‘The notion that democracy and capitalism are interlinked is nonsense’

Tariq Ali interviewed by the Indian Express.

The 1960s were heady days — cultural and political revolutions, the death of Che Guevara and a raging Vietnam war. In the midst of all this was Tariq Ali, a young man in his 20s who had just arrived in Oxford from Lahore, and who ended up as one of the most prominent anti-American voices. After graduating, Ali led the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign against the war and has spent much of the life denouncing America and “neoliberal economic policies”. Ali has authored several books, but it’s his Street Fighting Years that became a cult read. Ali, now 68, is an editor of the New Left Review and lives in London. He was in India this week to deliver a Faiz memorial lecture. In this interview, Ali talks to Uma Vishnu about the Indian Left, Pakistan and the Chinese model.

As someone who looks at India from the outside, what do you think has changed?

What has changed dramatically is the shift in India’s position in the world. It has become a major player, but at the same time the old India, which was genuinely independent in relation to the big powers, is now very closely aligned to the US. The US wants to have India as a permanent ally, largely as a counterbalance against China, whereas I think China and India have a lot in common and they should be working together rather than being manipulated by the US. And then the whole triumphalism that followed globalisation and the whole thing about “Shining India”. The moral presence of India, which was very strong in the ’50s as a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, has gone… this government is on its knees before the Israelis and the Americans. It’s unnecessary. India is a big power, it doesn’t have to be on its knees.

You often talk of the “crisis of the extreme centre” in relation to Europe and the US. Would that apply to India too?

No, essentially this is a crisis of political vision. When I said “crisis of the extreme centre”, I was saying that you have a democratic deficit in all these advanced capitalist countries, where it doesn’t matter whether you are (Barack) Obama or (George W.) Bush, you do the same thing. The difference here is, when the BJP is in power, they carry out a lot of cultural atrocities and it encourages actions like (Narendra) Modi’s. Whereas when you have the Congress in power, at least on that level things are marginally better. But in terms of policies and political prescriptions, it’s the same.

You believe reinstating the state is the answer?

The abdication of the state creates huge crises — it encourages communalism and casteism and encourages people to think in very narrow terms about economic gains. The Chinese model, for instance, has its problems. China’s political elite is pushing through measures to enrich themselves. China is a more combustible country in some ways and there will be enormous resistance developing to this in the years ahead. China is today a country with the highest wage differentials in the world. Okay, they have redeployed and rebuilt their economy, but now what?

At the recent CPM party congress in Kerala, there was confusion over China as a role model.

The West Bengal CPM tried to ape the Chinese model and was kicked out of office, so that should be a lesson to them that the Chinese model can’t be copied at the level of states here. The process in China is out of control, which is why you have these disputes in the Chinese politburo. So what the Chinese model also shows is that you don’t have to have democracy in order to sustain a very dynamic capitalism. The notion that democracy and capitalism are interlinked is nonsense.

So where do you think the Indian Left can look for inspiration?

The Indian Left shouldn’t think in religious terms, it’s not divine rule. They have to map out and chart a course for India, given what exists in India. The Left should come up with concrete alternatives for what needs to be done, not just criticise all the time. But apart from the CPM, there are social movements and then the Maoists. The fact that the Maoists have come to the fore again is a terrible indictment of this state, which has not been able to do anything for the marginal population.

Please visit the Indian Express to read the interview in full.