Looking back at history
Reviewed by M. Abul Fazl
It’s a delightful discourse as Ashfaq Mirza in Phalsafa-i-Tareekh examines our political problems, one by one, combining a soft expression with profound analyses. For example, history does not pronounce moral judgments; left-wing intellectuals are mired in fancy new sociological terms while the workers are lost; democratic practice is not something to be demanded in isolation from social evolution as a whole.
Our malaise actually goes back to independence. The pre-independence Muslim League was not a feudal movement, as was claimed by the Congress, but a petty bourgeois party, seeking to open the way for Muslims into the capitalist sector of the British Indian economy. However, the main body of the party remained in India at partition. And the petty bourgeois element was not strong enough within the West Pakistani Muslim League to carry out effective land reforms. So the feudal class remained
dominant here. In fact, it grew stronger by forging an alliance with the civil-military bureaucracy. As a result, every democratic government here comes with a feudal impress.
As Mirza says, democracy is the gift of the bourgeoisie. The feudals neither want it, nor can they create it. It was thus in the fitness of things that Z.A. Bhutto actually raised the ceiling of land ownership, destroyed the basis of the industrial bourgeoisie by wholesale, unplanned “nationalisation” of industries, and established populism, the most reactionary socio-economic system possible. The destruction of the industrial bourgeoisie safeguarded his feudal class. But, by the same act, he closed the doors of progress for Pakistan.
Nationalism too is bourgeois ideology, indeed its vital class requirement, as it reflects the cohesion and the strength of the national market. The weakness of our bourgeoisie explains the weakness of our nationalism, as does the phenomenon of the
so-called “nationalisms” of various provinces. A pastoral mode of production throws up a tribal political structure which then justifies itself by quoting Lenin. Only a strong national bourgeoisie can lead us forward, though Mirza is not certain if our battered bourgeois class has the capacity to protect itself from the multi-nationals’ onslaught.
The condition of the Left offers us no hope either, as it has failed to grasp the objective conditions in the country. Here I was pleasantly surprised to hear a good word about Bernstein. The poor man had only said what the German social-democrats were practicing. It was also good to see Stalin included among the dictators for whom ideology was a camouflage for power, though it must be remembered that he was not entirely a demagogue. He had struggled and sacrificed for years for socialism.
Mirza is right that Marx was mistaken in thinking that imperialism would bring capitalist transformation to the Third World.
Actually, Marx had sort of expected the West European experience to repeat itself globally with the spread of the money
economy. But Mirza exaggerates in saying that Ghalib and Marx thought alike about India, though, no doubt, Ghalib welcomed Western scientific thought and the products of its technology.
Lastly, Mirza tells the Left not to run away with hasty conclusions instead of making objective analyses. For example, he critisises the tendency on a part of the Left to believe that there can be an alliance with religious fundamentalism against imperialism. As he explains it, fundamentalism may oppose Western military intrusion. But it is not against capitalism. And historically, whenever the Left has made such thoughtless alliances, it has suffered grievously.
I will end on a personal note. I never had patience with Hegel, not even with his theory of history. But Mirza showed me that he is not only readable but, in places, even agreeable. And one need not worry about Lenin’s remark that one cannot grasp “Capital” properly without an understanding of the Hegelian method. That, in my opinion, refers to the intellectual structure of the book, which makes the first volume and partly the third, so elegant. But let us not forget that it was Lenin who wrote in his introduction to Bukharin’s Historical Materialism that the author had not fully mastered dialectics.
Phalsafa-i-Tareekh is marked by clarity of thought, objective reflection and, above all, by the simplicity of expression which comes only with a complete mastery of both the subject and the language.
Phalsafa-i-Tareekh, Nauabadiat aur Jamhuriat
By Ashfaq Salim Mirza
Sanjh Publishers, Lahore