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Arm-chair View of Revolution

C.N. Chitta Ranjan

By Tariq Ali
Radhakrishna Prakashan, New Delhi, 1978, pp. 216, Rs. 35.00

VOLUME III NUMBER 4 January/February 1979

Tariq Ali is a gifted writer but can hardly rank among the most coherent political thinkers of our times. Revolu­tion is not a subject on which any work, howsoever monumental, can be said to be the last word, and the book under review is by no means monumental. It reads like a collection of booklets, each written in a different mood, though there are two continuous threads—disapproval of established Communist parties and projection of Trotskyist thinking as the ultimate in revolutionary socialist thought. The canvas is unwieldy, and what emerges is far from comprehensive. The treatment is lopsided, with Europe ironically at the centre of the universe, a position that might have seemed credible up to the early forties. After Trotsky and after Stalin, there have been massive convulsions the world over, forming part of the continuing global revolution. Vietnam has contributed the most power­ful chapter in the phase that began in the late forties and early fifties. Despite dealing with Vietnam at one end and Chile at the other, the author seems to have kept a limited area in focus, geogra­phically and ideologically. Starting with the modest declaration that his is an attempt at ‘a preliminary survey of revolutionary socialist politics over the last decade’, Tariq Ali takes 1968 to be a kind of watershed, and proceeds to hold forth on the events in Vietnam, Chile, France, Czechoslovakia and Britain. It was an eventful year, certainly, but in historical perspective it surely stops short of being a turning point, except for the Tet offensive mark­ing a big step forward and Chile repre­senting a sad setback, even if not unexpec­ted. Britain is given importance out of all proportion to the international significance of what happened there. There is a place for the debate on Czechoslovakia but the subject does not fit smoothly into the scheme of the present volume, unless seen as a bit of Trotskyist sniping at the Soviet Union in particular and the established Communist parties in general. The ‘Prague Spring’ is brought in to substantiate the thesis that 1968 shook ‘all three sectors’ (the capitalist world, the post-capitalist states, and the Third World). Vietnam stands on a distinct footing. There can be no comparison between an unrelenting war of liberation by the poor but organized masses of one small, backward Asian country against successive imperialist onslaughts over a period of five decades, ...

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