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Tariq Ali: The Authorised Biography. Exclusive Extract.

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A Revolutionary, a Gentleman and a Scholar. 

Tariq Ali: The Authorised Biography. Cde RON.


Big Ben, wrecked by imperial wars, was silent. Across the road, on College Green, the crowd at the People’s Convention Rally broke out in thunderous applause to a sober and mature speech by comrade Eddie Dempsey. While he struggled to make out the words, Tariq had never experienced a like event anywhere in Britain over the last hundred years. There had been huge demonstrations, strikes, and suchlike. Now, with the old mole peeking out, it looked as if the upper classes were unable to rule.

As a young maiden from the Donbass handed Eddie a bouquet, the veteran leader of a thousand struggles had to push back a tear. Tens of thousands had gathered together to call for a new government to “bring back control” from Boris Johnson, and his neoliberal EU backers. This was the start of a different world in the heartland of Capital. How had he explained it to Trotsky? “Trouble lies ahead. Who will bring the Imperial Mothership down? The British October Revolution will transform the planet.” (1)

Old friends and comrades strode around the grass, the audience thoughtfully clearing a wide berth as John Rees tired to press copies of his bulletin into their hands. A dapper George Galloway, at the head of a delegation from a nearby Wetherspoons, sipped at a flask of tea. Tariq smiled at their excited pink faces.

As he prepared to ascend the platform, the New Left Review editor, poet and accomplished songster and cabaret dancer, reflected on his contribution to the movement. Memories of advice, well taken, to Che Guevara, his role in setting up the Black Panthers and friendship with Malcolm X, how he helped Vietnam defeat American imperialism, his encouragement of democratic socialist Boris Yeltsin, his backing for the Liberal Democrats in Haringey, and the successes of his good friends in the Bolivarian Revolution. And, not least, his recent councils to Hong Kong troublemakers to “shut it” and read some serious Xi Marxist Thought.

There had been darker moments. Blair’s ‘New Labour’ counterrevolution, warmongers like Robin Cook, the grim reality of a country without opposition for several decades. The hard-faced satirists of Charlie Hebdo, like the social liberals Cabu and Wolinski whose fate he had predicted. That business of Jo Cox and her cover for White Helmet imperialism.

The rugged revolutionary cast these memories aside. He was back in Islington North telling Jeremy Corbyn to run for the Labour leadership on a Leave the EU ticket. Showing his agreement at the idea Jeremy had suddenly recalled an urgent meeting of constituents on the dustbin collections in a local street and disappeared. Tariq was left to enjoy his organic camomile tea.

A young activist approached. “You’re number 37 on the speaker list. That’s coming up in about two and a half hours. You can get a drink in the pub if you really want to hang around.” The price of adulation by the popular masses was high. Tariq slowly stumbled towards the nearest hostelry.


(1) The Coming British Revolution. Tariq Ali. 1971.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 1, 2019 at 10:54 am

6 Responses

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  1. Very good and this sums up all of the posers and wankers of the left over many years. I read The Coming British Revolution when it came out and it was a joke then.

    Dave Roberts

    October 1, 2019 at 11:16 am

    Posted on 29th Mar 2005
    In the tightly fought battle for the Hornsey and Wood Green constituency, the Liberal Democrats have received the support of prominent writer and film maker Tariq Ali, who says he will be backing the party in the forthcoming General Election. Mr Ali, who lives in the constituency, is a long-time critic of the Government over the war in Iraq.

    The move will come as a blow to the local Labour party as it battles to hold on to the seat. Writing in the Guardian on Saturday, Mr Ali says:

    “Those who opposed the war must think carefully before they cast their votes. Abstention is not a serious option. The aim should be to return an anti-war majority to the House of Commons. This requires tactical/intelligent voting in every constituency.”

    He is also highly critical of the local Labour MP’s record:

    “In the warmonger constituencies we should vote tactically. In my north London constituency, the MP is Barbara Roche: pro-war and pro everything else this wretched government has done. I don’t simply want to vote against her. I want her to be defeated. That is why I will vote Liberal Democrat.”

