April 4, 2018
By Abby Streu
The UW-Madison Havens Center for Social Justice proudly presented famous leftist Tariq Ali with a lifetime achievement award on Monday night.
During his introduction of Ali, the Havens Center Director, Erik Olin Wright, gave a 15 minute introduction, including such tidbits as Ali being the inspiration of popular bands like the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger supposedly wrote “Street Fightin’ Man” about Ali. Wright said, “When and where there has been injustice in the world, Tariq Ali has been there to fight that injustice.”
Ali came on stage to accept his plaque and proceeded to disprove that last statement with a rambling speech that attempted to sanitize the legacy of socialism and communism around the world, emphasizing the role students have played in leftist revolutions.
Ali explained that from the 1917 Russian Revolution to the present, students have taken to the streets in support of what was right: socialism and communism. While he emphasized that democratic values in these sorts of regimes were important, he also used the Chinese and Russian students during their respective revolutions as examples, dismissing the atrocities committed by those students and their governments.
“The Chinese and the Russian Revolutions, different though they were, took the largest countries of the world outside the capitalist one. Whatever mistakes, whatever atrocities credited these countries by their rulers, we know. But leaving them aside for a moment, it was a huge triumph against capitalism. Global capitalism,” Tariq said.
He also spoke to the student protests of his home country, Pakistan, in the 1950s and commented on the atrocities committed by his government–the tear gassing and shooting of student protesters in the streets.
However, there is one group of student protesters that creates a paradox for Ali: those protesting the socialist regime in Venezuela.
“You say that you support and commend students who protest in the streets and that you also support Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro. How can you say that when over a hundred student protesters have been killed by the current Venezuelan regime in one year alone?” MacIver News asked. How can he support a regime that has led to the starvation of the Venezuelan people?
Ali blamed capitalism.
“During the Chávez period, big attempts that were to topple him were made by whom? Right wing political parties backed by the U.S. embassy and backed by the old university system, which was largely limited to the kids of middle and upper middle-class people,” Ali said. “It was people who couldn’t tolerate that power had been taken away from them. That’s why I support Chávez. I’m very, very proud of having done so.”
He went on to claim that students had burned down a hospital because it was government funded, but couldn’t deny the Maduro regime was killing protesters.
“You have to bear in mind what is going on in Venezuela. It’s not that there are neutrals anymore. It’s a deeply divided country and both sides carry out activities that are uncivil,” he said.
MacIver has reported the vocal opposition of Venezuelan student activist Jorge Jraissati toward apologists for the dictatorship that he left behind.
“People who support the Máduro regime knowing what is happening in Venezuela, I am ashamed for them,” Jraissati said. “For people who support the Máduro regime without knowing the situation, I encourage them to keep reading and to understand the reality of Venezuela.”