'This is a war linked to neo-liberal economics'

Published : Mar 14, 2003 00:00 IST



Interview with Tariq Ali.

"WSF is a magnificent moral demonstration against the war on Iraq," stated Tariq Ali, speaking on the topic "Against Militarisation and War" before a WSF panel on January 24, 2003. The Pakistan-born writer and political activist eloquently made his anti-war arguments to a cheering and elated crowd of over 20,000 gathered at the Gigantinho Stadium in Porto Alegre, Brazil. He urged the WSF to clearly add its voice to the growing anti-war movement across the world.

The author of The Clash Fundamentalisms (Verso) and member of the editorial committee of the New Left Review, United Kingdom, Tariq Ali spoke to Sharmini Peries at Porto Alegre on January 24. Excerpts from the interview.

On the War against Iraq

Fundamentally, what is this U.S.-led war against Iraq really about, and what can the almost 100,000 people gathered here in Porto Alegre, do about it?

This is a war linked to neo-liberal economics, to global trade, to the need to acquire raw materials, to acquire a monopoly on energy.

However, one should not lose sight of the fact that the WSF is only an activist gathering; it is really the on-going anti-war struggles in the countries represented here that will make a significant difference against the war. It is not only the United States policy in the Persian Gulf, an attempt to exert U.S. economic hegemony over the region, but it is also part of an imperialist history against democratic and nationalistic governments. For example, take the overthrow of the Iranian government in 1954. The United States has never tolerated democratic governments in the Arab world. As others have noted, Al Qaeda is a small, insignificant terrorist organisation that only gains recruits and strength in response to Western policies. Given this kind of imperialist history, we have a moral responsibility here to resist the war against Iraq.

What can the European countries do to avert the war?

Well, obviously, the only country in Europe that could have made a difference to the war against Iraq is Britain. If the British Parliament had reflected the views of the British public, then we would have a situation where Britain would have been against the war. The American public opinion would not have tolerated a war, where the United States policy went completely on its own to wage war. So, the British fig leaf for the war is very important, psychologically and politically. To project the war as a war of a coalition against the so-called enemy, in Britain you have a New Labour government, which is totally committed to the war. It is unable to fund social services properly because it is preparing to spend billions to fight a war in the economic interests of the United States.

Clearly they are hoping to get a small share of the loot that will help to pay them back for everything. Only thing that could have stopped it is a British parliamentary revolt. If inside Parliament a majority of the Members had voted against the war, it would either have forced Blair to resign, and probably would have delayed the war, or stopped it dead in its tracks, but that has not happened.

Do you think France or Germany could have had any impact on the U.S.?

No, for the United States, their opinion just doesn't matter at all.

On democracy and capitalism

Romila Thapar last year gave a speech at the International Press Institute's World Congress held in India, where she claimed that the kind of democracies that we have today are "distorted democracies". Do you agree with her?

I agree with her very strongly. The way in which democracy has been subordinated to capitalism and needs of the world capitalist system is very damaging. For democracy and democratic institutions, it creates a great deal of cynicism among ordinary voters. Then in our part of the world in South Asia the emergence of large voting blocks tied to influence or caste system is something very damaging. How can you work against this? It is very difficult to work against this in a society totally driven by corruption at various levels. So from that point of view, some of the models that are going on in Latin America, Porto Alegre in particular, the participatory democracy schemes are very important. They need to be studied very closely. But change in South Asia is going to be very difficult to achieve, where democracy has become part of the problem rather than the solution.

But moving away from Asia, it could be argued that democracy in Europe and North American countries, in itself, is becoming problematic. In America now you have the Democratic and Republican parties which are both parties that are in the pay of the (private) corporations. They cannot function without the approval of corporations. You have a classic example of this when Al Gore came out against the war on Iraq. Then immediately the corporations funding the war lobby, which also helps fund the Democratic Party, pressure the party, and then he is immediately driven out of politics. I mean I have no ties with him but this is how politics works these days.

In major Western European countries, you are seeing that the difference between the centre-left and the centre-right is virtually nil. Both of them play the game, both of them do nothing to antagonise the corporations, so capitalism has begun to dominate and absorb democracy in a way that it never did during the Cold War. During the Cold War period, democracy had a certain autonomy and social democratic parties could put through certain reforms in place because capitalism needed them to combat the enemy. Today, none of those needs are there, so everything is out and it is shameless. So, ironically enough, things fall on the Left and on people in social movements to defend and deepen democracy. Because left to the traditional politicians, they will destroy it as they are already doing.

On the World Social Forum in India

What is your point of view about relocating the WSF to India?

I have to say that my own personal opinion on this is that one has to do this in terms of politics and not geography. I am not in favour of shifting the WSF from Latin America. I don't mind if it shifts from Brazil. I think it should go to Argentina or possibly Venezuela. Because this is a continent, which is in total revolt at the moment, against neo-liberal economics, politics, and polices which accompany it. I think it is extremely important that in this continent we keep up the pressure. Also, we have social movements in this continent which have no equals, either in India or anywhere in Asia. So just for the sake of moving to another continent, on this curious ground that this might trigger our social movements in India, I am not convinced by that argument. I think that we should be a regional social forum in Asia, like the one held in Hyderabad. May be in five to six years time it could shift, but at the moment I think it is a mistake. I don't think that there is that degree of mobilisation in India, from social movements or the Left, which is necessary to maintain such an enterprise.

Samir Amin from the Third World Forum has been speaking in favour of relocating the WSF to India. The International Committee of the WSF received a document outlining his case for the relocation. He argues that the WSF needs to move to other continents for it to grow and become truly a World Social Forum. In addition he believes relocating it will inevitably mean greater access for participants from Asia and Africa. Does that mean you differ from Samir Amin on this issue?

Yes, I do disagree with this fundamentally. I don't sit on the International Committee, and I don't write position papers to mobilise anyone, but my view has been sought on this issue. It is my opinion politically, it is an incorrect way to proceed at the moment. In five years time we can think differently. We have had a very successful European Social Forum in Florence, there is no reason why we could not have a similar Social Forum in South Asia, or India. But to shift the WSF there at a time when Latin American is in revolt - the whole continent is in revolt - I just feel, it is wrong. I mean, what gives this entire Forum its vibrancy and its life, which rises above the participation of all the organisations, and it transcends them, is the fact that it is being held in this continent. I am very doubtful about whether this can be repeated in this way in India.

We will have it dominated by NGOs and other similar organisations there. I think its character will be altered. I have attended the WSF for two consecutive years now and it grows from strength to strength here.

Social movements and political parties

Do you think that social movements should work with political powers/parties? In India, for example, do you think that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the CPI should support the hosting of the WSF?

Let's be realistic about this, I don't think the WSF would have been organised in such a successful way in Brazil if it had not been supported by the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or Workers Party), locally and nationally. I think this division between politics and social movements is a damaging break. Each has to work and live with the other. Despite my feeling that this is not the right time to have the WSF in India, I am happy that CPI(M) is supporting it and I think they have a lot to learn from social movements, as the social movements have a lot to learn from them. For example, you could not have an event like this in Kerala, without the support of the CPI(M), they will have the basic structures and people to organise and support an effort of this scale. I mean who else will support it, the Indian government is certainly not going to support it. If it is going to happen in India then it is better that they are involved than if they are not.

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