KARACHI: A book titled The Struggle for Hegemony in Pakistan – Fear, Desire and Revolutionary Horizons by Aasim Sajjad Akhtar was launched at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) on Thursday evening.
Introducing the book and its author, IBA executive director S. Akbar Zaidi said the writer has surprised the reader by including subjects such as climate change in his latest book. “The book is in more ways profound, in some ways confusing and in more ways exciting.”
Shedding light on the publication, Mr Akhtar said politics, society and everything else has changed because of digitalisation. We become part of it, use it – “if your smart phone is away from you, you feel naked without it” – but we don’t think enough about it. It is an extraordinary change. His last two decades have been spent with left-wing people and he has seen a lot of change during this period, especially with the onset of digitalisation. “That in a sense was one of the major motivations for writing the book.”
He said we use social networking websites Twitter and Facebook but we also need to think about them. In the West, a big pillar of progressive politics is to think about it. “Today’s revolutionaries are more likely to put up a post on Facebook then go to Dadu where people are suffering.”
Reading from the book, he told the audience, among other things, “I present an empirical and theoretical sketch of actually existing capitalism in Pakistan … What is the class and demographic structure of Pakistani society? How is contemporary hegemony reproduced in both banal and spectacular ways, especially in the age of mass and digital media?”
Mr Akhtar pointed out that the crises that we see all around the world such as the crisis of climate change are also political and ideological crises. That is where the idea of hegemony comes in. It’s taken from the Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci. “I refer to ‘the middle class subject’ in the book, which to me are the youngsters of Pakistan. They are increasingly connected through digital media. They are the ones who’re going to inherit all of these crises. They’ve already inherited them. When they try and understand what’s happening around them, the discussion begins with ‘all is a foreign conspiracy’, and that kind of idea is represented by a charismatic, pied piper like figure (Imran Khan). Look at the analysis (tajzia) and look at the solution being offered … both are satahi (shallow). It would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic. In India, too, which we once thought was the fountainhead of democracy, [the same is happening]. Now they’re doing their best to catch up with us by weaponising religion. We need to understand that subject. [So] I place at the centre of the story the middle class subject.”
The writer added the politics of hate has largely been enabled by digitalisation and the politics of the middle class subject revolves around two emotional pulls – fear and desire. The latter is to do with fulfilling desire for upward mobility.
Civil and Human Rights lawyer Faisal Siddiqui said one of the reasons you could read the book is that it’s quite short, but that is where the fallacy is. It creates three difficulties: one, it is a highly theoretical text; two, even if you’re able to read through the theory, it is a difficult book to understand; three, what the author wants out of the two things is that this book transforms us.
He argued it is quite a traditional text in terms of Marxist analysis. Like a good Marxist the author believes in universal politics. Also, it is highly influenced by Gramsci the key concept of which is that people don’t simply accept a system of domination because of fear and terror, they consent to that system. “But this book is really about desire, why people in general and the middle class in particular consent (desire) to the system of domination.”
Visiting Faculty IBA Karachi Abira Ashfaq said she loved the book because while reading its first chapter she felt that “writer was writing in an intellectual trance”. When he comes to the case study of Bahria and Thar coal, then the reader takes a step back. She had no critique of the book except that she thought that the writer defines the feminist movement in broad strokes.
Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2022