“Greek Democracy is in Tatters”

Tariq Ali interviewed by Kostas Pliakos for Counterpunch, November 15th, 2012

You have said that Europe is falling apart financially and that we should go back to the drachma. Do you insist on this view? This is a difficult dilemma; could the country survive without any similar moves in other European countries?

If Greece is to break free from the shackles of the Troika it will have no other option but to revert to its own currency. It won’t be worse than what is happening now. In fact it will be better because it will presage a return to reality and a break from total dependence on a currency over which the peripheral EU states have no control. A number of eastern European states who have preserved their own currency till now are better off than Greece, Spain, Ireland and Italy. The crisis is caused by the banking system supported by the core EU states. There are no signs of any structural reforms to rectify and rehaul the system. So the smaller countries suffer. Isn’t it better to swim out of the sewer into a less polluted stream.

Last year, before the elections, when you came to Greece, you spoke favorably of Syriza as a movement of change and resistance to “Merkelian doctrine.” Can such a thing be achieved within euro and this authoritative EU? How must Syriza get people prepared given the momentum it now has?

I support SYRIZA. It is the most important breakthrough for the Left in Europe. One may disagree on certain tactics, but, in general, the strategic political thrust has been to united all the progressive forces in the country against a corrupt, extreme-Centre. I think the time has now come to come forward with a political and economic plan to convince the country that the EU’s authoritarianism is strangulating Greece with the help of local collaborators. The scenes in parliament a few days ago were a disgrace. The leaders of the extreme-Centre trying to force MPs to vote on a document that none of them had time to read! And this is democracy. I can’t see this government lasting too long. And in these conditions the ‘Democratic Left’ abstained. Not even strong enough to vote against the punishments being inflicted on the Greek people. They will pay a price for backing the extreme Centre and capitulating to the threats of Merkel, Hollande and co.

SYRIZA has some of the best Greek economists on their side. They have visited Argentina and other South American republics which have shown that change is possible. Now we need a manifesto that spells all this out for Greece. There are alternatives. It requires courage to argue for and implement them.

You urge people and the political leaders to socialize the means of production. This leads straight to a huge conflict. Do you believe that the left (meaning both people and their leaders) is psychologically ready today for such a conflict?

Exactly the same arguments were used by the Right in Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina. The Greek Left has suffered a great deal historically and not all the legacies were positive. The anti-dictatorship left, with the exception of the Communists, coalesced in PASOK. Many courageous intellectuals, exhausted by their past, now settled to a more comfortable existence and gradually began to defend capitalism. The fall of the Soviet Union accelerated this evolution and made them all neo-liberals. Psychology is not unimportant but this is a time when a sharply-defined radical politics must transcend fear. If socialization of the utilities that help to make life bearable for the majority is necessary (and I think it is) then it should be argued for against the depredations and corruptions of privatization.

What must be the Left’s role today?

To unite against the enemy. To refrain from fighting each other. To build the broadest possible united front against the collaborators who put the interests of bankers before those of their own people. That is the first and most important task. Sectarianism is always useless but in these times is a crime and not just in Greece, though sectarianism with Greek characteristics is never a pleasant sight.

I am sure you are aware of the Lagarde list case and the “adventures” of the journalist who revealed it. What conclusions can be drawn from all this about Greece’s political system and freedom of the media?

Greek democracy is in tatters. Sometimes collaborators can be even worse than those on whose behalf they are acting because the fear the reaction from below in their own country. Samaris and Venizelos are desperate men who cannot admit that they have failed. Though everybody, including the German mother and the French weakling, can see it very clearly.

In only a month’s time Greece saw protesters being tortured, a journalist being arrested because he said the truth, three journalist being fired from public TV because they criticized the government, several immigrants being beaten by the modern Freicorps, two homosexuals being beaten as well in the center of Athens, a kiss between gays in a British TV series being cut in public television, Christians and Neo-Nazis insulting and bullying actors and spectators of a theatrical play. Mr Ali: Neo-Nazis, according to polls, have reached 14%. Does this scare you? Is the political system partly responsible for the rise of extremism and nazism?

I follow all this from afar. Political, cultural, social and economic backwardness are always intertwined, becoming more and more extreme as their failures become more obvious.

How must we respond to the rise of neo-Nazism?

By arguing for a radical alternative to the present system, by doing everything possible to unite the Left and beyond it a united front of all anti-fascist forces. Golden Dawn is actually a pock-marked sunset. It is their links with the special police and the Ministry of Interior that is even more unsettling, reminding us of the murder of Lambrakis. The same types that carried out that act and were the shock-troops of the dictatorship are assembling again, this time under the benign gaze of the extreme Centre.

I believe you agree –and if you don’t, I am ready to hear your arguments – that today’s politicians have handed over their powers to the globalised capital. How can they take back these powers –that is if they can at all and if they are interested in? What is the role of politicians in a globalized economy?

Mainstream politicians everywhere are the indentured servants of the financial system. They have to be defeated as in South America. And building regional alliances in the years ahead is important. Why not a Balkan Confederation that strengthens each country and speaks in a common voice against the EU bureaucracy.read more

From the archive

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    If Pakistan is a land of untold stories, whispered conspiracy theories and closed-door mutinies, then thank heavens for Tariq Ali, whose access to its innermost secret chambers has made him the country’s finest historian and critic.

    Night of the Golden Butterfly is the fifth and final volume of Ali’s Islam quintet. His intricate historical novels have spanned the Moors in Spain, the Ottoman empire, medieval car-tographers in Palermo and the battle for Jerusalem, before finally bringing us to modern-day Lahore, the cultural heart of the “Fatherland” (the name Pakistan is never mentioned), where four college students begin a friendship based on shared Marxist fantasies, a love of Punjabi poetry, irreverence and the hormonal palpitations of young love.

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  • ‘Withdrawal the solution to the mess’

    September 18, 2007

    ‘Withdrawal the solution to the mess’, and interview with Tariq Ali by Inter Press Service posted at Asia Times, September 18, 2007

    Inter Press Service: Who, according to you, is the main beneficiary of the US-led “war on terror”?

    Tariq Ali: Undoubtedly Iran. But then the Americans could not have occupied Afghanistan and Iraq and without Iran’s support. This is what no one likes talking about. Had the Iranians said, if you take Iraq we will fight you, the occupation probably would not have taken place. But the Iranians, who regarded the Taliban and Saddam Hussein as enemies, kept silent.

    The Americans thought, because the Iranians supported them before they went in, things would be fine. But the Iranians were opportunists. They had their own agenda and defended their own state interests—just as the US defends its interests.  …