November , 2018

People Aur Politics

A liberation zone for democratic rights, multiculturalism, international brotherhood and peace.

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Elections in Pakistan: Ali Wazeer, a Marxist in the parliament dominated by feudal lords and capitalists-Farooq Tariq  

Posted by admin On July - 29 - 2018 Comments Off on Elections in Pakistan: Ali Wazeer, a Marxist in the parliament dominated by feudal lords and capitalists-Farooq Tariq  

July 28, 2018 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal —

Ali Wazeer, a central committee member of The Struggle group, has won a seat in the national parliament with 23530 votes and his closest rival from religious alliance MMA got 7515. Thus winning the seat with a majority of 16015.

Ali Wazeer was one the main leader of Pashtun Tahafaz Movement and during this year, mass meetings were organised in major cities to raise voices for the fair compensation to the victims of the war on terror” and to demand the release of all “missing” persons or to bring them to the courts if they are guilty.

Two other leader of this PTM also contested for the national parliament and one of them Muhsin Dawer also won the seat after a close competition. Mohsin Javed Dawer got 16526 votes while Aurangzeb of Imran Khan PTI got 10422. However the MMA candidate Mufti Misbahudin MMA got a close 15363.

These two PTM leaders contested from South Wazeeristan, an area dominated by religious fanatics. However, a strong movement for civic rights of Pashtuns had cut across the influence of the fanatics and Pashtuns voted despite all the threats to elect their mass movement leaders.

Two main leaders of PTM presence in the parliament has given a hope to many in Pakistan that at least there would be peoples voices in a parliament dominated by feudal lords, corrupt capitalists and stooges of the military and judicial establishment.

Who is Ali Wazeer
Ali Wazeer is a very special person. His personal ordeal best illustrates what prompted his demands. Ali Wazeer was pursuing a degree in law at the turn of the century when his hometown, Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan agency, became the epicenter of global terrorism when a host of Taliban-allied groups sought shelter in the communities.

No doubt the terrorists had some individual local facilitators, but ultimately it was the state that failed to prevent them from using the territory. When his father, the chief of the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe, and other local leaders complained of their presence, government officials ignored and silenced them. Instead, Islamabad spent years denying the presence of any Afghan, Arab, or Central Asian militants.

By 2003, the militants had established a foothold in South and North Waziristan tribal agencies and were attempting to build a local emirate. Ali Wazeer elder brother Farooq Wazir, a local political activist and youth leader, became the first victim of a long campaign in which thousands of Pashtun tribal leaders, activists, politicians, and clerics were killed with near absolute impunity. Their only crime was to question or oppose the presence of dangerous terrorists in our homeland.

In 2005, Ali Wazeer was in prison when his father, brothers, cousins, and an uncle were killed in a single ambush. He was there because a draconian colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) law holds an entire tribe or region responsible for the crimes of an individual or any alleged crime committed in the territory.

Ali Wazeer had committed no crime, never got a fair trial, and was not sentenced, yet he was prevented even from participating in the funerals for his family.

In the subsequent years, six more members of our extended family were assassinated. The authorities have not even investigated these crimes let alone held anyone responsible.

Ali Wazeer and his family faced economic ruin after all of the notable men in our family were eliminated. The government failed to prevent the militants from demolishing his family owned gas stations. They later used the bricks to build bathrooms, claiming they were munafiqin (hypocrites) so even the inanimate materials from his businesses were not appropriate to build proper buildings.

His family owned apple and peach orchards in Wana were sprayed with poisonous chemicals, and tube wells were filled with dirt to force them to surrender to the forces of darkness.

In 2016, his family owned market in Wana was dynamited after a bomb blast there killed an army officer which was an accident. They nevertheless destroyed their livelihoods under the FCR. After the demolition, the government prevented the local community — mostly members of our Ahmadzai Wazir tribe — from collecting donations to help them. They were told it would set an unacceptable precedent because the government cannot let anyone help those it punishes.

So all together 16 members of his family, including his father, two brothers were killed by Taliban during these years.

He was one of the main leader of Pashtun Tahafaz Movement, a civic rights movement for the rights of the victims of war on terror. Recently he toured around the country and organised mass rallies in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Swat. Lahore Left Front was the host of Lahore public meeting which was formally not permitted by the authorities, we were not allowed to campaign, no posters stickers were allowed to be spread in the city, Ali Wazeer and seven more were arrested a night before the public meeting and after a massive immediate response, they were released before the rally. Yet, over 10,000 participated in this public meeting.

In April this year, dozens of of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) supporters were injured and 10 were killed as a result of an attack on PTM leader Ali Wazir by the “pro-government militants”, also known as Peace Committee.

However, the PTM sympathisers gathered to welcome Ali retaliated, upon which the militants fled, leaving Ali’s cousin and a Voice of America VOA journalist injured among others.

In an interview during April 2018, Ali Wazeer said,
“The past few months have transformed my life. Amid the agonies I have endured and the threats, suspicion, and accusations I face, the love, support, and respect I receive is overwhelming. Since February, when we began protesting to draw attention to the suffering of ethnic Pashtuns — among the worst victims of terrorism — I have learned a lot about the potential of ordinary Pakistanis. Their thirst for change is inspiring and heralds a peaceful, prosperous future we must build for generations to come”.

During those difficult years, he didn’t lose faith in mass movement and remained committed to politics of class struggle. He ran in the parliamentary elections in 2008 and 2013.

In 2013 general elections, his victory was changed into a defeat at gunpoint. He lost the election for just over 300 votes after the Taliban intimidated voters and tortured his supporters and campaign volunteers.

Amid the volcano of violence, thousands of civilians have disappeared, and thousands have fallen victim to extrajudicial killings. The leaders of PTM are profiled as suspected terrorists across the country, face humiliation at security check posts, and innocent civilians face violence during security sweeps and operations. As the world’s largest tribal society, the Pashtuns are known for their hospitality, commitment, and valor, yet they were falsely reduced to terrorist sympathizers despite the fact that they are their worst victims.

Ali Wazeer belongs to The Struggle Group, of Pakistan Marxists.

The group has joined Lahore Left Front, a united platform of several Left groups and parties. However, Lahore Left Front has organised some mass activities where Ali Wazeer participated.

The general election of 2018 was the most rigged elections in the history of Pakistan. The society has moved further to the right with Imran Khan Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf coming to power. Imran Khan called Ali Wazeer prior to the elections and offered him PTI nomination from the area which Ali politely refused. However such a respect of Ali Wazeer that Imran khan told him that in any case we will mot put up our candidate against you.

Prior to the general elections, a whole sale rigging took place on the behest of the Establishment. PMLN candidates were threatened, forced them to change loyalties and so on. PTI had an open support of the most of the state institutions.

In this background when a more right wing party PTI, than the previous ruling party PMLN
Has come to power, a Marxist in the parliament would be a wave of fresh air from the stinking parliament.

Although other Left groups also contested including Awami Workers Party and had launched a tremendous election campaign, however, the election campaign of Ali Wazeer was of some special characteristics. He addressed every day few public meetings, went door to door with his meagre resources. Thousands cheered him all the times. We were all sure that he will win but were afraid of any incident that could cancel the elections from this constituency.

Ali Wazeer has opened the gates for the entire Left. He is loved by most of social activists as well, a sober person who is always down to earth in his presentation in workers meeting but speaks like a lion when he is addressing the ruling class. A fearless class fighter who has emerged as the one of the most respected Left leaders in recent working class history.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Sheikh Bedreddin: A Greco-Turkish Communist Internationalist Avant la Lettre-  Sungur Savran

Posted by admin On July - 14 - 2018 Comments Off on Sheikh Bedreddin: A Greco-Turkish Communist Internationalist Avant la Lettre-  Sungur Savran


To draw the net from the water together
while singing a song in unison,
to forge together the iron fine like lace,
to be able together to cultivate the land,
to be able to eat the honeyed figs together,
to be able to say: “all together in everything,
save the cheek of the beloved”…

Nâzım Hikmet
From the poem “The Legend of Sheikh Bedreddin” (1936)

The press reports that during a visit to Western Thrace, where a sizeable Turkish minority lives, Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister, evoked the name of Sheikh Bedreddin, praised him and said that he should be a source of inspiration for all of us today. So, who is this Muslim sheikh whom a nominally leftist Greek Prime Minister, avowedly atheist, recommends as a source of inspiration to all Greeks, irrespective of their religion? A most ticklish remark at first sight. We should be thankful to Tsipras for having raised the topic, hastening to add that he personally, given his record in office, is absolutely unfit for inspiration by the grand old man.
Sheikh Bedreddin (1359–1420) lived in the second half of the 14th and the first two decades of the 15th centuries, the latter period being one in which the fortunes of the rising Ottoman state came to a temporary halt under the impact of the Ankara war of 1402, in which the armies of Tamerlane, the Mongol nomadic emperor, routed the Ottomans. The next decade and a half saw civil war between the different contenders to the throne raging on the territory of the Ottoman state in Asia Minor and the Balkans. Bedreddin’s deeds of historic importance had this civil war as their background.

His life is a web of contradictions. He was both a fakih, i.e. a scholar of Islamic jurisprudence, one of the best ever even by
the admission of his ideological opponents, and a sufi, one who lives religion more according to its inner meaning than
according to outward rules. He spent long years in Cairo, the major learning centre of the epoch, and was converted to Sufism by a
certain Shikh Ahlati. He was never the same man again after that conversion. He visited Khorasan and Aleppo and finally returned home to Ottoman territory.

But make no mistake. Bedreddin, despite his Muslim credentials was half-Greek from his mother’s side, allegedly converted to Islam
when she married Bedreddin’s Turkish father. Their son was born in Dimoteka (Greek: Didymóteicho) in 1359 and died in Serez (Greek: Serres) in 1420, both localities being Greek territory today, but were under
Ottoman rule back then. So it is a great shame that this great man of Greek descent as well as Turkish has not been sufficiently cherished
jointly by our two nations in a manner that befits his legacy. For he himself was not only a communist, but an internationalist as well.

A Communist Revolutionary
This, of course, is the pinnacle of the web of contradictions that form Bedreddin’s life. This man of high religious standing, who had been
given a hand by his sheikh, Ahlati, as the latter was dying and was therefore the sheikh of a religious order, was also a communist. He
and his disciples, among whom Börklüce Mustafa, an illiterate Turkish peasant from the Aegean region of Anatolia right across the
island of Chios and a Jewish convert, Torlak Kemal, from a region slightly more to the northeast, but still in the Aegean region,
defended common property in the means of production, land and farm buildings and beasts of burden and agricultural implements. Their
programme is sometimes misinterpreted as the “distribution of land.” No, it is common property, abolishing all private holdings.

The other aspect of their programme is internationalism. Of course, at that time different ethnic groups were more commonly identified by their respective religion. Bedreddin and his disciples stood for the unity and fraternity of all religions, Muslim, Christian and Jewish
alike. It is a well-established historical fact that Bedreddin, during one of his multiple visits to the Aegean region of Anatolia, crossed over, in company of Börklüce Mustafa, to the Greek island of Chios to have long talks with the local notables of the Orthodox
church there and with ordinary peasants, which no doubt was part of their preparations for an uprising. In fact, some evidence exists to
suggest that the influence of the Bedreddin movement extended all the way from Enez (Greek: Ainos) in continental Eastern Thrace (today part of Turkey) to Crete, evidence that is worthwhile to pursue by historians from both Greece and Turkey.

How is it that a theologian became a revolutionary internationalist communist? How, in particular, did his very advanced conception of common property emerge? And how did a religious order act like a revolutionary organization? I have explored all these questions in an
article published at the beginning of this year to commemorate the 600th anniversary of Bedreddin’s revolutionary uprising against the Ottoman state. I cannot go into the details of the answers to all these questions. Suffice it to say that Bedreddin was a materialist
in disguise, that common property in the means of production was not exceptional among the dervishes of the period, leading to the formation of farmsteads that functioned on what can only be depicted as communistic principles, and that religious orders were, as a rule,
class organizations.1

6th Centenary of the Revolution of 1416
When that revolution erupted in 1416, it was far from being local as many jacqueries are. It extended across a vast geographical area from the Turkish Aegean and Chios all the way to Deliorman (Bulgarian: Ludogorie) in Bulgaria at present and Serez (Serres) in Greece, both in Western Thrace. There were three uprisings at least, with tentative evidence of other centres of insurrection. Börklüce and his ten thousand combatants, Turkish and Anatolian Greek landless peasants, Turkoman nomads and Greek islander seafarers, routed the Ottoman army twice before being defeated in the end at the hands of a huge army. Börklüce himself was crucified on the back of a camel, no doubt to
affront the synchretic nature of the religious faith of the Bedreddin order. The second insurrection was that led around Manisa by Torlak Kemal, which also ended in a debacle.

Perhaps the most massive participation was in the third insurrection, this one led by Bedreddin himself. He had been kept under forced residence in the Marmara region and, having eloped, he moved to Deliorman in what is Bulgarian territory today and roused the masses to
insurgency. The insurrection spread like wildfire. However, the more shaky allies within the revolutionary camp secretly made a pact with
the Sultan and betrayed the cause. Bedreddin was abducted and taken to the Sultan’s court where he was tried and convicted to death. He was hanged in the marketplace of Serez (Serres) on 18 December 1420.

This is the 600th anniversary of that great internationalist communist revolution. Obviously the revolution came before conditions were mature for communism. It was bound to fail, if not before taking power, then after it. However, that it should have erupted in a geography that
now harbours the two nations of Greece and Turkey is a great honour for us. We will strive on both sides of the Aegean to create the conditions of such an internationalist revolution once again within the framework this time of 21st century capitalism, much more favourable to the rise of the working class to power and the building of a classless society. •



Unfortunately, for the evidence regarding all of this, I have to refer the reader to the original article: Sungur Savran, “İki Devrimin Hikâyesi: Nâzım, Bedreddin ve 1416 İhtilali”, Devrimci Marksizm, no. 26, Spring 2016, pp. 107-158.
Sungur Savran is based in Istanbul and is one of the editors of the newspaper Gercek (Truth) and the theoretical journal Devrimci Marksizm (Revolutionary Marxism), both published in Turkish, and of the

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Turkish elections, looming fascism and left politics-Baris Karaagac

Posted by admin On July - 14 - 2018 Comments Off on Turkish elections, looming fascism and left politics-Baris Karaagac

Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Socialist Project

— The elections on 24 June in Turkey for a new president and parliament, which took place under a state of emergency, constitute an historic moment in Turkish republican history with important consequences.

Firstly, it has institutionalized and consolidated the regime change put in place by the controversial 2017 referendum. The Turkish political system has successfully transitioned from a parliamentary to an executive presidential one.

Secondly, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the incumbent president and leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has come out even stronger with new powers, which are likely to bolster his authoritarian tendencies.

Thirdly, Erdogan’s presidency and the victory of the coalition of the AKP and the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), the most prominent fascist actor in Turkish politics, should and will revive a debate on states of exception in general, and fascism, in particular.

Last, but not the least, the failure of a reinvigorated opposition to dethrone Erdogan and a likely more authoritarian – or worse – fascist future have exposed the necessity for a different kind of politics on the left.

Challenging the pillars of the current regime
It is imperative for the Turkish left to produce an alternative and inclusive socio-political project that challenges the pillars of the current regime, i.e., crony neoliberalism, increasing authoritarianism, chauvinistic nationalism and social conservatism. Such a project cannot be confined to electoral politics only and requires organizing and resistance in various forms and spaces that are outside those dominated by the ruling bloc. It also requires the inclusion – if not leadership – of the Kurdish movement, which has emerged as the most organized and the only mass political actor able to challenge the dominant structures of oppression in Turkey and beyond.

The AKP was founded in 2001 as a coalition of mostly conservative groups and individuals, and constituted the last representative of a series of legal Islamic parties since the 1970s. The main constituent elements of the party were twofold: the Fethullah Gulen community and a group around the future prime minister and president, Tayyip Erdogan, who had broken away from the Milli Görüş (National Vision) movement and its last political party, i.e. Fazilet Partisi (the Virtue Party), that was shut down in 2001 by the Constitutional Court. These two groups converged on a neoliberal, socially conservative and majoritarian project. This was the marriage of a relatively ‘liberal’ version of Islam with neoliberalism, and this combination made the AKP quite popular on the global stage. The party’s popularity was mostly thanks to its two achievements: (1) It was able to defeat the old secularist guard, which was seen as increasingly unreliable by the West; and (2) it marginalized the radical Islamic groups while sustaining the Western-Turkish alliance in the Middle East. The AKP was viewed by many as an antidote to the revolutionary Islam of Iran and violent Sunni movements/organizations.

The party came to power following the financial crisis of 2001 and only one-and-a-half years after it was founded. Its initial electoral base was composed of those who were demoralized and impoverished by two decades of brutal neoliberalism, corruption, economic crises, instability and rigid secularism. In terms of its relationship with capital and capital fractions, the party’s initial base was the internationalizing medium-sized capital groups located mainly in Anatolia. As soon as it came to power, the AKP also won the support of big domestic (mostly Istanbul based) and foreign capital through its refusal to deviate from the neoliberal trend set earlier and by its willingness to strengthen the integration of the Turkish economy into global markets.

Since 2011, which more or less marks the beginning of the authoritarian turn in the country, there has been tension at times between big capital and its organization, TUSIAD (Turkish Industry and Business Association), on the one hand and the AKP, on the other. The main causes of the tension have been twofold: concerns about secularism and increasing authoritarianism, and the deteriorating and unstable relations with the EU, into which Turkish capital has firmly integrated. Despite the ongoing tension, one of the major outcomes of the 16-year old AKP rule has been the creation of conditions most conducive to capital accumulation at the expense of the labouring masses in the country. The current state of emergency, too, has a strong class character, which has empowered capital vis-à-vis labour.[1]

The AKP came to power for the first time with a sweeping victory in 2002. Despite getting only 34.3 per cent of the popular vote, the party captured 327 of the 550 seats in parliament thanks to the extremely high threshold of 10 per cent. In the 2007 and 2011 elections, the AKP increased its popular support, acquiring 46.7 and 49.8 per cent of the votes respectively. The drop to 40.8 per cent in the June 2015 election was remedied in the November 2015 election after the AKP ended the peace process and resumed its war with the Kurds. The reversion to the nationalist discourse and militaristic policies were rewarded by the electorate with an almost 9 per cent increase in the polls. The most recent election marks a drop in the support for the AKP but the party was still able to garner the majority as a result of its alliance with the fascist MHP.

Although the most recent elections were originally due on 3 November 2019, early elections were called on 18 April 2018 by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was getting anxious to institutionalize and consolidate the regime change put in place by the 2017 referendum.

The controversial referendum, which succeeded with only 51.41 per cent of the popular vote, endorsed a number of constitutional changes, which abolished the then existing parliamentary system of government and strengthened the position of the president, who used to be a rather symbolic figure for most of the republican era.

