Tariq Ali’s new biography ‘Churchill: His Times, His Crimes’ is a must-read.
In this 400-page biography of Winston Churchill, Tariq Ali masterfully unmasks the man behind the myth. Using a wide-ranging history of his times to provide context Ali analyses Churchill’s pivotal role in many crimes against both working class people at home and those overseas who he viewed as a potential threat to the British Empire.
It’s a timely book, given the willingness of both the Tories and Labour to embark on post-imperial adventures while invoking the myth of Churchill as ideological cover for such moves.
In this iconoclastic work the renowned political activist and writer makes a significant challenge to the Churchill Cult, an ideology that has led England further down a political and cultural cul-de-sac since his death.
In doing so, Tariq Ali displays his well-deserved reputation for sharp analysis and courage, uttering truths that few others dare to. Let’s not forget he was one of the few to explain the political origins of the anti-semitism smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn and to loudly criticise the willingness of most Labour leaders to collaborate in US/NATO inspired wars, in Iraq, Afghanistan and most recently Ukraine.
Many will now fume at the exposure of Churchill as an inveterate bungler, racist and war criminal, who advocated the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds in the 1920s, allowed 5 million Indians to die of starvation during WW2, and approved the use of nuclear weapons against Japan.
Establishment historians will doubtless queue up to criticise Tariq Ali and the mainstream media will vilify him but Ali clearly realises that Britain needs to confront its past and understand the ugly legacy of imperialism. An appreciation of Churchill’s mistakes and motivation is obviously key to that. Thus, Ali carefully explains the crimes he committed in Ireland, the Middle East, Russia, Greece and India, his actions invariably motivated by a desire to maintain the British Empire.
Ali also convincingly debunks the myth of Churchill as a dedicated anti-Nazi since, until the moment when he realised the British Empire was threatened, he was an admirer of Mussolini and Hitler. Indeed, in unleashing a civil war in Greece (December 1944) Churchill and the British army destroyed the most successful ant-Nazi resistance in Europe. As Ali convincingly argues: “the British Army and its Greek auxiliaries were guilty of serious war crimes, some bordering on genocide.”
As a source from which to establish a more objective view of world history from Churchill’s time to our own Tariq Ali’s book deserves to be compulsory reading in every school across the country. Yet, it is much more than a dry, historical tome as Ali’s practical, ceaseless political energy enthuses the reader. The result is a guide to better understand modern history and Churchill’s role in it and to challenge the dominant ideology that has made a racist imperialist a cult figure.
Surprisingly, despite the terrible crimes it catalogues this book isn’t a depressing read. For that we must thank Ali’s writing, which is infused with his characteristically dry wit and sense of historical irony. His deep cultural knowledge also enhances the overall flavour of the book. For instance, how many biographies of Churchill would footnote novels by Naguib Mahfouz and André Malraux? Clearly, with Tariq Ali the book is the man.
Ali has performed a valuable service in attacking the myth of Churchill, far more effectively even than those who daubed paint on his statue. The hope is that it will reignite an informed debate as to Britain’s present role as a key participant in the United States’ imperial project.
He certainly succeeds in tossing the Churchill Cult into the dustbin of history and, with characteristic disdain, firmly places the lid on the racist, Empire-lover. Nevertheless, it still remains our duty to ensure that the wretched dustbin, full of racism and bloody repression, is finally taken away and emptied.
This article was sent to The Morningstar newspaper. Read the published review of Tariq Ali’s book on Churchill: