Archive for Left

Maoism – A Critique From the Left

Posted in Books & Authors, Communist Movement, International Affairs, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2010 by Umer

Pragoti has had a number of contributors from the Left taking on the subject of Maoism and Maoist violence in India. Various articles such asthis or this have addressed the subject. One of the regular contributors to Pragoti, Prasenjit Bose, has now edited a volume of articles which critique the Maoists from the viewpoint of the organised Left in the country. The critique is organised on various lines – a theory/praxis critique by PMS Grewal and Nilotpal Basu and a comparative assessment of various extremist/Maoist movements across the world, particularly in Latin America by another Pragoti contributor Vijay Prashad. The book is rounded off with a telling ideological document that debated the viewpoints of the Naxalites before these left wing sectarians branched off from the CPI(M) in the late 1960s. The book is available for purchase here. With permission from Prasenjit Bose, we are carrying the introduction to the book (the first chapter) in this post.

Introduction — Prasenjit Bose

As the debate on leftwing extremist violence and the state’s offensive against it intensifies in India, opinion tends to get increasingly polarized. On the one side are those who consider the CPI (Maoist) as a destructive terrorist group, much like the Islamist Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or the separatist United Liberation Force of Asom (ULFA), which has to be crushed through the military might of the state. On the other side are those who see the Maoists as a revolutionary force, fighting for the cause of the exploited and the marginalized, and justify their violent acts as a necessary evil in order to bring about radical social transformation. Little effort is made, however, from either end to delve deeper into the question of leftwing extremism, in India or elsewhere, in order to understand its current activities in terms of its ideological basis, social roots and historical origins. 

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Comrade Iqbal Bali: A Tribute

Posted in Communist Movement, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2009 by Umer

by Dr. Faheem Hussain

My dear friend and a great revolutionary, Mohammed Iqbal, affectionately know by all his friends and admirers as Bali, died on 19 June in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, following complications after major heart surgery.

Comrade Iqbal Bali

Comrade Iqbal Bali

How does one talk of this man so full of energy? For me it is impossible to imagine Rawalpindi without him. For the last forty years he was the moving force in all the demonstrations and meetings held in Rawalpindi to promote democracy in Pakistan. In this article I will talk about how I knew him and about some of his political ideas. The activities that I will highlight pertain basically to the period from 1969 to 1989 when I worked closely with him. I left Pakistan in 1989 and withdrew from taking active part in the democratic movement because of personal reasons and because of the collapse of the left and the trade union movement.

Bali’s political activism goes back to the days in the sixties when he was a radar technician in the Pakistan Air Force. He got into a lot of scrapes while in the air force as he stood up to officers who mistreated ordinary airmen and fought for the rights of the latter. Several times he was punished for this.

He moved to Rawalpindi in the late sixties when he was immediately involved in the 1968-69 student movement against the Ayub Khan dictatorship. At this time there was a rebirth throughout Pakistan of socialist and Marxist ideas inspired by the great Vietnamese resistance and the student movements in Europe and America against the war and for greater democracy. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was also riding this wave with his slogans of “roti, kapra, aur makan” (food, clothe and shelter). In Rawalpindi too there were many people discussing the concept of reviving a communist movement. Bali was part of a group of young idealistic people wanting to overthrow the oppressive capital social order in Pakistan. There were such groups consisting of intellectuals, students and workers springing up in all the major cities.

He worked with the People’s Labour Front (PLF), newly founded in Rawalpindi by Riffat Hussain Baba (now at PILER in Karachi) and Nazir Masih (Secretary-General of the Municipal Worker’s Union of Rawalpindi). (Sadly Nazir Masih, another great figure in the workers’ movement in Pindi, died many years ago). In its heyday the PLF was the main trade union federation for the major industries of Pindi and Islamabad, including the large Kohinoor Textiles Mills on Peshawar Road. The PLF played a leading role in negotiations for workers rights. There was many a heroic battle that should be recounted by others. During his PLF years Bali ran study circles with workers and wrote pamphlets and helped to distribute them and to paste them on walls around the city. He was always an activist who did not like long theoretical discussions and he wanted to immediately get into action.