The president was given powers that included, among others, directly appointing ministers and vice-presidents, imposing a state of emergency, and increased control over the appointments to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). These changes were criticized by both the domestic opposition and international observers for removing some of the critical checks and balances in the Turkish political system and concentrating power in the hands of the president.

The June 24th elections were thus a rushed and pre-emptive effort by Erdogan to consolidate this regime change and secure his power while denying the opposition an opportunity to organize and rally support. Due to widespread corruption involving himself and his inner circle as well as the heavy toll of his authoritarian rule on tens of thousands of people, loss of power is not an option for Erdogan. Becoming stripped of his current immunity would mean years of prison for the Turkish president and his cronies.

Two new developments
There were two important developments on the part of the opposition in this short period. The first was the foundation of a new party Iyi Parti (Good Party), by those who broke away mostly from the fascist MHP due to the latter’s alliance with Erdogan’s AKP.

The second was the candidacy of Muharrem Ince, an MP from the Kemalist, social democratic CHP (Republican People’s Party). Ince’s charismatic personality and campaign came as a surprise to the ruling party, as Ince pushed Erdogan onto the defensive for the first time in sixteen years while gathering large crowds across the country (the one in Istanbul was possibly the largest rally in Turkish history). Despite his subscription to Kemalist nationalism and coalition with nationalists (i.e. Iyi Parti), his rather inclusive discourse and attitude toward Kurds made the latter more receptive to his message and led many Kurds to vote strategically for him in the presidential election instead of for Selahattin Demirtas, the pro-Kurdish HDP’s (People’s Democratic Party) candidate.

Ince’s campaign rejuvenated a dormant and hopeless opposition, which brought together different segments of Turkish society. Although he failed to offer a clear and coherent alternative social project, Ince’s clean record, communication skills, and criticism of the AKP’s corruption, crony neoliberalism, religious conservatism and increasing authoritarianism made him a beacon of hope for a significant part of the population.

Various colours of the left, too, threw their support behind Ince despite serious reservations about his religious references and nationalism; he was seen as the lesser evil versus a power-hungry warmonger.

The results, however, were quite disappointing. Under a state of emergency and amidst serious allegations of fraud and voter intimidation, the AKP-MHP coalition captured 53.66 per cent of the popular vote and 344 out of 600 seats in parliament. The Nation Alliance, led by the CHP, on the other hand, received 33.94 per cent of the vote with only 189 seats. The HDP managed to pass the undemocratic 10 per cent threshold and increased its vote to 11.7 per cent. The HDP’s entrance into parliament played the key role in preventing an AKP majority, which rallied some Turks – mostly on the left – behind the party.

As regards the presidential vote, Erdogan won it comfortably in the first round frustrating all expectations that there would be a second round. There are still conspiracy theories and some controversy regarding the vote-counting process and its aftermath. The former include alleged threatening of the rival candidates by the AKP-controlled state, which led them to concede victory to Erdogan prematurely and disappearing from the public eye for hours, which demoralized and demobilized the opposition.

Notwithstanding these yet unknowns, what is clear is that Erdogan has secured his position as the most powerful political figure in post-war Turkey with even more constitutional powers and a tighter grip over the Turkish state and society. Although his victory is not complete, as the AKP will need the support of the fascist MHP in parliament for a majority, the latter’s almost unconditional recent support and the increased powers of the president point to a more authoritarian future for the country.

The dependence of the AKP on the MHP for a parliamentary majority will also likely sustain the nationalist and militaristic approach to the Kurdish issue (and foreign policy in general) and prolong the devastating war between the Turkish state and Kurdish guerillas. It will also strain relations with Turkey’s neighbours, who are already quite critical of the aggressive so-called neo-Ottoman turn in Turkish foreign policy in recent years.

The current political and social situation in Turkey calls for a rigorous debate on the new regime and the corresponding state-form that has been in the making for some time. This task becomes even more urgent in the face of a looming economic crisis that will likely lead to tremendous social and economic dislocation, paving the way for even more authoritarian and repressive responses from the state and Erdogan at its helm.

An accurate analysis of the ongoing restructuring and the emergent regime are critical, as it will inform the type(s) of resistance by the progressive forces in the country. What is worrisome is that the regime and the state-form in Turkey display features characteristic of fascism. This does not mean that Turkey is a fascist state at the moment. Nevertheless some of the features of fascism are in place currently and the rise of a truly fascist regime and state is a possibility in the near future.

Fascism, as a modern phenomenon, has been discussed in the literature mostly as an exceptional regime confined to the inter-war period; that is, a one-time only deviation in the development of capitalist states and regimes. This is an erroneous conceptualization and study of fascism. Rather than being a deviation and buried in the ashes of a bygone era, fascism should be studied as a regime whose seeds are present in capitalist social relations and their contradictory nature. It corresponds to a response to a specific political crisis under capitalism and is an outcome of specific class/social relations. At the same time, as opposed to some left analyses, there is no automatic/mechanical relationship between the liberal democratic state and its crisis on the one hand, and the rise of fascism, on the other.

As regards the features of fascism that are existent in the Turkish context currently, we can observe the following:
the disciplining of the military accompanied by an increase in the power of the police and intelligence service;
the decrease in the autonomy of the media and academia vis-à-vis the executive (this has gone hand in hand with rising anti-intellectualism);
restructuring of the judiciary – the implementation of exceptional law(s) has been normalized (particularly via the state of emergency declared following the 2016 coup attempt);
the emergence of a new power-bloc composed of a powerful executive, the police, the intelligence service and a restructured judiciary;
an increase in the autonomy of the state from the dominant classes (in particular from the TUSIAD) as well as global powers (in particular the U.S. and the European Union);
the emergence or creation of paramilitary forces supported and armed by the state;
a leadership cult created around the leader, i.e. Erdogan.

To these, we need to add two more features which should be emphasized as arguably the most salient and distinctive features of fascism: chauvinistic nationalism/racism and (attempts at) mass social mobilization aiming at reshaping society in accordance with a particular worldview. This worldview or ideology in the current Turkish context has taken the form of the Turkish-Islamic synthesis, which has its roots in the junta of the early 1980s.

With fascism – or if not fascism, a nevertheless very repressive regime – looming on the horizon, the critical question for the left is that of resistance.

Only a few days after the elections, the incumbent minister of the interior has given the first signals of what is awaiting Turkey in the upcoming months. He has already threatened the leaders of the pro-Kurdish party, HDP, with death and given orders to keep members of the main opposition party, the CHP, from funerals of the military personnel killed in the war against Kurdish militants, which insinuates an association between the CHP and so-called ‘terrorism’ – a common form of ‘othering’ by the AKP of the opposition since the end of the peace process in 2015 and during the most recent electoral campaign.

Left opposition
Under these circumstances, it is imperative that the left, ranging from the reformist social democrats to the communists, form a united front around an alternative social project which has the potential to bring together the broad segments of the population that have been hurt by the AKP’s rule.

This is not a time for sectarianism. This social project should be based on the following:
defense of secularism (not the rigid French laïcité and its bastard version of the republican era);
inclusion of and equal status for ethnic and cultural groups, and genders;
an end to the aggressive foreign policy and military interventions in neighbouring countries;
a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question;
an immediate end to the state of emergency and restoration of the liberal democratic institutions and rule of law;
an end to neoliberal restructuring and policies in favour of a more equitable redistribution of wealth.

Resistance based on such a political project cannot and should not be confined to electoral politics only. It should combine electoral politics with long-term grassroots politics involving creating solidarity networks and alternative spaces to the ones controlled by the regime. There are millions of young people in the country who have never lived under a different government and are thus unable to imagine a society beyond the one created by the AKP.

The new left politics requires a long-term and patient approach to build the structures through which a new, progressive social imaginary can emerge and ultimately by which state power can be claimed.

This process must also include the Kurdish movement that has risen in the past decade in particular as the most organized and progressive force in the Middle East. The HDP under the leadership of the currently imprisoned Selahattin Demirtas has made a genuine bid to embrace all ethnicities and the labouring classes in Turkey, and voice their concerns and desires within a left program. This should be taken seriously by skeptical Turks, who have not been able to break free from the nationalist propaganda with colonial undertones.

The most recent elections has made it clear that the natural ally of the Turkish social democrats under the current circumstances is the Kurdish left, not the ultra-nationalists nor the dissident Islamic conservatives they entered into an electoral alliance with.

The elections further empowered the AKP and its leader Erdogan despite a drop in the party’s popular vote. It also opened the way for the ruling party to strengthen and extend its grip over the Turkish state and society. In the face of deepening divisions exacerbated by the exclusionary politics of the AKP and an approaching economic crisis, it is quite likely that the authoritarian tendencies already inherent in the ruling-bloc will grow stronger.

The June 24th elections have led to tremendous (and rightful) frustration and disappointment among the progressive forces in the country. However, with fascism hovering above like the sword of Damocles, there is no time for grief nor hopelessness. It is time for a new politics that overcomes sectarianism and challenges the pillars of the current regime in favour of all the labouring and marginalized segments of Turkish society. While our intellect may fall into pessimism, the past struggles of the honest and brave people of Turkey (and Kurdistan) should keep our optimism alive.

Baris Karaagac teaches international political economy and economic development at Trent University and researches European social democracy, state theory, and Turkish political economy. He is the editor of Accumulations, Crises, Struggles: Capital and Labour in Contemporary Capitalism (2013).


“Erdoğan’dan itiraf: OHAL’den istifade ederek grevlere anında müdahale ediyoruz,” Cumhuriyet, 12 July 2017. Accessed on 28 June 2018.


[1] A speech by Erdogan from 11 July 2017 is noteworthy. At a meeting with foreign investors, Erdogan identified investors, entrepreneurs and international capital as the main pillars of development. He further stated: “When we came to power there was a state of emergency in Turkey but all factories were under the threat of strikes. Remember those days. But now we intervene wherever there is the threat of a strike by virtue of the state of emergency” (Cumhuriyet, 12 July 2018).

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

The Lasting Legacy of the Revolt that Shook France in 1968-Mitch Abidor’s New Oral History

Posted by admin On May - 10 - 2018 Comments Off on The Lasting Legacy of the Revolt that Shook France in 1968-Mitch Abidor’s New Oral History


The Merry Month of May
Mitch Abidor’s New Oral History Explores the Lasting Legacy of the Revolt that Shook France in 1968-Richard Greeman
Where Are the Riots of Yesteryear?

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the wave of radical revolts and revolutionary uprisings that startled the world in 1968 and which,  although ultimately crushed by the forces of reaction that dominate the world to this day, left in its wake rights so fundamental that we tend to take them for granted — sexual freedom, civil rights, women’s’ equality. Yet a half-century later these hard-won rights are under attack and people are once again rising to defend them.

Today in France, where in 1968 the student-worker rebellion led to a weeks-long of general strike, the students have once again occupied the universities, while the railroad workers, airline, and public service workers are striking against the counter-reforms being imposed by the autocratic, neoliberal President Macron. Following the example of May ’68, these diverse groups are hoping to unite and force the government to cease their attacks on public services and working peoples’ standard of living.

In the United States as well, a wave of spontaneous strikes by underpaid, overworked, idealistic “Red State” teachers backed by public opinion is making sweeping gains, and movements like #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter and other post-Occupy Wall Street anti-capitalist struggles are on the rise. Is there hope for real change?

For more read https://indypendent.org/2018/05/the-merry-month-of-may-a-firsthand-history-of-68-france/.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

‘Audacious movements have to start’-Interview with Samir Amin

Posted by admin On May - 10 - 2018 Comments Off on ‘Audacious movements have to start’-Interview with Samir Amin


Interview with Samir Amin. By JIPSON JOHN and JITHEESH P.M.
THE following is the second part of the interview with Samir Amin. The first part was published in the Frontline issue dated May 11, 2018.

Along with the emergence and growth of neofascist forces, there are glimpses of a growing popular support for Left politics across the world. Even in metropolitan countries, which have been lulled into consensus politics for many years, Left politics attracts a considerable following. The popularity Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders achieved in the British and the American elections respectively is a well-known example. What are the prospects and challenges for the Left in the contemporary political scenario?

In my book Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism?, I say that we cannot move out of this pattern of crisis without starting to move out of the system itself. It’s a gigantic challenge. The solution will not be found in a few years anywhere, neither in the North nor in the South. It will take decades and decades. But the future starts today. We cannot wait until the system has led to a gigantic war and ecological catastrophe to react. We have to react now.

This requires that the Left, the radical Left—or, I would say, the potential radical Left, which is much broader than the actual small number of heirs of the Third International, the communist parties and their milieu, much broader than that—acquires audacity. At present, there are resistance movements everywhere in the world, in some cases quite strong resistance movements. Working people are fighting perfectly legitimate struggles, but they are on the defensive. That is, they are trying to defend whatever they have gained in the past, which has gradually been eroded by the so-called neoliberalism. That is legitimate, but it is not enough. It is a defensive strategy which allows the power system of monopoly capital to maintain the initiative. But we have to move from there to a positive strategy, that is to an offensive strategy, and reverse the relation of power. Compel the enemy—the power systems—to respond to you instead of you responding to them. And take the initiative away from them. I am not arrogant. I have no blueprint in my pocket for what a communist in Austria should do, for what communists in China or those in Egypt, my country, should do.

But we have to discuss it frankly, openly. We have to suggest strategies, discuss them, test them and correct them. This is life and struggle. We cannot stop. I want to say that what we all need in the first place is audacity!
Now, it can start to change if the popular movements move from resistance to an aggressive alternative. That could happen in some countries. It has started happening, but only in some countries of Europe: Greece, Spain and Portugal. In Greece, we have seen that the European system defeated that first attempt. And the European people, even those who are very sympathetic to the Greek movement, have been unable to mobilise an opinion strong enough to change the attitude of Europe. That is a lesson. Audacious movements have to start, and I think they will start in different countries. I discussed this with, for instance, people from “La France Insoumise”.

I did not propose blueprints, but I generally pointed to strategies starting with the renationalisation of big monopolies and specifically financial and banking institutions. But I’m saying that renationalisation is only the first step. It is the precondition for eventually being able to move to the socialisation of the management of the economic system. If it stops at the level of just nationalisation, well then you have state capitalism, which is not very different from private capitalism. That would deceive the people. But if conceived as a first step, it opens the road.

Capitalism has reached a level of concentration of power, economic and therefore also political power, that is not comparable to 50 years ago. A handful, a few tens of thousands, of enormously large companies and a smaller handful, less than 20, of major banking institutions alone decide on everything. Francois Morin, a top financial expert who knows this field, has said that less than 20 financial groups control 90 per cent of the operations of the global integrated monetary and financial system. If you add to this some 15 other banks, you go from 90 per cent to some 98 per cent. It is a mere handful of banks. That is centralisation, concentration of power, not of property, which remains disseminated, but that’s of less importance; the point is how property is controlled. This has also led to control of political life. We are now far from what the bourgeois democracy of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century was.

We have now a one-party system. With the social democrats having become social liberals, there is absolutely no difference between the conventional Right and the conventional Left. That means we are living in a one-party system, as is the case in the United States where Democrats and Republicans have always been one party. This was not the case in Europe, and therefore, capitalism in the past could be reformed. The social democratic welfare reforms after the Second World War were big reforms. In my view, they were progressive reforms even if they were associated with the maintenance of an imperialist attitude vis-a-vis the countries of the South. Now this is becoming impossible, and you can see it in the one-party system, which is losing legitimacy. But this also opens up a drift to fascism, to neofascism, which is on the rise everywhere, in the North and the South. This is one of the reasons why we have to dismantle this system before reconstructing it.

A Fifth International
Can these isolated struggles in different countries pose any challenge to generalised monopoly capital, which is truly international in character? What about the need for some kind of international cooperation or for the spirit of internationalism of the struggling masses?

I think that we need a Fifth International. We not only need a revival of internationalism as a fundamental part of the ideology of the future, but we also must organise it, that is, try to interconnect the struggles in different countries. Now, this international cannot be a reproduction of the Third. Because the Third International came after the victory of the October Revolution and a strong new state, the Soviet Union, and therefore survived, for better or worse, as a model for the others. We are not in such a position now, and therefore, we must imagine another pattern for the new international. If we look at the Second and Third Internationals—the Second up to the First World War, not after—they shared the idea of “one country, one party”—the correct party, all the others being “deviationists” or even “traitors”.

Moreover, when we look at the Second International, we discover that there was indeed one party in Germany, but this party was half-Marxian and half-Lasallean. There was one party in France, but it [was] really associated [with] three currents. There was one party in Britain, but it was a mix of trade unionism and Fabianism. So they were different from one another, but they all had in common their pro-imperialist colonialist attitudes, and as was proven in 1914, they worked with their bourgeoisies against one another. The Third International recognised only “one country one party”—the 21 conditions [for membership to Comintern]—all the others being traitors and revisionists.

Today, we are in a different situation. We have potentially radical, pro-socialist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist forces, different in each country. We have to bring them together. We have to understand that what we share in common is more important than the differences among us. We have to discuss the differences and discuss them freely without arrogance and proclaiming: “I am right and you are wrong.” What we have in common is more important, and that should be the basis for reconstructing internationalism. I am saying that for the North and the South as well. Each has its specific conditions, and conditions are different from one country to another. The general view is similar but conditions are different. At any rate, this is my vision on how to start the process.

There are these ambiguities and we cannot avoid them. We shall have broad alliances with people who have never thought that socialism should be the answer to the crisis of capitalism. They will still think that capitalism can be reformed. So what? If we can work together against this capitalism as it is today, it will be a first step.
But we have to think ahead about how to create a Fifth International. I don’t have a blueprint for this. It is not about establishing a secretariat or organisational leadership bodies. First, the comrades have to be convinced of the idea, which is not always the case. Second, Europeans have abandoned anti-imperialist solidarity and internationalism in favour of accepting the so-called aid and humanitarian interventions, including bombing people. That is not internationalism. I think that national policies—we use this word because there is no other word—are still the result of struggles within the borders of countries. Whether these countries are indeed nation states or rather multinational states, they struggle within defined borders.

But the existing problems do not refute the idea that change has to start from the base and not from the top. And the base is the nation. Don’t expect a United Nations conference with all the governments of this world deciding anything good and effective. That will never happen. Don’t expect that even with respect to the European Union. It has to start from below. It is [about] changing the balance of forces within countries, which then starts changing the balance of forces at the international level. Therefore, the task for internationalist solidarity, that of a Fifth International, should be to minimise the conflictual aspects of these changes and make them complementary to one another. This is true internationalism.

Along with popular movements and class mobilisation, there are civil society movements and NGO (non-governmental organisation) movements going on all over the world. Different identity movements are also there. Are you in agreement with these civil society movements?

The protest against capitalism cannot just be a protest of movements against the consequence of neoliberal frontal attacks against their social interests. It must reach the level of getting politically conscious of the types of new wide social alliances which can replace the comprador alliances ruling our countries and the pro-imperialist alliances ruling the Western countries.

What is the relevance of Lenin’s idea of democratic centralism and the Communist Party as the vanguard of the proletariat? What are your thoughts on the form, content and shape of the revolutionary struggles of the present?

