Ideological and political acceptance of Left depends on the acceptance of its narrative. Lenin had once said that there can be no revolutionary party without a revolutionary press. There would have been no Bolshevik Party without Iskra and no Ghadar Party without Chingari. The question arises why did not Dehqan, Pakistan Commentary, and Pakistan Progressive lead to the formation of a formidable party. Why did not MKP circular result in the emergence of a solid political force? I think it can be partly explained in terms of narrative. My views on the narrative follow.
Some comments on Left’s Political Narrative
I think Left’s inability to speak freely in public is linked to the way it frames its discourse. In specific it relates to the way it frames the encounter, the way it frames the argument and the way it frames the action.
Consider the following.
Framing the Encounter
If we see the world around us as a polarity divided between ‘us’ and ‘them’, where only we stand for truth, justice, goodness and enlightenment and they represent only oppression, injustice,fear, ignorance and terror then, of course, there is no room for negotiation and democratic discourse. We cannot blame ‘them’ for their viciousness and claim all the reward for ‘our’ innocence. ‘They’ may include politicians, generals, bureaucrats, judges. Mullahs, Media persons, terrorists, foreign occupation forces, NGOs, foreign funding or ‘foreign hand’, godless states and godless societies, depending on the construction of ‘us’. However, if we think that as Pakistani nation, Muslims or global community we swim and sink together, then our argument will not use ‘them’ as a scapegoat or blame them for every fault but aim at engaging ‘them’ in the dialogue to find a mutually agreed solution. This framework depends only on one defining condition; whether we see the ‘other’ as a source of hope or fear. In a nutshell, we have to clarify if we live in a polarised world or a pluralized world. If we accept plurality as our starting point, then there is some room for hope. If we look at the world as divided between good and evil, there is little room for hope. In my view, the major conflict of our time is not between terrorists and freedom loving people or free societies but between unilateralism and pluralism. Unilateralism can wear many clothes; religious purity, secularism, socialism, neo-liberalism, patriotism and freedom.
Framing the argument
Coming down to the dialogue with the ‘other’ -us being modern, enlightened, secular, liberal or Sufi type-we cannot move an inch because if we do not take the pain to clarify some of the basic erroneous concepts current in our society and feel handicapped in taking some of the fallacies head on.
To start a discussion in public square we need to make it clear that religion is not history. It means that when we are talking about the dictates of our religion we cannot base the case on what was practised by the tribal society of Makkah 1400 years ago. We have right to our own interpretation and assert that reason, not history constitutes the ground for drawing an inference from the Islam’s source.
Connected with the previous argument is the case that all the so-called Islamic Laws in all the contemporary Muslim societies are man-made laws, not divine commandments; they are human interpretations of the divine text. Disagreement with these laws does not constitute kufr (apostasy) or blasphemy and no criminals should be given the right to hide behind these laws to persecute others.There is no clergy in Islam and Mullahs are not on a higher pedestal compared to lawmakers or ordinary citizens in interpreting these laws.
Where religious interpretation fails, the perpetrators of oppression in our society take refuge in tradition. It is important to point out here that tradition is not past or a unilateral account of past by usurpers of public space.Tradition is continuously evolving, conceding space to and appropriating it from the exotic. Our tradition has appropriated from the West, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and modern science, technology and global culture. Rights of women, minorities and citizens cannot be denied in the name of culture. Music, dance, film, catwalk, TV, internet, pop songs, cell phone, Basant (kite festival in spring) Yoga, acupuncture, modern knowledge, education and research; global financial system; a nation state, professional army, elections, political parties and parliament are also part of our culture. They constitute our tradition. They cannot be rejected as alien or Bida’a (innovation). Burying women alive is not our tradition; the same as suffering from tuberculosis cannot be termed as tradition.
Knowledge appropriated from non-Muslim societies is not un-Islamic. Knowledge is a collective treasure of the entire humanity. Muslims throughout their history have acquired knowledge from other civilisations and contribute to them as well. As a saying of prophet goes ‘knowledge is the lost treasure of the believer, s/he should get it from wherever s/he can’. Clerics have nomonopoly over Islam or knowledge of Islam. We need to dispel the myth that Mullahs or clerics are the custodians of Islam. For one thing, the body of knowledge known as ‘Islamic’ sciences has stagnated in Muslim societies during the past seven centuries. The state of these sciences in Muslim societies has come to appallingly low level. Western societies have produced far greater scholarship on Islam than the Muslim countries and experts of Islam include both the Muslim and non-Muslim academics.Mullahs are answerable to public opinion on the basis of reason and must not be allowed to use the obscure interpretation of Islam to justify their support to the status quo.
Totalitarian governments and terrorists don’t have the capacity to seek or dispense justice on behalf of Muslims, downtrodden and marginalised. Nor do the Western occupation armies dispense justice and freedom to the colonised people. Justice and peace are possible through civic activism and engagement of the ‘other’.World public opinion, civil society and conscientious politicians, faith leaders, scholars and soldiers have the capacity and numerous opportunities to engage ‘others’ to find solutions to contemporary global issues. Struggle for peace and justice is a cross-faith, cross border, cross gender and cross-civilization struggle.
