New Left Review/A Rejoinder by Tariq Ali

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Fri May 12 08:22:30 MDT 2000


Tariq Ali has replied to Boris Kargalitsky through an email, which just
appeared on the Socialist-Register list. His reply is basically a defense
of Perry Anderson's pessimism, to wit:

"The collapse of all systemic alternatives is plainly visible. Seattle was
extremely invigorating, but neither that nor the strike-wave in France
amounts to a fundamental change in the situation. To exaggerate will only
increase the despair. To recognise what has happened does not mean a
passive acceptance of the status quo. We will carry on the debate,
naturally, as Jeffrey Isaac and Alex Callinicos demonstrate in NLR 2, but
the fact is we live in a different epoch from the one which Lenin described
as one of 'wars and revolutions'."

The other thing worth noting is Ali's smart-ass attempt to "deconstruct"
Boris's article as resentment over a Verso rejection slip:

"When I met him recently at the Socialist Scholars Conference in New York
he had very little to say about the NLR, but a great deal about his own
personal complaints against the publishing house, Verso, which had rejected
his book on the European Left. I had no knowledge of this rejection, but
was pleased on his behalf when he told me that Pluto Press had published it
in three small volumes and it was doing very well, but I could see he was
very angry at being rejected by Verso and was particularly hostile to the
letter he had received from Robin Blackburn rejecting the manuscript. But
what could have been the 'suicide of Verso' for the crime of having
rejected a manuscript from Boris has been casually transferred to the New
Left Review."

This bit of business says much more about Tariq Ali than it does about
Boris. Basically, it is the sort of gossipy item that gets circulated in
the claustrophobic world of big-name left journalists and scholars who
compete for attention in the glitzy world of publishing and conference
plenary sessions.

Twenty-five years ago Tariq Ali was a British Trotskyist and self-described
"Street Fighting Man". As the 70s wound down, he switched careers. Instead
of trying to make a revolution (what a foolish idea), he made a career in
television and in novel-writing. There was one notable novel, a minor
masterpiece really, called "Redemption." This was a delicious satire on a
retooled Trotskyist movement that peddled religion instead of politics.

I wrote a review of the book that, like Boris's article, made the rounds in
cyberspace, eventually landing on Tariq's computer. This led to a friendly
exchange of email and a brief introduction at a Verso book party in New
York City for Tariq's latest novel, a well-intentioned but lifeless study
of Saladdin. He impressed me as being a world-weary, cynical and bored
left-celebrity of the kind that is drawn inevitably to a house like Verso.

I understand now that the satire of "Redemption" relied on a certain
"marketing" zeitgeist that fundamentally reflected as much on the author as
his targets. There's something a bit "off" about the world of the
Trotskyist movement as depicted in Ali's novel. The notion that people like
Tony Cliff or Ernest Mandel would decide to peddle religion instead of
politics perhaps tells us more about the shift that Tariq Ali was about to
undertake, one that the character in "Ploughman's Lunch" pursued: to find a
way to make a career in the glitzy world of television and publishing, no
matter the product.


Louis Proyect

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