastern Ukraine is now in a state of total of instability. Instead of telling their supporters in the Ukraine to agree to a deal and accept a federal division of Ukraine within the same borders, they encouraged Poroshenko to become more and more assertive. He obviously does what he is asked. But he is under pressure from the Germans to agree to a ceasefire. But NATO has now decided to have a mobile force using which they can strike anywhere they want. This is a clever ploy. Instead of putting troops on the Russian border this agreement within NATO allows it to fly in troops to any country, provided it is a member country and seeks help. Whether they would go so far, as to incorporate their side of the Ukraine into NATO, remains to be seen. It would be a huge provocation.
Putin on the other hand is protecting Russian national interests. He is doing what he is doing. To attack him while ignoring what the West has done is unacceptable and illogical.
Q. The winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, Barrack Obama, has spelt out his stand to continue with military actions in Iraq. The US continues its aggression in Somalia, Libya, Yemen and through drones in Pakistan. Have our understanding of peace gone for a toss or are we just not on the same page as the Nobel committee?
Forget the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. It is one of the most discredited committees and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Its record is clear. They gave a prize to Baker. They gave a prize to Sadat. They gave one to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho refused to accept his. Giving it to Obama was really descending into the sewer. Even Obama was a bit surprised because he had just decided to escalate American troop levels in Afghanistan. But they are shameless people and totally illogical. There is a lot of talk in Norway about changing the composition of the committee, making it more democratic. I don’t know whether that will happen or not.
Let’s forget about the Nobel and talk about Obama. Obama was the most clever apparition of the empire that they could find and he has played that role. A lot of people were taken by him. There was a lot of support and enthusiasm by liberals in the United States and people all over the world. I had argues at the time that he was the most inventive apparition of the empire. He would do so as any other President, effectively defend his interests.
Probably more intelligently than his predecessor. But his predecessors had the disease of speaking the truth. They didn’t hide what they were doing. Bush Cheney was pretty clear that they did what they did because they were the dominant world power. Obama tries to cover that up. Going back to the policies of trying to keep the Europeans on the side, effectively sweet phrasing. But the policies have not changed since Reagan. There has only been continuity in American imperial politics. They are now with no big rivals in the world and feel they can do anything. Which is why they are so shocked that suddenly Putin has decided to respond, and he has been demonized.
I do not have much time for Putin but for him to be demonized by these guys who have done appalling things to the world. Only recently in Iraq, in Libya, people they armed and funded in Syria. The lesson that the Left has to understand is that the American military power is very dominant. American currency is very dominant and remains the prime currency. Therefore they can bully countries like Argentina. And this power can only be effectively challenged by groups who have an alternative social and economic programme.
Let us come back to Obama. He came with promises of ending the war but backed the Hawkish sign that we need a surge of troops, we need to send more troops, so he sent more troops to Afghanistan and that turned out to be a complete disaster. So it was a bit all too quick for him, and they are now negotiating a withdrawal from Afghanistan, but insisting that whoever is in power they want US bases in eternity, as a last resort. This is the latest development and I don’t think it is going to work either. Once you get a government which represents the bulk of the population you will have a big demand to get rid of these bases. So either they carry on having these puppet governments, tilt the unrepresentative electorate.
I don’t know how long they can continue with that so it’ll not be a happy ending in either Afghanistan or anywhere. If we look at the sort of new campaign in Iraq and parts of Syria due to the emergence of ISIS, we need to ask what is the Islamic State organization. This did not exist in Iraq or Syria prior to the Iraq war. All these extremist Jihadis entered Iraq with the American army. Not on their side but at the same time as them.
They have now taken advantage of the vacuum region and the appalling policies of the pro-American Iraqi government and the situation is a mess. It is such a situation that American intervention is not going to have any positive impact. ISIS has also alienated a large number of the people, globally and in the region. So it’s the worst of both worlds.
Q. You have also put this supposed diplomatic aggression in contrast with the response to the situation in Chechnya. Do you look at it as a way of covering up for the skeletons in one’s own closet, which in the US’ case is a pretty big closet anyway?