Patriotism and protection of national interest is not the monopoly of armies or defence establishments. This claim cannot be justified either on the basis of the historical record, clean dealing, competence or moral superiority.The Army must present itself in the public square for accountability. National armies of Muslim countries need to accept that they are not on a higher moral or professional ground compared to civilian professionals. They must agree for a dialogue. We as citizens need to display the courage to continuously demand this dialogue. As a nation, we rise and fall together.
Secularism and minorities
Pakistan was created for minority rights. Jinnah and Iqbal did not want the tyranny of colonial rule to be replaced by the tyranny of Hindu majority over Muslim minority in India. The Same problem was encountered by the untouchables. One option proposed for protecting the rights of minorities in united India was to create separate electorates for Muslims and untouchables. The British agreed to this proposal and Congress leadership rejected the idea. Separate electorates could have institutionalised power sharing for minority communities in united India. Indian National Congress (INC) preferred a separate homeland for Muslims over sharing power with them. INC used structural violence prevalent in caste-ridden Indian society to deny the untouchables any power-sharing arrangement. Gandhi started a fast to death to pressuriseAmbedkar to withdraw his demand for a separate electorate for untouchables. Thus the use of so-called ‘non-violence’ to perpetuate social violence led to an extremely bitter reaction by the leader of untouchable community Bhimrao Ambedkar. In an interview with BBC Ambedkar, therefore, called Gandhi a double dealer and he led at least one million of his untouchable followers to convert to Buddhism to escape the horror of the caste system in India. Due to denial of share in political power to untouchables under the Congress’s ‘secular’ rule he died a disillusioned man as Law Minister in Nehru’s cabinet. The core conflict between the Congress and Muslim League was, therefore, a conflict between secular unilateralism and secular multilateralism.
Muslim League’s multilateralism was not fully developed and has maintained strongly unilateralist character to this day. Soon after the creation of Pakistan Muslim League leadership had a rude awakening to the fact that there are many divides defining majorities and minorities in the newly created homeland for Muslims. After getting rid of majority Hindu rule, West Pakistan (say Punjab) based Muslim League leadership realised that it was threatened by the majority vote power of Bengalis. Muslim League leadership, therefore, found refuge in substituting theocratic unilateralism for its secular unilateralism and dumped its embryonic secular multilateralism. One unit and civilian and military dictatorships denied Bengalis their share in power up until the first fair elections held in 1970. This time Bengalis were subjected to the military action, coerced to secede and blamed for the sins of the military junta. Finding a formula for sharing power with minorities has haunted Pakistan throughout its history. Pakistani leadership has dealt with ethnic and religious minorities, unlike the way it wanted the Muslim minorities to be treated in Hindu majority India. Numerous military actions, reconciliations, and broken promises were used to deal with the demands of Balochis for the fair share in resources located in areas inhabited by them. Legally elected governments of Pukhtuns and Balochis were dismissed from power by a secular People’s Party over fake charges. During the post-cold war period, ethnic, sectarian and religious minorities have been subjected to discrimination by the state, ruthless terrorist attacks, vicious killing, and loss of dignity. Attacking the places of worships, religious gathering, graveyards and funeral prayer of minority groups, abducting and killing the member of these communities, and unleashing a narrative of hatred against them through textbooks, clergy and media will not lead to the extermination of dissenting voices but the unravelling of Pakistan.
Brutalization of Pakistani society will not strengthen Pakistan’s defence; it will lead to the dismemberment of its social fabric. The issue; however, is that the societal conflict in Pakistan, although presented as a conflict between theocratic and secular politics needs to be framed in terms of secular multilateralism versus religious unilateralism. The core issue is to reclaim the space encroached upon by unilateralism in the name of faith and patriotism and strive for the institutionalisation of a multilateral discourse. Pitching unilateralist secularism against unilateralist religion will not take us very far.
Framing the argument to protect democratic norms in the West
Dilemma of Democratic Societies in framing the sociology of Terrorism
A person’s faith is not written on his face. There is no way a person’s community of faith can be identified by his or her looks. So according to Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, human mind tries to substitute an easy answer for a difficult one. This is done by stereotyping. In this case, we substitute colour of the skin, or dress code for faith i.e. race or custom to determine the identity of an individual. However, determining the identity is not sufficient for fixing the responsibility of crime. Crime is an individual act and must be investigated as an individual crime. In an astonishing twist of logic, we put the responsibility of criminal act on a community of faith rather than an individual in societies that believe in individual freedom and responsibility as a cardinal principle. Here again, we substitute an easy answer to a difficult answer. Instead of looking into circumstances of the individual act, we substitute the community for individual and try to blame the crime on a community because ‘it is different’, without bothering to know the specific difference of the individual case. In this effort, deranged individuals, clinically diagnosed mental patients, alienated and disillusioned loners, youth suffering from cultural shock, people set up by intelligence agencies are all lumped together with the terrorists and terrorists with ISIS and ISIS with Muslim community. It is again an act of convenience because instead of dealing with the gravity of the situation by drawing insights from the individual case we blame an entire community for a personal act and find an answer to social and political malaise by demonising a community and demanding its excommunication from the Western societies.
