My friend Atiya Khan has a piece in The Platypus Review, The poverty of Pakistan's politics (PPP), in which she takes me and Faisal Devji (finally, together!) to task for making "concessions to the Right" by not understanding, or not conceptualizing, or not realizing the "crypto-fascism" of the Taliban. This, accordingly, corresponds to the death of the Left in Pakistan since 1970.
Since her piece is in print, I will respond in print as well - either by sending in a letter or printing up flyers for Hyde Park. In the meanwhile, every one should go read her critique and reach their own conclusions (and discuss, of course).
Have I been misspelling your name all these years?
OK, I finished it. Wow. Aside from the absurdity of taking one piece of writing to represent the whole of your view (obviously, since all the things she says you missed, I've been reading here and elsewhere for years), the party-line Third International Leninism is kind of cute.
yeah, in so far as straw men go, I am brown enough but I am not really the guy for her argument.
As asked, this is an edited version of my response posted previously on FB: In many ways that is a poor article that misunderstands what you wrote and the points you made. I think there are legitimate points of difference and arguements to be made but Khan doesn't engage in these. Particularly, distasteful was the “Decent Left”-style criticism that because you don't indulge in a public display of anguish on the atrocities and the extremism of the Pakistani Taliban that you somehow support or at best disregard them! I was unaware that the editors of the Nation are required to “press” authors to run through a litany on the evils of the Taliban before they are permitted to write on contemporary Pakistan! Khan seems to be annoyed that instead of embarking on a moral checklist of who is worse and more oppressive, you actually wrote an article that addressed the actual practical issue of how likely a take-over of the Pakistani state would be. This of course doesn't stop her from launching into setting up a series of straw men that are at best a caricature of your original points. This is quite evident in the responses made on the issue of democracy (I don't know why adjective 'secular' is raised here, there is considerable support for democracy, whether there is for a secular one is debatable, this seems to be some wish-projection by the author and in anycase was not raised in the original article) where some of the responses are simply stunning in their wrong-headed simplicity: ambivalence towards politicians and contempt for them, doesn't translate into similar feelings for democracy as a process and method of governance (Khan should look at India, which she seems fond of quoting examples from on other points, where politicians are universally reviled and regarded with contempt but where support for democracy remains very high); 'unswerving support' for sharia looks a bit dubious when one looks at the low percentage of the vote that religious parties which have this as one of their main planks have received, explanations of the growth of the Taliban hardly undermine any notion of democracy given the extreme violence they have had to indulge in — after all if the population was so supportive and if the major cities were so responsive to their message, there would hardly need to be a lengthy bombing campaign would there?! I was more excited by the promise of some sort of analysis of class and the Pakistani Left but this was similarly disappointing. Instead of a serious analysis, we are treated to a potted history of Pakistani politics whose main purpose seems to be to foist the blame of the demise of an effective Pakistani Left onto the liberal Left. Why the Pakistani Left suffered a demise unlike India where the Stalinist Left survived is not explained. Why exactly class based politics of the Left proved ineffective in the face of 'Islamiscisation' is similarly not explained but simply stated as an outcome. Blaming the liberal Left, who after all political and class terms were a relatively weak group in Pakistan hardly seems credible. A serious analysis would at least have looked at the failure of land reform, persistence of feudalism, poor organisational capacity of Leftist parties, concentration of industry and the difficulties in expanding workerist unions in this sector etc.- not that these arguements are that convincing in themselves to me but at least they would have proved a starting point that would have been more relevant; the actual history of class based politics and the general failure of Leftist politics in Pakistan is a tantalising issue that rarely receives much in-depth analysis and Khan's short diatribe proves to be no exception. Instead we have a lengthy detour going off into expositions about the PPP — a party which ultimately was heavily dominated by propertied classes as one could get, notwithstanding the social activism of some of its cadres at the grassroots level and that was about as 'Socialist' as Indira Gandhi's Congress (Bhutto's 'Islamic Socialism' rather like Congress's earlier 'Gandhian Socialism' seems more intended to avoid class conflict and stabilise class relations rather than bring about any genuine social transformation) this would have been more germane. I won't even mention the analysis of the Indian Left and Naxalism that we are treated to here; whatever the implications of the Naxalite takeover of Nepal (where other Marxist parties are in anycase very influential) it seems that Khan seems to be labouring under some illusions about the realities of the 'Stalinist Left' Left in India and their Maoist counterparts. The incidents of Nandigram, Singur, Marchipilangi , Wayanand and countless others are glossed over as have the fact that Leftist state govts have all too often become instruments in of settler and capitalist lobbies to the detriment of the peasantry (which Khan seems to think they are defenders of); one needs to question what is really going on when some of these govts have so accepted the neo-liberal paradigm that they merit fulsome praise within the pages of The Economist and abase themselves in front of dubious corporate groups with links to even more dubious regimes such as the Suharto one. Of the Naxalites, only a partial accuracy can said to have been reached as many have degenerated into banditry and criminalisation in their old strongholds of Bihar or else entered into dubious political alliances as in Bengal; only where they can command the support of the unintegrated adivasi peasantry have they any influence left and can they be said to be playing the role that Kahn ascribes to them in India. While the Left in India may have been a bulwark against religious fundamentalism; on issues of class, social and economic development and basic rights, the record is not good and is rapidly deteriorating all the time. This is not a model to follow.
wow, a leftist with teeth. There is hope in that god forsaken country
I'm not sure this is wise, but I have to ask: Conrad, you refered to the "persistence of feudalism." Is this a fairly standard description of Pakistani society, and what does feudalism mean in this context?
The survey of the history of the Indian left in Khan's article is misguided: a more careful engagement with that story shows what Devji might be getting at in thinking of the Naxalites and the Pakistani Taliban insurgents as symptoms of similar problems. Khan seems to take "the Left" as set in stone -- thus, the fact that the Left in West Bengal did secure important and welcome benefits for large sections of the peasantry when it came to power; and the fact that there is still formally a "Left" in power in West Bengal, leads her to ignore the transformation/cooptation that has taken place. The Naxalites are not allied to what passes for the Left, they are, at least in part, an outgrowth of the failure of the emancipatory promise of the Left (and, more broadly, of social democracy) vis-a-vis the marginalized groups they represent. In any event, I at least understood the analogy drawn between the Naxalites and the pakistani Taliban to not be based on an identity of tactics or aims, but as illustrative of a claim that the respective nation-states were not at risk of being overrun by these insurgencies. i.e., I had always read Mana's piece(s) as a critique of a certain kind of panic -- as opposed to a more "primary" engagement along the lines of "what is happening in Pakistan". Khan suggests that the very act of writing the former, as opposed to the latter, is irresponsible, but this is simply bullying by another name (and a common -- and stale -- enough rhetorical tactic, whereby one tries to discredit the messenger rather than engaging with the message).* Somewhat off-topic, but the romance epic of valiant trade unionism Khan discusses is hard to recognize for some of us. The piece makes this trade unionism/labor politics (which, btw, Khan reflexively equates with a commitment to left politics, without bothering to show it) seem more powerful or significant than it, IMO, was. I share Khan's dismay at the progressive impoverishment of labor politics in Pakistan, but the real question isn't "why the collapse?", but "why has it always been so feeble?" I read the bit on the "liberal Left's" ambivalence toward democracy a bit differently than Conrad did, although I think I come out of the same rabbit hole. I imagine Khan is referring to the (very many) Pakistani urban elites that one comes across who periodically make accommodations with military rule, some rather enthusiastically. So far I might not disagree with her -- but the problem is in using the term "liberal left" for this segment of the population. It does not at all follow from the fact that members of certain classes in Pakistan are SOCIALLY liberal, that they are politically so as well: the latter is an ideological commitment; the former, in the context of Pakistani society, a function of social privilege. Perhaps "liberal Left" is used to link this mindset with that of the Manan Ahmeds of the world, but it's shoddy. *[What Devji actually said in that article was: "Pakistan's Muslim militants are developing into the analogues of Maoist rebels in India, who also take over certain areas and attack government forces there to provide an alternative but non-governmental form of order. Managing territories within a state without apparently wanting to form a new government suggests a privatised and non-political ideal of governance, one that both Indian Maoists and Pakistani militants seem to espouse. The task before both governments is therefore not to de-politicize but rather bring these groups into the political arena, as India did with Nepal's Maoists, ensuring their investment in the state by forcing them to take it over." Nowhere does Devji make any value judgment about which would be the greater catastrophe, a Taliban takeover or a Naxalite one -- he is simply saying that this sort of development represents a new approach to politics and statecraft in areas where the state has, failed. No one is suggesting that the manner of the failure, and hence its implications, are the same in Jharkhand as in Waziristan. I don't agree with much Devji says, but to the extent the point is that "corrupting" or "coopting" insurgents (with some concessions on the part of the nation-state, falling far short of radical restructuring but presumably representing some kind of improvement) by giving them some kind of stake in the system is a better idea than only waging war with them, what's so crazy about that? ]
I went through all the articles mentioned, and I must say I do agree with much of Atiya Khan's article. While I do not think that you are a taliban apologizer, but your article in "The Nation" was weak. The comparison with elections which many Pakistanis seem to use is faulty, because there is no genuine left or even centrist parties in Pakistan. People's choices range from less right to extreme right parties (I say so, because both the PPP and the Sharif group have enough connections with the islamists), so any vote actually goes to the right. Besides the taliban have shown no interest in elections, as they have enough supporters in the senate (like Imran Khan). As far as Mr. Devji's article, it was just pathetic. The maoists can by no means be compared to the taliban. Faulty as their logic is, the naxalites have been driven by tribal rights and not by some dream of a religious or a non religious state. I must compliment you on your website, it is a wonderful source of information.
The reasons for the fall of the Pakistani left are certainly worth discussing, and I think the contributions of Khan and some of the commentators here are useful moves in that direction. Analogies between the Taliban(s) and Naxals are loose at best and do not hold up at all on a number of levels (two obvious ones: ideological commitments, funding streams historically and at present). That said, these are not entirely incomparable movements: both emerge as inflexible claims for rapid and absolute social justice amidst a poverty of political alternatives. What I would like to know is this: why are the self-appointed standard-bearers of the orthodox left seeking so doggedly to justify continuing imperial interventions on the scorched earth of Afghanistan and Pakistan?
"why are the self-appointed standard-bearers of the orthodox left seeking so doggedly to justify continuing imperial interventions on the scorched earth of Afghanistan and Pakistan?" What do you mean by this. Note that Afghanistan and Pakistan (or greater Pakistan) are too poor for anyone to want to steal from them. What do the imperial interventionists want? Is this compatible with what you want? I think the international community wants stability in greater Pakistan; which means a successful Pakistan that is capable of and wanting to dismantle extremist groups. What else does the world as a whole want from greater Pakistan? Do you think it is wrong for the international community to be concerned about the security of Pakistan's WMD and other military weapons?
