The famous Marxist, late Meraj Muhammad Khan, once told me that he wept when Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto was hanged in April 1979. Meraj was one of the founding members of Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that was formed in 1967. He was a fiery student leader and a brilliant orator. When the PPP came to power in late December 1971, Bhutto made Meraj a minister. However, in 1973, he had a falling out with PM Bhutto when the latter accused him of being an ‘anarchist.’
Meraj became a vehement opponent of the PPP government. In 1977, Meraj, along with various leftist intellectuals and leaders, decided to take part in a widespread movement against the Bhutto regime. The movement was largely led by right-wing Islamist parties. When I asked Meraj Sahib as to how committed leftists like him managed to work with Islamists, he replied that communists had planned to use the movement as a way to instigate a socialist uprising.
This is what a lot of well-meaning ‘leftists’ and ‘left-liberals’ are hoping to do as well by trying to coyly jump on the Imran Khan bandwagon and launch a glorious social democratic movement. This also reminds one of how leftists in Iran agreed to work with the Islamist clerics, believing them to be handy fodder to grow a leftist revolution with.
Leftists are supposed to understand and manoeuvre history to their advantage, but this never happens. Not anymore. And wherever it did happen, leftist revolutions turned into dogmatic dictatorships, many of which ultimately collapsed. The dogmas of the left are as myopic as those on the activist right. But the right always manages to outmanoeuvre them. The clerics in Iran demolished the leftists. They executed them in their hundreds, while others were forced to flee the country.
The clerics weren’t fools. They knew they had more emotional appeal than the leftists. But the leftists were fools. Suckers for theoretical thought, their ‘thesis’ convinced them that Iran was ripe for a socialist revolution. Everyone was invited, as long as they were working to topple the decadent monarch and accept socialism as the way forward. Therefore, the clerics and Islamists began to be seen as valuable comrades who could be used to mobilise the petty-bourgeoisie and the lumpenproletariat and then re-educated to learn to appreciate the socialist way.
The answer to recent questions as to why are so many leftists and ‘true democrats’ have decided to jump on a bandwagon driven by Imran Khan or the one that was rolled out by the Jamat-i-Islami in Karachi, is this: when one studies examples in Muslim-majority regions, leftists, who either fall out with or can’t gather traction as can pragmatic secular forces that have the resources to come into power, often stumble towards the populist right that has the weight to push out those that the leftists have fallen out with
Herein lies the answer to why so many leftists and left-liberals still continue to romance right-wing forces that they believe are challenging the status quo. Meraj Sahib told me his leftist colleagues and he could not even imagine that the Bhutto regime would be replaced by a reactionary military dictatorship that would then go on to execute the fallen PM.
Meraj confessed that joining the anti-Bhutto movement was a blunder. It had to be, because whereas the right-wing groups applauded the arrival of a dictatorship promising Shariah laws, the same dictatorship not only went after the PPP with a vengeance, but each and every leftist who was part of the anti-Bhutto movement was thrown in jails and severely tortured as well. Many were hounded into exile and many, like Meraj, became part of the PPP-led Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD).
I had continued to express my astonishment during that lengthy discussion that I had with Meraj. This was in 2009 when he had called to convey his sadness at the passing away of my father. Both were students at the same college and then university in Karachi, and members of the National Students Federation (NSF).
I kept asking Meraj Sahib as to how on earth was a movement that was looking to impose a ‘Nizam-e-Mustafa’ (Shariah rule) in the country came to be seen (by the leftists) as a vehicle on the road leading to ‘true socialism.’ He just kept saying it was a blunder. Indeed. Leftists have made numerous similar blunders by allying with the populist right, thinking that when the populists bulldoze the status quo, it will be them (the leftists) who will reap the benefit because they were smarter and their theory/thesis stronger.
Iran proved how absolutely silly this idea is. Egypt in the 1970s is another example. Algeria in the early 1980s. One can go on. Leftists romancing the populist rightists as hammers, and imagining themselves as the brainy ones navigating the hammers that would smash the status quo and pave the way for a progressive change.
The answer to recent questions as to why are so many leftists and ‘true democrats’ have decided to jump on a bandwagon driven by Imran Khan or the one that was rolled out by the Jamat-i-Islami in Karachi, is this: when one studies examples in Muslim-majority regions, leftists, who either fall out with or can’t gather traction as can pragmatic secular forces that have the resources to come into power, often stumble towards the populist right that has the weight to push out those that the leftists have fallen out with. Thus begins a curious romance with the right which the left begins to see as refreshing compared to the dinosaurs that need to go extinct.
But the result is always the same. The romance is immediately ended (by the right) once a dinosaur is removed and the leftists are ultimately tossed away like used tissue.
It is a delusion on left’s part to believe that they can navigate the change to their advantage. They neither have the muscle nor the brains to do this. Their self-cherished brains are lost inside lofty theories that, directly or indirectly, only end up aiding right-wing populists come to power.