Probably, in Lenin’s time a one-party system was the only possible alternative to the old pattern of ruling. This is no more the case today. We have to rebuild a new international, an international of the working people and others. That means a number of peasants and segments of the society that go far beyond the proletariat. In India, you can see that if you do not have an alliance between the urban proletariat and the urban poor, who have no proletariat consciousness, and the vast majority of Indian rural society or peasants, then you cannot build resistance. These are different social forces and they can be represented by different political voices.
But we have to know what we share in common. The interests we share are more important than the differences. We need a wide political alliance that can mobilise people belonging to different classes but who are all victims of the imperialism of today.

China has achieved significant economic growth recently. Although it is still a communist state, its economic achievement is generally attributed to the success of its market-friendly approach since 1978. What is your take on the Chinese model of economic development?

We have to start from the Chinese Revolution. We had in China what I call a great revolution. There have been three great revolutions in modern history—the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution—along with some in other countries like Vietnam and Cuba. But let’s take the three major ones.

What I mean is that the project target of great revolutions looks far ahead of the agenda of what is immediately possible. The French Revolution said liberty and equality. The so-called American Revolution did not project this target. The word “democracy” does not appear in the U.S. Constitution. And democracy was considered a danger. The system was invented to avoid this danger. The system did not change the relations of production. Slavery remained a decisive part of the system; George Washington was an owner of slaves. The French Revolution tried to connect conflicting values of liberty and equality. In the U.S., it was liberty and competition, that is, liberty under the condition of inequality. The Russian Revolution proclaimed: “Proletarians of all countries unite.” As Lenin said, “The revolution started in the weak link but should expand quickly”, that is, in a short historic time. He expected it would happen in Germany. History proved that he was wrong. It could have happened but it didn’t. Internationalism was not on the agenda of real history.

The Chinese Revolution invented the slogan “Oppressed peoples unite”, which means internationalism at a global level, including the peasant nations of the South, which is a step ahead. Widening internationalism! This also was not on the agenda of what could be achieved immediately. Bandung in 1955, which was an echo of the Chinese Revolution, was very timid. It didn’t achieve much. It was watered down by nationalistic forces and to a large extent remained in the frame of a bourgeois national project.

Precisely because the great revolutions were ahead of their time, they have been followed by Thermidors and restorations. Thermidor is not restoration; it means a step back in order to keep the long-term target but manage it in time with concessions. When was Thermidor in the Soviet Union? Maybe it was the year 1924 with the NEP [New Economic Policy], although [Leon] Trotsky said it was 1927. The Chinese say it happened with [Nikita] Khrushchev. There are good arguments for this, but other people think it occurred later with [Leonid] Brezhnev. However, the restoration of capitalism really came with [Boris] Yeltsin and [Mikhail] Gorbachev. At that point, the target of socialism was abandoned.
In China, we had a Thermidor from the start, from 1950. When Mao Zedong was asked “Is China socialist?”, he said: “No, China is a People’s Republic”, and building socialism is a long road; he used the Chinese expression “a thousand years”. So Thermidor was there from the start. There were two attempts to go beyond that Thermidor. The first one was the Great Leap Forward.

Then we had a second Thermidor with Deng Xiaoping. We still don’t have a restoration even now. Not just because formally the Communist Party has a monopoly on political power, but because some basic aspects of what has been achieved by the Chinese revolutionary process has been maintained. And this is very fundamental. I refer here specifically to the state ownership of land and its use by families in the frame of the revival of peasant agriculture, associated with the construction of a modern industrial system. These are the two legs on which China stands and moves. It defines a kind of state capitalism. Simultaneously, the Chinese project does not reject the idea of its participating in globalisation, which is dominated by capitalist/imperialist major powers. For sure, globalisation comes into conflict with the “two legs” Chinese strategy. They are not complementary; they are in conflict. China has entered into the globalisation of trade, and the globalisation of investments, but with state control, at least to a certain effective extent.

In addition, China is not operating within globalisation like those countries that accept the conditionality imposed through free trade, free investment and financial globalisation. China has not moved into financial globalisation. It has maintained its independent financial system, which is operated by the state, not only in form but in substance. My qualification is that China is not socialist, but it is also not capitalist. It contains conflicting tendencies. Moving towards socialism or capitalism? Most of the reforms that have been introduced, particularly after Deng Xiaoping, have been rightist, making room, and expanding room, for the capitalist mode of production and the emergence of a bourgeois class. But, so far, the other dynamic, identified by the “two legs” strategy”, has been maintained, and this conflicts with the logics of capitalism. That is how I situate China today.

The most important weaknesses of the Soviet Union were bureaucratic centralism, lack of inner-party democracy, not dictatorship of the proletariat but one-party dictatorship for the proletariat, etc. Prabhat Patnaik says that the option of multiple parties for the working class would help prevent one-party dictatorship. How do you analyse the desired and needed political structure of a socialist state against the background of the experience of the Soviet Union?
I have the highest appraisal and appreciation for Prabhat Patnaik. His arguments are most interesting, and usually correct. I think his criticism of the bureaucratic tendencies in the Soviet Union is fully correct. His criticism of the bureaucratisation of working parties in India is also a valuable contribution. We should see those problems case by case. It is different in India and different in Egypt and elsewhere.

You have written a lot about the emergence of political Islam, its ideology and nature. Although Islamists often utter rhetoric against Western culture, you have analysed how these forces are in close alliance with the imperialist forces. How would you explain the contemporary political landscape of the Arab world?

The U.S. was surprised by the explosion [anti-government uprising in 2011] in Tunisia and Egypt. They did not expect it. The CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] thought that [President Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali [of Tunisia] and [President Hosni] Mubarak [of Egypt] were strong, like their police forces. The French also believed this with respect to Tunisia. But these gigantic, chaotic movements in Tunisia and Egypt lacked a strategy, and that allowed them to be contained in the old structures and decapitated. But then, just immediately after these two explosions, the Western governments understood that similar movements could also happen elsewhere in the Arab countries for the same reasons.

They decided to “pre-empt” the “revolutions” by organising “coloured” movements controlled by them. They selected to that effect, supporting Islamist reactionary movements financed and controlled by their allies, the Gulf countries. The Western strategy was successful in Libya but failed in Syria.

In Libya, there was no “popular” mass protest against the regime. Those who started the movement were small Islamist armed groups who immediately attacked the army and the police and, the next day, called NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation], the French and the British, to rescue them! And indeed NATO responded and moved in. Finally, the Western powers have reached their goal, which was destroying Libya. Today Libya is much worse off than it was then. But that was the target. It was not a surprise. The target was to destroy the country.
The same is with Syria. In Syria, there was a growing civilian democratic popular movement against the regime because the regime had moved towards accepting neoliberalism in order to remain in power. But the West, the U.S. in particular, did not wait. The next day, they had the Islamist movements moving in and, with the same scenario, attacking the army and the police and calling the West in to help. But the regime was able to defend itself. The dissolution of the army expected by the U.S. did not happen. The so-called Syrian Free Army is a bluff. These were only a small number of people who were immediately absorbed by the Islamists. And now the Western powers, including the U.S., have to recognise that they have lost the war, which does not mean that the Syrian people have won it. But it means that the target to destroy the country through civil war and intervention failed. The imperialist powers have not been able to destroy the unity or the potential unity of the country. That is what they wanted to do with, of course, the approval of Israel—to repeat what happened in Yugoslavia. And they failed.

In Egypt, the U.S.—backed by the Europeans, who simply follow the U.S.—chose the Muslim Brotherhood as the alternative. Initially, on 25th January 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood, lined up with Mubarak against the movement. Only one week later, they changed sides and joined the revolution. That was an order from Washington. On the other side, the radical Left was surprised by the popular movement and unprepared; the youth was divided into many organisations, resulting in a lot of illusions and the lack of analytical and strategic capacity. Finally, the movement resulted in what the U.S. wanted: elections. In those elections, Hamdeen Sabahi, supported by the Left, got as many votes as [Mohamed] Morsi, that is around five million votes. It was the U.S. embassy, not the Egyptian electoral commission, that declared Morsi the winner!

The mistake of the Muslim Brotherhood was to think that they had achieved a final and total victory and that they could exercise their power alone. So they entered into conflict with everybody, including the army. If they had been smarter and had found an agreement with the army, they would still be in office and sharing power with the army. They wanted all the power for themselves and used it in such an ugly and stupid way that just a few weeks after their victory, they turned everybody against them.

This led to the 30th of June 2013: 30 million people demonstrating in the streets across the country against the Muslim Brotherhood! At that point in time, the U.S. embassy asked the leadership of the army to support the Muslim Brotherhood despite the people. The army decided instead to arrest Morsi and disband the so-called parliament, a non-elected body made up exclusively of people chosen by the Muslim Brotherhood! But the new regime is simply continuing the same neoliberal policy.
The book “Orientalism” published in 1978 by Edward Said was a path-breaking and widely debated postcolonial critique of the Eurocentric world view. However, it was your book “Eurocentrism” that brought the capitalist critique into the larger project of criticising the Eurocentric world view. What are your agreements and disagreements with postcolonialism and varieties of postmodernism, which are critical of modernity? Is there any notable change in the Eurocentric world view at present?

Orientalism is a cultural critique of imperialism. It is not a political and economic critique of imperialism. But the thing is that imperialism is not only cultural. It is basically a form of political domination and economic exploitation which leads to a cultural domination. And Orientalism looks only at the cultural aspect of the problem. And here Edward Said missed the most important aspects: political and economic.

Marx famously said that capitalism produces wealth at one pole and poverty at the other pole. This is also the case with the relationship between capitalism and workers and the relationship between core countries of the North and peripheral countries of the South. The dependency theory championed by scholars like you narrated the magnitude of this contradiction of capitalist development. How does it work in this era of neoliberal globalisation?

Capitalism has created massive pauperisation, particularly for 85 per cent of the people of the planet. And I think India is an example of that. Whatever high growth you have in India, perhaps only 15 to 20 per cent of the people benefit from it and 85 per cent of the people are pauperised. They not only benefit from it but suffer from it.

What is the legacy and relevance of Marxism today? Many people feel that though Marx’s analysis of capitalism is true, its political project is unviable. What do you have to say to these critiques? What sustains your belief in socialism?

I think Marxism is more important and relevant today than ever. Look back to The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848: no text published in the middle of the 19th century is as relevant as this to the present world. It describes many features of the capitalism of that time which are relevant to present conditions. We need Marx today. Of course, we should not just repeat what Marx said at his time, but we should continue his mode, that is giving Marxist answers to present challenges.

Third World Forum

Could you speak about the Third World Forum (TWF) of which you have been the director for around 40 years? What is its mission and priority?
The Third World Forum is an international independent association, recognised as such by the host country where it has its headquarters [Dakar, Senegal]. Founded in 1975, it is one of the oldest international, independent organisations of its type. It has been successful in adjusting to a changing world and seemingly has also succeeded in having a growing impact.

The TWF assembles concerned intellectuals committed not only to the pursuance and expansion of the debate on various possible development alternatives (itself considered in all its economic, social, political and cultural dimensions) but also to making a real impact on the society concerned through debates.

The TWF mobilises throughout the continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America about 1,000 personalities whose well-known names are usually associated with creative thinking and capable of exhaustive probing and analysis of issues as well as with men and women who proved their worth through their contributions in the formulation of policies, either as experts and/or top civil servants or as leaders of thought and social movements.

The TWF has been active for 25 years, during which time it has been functioning as a network for intellectuals of three continents engaged in debates on various aspects of the “challenge to the development” of the peoples concerned. Since this “development” is in turn defined on the basis of the exigencies of a progressive social context (“development for the benefit of the masses”), that could foster enhanced democratisation of society in all of its dimensions (progress of political democracy, social rights, gender issues, etc.) in view of the mutual relationship between the internal social changes peculiar to the peoples and nations concerned and the prevailing trends in the global system. These debates concern macroeconomic strategies, the forms of microeconomic management, analysis of economic forces’ vision of society and sociopolitical movements, in other words, all aspects of social life, as they include all the major issues concerning the world system (the world economy, North-South relations, problems of the environment and those relating to national and regional security and geostrategy).

Positively, the objective of the TWF is to identify concrete alternatives and formulate policy recommendations in the various areas in which it conducts research. Those alternatives and policy recommendations should not be the product of teams of researchers studying the problems in isolation. The product must be the result of interactions between “theory and practice”, between the scientific analysis of the problems and challenges on the one hand, strategies of action and targets of actual social movements, on the other hand. In that spirit, the TWF operates as a “network” associating, on the one hand, organisations of what is usually called civil society and, on the other hand, centres of reflection where scientifically equipped thinkers pursue their research in response to the demands formulated explicitly (or implicitly, in some cases) by the movements.
That choice is fundamental for the TWF. It stems from the idea that the real world is not changed through pure “academic” reflections but basically through the activities of social actors. But, simultaneously, it considers that the more those actors are intellectually equipped to analyse the challenges, the more feasible, possible, efficient from the point of view of advancing towards required alternatives their formulation of targets for action and policy recommendations will be.

Jipson John and Jitheesh P.M. are associated with the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) and contribute to various national and international publications, including The Wire, The Indian Express and Monthly Review. They can be reached at jipsonjohn10@gmail.com and jitheeshpm91@gmail.com
Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Karl Marx, 200 years later-Ramin Jahanbegloo

Posted by admin On May - 5 - 2018 Comments Off on Karl Marx, 200 years later-Ramin Jahanbegloo


To ignore Marx the philosopher is to remain impoverished in a market-driven world

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, the author of Das Kapital and the leading spirit of the International Workingmen’s Association (known as the First International). In the words of Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright and writer, “An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” If this statement is true in the case of only one thinker in the history of ideas, that person would certainly be Marx.

If Marx had not decided to change the world, he would have been remembered today only as a name on a gravestone in Highgate cemetery in London. Thus, there is no question why a thinker like Marx was at the same time a great influence on the most important thinkers of the twentieth century and a victim of a terrible misunderstanding for all those who made a revolutionary prophet out of him.

Not of gulags, killing fields

For over a century the fate of Marx’s thought was tied to that of Marxism. Even today, three decades after the fall of the Soviet empire, many still blame Marx for the cruel atrocities that happened around the world in the name of Marxism.


Karl Marx in five core ideas

However, to think and to repeat that Marx is responsible for the Stalinist gulags or the killing fields of Pol Pot in Cambodia would be nothing but pure nonsense. No doubt, he would have been one of the first victims of Stalin, Pol Pot or any communist dictator. As such, the responsibility for the horrors of communist totalitarianism would be on the shoulders of no other ideology than Marxism-Leninism, which turned the materialist and historicist philosophy of Marx into a revolutionary eschatology and in many cases into a thermodynamics of terror. As Voltaire says majestically, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”

Despite what happened in the past hundred years in the communist countries, Marx remains an important thinker and a central figure of the modern canon around the world. In other words, he should be read closely, with precision and patience. As such, any loosely philosophical approach or iconic view of Marx would turn the critical edge of his analysis of modernity and capitalism into wrong principles of a wrong struggle.

This is not to say that Marx provides us with all the answers to all our problems. Marx knew it himself and that is, most probably, one of the reasons why his writings were so complex and so antithetical. On the one hand, Marx is a philosopher who believes in the autonomy of human beings, since he affirms that human beings make their own history, that the emancipation of the workers will be the work of the workers themselves. On the other hand, he is obsessed by the Hegelian idea of making a total system, dominated by the universal law of social transformations in history. It was precisely this second Marx, the theorist of historical materialism, who was elevated by Engels, Lenin, Stalin and many others as a prophet of a secular religion called socialism. But, the great mistake of several generations of Marxists was to consider Marx’s philosophy of history as a readymade revolutionary recipe for action.


Must-read Marx

Raymond Aron, the French sociologist of the 20th century, once said: “It is really no more difficult to present Marx’s leading ideas than those of Montesquieu or Comte; if only there were not so many millions of Marxists, there would be no question at all about what Marx’s leading ideas are or what is central to his thought.”

As a matter of fact, Marx’s critical attitude in regard to the economic, social and political realities of his time was far from being just a medical prescription for future revolutions.

On the contrary, for Marx thinking rigorously and critically was an important matter. Marx walked almost daily to the British Museum to study the works of classical philosophers and economists rather than spending his time with the masses on the streets of London or Paris. The British Museum was the place where he was able to get away from the everyday debates of revolutionaries and ideologues and find a sanctuary where he could examine the social and economic causes of human misery.

Marx and Marxists

“I am not a Marxist,” Marx is said to have said, and it’s appropriate to distinguish Marx the philosopher and the economist from Marx the ideologue. Marx would have certainly never approved the statement of the Russian revolutionary, Georgi Valentinovich Plekhanov, that “Marxism is an integral world outlook”. The truth is that Marxist revolutionaries such as Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, etc. adapted those ideas of Marx which suited best the needs of their revolutions and bureaucratic powers.

After 1917, the mythological charisma of Lenin followed by Stalinism inflicted on the communist parties around the world prevented any objective assessment of Marxian philosophy. For more than seven decades, in the Soviet Union and its satellite countries, any allusion to Marx the philosopher and the author of the Manuscripts of 1844 would had provoked indifference or for the most only a bitter laughter.

When Soviet communism fell apart towards the end of the 20th century, nobody could say what would be the destiny of Marx beyond the demise of Marxist regimes. For a long period of time Marx was read and practised as the founder of a new faith. For some his church continues living on the ruins of the political and economic system he inspired. For others who suffered the communist regimes or simply believed in an anti-communist crusade, Marx continues to be a dangerous mind who should be banned from our schools and universities.

But now that the statues of Marx were torn down bitterly and indistinctively as those of Lenin and Stalin, what really remains of him for future generations of readers? The answer could be: a critical mind with the great intellectual courage of a Socratic gadfly who continues to defy our way of thinking and living in a market-driven world. If that is the case, then we should celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of a major thinker of human history who has found his place in the pantheon of great philosophers next to Kant, Schelling, Fichte and Hegel.

Ramin Jahanbegloo is Director, Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Peace, Jindal Global University, Sonipat
Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Afghanistan’s Saur Revolution 40 years on-Lal Khan

Posted by admin On April - 30 - 2018 Comments Off on Afghanistan’s Saur Revolution 40 years on-Lal Khan

On April 27,1978, Radio Kabul was broadcasting that the radical Khalq faction of Afghanistan’s Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) were leading the overthrow of the Daoud regime and storming the presidential palace. Daoud himself took power five years earlier through a coup in 1973.A few days earlier on 17 April 1978, a prominent member of the PDPA, Mir Akbar Khyber, was murdered. At Khyber’s funeral a large protests broke out in Kabul. In response, the fragile Daoud regime launched a lethal operation to eliminate the PDPA leadership.

