Misfortunes of the Pakistani Left — by Dr Mohammad Taqi

The Pakistani neocon media have stoked this urban Pak-nationalist zealotry — whose detonator is Saudi Islam — and helped the grotesque fascist mediocrities like the Brothers Sharif, complete their chokehold on Pakistan’s political economy

“With the development of interest-bearing capital and the credit system, all capital seems to double itself, and sometimes treble itself, by the various modes in which the same capital, or perhaps even the same claim on a debt, appears in different forms in different hands. The greater portion of this ‘money-capital’ is purely fictitious” — Das Kapital: Volume 3, Chapter 2, ‘Component Parts of Bank Capital’.

My first response to the Daily Times (DT) editorial, ‘Left Fortunes’ dated April 26, 2010 was, in the words of Ghalib:

Torr baithay jabkeh hum jaam o suboo, phir hum ko kia

Asmaan se baada-e-gulfaam jo barsa karay.

It roughly translates into an unattributed ancient Greek verse:

When I die, let earth and fire mix

It matters not to me, for my affairs will be unaffected.

The next day I saw Senator Carl Levin of Michigan on television, ripping apart the top executives of Goldman Sachs for their continued swindling of our assets. I thought then, that the DT’s call to whip the Pakistani Left — or its leftovers — into shaping up, merits some introspection.

The most important aspect in the editorial was the quote from Karl Marx (Capital Volume 1) which — had it been produced in full — would have answered the editor’s question. Marx said: “In every stockjobbing swindle everyone knows that some time or other the crash must come, but everyone hopes that it may fall on the head of his neighbour, after he himself has caught the shower of gold and placed it in safety. Après moi le déluge! is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Hence capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society.”

Having lived in Michigan for 10 years as Carl Levin’s constituent, I can safely say that he is no revolutionary. He was acting under a compulsion from society — a compulsion to take to task the swindlers of Wall Street, even if for cosmetic reasons alone.

The Pakistani urban voters, who are Islamised enough to don a beard or hijab, but smart enough to send their kids to private schools and put their faith in laissez-faire religion, have not yet created a compulsion for the reckless neo-liberal market economy to mend its ways. In fact, the Pakistani neocon media have stoked this urban Pak-nationalist zealotry — whose detonator is Saudi Islam — and helped the grotesque fascist mediocrities like the Brothers Sharif, complete their chokehold on Pakistan’s political economy.

One is tempted to say to Shahbaz Sharif, whose quote, “Where have those left-wing revolutionaries gone?” the DT had used to start building its case, that:

Muzhdah-i-baad ahle riya raa keh ze maidaan raftam.

(Translation: Greetings to the hypocrites like you, for you have vanquished me and the battlefield is now open to your ilk.)

Is this not what they, their military patrons and the media neocons, wanted in the first place? Why the gimmickry and the periodic butchering of Habib Jalib’s poetry?

I do not intend to absolve the Left of the blame, but it is not correct that the leftist movement in Pakistan died 10 years before the fall of the USSR. In the Pakhtunkhwa at least, the leftists were tightly allied to the Afghan Left, which outlived the Soviet Union by a year. But this is neither a consolation nor an excuse for our failure as a movement.

The causes of our failure are multiple and complex. Personal rivalries and internecine warfare, blind following of Beijing or Moscow, lazy anti-capitalist sloganeering and, above all, the failure to analyse the class dynamics in the perspective of a multiethnic, tribal-feudal, national security state just about sum up our shortcomings.

However, the fatal flaws of the Pakistani Left in general and the international leftists in particular are twofold: first, a robust communication system to reach out to those who need to hear us. Second is the failure, on the economic front, to produce a viable alternative model in the post-Soviet era.

In Pakistan’s case, since the government takeover of Mian Iftikharuddin’s Progressive Papers Limited (Pakistan Times and Imroze), we have never been able to find or found a mass publication system. Mazhar Ali Khan’s Viewpoint, Hussain Naqi’s Sajjan, Baacha Khan’s Shahbaz or even Hanif Ramay’s Musawat were no match for the steady might of the state propaganda machinery.

Even today, when the US publishing houses are opening shop in Pakistan through locally owned and staffed outlets, there is no alternative on the horizon. Marx, Engels and Lenin took pride in prolific writing, whether journalistic, books or pamphleteering. As we say in medicine, if it has not been documented, it has not happened. The leftists certainly are not documenting well. At the very best, we are indulging in parallel play and talking past each other.

Had we been communicating with each other, it was hard not to predict the stock market crash of September 2008. Wall Street subsequently came up with terms like toxic assets and collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) to explain what went wrong.

The CDOs were nothing but imaginary money. What led to the US housing market collapse is one phrase in the opening quote of this article — fictitious capital! Yes, Marx got it right.

If the market economies had to look all the way back to John Maynard Keynes to find a fix for the recession, there is nothing wrong in revisiting Marxist economics to look for an alternative, as the DT editorial suggests. It is about time we got over our nausea and ennui and set forth on what Sartre called the roads to freedom.

However, without a robust focus on the economy and mass communications, we would not be able to invoke a compulsion from society and might end up plunging into a bigger déluge than we are in.

PS: On a personal note, I want to tender an unconditional apology for any atrocity or abuse of human rights ever committed in the name of Marxist ideology. Fortunately, the Pakistani Left has never been a party to any such act.

Dr Mohammad Taqi teaches and practices medicine at the University of Florida and contributes to the think-tanks www.politact.com and Aryana Institute. He can be contacted at mazdaki@me.com