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

  • ‘A life in writing: Tariq Ali’

    May 8, 2010

    Tariq Ali profiled by James Campbell for the Guardian to celebrate the launch of Night of the Golden Butterfly, May 8, 2010

    In photographs and news footage of political demonstrations of the 1960s, Tariq Ali is unmistakeable: the thick black hair and thatchy moustache; the clenched fist and characteristic surge to the foreground amid a sea of fair faces. Almost immediately on coming down from Oxford in 1966, Ali began to agitate for a workers’ uprising—not just in Britain but across the world. His book 1968 and After: Inside the Revolution (1978) stressed “the key importance of the working class as the only agency of social change”. His hero was Che Guevara. Meeting Malcolm X at an Oxford Union debate in 1964, he was pleased to discover that Malcolm was “a great admirer of Cuba and  …

  • ‘Pakistan will not forget’

    October 13, 2005

    ‘Pakistan will not forget’ by Tariq Ali for The Guardian, October 12, 2005

    Why have US, German and British forces in Afghanistan not been mobilised to save lives?

    The scale of the disaster has traumatised the entire country—or perhaps not quite. Here in Lahore a group of people collecting funds for earthquake relief were apprehended and charged. They were amassing money for themselves. Even in the midst of devastation, life goes on. The global media have descended on the country, their reports repeating the same images and the same banal comments every few minutes. Soon they will move on, so that when they are really needed, to monitor relief efforts and reconstruction or keep watch on the funds, they will no longer be there. The citizens of the west will also forget. But Pakistan will never be able  …

  • ‘Mystic River’

    November 13, 2005

    ‘Mystic River’, a review by Tariq Ali of Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity for The Nation, November 17, 2005

    The sage of Bengal has pronounced. Pluralism, we are informed, has an ancient pedigree in Indian history. It is embedded in the oldest known texts of Hinduism and, like a river, has flowed through Indian history (including the Mughal period, when the country was under Muslim rule) till the arrival of the British in the eighteenth century. It is this cultural heritage, ignored and misinterpreted by colonialists and religious fanatics alike, that shapes Indian culture and goes a long way toward explaining the attachment of all social classes to modern democracy. The argumentative tradition “has helped to make heterodoxy the natural state of affairs in India,” exerting a profound influence on the country’s  …