I did not read the article (too busy for leninist tracts today) but if the writer is comparing the Naxals and the taliban, then one glaring difference needs to be kept in mind: The Indian army is not protecting the naxals and has never done so. They exist in spite of the army, not because of the army.
I'm not sure this is wise, but I have to ask: Conrad, you refered to the “persistence of feudalism.” Is this a fairly standard description of Pakistani society, and what does feudalism mean in this context? Jonathan — I must ask, why would you not think it wise ;) I should say that I am not any kind of authority or knowledgable commentator on Pakistan, haven't lived there or studied it in any depth. My reference to feudalism was simply because it is often trotted out as one of the explanations of the lack of development by economists and occasionally by some political scientists as one of the reasons behind a failure of class-based politics to take root (though this is usually by those with a Leftist background). I have no comment on the veracity of these claims but given their predominance in the literature I would have expected them to be addressed somehow. In the Pakistani context, I understand feudalism to be mainly applicable to Punjab and Sindh, it isn't I think necessarily very accurate in describing social relations in the countryside in states like Baluchistan or the NWFP which are somewhat different (from what I understand). In terms of definition, well this is always tricky but I would take it to mean the general failure of land reform to break the concentration of land-holdings as well as the social power of the zamindari class in these regions; limiting the growth of capitalist agriculture and the development of wage labour market in this sector. Again, I would probably question the veracity of this, especially since from the literature, the failure of Pakistani land reform is always held in contrast to the success of Indian land reform; yet from an Indian perspective, the one thing that always strikes most students of land reform policies, was its failure and the ability of the landed class to get around it. The power of this class was significantly reduced in India but imo this happened much later and was due not to land reform but to economic changes in the structure of production, the technological changes wrought by the Green Revolution and the different role of the cultivating peasantry their political influence. Somewhat off-topic, but the romance epic of valiant trade unionism Khan discusses is hard to recognize for some of us. The piece makes this trade unionism/labor politics (which, btw, Khan reflexively equates with a commitment to left politics, without bothering to show it) seem more powerful or significant than it, IMO, was. I share Khan's dismay at the progressive impoverishment of labor politics in Pakistan, but the real question isn't “why the collapse?”, but “why has it always been so feeble?” Q, I think this reflects the kind of Trotskyist and Fourth Internationalist-type of tradition that Khan is a part of. One can see this kind of analysis in several current journals like International Socialism and other outlets like the WSWS; quite piercing in their critiques of neo-liberalism, they adhere very rigidly to a Marxist-Leninist model of political and social change and every workers' struggle or episode of labour unrest is heralded as the next great assault that will topple the system. To read some of these articles one would think that the revolution is just around the corner, if only the intellectual Left and the activists can get themselves organised to lead the workers! Needless to say your label of 'romance epic' fits this mentality very well imo. I read the bit on the “liberal Left's” ambivalence toward democracy a bit differently than Conrad did, although I think I come out of the same rabbit hole. I imagine Khan is referring to the (very many) Pakistani urban elites that one comes across who periodically make accommodations with military rule, some rather enthusiastically. So far I might not disagree with her â€” but the problem is in using the term “liberal left” for this segment of the population. It does not at all follow from the fact that members of certain classes in Pakistan are SOCIALLY liberal, that they are politically so as well: the latter is an ideological commitment; the former, in the context of Pakistani society, a function of social privilege. Perhaps “liberal Left” is used to link this mindset with that of the Manan Ahmeds of the world, but it's shoddy. I didn't think of it in those terms and that is a fair point but I would disagree with you on the interpretation here. In the section on the 'Collapse of the Left in Pakistan' much of the blame is laid in a round about way on the Leftists who joined the National Awami Party and then later the Awami Party and the PPP. Of course, Khan is aware enough to note the rather non-Socialist nature of these parties and ascribes the failure of the CPP and other leftists in succumbing to either regional nationalism (as in Bengal, Baluchistan and NWFP) or falling for the rhetoric of socialism in joining the PPP. This was meant to have 'betrayed' a supposedly solid foundation that was built up by workers struggles in the 1950s. My point of course is that joining these formations themselves indicated the weakness of class-based politics and ideology compared to populism and sub-nationalism modes of mobilisation and that many leftists would have joined these political groups from a position of weakness rather than because they were in a position of strength and threw it away. A lot more can be said how the politics of nationalism subsumed leftist politics here, perhaps in a similar way to how the politics of caste/religion did the same in many parts of India (at least in the north) much later; but that merits a detailed and serious discussion of how and why it happened, rather than the assertion that it did, which is what is provided. As a small post-script, I thought I was hallucinating when I read the (much maligned- at least on here LOL!) Tariq Ali's the duel; where he has a footnote waxing lyrical about how the 'honour' of the left was upheld by a handful of Punjabi socialists who went off to join the ak-47 toting Baluch rebels during the 1971 uprising, including Ahmed Rashid within their number. But then to flesh it out I cam across this gem that recounts some of the exploits of the London Group during this episode; despite the dodgy combat record, I don't think I will ever regard Ahmed Rashid through the same eyes again PMSL! http://gmcmissing.wordpress.com/2009/10/19/revisiting-the-che-guevara-like-days-of-baloch-resistance-movement-with-asad-rehman/
anan: The diatribe in question excoriates sepoy's plea for popular democracy in place of continuing imperial and domestic military domination in Pakistan. Khan's piece claims that the Taliban and their alleged apologists on the anti-war 'liberal left' stand in the way of the emergence of a 'vibrant international left' onto the scene of Pakistani politics. The implicit notion that the current US-led military presence (hardly a representative instrument of the 'international community') is a potential vehicle of such a transformation seems to me a perspective that is both confused and dangerous.* Afghanistan and, increasingly, Pakistan are sites of imperial military and political domination. One can debate the balance of geopolitical, economic, retributive, and ideological motivations or causes behind this new imperial occupation, but one can hardly deny its existence. *[This is not to make the facile claim that the platypi are essentially hawks. My point is that they do, however, seem to be defending the same instruments, though not the same larger agenda, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.]