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Few thoughts on debate over relgious extremism

Posted in Communist Movement, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2009 by Umer

Over the past many months, the Left in Pakistan has discussed the issue of Taliban over and over particularly in the context of the extremist escalation in Frontier province and following military operation. The difference between members of the Left, with two sides, who are contending over the aforesaid issues is very apparent: one side is pushing a consistent military operation against the religious extremist operations while the other is demanding an immediate halt to the military operations and its roll back from affected areas in the Frontier. The polarity of opinions is known well to any observer and the Left in particular for they have read and heard the detailed arguments from both sides on more than a dozen occasions. Therefore, I don’t intend to present my approach to the question again. My stance, proposing a demand of military operation against Taliban and an opposition to surrender or cease-fire, is known well and shall be clear from the offset.

I want to talk about something different in this email. My intention shall not be construed to create further divide in the already small and dispersed Left of our country, but only a humble call for clarification. It shall be my greatest pleasure to be corrected. As a humble student of Marxism-Leninism, I am always willing to welcome criticism with firmness and my motivation behind the instant article is the desire for a higher unity built through consensus rather than further divisions.

The recent turn in the debate over the Taliban suggests that the difference between the leftists in Pakistan exist at a more fundamental level than we understand the case to be. There is a disagreement, though I am not sure about its sharpness, at the most basic level of the debate. There is usually little utility, in terms of strengthening unity through dialogue, in clashing over the conclusions where there is a difference over premises of the discussion. We have a disagreement over the premises and let’s recognize that to be the case. Unless we form a consensus over the premises, stand assured that an agreement over the conclusions will not result.

I shall be clearer. I sense that there is a difference between the leftists in Pakistan over the form of the political activism that we as a movement want to adopt. In the context of the debate over religious extremism, there is a difference over whether we want our struggle to take up an anti-fundamentalist political posture or not. This is where the disagreement lies. Should we openly adopt an anti-fundamentalist stance or not? I hold that we must. Others in essence are saying, I will follow by how they say this, is that we should not take an overtly anti-fundamentalist stand.

We all agree that the broad policy of the Left is governed by four broad guiding principles: anti-military, anti-imperialism, opposition to pre-capitalist remnants, and anti-fundamentalism. These principles are not mere words for our satisfaction but the foundations of our political activism. We follow these principles not only in our rhetoric but also in practice.

However, some comrades think that we should not be very openly taking a stand against religious extremism and fundamentalism, that we should not criticize Taliban in the workers’ quarters, that there is no use in finding allies and be building a campaign which targets Taliban or in combining an explicitly anti-Taliban agenda with other issues or, may be, that such an effort will result in unnecessary loss of our energy and resources. In essence, this boils down to the assertion that we should be anti-fundamentalist in words but not in practice. We should tackle them covertly and not overtly. Some even go the extent that an alliance between overtly religious parties is also possible or necessary for the Left. If that is the case, my dear comrades, than let me first request you to please give an end to your hypocrisy and say very honestly that you are no longer anti-fundamentalist. Be steadfast in saying that you don’t consider the issue of anti-fundamentalism to be at par with other three guiding principles of our struggle. Please, for the basic moral requirement of sincerity, give an end to this two-faced talk.

Various grounds are often given regarding why we must not criticize fundamentalism openly. Let me get to them briefly. The first contention against bringing the anti-fundamentalism to the forefront with other main principles and issues is that working class people, the constituency for socialism, will find no relevance in the debate over extremism. This is only based on an assumption that working class does not find any relevance in the political issues of the country. That is not the case. Even if that is the point, then we must struggle to engage the working class in the political struggle. How are we to do this while ignoring this flood of right-wing political and social propaganda and without emphasizing the issue and need of secularism? Any political activism in Pakistan that ignores the right-wing fundamentalism and extremism is not worthy of being termed as progressive. If we agree that political struggle needs to be taken to the working class, than criticism of fundamentalism has to be a vital part of our message that shall identify us from the right-wing. And when we criticize the religious right-wing, we must start with the Taliban for they are the most extreme manifestation of the religious right.

