Professor Syed Jamaluddin Naqvi’s book Leaving the Left behind is an autobiographical narrative, sprinkled with ideas that shake the core beliefs of all shades of left in Pakistan. Little wonder that comments on the book poured in from all sides. His former colleagues took exceptions and old foes chimed scepticism. Activists in the bleachers and the leaders in the box seats joined the discussions.
Several reviews appeared in the mainstream as well as social media. An intense debate is raging on in many intellectual circles. Critics have discussed all aspects of Naqvi’s politics, expressed personal grudges, and contested his criticism of the long-held leftist ideals.
The fact is that Leaving the Left behind is the first book in Pakistan that confronts fundamentalism and defies the dogma of the left. Naqvi, who dominated the policymaking body of the left for the most part of the 1970s and 80s, has spared no one with his characteristic crisp and sharp wit.
In the reviews and comments, his disillusionment with the entire model built in the former Soviet Union has come under fire. His intellectual journey from some nagging doubts to a full-blown repudiation of the left ideology has apparently shocked many. No one before him has touched the subject that he has so daringly expressed.
He opens the book with a confident declaration “It was dogma of another kind” right there in the prologue. The course that led to his conclusion that he was “practicing a dogma in the name of keeping dogma at bay” was agonising but logical in every sense. The inherent contradiction in any ideology is that, at some point in time, it will shed the dynamism that advanced the doctrine in the first place.
Naqvi has commented on other Marxist ideas too. He has questioned the validity of the ‘Theory of Surplus Value’, the core concept of Marxism that explains the exploitation of the industrial labour by the capital. He has forcefully challenged the class system created in the former Soviet Union in the name of elimination of classes.
His critical evaluation of Marxism after he remained at the top echelon of the left movement for a couple of decades is a significant development.
Professor Naqvi was part of the left that championed secularism, the rights of smaller provinces, and friendly relations with neighbours in the region. The left opposed the army action in East Pakistan and then opposed Pakistan’s meddling in internal Afghanistan affairs in the late 1970s and 80s. Almost all of the political positions the left took under his leadership have now become mainstream. Pakistani establishment had always come down hard on the left. Naqvi and his colleagues too bore the brunt of the state’s imperiousness.
Despite many reviews and comments on the book, the core issue of equating Marxism with dogma needs rigorous debates. Marxism emerged as a reaction of purported exploitation by the capital and has remained the most potent ideology for over 150 years. It inspired millions of young men and women. In Russia and China, it inspired restructuring of two most prominent social orders in the world.
Capital follows markets and evolves as markets move to cater for needs. Demands are not dependent on needs. Needs can be created and manipulated. Consumer goods, financial products or industrial machineries — the markets influence all aspects of demands through many marketing and sales strategies.
The capital’s ability to stimulate and adjust to the changing conditions creates the dynamism that perpetuates the system by steamrolling impediments that often emerge in the form of recessions or adverse conditions such as wars. The fact is that after every major recession or war, the capital advanced to a new high. The ideas that presented alternates at limited scales were either absorbed or lost steam in a short period.
The left ideology dangles one conflict between the industrial labour and the capital. All other conflicts are corollary to this divergence. Industrial labour never forms the majority in any society. It grows in numbers and then shrinks as the capital moves to different centres of profit. The fact remains that since 1950, industrial labour has shrunk in all major industrialist countries.
Majority of people are reliant on capital’s dynamism for their wellbeing. The dynamism often determines the cultural views and distinctiveness. A living example is China. The capital’s shift from the industrialised countries changed China’s entire social outlook. It transformed a state-controlled economy into a robust private-owned economy within a couple of decades.
When system’s crises arise, people are more conscious of their material survival. The left gains some traction as people look for different ideas. The capital after absorbing the grievances develops new conditions for people’s material and social wellbeing. In the Soviet Union, it was the system’s inability to cope with the raging economic calamity that led to the disintegration. China, after a massive economic turmoil, shifted gears and invited the capital to intervene reversing a total collapse.
