‘Trotsky: past, present… future?’ an interview with Tariq Ali by Kirsty Jane for Vulpes Libris, September 3, 2010
A leading figure of the Trotskyist movement in the sixties and seventies, Tariq Ali’s engagement with Trotsky goes far beyond party politics. Kirsty Jane met up with him at the Edinburgh Book Festival, where he was presenting his new novel Night of the Golden Butterfly, to talk about old friends… and new strategies.
You mentioned in Street Fighting Years that you first read Isaac Deutscher’s biography of Trotsky when you were ill in bed (and I wish I hadn’t known the rather TMI details of that… you’ve scarred me for life). How, then, did you begin to read Trotsky? What was your first contact with him?
After reading the Deutscher trilogy, I was just quite naturally drawn to read the writings of the subject of this amazing biography, which has no precedent. There’s nothing quite like it. So then I read My Life, Trotsky’s own account of his life, which is beautifully written and almost reads like high quality fiction. The literary quality of Trotsky appealed to me enormously. Then I started reading his other writings. For my generation he was very important, because he offered us an alternative to a system which we could see even then wasn’t working and was going very wrong. It was reading him which finally led me to become a Trotskyist for that period of the sixties and seventies. Ernest Mandel was another leading figure. The strange thing was that one met people in that period who knew or had direct links with the Bolsheviks, and so it was like we were just continuing that tradition. But Trotsky himself always stayed with me, and the prescience of some of his analyses… when I think back on it, in the book which he called What is the Soviet Union and Where is it Going?, which was mistranslated as The Revolution Betrayed—a very sober book—he said that, in the future, either the Soviet Union will move and advance and become a socialist democracy; or there will be a regression and it will revert to capitalism, and many of today’s bureaucrats will become tomorrow’s millionaires. And his opponents said, “this is just crazy stuff”. No-one else ever thought so far ahead and in that way. He had a very fine mind, and I guess it was his qualities as an intellectual and as a revolutionary which combined to create this appeal, certainly for me, and for lots other people who were coming of age in the sixties as well. read more