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

  • An Open Letter to Fausto Bertinotti on Afghanistan

    July 8, 2006

    An Open Letter to Fausto Bertinotti on Afghanistan by Tariq Ali, July 8, 2006

    Dear Fausto:

    I was surprised to hear that Rifondazione was preparing to vote in favour of keeping Italian troops in Afghanistan, for ‘humanitarian reasons’. I want to try and convince you that this would be a serious error, just as I argued in the last century with those on the left, who supported the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.

    Big powers or surrogate states acting on their behalf have no right to occupy countries. The two big projects of the global neo-liberal order have been (1) to insist that the new capitalism is the ‘sole’ way of organising humankind from now till the planet implodes and (2) to disregard national sovereignty as a key to international relations in the name of ‘human rights’.

    A few weeks after  …

  • ‘Ravi Shankar’s music was a world apart from the hippy culture that embraced it’

    December 13, 2012

    ‘Ravi Shankar’s music was a world apart from the hippy culture that embraced it’ by Tariq Ali for The Guardian, December 12, 2012

    Ravi Shankar was a virtuoso sitar player long before he became a cult for a drug-fuelled hippy generation that found the exquisite music he plucked from the strings a perfect accompaniment to the consumption of marijuana and LSD. Had technology been what it is now, plugged ears would have been listening to him all the way from London to Kathmandu.

    The Beatles, who flirted with Indian mysticism for a while (provoking some delicious satire from Private Eye, which called the Maharishi “Veririchi Lotsamoney Yogi Bear”), became seriously fascinated by the sitar and George Harrison took lessons in Indian classical music. The results were limited, Norwegian Wood probably ahead of the others. Not to be left behind, Brian  …

  • ‘The bloody price of occupation’

    February 14, 2004

    ‘The bloody price of occupation’ by Tariq Ali for The Guardian, February 14, 2004

    How far will the US go to maintain its illegitimate primacy in Iraq?

    The whole world knows that Bush and Blair lied to justify the war, but do they know the price being paid on the ground in Iraq? First, the blood price—paid by civilians and others this week as every week. More than 50 people died on Tuesday when a car bomb ripped through Iraqis queuing to join the police force. The US military blamed al-Qaida loyalists and foreign militants for this and other suicide bombings. But occupations are usually ugly. How then can resistance be pretty?

    Second, the price of internal conflict. Religion is the politics of the unarmed opposition to the occupation. What we are witnessing on the streets of Baghdad  …