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 Colour Khaki’

    January 1, 2003

    ‘The Colour Khaki’ by Tariq Ali for New Left Review, Jan-Feb 2003

    Now each day is fair and balmy,

    Everywhere you look, the army.

    Ustad Daman (1959)

    On 19 September 2001, General Pervaiz Musharraf went on TV to inform the people of Pakistan that their country would be standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States in its bombardment of Afghanistan. Visibly pale, blinking and sweating, he looked like a man who had just signed his own death warrant. The installation of the Taliban regime in Kabul had been the Pakistan Army’s only foreign-policy success. In 1978, the US had famously turned to the country’s military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq when it needed a proxy to manage its jihad against the radical pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan. In what followed, the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence became an army within an army,  …

  • ‘Talk to the terrorists, 60s activist urges’ – Tariq Ali in Australia

    October 5, 2010

    Tariq Ali interviewed by Paul Maley for The Australian, October 4, 2010

    More than 40 years after the revolutionary convulsions of the late 1960s, British-Pakistani author, activist and polemicist Tariq Ali has lost none of the anger that sent him to the streets in protest over — among other things — the war in Vietnam.

    “I don’t believe that there’s any group in the world which is waging a fight that can’t be negotiated with,” Mr Ali said yesterday.

    In Sydney to address the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, Mr Ali’s talk is perhaps the most dangerous of all. Speaking to The Australian before his talk, titled “What we can learn from terrorists”, Mr Ali accused the West of ignoring the beliefs and motivations of terrorists.

    “I think it’s time, as in previous centuries when there were terrorism attacks and people said,  …

  • ‘An Arab 1848: Despots Totter and Fall’

    February 2, 2011

    ‘An Arab 1848: Despots Totter and Fall’ by Tariq Ali for Counterpunch, February 2 2011

    He can’t stay any longer because the military has declared that they will not shoot their own people. This excludes a Tiananmen Square option. Were the Generals (who have so far sustained this regime) to go back on their word it would divide the army, opening up a vista of civil war. Nobody wants that at the moment, not even the Israelis who would like their American friends to keep their point man in Cairo for as long as possible. But this, too, is impossible.

    So, will Mubarak go this weekend or the next? Washington wants an ‘orderly transition’, but the hands of Suleiman the Spook (or Sheikh Al-Torture as some of his victims refer to him), the Vice-President they have forced Mubarak  …