Jonathan — I must ask, why would you not think it wise Conrad, there's a long history of knock-down, drag-out fights over what 'feudalism' means: some people use it with a very specific ideological framework in mind (the Marxist feudal-bourgeois transition theory, for example, which seems to be the dominant meaning in the way you describe it, though I don't get the impression that you're a Marxist yourself), some with a more functionalist definition (I use one which derives from both European and Japanese historiography, which has to do with the lack of public, universal law replaced with private, negotiated authority), and almost everyone who's spent time in these debates knows that as you get down to cases, no two feudalisms turn out to be the same. You don't seem to have a dog in this fight, though, and I very much appreciate the clarification.
Re: "Is this a fairly standard description of Pakistani society..." Jonathan: one other thing to keep in mind -- whatever the current state of academic discourses on "feudalism" -- is that this is a very common, VERY common term in Pakistani political discourse in English. I submit that one couldn't go a week reading the Pakistani English press (perhaps even the Urdu press) without coming across the term "feudal" (or the Urdu equivalent using words constructed from "zamindar" and "wadera" (loosely "landlord", in the seigneurial sense). i.e. in discourse within Pakistan this word has a very definite valence (although not meaning), and refers to the general complex of agricultural wealth concentrated in the hands of a few landlords; and is also used as a general bugbear by many in urban Pakistan (i.e. not only in the sense of the "wicked and exploitative landlord" but also as a means to deny agency to Pakistan's peasantry ("voting doesn't matter as they only vote where the landlord tells them to")) -- i.e. it has BOTH an emancipatory and an anti-democratic potential IMO. Thus my reaction to "feudal" if I heard it within Pakistan or from "within" that country's discourse would be quite different from my reaction if I heard it in the sort of context you mention. You'll hear and read "feudal" more often in Pakistan than you'll ever hear "left" or "right" IMO...
I'll abstain on Pakistani history since I am no expert. But re: the Naxalites, it's immensely naive to think they don't have a totalizing (I won't say totalitarian) ideology. It's true they are speaking for tribal rights, but if placed in a hegemonic position in India, as the Taliban are in the areas they control, they have big dreams. Like this: “The ultimate aim or maximum programme of the party is the establishment of communist society. This New Democratic Revolution will be carried out and completed through armed agrarian revolutionary war i.e. the Protracted People's War with area wise seizure of power remaining as its central task.” [Here's the excellent post where I got this from: http://kafila.org/2009/11/24/maoist-revolution-liberal-naivete/] Anyway, I don't think that was Devji's point in making the comparison, but it sure doesn't square with Khan's idea.
Qalandar, Thanks for the clarification. That usage seems to derive from the early marxisant social science (does anyone else here remember Barrington Moore Jr.'s Social origins of dictatorship and democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World?), and closely resembles the Chinese (where it often doubles for 'patriarchal' as well) and Japanese usage of similar terms early/mid-20th century.
Re: "...where it often doubles for 'patriarchal' as well..." Somewhat off-topic: As with the sub-continent (and perhaps post-colonial societies) more generally, the usage of "feudal" in Pakistani is a variant of a rather long tradition that posits the distinction between "city dweller" and "villager" as crucial, mapping as it does onto the citizen vs. "mere" subject distinction. The "feudal" in urban Pakistani lore is not only the (monstrous) other of the "enlightened" city dweller, but his existence continually justifies the (potentially despotic) intervention of the city dweller and "his" law/state/etc. (one sees this as a rather common trope in Indian films as well, whether it is "Sholay" (1975) or "Swades" (2003); Ray's outstanding "Days and Nights in the Forest" (1969? 70?) problematizes the whole mindset, but perhaps insufficiently so when it comes to the ultimate "outsider" of the "tribal" woman (played, distressingly, by Simi Garewal in blackface)). It is interesting to note that the exploitative "feudal" that was a staple of Pakistani television serials for a very long time first arose around the time of the PPP government's deposition by Zia-ul-Haq (the PPP, of course, was the party associated with "socialist" rhetoric and Sindhi "feudals" by its opponents). The "feudal" in these serials could be a romanticized figure representing anti-modernity ("Waaris" (1979-1980)); a stifling symbol of the patriarchal order oppressing women ("Pyaas" (late 1980s); or a kind of gangster ("Nange Paon"; late '90s), but he was always an authoritarian and despotic figure, unlike his urban cousin. And then there is plain and simple wish fulfillment and projection too, also along rather old and stale orientalist lines too. Thus, a rather large number of the stories that urban Pakistanis repeat about "feudals" turn on lurid sexual privilege (i.e. the ability of "feudals" to simply appropriate women from their villages, etc.); I don't think one needs to downplay the persistence of abuse against women in rural Pakistan to recognize that these sorts of stories point to the envious fantasies of those who might very much like to appropriate whoever they can, but alas will never be able to.