Most leaders were arrested and imprisoned in Kabul’s Pul-a-Charkhi prison in the subsequent days. It was a do or die situation for the PDPA. However Hafeezullah Amin, who was under house arrest, managed to communicate and ordered PDPA military and air force officers to carryout an insurrection that had been partially planned in advance. In the wee hours of April 28, the palace was taken over by the revolutionary command council, headed by Noor Mohammad Tarakai. The next morning it was announced that the revolutionaries were in control of Kabul and large swathes of the country.

There was a barrage of slanderous attacks by corporate media against this revolutionary change. It was dubbed a merely a military coup. However, at a press conference in New York in June 1978, Afghanistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Hafeezullah Amin, a politbureau member of PDPA, said that,“(the) event was not a coup but a revolution by the will of the people”.

Although the Saur Revolution was not a classical socialist revolution from a Marxist point of view, no other event in post-independence South Asia struck such a blow to the region’s feudal drudgery, tribal primitiveness, religious oppression, rotten capitalism and imperialist stranglehold.  Millions of oppressed Afghans immensely benefitted from the radical steps taken by the new revolutionary government under the leadership of Noor Mohammad Tarakai.

No other event in post-independence South Asia struck such a blow to the region’s feudal drudgery, tribal primitiveness, religious oppression, rotten capitalism and imperialist stranglehold

All debts, loans, mortgages and revenues that had been imposed on poor peasants by usurers and big landlords for generation were cancelled forthwith. Another radical measure taken by the new revolutionary government was that marriages of non-adolescent girls usually based on exchange for money and goods were banned. Forced marriages, any acts that either prevented a widow, because of family or tribal kinship, from wilfully re-marrying or forcing them into an unwanted marriage were criminalised. It further fixed the age for engagement and marriage at 16 for women and 18 for men, thus, effectively proscribing child marriage. The government also announced that its first and foremost aim was to eliminate capitalist, feudal and pre-feudal relations from the social and economic order of the country.

Some of the other radical policies pursued by the Saur revolution were: cancellation of peasant’s revenue dues, equitable distribution of water and the establishment of peasant cooperatives. Major healthcare and literacy programs were launched. By 1984, one and half million people had finished literacy courses and in the same year 20,000 literacy courses were functioning throughout the country, enrolling 377,000 people. The target was to eradicate illiteracy by the year 1986 in urban areas and by 1990 all over Afghanistan.Prior to the revolution, only 5,265 people had finished literacy courses.

What has been deliberately concealed is the fact that the Saur revolution and these radical changes were carried out before the Russian intervention. The Soviet army crossed the Oxus River and entered Afghanistan on December 29, 1979, a year and half after the revolution had succeeded. Paradoxically, then Afghan President Hafeezullah Amin was assassinated on the eve of the intervention.

At the Geneva talks on Afghanistan in 1988, Gennady Gerasimov, the foreign affairs adviser to Mikhail Gorbachev had confessed of Soviet leadership’s ignorance of the revolutionary takeover.US imperialists had already started their counter-revolutionary ‘Dollar Jihad’ to overthrow Afghanistan’s revolutionary government in the summer of 1978 in connivance with General Zia’s military dictatorship in Pakistan and Saudi funding.

These regional despots were terrified that the gains of the revolution could encourage revolutionary mass uprisings in these countries, threatening capitalist rule and imperialist hegemony. The leadership of the Khalq faction didn’t have any cordial relationship with the Moscow bureaucracy.

Rather,Tarakai was closer to a Marxist position. Marking the first anniversary of the Saur revolution on April 27, 1979 he said, “I congratulate my fellow countrymen, gallant soldiers, my Pakhtun and Baloch brothers and the workers of Asia, Africa, Europe and America on the first anniversary of Saur Revolution…(it) is not limited to the workers and soldiers of Afghanistan. This revolution, which was carried out by armed soldiers under the leadership of Khalq Party, is a great success and a victory for the workers all over the world. The great October Revolution of 1917 shook the whole world. That revolution is a source of guidance and inspiration for our revolution.”

It was the Parcham faction of the PDPA that was in collaboration with Kremlin. With the isolation of the revolution and the reactionary insurgency from across the eastern border, pressure mounted on the new regime. Due to the ideological and factional conflicts within the left government, the crisis worsened. Tarakai was killed in an internal clash and later Amin was eliminated. Babrak Karmal was brought to power through Russian intervention, but the relative stability of the initial months was gone.

The Islamicist insurgency backed by CIA’s covert operation had failed to dislodge the left wing government. Even after the withdrawal of the Russian forces, the government withstood this reactionary onslaught for four years and only fell in 1992 due to an internal betrayal.

However the ‘Jihad’ that the imperialists had launched has morphed into a deadly conflagration of terrorism and bloodshed devastating the whole region. This fundamentalist terror has ravaged the Middle East and beyond.

The Saur revolution proved that in, underdeveloped countries even the basic tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution could only be accomplished without the overthrow of the rotten bourgeoisie and its state. Despite its shortcomings, the Saur Revolution proved to the peoples of Southern Asia and the world that a revolutionary victory is possible even in the most arduous of conditions.

The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. E-mail ptudc@hotmail.com

Published in Daily Times, April 30th 2018.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Chris Harman, 1968 and the historic Open Letter to the Polish Communist Party-John Rose

Posted by admin On April - 25 - 2018 Comments Off on Chris Harman, 1968 and the historic Open Letter to the Polish Communist Party-John Rose


(Harman, 1968 and the historic Open Letter to the Polish Communist Party

Issue: 158)
1968—a year, but also a mood, an expectation, a world ­bursting with a promise of revolutionary possibility: a shimmering slice of historical time that precedes 1968 and outlasts it. Commemorating its 50th anniversary properly this year, 2018, must itself be an innovative political act—revisiting and re-evaluating its most important moments.

Its greatest political achievement, May 1968—événements de mai—the uprisings in France, students occupy their universities, 10 million workers occupy their factories, President de Gaulle flees the country. A workers’ power challenge to an advanced Western capitalist state. That much may be understood as the main event of 1968. But is the implication that socialist revolutions in advanced industrial countries were thus possible in late “modernity”?

One of 1968’s greatest intellectual achievements, “the Open Letter to the Party” by Jacek Kuroń and Karol Modzelewski, is rarely, if ever, acknowledged.

Kuroń and Modzelewski were young Communist dissidents in one of Soviet Communism’s most strategically important military outposts in Eastern Europe, its Warsaw Pact ally Poland. Their Open Letter, written in 1964, was a closely argued critical Marxist analysis of Polish society. It identified bitter social class divisions, with the Polish “Communist” state bureaucracy playing the equivalent role of a capitalist ruling class, extracting surplus value from Polish workers on shockingly low pay and terrible working conditions with no control either of the work process or the product of their labour.

In 1965 Kuroń and Modzelewski were thrown into jail for this “provocation”, the Polish government thereby dramatising the prestige and authority of the Open Letter. It began its travels across the Polish border, in various forms, to an increasingly receptive audience on both sides of the so-called iron curtain.

In Britain, the tiny International Socialists (IS), forerunners of today’s Socialist Workers Party, enthusiastically welcomed the Open Letter. Its analysis was strikingly similar to the state capitalist analysis of Stalin’s Russia,1 pioneered by the IS founder Tony Cliff. Cliff had argued that Stalin’s industrialisation drive in Russia in the 1930s not only consolidated his very personalised totalitarian dictatorship but also that the state bureaucracy became “an extreme and pure personification of capital”.2 The need to catch up with the West, both economically and especially militarily, exerted competitive pressure to accumulate, similar to the competitive pressure on capitalist firms. Accumulation of capital by the state, based on the forcible extraction of surplus value from workers, at the expense of their consumption needs, was also dependent on the crude “expropriation of the peasantry”.3 In Capital, Marx had called this process “primitive accumulation…a history…written…in letters of blood and fire” when describing it in Britain.4 Cliff noted that “Stalin accomplished in a few hundred days what Britain took a few hundred years to do”.5 The language of “Socialism in One Country” masked the genocidal exploitative processes unleashed. Lenin had explicitly warned against any attempt at socialism in one country.6

The IS published an English language version of the Open Letter in 1966.7 Confirmation of the group’s most iconic political perspective could hardly have sprung from a more authoritative source. It helped enhance IS’s reputation and influence in the UK student movement.

Chris Harman, a graduate student at the London School of Economics, wrote an introduction to the Open Letter and helped its promotion among students. Chris was one of the leaders of the IS group of students influential in the LSE Student Socialist Society, which played a major role in Britain’s first student occupation in 1967. By 1968, a student campus movement had erupted nationally, fuelled in part by resistance to the Vietnam War. Intense political argument questioning society’s institutions, East and West, spread rapidly, involving more and more students.8 Political debate was infectious, with several questions reoccurring: why had “Communism” failed to live up to its ideals? How can “Communism” be an answer to the failures of capitalism and the barbarities of its offspring, imperialism? The Open Letter provided a platform in the search for answers. Marx wrote that philosophers have merely interpreted the world, the point however is to change it. But at the same time he insisted on the need for a scientific interpretation providing the guidelines for changing it. The decisive significance of Kuroń and Modzelewski is their scientific interpretation of the failure of Soviet Communism—or at least of its expression in Poland.

Of course, other books and writers exerted far greater influence on what became a worldwide student movement, for example Jean-Paul Sartre’s trilogy Roads to Freedom and Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man. Indeed Marcuse was momentarily intellectual “guru” for the movement,9 Sartre famously sold Maoist tracts on student demos. But both Sartre and Marcuse spectacularly failed to provide convincing analyses of the failure of Soviet Communism and its subsequent oppressive and exploitative characteristics. Soviet Communism equalled Western capitalism as a legitimate target in 1968.

In Harman’s book on 1968, The Fire Last Time, the Prague Spring chapter10 sits next to the French May chapter. This juxtaposition—coupling even—is not just chronologically accurate, it captures precisely the immense significance of the moment. The Open Letter provided a fresh reading of Marx and Engels, allowing Marxism to be placed simultaneously at the service of the Prague protest movement as well as the “French May”. This was a direct challenge to the Stalinised Soviet Communist version of Marxism, Official Marxism-Leninism, which would be used to justify the repression of the movement when Soviet tanks intervened in Prague later in the year.

In his recently published autobiography, We’ll Ride the Mare of History into the Ground: Confessions of a Bruised Rider,11 Modzelewski explains the impact of the Open Letter in 1968:

The Open Letter was better known abroad than in Poland. I have held in my hands French, Italian, German, Swedish and Japanese copies, there were many more I have only heard about (Czech12 or English) or others I had no idea even existed. Our pamphlet was mainly, if not exclusively, published by ephemeral radical left publishers in the years of 1966-9. It was the time of the youth revolt in Europe and America. The movement was raging against both—the conformism of middle class societies and the authoritarian conformism of bureaucratic communist parties and their Muscovite Mecca.13

In the epilogue, Modzelewski explains his book’s compellingly curious title:

This book’s title is inspired by Mayakovsky’s poem Left March. Mayakovsky was a genius poet—a futurist, who devoted his great talent and charisma to serving the Bolshevik revolution; and in 1930 ended his life with a suicidal gunshot. Left March is not one of his best poems, but the metaphor “We’ll ruin the jade of the past”14 is an excellent description of the Marxist philosophy of history. Every revolution attempts to mount and tame this horse [“jade of the past”], however it is a dangerous ride. “The jade of the past” is a wild, unbroken mustang. We can jump on her back and even ride for some time, yet it is impossible to keep a tight rein on her—eventually, the horse will always take us somewhere, where we never desired or expected to be. This is how—in a nutshell—I see my own life experience.
The Open Letter
As Harman explained in his introduction to the UK edition, the challenge of the Open Letter was so effective because it liberated and restored the language and the theories, concepts and principles of Marx from their Soviet sponsored usurpers.15 In its opening paragraphs, Kuroń and Modzelewski expose the gulf between the ruling Communist Party in Poland and the country’s working class. State nationalisation of the means of production serves to consolidate that gulf, undermining the ideological pretence that state nationalisation is by definition the equivalent of a workers’ state.

In our system, the party elite is…also the power elite; all decisions relating to state power are made by it… The party elite has at its disposal all the nationalised means of production; it decides on the extent of accumulation and consumption, on the direction of investment, on the share of various social groups in consumption and in the national income; in others words, it decides on the distribution and utilisation of the entire social product. The decisions of the elite are independent, free of any control on the part of the working class and of the remaining classes and social strata. The workers have no way of influencing them, nor have party members in general… This Party-state power elite…we shall call the central ­political bureaucracy.16

Later this argument is strengthened, making explicit that the ruling bureaucracy “is a ruling class”:

It has at its exclusive command the basic means of production. It is said that the bureaucracy cannot be a class, since the individual earnings of its members do not come anywhere near the individual earnings of capitalists… This is quite wrong…the property of the bureaucracy is not of an individual nature, but constitutes the collective property of an elite which identifies itself with the state…its class character [depends] only on its relationship—as a group—to the means of production.17

Discussing the origins of the system in the context of the outcome of the Second World War and the ceding of Poland (and other Eastern European countries) to Stalin’s sphere of influence as part of the post-war settlement, the Open Letter identifies Poland’s industrialisation drive as the mechanism that created this new state-based bureaucratic ruling class:

The nature of the task of industrialising a backward country called to life as a ruling class a bureaucracy which was able to achieve this task, since it alone, through its class interest, represented the interest of industrialisation under the conditions—production for the sake of production.18

The Open Letter had an additionally good reason for predicting the emergence of a mass-based revolutionary workers’ movement, resulting directly from its analysis.19 There was a famous historical precedent. Although not on the same scale as the revolution in Hungary in that year,20 in 1956 Polish workers had not only gone on strike but developed democratically elected workers’ councils which, momentarily at least, appeared also to challenge the authority of the Polish state system. However, the state would successfully neuter them by integrating them into its own industrial power arrangements.

Kuroń and Modzelewski called on this experience not simply to demand genuine workers’ democracy in Poland but to locate the demand very specifically in the lessons of 1956. The following passage from the Open Letter is particularly remarkable because it also unwittingly pinpoints with extraordinary accuracy the key debate in Solidarity21 in late 1981 about workers’ control in the workplace, workers’ democracy and state power:

Workers’ democracy cannot limit itself to the level of an enterprise. For when economic and political decisions, the actual rule over the surplus product, and the labour that creates it, do not belong to the working class, then participation of the workers in managing the enterprise must also become fictitious. Workers’ self-rule in an enterprise, therefore, requires full workers’ democracy in the state. The working class organised under such conditions will set the goals of social production, guided by its own interest, the interest of the people living today at subsistence level. The goal of production will then be, of course, consumption for the broad masses. This signifies the overthrow of existing production and social relationships and, with them, the bureaucracy’s class rule.22

Finally, again based on the 1956 experience, and again in extraordinary anticipation of potential weaknesses in the Solidarity movement, the Open Letter called for workers to organise their own independent political party.

The so-called October Left in 1956—a political current made up in large measure of the natural leaders of the working class, youth and intellectual opinion—could have been a substitute for the political vanguard of the mass working class movement. The October Left differed from the liberal current, especially in its views on the workers’ councils, in which it saw the basis for new production relationships and the nucleus of a new political power. But it was not a uniform movement. The left did not separate itself from the technocratic current in the workers’ council movement (the demand that factories be run by the councils did not go beyond the programme of the technocracy)23 nor from the liberal bureaucracy, in the political showdown on a national scale. It did not set itself apart from the general anti-Stalinist front as a specifically proletarian movement. In this situation, it was evidently unable to formulate its own political programme, to propagate it in an organised manner among the masses, to create a party. Without all this, it could not become a politically independent force, and therefore, had to transform itself into a leftist appendage of the ruling liberal bureaucracy.24
The double-edged impact of the Open Letter
Kuroń and Modzelewski were immensely proud of the impact of their Open Letter. But they also noticed the major strategic gap in that impact. As Modzelewski recalls:

The manifesto of two insurgent Marxists from Warsaw was getting a lot of interest and support from the Western contesters. [French student leader] Daniel Cohn-Bendit,25…questioned during his trial for disturbing public order…[when asked to give his name] replied proudly: “Kuroń-Modzelewski”… For the youth, who in 1968 and 1969 were building barricades on the streets of the main university towns and cities of Western Europe, the Open Letter was a compulsory reading. When I thought about it I was envious—why there and not here, at home?26

The Polish state had very effectively isolated from workers the beginnings of a student revolt in Poland in 1968, unambiguously using a deliberately weaponised and sickening antisemitism.27 This had been aimed at student activists like Adam Michnik, son of Jewish Communist parents, who had campaigned vigorously for the Open Letter.

There was an even more serious problem. The Prague Spring was infamously crushed by Soviet tanks in the autumn of 1968. Yet the Open Letter had cast serious doubt on just such a possibility:

It is said that an eventual revolution in Poland would inevitably lead to Soviet armed intervention, the result of which, from the military point of view, is not open to doubt. Those who advance this view assume that everything takes place in “one country in isolation” which, by way of exception, is torn by class struggles while in neighbouring countries there are no classes but only regular armies…planes and tanks.28

When Warsaw Pact planes and tanks were used to suppress the Prague Spring, Kuroń, Modzelewski and Michnik issued the leaflet titled “Time and Again Great Powers Preserve the Existing Social Order Using Tanks”:

Vietnam’s cause is our cause. A right to a revolution, abolish social slavery…freedom from exploitation…from Great Powers’ dictatorship over small nations. We—the Polish left—cannot be silent… Because we remember…the foreign interventions, stifling the Hungarian Revolution… Che Guevara laid down his life for the thousands who die every day in Latin America and Vietnam… Fighting for a sovereign and socialist Vietnam means fighting for sovereign and socialist Poland. A nation cannot be free if its government oppresses other nations… We send our solidarity to the American left, whose fight for peace and freedom for Vietnam means fight for human rights and democracy in their country. We send our solidarity to the Soviet left. We send our solidarity to West German students, French left and Czech intellectuals. Alien to us, the great powers, trading in Vietnamese nation’s blood. Alien to us, the provocative politics of the Chinese bureaucracy. To all who trample the sovereignty of working people in any country, we follow the Spanish antifascists: No Pasarán.29

But Kuroń and Modzelewski were deeply demoralised by the bitter experiences of Prague and Poland in 1968. They began a major rethink, moving to a rejection of Marxism and the Open Letter, and a quest for a new politics, or as David Ost aptly calls it, Anti-Politics.30 This meant that their remarkable political and organisational skills were now adapted to a completely different project—the so-called self-limiting revolution which would become the foundation political platform of Solidarity in 1980-1.31 From 1976, Michnik and Kuroń would help develop KOR, Komitet Obrony Robotników, the Workers’ Defence Committee, to defend workers’ leaders victimised by the government during a strike wave in that year.32 As we shall see shortly, KOR’s evolution would be intimately tied in with that of Solidarity: “When KOR and Solidarity claimed they were not ‘political’ movements, what they meant was that they did not want to challenge the party’s control of the state”.33

As Timothy Garton Ash put it:

“The class of ’68”…thought they discerned a new way forward…“bureaucratic despotic socialism” would not be transformed from above…its internal contradictions made it susceptible to pressure from below…this autonomous “civil society” would reassure Soviet leaders, whose control of Poland’s foreign and defence policy would not be challenged. This strategy was elaborated in a series of essays by KOR members like Jacek Kuroń and Adam Michnik…Kuroń’s slogan “Don’t burn down party committees, found your own!” could hang as a motto over all the workers’ protests in 1980.34

Though this perspective would initially meet with spectacular success, it lacked theoretical underpinnings. The implication was that the Soviet state and its Eastern European satellite system could be reformed. But what was the evidence for this assumption? And did it mean an improved Communism, a democratic Communism or a displacement of Communism, in other words state capitalism, by private capitalism? These questions were left unanswered, though they would come to haunt the movement and ultimately destroy it.