The second argument is that the anti-fundamentalist activism will be highly unpopular. There is a level of truth to this argument and this should be entertained to reach the correct strategy and tactics to tackle the menace of extremism. There is general orientation towards fundamentalism in Pakistan particularly in the province of Punjab. However, this should not deter us. The Left does not test its argument on the touchstone of popularity alone, lest they are like other double-faced politicians. Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels stood alone but did not compromise into appeasement. The Bolshevik Party took an immensely difficult position of demanding peace in 1914 at risk of complete isolation from all political trends. The Left in Pakistan has stood bravely at many occasions for peace in the region and has been humiliated for doing so. There are countless examples and one can go on and on. Instead of following popularity, our positions must emanate from an analysis of objective situation and shall seek the promotion of the interest of the working class.

Another point that greatly troubles our friends is that we might find allies in the liberal ‘civil society’ if we explicitly push the agenda of anti-fundamentalism. I am greatly perturbed to say that our friends think that these “low-character-elitist-women”, as they are known by the ordinary people for these ‘civil society’ women refuse to cover their heads, can make us even more unpopular. This is highly disturbing. Firstly, the popular morality is not a lamppost for us to take our activism forward. We want to change this popular morality, which is under the hegemony of religious patriarchs, and for this we have to take issue with them rather than stay silent about them. Secondly, this argument completely ignores the rightwing NGOS that have continuously received funding from orthodox Muslim countries. They are not targeted as elitist? So, are they fine? Secondly, as leftists, our contention with the NGOs, etc., is not based on their lifestyle decisions but because they receive donations from imperialism and attempt to diminish the responsibility of State in providing crucial services by substitution. Our comrades are more perturbed by the lifestyle of civil society rather than their connection with imperialism, which is clearly not different from the right-wing criticism of the NGOs (I hate to say this). And then they say they are not giving in; that our words should not be taken as a compensation to the rightwing!

The point very simply boils down to this question of principle: do we want to explicitly target extremism or not? Please, if you may, don’t cosmetically agree on this only as a matter of ritual but only if there is a will to do something about this. We will spend countless days and nights in going over our strategy and tactics, rest assured, but only if there is an agreement over the principle in the first place, only if we settle that we have to tackle this extremist menace immediately.

One last point: a few days ago a comrade proposed that we should either build schools or demand that schools be rebuilt and education be provided. Some comrades think that blowing up of schools in Swat is not a very big issue that demands our attention. However, since we worry greatly about popularity, according to one 1998 survey, education is the second greatest demand of people in Pakistan after clear drinking water. Very generally, any parent can tell you about their greatest dream: to have their children educated. And yet we think it’s a non-issue!

Comrades and friends, extremism in Pakistan is now raising its head like never before. Schools, colleges, CD shops, and cultural stations at every corner of the country are receiving threats on daily basis from those who want to reverse the social order. Victory of Taliban in Frontier is a great boost for extremists everywhere. These extremists are flexing their muscles at every major center. Can we afford to remain silent? The time to do something actively against the extremist menace is now.

So many deeds cry out to be done, And always urgently;
The world rolls on, Time presses.
Ten thousand years are too long, Seize the day, seize the hour!

Left with Hope

Posted in Communist Movement, International Affairs, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2009 by Umer

by

Umer A. Chaudhry

More than 125 years after his death and 150 years after he wrote his most famous piece of work, Karl Marx seems to have managed his return from Highgate Cemetery of London. His specter is no longer haunting merely Europe, rather it has expanded its reach to every corner of the world. All this when only a few years back it was declared and uncritically accepted that there can be no alternative to new-liberal capitalism, history was stated to have ended, and even the human capacity to observe and understand the world was questioned based on, amongst other things, the limitations of language. On the other hand, the world also saw, with the alleged ‘death of Communism,’ a sharp revival of the politics and militancy in the name of religion. Set against this backdrop, even the modest re-emergence of Karl Marx in the political and social discourse is highly remarkable. After all, the modern capitalist class structure, upon whose criticism Marxism proudly stands, did not collapse along with the Berlin Wall.

