[News] We are witnessing the twilight of democracy

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jul 1 14:21:55 EDT 2015

  “We are witnessing the twilight of democracy”


Instead of worrying too much about the extreme left and right, we should 
focus more on the extreme center, says writer *Tariq Ali*. He spoke to 
Creston Davis about the decline of democracy and German hegemony in Europe.

*Creston Davis: Mr. Ali, with regards to your most recent book, /The 
Extreme Center: A Warning/, what are the characteristics that define 
extremism in your opinion?*
Tariq Ali: For one, continuous wars—which we have now had since 
2001—starting with Afghanistan, continuing on to Iraq. And even since 
Iraq, it’s been more or less continuous. The appalling war in Libya, 
which has wrecked that country and wrecked that part of the world, and 
which isn’t over by any means. The indirect Western intervention in 
Syria, which has created new monsters. These are policies, which if 
carried out by any individual government, would be considered extremist. 
Now, they’re being carried out collectively by the United States, backed 
by some of the countries of the European Union. So that is the first 
extremism. The second extremism is the unremitting assault on ordinary 
people, citizens inside European and North American states, by a 
capitalist system which is rapacious, blind, and concerned with only one 
thing: making money and enhancing the profits of the 1%. So I would say 
that these two are the central pillars of the extreme center. Add to 
that the level of surveillance and new laws which have been put on the 
statute books of most countries: the imprisonment of people without 
trial for long periods, torture, its justification, etc.

*Davis: Normally we think of extremes on the far right and the far left. 
In this case, you are articulating an extreme of the center. How did you 
arrive at that analysis?*
Ali: Well, I was giving a talk and in response to a question on the 
extreme left and the extreme right, I said that while these forces 
exist, they’re not very strong—through the extreme right is getting 
stronger. I observed that the reason the extreme right is getting 
stronger is because of the extreme center, and then I explained it. So 
that’s how the idea developed. The people at the talk were interested, 
and so I developed it further and thought about it over the next months. 
Many people were intrigued by it, and so I sat down and wrote this 
little book.

*Davis: The book also addresses the “suicide of Western politics.” What 
are the basic elements of that?*
Ali: It’s not just politics. Basically, we are witnessing the twilight 
of democracy. I’m not the first to say it, and I won’t be the last. 
Others have dealt with the issue. Peter Mair—alas no longer with us—who 
used to teach at the European University, wrote a book for instance 
which was published posthumously. Also the German sociologist Wolfgang 
Streeck, who has been mapping what has been happening to democracy in 
the European Union and elsewhere. I’ve developed from some of these 
people’s writings the idea that the extreme center is the political 
expression of the neoliberal state. That economics and politics are so 
intertwined and interlinked that politics now, mainstream politics, 
extreme center politics, are little else but a version of concentrated 
economics. And this means that any alternative—alternative capitalism, 
left Keynesianism, intervention by the state to help the poor, rolling 
back the privatizations—becomes a huge issue. The entire weight of the 
extreme center and its media is turned against it, which in reality now 
is beginning to harm democracy.

*Davis: Do you think there is hope in the rise of Syriza, Podemos, Sinn 
Féin and other Left political parties?*
Ali: Well, I think Syriza and Podemos are very, very different from Sinn 
Féin in many ways, and so I wouldn’t put all three together. I would say 
that Syriza and Podemos are movements which have come out of mass 
struggles. In the case of Podemos, directly out of huge mass movements 
in Spain, which started with the occupation of the square. In Greece, as 
a response to what the EU was doing there, punishing it endlessly, for 
the sins of its ruling elite. And so the response of the people was 
finally to elect the Syriza government to take on the Troika and set 
them up with a new alternative. Its future will depend very much on 
whether they’re able to do so or not.

*Davis: Do you think they will?*
Ali: At the moment we have a critical situation in Greece. Even as we 
speak, where there is an open attempt by the EU to destroy Syriza by 
splitting it. There is a German obstinacy and utter refusal to seriously 
consider an alternative. The reason isn’t even a lack of money, because 
money swims around the EU coffers endlessly, and they could write off 
the debt tomorrow if they wanted. But they don’t want to do so, because 
of the election of a left-wing government. They want to punish Syriza in 
public, to humiliate it so that this model doesn’t go any further than 
Greece. We are seeing a struggle between the Syriza government and the 
Troika—as well as the American side, the IMF—with very little room for 
any compromise. In my opinion, Syriza has already gone too far.

