Today in the historic city of Multan there was an inauguration ceremony of the latest book written by famous Pakistani Marxist intellectual and IMT activist Dr Lal Khan.The book is called “Pakistan’s Other Story: The Revolution of 1968-69”. This book is one of the most important texts to have emerged from Pakistan. It for the first time has put the positions of traditional left of Pakistan under a Marxist critique and has identified flawed ideology as the main reason for the failure of revolution of 1968 which resulted in emergence of Pakistan’s Peoples Party. In this event my dear friend read his paper on the book , the paper raises some important points regarding the history of philosophy and the errors committed by Communist Parties. We are publishing this paper which is an important read for all progressives from Pakistan
Dr Lal Khan is editor of Asian Marxist Review and have wrote 29 books. He was part of the revolutionary resistance against fascist General Zia-ul-Haq . Orders of “shoot at sight” were issues against him by the military high command but he was able to leave the country. He returned after Benazir Bhutto restored democracy.
Pakistan’s Other Story: Strategies of Subversive Historiography
Dr Ahmad Arslan
It’s really a great honor for me to be here today on the inauguration of the book by Dr Lal Khan. A lot has been written and said on the book which is called “The Other Story” of Pakistan. A lot have been said on the content of the book, its political importance and the narrative of the Revolution of 1968/69 but I would like to highlight yet another side of this book. What does it means in the field of Historiography and general history writing in Indian subcontinent. Not only this book highlights the “other side” of Pakistan, it in itself is the “other side” of History writing. Challenging the established discourse in history writing, not only the one which is termed as “bourgeois” but also the one which has long held the claim to be a pro people one .The book is not only a critique of events it is also a critique of history writing.
The general trends within the left wing history writing in the Indian Subcontinent have utilized Historical materialism in understanding and describing major turning points of Indian history and the associated social changes. This has been often hailed as well condemned as a ‘Marxist Historiography”. Marxist Historiography in Indian subcontinent is not a monolithic tradition; its not only the most advance methodology of history writing its also one of the most diverse. On one side it has contributed a lot in understanding the ancient history of India and has challenged a lot of European myths regarding “stagnation of History in India” and on “Asiatic Mode of Production” it has also provided the tools to understand history of forests in India and development of more contemporary schools like that of “Environmental History” .etc.
In more contemporary times the writing of history has been controversial even within the Marxist historians. The dominant school of Marxist historians in Indian subcontinent have increasingly come under an academic attack from new left historians who have demonstrated that their work is plagued by the “Nationalism” of Indian national congress. Eqbal Ahmad, Hamza Alvi and Ayesha Jalal have put forward a brilliant critique of Indian Nationalism and the history writing which evolved around it in order to legitimize it. Hamza Alvi is critical of Communist Party of India for failing to develop an independent position in India and putting all its eggs in Nehru’s basket. He is also critical of the Soviet Historians who went out of length in trying to prove the bourgeois character of All India Muslim League. Ahmad has analyzed and criticized Gandhi for “spiritualizing” the Indian politics and the analysis of “communalism” by the self proclaimed Marxist historians of India who have rested all the blame of partition on MA Jinnah . In his critique Congress and Gandhi emerge as the main proponents of Partition. Jalal has selected Jinnah for her work and demonstrated that contrary to the ideological myths in India and Pakistan Jinnah never perused Pakistan as an ideological objective rather it was just a political tactic used by him to gain political leverage.
While all three of these historians attempt to give an “advance” critique of the more established Marxist history and politics now branded as “Nehruvian Socialist” school from a Marxist left perspective, their critique is silent on “Muslim Nationalism” which emerges as a winner of a sort in their attack on Congress. The result is that though more advance, their analysis remains incomplete. Lal Khan first in his book “Partition and how it can be undone” and now in his book “Pakistan’s Other Story” have put all three positions ie those of Congress, Muslim Nationalists and Communist Party of India under a class critique. The result is emergence of a pro- people perspective on Partition and the later democratic struggle of the people in both nation states establishing essentially the people as “others” of States and Party. The historiographical implications of this work are:
1) What is the relationship between Party and the Working class
2) In any Marxist analysis primacy should be given to the interest of working class or the interest of Party
3) The interests of Party and that of working class is same or can it be demonstrated that at various critical turns of history a clear conflict of interest exists between the Party and working class evident by even a simple empirical analysis of events.
In his work Lal Khan has tried to demonstrate this “conflict of interest” between the working classes and the party which claimed to be its Vanguard. First of this critical point is the “Second great imperialist War” where the struggle of colonial people against imperialism was sacrificed resulting in nationalist degeneration of revolution all over the world. Second time this conflict of interest is demonstrated on Partition where all 4 apparently conflict engaged parties , the British, The National-Socialists, the Muslim Nationalists and the Communist agreed on partition of India on religious grounds. The people got genocide and a continuous communal and sectarian violence which got new and more murderous turn with the emergence of Taliban. The fact that it has been identified as main cause of state crisis and terrorism in Pakistan by even non Marxist academics like Dr Robina Saigol demonstrates its simple and empirical nature. Third time this conflict of interest is demonstrated at time of revolutionary explosion of 1968 when masses took to street and demanded end of the oppressive system for ever but the party from France to Pakistan helped the ruling classes to diffuse the revolution, this resulted in emergence of second wave social democracy in Europe and populism in colonial countries like Pakistan.
By demonstrating this Lal Khan provides the historiographical frame work for analysis of Pakistan Peoples Party as a phenomenon with it roots in the discontent which emerged from desire of the people to become masters of their destiny and the position of communists who analyzed the situation to be “non revolutionary”. Why this “distance” occurred between the interests of people and the Party? Lal Khan sees it in the Stalinist degeneration of Marxism, its conversion into a dogmatic nationalist ideology; the result was that the party instead of being vanguard of working class became a pawn in game of foreign policy wars between USSR, China and USA. Most of the revolutionary movements were abandoned in colonial countries to further foreign policy state interests of either USSR or China, weather it was Second World War or revolution of 1968.
The implications of this kind of politics on history writing have been extensively studied by academic Left wing in universities of advance capitalist countries. The communist historians as result of this turn engaged in down playing of resistance all over the globe. The rebellion of peasantry, Dalits, soldiers; trade unions in India during the time of communist collaboration have been suppressed in historical texts. The Spanish civil war was reduced to the status of a war of Artists, writers and poets. Communist historian as eminent as Eric Hobsbawm recently again repeated this position on Spanish Civil War. The movement of 1968 becomes a petty bourgeois reaction of students and lumpen proletarians with only cultural implications, ie development of counter culture, rock and pop music and sex revolution. In Pakistan it’s explained as labour unrest and part of United States agenda against Ayub Khan and China.
Legendary French historian Marc Ferro in his book ‘Uses and Abuses of History” have traced this change in communist historiography under Stalin and Mao where “party” replaced “class struggle” as the motor of history. While Marx and Marxist historiography have always understood class struggle to be the motor of history, later the position was put forward that because party is vanguard of working class, its positions represents the “correct class position” hence Marxist historiography became an attempt to historically justify various positions of communist Parties instead of documenting the class struggle. The result was this kind of history writing against which Lal Khan’s emerges as a Marxist critique.
With this Lal Khan’s methodology appears closer to Subaltern Historians who developed under the traditional communist historians but who have put their histories under critique for ignoring the struggles of the “others” the peasants, students, Dalits, Women, Gender non conformists in developing an essentially pro people critique of upper classes as well as traditional progressives who were insensitive to natives and “others”. Though Lal Khan has highlighted the “others” and their struggles, he differs from the Subalterns by projecting his analysis into the future, thus in the book the suppressed struggle of 68 becomes essentially a symbol for a future 1968. Thus Lal Khan is writing history for the future and in this regard his work can be compared to writing of Trotsky when he wrote Results and Prospects after revolution of 1905 thus developing the theory of permanent revolution which echoed in April thesis and resulted in Glorious Revolution of 1917. Thus Lal Khan’s is “history of a revolution for a future revolution”. This in its essence a subversive task A radical approach towards history writing one which essentially links past to a future goal , A revolution which will be logical conclusion of tragedies of Partition and failure of 68.
Thanks for your patience
Dr Ahmad Arslan is a Marxist political activist and intellectual based in Multan , he associates himself with the working class tradition of PPP and is a medical doctor by profession. He has an interest in Marxist philosophy, History and Literature.