[Marxism] Tariq Ali on British left history

Ozleft ozleft at optushome.com.au
Thu Feb 5 19:07:47 MST 2004

The revolutionary left in Britain (1972) By Tariq Ali


Introduction By Bob Gould

Tariq Ali, Vanessa Redgrave and possibly Terry Eagleton are the best-known
and most publicly accessible Marxists in the English-speaking world who
are still politically active in support of righteous causes.

Others, now not so well known, who have explored serious political
questions from a Marxist point of view are the playwrights Trevor
Griffith, John Arden, Marguerita Darcy, and the film-maker Ken Loach.

Tariq Ali first came upon the political scene when he was active in the
Oxford Union in the early 1960s, and he has been politically active ever
since. For a large part of that time he was in the Trotskyist movement.

As timing and circumstance would have it, I've never been in the same
faction as Tariq Ali at the time of his various visits to Australia, so my
only personal contact with him has been reasonably jovial tactical
arguments from the floor at a number of meetings he has addressed in

I have considerable respect for his steadily accumulated literary work.
He's a pretty good journalist and a useful social historian. His
theoretical interests in the Marxist framework are very wide. His books
about his country of birth, Pakistan, and the Indian subcontinent in
general, are workmanlike and informative.

His passionate critical engagement with the history of Islam is extremely
valuable in the current climate of mad, Crusader-like Orientalist
animosity to Islam, which infects much of the Western intelligentsia, even
its liberal wing. In particular, his recent book, The Clash of
Fundamentalism, is extremely pertinent.

The other feature of Tariq Ali's political persona, which used to irritate
me a bit, I've come round to rather admiring as a powerful aid to public
agitation. That is, his poised, Oxford Union, rather grand, patrician,
almost British ruling class demeanour. I now rather enjoy seeing that
aristocratic style put to work by a bloke quite obviously from foreign
parts to crush the pretentions of the world's ruling classes. More power
to his elbow. It's a delight to watch Tariq Ali on some banal ABC or BBC
panel crushing some crazed US, British or Australian neocon.

Tariq Ali's public interventions are, taken as a whole, extraordinarily
impressive and effective, and that's very important in the current bleak,
right-wing public culture in English-speaking countries.

I have all kinds of disagreements with Tariq Ali on various issues, but
quite a few of his books are unique. His uproarious, but powerful and
effective, caricature of the Trotskyist movement, Redemption, should be
read by anyone who aspires to activity in revolutionary organisations,
just to get some idea of the broad intellectual environment in which
they're operating, and to help them assess their world from time to time
with an amused eye.

His books about 1968 are a unique insider's picture of the fire last time,
so to speak, and there will be a next time.

In my bookshop are remainders of two important books written or edited by
Tariq, The coming British revolution (January 1972) and The Stalinist
legacy: its impact on 20th-century world politics (March 1985).

The chapter from The coming British revolution made available here is a
unique and rather immediate description of the history of the British
Trotskyist movement up to 1972, and is considerable interest. It has long
been out of print.

Attached also is a bibliography of works written, edited or contributed to
by Tariq Ali.

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