Marxism’s inability to extract, transform, and collate in view of the impending crisis was a clear sign that the ideology lacked dynamism and ability to reinvent, and is redundant.
The political fallout of the dogma that still dominates the left often transpires a convergence of classical Marxism and the Right. In Pakistan and Europe, many left groups support Taliban as the peasants’ revolt against the state instead of looking at it as an extreme fundamentalist insurgency that proposes to take the society backwards.
Jamal Naqvi is not the first to question the validity of the Theory of Surplus Value. Ricardo before Marx had examined the relationship between profit and wages. His contention “pro?ts would be high or low in proportion as wages were low or high” is insular realism and Marx borrowed it unwarily from Ricardo. After presenting the theory, Marx spent next 17 years explaining what he meant by Value. Did he mean Intrinsic Value, the Exchange Value, or the third thing? In the end, Marx settled with claiming that he looked at Value from the Commodity standpoint.
Marx claimed his method was dialectic whereas the Value itself was subjective. Like all other economists, he relied on the axiomatic method for relationship between the profit and wages. Marx regarded the concept of surplus value, representing the sum total of profits, interests, and rents as his central theoretical discovery. In the structural axiomatic context, total surplus value is by definition identical with financial profit.
The surplus or profit and exploitation, in the Marxist view, are pejorative; a normative judgment, not positive analysis. Exploitation is not an absolute term. Exploitation differs from place to place and from one market to another. Multinational corporations (MNC) or transnational corporations (TNC) would have distinctive wage structures in different countries. A worker in India is paid less as compared to the US employee of the same MNC. The left perspective would have one believe that as exploitation of lower labour rates in India. Any worker in India would welcome the opportunity to work for an MNC. Simply, because the MNC would pay higher wages than the local employer. Would all the MNC employees in India consider it exploitation, as their pay is not equal to that of the US employees of the same MNC? They might, slyly, but credibly their wages are better than their counterparts in the Indian market.
Globalisation pronounced as domineering capitalist juggernaut by the left is not all negative. The process of international economic integration like every new concept has good or bad effects. Look at the global capital movement from the Indian perspective. The entry of the MNCs and TNCs has transformed the moribund Indian corporate sector into a dynamic workplace. MNCs not only brought in capital and technology, they also ushered equality in the workplace — the salary structure was reviewed and higher education was pursued with new vigour. Talent got appropriate reward.
With discrimination on the way out, women are joining the corporate sector in enormous numbers. Women now hold almost 25 per cent of all IT jobs and the numbers are increasing. Minorities and lower caste are gaining employment, strengthening the middle class. The MNCs have helped create a new upper middle class that is exerting its weight for rapid economic reforms. After generating a new landscape in China, MNCs have India on its way to a new economic powerhouse.
Is there any country in the world that is not welcoming the global capital?
The international economic integration is moving with full steam in multiple directions. Leaving the economies and the people at the mercies of ideologies does not make good political sense. The left is finding it hard to extricate itself from the 150 years old static doctrine.
People want to change with time, and holding them back by just a few dogmatic concepts that do not provide solutions to the present day issues is not feasible.
The left now cannot insist on shallow economic ideals. Pursuing a social, cultural renaissance and working to promote liberal democracy in the country might redeem some of its lost pride. Capital is neither an ideology nor a system of faith. Confronting it with an ideology by assuming rigid sets of economic archetypes coupled with an absolute path of development is not a great idea to follow.
Prof Jamal Naqvi in this context has provided enough fodder for the left to ponder. He has accepted his own error of overindulgence in the daily political chores that deprived him of enough time for critical appraisal of Marxism or the Soviet Union. Confronted with reality on the ground, gripped by disillusion, he walked off.
This is the second review of the book carried by The News on Sunday. Read the first one here. Professor Jamal Naqvi and the author were associates in a left group. TNS would welcome more thoughts on the subject. You can send in your contributions at [email protected]