The return of Marxist discourse is not unaccompanied by a noticeable global upsurge in the political presence of the Left. The victory of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) in the Himalayas early in 2008 gave a major boost to the Leftist political activists around the world. The history and strategy of the Nepali Maoists were critically discussed and appreciated with reference to all accessible records and statements of the Party via various Internet forums and meetings around the globe. The out-pouring of Chinese students in opposition to Free-Tibet protests in many parts of the world just before the Beijing Olympics compelled many to have their first look at the history of China and the Chinese revolution. The mounting strength of Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales added by their increasing confrontations with U.S. Imperialism in Latin America became another source of inspiration for the world’s Left. The communist parties in India entered into a major struggle with the Congress Party, conducting mass demonstrations against the Indo-U.S. nuclear deals. Even in Russia, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation has maintained itself as the country’s second largest party and its largest opposition party. All in all, the global recovery of the Left, though not at a very grand scale, is apparent to every perceptive eye.

In Pakistan, the Left has also made a modest yet a noteworthy reappearance. It was mostly due to the movement against the unconstitutional and illegal imposition of emergency that the Left has been able to gain visibility at a larger scale. Many journalists expressed their surprise at activists robustly raising the traditional slogans of the Left during major rallies of the lawyers’ movement. Many lawyers, who had any past association with the Left, were instantly attracted towards the sight of the red flag and the octagonal Mao caps. Young students, out of curiosity, inquired about the new crimson element on the streets and got to know about the strong tradition of resistance and struggle that Left carries forward. They were even more astonished to know that Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib, whose poetry also returned and was received with great appreciation, were also leading figures of the Left in their times.

Many people, however, are still not clear regarding why the Left engaged with the lawyers’ movement in the first place. It was not a knee-jerk reaction and obviously not an ignorance of the fact that the lawyers’ movement hosts a whole lot of forces, including the staunch right-wing elements of mainstream political parties- traditional foes of the Left. On the other hand, the Left participated in the lawyers’ movement to connect it with other anti-dictatorship movements that occurred in the past eight years, in order to help in building a larger movement for democracy, secularism, social justice, and rule of law – something running contrary to the goals of the religious right-wing. The Left made attempts within its capacity to build a movement that could address the basic question of the Pakistani State and society, and efforts were made to invite groups like Anjumen-e-Mazareen Punjab (AMP), Railway Workers’ Union (RWU), and the striking PTCL workers to the lawyers’ processions. However, it can be a criticism of the Left at the lawyers’ movement that it did not build any bridges with mass working class organizations, as was done during the anti-Ayub movement of the 60’s, though heavy focus was laid on traders’ organizations. The Left may not have succeeded in giving a more progressive and inclusive shape to the lawyers’ movement, despite all out efforts to do so. Notwithstanding, the Left stood staunch as to its goal and, at the very least, floated the right idea.

Nevertheless, a degree of confusion did exist during the course of the lawyers’ movement when many parties of the Left -including Labor Party of Pakistan (LPP) and National Workers’ Party (NWP)- decided to join the All Pakistan Democratic Movement (APDM) and boycotted the elections early in 2008. One of the parties of the Left that did not join the APDM, a noteworthy exception, was the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (CMKP), which held that the Left must unite itself as a secular-democratic force in efforts to distinguish itself as a progressive force in the democratic movement, refraining from partaking in an alliance that has known reactionary right-wingers as its leading faces. The APDM-Left, conversely, either argued that the APDM was not dominated by the right wing, or that the alliance helped them in expanding the scope of their political activity. Be that as it may, the Left managed to make unified calls for the struggle against the Army dictatorship and its political cronies during the vital days of the February elections; only to have been responded by threats by elements of the State as a witness to their efficacy.