Basically they are angry with the Russians, you know Putin is effectively a conservative figure. He is not a liberal leave, alone anything of a radical. He describes himself as a conservative. This conservatism leads him to defend the national interests of Russia as he sees it. It often takes on the form of nationalism. He has done that. In the course of that he he has promoted what he sees as the interests of Russia above those of the United States. That is the change with Yeltsin, whose was a pro American government. They could not do anything without asking the permission of the United States or its ambassadors. Putin has broken with that tradition.
This is essentially why they are angry with him because he will not accept their policies in the Middle-east; he sees the things from the point of view of Russia. So he has to be punished. Since they can’t find any other way of convincing him, they used their financial power to impose sanctions, knowing perfectly well that the dollar is the global financial currency and they have some control over it. It is a brutal display of American power. And all this for what?
It is true what happened at Crimea was an annexation. But from what the indications are, that is what the people wanted, as they do in parts of Eastern Ukraine itself.
Either there is a compromise or there is not. The Americans are often open to compromise but they refused.
Effectively what they are doing is splitting the Ukraine. I can’t see any other way out of it. Because if they do make the final decision and have this rump off the Ukraine, minus the provinces which are clearly in a state of rebellion and put them into NATO, the EU and all those structures, this might be the beginning of a new cold war.
Q. Let’s turn our focus on Pakistan now. Just as we were thinking that a peaceful transition between two democratically elected governments has taken place in Pakistan, we see the Sharif government being challenged from the pulpits and streets. How do you look at the situation? Is Sharif’s capitulation before US demands following the trend of his predecessors, a major reason?
No, I think that what is going on in Pakistan at the moment is largely internal. I don’t think the Americans are really interested in removing the Sharif government. Why should they, it has not posed any problem to them? The internal situation in Pakistan is horrific. We have had for a long time violent attacks by jihadi groups in virtually every major city in Pakistan, whether they were targeting security people, Shia or other rivals. This has been discussed endlessly but infact this inevitability was brought about by the inability of the government to contain such violence coupled with the fact that it’s a really useless government in terms of delivering anything. All the election policies have been disregarded; no attempt has been made to mend to even implement them. The socio-economic crisis, the conditions of everyday lives, the power cuts, I mean, as I speak to you the telephone exchange and broadband facilities of a city as large as Lahore are completely disrupted because of a fire which took place several weeks ago. So this complete breakdown of the state on virtually every level, provoked the movement which was launched by Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan and the aim of it was to topple the Sharif brothers. The movement I believe was thwarted because their aim of bringing the government down by a number of concerted attempts failed. Yesterday Tahirul Qadri, one of the leading figures of the movement packed his bags, immobilized his supporters and went back to Canada. So the movement is virtually coming to an end and they failed. It was a foolish thing because it was completely ineffective. It did attract some support at first but then people began to see through it. There are of course lots of people in Pakistan who believe that this was a preemptive strike by the ISI or Intelligence Office to warn the Sharif brothers that if they carried on tangling with the army, this is what will happen. The army in Pakistan is very angry with Sharif having promised them that he would not be pursuing the Musharraf case and let him leave the country then broke that promise and this enraged the army. Even people who have absolutely no desire to enter into politics within the Pakistan army, were angered by this. And so the story goes that they decided to teach him a lesson and unleashed these forces, cause the fact is that without received tacit support from the intelligence agency you can’t have a cleric coming from outside coming, setting all this up and basically paralyzing parts of the capital city. So this phase has now come to an end but the more important thing about Pakistan is that the government is incapable of doing anything. It thinks in terms of grandiose plans, will build a train service from Islamabad, Lahore to Kashmir, all this rubbish which doesn’t help people at all. The citizens are in despair, raging and this crosses political lines. Everyone is just fed up.
Q. Critiques of the Israeli state’s policies vis-à-vis Palestine are often branded as anti-Semites. In hindsight didn’t we bring this on ourselves when we supported the cause for a state based on the religio-identitarian principle? Was it logical that the creation of a quasi-religious state through UN intervention came to be justified on the supposed idea of Yahweh’s biblical promise of a homeland to Moses in the place of modern day Israel?
