Saturday, November 7, 2015
Daily Times Editorial Nov 8, 2015
Reinventing the Left The Trust for History, Art and Architecture of Pakistan (THAAP) is holding its three-day sixth International Conference in Lahore. As its name implies, this is an intellectual forum that seeks to bring a critical outlook on the matters under its preview. Accordingly, on the first day of the conference on November 6, the proceedings fielded papers by various scholars on history, politics and the arts. Perhaps the most interesting of these was a paper by Meher Ali on “The Hidden Left: Communist Activity and Influence in Pakistan’s Early Years”. In it, Ms Ali dilated upon the history of the Left in Pakistan, centred on a discussion of the inhospitable milieu encountered in the new state by leftist parties, particularly the Communist Party. Early support garnered by the Party later virtually vanished due to repression by the state. The most famous episode of this repression against what the state labelled anti-state elements was the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case in 1951 because of which such luminaries as Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Sajjad Zaheer were incarcerated for long years. Arguably, the move spelt the death knell of the Communist Party in pure form and communists and leftists from then on sought to operate through and with various left-leaning nationalist parties, student and trade unions and in the cultural and intellectual field. The influence of leftist thought across disparate areas in Pakistani society cannot be denied. However, all such efforts dissipated during the extreme reaction unleashed by military dictator General Ziaul Haq in the 1980s, resulting in the virtual collapse of the Left in Pakistan around 1981, a full decade before the Soviet Union imploded in 1991. What that cataclysmic event heralded was a post-Cold War world in which capitalism, the mortal enemy of communism and the Left, was given free rein and in its triumphalism fulfilled its historical tendency to expand throughout the world, described today as the process of globalisation. In Pakistan’s political landscape, not only did the Left suffer arguably a grievous collapse in the 1980s, even the nationalist camp that had provided cover and an umbrella to operate under suffered a decline if not its own collapse. Barring small parties and groups that still identify themselves of the Left therefore, Pakistan’s leftist politics has been rendered barren. The problem the remnants of the Left suffer from in Pakistan, in common with similar problems the world over, is the lack of a narrative no longer limited to its own received wisdom of the twentieth century, which by and large has lost its audience and does not appeal in convincing fashion to the subsequent generations that have come of age post-Zia. Disparagingly, these generations are dismissed by some as ‘Zia’s children’. However, this is a somewhat cynical and superficial view that fails to take account of the unprecedented changes in Pakistan as well as the world since 1991. What is missing and may explain the lack of resonance with the young of the residual Left’s narrative is its inability to explain, analyse and lay bare the workings of what has become for all intents and purposes an inter-connected world. The communications revolution, bringing into play the internet and its derivatives such as the social media, by and large are dominated here and everywhere by conservative and even reactionary ideas, not the least of which is the exploitation of the outreach of such new means of communication by the extremist and terrorist camp. The task therefore for the older generation of leftists is to reinvent a Left narrative that grips the imagination of the young. This can only be created through a thoroughgoing critique of existing conditions at home and elsewhere and connecting with the movements and ideas that are today challenging the notion that history has ended in liberal bourgeois democracy and the free market and that there is no alternative to the present (unequal and unjust) world order. Given both the achievements and drawbacks of the socialist, left-oriented and national liberation revolutions of the twentieth century, an honest and objective critique of this rich experience is perhaps the only way to reconstruct a narrative that not only addresses the problems the present dominant capitalist order has presented the peoples of the world with, but tries to critically avoid some of the mistakes of the Left historically, including the practice and eventual outcome of successful revolutions. This narrative must, if it is to have relevance, move away from rigid conformity with the ideas of the past that are no longer apt while conserving the truths the panoply of left literature and practice has bequeathed.