A tremendous opportunity had been lost. 1968 was fast fading from view. But it desperately required a political and intellectual retrospective. On the eve of the 1848 revolutionary wave in Europe, Marx and Engels had published their Communist Manifesto. This document became far more than simply a flagbearer of those revolutions, it accomplished permanent historical status as the foundation statement of communist principles with a resonance that survived the 20th century and continues to reverberate in the first decades of this century. But of course it could not have anticipated the catastrophic outcome of the 20th century’s most important Communist experiment.

1968 now needed its own Communist Manifesto for the Late Twentieth Century if the experience was not going to be wasted and the reasons for the failure of the Communist experiment were not going to be lost, and, above all, to probe much more thoroughly the causes of that failure. Kuroń and Modzelewski’s Open Letter had laid the framework for just such a document. Now it needed fleshing out. If the formation of Poland’s state capitalist ruling class was contingent on the country’s post-war industrialisation, didn’t that reflect the identical process that had occurred in Stalin’s pre-war Russia—albeit without the terror on the scale seen in Russia, that we now call the Gulag?

1968 needed to leave a legacy reaffirming the Bolshevik perspective that socialism in one country was a contradiction in terms, especially in a mainly pre-industrial peasant country, and that the original Bolshevik perspective, based on communist principles of internationalism, self-emancipation, workers’ control and mass participatory democracy, was reflected in 1968’s own values. Trotsky had written: “The revolution…is primarily the awakening of the human personality in the masses…marked by a growing respect for the dignity of the individual and by an ever increasing concern for the weak”.35 But it was not to be. The dumping of the Open Letter also took down the opportunity to use its outstanding analytical tools to make sense of new and unexpected developments in Poland itself in the 1970s.
Poland: crisis of state capitalism
But this theoretical challenge wasn’t entirely ignored. In a pathbreaking article, “Poland: Crisis of State Capitalism” published in two parts for this journal’s first series in the 1970s, Chris Harman showed how the Polish crisis was a symptom that the Soviet system as a whole could no longer withstand the pressures of the global market system and its crises.36

In his last book Zombie Capitalism—responding to the 2008 financial crash—published just before his sadly premature death, he explained what had underpinned that analysis: the fusion of “the analyses of Tony Cliff and Kuroń and Modzelewski”.37 It was a powerful mix. It showed the astonishing penetration by Western capitalism, both its corporations and its banks, into the Eastern European economies, and Poland in particular. It showed that Polish “Communism” was beginning to morph into a hybrid between the Western and Eastern systems, but with a dependency that was increasingly tied to the dangerously unstable rhythms of the global economy.

Several examples came from the columns of the Financial Times. Typically Western bank loans were tied to particular projects: “A consortium of German companies led by Krupp is expected to land orders worth £565 million for two coal gasification plants… The Poles are interested in setting up a joint marketing operation with Krupp to sell the various projects abroad. A consortium of West German banks is working on the financing of the new deal”.38 The Wall Street Journal reported: “Foreign bankers are as happy to lend to Communist governments as to a family business. Happier. They’ve found in governments like Poland…borrowers who will pay at rates Western industrial powers would scorn”.39

The centrepiece of the Polish government’s next “five-year plan” was to be the expansion of Polish copper production through a massive £250 million investment. This was to be provided by a consortium of Western banks but they have demanded as a condition for the loan the power “to demand changes in the copper export strategy as necessary”.40 So we had the extraordinary spectacle of the classic model of Stalinist “command” economic planning, dictated not from Moscow but from the boardrooms of the Western banks!41

Expanding trade with the West but also borrowing heavily from Western banks, might now benefit Poland from Western economic growth but the converse was also true. Western European recessions would now become exaggerated in the Eastern European economies, especially Poland. Just servicing the Western bank debt, which cost Poland nearly a quarter of its export earnings, triggered the red warning lights.

At the start of the 1980s Poland’s production fell by nearly a third, with prices increasing by 24 percent in 1981 and 100 percent in 1982, as real wages fell by about a fifth.42 The burgeoning mass movement of Polish workers that became Solidarity was a direct outcome of these circumstances.

Chris also took the opportunity in Zombie Capitalism to summarise and re-emphasise the sheer ingenuity and innovative approach to a post-Stalinist Marxism displayed by Kuroń and Modzelewski. “Poland and a foretaste of a dire future” is a model of terse writing on the Marxist economics of the crisis of state capitalism, in its death throes. It deserves to be carefully read and treated here as an appendix of this article.43

We have an intriguing—and frustrating—glimpse of the implications, and the high stakes at issue, if Kuroń and Modzelewski had developed this 1970s Marxist analysis. We might have had a recognition that Polish workers were in revolt against a fast-changing global capitalism, as well as the Polish state as an extension of the Soviet state satellite system. This just might have forced a reconsideration of political objectives, strategies and tactics. An open debate about global capitalism could have become part of the “Polish” debate. And it might have made the horrendous embrace of neoliberalism by the Solidarity leaders at the end of the 1980s, with the nauseating background applause from Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, far less likely. But this discussion was instead just confined to the tiny circles of the far left. It had no impact on Solidarity’s birth. In fact the failure to take the two key components of the Open Letter, its similarity to the state capitalist analysis and its revolutionary socialist perspective, into Solidarity, robbed the movement of the absolutely essential debate that it needed from the start.
Solidarity: the “self-limiting” revolution
The Solidarity revolution of 1980-1 in Poland was “the most powerful…advanced working class movement” ever seen “certainly in the ‘Communist’ sphere and perhaps anywhere in the world”.44 We discussed earlier the self-limiting restraints imposed on it by its leaders. But that should not blind us to the sheer scale, depth and ambition of the movement, which grew out of shipyard workers’ strikes at the Polish port cities of Gdańsk and Szczecin on the Baltic coast in 1980.

The renowned Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński was among the first writers to sense the importance of what was happening:

The workers on the Coast have smashed the old stereotypes of the “dumb prole”… The young face of a new generation of workers has emerged: thoughtful, intelligent, conscious of its place in society, and most importantly, committed to drawing all the consequences of the ideological foundations of this system, according to which it is their class that plays the leading role in society.

Kapuściński describes Gdansk and Szczecin as “cities in which a new morality took control. No one drank, no one caused trouble… Crime fell to zero, aggression disappeared. People became friendly, helpful and open to one another. Total strangers suddenly felt they needed one another”. People were motivated not by “wage demands”, but “the dignity of man”.45

The emergence of Solidarity had its roots in earlier battles when the Polish state had tried to make workers pay for its flawed economic policies. In 1970-1, price increases had precipitated mass strikes and demonstrations in the coastal shipyard cities. The security forces had responded with unrestrained brutality, killing hundreds of workers. The regime fell, giving way to a new party leader, Edward Gierek, promising reforms. Yet history would quickly repeat itself. The Polish economy, as we have seen, was floundering. In 1976 Gierek would also now attempt swingeing price rises, provoking strikes and riots, this time beyond the coastal cities, most notably at the Ursus tractor complex in Warsaw and in the city of Radom. According to some reports, three quarters of Poland’s largest plants were hit by strikes. Within 24 hours, the price rises had been withdrawn.46 Once again, fierce repression followed, hundreds of victimisation sackings, police beatings, jailings.

It was at this point that KOR, mentioned earlier, emerged. It comprised of a small number of dissident intellectuals, including Kuroń and Michnik, who would raise funds and publicise the cases of victimised workers. As a sporadic strike movement developed between 1976 and 1980, in response to the deepening economic crisis, KOR would widen the scope of its intervention “breaking the state’s censorship monopoly and providing news of workers’ struggles”.47 Exemplary courage and tenacity characterised KOR intellectuals and worker activists during this period, constantly arrested, beaten by the police, sometimes murdered.48 Some militant workers were drawn towards KOR’s activities leading to the production of underground leaflets and newspapers, the most important of which was Robotnik (Worker). The demand for a Free Trade Union movement began to grow. KOR’s influence on this development was thus well rooted—including its theory of a self-limiting revolution.

The breakthrough came at the Baltic port city of Gdansk in 1980. Anna Walentynowicz, who would become internationally famous as the militant crane-driving grandmother in the shipyard, helped produce Coastal Worker, a KOR newspaper. She was sacked. A strike movement erupted which not only closed the giant, unfortunately named, Lenin Shipyard, but began spreading to workers across the city. It seemed as though the moment to turn the idea of a “Free Trade Union” movement into a reality had arrived.

A strike committee was formed which included Lech Wałęsa, previously sacked from the yard and who had climbed over the wall to address striking workers, along with Walentynowicz. The government was forced to negotiate. Political demands were added to the economic demands, the release of political prisoners, the erection of a monument at the shipyard gates to the workers murdered by the regime in 1970, which were conceded. Demands for full-scale democratisation from the workplace and local communities to all the economic and political institutions of the state simmered just beneath the surface. Not all were agreed, nevertheless, the final outcome was a humiliated government forced to recognise, for the first time in a “Communist” country, a mass-based independent free trade union. In any case, the government understood, in no uncertain terms, that the dynamic of democratisation, sometimes referred to as self-determination and workers’ self-management, was now unstoppable.

The name Solidarity had immediate roots and relevance. When Wałęsa and the shipyard workers voted to end the strike, tram drivers on strike bitterly complained. They had been out in solidarity but had made no gains. Walentynowicz and other women at the shipyard insisted that the strike be reinstated. It was, and the strike committee was expanded to include all striking workplaces.49

Kuroń was one of the political prisoners. He made a fascinating and self-deprecating admission. He said that perhaps it was a good job he wasn’t there: “I would have told them…expecting…independent trade unions…was impossible”.50 Workers had moved beyond the experts. But only up to a point: the self-limiting restriction on the new movement was built into its perspectives. For the next few months the self-limiting restriction would be tested to its limits, reaching a climax at the city of Bydgoszcz. Here its political inadequacy would be ruthlessly exposed, paving the way for martial law which was imposed at the end of 1981.

Martial law, in turn, destroyed the revolution. It’s true that the implosion of Soviet Communism in 1989—and Solidarity was obviously a major contributor to that implosion—found some of the Solidarity leaders and advisers, some recently released from prison, at the so-called Round Table negotiations with leaders of the former Communist regime. But the combination of martial law, the demoralising failure of the self-limiting revolution with deeply reactionary pressures from the West filling the vacuum, had created a transformed intellectual and political climate.

The results were spelled out in stark terms by none other than Karol Modzelewski, who, while still insisting that Marxism was no longer relevant, nevertheless had distanced himself from his old comrades Kuroń and Michnik who had signed up to the agenda of a neoliberal future for a post-Communist Poland:

The Great “Solidarity” of 1980-1 was a collective, egalitarian and, in its core, socialist movement. Two years after the martial law none of these expressions were suitable to describe the ideological stance of “Solidarity” Underground. This is also true in the case of intellectuals… They were still oriented toward “Solidarity” or, to be more precise, what was left of it, but they were using a different language and had different ideas than in 1981…when they co-authored our programme titled “Rzeczpospolita Samorządna”, Self-governing Republic.51 Their compass was tuned to different azimuths…the era of Milton Friedman, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.52
Gwiazda and Solidarity’s “October” moment
Andrzej Gwiazda is a name virtually unknown in the West. But, in a very public clash with Solidarity’s world-renowned leader Lech Wałęsa, at the height of the Bydgoszcz crisis, he could legitimately claim: “It’s my duty to talk because my name next to yours Lech, Anna Walentynowicz and a few others, has become a symbol for those who…fought to get our union”.53

Gwiazda had just spoken on behalf of Wałęsa, unilaterally calling off the general strike over Bydgoszcz in March 1981. He then very publicly attacked the decision. Making sense of this political somersault, and the man who performed it, at the very moment when the taking of political power seemed to be within Solidarity’s grasp, takes us to the heart of Solidarity’s political crisis and ultimate defeat. A crisis built into the perspective of the self-limiting revolution. First, though, we need to understand Gwiazda’s politics.

His intense Polish nationalism had its understandable roots in his hatred of Soviet Communism and its manifestation as Soviet imperial domination and Soviet terror in relation to Poland. He has literally lived with it since the age of five when, at the beginning of the Second World War, his family were a direct victim of the Hitler-Stalin pact. Hitler’s snatch squads took his father54 and Stalin’s his mother and the rest of the family, including Andrzej, to be deported to Siberia.55 Even at five he was “wróg sowieckiego naroda”, enemy of the people.

There is an extensive, almost legendary, Polish literature56 about Gwiazda (and his wife Joanna Duda-Gwiazda)57 that describes the uncompromising childhood, the teenage resistance fighter, constantly expelled from schools, in and out of detention centres and jails. His loathing of Communists meant that his reaction to the Open Letter was simply pleasure that the Communists were now fighting among themselves. He saw no value in its contents. He never trusted the authors, particularly Kuroń. How can you trust even an ex-Communist? Why did they remain silent for so long about Stalin’s crimes? At the same time, though, as a leader of the Free Trade Unions in Gdansk, the movement that preceded Solidarity, and then a chief negotiator, alongside Wałęsa, for Solidarity’s demands to be recognised by the government, he alone insisted that the release of political prisoners, Kuroń in particular, was a non-negotiable demand.58

Ash’s observations show Gwiazda, the militant, revolutionary workers’ leader. On workers’ democracy: people should not vote for “Franek or Gienek”, but for a programme: “that protective clothing should always be provided, for example, or that proper cupboards should be fitted in the changing rooms. And after six months people can say to Franek: What’s happened about the cupboards then? You made a promise… But you haven’t done anything, you creep. We’re going to get rid of you”.59

Gwiazda was not a natural practitioner of the art of the possible: if he had been, he would never have begun the struggle for what seemed to everyone impossible in the 1970s. He was a fighter for fundamental principles, with more than a streak of intransigence. Yet no one who travelled around the country in this week could doubt that Gwiazda was more closely in tune with the mood of the workers than the counsellors of caution.60

The test for Gwiazda and the entire movement and its strategy of the self-limiting revolution would come at Bydgoszcz in March 1981,61 the October “moment” of the Solidarity revolution. The general strike had been called in response to police beatings of Solidarity leaders, in particular Jan Rulewski,62 during stalled negotiations over recognition of Rural Solidarity, embracing some 3 million peasant farmers. All sides and all commentators agree this was the turning point for the movement.63 A four-hour general strike had already proved an immense success: “For the party leadership the most shattering feature…was the almost universal participation of party members, against the explicit orders of the Politburo…the base of the party was in open revolt”.64 There was every reason to believe that an all-out general strike would rally most of Polish society behind it.

We find Gwiazda instinctively hostile to Wałęsa yet unable to break with his old comrade. The resulting confusion reveals the man of principle but now paralysed by lack of political strategic alternative. Having agreed to act as Wałęsa’s spokesman—calling off the strike—Gwiazda sent him an open letter, widely published throughout Solidarity, attacking the decision, which he described as nothing less than a threat to Solidarity’s moral revolution in Poland.65 It pinpoints the scale of the crisis now faced by Solidarity after Bydgoszcz: “Not going into an evaluation of whether or not it was a just decision, we were not authorised to make such a decision… Each shadow that falls upon the union painfully hurts the hearts of Poles. Internal democracy is our union’s prerequisite”.66

But uncoupling the threat to Solidarity’s—and hence Poland’s—potential internal democracy from the justice of the decision itself, to abandon the general strike, disarmed the movement. Disarmed it of the very democratic debate that it needed, at its most advanced moment, for a fundamental shift in strategy and tactics. The ultimate limit of the self-limiting revolution had now been reached. Insofar as there was a theory underpinning it, Ost’s Anti-Politics, “don’t challenge the party’s control of the state”, sums it up. But this had reached its own limit and been found wanting. The prospect of Polish “civil society” somehow democratising itself “from below”, alongside co-existence with the Soviet state satellite system was stalemated. But it was a dangerous, unstable and temporary stalemate.

And here was the great paradox, Kuroń and Modzelewski’s Open Letter had not only predicted such a situation, it had provided the tactics, strategy and even a political programme for overcoming it. But it was “Marxist”; and Solidarity was fighting “Marxism”. The conundrum paralysed the movement at the very moment its resolution could have unleashed its enormous potential.

Gwiazda was one of Solidarity’s most courageous and intelligent revolutionary militants. Could he have cracked the conundrum? We’ll never know. The ­realisation that the enemy wasn’t “communism” at all, but state monopoly totalitarian capitalism, increasingly dependent on the Western banks and corporations of the global economy, was never discussed. The implications were never put to the test.

Instead, Communism had to be destroyed. The left appeared as a trap and a snare—two sides of the same coin. Communists and their former Communist critics, briefly heroic leaders of Solidarity like Kuroń and Michnik, became agents for globalisation and its neoliberal “reform” agenda for a post-Communist Poland, now welcomed by leaders of the former Communist regime. Throughout, the Gwiazdas remained principled trade unionists, but with a left-wing option now firmly blocked, we witnessed the deepening of a right-wing trend in Solidarity that would result in the remnant of the once great movement offering support to today’s right-wing nationalist governing Law and Justice Party. Today the Gwiazdas support this party.
Workers and intellectuals
This raises sharply the question of how democratic debate was conducted, and which debates were conducted, in Solidarity, and in particular the role of its intellectuals. Modzelewski may have abandoned the Open Letter and its Marxist principles but its influence continued to haunt him. He remained, in any case, one of Solidarity’s most effective left-wing intellectuals with enormous respect for the outpouring of mass democratic sentiment that characterised Solidarity from its inception.

The following outstanding passage from his autobiography sharply captures both the strengths and weaknesses of his position.

During the first “Solidarity”, [the] crowds’ attitude towards the leaders was very emotional, too. But there was no blind trust. On every level the activists—from the workplace to the National Commission, and following their suit, ordinary unionists—wanted, more than anything, to self-manage. They would never trust anyone, not even Wałęsa, with their lives. In order to effectively manage this movement we had to continuously intercommunicate with the crowds who wanted, above all, to direct and rule themselves, the unions and Poland. In January 1990 in Wrocław’s Hydral conference room I saw with my own eyes that this spirit of self-governance vanished completely. This “Solidarity” was different. It is not even about the fact that 80 percent of former members never rejoined the movement when it was reactivated. The main reason for this is the fact that this powerful spirit of self-determination was crushed by a violent force [the imposition of martial law] in December 1981 and it never came back. The extraordinary phenomenon of sovereign, collective activism of millions of people has been irretrievably destroyed. The myth survived, and it manifested itself in the strikes of 1988 and triumphed during the June 1989 elections. When “our” government was formed, the righteous “flag-bearer” had to become “our” prime minister and his team. But the myth does not express the crowd’s pursuit for self-decision making; it does not provide the control instruments or a will to control. Where the myth is strong, its depositaries have the free rein. Their decisions are never resisted.67

On the one hand we have the demand for self-determination or self-management, popular control, workers’ control, the single most important spontaneous demand of the movement. On the other hand we have the intellectuals “to manage this movement”.