[...] Interesting discussion over at Chapati Mystery on Atiya Khan’s recent polemical [...]
"What I would like to know is this: why are the self-appointed standard-bearers of the orthodox left seeking so doggedly to justify continuing imperial interventions on the scorched earth of Afghanistan and Pakistan?" Who is attempting to justify "continuing imperial interventions"? The argument of Khan's essay is to question whether U.S. non-intervention would solve any of the political problems facing Pakistan, and show that the anti-imperialist line has obscured--up to the present--what a revived Pakistani left would look like, and the international conditions and means by which it can be brought about. The essay seems to be directed primarily at the student Left based in American campuses, the major organizations of which, such as SDS, have attempted to mobilize mass support against the proposed new intervention in Afghanistan. These attempts to mobilize numerically strong numbers to influence the new U.S. administration have clearly failed--even more than the attempts to do so on the eve of the U.S.-Iraq war. Given the manifestly abject state of the left, both U.S. and internationally, what do the critical critics on this list propose? Certainly calling on the left to "oppose intervention" is meaningless, since the left as such does not exist to effect the course of history right now. Rather, Khan's call for a "revitalized international left," founded on identifiable constituencies--such as organized labor--and politically oriented towards cosmopolitan and emancipatory goals, seems perfectly reasonable and salutary given a sober assessment of the global politics. Unless someone has another idea...
Given the manifestly abject state of the left, both U.S. and internationally, what do the critical critics on this list propose? Well, not rehash silly and stupid artificial histories of the Left and politics in Pakistan/India for one. Refrain from mis-representing other people's arguements in a myopic and dishonest manner would be another. Given the manifestly abject state of the left, both U.S. and internationally, what do the critical critics on this list propose? Certainly calling on the left to “oppose intervention” is meaningless, since the left as such does not exist to effect the course of history right now. Rather, Khan's call for a “revitalized international left,” founded on identifiable constituencies—such as organized labor—and politically oriented towards cosmopolitan and emancipatory goals, seems perfectly reasonable and salutary given a sober assessment of the global politics. Unless someone has another ideaâ€¦ And what exactly makes you think that "calling" on the Left or targeted constituencies will do anything on this issue? The kind of Left that Khan rhapsodises about won't come about because a handful of intellectual and commentators decide to verbalise their wishes for one in an on-line journal read mostly by academics and those interested in theory. In so far as one can do anything, it takes painstaking activism, much at the grassroots level in one form or another; which I think most people interested in it pursue in their actual offline lives without feeling the need to demonstrate it or refer to it here. One idea I do have is not to indulge in silly point-scoring based on an misunderstanding of the past, which leads to a misconstruing of the present as the original article does. I am unaware that much of Khan's polemic here is directed at the student Left on US campuses, much of it seems reserved for the Pakistani liberal Left both those that remained within the country and its diasporic elements. If it is indeed the former which is Khan's primary intended audience, I am unsure as to the effectiveness of such an approach; given that this sector hasn't had a decisive or even significant impact on US foreign policy since the end of the Vietnam war.
Now we are getting to the heart of the matter, and I think, the misunderstanding. Conrad writes, "If it is indeed the former which is Khan's primary intended audience, I am unsure as to the effectiveness of such an approach; given that this sector hasn't had a decisive or even significant impact on US foreign policy since the end of the Vietnam war." Conrad is undoubtedly correct that the student Left has been impotence since the '60s (even its protest of the Vietnam war were circumscribed, lest we forget it took 9 years and many thousands of lives for the war to be fought to the bitter end). However, this does not obviate the claim that it could, perhaps must, revive itself to transform the current geopolitical situation by acting as a driving force for internationalism. The response over U.S. military intervention voiced by the Left both in the U.S. and abroad writes off the possibility of any long-lasting transformation in America itself. These views are implicitly self-defeating, unless one wants to protest military interventions for the same reasons continuously through the next centuries. Revivifying an international Left undoubtedly implies, as you say, a great deal of hard work. I do not think Khan's article suggests that this is not the case, or that she herself is not endorsing it. Rather, it seems to me that she is suggesting that one of the obstacles to this broader, practical project is the widespread opinion that Pakistan (and the rest of the world) is better off left alone. This view, coupled with the allergy to any practical suggestion to substantively transform the U.S. government by Left-wing politics, is implicitly nationalist in frame. The "Leftists" from the U.S. are reduced to fringe crankiness, which basically accepts the current state of things as it is. This view, in my opinion, is irresponsible; I do not think the situation is bad because of a few short-sighted military adventures by the U.S. government, but because this is taking place in regions that are mired in abject poverty. There is a broader question, that of changing the dynamics of capitalist development and challenging that dynamic entirely, that is implicitly shelved by exclusive focus on the actions of the U.S. military. There are some who don't care for this question, and that's fine-- except for the fact that the people who don't care for the critique of capitalism care little for the political conditions in most of the world, either. The two go hand in hand, which is I believe Khan is referring to by the term "undigested Stalinism"--a sort of Left-tinted-real-politik that isn't working for anyone, yet is considered by many to be the ultimate responsibility of progressives everywhere. This will not do. If there is to be a Left anywhere, it would be an international Left; by extension, it seems as though Leftists must take responsibility for the situation in Pakistan just as it should in U.S. This, in my opinion, could only take place if the Left reorients itself around international emancipatory and social-democratic aims, which have long been shelved by the nicely academicized anti-imperialism bequeathed by the New Left and left dangling mid-air long after it ceased to point towards a qualitatively better world.
