The Profits of Nihilism

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a Rich List for the anti-war crowd?

I’m sure Michael Moore would top it with the combined income from the global sales of his films and books and I suspect Noam Chomsky would come in second place. But even the British Stoppers seem to have a high market value. – after all they are churning out the books and according to this account, Aussie anti-war supporters were so keen to fork out $25 a head to listen to Tariq Ali that he had to put on a second showing.

And what did they get for their money?

Ali did not come before the audience as someone denouncing global capital in the name of global working-class solidarity, or of the working class from any angle at all. Indeed, as emphatically as any Thatcherite, he told them that there is “no alternative”.

“The communist ideal”, he said, is dead. His speech stressed the collapse of the Stalinist states in the USSR and Eastern Europe, but made no distinction between them and that “communist ideal”.

I used my short time for the floor to challenge him on that. He stuck to it. The USSR had been a poor version of communism, but with its collapse communism in general had collapsed too. The new anti-capitalist movements and the new workers’ movements in the “Third World” do not amount to much. There is no alternative. None.

That’s a perfectly logical position to hold if you are content with the status quo but it is rather strange for someone who claims to be a ‘revolutionary Marxist’ and who appears regularly on the platforms of the Trotskyist-Retrocommunist led anti-war movement.

And if there is no alternative – why did he recently make public in the pages of the Guardian his support for the murderous counter-revolutionaries in Iraq? What cause are they fighting for? If there is no alternative surely resistance is futile?

This merely confirms what some of us have been saying for a good while – Tariq Ali and his ilk are not leftists but nihilists. They oppose the world order but offer no alternative. They support Ba’athists and Islamist terrorists but of course don’t really believe in either Ba’athism or Islamic fundamentalism. They reject liberal democracy but don’t have anything better to offer us. They rightly denounce Stalinism but can’t imagine a socialism without tyranny. Nothing good can come from the actions of capitalist states but there is no alternative to capitalist states. The ABC of nihilism.

What purpose do Tariq Ali and his ilk serve then? Well certainly there seems to be a big market for political products which ‘expose’ the US dominated world while failing to answer (or even address) the difficult questions about the contemporary global situation. It is interesting that none of those ‘radicals’ who top our imagined Rich List are talking about socialism or any other alternative to capitalism.

These are a strange form of ‘feel good’ products, confirming the righteousness of pure oppositionalism, reinforcing the world view of a new political generation while at the same time providing ideological comfort food for those older readers who remain trapped in Cold War thinking – the sheep of the anti-war movement need their fodder.

With their demographic and their class background the anti-war movement is quite a promising niche market as well – just look in the major bookshops. I don’t think profit is the main motive for the likes of Tariq Ali but when you no longer have any idealism or optimism and have nothing new to say, the steady supply of royalties must surely be one good reason to keep on churning out the same old line.

After all, what is the alternative?