Modzelewski tells us elsewhere that he won an argument with the intellectuals that the crowd must be trusted to make its own decisions, that its behaviour was perfectly rational. But this still begs the question of the relation between the crowd and the intellectuals. And it raises one question in particular above all others. Can the crowd generate its own intellectuals?

This question never seems to have been put, yet it was intimately linked to the question of how the demand for self-determination could discover the practical politics for its implementation. It was not the task of the intellectuals to grant self-determination or to use pressure from the crowd on the authorities to do so, nor in any case, was it in their gift to do so. It was the task of the workers’ movement itself to mobilise for it. But how? Spontaneity needed to be underpinned by political organisation. But what sort of organisation?68

In 1968 Chris Harman had grappled with exactly this question in response to what seemed to be 1968’s spontaneous call for a student-worker alliance. It was seen as the key ingredient for revolution in France’s May ’68. Yet it was notoriously short-lived and, in any case, arguably, it had failed. Yet the idea caught the imagination, perhaps like no other. Tantalising, to be sure, but, to use the jargon, how to concretise it?

Chris addressed precisely this question in a pamphlet essay, “Party and Class”, which also deserves to be ranked as a classic 1968 text.69 He built a powerful case for the creation of worker-intellectuals, juxtaposing and dovetailing several celebrated passages about the crowd in history, from the writings of Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci. Citing Gramsci, Chris traces two possible routes for the active “man of the masses”.70 He is caught between two theoretical consciousnesses (or one contradictory consciousness). One “which unites him with all his colleagues in the practical transformation of reality, and one superficially explicit or verbal which he has inherited from the past and which he accepts without criticism”. If the two are in contradiction, it can result in paralysis, “a state of moral and political passivity”. Overcoming this requires constructing “a determined practice, a theory that, coinciding with and being identified with the decisive elements of the same practice, accelerates the historical process…makes the practice more homogeneous, coherent, more efficacious in all its elements”. The choice is between “having a conception of the world ‘imposed’ mechanically by the external environment…or to work out one’s own conception of the world consciously and critically”.71

But the individual activist among the masses cannot do this alone. She or he requires a political organisation sophisticated enough to respond to all external political, intellectual and cultural pressures. But this must be on the terms set, and guaranteed by, the roots of the organisation among the most advanced stream of the rank and file of the mass movement, the stream least likely to compromise with potentially conservative external pressures and consciously work through an alternative.

Here Chris switches from Gramsci to Lenin, and Lenin’s conception of the political party, but the switch is seamless, suggesting an extraordinarily creative fusion of the thinking of the two political leaders and intellectuals. At issue, is persuading the new members, quoting Lenin, “steadily to elevate them…from a general spirit of protest…to organised membership in the party”.72 Lenin called them “purposive workers”. “Genuine heroes” who have a “passionate drive toward knowledge and toward socialism”.73

Chris then synthesises and draws out the underlying principle: “The revolutionary party exists so as to make it possible for the most conscious militant workers and intellectuals to engage in scientific discussion as a prelude to coherent and cohesive action”.74 Worker and intellectual are not just equals in the party, the worker is beginning to gain confidence in their own intellectual qualities, irrespective of how little earlier learning or reading they may have done in the past. Massive efforts are made to provide a literature and other forms of intellectual communication—in popular form. Gramsci himself had been very clear about the prospects for this bold perspective, identifying the worker-intellectual in the making as nothing less than a democratic philosopher, a “permanently active persuader” with roots among the masses.75

Kuroń and Modzelewski had explicitly identified the political organisation necessary for the development of worker-intellectuals when, in the Open Letter, they drew lessons from the 1956 workers’ revolt in Poland calling for “the natural leaders of the working class, youth and intellectual opinion…a specifically proletarian movement…[with its] own political programme, to propagate it in an organised manner among the masses, to create a party…a politically independent force”.76

In 1980-1, they helped create a movement, Solidarity, with literally thousands of new “natural leaders of the working class.” But by refusing to sanction the independent Marxism that they themselves had begun to pioneer with the Open Letter, they disarmed the new movement, and especially its new young working class leaders, ideologically. This also meant that the regime’s Stalinised travesty of Marxism could only be challenged from the right. Legitimate pressures for democratisation were relatively easily fused with the entirely illegitimate pressures emanating from the Western “liberal democracies”, carriers of liberalism’s latest incarnation, the virus known as neoliberalism.

Drawing together some of the different political and intellectual strands of Chris Harman’s contributions over the years, directly and indirectly relevant, has hopefully helped clarify the extraordinarily creative yet deeply contradictory roles of Kuroń and Modzelewski. But taking as a cue Chris’s tribute to them in his last major work, Zombie Capitalism, the focus for how to define their legacy should be on the unfinished business of the 1968 Kuroń and Modzelewski.

This is not so far-fetched. We have seen the progressive, perhaps even quasi-Marxist impulses, still at work in Modzelewski’s autobiography. But Kuroń too, at the end of his life, called his role as a key promoter of “shock therapy” in Solidarity’s first neoliberal government in the 1990s the biggest mistake of his life.77 Indeed Kuroń was, perhaps, rediscovering at least a respect for the Marxism of his youth.78

John Rose is currently studying the roots of the failure of communism in the 20th century.


1 Cliff, 1988.

2 Cliff, 1988, p168.

3 Cliff, 1988, pp50-55.

4 Cliff, 1988, p54.

5 Cliff, 1988, p54.

6 Cliff, 1988, pp144-145. For how Cliff developed his theory of state capitalism, which involved a break with Leon Trotsky’s view that, however bureaucratically distorted, Russia was still some kind of workers’ state, see Birchall, 2011, p88-127; Callinicos, 1990, p73-79. In 1956 the KGB, Russia’s secret police, commissioned a special translation of Cliff’s book—Birchall, 2011, p117.

Ivan Maisky, the Soviet Ambassador to Britain during the war recorded in his diaries Stalin’s enthusiasm for a leading British Conservative banker, J Gibson Jarvie, who praised the former’s Five Year Plan. But Maisky writes that Stalin always ignored Jarvie’s insistence that Russia was practising state capitalism—Gorodetsky, 2015, p37.

7 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966.

8 See “The Student Revolt” in Harman, 1998, pp38-54.

9 Ali and Watkins, 1998, p129. Thanks to Ken Muller for reminding me about Marcuse.

10 “Students held huge assemblies into the night discussing every social and political question…workers, slowly, but surely, identified with what was called the ‘reform process’, beginning to force officials out from state-run unions and to frame demands of their own”—Harman, 1998, p123.

11 Modzelewski, 2013. Thanks to Andrzej Zebrowski of Pracownicza Demokracja (Workers Democracy) in Warsaw for our intensive discussions about this book, his invaluable comments on the first draft of this article. I would also like to thank Ela Bancarzewski and Maciej Bancarzewski for their superb translations of excerpts from the autobiography.

12 Czech student leader Petr Uhl published and distributed it widely in Czechoslovakia in 1968, translated from the French, not the Polish, edition.

13 Modzelewski, 2013, Kindle location 2123-2127

14 The quoted translation of Left March is by Alec Vagapov.

15 Harman, 1966. The Open Letter was published in pamphlet form as “A Revolutionary Socialist Manifesto” with a subtitle “written in a Polish prison”, which of course was an error. The authors had received a prison sentence for writing it.

16 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, p7.

17 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, p15.

18 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, p27.

19 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, pp50-51.

20 See the chapter on the Hungarian Revolution in Harman, 1988, pp119-188, as well as the comment on this chapter, footnote 39 of this article. Also Tamás, 2016.

21 Solidarity is discussed shortly. For the best introduction see Barker, 1986. George Sanford, the British liberal scholar who wrote the first English language comprehensive description of Solidarity’s one and only (1981) national congress, describes Barker’s book as “the most cogent, if inevitably partisan, political analysis, establishing common ground with the radical fundamentalist tendency within Solidarity itself”—Sanford, 1990, p2.

22 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, pp22-23.

23 The “technocratic current” led the right-wing version of the workers self-management debate in Solidarity in 1981. The professionally trained, economically privileged, technological experts were often the leaders of this movement, and some would see the prizing away of their workplaces from the Stalinist bureaucracy as the first step towards deals with Western financial investors—see also Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, pp69-70. But there was also a left-wing which allied with the rank and file workers. In any case, were the professional technocrats not also proletarians, albeit highly privileged ones? Did they not sell their labour power and create value? Indeed, as technological innovators, which sometimes they were, did they not make a unique contribution toward value creation? See Callinicos, 2014, pp302-303, and footnote 26 on pp301-302, for a discussion on “scientific labour”. Coincidentally, see the extracts from Harman’s Education, Capitalism and the Student Revolt in this issue. Certainly, no one could doubt the proletarian commitment of bicycle design engineer Jan Rulewski, as we shall see, centre stage during Solidarity’s “October” moment, the Bydgoszcz crisis. Rulewski, to this day, still hopes to design a bicycle environmentally adapted to the heavily traffic-laden roads of the 21st century and sees his professional skills placed alongside the workers who would make those bikes as an essential part of the production process in a workers’ self-managed society. And who will deny the proletarian commitment of chemical engineer, Andrzej Gwiazda in 1981? (See the section below on Gwiazda).

24 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, pp44-45. The Open Letter develops a detailed programme for implementation in its concluding pages—Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, pp59-66.

25 But did Cohn-Bendit properly read the Open Letter? It is not addressed in his book, Cohn-Bendit, 1968. This was a wider problem. It became a flag, a “red rag” to the Stalinist bull, of symbolic protest. But its sharp incisive analysis was too easily glossed over. Cohn-Bendit’s anarcho-libertarianism drew very different conclusions and helped spawn Anti-Politics, the unhelpful part of the 1968 legacy, with a decisive influence on the rise of Solidarity—Ost, 1990.

26 Modzelewski, 2013, Kindle location 2127-2133.

27 Harman, 1998, p124. The regime claimed only “hooligans” joined the 1968 disturbances but most of 1,200 arrests “were in fact young workers”—Harman, 1998, p124. Also Gwiazda’s view: “Almost alone in 1968 he, Gwiazda, tried to mobilise working class support for the student movement”—Touraine, 1983, p146.

28 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, pp55-56.

29 Friszke, 2010, p493. Thanks to Andrzej Zebrowski for locating this classic leaflet and to Jacek Szymanski for translating it.

30 Ost, 1990. Kuroń would sharply put down any support for the Open Letter. Zbigniew Kowalewski (Łódź region) was one of a tiny number of Solidarity leaders to support it. Kuroń attacked him in the lobbies of the programmatic commission of the 1st national congress of Solidarity in Autumn 1981 as “a schnook (frajer) who still believes in the follies/foolishnesses/stupidities/idiocies (głupstwa) we wrote, Karol and me, in the Open Letter”. Kowalewski reports and comments on this in Nowy Robotnik, number 7 (22), July-August 2005. Kuroń, the year before, had told the general assembly of delegates of Łódź region that Marxism was an “outlived 19th century philosophy”. Unfortunately, Kowalewski’s role, in late 1981, promoting the “active strike” strategy, threatening a response to food shortages with workers’ control over food production and distribution, with strong hints of generalising the strategy, cannot be explored here. I do so in a later publication. Meanwhile see Barker, 1986, pp129 and 139-140, and Kowalewski, 1982, and 1985. Ominously General Jaruzelski warned against “active strikes” in the Sejm, the Polish parliament, and the Polish Communist Party paper attacked Kowalewski’s “active strike” pamphlet just weeks before the imposition of martial law.

31 Barker, 1986, p16.

32 Barker, 1986, p12.

33 Ost, 1990, p1.

34 Ash, 1983, pp22-23.

35 Deutscher, 2003, p138.

36 Harman, 1976; Harman, 1977.

37 Harman, 2009, p375.

38 Financial Times (1 June, 1976), cited in Harman, 1977.

39 Wall Street Journal (7 December, 1981). This later example comes from a new chapter on Poland’s Solidarity movement in the third edition of Chris’s Class Struggles in Eastern Europe 1945-83, published in 1988, p255. Inevitably the chapter overlaps with Colin Barker’s book on Solidarity published two years earlier and it is most unfortunate that Chris does not mention Colin’s book. Chris would have benefited from Colin’s discussion on the prospects for Soviet military intervention in Poland 1980-1, which Chris far too lightly dismisses as a possibility—Harman, 1988, pp273-274. Colin’s insistence that Moscow was ready to intervene (Barker, 1986, p158) is supported by recently published Polish sources, citing US Intelligence assessments—Friszke, 2014, p487. What, though, would have been the outcome of Soviet military intervention? As Chris noted, Moscow was in a far weaker position than at the time of Prague 1968. Its military intervention in 1979 in Afghanistan was having a profound demoralising effect. Like Poland’s, its economy was destabilising from the unstoppable pressures emanating from the global economy. Chris’s superb chapter on the Soviet military intervention in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, reproduced in his 1988 book, provides some unexpected guidelines. Moscow had been in no hurry to dismantle the Hungarian workers’ councils by force. Better to pressurise the Hungarian government to seek out conciliatory elements among the leadership of the workers’ councils. Of course, Moscow may well have been playing for time before the arrests of the workers’ leaders began. But the time lag is important. The “stand-off” provided an opportunity for the councils to assert their strength. They controlled production, not the government. See the outstanding 3,000 word statement issued by the Central Workers’ Council of Greater Budapest, confronting Soviet military forces, on December 6, 1956—Harman, 1988, p177. The outcome of a stand-off between a much weakened Soviet military and Solidarity in Poland’s industrial centres, rallying almost the whole of Polish society behind it, was by no means a foregone conclusion.

40 Financial Times, 5 December 1975; Harman, 1977.

41 See also “The Contradictions of Authoritarian Reform” in Callinicos, 1991, pp40-50.

42 Harman, 2009, p206.

43 Harman, 2009, p205-206.

44 Barker, 1986, p11.

45 Ost, 1990, p9.

46 Barker, 1986, p11.

47 Barker, 1986, p13.

48 Barker, 1986, p215.

49 Barker, 1986, p21. The full story is told in the film Women of Solidarity, see footnote 57.

50 Barker, 1986, p26.

51 Solidarity’s one and only national congress in autumn 1981 called for self-managed workplaces in a self-governing republic.

52 Modzelewki, 2013, Kindle location 6201-6206

53 Persky and Flam, 1982, p171.

54 Kwiatkowska, 1990, p27.

55 Ash, 1983, p4.

56 I would like to thank Maciej Pienkowski, Gdansk translator and researcher, for reading and translating some passages from this literature.

57 See the fascinating interview with Andrzej and Joanna Duda-Gwiazda in the recent magnificent film about the Women of Solidarity, Kobiety Solidarności, made available here (with English language subtitles), thanks to its Polish writer and director, Marta Dzido: www.youtube.com/watch? v=tAmcnAw4Cu0. In the film they uncompromisingly denounce the Round Table negotiations in 1989 and the deadly embrace of the “free market” of neoliberalism. The viewer will see that the interview takes place in their flat in a tower block which overlooks the remnant of the Gdansk shipyard.

58 Ash, 1983, p65.

59 Ash, 1983, p77.

60 Ash, 1983, pp82-3.

61 Barker, 1986, pp51-55.

62 See footnote 23.

63 US sociologist Jack Bloom quotes Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution on “revolutionary turning points” to emphasise the point—Bloom, 2015, p219-20. Ash also quotes Trotsky’s use of the idea of dual power which sets the scene for just such a crisis—Ash, 1983, p99.

64 Ash, 1983, p157.

65 Persky and Flam, 1982, p171.

66 Persky and Flam, 1982, p172.

67 Modzelewski, 2013, Kindle location 7265-7275.

68 The argument also found its expression in Solidarity’s internal arguments about workers self-management which dominated its one and only National Congress in 1981, Barker, 1986, pp113-120.

69 Harman, 1996.

70 Today of course we would refer to the active woman or man.

71 Gramsci, quoted in Harman, 1996, pp27-28.

72 Harman, 1996, p29.

73 Lih, 2008, p344-345. Alexander Shlyapnikov, Labour Commissar in the first Bolshevik government, was probably the Bolsheviks’ most famous worker-intellectual, learning his Marxism from books and pamphlets as a 14 year old metal workers’ apprentice. He was also steeped in Russian classical literature and, because he worked in factories in different parts of Western Europe before the revolution, was fluent in several European languages. Lenin was constantly fighting with him, famously expelling his Workers’ Opposition faction several years after the civil war but insisting that Shlyapnikov stay on the Central Committee—Allen, 2016.

74 Harman, 1996, p30.

75 Thomas, 2010, pp429-436.

76 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, p44-45.

77 Ost, 2005, p197.

78 See Andrzej Zebrowski’s thoughtful obituary of Kuroń—Zebrowski, 2004.


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Article 1986, Chris Harman, Poland

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‘Left needed now more than ever before’-Interview with Bilgrami. By JIPSON JOHN and JITHEESH P.M.

Posted by admin On April - 3 - 2018 Comments Off on ‘Left needed now more than ever before’-Interview with Bilgrami. By JIPSON JOHN and JITHEESH P.M.


THE following is the second part of the interview with Akeel Bilgrami. The first part was published in the Frontline issue dated March 30, 2018.

Secularism is essentially a modern idea that originated in European circumstances where the epistemological premise and actual practice of secularism was based on the simple idea of separation of church and state. But in multireligious societies such as India, defining secularism both theoretically and practically gets difficult. Some say that secularism is pseudo and Western and not suited to India. Some others—and this is generally accepted—such as S. Radhakrishnan, and later the Supreme Court of India, characterised secularism as “Sarva Dharma Sambhava” in the Indian context. You go beyond that and bring the priority of political ideals while defining secularism. Is Indian secularism flawed? How would you define secularism?

The first thing we need to do is to distinguish between secularisation and secularism. “Secularisation” is the name of a process of social and ideational transformation. The process was first studied under that name by Max Weber. Weber used such terms as “disenchantment” to further elaborate the nature of the process of secularisation. This transformation was characterised in two different rhetorics—“the death of God” and “the decline of magic”. These different ways of characterising it were respectively tracking a decrease in belief or doctrine on the one hand, and religious practice and rituals on the other. Loss of belief in God or in the myths of creation and so on was one aspect, the doctrinal aspect of secularisation. Decrease in churchgoing and in religious dietary habits or pious habits of dress and so on was the other aspect, the practical aspect of secularisation.