This was a decision taken by the British Empire, rubberstamped by the United Nations. The UN proposal in 1948 was for two roughly equal states which the Arab government refused to accept that. Which makes me think in retrospect, it was a great thing, because had they accepted that offer in 1948 instead of waging war who knows what would have happened. That’s one point. The other point is the debate amongst many Jewish settlers in Palestine from the late 19th century onwards, that we shouldn’t create a special state but live in harmony as equals; they are not threatening us. But the Zionist wing of the movement gained predominance and without the British Empire that state would not have been created. But it’s there now and what we are discussing is basically history. There is no way that state is going to disappear or go away; the question is what the Palestinians are going to do. In my opinion, the PLO leadership in accepting the Oslo Accords finds itself effectively in a position like the Vichy government in France during the Second World War, carrying out the orders from Jerusalem, using the ideas of their protectors. Wasting money and making the upper echelons of the useless, not doing much for the ordinary people.
Hence, the emergence of the Hamas in Gaza and the defeat of the PLO, which the European Union and the Americans refused to accept. They were desperate to have a war between the PLO and the Hamas which the Israelis finally succeeded in creating. The situation today is that there is no Palestinian state on offer which is why the Americans are happy with Netanyahu. He has no intention of backing off, settlements would carry on building, they are now encroaching on East Jerusalem. There are thousands of homes of settlers there and Zionists have effectively destroyed any hope of a meaningful independent Palestinian state. In this situation the Palestinians are still on their knees before the west, with the PLO leaders saying we are prepared to have the NATO army here semi-permanently, to reassure the Israelis we have no bad intentions. When you have leaders like that the people get demoralized. However, at the same time the Israeli attempt to destroy any opposition to what they are upto, which led to the invasion of Gaza, and what we saw in the last year, has alienated public opinion in many parts of the world. There is no doubt about it. But unless it is opposed on the grounds, it doesn’t mean much.
Edward Said and I, when we discussed it in the last year of his life, on where we go from here, we had agreed on what Omar Barghouti calls for now is a single state solution. Effectively, and a simultaneous campaign for equal rights sanctions as were put on South Africa, because what we have in Israel is an apartheid state. This is said by large numbers of people now who go and visit that state. The Israeli government from the second Intifada onwards pushed this policy via its embassies and supporters that anyone, who attacks us or criticizes us, should be labeled an anti-Semite. Similarly for the Jews who label these criticism as ‘hating Jews’. Its their right to implement but is becoming increasingly ineffective because there are many young kids who are interested in history. It doesn’t bother them at all. They say we don’t care how you abuse us or what you call is. You can call us what you like but we are going to carry on. Therefore this kind of anti-Semitic charge doesn’t have much purchase on young people who are fighting for their Palestinians or are with their cause.
Q. Isn’t Zionism the same as Nazism or say Hindu communalism? Questioning Zionism is certainly not questioning Judaism since not all Jews would have a problem with harmonious living with other communities, irrespective of their identities.
The Zionist project was very clear to create an ethnically Jewish state, at the place of a biblical homeland of the Jews. Leading Israeli scholars such as Shlomo Sand have poured scorn on this idea of biblical stories and biblical geography being taken seriously. So the biblical past is a past but the Zionist’s insisted otherwise. For a period it coincided with the aims and intentions of the British Empire, who though it would be quite good to have a ‘secular’ state in the Arab World… To be a local relay for the British. But the British Empire collapsed and the Americans after 67 in particular, took over this role. If the United States really wanted, to bring the Israelis to heel so to speak, all that they had to do is to stop subsidies and say that we would impose sanctions on you. That would have been the end of it and they would have withdrawn. They did not want to do that because their economy was good. Of course there is now a very large hardcore Zionist extremists, who think every governments is weak. They would like the Palestinians in Israel to be expelled and they would like to use force to wipeout this problem. And they are getting stronger, so it is something one has to watch closely.
But the big tragedy in my opinion is, that the Palestinian movement has no serious leadership. Hamas defends Gaza creditably. The PLO collapsed after Oslo and has not recovered anything.
Q. As a Pakistani born in 1943, moving to Oxford in the 1960s followed by what you have yourself termed as your street fighting years, were you ever made to feel like a fish out of water? Were you ever asked what a Pakistani was doing in the streets of London, protesting against the Vietnam War, when he should be planning a glorious career plotting military coups or joining hands with jingoistic fundamentalists back home? Why I ask you this is simply because integrated with this is also the question of those who are Palestinian and Jewish as well; Palestinian Jews who may have been residing in Palestine since before the birth of the modern Jewish State or have relocated there since. Which identity are they supposed to embrace?
