Talking Lenin with Tariq Ali (part I)


A propaganda poster by an unknown artist, “I am free now!”, encouraging young women of Soviet Turkestan to join the Komsomol. Issued in Moscow in 1921. IMAGE/Wikipedia

(Raza Naeem sat down with one of the most influential leftists of our world today to discuss politics, history and his 2017 book)

On a cold rainy afternoon of the 28th of January this year, I made my way to the house where the renowned writer and activist Tariq Ali was staying during his latest visit to Pakistan to deliver one of the keynote addresses of the Lahore Biennale 2020 at the National College of Arts (covered in these pages last month). It turned out this house belonged to his sister’s. Given that his keynote address was all about current affairs, I wanted to interview him about Lenin, the subject of his most recent work, as well as some other foundational figures of the Communist movement, as well as literature and his forthcoming work. What follows is a transcript of this wide-ranging conversation.

Raza Naeem (RN): Charity, they say begins at home. So let’s start with this afternoon, 27 years ago in this very city. You lost your father Mazhar Ali Khan, a militant communist, upright journalist, husband to a great militant woman. What are your memories of that day?

Tariq Ali (TA): I was in London, my mother rang me up; naturally I was very upset. I reached Lahore early the next morning. My father had already been buried. Large number of people came to condole and many memories flooded back; of the early days both of Pakistan and the newspaper he edited. It was a huge tragedy that this chain of newspapers, the Progressive Papers Limited, was taken over by a military government. Its constituents Lail-o-Nahar was edited by Sibte Hasan; The Pakistan Times was edited by Faiz Ahmad Faiz, later by my father; and Imroz was edited by Chiragh Hasan Hasrat, and later by Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi. The thing which the editors were shy of saying then, but which we can be proud of today is that most of the people who were hired were communists or fellow-travelers; and they educated an entire generation of Pakistanis. The basic line of the newspapers was staunchly anti-imperialist.

The tragedy was when the first Martial Law took place in October 1958, the United States was very keen that this newspaper was closed down. A case was manufactured against the paper. I will never forget the day when they came to tell Mazhar Ali Khan about the takeover; Mazhar Ali Khan asked his name to be taken off the newspaper and resigned. TIME magazine referred to Pakistan Times as the best edited newspaper in Asia. The takeover was a vicious attack against press freedom. Dawn and Nawa-i-Waqt wrote vicious editorials supporting the takeover. It was the end of a certain phase in Pakistani politics.

Ten years later a huge wave of protests overthrew the military dictatorship. So those memories flooded back to me. People from that generation came to the funeral and told old stories.

My father was a very principled man and did not suffer fools gladly. I was very proud that he resigned from Progressive Papers Limited after the government takeover and was blacklisted for the rest of his life. He was healthy and in the prime of his life when he passed away. Afterwards, he started Viewpoint and wrote a column for DAWN, but it was never the same.

Friday Times for more (& here is Part II)

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