Readers of my previous comments on BBC plug-a-book shows won’t be surprised to hear that I didn’t last longer than about three minutes before turning one off last night.
This week’s lucky book-plugger on Laurie Taylor’s Thinking Allowed programme (BBC Radio 4) was Tariq Ali, veteran Trotskyist campaigner of the 1960s and 70s – or, in the slightly more sanitised description of himself that the BBC website reproduced verbatim from Mr Ali’s own website: ‘novelist, historian, political campaigner and one of the New Left Review’s editors.’
For those too young to remember, there were a lot of Trotsky fans around in the 60s and 70s organised around rival acronyms like IS, WRP, and IMG. Tariq Ali rose to the dizzy heights of becoming leader of IMG (International Marxist Group) which, roughly speaking, was run by and catered for middle class intellectuals.
One of my colleagues in the sociology department at Lancaster University, where I then worked, was also a member of the politburo (or whatever they called their committee) of IMG and, in between ortgainising strikes at local factories, arranged for his leader to convey their particular version of Trotskyist truth to a packed lecture theatre of potential disciples.
My mistake wasn’t just to attend, but to ask a really stupid question along the lines of ‘If Marxism is as accurate an analysis of how societies work as you say, how come things have worked out so badly in all the communist countries of the world.’
Mr Ali's answer was, of course obvious, namely that they hadn’t followed IMG’s version of Trotsky’s version of Marx’s version, and all would have been well if only the Russians, etc. had been as smart and clever as members of IMG were.
Needless to say, Mr Ali, like so many social theorists then and now, has never let facts stand in the way of whatever theory he happened to be espousing on any particular day (or in any particular book). But why should he when he was and is a very articulate and plausible speaker, as you’d expect from someone who’d been president of the Oxford Union debating society?
Three minutes of hearing him pontificate about his latest book last night was quite enough to hear that was as articulate and plausible as ever and just as unconstrained in his theorising as he ever was.
As for how he came to get one of these prime plug-a-book slots, it’s anyone’s guess. It’s just possible that the producers of this particular BBC show are also New Lefties grown old, but I don’t have any evidence of that. All I do know is that there were rumours going around in the 1970s that Laurie Taylor was either a member of or sympathised with one of the aforementioned acronyms.
But I don’t have any hard evidence of that either.