    Local Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson Lynne Featherstone comments:

    “This is yet another sign that more and more people are moving towards the Liberal Democrats in this election. With many websites urging people to defeat pro-war Labour candidates such as our sitting Labour MP, this is a welcome boost from a very prominent campaigner.”


    Andrew Coates

    October 1, 2019 at 12:01 pm

  3. You’ve sold it to me …


    October 1, 2019 at 2:50 pm

  4. By Paul Hampton (of Workers Liberty) 13/11/2006

    Review of Tariq Ali, Pirates of the Caribbean, Pluto 2006

    Tariq Ali is a prominent man of the left who long ago gave up on the working class movement and on socialism. As he expresses it in this book, it is no longer possible to be “a man of 1917” (p.3)

    His “street fighting years” far behind him, he has become a cheerleader for just about any force opposed to neoliberalism. Hence in this book Ahmadinejad, Muqtada Al-Sadr, Hassan Nasrallah and other “resistance” fighters all get favourable name-checks. (p.32)

    Ali once said that he was influenced by Isaac Deutscher, Ernest Mandel and Leon Trotsky – in that order. His current heroes – and the subjects of this book – are Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales. Their significance for him is clear – in that order. (In a perverse reference, he refers to Castro as the “Old Man”, an epithet usually reserved for Trotsky).

    Ali defines the three Latin American heads of state as the new pirates of the Caribbean – though landlocked Bolivians might be surprised by his topographical cretinism. He believes that they represent a new social democratic current in opposition to neoliberalism and are the great hope of an alternative in the present. (p.ix, p.139)

    He does this by a familiar slight of hand. First he rightly points to the monsters in Miami, the elite escualidos in Caracas and the old powers in Bolivia, and concludes that they are worse than his three subjects. But then he rubs out any mention of the workers of Latin America, presumably because he thinks they can’t recognise one set of enemies without leaping into bed with another. Thus the book contains no discussion of the Stalinist control of Cuban workers, or the disputes between Chavistas and trade union militants in Venezuela, nor the criticisms of Morales by the social movements in Bolivia. All this is omitted, the better to tell the ripping yarn.

    Why pirates? What Ali has in mind are the mythical heroes of the past, what he describes as those “marine heroes, the scourge of tyrants and avarice, and the brave asserters of liberty”. (p.ix-x) He seems to forget that pirates were also privateers, slave traders and often just plain brigands.

    However the characterisation has its virtues. Pirates were often contrary to the established powers, but were incapable of constructing a more progressive alternative. They lived outside society’s dominant social order, sometimes working for the powers-that-be, but mainly they pleased themselves. Such populism certainly unites Castro, Chávez and Morales.

    The 19-year-old Frederick Engels once wrote a fictional essay A Pirate Tale (1837), but was rather more discerning about the nature of piracy. The hero Leon joins a Greek pirate band in order to take revenge on a Turkish pirate who murdered his father. When they find the murderer, Leon fights him but is killed – and abandoned by his erstwhile allies.

    But the young Leon had been warned not to trust pirates. Engels has the captain of Leon’s band tell him: “Doubtless you think us honest traders? We are no such thing! Have a look at our cannon, both exposed and concealed, our ammunition, our armoury, and you will easily see that we carry on such trading merely as a guise.”

    Whatever his early literary shortcomings, the young Engels was well on the way to understanding a lesson he taught the working class many times – don’t ally with the enemy of your enemy. This is lesson Latin American workers will have to learn the hard way, if they accept Ali’s rosy picture of Castro, Chávez and Morales.

    Readers won’t find redemption in Tariq Ali’s musings on Latin America, but merely what we’ve come to expect from him – ugly rumours.

    Jim Denham

    October 1, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    • He is not entirely abandoned Trotskyism. One of the few things that Régis Debray said that I agree with is that some Trotskyists are often experts on everything on the planet, and a few more things beside.

      From the October Revolution, Art, Film, the Middle East, mediaeval Spain under Muslim rule, drama, China, the US, the Indian sub-Continent, Marxism, Hong Kong, and, in this case, the current Latin American populist left – I could extend the list – Tariq Ali holds to that.

      Andrew Coates

      October 1, 2019 at 4:25 pm

  5. *Applause emoji*

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