| Human Rights | Interview |

`Fundamentalism is a passing phase'

Kasturi Basu

January 29, 2006

Your name is synonymous with the New Left. But what is the New Left?

It came into being in Britain through a whole lot of Communist intellectuals who left the Communist party of Britain in 1956 after the Soviet invasion of Hungary. They couldn't take it, but they didn't want to turn against Marxism or Socialism and so they said we are still on the Left but we are on the New Left. This included people like E P Thompson, Raymond Williams, Christopher Hill, the great Marxist historian, and many others. image These key figures made this Left independent of Moscow. It really caught on and later in 1960s the New Left Review was launched and there were New Left clubs set up all over Britain, which were very active meeting places. They also set up a Coffee House in London, The Partisan Coffee House, which became a great meeting place for political, cultural people on the Left. So that was the origin of the New Left which broke away from the traditional Moscow style Communism.

In Street Fighting Years, where you talk about the 1960s, there are passing references to your family, especially your mother. What was it about your family and childhood that made you join the movement?

Well, my parents were both (my father is dead my mother is still alive) members of the Communist party of India before Partition and later of the Communist Party of Pakistan. Even after the Communist party was banned, they remained staunch communists. So I grew up in a strange household. There were poets like Faiz Ahmad Faiz and there were also Bohemians, peasant leaders, trade union leaders moving in and out. On the other hand since my parents came from quite a reactionary family, there were family members who were part of the establishment. But I, as a kid, was always attracted to the Bohemian side. And when I left home I was instinctively unhappy because I was not so well educated on the political side of Moscow or its propaganda side. I always thought it was so crude, so unbelievable. The propaganda newsreels that were sometimes shown to select gatherings in our household were quite an off-putting experience and so I wanted to read more. When I went to Oxford finally in 1963 October I read a lot of the New Left material from the 50s. I read Isaac Deutscher's classic trilogy on the life of Trotsky and that had a big influence on me. I became a part of the New Left/Trotskyite Left which was very dominant in 1960s. I wanted to be independent of the Soviet Union. I didn't trust it. And we were vindicated when they invaded Czechoslovakia and crushed that experiment. Even at that time we could see that there was no way the Soviet experiment could end well.

You say the crudeness of Moscow made you move away from it or rather towards the New Left. What was so crude about it?

When you read the stuff about 1956, Khrushchev's speech of the 20th Party Congress said it all. A large number of people were wiped out. And these were not counter revolutionaries but basically Bolsheviks-Communists. Stalin killed more communists than the Czar did. That's the balance sheet of that experience and something had to be wrong for that to happen.

You actively campaigned against the Vietnam War and then against the Iraq War. How would you differentiate or co-relate the two?

The war against Vietnam was part of an American imperialist drive to crush the spreading revolution. They could not defeat it easily and they were determined to teach the Vietnamese a lesson. And the Vietnamese taught them a lesson! But the movement in Iraq is in a different epoch. It was essentially a reaction against the lies that the Western politicians - Bush and Blair and their supporters - were speaking everyday about an independent Arab country. Many protesters were not on the Left at all. But these lies could not be accepted and people came out in a fit of rage and anger to try and stop the war. It was largely a one-time affair whereas the Vietnam movement went on for a long time.

What is the future of Iraq in all this turmoil?

I think the way things are going now (I hope I am wrong but I have to be realistic) it is quite bleak. The country could be Balkanised. It could be split up into three with the Kurdish areas becoming a de facto Israeli American protectorate; middle Iraq will try to find someone to rule it for them; southern Iraq will be an Iranian protectorate. So independence has totally been destroyed unless you have a big division inside the Shia groups and a half split from the pro-Iranian faction to say independence is more important for them. But at the moment, the Americans are militarily stalemated. They cannot act militarily. So they are trying to carve the country up. This is traditionally the way empires behave.

What is your take on Iran and the crisis building up over the removal of nuclear seals?

