THE 100th anniversary of the October Revolution fell on Tuesday (according to the Gregorian calendar) and was duly observed. The several meetings organised in Karachi and Lahore in this connection caused quite a flutter in many hearts, especially those belonging to older people.
Well-rounded speeches were made by scholars of repute at these functions. Some remarkable work in connection with the centenary celebrations came in the form of a publication by the Tabqati Jeddo Jehed group — a 1,200-page translation of Leon Trotsky’s classic History of the Russian Revolution. The translator seems to have done a good job. Despite the unavoidable use of many technical terms the text is easy read.
A recollection of what the October Revolution meant for the people of the Soviet Union and for the rest of the world is in order. The transformation of the population of the Soviet Union, including the Central Asian Republics, from serfs under the czars or feudals in the east into citizens of the First World is a glorious chapter in humankind’s history. The same goes for the Soviet soldiers’ sacrifices and triumphs in the struggle against fascism and the Soviet Union’s role in advancing the frontiers of knowledge and scientific research.
The Soviet Union played a leading role in hastening the end of the colonial era. The 100 or so former colonies that gained independence during 1945-1969 owed much to the Soviet Union. It also helped the recognition of economic, social and cultural rights at par with civil and political rights, which made human rights indivisible.
The events of 1917 infused new life into freedom movements on the subcontinent.
While recalling the Soviet achievements many are likely to wonder whether much more could have been accomplished had the October Revolution run a different course. They might want to know whether the excesses of the Stalinist period were the only way to consolidate the revolution. Was a competition with the capitalist world in manufacturing nuclear weapons essential for the socialist world’s survival? Many socialists themselves now question Lenin’s economic agenda. And did the Soviet Union collapse only because bread could not be supplied to retailers, the bureaucracy was incompetent and corrupt, and the White Russians’ nationalism had re-emerged? Or did it collapse because the Soviet Communist Party lacked theoreticians who could plan for the satisfaction and progress of their society?
But this is for social thinkers to discuss and debate. What concerns the common citizens of Pakistan is the impact the October Revolution had on their history and its relevance to them today.
The revolution gave new life to freedom struggles in all colonies, especially India. The intrepid revolutionaries started travelling to Moscow to seek Lenin’s guidance and help. After the collapse of the provisional government of India (set up in Kabul by Mahendra Pratap and Ubaidullah Sindhi), the Communist Party of India was formed at Tashkent in 1920.
The first young men from the subcontinent to enrol at Moscow’s Communist University had among them 10 young men from Lahore (including Firozuddin Mansur and Fazal Ilahi Qurban) and nine from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (including M. Shafiq from Akora Khattak, Gohar Rehman from Haripur and Abdul Karim from Kohat). And the incomparable Dada Amir Haider was in the presidium of the world conference of the colonised nations. These activists were mercilessly hounded by the colonial power, and never received from their own people the support they deserved, but their contribution to the freedom of the subcontinent can never be forgotten.
The second generation of those inspired by the October Revolution not only made a significant contribution to the subcontinent’s freedom struggle in its last phase but also tried to persuade the governments of Pakistan and India to hold the public interest supreme. In Pakistan, the Communist Party became a notable factor in national politics despite the aggressive hostility of the state, but eventually succumbed to relentless suppression of which the killing in custody of Hasan Nasir and Nazir Abbasi were two extreme manifestations. It also harmed itself by over-dependence on the Soviet party, and after the Sino-Soviet split on the Chinese party. The attempts by the leftists to operate through multiclass parties did not go far due to flawed strategy and tactics.
Today the left in Pakistan is in a state of disarray. The more significant reasons of its decline in this country are, firstly, a lack of adequate theoretical work on developing a national thesis along Marxist lines. Secondly, there is a tendency to ignore the lesson of history that no Marxist strategy that succeeded in one part of the world can be transplanted in another area where the objective conditions are different.
More crucial is the left’s disregard for the fact that the element of progressiveness in national politics is determined by the level of the people’s consciousness. All over the world the left has come to grief for forcing radical changes in societies that were not prepared to adopt them. The various communist parties in Pakistan may keep holding their ideological bastions, but the widely dispersed leftists must try to find their role in whatever politics at the mass level is possible.
Pakistani society has been regressing for decades. It was never ready for a socialist revolution. Pre-1971 Pakistan could accept a diluted version of bourgeois democracy and the possibility of movement towards social democracy could be seriously considered. The break-up of the state increased the pace of withdrawal from democratic ideals and a slide towards militarisation and theocratisation of the polity. Today, the bourgeoisie is weakening itself though factional fighting and the extreme right, comprising armed religiously inspired militants, is mobilising itself for the kill. In this situation, the left’s intervention is needed as never before, to save the centre from collapsing and to gain time to reverse the state’s drift towards the complete loss of its democratic identity.
Are the ordinary leftists ready to face the challenge? They may find some space for a positive role in politics with a thesis resembling the ones they had evolved in the 1950s.
Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2017