Tariq Ali: What Is A Revolution?

Ever since the beginning of the Arab Spring there has been much talk of revolutions. Not from me. I’ve argued against the position that mass uprisings on their own constitute a revolution, i.e., a transfer of power from one social class (or even a layer) to another that leads to fundamental change. The actual size of the crowd is not a determinant—members of a crowd become a revolution only when they have, in their majority, a clear set of social and political aims. If they do not, they will always be outflanked by those who do, or by the state that will recapture lost ground very rapidly.

Egypt is the clearest example in recent years. No organs of autonomous power ever emerged. The Muslim Brotherhood, a conservative social force, one that belatedly joined the struggle to overthrow Mubarak, emerged as the  …

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‘How do the 99% compare with mass protests of the past – and can they succeed?’

‘How do the ninety-nine percenters compare with mass protests of the past – and can they succeed?’, by Tariq Ali for the Sunday Herald, October 23 2011

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth glancing at,” wrote Oscar Wilde, “for it leaves out the one country at which humanity is always landing. And when humanity lands there, it looks out, and seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.” The spirit of that 19th century socialist is alive among the idealistic young people who have come out in protest against the turbo-charged global capitalism that has dominated the world ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters who have taken up residence at the heart of New York’s financial distract, are demonstrating against a system of  …

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‘Ill fares the land’

‘Ill fares the land’ by Tariq Ali for the Times of India, August 12 2011

The queasy condition of Pakistan, incapable of either a complete collapse or of throwing up a regime that could move the country even a few steps forward, has been a cause for depression for many a decade. The privileged elite — military and civilian — live happily in their bubble exercising military, political, administrative, economic and judicial power over the whole land.

This is, of course, the case in most countries, but in Pakistan the contrast between rulers and ruled is so stark that there is nothing to protect the weak majority from the powerful and rich minority. Kinship networks, like protection offered by gangsters, can do a bit but any notion that this can substitute for the state in providing the necessities of  …

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‘Muammar Gaddafi’s planned resignation speech’

‘Muammar Gaddafi’s planned resignation speech,’ as seen by Tariq Ali, February 25 2011

“It’s raining outside which is why I cannot address you. Sorry. It seems to be raining inside my tent as well. Can this be rain? No. It’s dogs polluting the uniforms of my bodyguards. No respect for women. Benghazi. I hate that city. Once I accidentally addressed my friend Berlusconi as Benghazi. Drunkards, pimps and religious extremists. I will bomb them again before I leave. I wish we had bought some drones so I could press button myself. My relations with the people are informal, based on friendship and fear. Why have they become so noisy and combative? I have many children. The British Foreign Office adopted one of them, my dear Saif, and wanted to put him on the throne, but that would have no effect  …

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‘Egypt Chaos Defines Bleeding in Despot Arab World’

‘Egypt Chaos Defines Bleeding in Despot Arab World’ by Tariq Ali for Bloomberg, February 4 2011

“Freedom lies behind a door closed shut,” the great Egyptian poet Ahmed Shawqi wrote in the last century. “It can only be knocked down with a bleeding fist.” More than that is bleeding in the Arab world at the moment.

The uprisings we are witnessing in Egypt have been a rude awakening for all those who imagined that the despots of the Arab world could be kept in place provided they continued to serve the needs of the West and their harsh methods weren’t aired on CNN and BBC World. But while Western establishments lull themselves to sleep with fairy tales, ordinary citizens, who are defeated and demoralized, mull their revenge.

The French government seriously considered sending its paratroopers to save former President  …

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From the archive

  • ‘The Not So Lone Gunman’

    March 13, 2012

    ‘The Not So Lone Gunman’ by Tariq Ali for the London Review of Books blog, 12 March, 2012

    In most colonial wars people are arrested, tortured at random and killed. Not even a façade of legality is considered necessary. The ‘lone’ American gunman who butchered innocents in Afghanistan in the early hours of Sunday morning was far from being an exception. For this is not the act of a deranged maniac killing schoolchildren in an American city. The ‘lone’ killer is a sergeant in the US army. He’s not the first and won’t be the last to kill like this.

    The French did the same in Algeria, the Belgians in the Congo, the British in Kenya and Aden, the Italians in Libya, the Germans in South West Africa, the Boers in South Africa, the Israelis in Palestine, the US  …

  • LRB Spring Events in New York

    March 10, 2010

    As part of the celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the London Review of Books there is a series of events taking place in New York in April, including this one by Tariq Ali.

    Obama’s War A lecture by Tariq Ali

    Monday, 19 April at 7 p.m. School of Visual Arts, 333 West 23rd Street, New York

    Purchase tickets

    Read a Brooklyn Rail interview with Tariq Ali on Obama at war here

  • Tariq Ali with Noam Chomsky on The Julian Assange Show

    June 28, 2012

    Appearing on The Julian Assange Show alongside renowned linguist and political theorist Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali argues that the “infectious” Arab Spring has spread to the US and Russia, and is still underway. Criticising the “extreme centre”, a political consensus of centrist neoliberal orthodoxy that destroys political diversity and opposition, Ali talks about how the speed and flair of the Arab Spring caught everyone, from dictators and their sponsors to the Western media, by surprise.

    Assange, Ali and Chomsky continue to discuss the “new hope” that resides in South America Bolivarian movements, and the democratic crisis in the Eurozone.