The language used to describe the act of terror is therefore very important in determining the nature of social discourse on terrorism and determining whether it becomes blatant racist narrative or a democratic response to criminal acts. Terrorist should be terrorist and individual acts should not be painted as acts of a community.
Framing the Action
Every change begins with self and with a single step. It involves choice. The choice is painful. It can be absurd as well because in most situations it consists is choosing between two goods. Whether we can say anything in the public square or not is a matter of choice. No one can tell anyone else how to do it. It begins with ‘me’. Our individual choice is now closely linked with the circumstances created by the global economy, ‘free market’ ideology and the collapse of the golden age of capitalism. It is, therefore, important to link the local with the global and raise the critical questions regarding the limitations of the free market in dealing with the issues of global commons.
Climate change and Free Market narrative
Contemporary global economy comprises of public, private and community economies. While the public sector is governed by regulations, the private sector is led by norms of competition and community economies by custom based cooperation. Historic growth of capitalist private sector was based on rational economic decisions based on the utilitarian dogma that “more of a good is good”. Rational decision making at the individual level was supposed to lead to rational collective outcomes and maximum happiness for the greatest numbers. However, at the turn of century, we see rational decision making at individual level leading to climate change, and threatening the very existence of humanity.
The threat of climate change underscores the need to identify the gaps in the ‘rational choice’ framework which leads to individual prosperity in tandem with collective disaster. The definition of the economic problem in conventional economics makes a distinction between economic and free goods on the one hand and obliterates the distinction between value and price on the other. Economic goods have value because they are scarce. Values are converted into prices through supply and demand of goods in the market. This ‘distribution’ theory of value did not consider nature as a source of value and did not take into consideration replenishment of natural resources in the determination of prices. Since free gift of nature in the form of land, water, forests and other resources was so much in abundance that it could never diminish in relation to human ‘wants'; natural goods, therefore, did not carry any price. This led to encroachment of commons by the ‘free market’ during the post industrial revolution period. It entailed commoditization of human labour and nature and in the process converted free goods into scarce goods. The process of commoditization commenced with the colonisation of alien lands, encroachment of commons, over-harvesting of natural wealth, externalisation of the cost of production and marginalisation of communities. Economic inequalities, injustice and perpetual conflict accompanied the process of commoditization at a global scale. However, it is not commoditization of labour but commoditization of nature which has led to degradation of natural resources, loss of commons and threat of extinction to human existence.
The irrational outcome of economic decision making in the form of climate change points to the need for dealing with the paradox of utilitarian rational framework by revisiting economic behaviour at the firm level. If there is a connection between individual and collective economic choices, then irrationality of collective economic choice must have its roots in the individual economic choice. There must be some internal inconsistency in the process of maximising benefits in using limited means having alternative uses. An immediate issue that comes to attention is that conventional economic theory is a theory of price determination based on distribution and not the production of values. The goods which are considered to be scarce and priced are initially appropriated by economic agents from the domain of free goods-consisting of land, rivers, forests, oil, natural resources, clean air etc; they don’t possess any intrinsic value in the free market framework; value is attributed to them externally in the process of exchange. Conversion of free goods into scarce goods takes place through a social process which converts social wealth into private wealth through the process of expropriation, rent collection and control. This introduces an inherent discrepancy between private and social prices in the decision-making process. Private profit is generated by incurring a social loss. Low private price caused by high social costs due to the encroachment of commons never enters the choice making the calculus of the firms. Making choices based on distorted prices generates individual profits and collective losses at the same time. However, the gravity of the privately rational and collectively irrational economic choices becomes apparent not at the individual but at collective level; leaving no trace of its micro underpinnings.
Market failure in arresting climate injustice is accompanied by policy failure in effectively regulating the price distortions, leading to catastrophic results. Both, the market and regulatory failure partly arise from the inconsistency in the utilitarian theory of individual choice. Reversal of encroachment of commons and effective regulation of private sectors calls for the need to revisit the theory of choice. This theory of choice needs to be informed by the discrepancy in private and social prices and appropriate tools needed to redress this distortion at the individual level.
Public Square the venue of resistance
Distributive theory of value based on exchange value was challenged by Marxian labour theory of value and both these frameworks did not take into consideration a natural theory of value. Rejecting nature as a source of value had great implications on the theory of individual choice at household and firm level and macro- economic decision making through competition and regulation. This framework is being challenged at micro level through numerous community support programs inspired by Rio Conference on sustainable development held in 1992. However, many of these practice-based initiatives and their support framework based on Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals repeat the perils of Free Market thinking by trying to replicate distorted macro level models at micro level; by trying to provide subsidies for restoration of depleted commons for the duration of project cycle, rather than building models reversing the market and policy failures. It is time to gain an in-depth understanding of selected micro initiatives based on ‘nature theory of value, and draw theoretical insights and policy prescription for the alternative choice theory from these cases. The starting point is rebuilding the commons rather than ‘national ownership of means of production’.