This is something which has become very dominant now since the collapse of any global alternative. This birth of identity politics can be identified with the collapse of socialism, communism, Marxism after the big triumph of Capitalism at the end of the 90s. Within this vacuum people now tend to fight for isolated causes. It is not merely identifying with religion or the increase in religiosity, which as we know is very common all over the world. Today people would say I am a Muslim, I am a Hindu, I am Black, I am a woman. All this is true but in the past one could live with multiple identities. I remember in the 60s, 70s and the 80s people would ask me about my identity and I would say – I am an internationalist. I could live anywhere in the world. Of course I have some love for the parts of the world where I grew up, where I have friends, all that goes. But that doesn’t influence me in the sense of determining what I think. Today’s identity politics has become so narrow.
And we saw this being played out during the Obama election campaign. Because Obama is of mixed race, he is a non-white; large numbers of the African American community just ignored his politics and went for the bullshit. Even after he had been in constant power criticism towards his policies was virtually absent. Granted there has been a political movement to have a non-white at the white house so to speak but once he ceased to operate like any other politician produced by the Chicago democratic apparatus, what’s the point of protesting anymore? Criticism was very slow in coming. Now it is there. But it had disarmed the liberals and the African American community in large numbers who had backed this.
We are probably going to see another version of this with Hillary Clinton. People will say ‘oh she is a feminist’. A lot of old feminists would rush to support her. It is a sign of political suicide. You don’t put politics in command when it’s gender or race or religion. And that I think suggests that it’s time to develop a new radical politics for this century.
Q. The lethal violence in Gaza this time around has left in its wake destruction of such magnitude that it would take decades to merely get it back to where it was, besides the lives lost, people left without a livelihood and an economy in tatters. Do you think the aggression and the disproportionate use of firepower by the Israeli forces was more because of the apprehension about the coming closer of Hamas and Fatah, and possibly the emergence of a consensus on the Palestinian position against Israeli war crimes and negotiations?
To a certain extent, yes. But what is Fatah’s strategic plan? They are still unsure about it? It is still premised on the two state solution. People tell me that a single state solution is utopian. Yes, it is to an extent. But the two state solution, is even more utopian today. Because all you would probably get is Gaza and a few dot sized areas. You would never get a proper state with conspicuous borders, or anything even approaching it.
Q. You have been vocal about your support for Scottish Independence. You have maintained your angst against the Westminster parties but you have also reiterated that you do not pin your hopes on the SNP but on the common people. Not a rosy picture, is it?
I thought the key thing was that the Scottish revolt was effectively a revolt from below in which the working class played a key role. The majority of the supporters of independence were from the Scottish working class. It was a revolt against the form of capitalistic economics affected by Westminster. And it was also born out of a feeling that they would be better off on their own. I agreed with that and I also felt that Scottish independence would be a severe blow to the potentials of this post-imperial United Kingdom. It would weaken Britain’s standing militarily and reduce it to size, what it is, and not what it likes to pretend to be. So those were the reasons why I supported it. In the scale of things it may not seem global, but for those of us who live here it is the most important thing that happened and it isn’t over. Thelabour party in Scotland is in a state of meltdown. This has been going on for some time and it is great that people decided to act. There was very little actual rationalism in the crude sense of the word during the campaign.
However, this new political space had come into existence due to the movement and there would have been everything for the Left to play for. I mean, the big political opposition would have come from the Left and not the right.
Q. You have often cited the problem with countries of all hues from the United Kingdom to Pakistan suffering due to their capitulation ending up as satellite states of the US. While certain sections in the Western press were wary of the Indian Prime Minister-elect’s past record in being unable to contain communal discord, many celebrated his growth-orientated liberalized outlook. How much of this is born out of hopes that they would further the agenda started by the UPA at the centre of furthering World Bank- IMF dictated economic policies?