Greg - I have some sympathy with what you are saying. My point simply is twofold: I don't think much is being accomplished in this case by the kind of military action that is taking place. US military action takes place for a number of reasons and according to its own internal logic; improving the prospects of the Left, are far from its stated aims and nor is it likely to be a consequence of such actions. So, I don't see why any Leftist should support it (this is besides the questions of morality since such actions have and are having a very cost in terms of loss of life and suffering). Secondly, I do think that political developments have to come from within political communities themselves and the source for any kind of progressive politics has national origins. Of course those similarly inclined can encourage and support such efforts but they cannot substitute for them and in the absence of such indigenous developments any external pressure will turn out to be counter-productive. It is very important to understand the nature and exact realities of societies very different and far removed from one's own before advocating any sort of direct intervention there and to understand the limitations of such an approach. This holds true for both those on the Left as well as the Right.
It is surprising how people can still talk about 'the left' and 'the right' in at least the south asian context. The history of bengal would be a case in the point. Land reform took place in Bangladesh and West Bengal, in the name of Mohammad and Marx, respectively. And simultaneously! In both places (Hindu) landlords were ejected. Nepalese Maoist revolution is bringing along (or rather riding it) a Hindu Nepali identity with a decent push. South Indian priests have been replaced by Nepali priests in more than one temple. What has the promise of emancipation or emancipation got to do with left and right?
Land reform took place in Bangladesh and West Bengal, in the name of Mohammad and Marx, respectively. And simultaneously! In both places (Hindu) landlords were ejected. A paen to the Bengali feudal zamindari class, PMSL! Don't shed too many tears though, most of them sent their descendants to elite institutions like Presidency College and now run the state in West Bengal, LOL!
don't make me the writer of tragic paragraph. i dont care if they go to calcutta or columbia!
These Bengali babus can't shift themselves out of the cocoon of South Kolkata and you want them to move to Colombia, LOL!!! But I was unaware of any significant land reform taking place in the 'name of Mohammed' as you put it; there weren't many Bengali Hindu landlords left in East Pakistan after 1947...
Conrad: I thought (and vikas can correct me) that he was referring to the 1947 exodus/migration/violence as itself the "land reform in the name of Mohammed".
yes, qalandar gets me right. thats exactly what i was saying. in the long/medium term of the Annales school, that is simultaneous. and no i wasnt saying colombia, i was saying columbia/oxbridge/ivy league and so on.
Q - if someone equates ethnic cleansing with land reform, well then that is pretty stupid. Vikas - please don't abuse the Annales school with that kind of stupidity, the process was also important for them as the outcome and equating the two different processes here is really crassly dumb. Columbia is an Ivy League university, I don't quite see the relevance of it in anycase.
Conrad, 2) You need to read your Braudel with care. It is not a co-incidence that peasants taking up land ownership in Bengal has happened under different guises on both sides of the border. 3) Changes in the ownership of property are always violent. If you could give me substantial examples of voluntary submissions of property, I'd be gaining some facts thanks to you. White settlers in new world. Muslim peasants kicking out Hindu landlords in Bangladesh. The West Bengal CPM bringing in land reforms was a good way to contain naxalism, who were anyways promising land reforms. Yadav peasantry in Bihar kicking out Rajputs and Bhumihars. GoI and big business taking over tribal lands in Orissa. Ongoing or over and done with violent processes all. When and where did you see voluntary giving up of claims on property? 4) Don't make me say 'ethnic cleansing', when I am talking about 'violence' or 'force'. 1) You could do with some politeness.
Also, most of them sent their descendants to elite institutions like Presidency College and now run the state in West Bengal well now they send their kids to Ivy League and Oxbridge also!