Another debate that was waged with passion in the circles of the Left, which are accessible to intellectuals and students through Internet forums, was the position regarding the conflict in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The Left that mingled with APDM called for an immediate stoppage of the military operation for the reasons that it targeted civilians, lacked efficiency due to double-dealings of the ISI and was conducted under the directions of the U.S. Imperialism. The CMKP, finding itself alone here as well, took a different stance. Vehemently opposing the civilian casualties, the double-dealings of the ISI, and the U.S. drone attacks, the CMKP argued that history and circumstances have led Pakistan to such a stage where extremism cannot be rooted out through peaceful dialogues and negotiations. Such means, it is believed, have a negative outcome as they allow the militants to get back on the offensive. Hence, it is essential to use force to deal with the threat of religious fanaticism. There are many other arguments, with varying degrees of sophistication, made for or against the afore-mentioned positions; what was most awe-inspiring was the level of thoroughness of some of the debates.

The aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attacks has appeared as a great challenge for Pakistan’s Leftists. To understand the predicament faced by them, it must be understood that the Left has always directed its efforts against the Military-Mullah alliance: the elements of quintessential mainstream politics in Pakistan. These two institutions have always stood in the path of even the smallest transition of our country towards democracy- both feed on jingoism and excessively anti-Indian hate-mongering, in order to conceal their retrogressive and narrow political stance.

The distressing tragedy of Mumbai was followed by astute chauvinist nationalism, employing the electronic and print media to further its cause. The image of retrogressive forces is being resurrected, in a planned manner, and zealous calls of “unity” are being given. This is responded to with indifference and total underestimation of the unjust and negative politics of the Army and religious fundamentalists. Television channels are opened for people like Hameed Gul to beat their jingoistic drums in the name of religion and false patriotism. The Left, in these circumstances, is left with no option but to end its year by placing a struggle on the cards against the politics of hate-mongering and jingoism. In this, so far with some formal engagement, the Left appears to stand united.

All in all, the politics of the Left has generated great interest fresh circles. The youth and the oppressed, thoroughly disgusted with military dictatorship, religious extremism and the mainstream parties of Pakistan, are eagerly seeking a new alternative on the political scenario. The Left appears as a major hope. The Left must maintain clarity with regards to its political position while becoming as accessible as possible towards those who are willing to struggle for the solution that guarantees democracy, progress, and social justice. The Left must stand steadfastly with its commitment towards peoples’ democracy, secularism, land-reforms, independence from Imperialism, equal rights and opportunities for women, minorities, oppressed nations, and most notably, the emancipation of the workers and peasants.

This article was published in The Friday Times on 26th December, 2008.

For the “golden prospect”

Posted in Communist Movement, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , on February 19, 2008 by Umer

Following is my short reply to the message of Farooq Tariq of Labor Party of Pakistan (LPP) ‘A golden prospect to oust Musharaf’:

The elections have changed everything. Many political unions, forged into existence by doubtful personalities who wanted the revival of the religious Right in Pakistan, fell flat on its face on February, 18th. Unfortunately, some Leftist and Nationalist parties also took part in the “holy alliance” that came to be known as the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM). These Leftist parties too had to face the “glory” coming to them through their mistaken stance when people went to vote.

However, one mistake by a section of the Left does not merit strong denunciation from other Leftists, particularly the young ones like me. All of us commit errors – no one is an angel here, so we are told. However, one who does not realize his mistakes in time, trying to hide it from the public eye with inept justifications, merits criticism in the strongest possible terms. The only way to redeem an error and to stand tall is to self-criticize as soon as possible. This spirit of self-criticism is required not only to reach correct conclusions in the future, but also for the unity of the broad Left in Pakistan.

The Awami Jamhori Tahreek (AJT), a united front of many Leftist Parties in Pakistan, primarily LPP and National Workers’ Party (NWP), made a serious error when they joined with the APDM. The composition of APDM raises serious concerns to begin with. It is led by Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Hamid Gul, and, last but not the least, the semi-Mullah Imran Khan. APDM, in short, was a united front of the religious Right that demanded the boycott of elections. Any benefits that the Left could have been gained from joining such a front must be compared with the serious compromises that would accompany such a decision, not only in the long-term, but also in the anti-dictatorship struggle of today. The stance of AJT was subjected to serious criticism by other parties of the Left, chiefly Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (CMKP), but their advice was not heeded.

