Tag Archives: Communism

The Idea of Communism – History News Network

An interview with Tariq Ali by Aaron Leonard for the History News Network, November 23, 2009

Given it has been 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is occasion for a lot of looking at the whole notion of communism, but beyond that why did you write this book now?

I think it was really for the anniversary. Seagull Books which is this new transcontinental publishing house was doing a series and asked my advice. I gave them my advice and they insisted I do a book on the idea itself. I did a short essay and put it out. Essentially the idea of it was that there are young people, students who have only heard about these things in a very vague way, in sound bites, to give them something that might interest them, then they could go and do their own reading.

You write, that “Marx and Engels would have been horrified by the suggestion that their writing might one day be elevated to the status of religion.” Yet it seems to continually landed in the hands of folks looking for a roadmap to heaven. How do you see this conflict, essentially between the content and the application of Marxism?

The very fact the idea of communism took off in two of the most backward societies at the beginning of the 20th Century — China and Russia — meant that the way it was picked up by many people, especially peasants and not so well educated people who joined in that revolutionary ferment was that the only way they could see it was as a secular religion, as a secular faith. The intellectuals who were initially won over the idea were of course not at all religious minded and by-in-large did not go in that direction or take Marxism in that direction either. If you look at the early Bolsheviks, most of who were of Jewish origin, they were cutting loose from religion— the were very much the great-grandchildren of the French Enlightenment. That was also the impact on the intellectuals in China who founded the Chinese Communist Party.

I don’t think there was anything in the theory that meant it should go in that direction. It was, I’ve always felt that the emergence of one-Party state, the emergence of all powerful Politburos and Central Committees, the emergence of a total monopoly of information and of ideas by the Party made it almost inevitable that they would transmit these ideas as ideas that were unchallengeable. If you challenged them you were a heretic or much worse than that, a traitor or an enemy of the people.

It was that form of application of Marxism that reminded me very much of the Spanish Inquisition which the Catholic Church used to use against Muslims and heretics in medieval Spain. It was when this dictatorship was imposed and free thought was more or less banished that the process took on this particular form. read more

From the archive

  • ‘Venezuela After the Referendum’

    December 3, 2007

    ‘Venezuela After the Referendum’ by Tariq Ali for Counterpunch, December 3, 2007

    Hugo Chavez’ narrow defeat in the referendum was the result of large-scale abstentions by his supporters. 44 percent of the electorate stayed at home. Why? First, because they did not either understand or accept that this was a necessary referendum. The measures related to the working week and some other proposed social reforms could be easily legislated by the existing parliament. The key issues were the removal of restrictions on the election of the head of government (as is the case in most of Europe) and moves towards ‘a socialist state.’ On the latter there was simply not enough debate and discussion on a grassroots level.

    As Edgardo Lander, a friendly critic pointed out:

    “Before voting in favour of a constitutional reform which will define the  …

  • ‘Operation Enduring Disaster’

    November 16, 2008

    ‘Operation Enduring Disaster’ by Tariq Ali for TomDispatch, November 16, 2008

    Afghanistan has been almost continuously at war for 30 years, longer than both World Wars and the American war in Vietnam combined. Each occupation of the country has mimicked its predecessor. A tiny interval between wars saw the imposition of a malignant social order, the Taliban, with the help of the Pakistani military and the late Benazir Bhutto, the prime minister who approved the Taliban takeover in Kabul.

    Over the last two years, the U.S./NATO occupation of that country has run into serious military problems. Given a severe global economic crisis and the election of a new American president—a man separated in style, intellect, and temperament from his predecessor–the possibility of a serious discussion about an exit strategy from the Afghan disaster hovers on the horizon. The  …

  • ‘Law and order’

    May 16, 2007

    ‘Law and order’ by Tariq Ali for The Guardian, May 16, 2007

    Sixty years old this August, Pakistan has been under de facto military rule for exactly half of its life. Military leaders have usually been limited to a 10-year cycle: Ayub Khan (1958-69), Zia-ul-Haq (1977-89).

    The first was removed by a nationwide insurrection lasting three months. The second was assassinated. According to this political calendar, Pervez Musharraf still has another year and a half to go, but events happen.

    On March 9 this year, the president suspended the chief justice of the supreme court. Unlike some of his colleagues, the judge in question, Iftikhar Chaudhry, had not resigned at the time of the coup, but like previous supreme courts, had acquiesced to the bogus “doctrine of necessity” that is always used to judicially justify a military takeover.  …