by Diwas and Rajani, www.samudaya.org
Tariq Ali is an author, filmmaker, historian and political campaigner. He is a member of the editorial committee of the New Left Review. Born and raised in Lahore, he was educated at Oxford and was active in the New Left of the 1960s. He became a major spokesperson for anti-imperialism and remains a critic of American foreign policy. His latest book is Rough Music: Blair Bombs Baghdad London Terror published by Verso.
In an April 25 comment in the Guardian (“This is no rah-rah revolt”), Tariq Ali wrote about the recent situation in Nepal and called it a “genuine old fashioned revolution”. Samudaya asked him a few questions about that and about his views on the Nepali Maoists and other Left movements.
SAMUDAYA: In your recent article in the Guardian, you called the recent events in Nepal “a genuine revolution”, something the people participated in to end systemic injustices. This movement is contrasted with other “orange” affairs that, you suggest, are staged for the benefit of the international community and media. Does the US have a tendency to assume that anyone in the world trying to improve their lot by changing things within their own country somehow needs its approval?
TARIQ ALI: Of course. The US is the only Empire in today’s world. It likes to keep control and what is happening in Nepal (as in Venezuela and Bolivia) is outside its control. Genuine uprisings are always out of control. The old politicians are usually wheeled on to control them. That an old crock like Koirala could become Prime Minister again was a sign of true desperation, but the people want a democratic republic and that means the monarchy must be dismantled, peaceably if it will, by revolution if no other way is possible.
While the Nepali Maoists have some supporters among Nepalis, it is often pointed out that they have a very poor human rights record. How can the contradictions between human rights and armed struggle be resolved?
What do we mean by human rights? In a world dominated by NGO’s the whole question of human rights has become an ideological construct, utilized by the Empire to get its way. Obviously I am in favour of human rights, but for me these mean, in addition to the freedom of speech, the freedom to think and write and vote and speak, also the right to work, to education, to health and to shelter. The two go together and I hope that the Nepali Maoists have learnt some lessons from the collapses of the Soviet Union and the old system in China. A one-party system would be disastrous. In fact, I think it is up to the Left now to revive genuine democracy…the authorized version represented by the Washington Consensus is more and more the dictatorship of Capital.
For a lot of people the world over, communism is directly equated with totalitarianism, human rights abuses, mass killings, etc. Do you think that Nepali Maoism has managed to create the impression that it is different in significant ways?
In calling for elections to a Constituent Assembly, elections in which they would participate, indicates that some lessons have been learnt. Let’s not forget that for many people Nepal also means the Gurkhas…paid mercenaries and iron-hearted killers sent on imperial missions the world over. It would be a step forward if they didn’t have to sell themselves.
Can the fact that world powers like India and the US seem to care greatly about what happens in Nepal be considered a blessing in terms of restraining the Maoists, or a curse in terms of interfering with real revolutionary change?
Washington and Delhi—acting increasingly in concert—are nervous about Nepal. They want to avoid revolutionary change, but at what cost?
What is the nature of US interest in contemporary struggles like the one in Nepal?
There are political rather than economic interests. Nepal is strategically located between China and India. They would rather it remained under Delhi’s influence rather than that of Beijing. And also they do not approve of people toppling pro-US regimes. It can become a disease that spreads elsewhere. Already the Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune have published virtually identical articles pointing out that an earthquake in Nepal will create aftershocks in India.
What is a creative way to be a communist/socialist party in the 21st century, since there is so much opposition from such formidable world powers, as well as wariness on the part of people who cite the examples of history in order to oppose communism? What movements are noteworthy and would you consider Nepali Maoism among them?
Venezuela is a useful model. The Bolivarian Revolution is beginning to transform the lives of its people, without banning any opposition party or its press and TV networks. I would strongly recommend a Nepali delegation to Caracas.
Nowadays the Nepali Maoists look good on paper. They have initiated a ceasefire, have said they will adhere to the decisions of a constitutional assembly, and have expressed a willingness to participate in multiparty democracy. While this is often dismissed (fairly or not) as tactical ploys, do you think it is also a valid and pragmatic way for socialist or communist ideology to thrive at this point in history?
I think these are good decisions. My answer would be: implement them.
What is the significance of grassroots, democratic-minded movements in countries like Nepal and their effect on the long term schemes of global capitalism and the future of communism?
It depends on whether they come to power and what they do. If they adopt the Latin American model, it can only be a step forward.
India is supposedly nervous that the success of Nepali Maoists might transfer to their own Maoists. What would a growing Maoist movement in India mean for South Asia, especially regarding India’s superpower status in the region?
India’s Maoist demand an end to state repression and reforms…they demand that the Indian constitution and the promises in many Congress manifestos are now implemented. Sounds reasonable to me.
In an interview with Harry Kreisler of the Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley, you said that when you realized that the Soviet Union system was not working, you became a believer in “socialist democracy”. Could you elaborate on your vision of a socialist democracy?
I meant that socialism and democracy are far more compatible than capitalism and democracy…capitalism today is strangling democracy. An election every four years in a very truncated form of democracy. The concentration of media power in the hands of five or six large corporations is little different from the old Pravda.
You also said that “far from being the case that democracy is only compatible with capitalism, in fact, we see now that democracy is becoming incompatible with capitalism. Democracy will be only compatible with a system which is not based on exploitation.” Are we seeing a global resurrection o the Left in recent years that challenges the notion that capitalism and democracy have anything to do with each other?
I think we are seeing a revival of a left, but the big test will come when this left (as is happening modestly in Caracas and La Paz) bases itself and its politics on popular mass mobilizations and does not adopt a rigid party structure.