Leaving the Left Behind

Professor Jamal Naqvi, one of the stalwarts of the Pakistani Left, recently wrote a book about leaving the Left behind. it has caused a stir..

Story of a Pakistani communist

In defense of Jamal Naqvi

Extracts: 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….

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…

Story of a Pakistani communist

Extracts from this review:
His autobiographical account has been published recently under the title Leaving the Left Behind, which is self-explanatory. If someone wants to know more, he can read the subtitle “An autobiographical tale of political disillusionment that took the life’s momentum away from the myopic politics of the Right and the Left to the enlightened concept of Right and Wrong”…..

With nine chapters and two appendices in this 264 page volume, the 81 year old Jamal Naqvi has shared all that he had to with his comrades. You may not agree with him but it is important to acknowledge this wise effort. We hope our elders in the movement would follow his example and give us a chance to read more about our common past.

Elegy for a comrade who lost his way

I come now to what is the central issue in the book (and provides its title, Leaving the Left Behind). A subsidiary issue is the standpoint he adopted after leaving the Left behind. I do not wish to say much about his new standpoint, but for the benefit of those who will not read the book I will make a brief mention. On the new standpoint that he now adopted, Naqvi writes: ‘I was always a democrat [but] my actions were not in conformity with my  beliefs, and standing between the two was an ideology [Communism, Marxism] that put blinkers on my eyes…’ (p.180). The new vision that he now saw on his road to Damascus was that of abandoning ‘the myopic politics of Left and Right’ for ‘the enlightened concept of Right and Wrong’ [front cover blurb]. Note that Naqvi’s ‘democracy’ without Left and Right is in fact nothing but democracy without politics; and he treats Right and Wrong as universal concepts so that that what is ‘right’ (or ‘wrong’) for the oppressor is also ‘right’ (or ‘wrong’) for the oppressed. Sadly, Naqvi has retreated into a world of abstractions. …

…To return to the question, is capitalism a fair and just system?  Marx never talked about fairness and justice of a political and economic system. What he thought of capitalism was stated plainly in the Communist Manifesto. Capitalism is a highly productive system. ‘The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production.’ At the same time, for the capitalist labour is and will always remain a cost of production which it must try to minimise in order to maximise his profit. Class conflict is inherent in the system. 

IA Rahman’s review of the book

Professor Naqvi does himself much wrong when he declares his life “an utter waste.” One hopes he is not referring to any failure to realise a personal ambition — that would be contrary to the creed he followed for decades. He should be happy with what the Left in Pakistan achieved despite being a target of tyrannical rulers, the contributions it made in reinforcing the peoples’ commitment to democracy, federalism, civil liberties, rights of women, labour and religious minorities. On a personal level, he should be happy to have fulfilled his duties as “a hard core family man,” something Nazeer Abbasi, Hasan Nasir and scores of other party workers and sympathisers could not even dream of.

In the next edition, the professor may explain what is meant by taking “life’s momentum away from the myopic politics of Right and Left to the enlightened concept of Right and Wrong,” because those practicing the politics of the Left believe that they uphold the concept of “right” (an end to inequities) and reject “wrong” (the exploitation of the underprivileged).

I wrote an off-the-cuff comment of my own on this discussion on facebook and apologize in advance for the lack of intellectual depth and rigor (That would take more time and effort than I am capable of right now, but I look forward to enlightening comments from more qualified people)…
in liberal democracies (and even in relatively liberal dictatorships), leftists are the personality type that is anti-authoritarian, pro-humanist, progressive and pro-reason. That does not mean they are always humane, progressive or reasonable, but those are their instinctive sympathies. Marxism (especially as developed by Leninist parties…and that was the default position for a century, even among those who thought they repudiated Leninism) channeled these worthy instincts into disastrous and atrocious byways for a century. In an another hundred years, it will be seen as one of the great disasters of human history…its appeal to certain emotions (mostly negative emotions, like envy, jealousy, fake self-esteem, lazy dogmatism, etc) ensured its popularity and it provided generations of intellectuals with the illusion that they (in many, not all, cases; lazy, incompetent, personally vindictive and small-minded people) were the lonely heroes of history, struggling to overthrow the tyranny of evil men. That was another of the poisonous gifts of this ideological current. The worst, of course, was the fate of those societies where this current (usually in combination with an unusually incompetent and venal ruling elite) reached critical mass and managed an actual revolution. In EVERY case (except maybe Cuba, where the corrupt elite collapsed with such little bloodshed that the worst excesses did not play out) it led to horrendous suffering and disastrous dictatorships and cultural setbacks from which many countries have yet to recover…..

which is not to say that “Leftists” did not do anything good. far from it, all positive movements of the last 100 years (anti-colonialism, anti-racism, feminism, prisoner’s rights, gay rights, human rights, etc etc) had leftist support. But that support worked best when it was in countries where the “left’ was in no position to actually cause a revolution….

My friend Ajit immediately wrote: Omar, as an ex-Communist myself, I would have to differ with you on your characterization of the left as “anti-authoritarian” (hah. try joining an actual left organization), “humane” (really ? You must be talking about the coffeehouse intellectuals – even those become decidedly non-humane when some inconvenient truths are brought up) and pro-reason. (Actually being truly pro-reason is a quality vanishinhly few humans possess, so this cant be held against the left alone.)

To which i responded: I was indeed talking about coffee-house intellectuals and about a lot of ordinary people who gravitate leftwards..not so much about actual party workers. 
In defence of Jamal Naqvi

Brown Pundits