I am opposed to any country having nuclear weapons and particularly against countries where there is large-scale poverty wasting money on them. I have been on record saying that India and Pakistan made a big mistake when they went in that direction. But I cannot tolerate the hypocrisy of the West. Israel has nuclear weapons and that's not a problem for them. Pakistan and India too have nuclear weapons which is fine too. But the Iranians are not allowed to have them. Why? Why should that be a preserve of the West? And I think it is extremely hypocritical for India and Pakistan to back the Americans in this because they have got nuclear weapons too. And if they think that sucking up to America can get them a seat at the Security Council, they are wrong.

Do you think Indo-Pak relations have progressed in spite of the bus journeys and `friendship' cricket matches?

Well, structurally it hasn't progressed. You could even say it's worse in some ways. But I think there is a genuine desire of the people of both countries to stop this stupid enmity. It is foolish. It is counter-productive. What you need is politicians of vision on both sides to call this foolish and say there is no way we can end the '47 divide but we can come closer together in trying to create a South Asian Union which preserves the independent structure of the state but brings them together in a collaborative way - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and possibly Burma at some later stage because it is in the interest of the region to work together and confront its Western opponent or people who try and exploit it together not unilaterally.

You talk of Islamic fundamentalism and US imperialism in your Clash of Fundamentals, but what about Hindu fundamentalism in the Indian context especially?

I think my view on Hindu fundamentalism is quite clear, I am completely opposed to it. It is the part of the same phenomenon, that is essentially modern. When people saw the collapse of the old world order, the complete disappearance of the Soviet Union, China going capitalist, there was a big crisis globally. You have a massive rise of Christian fundamentalism in the US, massive rise of Jewish fundamentalism among the Jewish diaspora and a big rise of Hindu fundamentalism as people try to search for other solutions to the problems of everyday life. They can't find them in religion. So in my opinion Muslim, Hindu and Christian fundamentalism are a passing phase. They will last for 20 or 30 years but will pass because they are irrelevant to the real needs of the people. It fills a vacuum in the world that sees a big hole there and peoples don't know which direction to move.

What is your take on globalisation?

Globalisation is a code word for capitalism and I don't like using it. But basically what we have is rampant capitalism, a big steamroller that is determined to crush everything that comes in the way. It is dominated by the US. Three institutions that rule this world, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation are US-controlled institutions. Whatever the social or ethnic composition of the people who work there may be these places are dominated by the American empire. The collapse of the Soviet Union and that world meant that capitalism can rule the world and for a while it seemed the case. Many, especially the intellectuals on the Left, became very despondent and many lost their way. But a new movement arose against this capitalism both in the West and more significantly in Latin America. Now we have in Latin America a big rise of a movement against this form of capitalism and this is the beginning of a process. We will see where it ends.

So where will globalisation finally lead to?

That is an extremely interesting question. I think it will lead to some form of socialism. Globally it should go that way. I think there is a big difference between Asia and Latin America. Asia has become economically over-determined, economically strong at least in parts - the Far East especially - but politically weak. Latin America is economically weak but politically very strong. I think both can learn from each other. But in any case the Latin American countries at the moment - Venezuela, Cuba, now Bolivia, parts of Argentina, tomorrow god knows which - are providing opposition to the American empire, which the Asians are extremely reluctant to do in public. Both India and China compete with each other for US favours. And that's a sad story.

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Israel has nuclear weapons and that's not a problem for the US. Pakistan and India too have nuclear weapons which is fine too. But the Iranians are not allowed to have them. Why? Why should that be a preserve of the West? And I think it is extremely hypocritical for India and Pakistan to back the Americans in this because they have got nuclear weapons too. And if they think that sucking up to America can get them a seat at the Security Council, they are wrong.


The war against Vietnam was part of an American imperialist drive to crush the spreading revolution. They could not defeat it easily and they were determined to teach the Vietnamese a lesson. And the Vietnamese taught them a lesson! But the movement in Iraq is in a different epoch. It was essentially a reaction against the lies that the Western politicians - Bush and Blair and their supporters - were speaking everyday about an independent Arab country.


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