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The confessions of Professor Syed Jamaluddin Naqvi, better known in Pakistan’s political circles simply as Jamal Naqvi, constitute a remarkable treatise. Leaving the Left Behind will be read with interest, for different reasons, on both sides of the Left-Right divide. The apologists of capitalism should be happy to read an indictment of Soviet socialism (only a few thought it had progressed to communism) and a dig at Marxism from one who once considered himself Reddest of the Red — a testimony voluntarily offered. The advocates of the Left, especially the Pakistanis among them, will try to find in the narrative the reasons for the trials and setbacks they had to face.

Beyond the controversies in partisan circles this book may generate, there will arise the image of a man shattered at the end of a political career, notable for more than one reason. It will be impossible not to sympathise with him over the painful transition from one dogma to another.

Leaving the Left Behind opens with an account of the Naqvi family’s impressive accomplishments in the fields of learning and culture, which shows the socio-cultural advantage enjoyed by those exposed to Western influences earlier than the less advantaged people of Pakistan, among whom the author had to work. Then we get some magnificent cameos of the democratic students’ movement in the 1950s and the courage with which its leaders, especially Dr Sarwar, faced the rulers and forced them to yield. One also learns of the contribution scholars and teachers, from Professor Karrar Husain to M. H. Askari, all running on the steam generated by the subcontinent’s struggle for freedom and the Progressive Writers’ Movement, were making to the promotion of meaningful and socially relevant education.

We are offered a fairly detailed resume of the author’s life as an important member of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP), his inclusion in its 10-member central committee and finally in the four-man politburo, and his imprisonment first on the charge of stealing a buffalo and then on the charge of trying to overthrow the Zia regime. This part of the narrative makes a significant addition to our knowledge of the methods the rulers of Pakistan employed to crush the Left and the extent to which they abused the laws and their executive authority to cover up their oppressive rule.

The next stage is Naqvi’s account of his role as “part of the decision-making body of the Communist Party of Pakistan.” He says that the view that he was the decision-maker “was not quite right,” though “when circumstances so demanded, I had to take a few decisions on my own.” At the time these decisions were taken, one member of the politburo had been killed (Nazeer Abbasi), another was in prison (Jam Saqi), a third was abroad (Imam Ali Nazish) and thus the professor was alone at the helm of affairs. The decisions he took included writing a new party thesis and showing the door to several colleagues, some of them mentioned by name and others only as “aliens.”

Among the few disclosures Naqvi makes, his account of CPP’s opposition to Bhutto till 1977, despite Moscow’s pressure to back him, suggests that the CPP was not always subject to the “Soviet Party line.” Naqvi should be thanked for putting his version on paper and those who disagree with him are free to enter into a debate — not necessarily to settle scores but primarily and essentially to let people, Leftists in particular, know what happened to the CCP, and how.

One of the issues raised by Naqvi is the “choice” of underground work by CPP and its disinclination to utilise the possibilities available to open, broader-based political outfits. While he defends the CPP’s decision to operate under the National Awami Party (NAP) cover, he castigates M. R. Hassan for joining the National Democratic Party (formed by Sherbaz Mazari after NAP was banned) and is quite angry with all those who sought shelter under the Pakistan National Party (the NAP splinter faction led by Bizenjo). This part of the narrative needs elaboration, possibly in a new edition, particularly in view of the complaint by Barrister Azizullah Sheikh, once president of NAP Sindh, that the CPP was running the NAP without informing him. Jamal Naqvi does take notice of Sheikh’s memoirs, also co-authored by Naqvi’s collaborator, Humair Ishtiaq, and defends Jam Saqi on a minor point. The matter is significant because it is important to determine the effect of CPP’s style of micro-management of the front parties, as well as the like-minded unions and professional groups.

Finally, we have the professor’s account of his renunciation of communism. All those who abandon an ideology have a natural urge to prove themselves in the right. So no surprises there. Naqvi firmly repels the label of a renegade. He gave up communism after seeing it practiced in the Soviet Union during a fortnight’s visit and discovering inherent flaws in the theory. He saw that people in the Soviet Union were more oppressed than in Pakistan, and realised that “a communist revolution was no guarantee for liberation.”

It seems Professor Naqvi had no peers in the party and some of his colleagues and well-wishers only blamed him for being rigid. He respected Bizenjo, Faiz and Sibte Hasan for their many qualities but not necessarily for their understanding of Marxism. When told about Sibte Hasan’s refusal to revive his party membership, we are left wondering about the reason for that decision.

Naqvi is a combative theorist. After arguing that workers in capitalist democracies secured better gains than in the Soviet Union, he focuses on the theoretical part (of Soviet communism). He wonders why “a party of the workers” was preferred to “a party of the masses.” The Leninist idea of getting rid of the “rich peasant” is found flawed. In any case “sitting in 1990 it was no Progressive attitude to keep up with the position just because someone said so even if that someone happened to be Lenin.” He also examines the theory of surplus value, “which, according to Marx, was produced by labour and appropriated by the capitalist,” and notes that since the capitalist provided the building, the machinery, the utilities and the raw material, besides paying for services including for labour, he is entitled to a fair profit. All this should generate a debate on how wrongly lesser minds than the professor’s have been interpreting Marxism.

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).

Since little has been written about the politics of the Left in Pakistan, Professor Jamal Naqvi’s effort should be welcomed as the beginning of a productive discourse. If that happens he will have done a good turn to his former comrades. Many of them may wish to know what was done to them for years on end, why and by whom.

The reviewer is secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

Leaving the Left Behind


By Syed Jamaluddin Naqvi, with Humair Ishtiaq

Pakistan Study Centre, Karachi

ISBN 978-969-8467-56-2