I think that is actually very pertinent issue. There are so many sections of the Indian bourgeoisie, if we can use that term, voted Modi because they felt that Congress had basically not been successful in pushing through the neo-liberal agenda as it should have been pushed through. They needed a more ruthless leader who also enjoyed popular support in some areas. They looked upon the Gujarat model as a popular model. They didn’t think about the massacres that took place but only about the success of the economic model. So they went for him thinking he would be able to deliver. Whether he would be able to deliver or not remains to be seen. But I think that was the principal reason in pushing for Modi.
Q. Is the New Development Bank initiative by the BRICS economies a positive development? Do you see it challenging the economic order promoted by the World Bank-IMF clique?
Well, not really. The order has been weakened by the crash in 2008 and I think no one believes that the solution which is state bailout or a bank is a permanent solution. But effectively the BRICS are part and parcel of that process. In Brazil they re-elected Dilma and did not vote for the neo-liberal guy, which is good I suppose. But the Brazilian economy, based on all the economists’ reports, is on the verge of a downturn. Russia has been isolated and imposed sanctions on.
The Indian economy is not in as great shape as it is pointed out to be and there is also the huge growth in inequality. In a country like India, this inequality would lead to the search for other solutions, sooner or later. I don’t know what they will be because the Left is not in a position to lead. The creation of a huge middle class as the rock on which Indian capitalism is founded has been the dream for many years now. The gulf remains too deep and huge. We shall see where this leads us.
Q. Stuart Hall’s work continues to guide many of us who research and work in the domain of cultural studies, in the interstices between traditional disciplines. Do you think his understanding of Thatcherism’s popular appeal can somehow help us to understand how fundamentalism has gained steady ground in India since the days of our freedom struggle?
Yeah, I think Stuart Hall and his colleagues were much more astute on understanding Thatcherism in its early years than someone like me. I was more critical of them, but in retrospect they were right on the impact of Thatcher, how the division of the working class had created a new situation. And you know there are some similarities not just in India but other parts of the world where you have politicians who follow Thatcher, later Brown now Cameroon, showing complete continuity in character. And Italy you have Renzi, in France you have Manuel Valls backed by Hollande. So, you have politicians, who do not believe in anything except staying in power and making capitalism work. It is a group of people whom I describe as the extreme centre. There is no centre left or centre right.
Who wage war on people at home and fight imperial wars abroad and operate through war as a monolith. So, democracy itself is becoming more and more authoritarian. You know you can often feel that one is living under the dictatorship of capital and some of his ideas certainly seem extremely important today.
Q. You have interviewed Julian Assange. Post the Wikileaks revelations and the Edward Snowden files our perception of geo-politics has changed drastically. Collecting information previously thought to be private is the new espionage now, with almost all countries falling prey to this. Does it worry you that imperialist nations are increasingly involved in a proxy war where nothing, not civilian lives, not the sanctity of their homes, no notion of the private, is safe?
Yes, it worries me obviously. What is not so well understood is that there is nothing new about this. Intelligence agencies’ spying on their own people is something which has existed as long as the intelligence agencies have been there. I can give you an extreme example from Czarist Russia. During those years in Russia the Bolshevik Party was penetrated by the Okhrana, the Czarist secret police agents. An agent of the Czarist secret police was a member of Lenin’s leading circles but still they couldn’t stop it. They knew what these guys were planning but they couldn’t stop it. Now what has happened is that the technology is far superior and the company doing surveillance has a set of new laws whereby they can arrest anyone; keep them in prison for sometime so the intimidation has also increased. The technology is frightening. This is all true. What Snowden has done is interesting, he has made all this public and a documentary on him has just being released, two Hollywood movies have been made and all that is fine, good; the question is this what have the revelations actually done? Has there been the growth of a huge movement within the mainstream or on its radical edges saying that this has to change and we cannot carry on like this. No, there has been expressions of anger and irritation by the European leaders who are annoyed that they were being spied on but essentially nothing much has been done. And the intelligence agencies of most of these European countries are working with the Americans, which is something often covered up. That’s the world we live in you know, where we have effectively a growing attack now on democracy, democratic institutions, democratic accountability, etc.
So when you have revelations by Chelsea Manning or Snowden, and Julian Assange, and people like that, it’s positive but its effects do not go deep as they should. And the real question to ask is why? Why do we have these two months- three months, one year-two years sensations but in terms of real impact, life goes on as before?
