by Shahram Azhar
Many people who know little or nothing about Laal’s evolution question the practicality of building socio-political movements through music and poetry. Too obviously, there is some truth to this skepticism; music, in its essence is a language constructed on notes and percussion. Revolutionary movements on the contrary are political-economic-social movements that are led by oppressed classes to overthrow a system of exploitation. However, revolutionary movements are not chaotic movements built in days or even months. Revolutionary science teaches us that a protracted process of ideological struggle precedes revolutionary movements—in the words of the greatest revolutionary of the past century, Vladimir Lenin: “Without revolutionary theory, there will be no revolutionary movement”.
In every epoch the ruling classes befuddle the minds of the oppressed classes by systematically propounding and enforcing ideas that seek to maintain the balance of class forces intact. In order to reproduce their class hegemony on a continuous basis they must convince the broadest sections of the masses that the status quo is in the best interests of the oppressed classes as well. This, the ruling classes achieve by monopolizing the means of propaganda: schools, religious seminaries, media, art and academic inquiry, in other words all the instruments of mass knowledge are directly or indirectly controlled by the ruling classes. It is through these institutions that the oppressor convinces the oppressed that the current system of production and distribution is sane, just and stable. Once that has been achieved the ruling classes are said to have established their ideological hegemony over all other classes. The consolidation of this ideological hegemony exhibits itself most vociferously in official discourse as an overarching objective of the educational, literary and cultural pursuits of the ruling classes. Marx said:
“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this In Its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch.”
It is precisely here that the role of revolutionary intellectuals and artists acquires primary importance: the destruction of the power of the ruling class first and foremost assumes the destruction of its sources of power. Now, power itself can be divided into various forms. The ruling class does not rule through force alone. It rules because it has convinced the oppressed segments of society that it deserves to rule. X cannot be a slave-master to Y, if Y is no longer willing to accept X as his slave-master. If Y must no longer accept X as his slave-master, Y must first be convinced that he too has the intellectual and physical abilities to become the ruler.
Therefore, in order to defy the domination of the ruling bloc, oppressed classes and their ideologues must challenge the ideas upon which their power rests. Too obviously in every society, revolutionaries must possess the ability to creatively apply the general science of revolutions to the objective, concrete situation of their society. Revolutionaries must find a way to propagate their ideas in a manner that pushes the broadest sections of the masses towards revolutionary action. Revolutions are built when a significant proportion of the population is convinced that the ruling system of oppression and exploitation must be torn asunder. Revolutions are built when the forces of love and humanity conquer the forces of hatred and barbarity. Revolutions are made when millions upon millions are united by their wounds against a common enemy.
In Asiatic (i.e., where the Asiatic Mode of Production prevailed) societies, from Arabia to India, poetry and music have played an extremely important role in forming the psychological make-up of society. Let us take the most familiar example. In ancient Arabia, competing tribes had poets and musicians as their ideologues. Poets (who were also musicians) were warriors, propagandists and strategists and led their armies from the front.
In colonial India the poetry of Nandlal Noorpuri and Ram Prashad Bismil became immortalized in their death: Sarfaroshi key tamanna abb hamaray dil main hai (The desire for sacrifice is now in our hearts). Faiz Ahmed Faiz, in his book Mah-o-Saal-e-Aashnai remembers this time as the formative phase of his life as a revolutionary and says that “as a result of this movement there was a significant change in the nature of national protests. Now, the slogans of Swaraj and Band-e-Matram had been replaced by the slogan of Inquilab Zindabad! (Long Live the Revolution!) and people sang “Sarfaroshi key tamanna abb hamaray dil main hai” instead of “Saaray jahan say acha Hindustan Hamara” (Better than the entire world, is our Hindustan).
In the Punjab the poetry of Ajit Singh Sikka inspired the peasantry to revolt against the local landlords. His poem “Pagri Sambhal, Jatta Pagri Sambhal” (Hold you turban, Jut, hold your turban) united the peasantry across the Chenab and the Ravi and gave birth to one of the greatest revolutionary leaders from the sub-continent: Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, who formed the Naujawan Bharat Sabha (NBS) and later the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army with the explicit aim of creating a socialist republic. One of the principal methods of ideological propagation that the NBS employed was poetry recitation and music. In fact, Bhagat Singh and his comrades continue to resonate in popular culture with the song that they sang to the gallows: “Mera rang day basanti chola, maayay, mera rang day basanti chola” (Dye my robe the colour of spring, mother, dye my robe the colour of spring).
These poets and revolutionaries in turn, inspired a new breed of revolutionary poets and poetesses. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Habib Jalib and Amreeta Preetam first, and later Ahmed Faraz and Jaun Eliya continued to hold aloft the banner of purposive art and poetry. The power and strength of their ideas can be seen through the fear that these immortal revolutionaries instilled in the hearts of military dictators, capitalists and jaageerdars. These fearless freedom fighters would stop at nothing less than the complete abolition of exploitation and injustices. In a time when the military dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq had banned the publication of anti-dictatorship material, poetry recitals became an extremely important method of defiance. The poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib was banned from newspapers and declared illegal. Yet, it continued to inspire millions upon millions of workers and peasants towards rebellion.
In his poem, “Hum jo taareek rahon main maaray gayay” (We, who were slain in unlit pathways), Faiz declared:
“Qatl gaahon say chun kar hamaray ala
Aur niklaingay ushaaq k qaafilay”
(Picking up our flags from these grounds
will march forth more caravans of your lovers)
And so it is with Laal: As individuals who seek to build a socialist revolution in Pakistan we have decided to re-lift the flags of our heroes. As long as there is oppression and injustice in our land, we will fight. As long as there are those who live through the labor of others in comfort and luxury, we will fight. As long as there are those who consider themselves the masters of the universe and all its wealth, we will fight.
Our poetry and music is for all the wounded hearts and the oppressed millions who continue to live in conditions of bondage and slavery. In the words of Jalib:
Jo sadaaayain sun raha hoon
mujhay bus unnhey ka ghum hai
Tumhain shair key pari hai
Mujhay aadmi ka ghum hai
(The calls that I hear
Only these worry my soul
You are concerned about the poet
I am worried about humanity)
Shahram Azhar is the lead vocalist of the musical band Laal (the Reds) and a member of the Communist Workers and Peasants Party (CMKP) of Pakistan.