1) Sorry but I call it like I see it; tis true that I am not a polite person and more than bit of a bastard , apologies if this upset you a lot though. 2) first off, the Annales is a lot more than just Braudel, the original founding fathers of the Annales school, Bloch and Febvre, wanted to go beyond just look at data of prices, currency and trade, technological changes and the structure of agrarian society but also to explore values, sensibilities and feelings. This was what is sometimes termed the 'spirit of the Annales' at the time. Secondly, even referring to Braudel to support your arguement, you are making a category mistake; while the tri-level division of history that Braudel makes relegates the lives of individuals and politics, dismissingly described as 'event-based history), to tertiary importance; economic and social structures are the mid-level that connect this with the deeper demographic and environmental changes that actually cause tectonic shifts in underlying patters. Land reform is part of this mid-level change and the way it takes place and occurs is of importance, all changes in land ownership cannot simply be equated to one another, the differences here have important bearing on the outcomes. To simply try and relegate this to the surface level of event-based history, is a category mistake and a mis-understanding of Braudel's theory of history. I won't go into the swing back to the 'internal lives' and mentalities that has characterised more recent developments in Annales as through the work of Le Roy Ladurie and Goubert who reacted against the environmental long-duree approach of Braudel and his dismissal of 'human insects' since this isn't meant to be a discussion about historiography, but just to note that equating the Annales school with Braudel is a mistake, quite apart from any issues of misinterpreting Braudel's approach. 3) Sorry but where did I say that changes in property ownership is not violent, please point that out to me. You seem to be arguing against something you think/wish I said, rather than looking at what I actually did. My point was the different types of changes in land ownership cannot be equated with each other nor can they be subsumed under the category of 'Land reform' which is actually quite a specific category. For example, replacing Hindu landlords with Muslim landlords is not 'land reform'. You seem to be equating all changes in land ownership and land rights with 'land reform' which is wrong and seems more to delegitimize land reform as a distinct category, rather than any actual empirical evidence. There is also a large typology of different types of land reform (whether from 'above' or from 'below'; how settlements are worked out, what property rights are actually given etc.) what form it actually takes has a huge impact on outcomes — something that most scholars of land reform will tell you. In terms of land reform, several major episodes of land reform have been carried out without wholesale violence, though inevitably it always involves a measure of coercion; zamindari abolition in India, for example through the Zamindari abolition acts in UP and Bihar, did result in a substantial transfer of ownership rights from the top level of landowners to the intermediary class. There is a massiv literature on this Jannuzi's work on Bihar and Wolf Ladejinsky on UP being the classic works by observers present on the agrarian scene at the time they were occurring. Incidentally, I would like to add that Naxalism was not 'contained' by CPI(M) sponsored land reforms, attempts to actually impose land ceilings and redistribute land was what led to outbreak of fighting in Naxalbari and the split within the party in 67. Naxalism was smashed inside West Bengal because it was attacked by the Centre after the declaration of President's Rule and use of the army and intercinine fighting with the CPI(M). Upon returning to power in 77 the Left Front govt quietly shelved plans to impose land ceilings and agricultural taxation, what was done was the registration of sharecroppers and the enforcement of harvest contracts that guaranteed them a fixed share of the output. This benefited the middle peasantry which was the key support base of the LF govt in the state and again was done through the administrative and constitutional machinery — it did not need and revolution or state-sponsored violence in the countryside. Within India, the state does not have the level of force to coerce land reform in the countryside or even to control agricultural production and distribution, attempts to do so by the Indira Gandhi govt in 1971-2 and during the Emergency were an abject failure. Also I don't know where you got the idea that the 'Yadav peasantry' have kicked out the Rajputs and bhumihars from Bihar — this certainly has not happened, the latter are still very much there in the countryside, their larger estates have been broken up through legal ceiling limits, inability to utilise the new technologies of the Green Revolution and a reluctance to engage in output and profit maximisation cultivation, not through any direct 'Yadav action' — this sounds suspiciously like Yadav propaganda to me! Acquisition of adivasi lands by MNCs and Indian corporate groups is just another form of primitive accumulation, why it is even mentioned in the same breath as land reform is beyond me. 4) 'Violence' and 'force' are massive generalisations, almost all exercise of the law involve some measure of both; so conceptually it is useless. Ethnic cleansing is my term, not yours, you are free not to use it if you wish, I am not imposing it on you. 5) I see, your points here just strike me as somewhat confusing. Why mention Kolkata (a city) in the same sentence as Colombia (a university) it just strikes me as odd and not quite logical. Regarding Bengalis in the US, I agree that they are strongly represented in the Uni sector, especially in some depts. Like Development economics (or the 'Bengali mafia' as a friend described it to me!) but it is incorrect to make the comparison between this and the domination of many elite institutions within West Bengal by members of the erstwhile zamindari class from East Bengal; the presence of this class of East Bengalis in the US is nowhere near the same level and most come from much more ordinary middle-class backgrounds, not to mention from West Bengal as opposed to the East.
i am incapable of writing more than you. and certainly not on blogs. the question remains 'where have your pure-type land reforms taken place ?' and how is it that 'ordinary middle-class bengalis' have a greater chance of joining this cosmopolitan paradise of the US academia than many other kinds of South Asians. I also wish I was a Yadav propagandist blowing my own trumpet. Anyways sorry to rankle you. Have fun.
where have your pure-type land reforms taken place Most Communist countries, particularly in Asia, where land reform was a main reason for the support of the peasantry for it would fall under this category. There are also fairly radical land reforms in Taiwan and Japan under more conservative regimes, whose aim was to pre-empt any Communist takeover. how is it that 'ordinary middle-class bengalis' have a greater chance of joining this cosmopolitan paradise of the US academia than many other kinds of South Asians I don't recall saying this, unsure where you got this idea from; Bengalis are only just one of several groups well represented in US academia from South Asia. My comments just referred to the internal composition of the Bengalis that did cross over. I also wish I was a Yadav propagandist blowing my own trumpet. Yadav's are a smart and politically astute people, they would never believe their own propaganda anyway; that is strictly for the, usually upper-caste, suckers who whine about them. Anyways sorry to rankle you. If I remember correctly, it was you that got upset at my lack of 'politeness' so I suggest that it wasn't me that got rankled here.
Somewhat off topic. I came across this paper "The Limited Modesty of Subsidiarity" by N.W. Barber (European Law Journal, vol 11, No. 3, 2005, via the blog 'Law and Other Things'). This seems to be a good general principle to approach many of the problems that are being discussed. Can somebody give some references to its applicability. Thanks.