“Secularism”, by contrast, is not the name for a general process of social and ideational transformation of this sort, but the name of a much more specific thing, a political doctrine. It’s not concerned with loss of religious belief and practice but is rather an attempt to steer the polity and its institutions and its laws away from the direct influence of religion. (Indirect influence is another matter. Where there is not much secularisation, there is bound to be some indirect influence of religion on the polity, but secularism seeks to prevent any direct bearing of religion on the polity.)

This distinction, even though it is important, is obvious. It is obvious because it is possible for a person to be secularist without being secularised. A highly devout (therefore not secularised) person can be completely secularist. Also, some place can be completely secularist without being much secularised at all—such as the heartland of the United States.
You rightly say that it originated in Europe—both secularisation and secularism did. And your question is about secularism in particular, not secularisation. In coming to understand what secularism is (as with all concepts of that sort) one has two tasks. One is the historical task of tracing genealogically its sources and rationale—when and why it emerged, what function it served, and so on. And the second task is to give an analysis of the concept, to define it or, if not define it, at least to characterise it in analytic terms. And we have to balance the historical and the analytical sides of our understanding. If one’s analysis or definition completely ignored the historical rationale of the concept, it would be just an arbitrary stipulation. One has to keep some faith with the genealogical sources in history and intellectual history as one applies the term at a later time and in different places. So, it’s a complex business.

Let’s ask what prompted the rise of “secularism” as a concept and a doctrine about politics and the law? Here is a narrative I have told in various writings, which I think abstracts from a lot of detail but nevertheless tries to capture a broad and minimal historical truth and a truth of conceptual history.

In 17th century Europe, with the scientific revolutions that came to establish what we call “modern” science, older ways of justifying the state and the exercise of state power that appealed to the “divine right” of the kings and queens who personified the state came to be viewed as outdated. As a result, at first, high philosophy was mobilised in what is called “social contract” theory to justify state power and this was done in different interpretations of the contractualist ground for the state by Hobbes and Locke. But these philosophical theories did not really resonate with ordinary people. Legitimacy for state power with a wider appeal had to be forged. So, a new form of justification of state power was sought, neither in theology nor in high philosophy, but in human psychology. What do I mean by that? Before I say what I mean, let me also point out another development just at that time, the spawning of a new kind of entity by the Westphalian peace, the nation, something for which a more centralised kind of state power was needed, integrating hitherto much more scattered locations of power. Slowly, this kind of state and this new kind of entity, the nation, were indissolubly fused, a fusion that was expressed by a hyphen, the nation-state. Now, to return to the matter of the justification of the state: as I said, there was a turn from divine right to human psychology. One had to create a feeling in the populace to ground the legitimacy of the state. But the feeling was not to be directly for the state but rather for the left-hand side of the hyphenated conjunction. It was to be a feeling for this new phenomenon called the nation with which the state was undecouplably joined, thereby legitimising the right-hand side of the hyphenated conjunction, the state and the exercise of its power over the territory of the nation. Only later, this feeling came to be called “nationalism”.

But the key question remains: how was this feeling generated in the populace of these newly emerging “nations” in Europe?
All over Europe, this was done by an absolutely standard method—finding and naming some segment of the population within the territory, declaring them to be an enemy, an external enemy within the nation, and declaring further that the nation was “ours”, “not theirs”. The Jews, the Irish, the Catholics in Protestant countries, the Protestants in Catholic countries… are all familiar examples of these targets. Much later, when numerical and statistical forms of discourse began to be used to study society and politics, terms such as “minority” and “majority” were coined and this strategy came to be called “majoritarianism”. Frequently the majorities and minorities involved in these nation-building exercises were religious ones. That’s Europe for you, Europe and its history of the rise and consolidation of nations. If you think what is happening in India today is uniquely ours, it really all started in Europe. The very idea of such nationalism is European.

Now, as a result of this religious majoritarianism, there were very often religious minoritarian backlashes against it and this gave rise to tremendous civil strife in European nations, and in the face of such strife it began to be felt that religion itself having such a political profile was the problem, even though the initial fault line lay in religious majoritarianism. And so it was that secularism emerged to correct this religious source of strife by steering religion out of the orbit of the polity and its institutions, steering it to places of personal life only or at most to sites of “civil society”, which was defined as the space of public life that was outside of the orbit of the polity and the law. That is the origin of secularism, a doctrine constructed to repair a very specific damage done by the pursuit of European ideals of nationalism.


So, are you saying India followed Europe in this trajectory?

That’s the interesting thing. Through much of the last century, it did not. It would be hard to spell out in detail what I mean by that—you may want to look at a long article I’ve written on precisely the question you are asking (It’s in the Oxford Companion to Indian Philosophy). Let me sum it up as best I can.

In it, I present the analysis above of the origins of secularism and I argue that the reason why neither Gandhi nor Nehru (yes, not even Nehru) talked of secularism at all through the long freedom movement (except a little bit in the 1940s) is precisely that they thought that the damage that secularism was constructed to repair had never occurred in India. They understood very well from Europe’s history the context in which secularism is relevant and they made it clear that India never provided that context because India had never gone through that process of nation-building that is peculiarly European. In other words, neither of India’s two most prominent leaders subscribed to secularism in those long years. There really is no difference between Nehru and Gandhi on this point. So the question is, what was their thinking during those decades of the freedom movement, if, for this reason I am giving, secularism was not central to their thinking?
I think if you take a careful look at The Discovery of India, Nehru’s view (and Gandhi was much more explicit on the matter) was that unlike in Europe, India’s unselfconscious pluralism of the last many centuries was never undermined by this form of nationalism. That book by Nehru is often misunderstood as being the Nehru who departed from his modernist outlook. This is a misunderstanding. What he was really reaching to say in it is that India’s so- called spiritual unity of the past must be understood as being deeply pluralist in both religion and culture. It was not a unity based on the exclusion of religions other than Hinduism but an inclusion of other religions and cultures in a completely unselfconscious pluralism. And, in his mind, this pluralist historical unity provided the ground for a freedom movement that would replay that pluralism in the theatre of anti-imperialist mobilisation, a mobilisation that would reflect that pluralism which included all religious groups. This would constitute a quite different nationalism from the nationalism in Europe. It would redefine nationalism as inclusionary anti-imperialism. And, as a result, secularism would be beside the point since secularism is relevant only when a quite different nationalism generates a damage that I presented in my remarks above, and which secularism is then introduced as a self-conscious political doctrine to correct that loss of this unselfconscious pluralism.

Now, of course, this interpretation of Nehru’s (and Gandhi’s) thought on these issues would only be confirmed or verified if their actions supported it. And in that paper, I look to their efforts at various moments in the freedom struggle to mobilise in this inclusionary way to confirm it—such as the Khilafat movement and the Muslim mass contact campaign, and the dynamic and progressive effects of these movements on Indian politics.

Hence, I would say that in pre-independent India, secularism did not loom large in the thinking or rhetoric of the main leaders of the freedom struggle except towards the end of that struggle when it was clear that in the acrimonies prior to Partition there was a kind of religious strife that was mimicking the European model. And I think that this fact that I am stressing (i.e., secularism not looming large as an issue in India in all those years of the freedom movement) is entirely in keeping with the historical rationale for secularism. In other words, the historical European context for the rise and relevance of secularism was simply missing in India, in the eyes of both Gandhi and Nehru.

OK, if that is the historical rationale for secularism, would you now say a bit on the analytical part of how to understand secularism? How would you define “secularism” in India? Do you agree that it is a different secularism?

No, I don’t agree with that. Amartya Sen said many years ago that secularism in India was not the Western idea of separation of church and state, but rather it was the idea of the state maintaining a neutrality and equidistance between different religions. (Actually, you quote Radhakrishnan, and apparently it was Radhakrishnan who had said it before Sen—as Irfan Habib pointed out to me. But I have only read Sen, and also Charles Taylor who has been saying the same thing as Sen though not about India.)
I don’t believe there is any peculiarly Indian secularism. I think these views are based on a misunderstanding and they don’t illuminate things either historically or analytically. There was indeed a lot of talk about neutrality between religions—you will find it, for instance in the Karachi Resolution of 1931 adopted by the Congress—but it was never intended as a definition of “secularism”. Not at all. What, then, is the relation between such talk of neutrality between religions and secularism? Well, in order to answer that you have to first turn from the historical points I’ve been making to give what you are asking for, an analytical account or definition of secularism.

In India, “secularism” came to be defined just as it was in Europe, but we have not been clear about what that definition is because existing definitions have too frequently relied on thoroughly misleading slogans and metaphors such as “separation of religion and state” or “wall of separation between religion and state”. In Europe, once religion, in the realm of the polity, became a target of secularist policy for the historically motivated reasons I have mentioned above, the familiar and celebrated formulation of a range of rights and constitutional principles became the natural and obvious source from which secularist policy sought to target and constrain religious practices from directly entering the orbit of the polity.

These were precisely the sources which became relevant in the Indian context after Independence, and talk of secularism was inevitable in the constitutional issues that came to be debated and resolved through the legal process in the reform of religious law in the Hindu Code Bill. Thus, in order to define secularism (whether in Europe or in India), we have to look at how all this was done and draw a definition out of it. Clearly, a definition that uses the metaphor of the wall of separation will not do since the state was violating or perforating that wall by interpreting and re-interpreting Hindu law in order to reform it. That makes nonsense out of the metaphorical definition of secularism since it would amount to violating secularism (by this metaphorical definition of secularism) in order to bring about secularist reforms of religion. That is why I think we should abandon the metaphor and the slogan of separation as confused and formulate things differently, giving a different analytic account of secularism that accurately models what happened in Europe—and in India during the 1950s.

How, then, would you define it?
As I said, you have to look at constitutions and lawmaking and reform, and when you do you will find that both in Europe (France does not quite fit the pattern, but let’s put that aside for now) and the United States and in India, two basic conditions were taken for granted in any analytical understanding of secularism. 1) There was a constitutional commitment to religious freedom, to freedom of religious belief and practice. And, 2), there was a constitutional commitment to certain rights and principles that did not mention either religion or opposition to religion—commitments, for example, to freedom of speech or to gender equality, and so on. And I have defined secularism by first specifying these two commitments and then pointing out that there was a third higher-order commitment which says that if there is any clash between these two first-order commitments, then commitment 2) must be placed before commitment 1). I call this a lexicographical ordering. It basically says that if any religious practice whose freedom to be exercised is granted by 1) clashes with any principle or right articulated in 2), then these latter principles or rights will have priority over that religious practice. That’s it. That’s the meaning of secularism—two first-order commitments and one higher-order commitment about how to order them. That’s exactly how religion’s direct influence on the polity was kept at bay in Europe and in Indian reforms, even while allowing quite a lot of religious freedom in constitutions. In this definition or characterisation of secularism, I have not said a word about any wall of separation, but instead tried to capture what that metaphor was very confusedly trying to get at.

Now, France—and also Kemalist Turkey—didn’t always quite fit this analytical characterisation of secularism, partly because they did not always have the same commitment to 1) above. Does this mean that my definition of secularism is wrong? I don’t think so because in failing to stress 1) both these countries crossed over from secularism to state-sponsored secularisation. And I am only trying to define secularism.


So, what do you have to say about all this talk of neutrality and equidistance between religions that are said to define secularism in India?

I think that is just confusion. There was constant talk about such neutrality but it should not be used to define secularism. Secularism is secularism, whether here or in Europe, where it began. And this lexicographical ordering definition captures what is meant by it. This talk of neutrality is not an alternative definition of secularism, but rather it should be seen as a side-constraint on the only definition of secularism there is—the lexicographical ordering one.

What do I mean by a side-constraint? Well, when you apply or implement the lexicographical ordering that defines secularism, you must apply it neutrally and fairly to all the different religious groups, not favouring any.
So, for instance, the side-constraint was violated in Britain when in the case of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, the British government gave lexicographical priority to 2) (in particular the constitutional right to free speech) over the Muslim religious belief in censorship of blasphemy, but failed to give the same lexicographical priority to 2) when there was a demand from Christian groups led by Mary Whitehouse that Kazantzakis’ book The Last Temptation of Christ be banned for blasphemy. Rushdie’s book was not banned, Kazantzakis’ was. The state failed to show neutrality between Christianity and Islam and the side-constraint was violated.

So, I would say that the neutrality idea is only relevant to the implementation of secularism (as this kind of side-constraint), but it is not relevant to defining what is being implemented, secularism—which has only the one definition it has always had whether in Europe or here, captured in the lexicographical ordering idea.


You mention the Hindu Code Bill as a secularist move in India, but there has also been a great deal of discussion of Muslim personal law remaining unreformed to this day. How does that affect secularism in India? That does not fit your definition of secularism, does it?

Yes, that’s been the subject of intense discussion in recent decades. But it does not do anything to alter my view of what secularism is.

I think one way to interpret the refusal to reform Muslim personal law—in my view, the wrong way to interpret it—is to see it as a kind of granting of minority rights to a minority religious group in the domain of family culture. And many Muslim leaders in the Constituent Assembly debates did argue for leaving Muslim personal law unreformed on those grounds. But I don’t think their view is what carried the day. If it had, it would have been a repudiation of secularism in the lexicographical ordering sense that I am characterising it.

But, in fact, the refusal to reform Muslim personal law was not done in the name of granting minorities some special “rights to their culture”, as it is sometimes said. Rather, I think it should be seen as a kind of affirmative action move. That is a slightly misleading thing to say because the analogy with affirmative action is not perfect.

But, imperfect thought it is, there is a point to the analogy. What I mean is that because of what Muslims had gone through as a result of Partition (the trauma and the loss of their numbers to large-scale migration to Pakistan, loss of their zamindari in India, the inevitable loss of their language, and so on), it was argued that they should be allowed to retain their own personal laws until such time as they recovered their confidence from their trauma and these losses to be able to accept the state’s eventual reform of their personal laws.
This temporal qualifier makes it clear that the lexicographical ordering secularist ideal was not being put aside for Muslims by this concession to their personal laws (as it would have been if the concession was made in the name of giving them some minority right to their own culture), but it was only being put in abeyance for them (just as affirmative action gives certain advantages to minorities till such time as they are able to join the majorities in one or other respect, materially, psychologically…). So, nothing about granting them their own laws amounted to a repudiation in principle of the lexicographical ordering conception of secularism.

I don’t deny that there is a question now about how long this situation of unreformed laws has lasted. But the fact is: that question has been marred by the politics of Hindutva, which constantly raises this whole issue as a part of their general harassment of Muslims. And, in turn, when there is such harassment, the intended confidence that Muslims were supposed to have acquired over the years to eventually accept state reform of personal law, is precisely what they have not psychologically acquired.

In that paper of mine I mentioned earlier, I talk of the tremendous confidence that Muslims gained, especially in Bengal in the C.R. Das period (but really in many other parts of the country as well and at the level of all classes) as a result of the dynamic effects of the Khilafat movement. It is this confidence, engendered by the effects of these inclusive mobilisations, which prompted them to support all sorts of progressive policies—for example both on the question of women’s suffrage and on the reform of land tenancy.

If you compare the present ethos for Muslims in India with what Gandhi, Nehru and others were trying to create with such inclusive efforts as the Khilafat movement, you will get a sense of how far we have travelled from the nationalism of Gandhi and Nehru.

What would you say are the consequences of this major change in the kind of nationalisms in India from the period before Independence to the present? Is Hindutva nationalism a completely new thing or did it always exist?

You know I have rather strong views on this subject. First of all, let me just finish the line of thought I had started about secularism and then address this important question you raise.

I had said that secularism was and is relevant when there is a damage of a certain kind to be repaired. And I said that leave alone Gandhi, even Nehru argued that there was no such damage during almost the entire period of the freedom struggle, so secularism was irrelevant to the Indian context. This just follows from my point about the historical context for the relevance of secularism.
In fact, I would argue that the European model of nationalism only set in, in India, as late as the 1980s. The reasons for this are various and it would be too long to go into them in detail. But since the 1980s the European model of nationalism that I presented in answer to your initial question has been replicated in India, and, therefore, secularism is absolutely and centrally and urgently relevant in our time and place. If Gandhi were alive today, he would be the strongest voice for secularism, and he would be mobilising millions against this deplorable regime.

Now, to turn to your last question, in a way I’ve already answered it by saying that nationalism of the European variety set in in India only in the 1980s. But I know that there are a lot of people who say that Hindutva was already there in the 1920s and was present in the Mahasabhite element even with the Congress since then. And, of course, Hindutva ideologues now say that the Khilafat movement, which I was describing as a highly inclusive movement with dynamically progressive effects on Muslims, was in fact a disastrous communal mobilisation of Muslims that sowed the seeds of Muslim communalism. (Actually, this is said not only by the Hindu Right, it is also said by many secularists, including secular Muslims—I just recently heard Javed Akhtar make that claim. Even Jinnah said that sort of thing, though in Jinnah’s case it was really a fear of the mass politics unleashed by Khilafat that motivated him to say things like that.)

I think these views are quite mistaken. They are not good historical sense. When thinking of the historical past in these ways, I think we have to distinguish conceptually between two things, distinguish between what I would call “roots” and “antecedents”. There were, no doubt, antecedents of Hindu nationalism (and Muslim communalism) going back a long way. But those were not the roots of current Hindutva nationalism.

For something to be the root of some current phenomenon, one has to historically track an organic causal path from the earlier episodes and attitudes to the current events, but there is no such tracking that is or can be plausibly made by people who take this view of things.


Can you say what was special about the 1980s that made possible the Hindutva turn that you say did not really exist in any deep sense before?
Well, there is a lot to say about that. It is a complex set of circumstances in which it emerged. It needs careful study and elaboration. I couldn’t possibly even begin to say all that needs to be said. But let me just say that one salient factor was the rise of a certain kind of caste politics as a consequence of the Mandal Commission report. This politics alarmed upper-caste Hindus and they used all the power of their ideological (and cultural) surround to start a concerted nationwide campaign to try and give the impression (a false one, of course) that Hinduism was not divided by very serious caste divisions as the aftermath of Mandal was exposing it to be. And in order to trump up a unified and undivided picture of Hinduism, they turned to exactly the European model—finding an external enemy within the nation, the Muslims, to be despised and subjugated. It was a very deliberate ploy and it was effective in transforming the relatively low-key Jan Sangh politics to the high-intensity Bharatiya Janata Party politics and the politics of the Sangh Parivar that we have been witnessing in these past three decades.

All this is being replayed right now, though it is not OBC [Other Backward Classes] but Dalit politics that is exposing how divided Hinduism is, so there is the same intensification of hostility against the Muslim external enemy to try and conjure a fake carapace of Hindu unity (even as Dalits too are being viciously attacked behind the carapace).