Now, with the results of elections before us, we can see that APDM has failed miserably in its boycott campaign. Everyone can see that joining the APDM was a mistake for the Left Parties. What did the Left gain from APDM? Nothing. And yet, while we were expecting some self-criticism, Farooq Tariq of LPP has emerged with an attempt to justify the decision of Left to join APDM with twisted logic.

According to Farooq Tariq, the APDM “helped anti Musharaf vote to express in a united manner” and “the boycott campaign was particularly successful in Balochistan and North West Frontier Province (NWFP)”. Was boycott a success in Balochistan? Let’s look at the polls. The King’s Party, PML-Q, has won around 17 seats in the province of Balochistan, a clear majority. Had the nationalist parties contested the elections, the results would have been very different. The “success” of APDM appears to translate into the victory of PML-Q in Balochistan.

As for NWFP, Farooq Tariq says that the Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) benefited from the split in the Right-wing MMA. This is the truth, but only half the truth. With hindsight, one can see that had MMA been standing united, it would have helped them only marginally. MMA was discredited among the people and there were few chances of them emerging successful in the recent elections. Anyhow, how did the Leftists in the APDM contribute to the appearance of cracks in the MMA? Clearly, they had nothing to do with these cracks. MMA had undergone a de facto split long before the Left decided to join the APDM. The Leftists within the APDM cannot take claim credit for causing the split in MMA.

APDM only succeed in weakening the anti-Musharraf campaign. What else was to be expected from an alliance which included General Hamid Gul and Qazi Hussain Ahmed? APDM is responsible for the low turn-out of voters and victory of PML-Q in Balochistan. Thankfully, the APDM project remained unsuccessful nationally and only marginally affected the anti-Musharraf campaign, which may now be waged from both inside and outside the parliament. In the meanwhile, the Left in APDM needs to self-criticize and break themselves from the decadent elements of the religious-Right to fortify the struggle against dictatorship and religious extremism. Only then we can utilize from the golden prospect.

Revisiting Religious Fundamentalism

Posted in Communist Movement, Marxism with tags , , , , , on December 3, 2007 by Umer

As long as they have no real competitor for the embodiment of the aspirations of the downtrodden masses, and as long as the social effects of globalization are with us, the fundamentalists will also be part of the picture, with ups and downs naturally. (Gilbert Achcar, Eastern Couldron: Islam, Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq in a Marxist Mirror, 2006, p. 227)

Imperialism succeeded in pushing back the Left through an expensive smear campaign against the Leftist forces trough out the world – a campaign that was not limited to mere words, but involved systematic suppression of Communist Parties. However, it could not eliminate the roots of the Left, which lie in the misery and poverty that Imperialism inflicts due to its inherent nature. Thus, in the absence of Left, it was all the more expected from the people to be attracted to any force that gives voice to their grievances, even if they do not provide a coherent program as an alternative to capitalism and Imperialism. This phenonmenon may not be the reason behind the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, for no one denies the working of Imperialism behind their birth, but it surely constitutes as a major cause in their continued existence (even without the enormous U.S. and Saudi funding that they received during the Cold War).

Hence, Imperialism is thoroughly incapable of defeating fundamentalism – fundamentalism breeds on the grounds of the New World Order. This is a job for the Left – a job that will fall naturally on their shoulders as they sincerely challenge the modern system of exploitation.

Gilbert Achcar is a very interesting author to read on the history and politics of Islamic fundamentalism. I will recommend all those who are interested in the subject to have a look at his works (Google him, there are a number of articles available online).

Here is an interested article about Achcar: Eleven Theses on the Resurgence of Islamic Fundamentalism

Left-wing sloganeering by the Right

Posted in Communist Movement, Marxism, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2007 by Umer

“This conflict is about class” — strange as it may sound, this quotation is neither taken from any writing of Karl Marx nor from the works of any subsequent Marxist. On the other hand, these words came from the most arduous foes of Marxists. The message of class-conflict, this time around, was highlighted by Umm Kusloom, the principal of the controversy-centered Jamia Hafsa, to Dr. Fauzia Afzal Khan, while the latter was visiting Lal Masjid to interview Ghazi Abdul Rashid at the beginning of the eventful week that concluded with the military operation. What led the former principal of Jamia Hafsa, the austere and militant teacher of Islam, to repeat good old Marx? This is not an oversight on the part of Umm Kulsoom, as the rest of the interview present at CounterPunch.org informs, but let’s look at another incident.