1) Most Communist countries, particularly in Asia, where land reform was a main reason for the support of the peasantry for it would fall under this category. There are also fairly radical land reforms in Taiwan and Japan under more conservative regimes, whose aim was to pre-empt any Communist takeover. And these land reforms took place without any violence or to use your term 'ethnic cleansing', and, without the politics of identity, and without hatred? Did not Mao and his followers come up with the theory that peasant violence against landlords was a spontaneous reaction against oppression. Suspiciously similar to the BJP after Dec 6. What took place in Japan was a Land Tax Reform. Its another issue that the BJP is completely incapable of land reforms. Are liberalism and communism then devoid of ethnic politics, and function on the modern and humanistic principles only? 2) Your issue was with me saying Kolkata/Calcutta and Colo(u)mbia in the same breath. Calcutta was the earlier destination of the Bangla lord, now it is Columbia and others of the same ilk. 3) Yadav's are a smart and politically astute people, they would never believe their own propaganda anyway; that is strictly for the, usually upper-caste, suckers who whine about them. I fail to understand why the Yadav or anybody else needs your certificate for being politically astute. Incidentally, as of now, at least the Yadav satraps (if not the Yadavs) are on the backfoot in both UP and Bihar. Congratulations for being a clairvoyant and estimating that only upper caste suckers whine (and have access to English and internet) about the Yadavs. I wish you could do further fieldwork and read more Indian newspapers and know more about the nature of the Yadavs' relationship with castes lower to theirs on the ladder. 4) I still think you are impolite, and I still rankle you.
And these land reforms took place without any violence or to use your term 'ethnic cleansing', and, without the politics of identity, and without hatred? Did not Mao and his followers come up with the theory that peasant violence against landlords was a spontaneous reaction against oppression. Suspiciously similar to the BJP after Dec 6. So where did I say that 'land reforms took place without any violence'? This is a bizarre claim that seems to exist mostly in your mind. If peasant violence was so spontaneous it wouldn't have needed the organisation of a political party to channel it; peasant rebellions have been extremely common throughout Chinese history, which you should know. I thought the BJP rationale was a bit different on Ayodhya at that time, given that there weren't a lot of bearded Muslims at the site on December 6th running around 'oppressing' Hindus. Your issue was with me saying Kolkata/Calcutta and Colo(u)mbia in the same breath. Calcutta was the earlier destination of the Bangla lord, now it is Columbia and others of the same ilk. Well, no it isn't; most of the erstwhile zamindars have remained in the state comfortably ensconced within the powerful institutions there; US academia is a much more level playing field, which requires greater investment of time and effort to perform well in and where personal connections don't matter so much; hence the predominance of other social classes there. I fail to understand why the Yadav or anybody else needs your certificate for being politically astute. Incidentally, as of now, at least the Yadav satraps (if not the Yadavs) are on the backfoot in both UP and Bihar. Congratulations for being a clairvoyant and estimating that only upper caste suckers whine (and have access to English and internet) about the Yadavs. Nobody needs any certificate from me for anything, least of all Yadavs; they could certainly do without your patronising condescension though. I have done most of fieldwork in eastern UP actually and I grew up in Bihar, so I am well aware of the tensions between the OBCs and Dalits in the countryside; the whining though is confined to upper castes, in the manner which you replicate. I wish you could do further fieldwork and read more Indian newspapers and know more about the nature of the Yadavs' relationship with castes lower to theirs on the ladder. PMSL, are English newspapers the best guide to what is happening in the countryside?! Is this the same source where you get the idea that “Yadavs have kicked out Rajputs and bhumihars from Bihar”?! News to at least half of my family and friends I can tell you, but then maybe that is because they haven't read the English newspapers outlining how they have been kicked out the state :D I still think you are impolite, and I still rankle you. But if you think I am impolite, surely it should be me that is rankling you — no?
What took place in Japan was a Land Tax Reform. Just want to clarify that I was referring to the land reforms that took place under Allied Occupation. The Meiji Land Reform programme, though often called a Land Tax reform, was a lot more than that as it established alienable private property rights in land for the first time in the countryside and allowed the sale and use of land by landowners as collateral on credit markets. Its another issue that the BJP is completely incapable of land reforms. I don't think that was my point at all; it isn't a matter of party politics but of state power. The Indian state did try to implement land reform and other control measures over the agricultural sector and realised very quickly it simply didn't have the capacity to carry this out with force. Are liberalism and communism then devoid of ethnic politics, and function on the modern and humanistic principles only? Of course not, there is always an element of such factors present; it is entirely different though to claim that they are in no way different from ethnic politics or dominated by them.
your doggedness has me beat.
gaddeswarup: thanks for the reference, will check it out...
Manan Bhai, you must assume responsibility for the failure of the Left in Pakistanâ€¦maybe it is time to reject liberalism by taking up Ms. Khan's suggestion and join efforts to improve the “semi-educated” / “illiterate” people of Swat and Waziristan vulnerable to what what she (following thinkers of Khan's new International such as Christopher Hitchens) calls fascistic Islam. I fail to understand what she is really accusing you ofâ€¦abandoning internationalism, minimizing alarm over Talibanization, not being alarmed by the Shariah, conservative cultural nationalism...But I enjoyed the Trade Union fable she offers us a guide to understanding Pakistan.
Abir, do you think there is such a thing as "fascistic Islam" or is it only a figment of someone's imagination?
[...] may recall that I had pointed out Atiya Khan’s critique of my piece in the Nation some while ago. I had wanted to not turn it into some silly blog tiff, and sent in a letter to the editor, who [...]