I also think we must be honest and admit to another more subtle and less conspicuous, but not negligible, factor that emerged just a little before the 1980s which helped later in the successes of Hindutva politics in the 1980s. We cannot deny that the Hindu Right in our country gained some moral high ground in the fallout of the mobilisations against the Emergency because they showed some courage in resisting Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime in a way that the centre-Left (who were much more powerful then than they are now) certainly did not. Of course, it is a moral high ground they did not deserve at all because they have turned to an authoritarianism that is even more sinister than what we saw during the Emergency, so it has become clear that their motives in opposing the Emergency were quite cynical. But the perception of the Hindu Right as a potentially central force in Indian politics certainly did gain from the reputation they had gained during the opposition to the Emergency. And that potential came to be actualised a few years later.

There’s a lot more to say but I won’t try and say it now.


Can you speak more on the first point about caste? There is a great deal of agitation around caste issues again now. What is your position and what generally should the Left position on this kind of identity politics be? All these issues arose during the Mandal period and they are arising in a different form now, when the focus is more on Dalits. Is Left politics capable of accommodating caste identity politics?
This is a question that has dogged the Left for a long time, and though the issues are difficult, it is not as if there can be no clarity on what is at stake. Some on the liberal Left (for very different reasons from the upper-caste Hindus) opposed the Mandal Commission report, as you will recall. They were simply wrong. There is no need for the Left to oppose affirmative action of that sort. It’s a crass liberal qualm, showing no humanity or sympathy for historically oppressed people. In the West, it’s a kind of faux-liberal attitude that conservatives invoke. They invoke, like a mantra, all this ridiculous talk of “standards” and “merit” that will be abandoned by Mandal-style affirmative action in the reservation policy. I constantly heard it in Delhi drawing rooms when I was there during the Mandal period, including in some of my own family’s drawing rooms. I remember saying in a television interview in Delhi, when asked whether a merit-based form of employment and education would not be undermined by Mandal, that “such merit as I had, I exercised for about twenty minutes a month—for the rest, almost anyone could do what I did”. That is not just a flamboyant thing to say. I mean that entirely seriously.

This entire line of liberal thought is just tiresome scaremongering by the more privileged middle classes. It is just an expression of middle-class careerist anxieties about previously deprived people making inroads into their own prospects. There is no serious or convincing reason for opposing affirmative action of this kind. And the Left never really opposed it. It was only metropolitan liberal and liberal-left types who did, including students and prospective students (with careerist tendencies) of that class.

But putting aside Mandal itself, there is the rise of caste-based parliamentary politics in its wake that has dominated Indian politics ever since the Mandal period and it is undoubtedly an identity politics. And you ask: what should the Left’s general position on this be? I suppose you ask this because the Left has always stressed class identity over other forms of identity, even often arguing that other forms of identity parochialise politics in a way that class struggle does not.

I think the issues here are quite straightforward and not difficult to sort out.
It would be quite wrong to stress class identity over other identities if that amounts to a denial that there are other sources than class status or material inequality that give rise to the disrespect that some people show towards another. There are many other sources of disrespect, and (even though class and caste overwhelmingly do coincide) caste status is certainly an independent source of disrespect from class—and a very deep and pervasive one in our country, just as race is in the country of my domicile. These other forms of disrespect are deeply embedded in the practice of discrimination at different levels, including discrimination that lead to stark material inequalities, but not restricted to that. Such discrimination and disrespect often need to be addressed directly and not just indirectly via the general addressing of material inequalities in society, on which Left analysis often focusses and sometimes focusses too exclusively. Various forms of legislation can address it directly, as can various regional and local policies of upliftment, and, of course, affirmative action policy in one or other form is the most standard way of such direct address.

But having said that, the Left is certainly right about one thing. Let me get to it, by asking a question: If the gains that have been made in India for many backward castes as a result of caste-based parliamentary politics (or the gains that have been made on the race and gender front in many democratic capitalist countries) had deeply undermined capital or, to put it less abstractly, if they had deeply undermined the corporate stranglehold in these societies, including in India, would those gains have been allowed to happen? I think the answer has to be “No!” And if that is the right answer, then that is some kind of proof that class identity is, in some sense, more basic than these other identities of caste, gender, and race. Now, you could, of course, put this question in converse form: If the gains made in removing class inequalities had undermined Brahmanism or patriarchy or racialism and so on, would those gains have been allowed to happen? But the trouble is that I don’t have any confidence in how to go about answering this latter question, partly because the first clause of the question (the antecedent of the conditional, the clause which begins with “If…”) has so manifestly not been realised in fact. Perhaps the answer here again is “No”, but I can’t marshal the right form of evidence for that answer with the same assurance as I can about the previous question that reveals the more fundamental status of class over other categories.


Can you speak more concretely to the political scene as you find it today? Earlier you had said in “Frontline” that we have a movement vacuum in India, and you said the Left cannot do anything just by itself at the moment and that a wide spectrum—united front—set of alliances was needed to fight what you described as the “compulsively authoritarian” and “neoliberal” government in power today. If that is the case, then what about the emerging Dalit movements? And what kinds of alliances or movements are needed to challenge the right-wing Hindutva politics?
Alright, first, just to express my abstract point in more concrete terms, and then answer your further question, it would be foolish to deny that measurable amelioration has come from caste-based parliamentary politics. When we look back a century or so from now at Indian democracy in this period since the late 1980s, we will observe that one of the real achievements of democracy (one person, one vote) in our country since Independence is that groups such as Lingayats, Yadavs and others, who had no power or prosperity hitherto, have gained some in recent decades. How can anyone resent such improvement in the lives of people without being mean-spirited? So, the point cannot be to deny that these advantages have accrued from democratic identity politics for people who never before had any status or material chances in life.

But no such gains have been made by Dalits and, in fact, their oppression has been intensified in the open season for it, that has been declared in the society at large by the very presence of this quasi-fascist government that is in power. It is very heartening that Dalits have shown real agency in fighting this oppression in the last two or three years.

Muslims, by contrast, have gone into their shells in fear of the menace that surrounds their daily life (it does not have to be overt violence against them, though as we know there is a great deal of that too, just the menace of the constant possibility of impending violence—something well-captured in a fine film by Nandita Das called Firaaq, if you recall—has struck terror in Muslims and they have withdrawn from fighting back as they did in the period after the Babri Masjid destruction).

But Dalit movements, in response to a series of recent episodes of brutality against them, have been one of the only bright things in the horizon of Indian politics. And someone like Jignesh Mevani’s mobilising words and actions have articulated more forcefully and elegantly, and less ponderously, the point I made above about what is correct about the Left point of view on identity politics and what is also importantly correct about caste identity politics, too, regarding the discrimination owing to sources other than class. He is valorously struggling to articulate an integration of what is right in both points of view and out of this might emerge a more vibrant politics of the Left. It is a quite fresh kind of politics because even as it articulates the “empowerment of oppressed castes” side of Ambedkar, it also at the same time articulates the “annihilation of caste” side of Ambedkar.

In that sense, it is a real advance on the caste-based politics that we know of from the post-Mandal period. I think the latter, by and large, only stressed the empowerment side. It was a politics of bargaining only and thus it remained an identitarian politics. What we are seeing today is something larger and that is really most encouraging.

Can you please say a little bit about the role for Left politics in relation to these emerging forces?
It has to be said that it is young leaders like Mevani and Kanhaiya Kumar and others (and there are other small sparks such as, for instance, the farmers’ meet in Delhi in November 2017) who are showing more energy and initiative than many of the well-known Left leaders in parliamentary politics.

If the organised Left were to come out of its demoralisation and join these forces and movements in alliances both inside and outside of parliamentary politics, then a serious threat to the current regime’s wide sway could emerge.

To start with, the most local of issues, the total destruction of JNU [Jawaharlal Nehru University] that is going on, could be one immediate focal point of an extended strike and protest and movement in which political parties could be joining and supporting the youth much more in their honorable campaigns. What is being done to JNU is a particularly destructive manifestation of the general destruction of higher education institutions in India by the present government that can bring together protest movements not just among the mass of progressive students (as well as progressive faculty and administration) on the country’s campuses but also get the support of political parties; and this can eventually be integrated with a general campaign against this government on other fronts that are already under way, especially the Dalit movements.

Just ask yourself, how did the Left [in the U.S.] under [Bernie] Sanders gain a foothold and build that up to a nationwide momentum recently; how did Lula [Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva] and [Evo] Morales do it some years ago in Brazil and Bolivia, how is [Jeremy] Corbyn doing it in Britain right now—precisely by finding actually existing focal points of this kind and integrating them so that they are not isolated efforts.

So, for instance, Sanders got overwhelming support from American youth by vociferously, and with assiduous grass-roots activism, taking up the ongoing issue of student debt, which is a major problem for them; and he took up health insurance, which is a major problem for not only the elderly but the marginalised immigrants and the impoverished classes generally…; and he took up housing issues, which have been a heartbreaking cause of suffering for so many ever since the foreclosures in the financial crisis of 2008; as well as general employment issues from that period that remain a problem for both young and middle-aged citizens, and he brought these different groups and ongoing issues together in an integrated nationwide movement, for these are nationwide problems even if they have local points of focus that can be addressed by local organisations.

So also in India, the attack on higher education, the policies that continue to create unemployment and impermanent and casualised employment, the appalling condition of health care, the chronically pervasive farmers’ and land issues, to name just a few, affect a wide variety of different groups that are waiting to be taken out of their isolation and brought together.
While the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] is busy doing its own sinister grass-roots work, the Left has not really shown that kind of organisational energy on these issues on which the wide span of such urban and rural mass suffering occurs.

The last major leader of the organised Left with any serious mass politician credentials was [V.S.] Achuthanandan. I’ve only mentioned movements, but within the domain of parliamentary politics there is also much scope for alliances. And these are essential in this particular moment in Indian politics.

The very fact that Congress did not field a candidate to combat Mevani, who stood as an Independent in Gujarat, is a sign that the Congress is willing to make sacrifices to make alliances with Left and progressive forces.

This is not the technocratic side of the Congress that was represented by Manmohan Singh and his economic advisers (one hopes they will never dominate that party again) but roughly the Sonia Gandhi side that stressed the unemployment and food schemes in the UPA [United Progressive Alliance] days and that led the opposition-wide agitation a couple of years ago against the Land Acquisition Act. This is not the side of the Congress that pays homage to Hindu sentiments just before elections, hoping to gain a few more votes. But it is a sizeable side of the Congress. And there is also the AAP [Aam Aadmi Party] and its offshoots as well as a range of regional parties.

There is serious scope in all of these to form alliances, but hard work needs to be done in order to make it happen. There is a defeated lassitude in the organised Left which has prevented them from doing the work needed to arrive at a common platform with other parties to fight for a wide range of representation in Parliament and in regional Assemblies wherever possible, working assiduously to formulate a common set of demands that these parties within such an alliance can all agree on, going back even more seriously than before to schemes for employment and food that they had forced the first UPA regime to take on (and adding to it schemes for health, education, housing, land issues, labour rights), and stressing secularism as well as the end of caste oppression. This sort of effort alone could recover the mass base for the organised Left that it once had. To fail to see this has no effect other than to make the Left even more irrelevant in the future.

It is time to get this wretched government out of power, not just to make occasional speeches and write occasional op-eds. And the Left has had a remarkable historical role in shaping Indian politics over the last century. It cannot abdicate that role now, when it is needed more than ever before in the face of an absolutely intolerable government, the likes of which we have never seen since Independence—criminal (there is no other word for it, this is a criminal government) in the violence it allows and encourages against oppressed minorities and castes, and criminal in the grotesque transfers of wealth it oversees from the poor to the elites, not to mention the large-scale criminal corruption of the corporate elites that has been going on with the support of this government, even as the government perpetrates a complete hoax about fighting corruption.
It is time to stigmatise these elites and this government as the real “anti-nationals” in the country, which they manifestly are, and to do so openly and without fear both in movements and in Parliament.

If the Left doesn’t show leadership in trying to forge a wide-ranging united front of opposition, such agency that has been shown by the Dalits will remain unsupported and begin to feel deeply betrayed.

It is unlikely that any other group than the Left can or will take the lead in drawing from the other parties, who could be natural allies, a common platform by which this can be done. It will need cooperative tact and hard resolve, organisational skills and grass-roots energy, something right now only being shown by Dalits and some student leaders.

But is there not going to be the standard objection that all these schemes for employment and food and health can only be pursued by first growing the economy and that growth is precisely what the Modi government is seeking? What would you say to that objection that is made by this government and its ideological supporters among economists?

I am not an economist. And it helps not to be one in order to recognise that economists shroud the justification of these criminal transfers I mentioned in high-sounding theories and jargon that precisely invoke the argument that you have just cited in admirably direct and simple prose in your question.

But I do know enough to say in response to that argument, that the kinds of schemes that we are talking about that increase the social wage of ordinary people actually produce growth (a quite different kind of growth, of course, than the bubble-generated growth of neoliberal economies, a growth that can be sustained rathero than end up in a crash). They increase the purchasing capacity of the vast mass of ordinary people and that in turns expands the market at home and that in turn increases the investment to meet it.

It is not for nothing that the period in the West in which this was tried and done (roughly the 30-year period after the end of the Second World War) was called “The Golden Age of Capitalism” with high rates of growth. This is a point so obvious and straightforward that you don’t need to be an economist to understand it. Anyone can understand it—in the plains of the Ganges, in the fishermen’s villages of Kerala, in the slums of Mumbai, in every corner of the land and by the humblest and least educated citizens.

It is the duty of the Left to spread this understanding to all those places and people, but the Left does not have the mass base to do it by itself, it has to make the necessary alliances and shape a common platform that is based on such an understanding, both in parliamentary politics and outside in movements. I am getting repetitive and sounding like Polonius, saying what every sensible person already knows.

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Machiavellian Intrigues Of Pakistan’s ‘Establishment’-Nauman Sadiq

Posted by admin On March - 30 - 2018 Comments Off on Machiavellian Intrigues Of Pakistan’s ‘Establishment’-Nauman Sadiq


In Pakistan’s context, the national security establishment originally meant civil-military bureaucracy. Though over the years, civil bureaucracy has taken a backseat and now “the establishment” is defined as military’s top brass that has dictated Pakistan’s security and defense policy since its inception.

Paradoxically, security establishments do not have ideologies, they simply have interests. For instance, the General Ayub-led administration in the sixties was regarded as a liberal establishment. Then, the General Zia-led administration during the eighties was manifestly a conservative Islamist establishment. And lastly, the General Musharraf-led administration from 1999 to 2008 was once again deemed a liberal establishment.

Similarly, the Egyptian and Turkish military establishments also have a liberal outlook but they are equally capable of forming alliances with conservatives if and when it suits their institutional interests. In fact, since military’s top brass is mostly groomed in urban milieus, therefore its high-ranking officers are more likely to have liberal temperaments.

The establishment does not judge on the basis of ideology, it simply looks for weakness. If a liberal political party is unassailable in a political system, it will join forces with conservatives; and if conservatives cannot be beaten in a system, it will form an alliance with liberals to perpetuate the stranglehold of “the deep state” on policymaking organs of state.

The biggest threat to nascent democracies all over the world does not come from external enemies but from their internal enemies, the national security establishments, because military generals always have a chauvinistic mindset and an undemocratic temperament. An additional aggravating factor that increases the likelihood of military coups in developing democracies is that they lack firm traditions of democracy, rule of law and constitutionalism which act as bars against martial laws.

For the last several years, two very similar insurgencies have simultaneously been going on in Pakistan: the Baloch insurgency in the Balochistan province and the insurgency of the Pashtun tribesmen in the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering the American-occupied Afghanistan.

The Pakistani neoliberals fully sympathize with the oppressed Baloch nationalists, but when it comes to the Pashtun tribesmen, they are willing to give the security establishment a license to kill, why? It’s only because the tribal Pashtun insurgents use the veneer of religion to justify their tribal instinct of retribution.

The name Islam, however, is such an anathema to core neoliberal sensibilities that they don’t even bother to delve deeper into the causes of insurgency and summarily decide that since the Pashtun tribesmen are using the odious label of the Taliban, therefore they are not worthy of their sympathies, and as a result, the security establishment gets a carte blanche to indiscriminately bomb the towns and villages of Pashtun tribesmen using air-force and heavy artillery.

The Pashtuns are the most unfortunate nation on the planet nowadays because nobody understands and represents them; not even their own leadership, whether religious or ethnic. In Afghanistan, the Pashtuns are represented by the Western stooges, like Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani; and in Pakistan, the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) loves to play the victim card and finds solace in learned helplessness.

In Pakistan, however, the Pashtuns are no longer represented by a single political entity, a fact which has become obvious after the 2013 parliamentary elections in which the Pashtun nationalist ANP was wiped out of its former strongholds.

Now, there are at least three distinct categories of Pashtuns: first, the Pashtun nationalists who follow Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s legacy and have their strongholds in Charsadda and Mardan districts; second, the religiously inclined Pashtuns who vote for Islamist political parties, such as Jamaat-e-Islami and JUI-F in the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; and finally, the emerging new phenomena, the Pakistani nationalist Pashtuns, most of whom have joined Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in recent years, though some of have also joined Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League.

It would be pertinent to mention here that the general elections of 2013 were contested on a single major issue: Pakistan’s partnership in the American-led war on terror, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and has displaced millions of Pashtun tribesmen who have been rotting in refugee camps in Mardan, Peshawar and Bannu districts since the Swat and South Waziristan military operations in 2009.

The Pashtun nationalist ANP was routed because in keeping with its supposedly “liberal” ideology, it stood for military operations against Islamist Pashtun militants in tribal areas; and the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province gave a sweeping mandate to the newcomer in the Pakistani political landscape: Imran Khan and his PTI because the latter promised to deal with tribal militants through negotiations and political settlements.

Though Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif both have failed to keep their election pledge of using peaceful means for dealing with the menace of religious extremism and militancy after they endorsed another military operation in North Waziristan in 2014, the public sentiment was, and still is, firmly against military operations in the Pashtun tribal areas.

The 2013 parliamentary elections were, in a way, a referendum against Pakistan’s partnership in the American-led war on terror in the Af-Pak region and the Pashtun electorate gave a sweeping mandate to pro-peace political parties against the pro-war Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pashtun nationalist ANP.

As I mentioned earlier that security establishment does not have an ideology, it simply has interests. If a liberal political party is unassailable in a political system, it will join forces with conservatives; and if conservatives cannot be beaten in a system, it will strike an alliance with liberals to weaken civilian political forces and maintain its grip on its traditional domain, the security and defense policy of a country.

All political parties in Pakistan at some point in time in history were groomed by the security establishment. The founder of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was groomed by General Ayub’s establishment as a counterweight to Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League during the sixties.

Nawaz Sharif was nurtured by General Zia’s administration during the eighties to offset the influence of People’s Party. And then, Imran Khan was groomed by General Musharraf’s establishment to counterbalance the ascendancy of Nawaz Sharif.

In order to obtain permission for the North Waziristan military operation in 2014, the security establishment executed its divide and rule strategy to perfection by instigating Imran Khan to stage street demonstrations and mass protests and Nawaz Sharif’s government was eventually subdued to an extent that it once again ceded Pakistan’s defense and security policy to the establishment.

Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and Middle East regions, neocolonialism and petro-imperialism.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

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