Radical politics, traversing the various strands of Anarchism and Communism with somewhat loathsome practical incarnations, always offered inextricable resistance to hierarchical power. Some were statists, others not. This antagonism at the level of sensibility was not peculiar to people like Marx and Bakunin: workers were protesting against wage-slavery elsewhere already. What the former did was to exhaustively theorize the emerging contradictions of an economic system and defined the objects of revolt. The common thread of detesting the domineering figures laced into the philosophies of existentialism, post-colonial theory and even postmodernism had Marxist undercurrents, proponents of which joined communist parties at some stages of their lives – having a relation characteristic of ebb and flow.
In a genealogy of activism, therefore, the meticulous understanding of the ‘enemy’ must precede the parochial orthodoxy of any theory. People misunderstood thanks in part to the narcissistic nostalgia of the Left towards old experiences of the affinity between theory and practice, only to end up naturalizing capitalism. They somehow concluded that the economic relations developed over the course of history were in a sense sacrosanct against an alternative impregnated in human thought, leaving some space for state intervention. But the spectre returned with an unprecedented profiteering predatoriness, the difference being the absence of any concerted political organisation to resist it. Since then the pervasive neo-liberal order has plagued our existence and delimited the horizon of any radical notion. As Žižek once observed, “At the level of common sense, the furthest one can go is enlightened conservative liberalism.”
Political impasse thus morphed into a more crude form as we move from societies with developed intellectual culture to societies subservient to religious censorship and controlled domains of debate. In our region of the world then, the struggle to change must take into account the landscape of social behaviours, levels of capitalism, cultural nuances and bureaucratic structures relevant to the country.
The failure of revolutionary politics in Subcontinent was in part due to the flawed and confused analysis of the cadres of the Communist Party of India who in their Stalinist dogma checkmated to coherently envisage a relation between class struggle and national liberation. Likewise, the shift from staging anti-war protests to the pacification on line from Moscow and flirting with Congress in the early 1940s had betrayed the oppressed as detailed by Laal Khan in his book titled Partition: Can It Be Undone?. This wavering on the ideological front was not unlike the Communist Party of Pakistan, a post-partition continuation of CPI, the leadership of which, including Secretary General Sajjad Zaheer, came from the northern Indian ashraf: knowing not so much about the regional patterns of ethnicity and culture. Yet, the unquestioning enthusiasm to envision a more egalitarian future based on astute historicism did help workers to demand their rights. The reason of Manto’s exceptionalism among progressives can be attributed to the fact that he emerged as a great diagnostician of chaos psychology, contrary to the criticisms of sexual perversion and usage of Freudian parameters. He tried to situate displaced moralities in the context of external crises revolving around the 1947 Partition. In contemporary reality, the twin problem lies in rigorously carving out an analytical understanding on one hand and breaking the shackles of passivity on the other. The raison d’être of resistance.
Marxist theory has since been evolving from the days of Rosa Luxemburg to Autonomists and Critical Theory. Some contributions came, ironically enough, from those philosophers who rejected meta-narratives and strong thought. Take, for instance, Baudrillard – whose concept of sign-value in addition to exchange value explored new avenues of commodification. Literary critics like Frederick Jameson and Terry Eagleton have furthered the cause on the literary front. Discourse on social causation of mental illness inscribed in capitalist relations of production opened new areas of study which contested the individualization of things. In our country, the academia on the Left should produce a synthesis of previous theory while being considerate of the ills of state protectionism, colonial statecraft and “unproductive feudal thieves” as Eqbal Ahmad once called them. In doing so they must not only become intellectual hedonists but also reach the masses in order to fully grasp the situation and gather popular uprising. Because this is ‘important’ in every sense of the term to locate the causes of capitalist catastrophes, climactic being one, and our calculated response to it.
Recent floods in “na deeda aur na shunida” Balochistan, South Punjab, Sindh and now Swat are wreaking havoc on the lives of already oppressed people. Governments reacted by usual media theatricals and philanthropist immediacy while mourning the unpredictability of calamity in the background. What this attitude does is it limit the area of action by ignoring the scientific consensus that in this age of ecological crises, the only thing which is predictable is unpredictability. All over the world, social justice is being rendered inextricable from climate justice, giving birth to new fields of study as Ecofeminism.
The Global North is responsible for more than 70% of global emissions that contribute to these effects. Since the days of the Industrial Revolution, deregulated capital has been contributing to the deterioration of our ecosystems. Economic inequality intrinsic to capitalism is also being played out globally because those regions which contributed the least are devastated the most by climate change. South Asia is one of them, where the situation is exacerbated by the negligence of domestic elites. We must politically organize ourselves to demand climate reparations from countries with the highest emission footprint and hold our local governing bodies answerable.
Summarily, the Left has to put its house in order – not in the sense of Jordan Peterson, but in the sense of astute prudence concerning the relation between theory and the sensibilities of the people. One has to question the legitimacy of institutions. In this epoch of crisis, every individual has to embody some form of activism because indifference to resistance is a luxury that the developing world can’t afford.