Few weeks ago, a writer through an eminent weekly magazine pointed towards the hypocrisy of the comments made by a religious maderassah student in the midst of the students’ convention while facing General Pervez Musharraf. The students became well-known as the video of his remarks was widely distributed on the internet. During his short speech, the seminary student primarily focused on the class inequality prevalent in the present-day Pakistani society, repeating what the leftist parties and groups have been saying for well over a century. What separated the seminary student from the Left was his proposed solution of returning back to the Islamic system. Karl Marx must be rolling around in his grave.

These fragments of events point towards something very important. To begin, the observations of Karl Marx about the economic and social structure of the society can’t be thrown away in the dustbin, as has been common in many liberal academic circles for quite a while. People, no matter what religion they follow, still associate themselves with their class. They still – to the utter disappointment of Samuel P. Huntington and his political thesis of “clash of civilizations” – tend to recognize class conflict as the primary contradiction in the modern capitalist society. At many occasions, they opt to organize on the basis of class rather than on the grounds of their religious identity. Had that not been the case, the religious preachers would not have been such a zealous enemy of the left-wing through out history; the former were becoming more or less irrelevant due to latter’s political and social program. After all, one is led to think, this word ‘class’ must have something to it. And, therefore, those who want to gain support from the people are bound to bring class-issues in their political equation. For these very reasons, the religious parties from the far-right come to take up the left-wing vocabulary.

Nevertheless, what do the religious parties and groups find more attracting in the left-wing slogans than the promises of the final abode in the heavens, with milk, honey, and, the most magnetic aspect of it, the virgins? The reasons are the same as those cited above. The evils of the capitalist system are glaringly clear to any normal person, and they are becoming more and more blatant with the passage of time. The common man can’t help but notice the vicious circle that he, along with his other fellows, has to go through in order to ensure mere survival. No ideas of eventual comfort can take his eyes away from the humiliation that defines his life.

Recognizing the sense of suffering faced by the common man, the religious parties try to rationalize it. They preach that it is divergence from “the true Islamic path” that is primarily responsible for horrible state of the current world. Satisfactory as the religious answer usually is for the innocent poor men in the absence of any alternative explanation, their movement towards Islam is not just to seek eternal solace, but is also embedded with the wish to better this world. Nevertheless, there are always others, usually from the middle class or tribal background, who usually realize religion only as an appropriate tool to reinforce familial patriarchal notions.

Magnanimous as the wish of the poor is, the right-wing alternative of the present day world capitalism is lacking in countless aspects. At the fundamental level, this analysis is not based on the material realities of the world we live, but on the notion of a priori ideal world. In other words, their solution to the worldly woes does not emerge from an understanding of this very world. How the implementation of some theocratic principles can cure the afflictions of poverty, gender oppression, and education can only be elucidated by the religious politicians through the notion of divine help. The Marxist interpretation of world capitalism as a specific stage in the historical development of mankind and its relationship with private property remain absent from the sermons of the religious men. While we can term the desires of the poor to be pious, how should the intent of the preachers be defined? Isn’t it intellectual sophistry of political and social reactionaries?

Due to the dilution of the Left – primarily because of the domination of the right-wing forces at the state level, generous foreign funding and subsequent suppression of progressive elements – religious politicians and preachers, while sensing the pulse of the people, found it convenient to take up progressive slogans. However, in the wake of a genuine pro-democracy movement, the historical gulf between the progressive and retrogressive trends is bound to reappear and reassert. The right-wing challenge to the Left can only be met through proper description of the actual material causes behind the vicious cycle in which the large majority of mankind is bound today. Once the Left returns to the scene equipped with their traditional slogans, the religious Right will not loose a moment to take up their trademark anti-communist and anti-progressive propaganda.