This past Tuesday was the International Day of Workers, an occasion for labour movements and leftists the world over to recall the day in 1886 when unarmed labourers, carrying white flags symbolising peace, protested against appalling working conditions in the American city of Chicago. Authorities fired indiscriminately, and the white flags were turned red by the spilt blood of the peaceful protesters.
May Day is still celebrated in Pakistan and the rest of the world but the heyday of the organised labour movement and traditional communist parties that spoke for the haloed proletariat would appear to have passed. Nevertheless, as Mahir Ali noted in his column earlier this week, the contradictions of contemporary capitalism are arguably even more pronounced than when the anti-capitalist revolutionary upheavals of the previous century were taking place.
Indeed, the blood of the weak continues to be spilt by the rich and powerful, and the challenge for those who remain committed to struggling for a peaceful world free of exploitation is to recognise the contradictions of the contemporary order and build a viable emancipatory political movement with the proverbial wretched of the earth as its primary subject.
The imperative of peace, in my understanding, could be one plank of a revolutionary politics of our times — unbeknownst to many, it was the primary demand around which Lenin’s revolutionaries in Russia built a mass movement in 1917.
The reality is that war-making is a profitable enterprise.
Peace is a pretty hackneyed word, particularly given that armies often who claim to be its biggest defenders. But the reality is that war-making is a profitable enterprise, and not only in terms of hard cash that is earned from selling the weapons of war. States and their corporate backers also benefit from ideologies of war — in Pakistan’s case, we have been in some form of metaphorical war for 70 years, an ever-present justification for an ever-expanding security apparatus.
So while everyone might claim they want it, the real constituency for peace is ordinary people who have no other agenda than wanting to see their children grow up free from the psychological scars of war. In recent times the Pakhtun Tahaffaz Movement has forced the rest of Pakistan to confront what the reality of war has meant for the people of Fata. In the few days leading up to May Day, we were yet again reminded of what the Hazaras of Quetta have been enduring for years.
The hunger strike led by young women in Quetta against years and years of targeted killings of the Hazara people — often depicted as sectarian violence but in reality much more layered and insidious — was eventually called off when the army chief himself visited the protesters and promised to ensure that the perpetrators were brought to justice and the spate of killings was brought to a halt.
But haven’t we heard this before? This is not the first time that the beleaguered Hazaras have been promised justice — and, most importantly, peace. It has happened before that enraged protesters refused to accept the assurances of the elected government and demanded that the top brass of the army itself act as a guarantor of peace. On this occasion too, the federal interior minister’s promises were insufficient — the real power in the land asked to intervene.
The Baloch too have been placated time and again over 70 years — we will give you peace, say our defenders. But peace never seems to come for any of our people, even those hapless tenant farmers in the Punjabi heartland of Okara.
In a week when the two Koreas have made a tenuous step towards de-escalation, and even the demagogues ruling China and India have sat together to at least collectively utter the rhetoric of peace, the question must be asked: who, in our land of the pure, is afraid of peace?
It is not rocket science that internal peace in this country is linked irrevocably with peace in our neighbourhood. This week yet another bloodbath took place in Kabul, a country that has suffered most of all from the wars that have been imposed on us all by imperialist powers and our own establishment. Today we must all demand peace with our neighbours — Afghanistan and India most of all. Yes, peace is a two-way street, and they have as big a role to play as we do. But those in glass houses should not throw stones.
In the final analysis, in war too it is the workers of the world who make sacrifices so their overlords continue to thrive. It is workers who fight in the name of nation, religion and whatnot even while the designs of establishments and corporations to divide and rule through a reign of organised chaos remain unchecked.
Another May Day has passed but the need for a radical transformation of the world we live in is as acute as ever. Our flag is red with blood, but peace is what we want.
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2018