June 30, 2015, by criticalmoment

The Extreme Centre: A Warning (Review)

Ivan Markovic, a current MA in Critical Theory and Politics student and formerly research assistant in the Centre for Critical Theory, reviews Tariq Ali’s latest book …

Roused by the recent election campaign and its incredibly tedious aftermath – characterized by a number of (pseudo)pundits discussing the repercussions of the results without actually offering real analysis – I went in search of a more critical study of the British political landscape and found Tariq Ali’s new book, The Extreme Centre: A Warning (Verso: 2015).

Those familiar with his style will not be left disappointed: this scion of la soixante-huitième retains the same condemnation of the status quo and eagerness for change present in much of his earlier political writings. The book is a censorious appraisal of a political system in which the opposition has withered away in favour of a fatal coalition – the extreme centre of the title – which, regardless of party colour, jointly cries out for austerity, imperial wars, swelling security measures and a ‘broken model of neoliberalism’. Ali accounts for the systematic privatization of the NHS, the national railways and the university, as well as their main culprits: the Thatcherite Tony Blair and his loyal epigones Brown, Miliband and Cameron. All this seems to suggest that critique is timely but also that this ‘warning’ is long overdue. The heavy barrage however, does not end here. Ali moves beyond ‘Blighty’ to find targets in the EU, NATO and finally, the very ‘starship enterprise’ – the United States. Notwithstanding its bleak tone, The Extreme Centre does contain glimmers of hope, not least in Scotland’s recent burgeoning movement for independence, but also in the Bolivarian leaderships of South America, epitomized by the victories of Chávez in Venezuela (to whom the book is dedicated), Morales in Bolivia, Correa in Ecuador, and to an extent Lula in Brazil.

Without a doubt, Tariq Ali’s memoir-like account makes for an interesting and engaging read. Yet this is precisely where the book also falls short, resembling more a book-length Guardian column than a carefully researched project. The jarring usage of the Marxist jargon of ‘superstructure’ coupled with neoliberalism, and the all-too brief references to the works of Antonio Negri and Jürgen Habermas (the latter is quickly accused of being the ‘philosopher of the extreme centre’), leave the reader in a state of bewilderment rather than any kind of illumination. The annoying practice of continuously quoting Verso’s own recent publications also make the book awkwardly akin to a promo-piece. Furthermore, collapsing Miliband’s Labour and Cameron’s Tories into the same boat seems all too facile, particularly in light of the latter’s unscrupulously immediate £12bn welfare cuts, implemented just after winning the May elections – a policy still unimaginable for the supposedly identical Labour camp. This in addition to a blind support for the Bolivarian revolutionaries in modern-day South America and a failure to recognize the neoliberal tendencies of the pro-independence SNP, provoke a slight feeling of disappointment.

Nevertheless, The Extreme Centre should still find its place on the reading list of those disheartened and dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. It deserves to be read, if not simply for Ali’s enjoyably vitriolic tone, then for the fact that, despite its shortcomings, the marksman has correctly identified the target; even tough he missed the bullseye.

Tariq Ali, The Extreme Centre: A Warning. London, New York: Verso, 2015. 208 pp. £4.79

Posted in Centre for Critical TheoryNeoliberalismReviews