Q. Hugo Chavez’s passing away was a big loss the Latin American Left as well as Left sympathizers the world over. You had met him on many occasions. Why did Venezuela under Chavez hold such great promise? What do you think should be the Latin American roadmap ahead as Morales and Correa are slowly emerging as the game changers?
I think they are doing well. Morales has just won a huge victory again. Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela won against the opposition which backed by the US tried to destabilize the country. But they have nopt succeeded so far. The state in these countries has been used to benefit the poor and the indigenous people, who have not have much in their lives. For them it has been a real change. And they work on these issues together and don’t just work as individual countries.
This is the important thing Chavez did by reinventing Simone Bolivar and saying that Bolivarianism means uniting the continent against these empires. This has had a huge impact and is much underestimated. It is still the only part of the world where there is still some hope. They have resisted the empire and they have resisted neo-liberal strategies. It hasn’t quite worked anywhere else, but it has in that part of the world, with good results.
Q. For many amongst the Left you were a beacon of strength in the days of the Fourth International, in the days of their struggles in India. Today, at this juncture, when the Left in India has been decimated, how do you think it can still remain relevant? How can the Left bring the people back to the demand for collective resistance?
Well I think globally today new parties and new movements come into force through social movements. This is the case of virtually the whole of South America. Movements against privatization, large campaigns, resistance to IMF- World Bank demands, these are the things that produce these movements. It is from these movements that parties have got to be built. The old style of party building in India, Europe and elsewhere is now defunct, and people are seeing it as defunct. It didn’t have any new alternatives to offer. It wanted to carry on in the same old way but it couldn’t because the world has changed. And unless you understand those changes, understand how they are meant to be fought, you fall into a rut and you don’t know what to do. The CPI(M) in West Bengal is a classic example of this.
Q. Followers of Fukuyama’s thesis often argue that the emancipatory maxim of Marxism does not hold merit, precisely because a socialist state is yet to fulfill its promise. They would like to believe that liberal democracies are the be all and end all of governance. Do you still dream of a socialist future?
Whatever it is called, socialism or something else I don’t know, it will come back. As long as you have an oppressive system based on a deformity like Capitalism which is by nature exploitative, people will never stop the search for alternatives. They will form. But these alternatives cannot simply be something like occupying public squares. Politics ultimately becomes the key for people who think we can overcome. Even on a huge scale like Egypt, where people thought we could win by occupying public squares and applying pressure, ultimately brought out the politics and led to the Muslim Brotherhood winning the elections. It was the only relevant political movement in the mass movement, though they began at a later stage. So you cannot do without politics, however you structure your party. And they should be open, internally democratic, disciplined, voluntary, and break with this maxim of guru shagird which has dominated the subcontinent in particular, and not just the subcontinent. In other words, as Marx once said the emancipation of countries and peoples must be the task of people themselves. And that is extremely important in today’s world. So one has to not despair but think of how to rebuild movements and the best rebuilding will not necessarily be done in the old ways.
Q. Do you think Marxism is still relevant today?
I think it is. I think if it is treated as a school of thought and not a religion. Too many people including political parties have treated him almost as if he was a religious figure. Marx of course completely hated that as it was alien to his way of thought. He wanted original work to be done as he himself did. And when people argued with him or spoke in support of him, he would say that if you support me in that case ‘I am not a Marxist’ and he himself didn’t like the ‘ist’ part of it. I think the school of thought on political economy which Marx inaugurated, and the way in which Lenin understood and analyzed politics, globally, nationally and even in small regions, these are a part of our heritage. We cannot give these up. But they have to be done properly and not simply used like religious people would, from the Vedas, the Quran or the Bible. This is what Marxism became. We have to break from that style. But in terms of who makes history and how history is made through the movement of social forces and social classes, is something one cannot give up on.
This interview was completed on 30th October, 2014. Interviewed on behalf of JSHC by Rohit Dutta Roy.
Author, Journalist and Filmmaker, Tariq Ali is a political commentator and one of the foremost figures of the International left since the 60s. He is an editorial member of the New Left Review and a regular contributor to The Guardian, CounterPunch and the London Review of Books. His books include Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity and The Obama Syndrome.