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As Economy Reels, Tariq Ali Calls for “Reimagining Socialism”

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The British author Tariq Ali weighs in on the economic crisis with an appeal to reject the taboos on discussing socialism in the United States. Ali says the popular movements in South America provide a model for US activists to follow in pushing for changes such as socialized healthcare. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring into this discussion Tariq Ali. We actually called you here, Tariq, to talk about Pakistan and Iraq, to talk about Afghanistan, but you had a very interesting piece called “Capitalism’s Deadly Logic: Reimagining Socialism.” Even when you say that now, when we see all that — what capitalism has wrought, people go nuts over, for example, socialized healthcare. What do you mean by “reimagining socialism”?

TARIQ ALI: Well, I think, given the scale of the crisis in the United States, you need very firm, carefully thought-out structural reforms to the system, what Robert Scheer has been talking about. In order to do this, you have to break down certain prejudices. For instance, if people think that free healthcare for every citizen of the United States is socialism, well, let them think it. I mean, what’s the big deal? I think the overwhelming majority of people in the United States, especially the poor segments, want free healthcare. Billions are being spent on bailing out these fat cats, as we’ve heard. Why can’t this money be spent to create a nationalized health service for the United States of America? The fact that a tiny little island, which has been under siege for the last forty, fifty years, Cuba, can have a national health service with cheap medicines, free for the poor, but the United States can’t, it’s quite shocking. So I’m just saying that we have to completely rethink the way in which these societies function.

Look, lots of people on the right called the New Deal socialist. It was essentially a form of social democracy. Pretty good measures were put through. And it was the deregulations pushed through by the Clinton administration which ended elements of the New Deal program. What we are saying now is, bailing out, spending money, helping Wall Street or its equivalents in the city of London, is not going to do the trick. Some serious thought is needed. This doesn’t mean that the capitalist system is totally on the verge of collapse, but, by God, it needs heavy surgery. And if you have a president not capable of doing that in times of crisis, he will not be reelected. I think the economy is going to determine the fate of the Obama administration, not foreign policy.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I think you make the point in one of your latest articles that those who think that capitalism is in collapse underestimate the resiliency of the system itself to rectify its excesses and then to usher in a new age of exploitation. Can you talk about that?

TARIQ ALI: Well, I think, you know, since the nineteenth century, there have been dozens of business cycles very similar to the one we are seeing now, not exactly the same, not analogous, but not that dissimilar: recessions, depressions, massive state intervention, recovery of economy, handing over of that economy back to the rich, recessions, depressions. So, one has to break the cycle.

And I think the cycle can only be broken by teaching. This whole notion that the market knows all, that the market is the best — I mean, people are suffering in the United States and elsewhere in the world because of that particular dogma. And I think we need to say very clearly, no, the market does not know. There’s nothing mystical about it. The market consists of human beings, and these human beings are the people who make the decisions, and they’ve made wrong decisions now for the last twenty-five years.

And the one part of the world where this particular consensus was challenged, South America, they’re doing reasonably well. More and more radical governments are being elected in South America. The latest example is El Salvador. Why? Because they challenged the Washington Consensus ten, fifteen years ago and said this system is not working for us.

Now we know it’s not working for the United States, either. I mean, I’ve just been in the Midwest. I mean, walking through Detroit and Flynt is like walking through ghost towns. I mean, you know, you can compare parts of Detroit to anywhere in the third world: you know, burnt mansions, boarded-up buildings, a dead downtown, just casinos in the center of the town. It’s quite shocking, actually, and upsetting to see this.

AMY GOODMAN: And the difference between how developing countries were forced to deal with their economic crises versus how the West is dealing with theirs?

TARIQ ALI: Well, look, I mean, what happened, when the Washington Consensus wrecked South America over the last twenty-five years, you had giant social movements. That’s the big difference with the United States. In Bolivia, in Ecuador, in Venezuela, in Argentina, in Paraguay, you had giant social movements from below, in many cases fighting the IMF, fighting the privatization proposals. And these social movements produced politicians, political leaders and political parties, which then linked to the movements and said, “Right, we’re going to change the system.”

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to come back to our discussion with you. I want to thank Robert Scheer, veteran journalist. “Perp Walks Instead of Bonuses,” his latest piece, also writing a new book on this issue. Thanks so much for being with us from San Francisco.


AMY GOODMAN: Tariq Ali will stay with us. We’ll be back in a minute.

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