*Davis: What would the latter choice look like?*
Ali: They could just say, “No, this is not a debt which has been 
incurred by the Greek people. This is a debt incurred by the elite, and 
the reason this debt has mounted is because our books were not in order 
when we were let into the Euro currency, and the Germans knew that. The 
whole of Europe knew that.” They could refuse to pay and chart a new 
course. Whether they can do this on their own without the support of the 
Greek people is a moot point.

*Davis: How has the idea of economics hijacking politics played out in 
the European Union more generally?*
Ali: The European Union is a union of the extreme center. It’s a 
banker’s union. You see how they operate in country after country, 
appointing technocrats to take over and run countries for long periods. 
They did it in Greece; they did it in Italy; they considered it in other 
parts of Europe. So it’s effectively a union dominated by the German 
political and economic elite. Its main function is to serve as a nucleus 
for financial capitalism and to ease the road for that capitalism. The 
other functions just irritate everyone: it’s undemocratic; decisions are 
not made by parliament; the European Parliament is not sovereign. How 
could it be when Europe is divided into so many different states? The 
decisions are all made by the representatives of the different members 
of the European Union, i.e. the governments of Europe, which are extreme 
center governments in most cases. And so, the European Union has lost 
virtually all of its credibility amongst large swaths of the European 
population. In recent election in Britain for instance, the big point of 
debate—among a few others—between the Labour and Conservative parties 
was whether or not to have a referendum on Europe, whether or not to 
allow people to state their choice, to vote on how they feel in relation 
to Europe.

*Davis: And in other parts of Europe?*
Ali: Effectively, the EU is a very powerful bureaucracy, dominated now 
by the German elite, which is backed by the rest of the European Union 
members. If you go to former Yugoslav states, the Balkan states, 
Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, the situation is dire. Not to 
mention Bosnia, which is just run like a colony. The way they used to 
stand up and sing hymns to President Tito, they now salute the EU flag. 
It’s a very strange transition that we’re witnessing in most of Europe, 
and I don’t think it’s going to work. I think another crisis, which is 
being predicted now and which will be worse than what we saw in 2008, 
could bring the European Union down unless there are huge reforms from 
within to democratize, to give more power to the regions, etc. If this 
doesn’t happen, the European Union will fall.

*Davis: Many intellectuals here in Athens agree with you that the EU is 
backed by the German elite. Some even go as far as to say that it’s 
Germany trying to take control of Europe once again.*
Ali: I know this argument. It’s not invisible. It’s there for everyone 
to see. But I think to compare it to the Third Reich is utterly 
ludicrous. Germany is a capitalist state nurtured carefully and brought 
back to prosperity by the United States, and it is very loyal to the 
United States. I don’t even think the Germans enjoy full sovereignty. 
There are some things which they cannot do if the United States doesn’t 
wish them to do it. So, one cannot discuss Europe without understanding 
US imperial hegemony, both globally and certainly in Europe as it 
stands. It’s an alliance that the Americans control, in which the EU of 
course has a great deal of autonomy, but in which it still is very 
dependent on the United States, especially militarily, but not only in 
that respect. So to blame the Germans for everything is an easy way out 
for some of those suffering in Europe today. At the time of German 
Reunification, it was no secret that Germany would soon become the 
strongest political entity in the European Union. And that has happened.

*Davis: So it was inevitable that Germany would act this way?*
Ali: Any country in that position would exert its authority. The real 
problem is the total capitulation of German social democracy to 
capitalism, reflected and symbolized by actual extreme center coalition 
governments in Germany, which have been in power for a long time and 
still are even as we speak. That is the real problem: that there is no 
serious opposition in Germany at all. And the Left party is divided. 
There are huge political problems in that country, but German economic 
power is something which was bound to happen. The way out of this 
situation is through the further democratization of the European Union 
and a changing of its structures. The current Eurozone is obviously 
dysfunctional. And serious people within Germany and elsewhere know this 
to be the case and know things cannot function this way forever. If 
there is a Greek exit from the Eurozone, I think the German elite will 
be quite pleased that they can then use that to restructure the Eurozone 
and make it a zone where only strong countries are allowed in. There 
would then be two tiers within the European Union, which is in fact 
already happening. But you cannot simply get rid of German control by 
raising the specter of the Third Reich. That’s ahistorical.

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