Underlying causes of ever deepening polarisation

Today’s deepening polarisation is clearly a result of unresolved contradiction(s)

Sarwar Bari March 18, 2023
The writer is National Coordinator of Pattan Development Organisation and has served as head of FAFEN

Most political analysts appear to despise the ever-deepening political polarisation in Pakistan triggered by the sacking of Imran Khan’s government through a rigged no-confidence vote last April. These political analysts can be broadly divided into three categories.

First set of writers not only blame Khan for triggering the crisis but also for deepening it, as in their view he has been stubbornly refusing to sit with fellow politicians. Some of them also believe that he is trying to replace the establishment or appears as powerful as the establishment. One such writer tried to equate Khan with usurpers like Zia and Musharraf. It’s worth quoting him here: Khan has “fed his followers the idea that they should be liberated from constitutional and parliamentary restrictions.”

I would like to remind readers that Imran’s movement against the establishment’s interference is the most effective, most peaceful and most law-abiding in Pakistan’s history. Therefore, the above writer’s vulgarisation of the idea of Haqeeqi Azadi seems to be a result of his own prejudice and imagination.

Many political scholars tend to agree that most post-colonial nations have failed to achieve full independence, as imperialist powers continued to dictate policy directions to their subservient ruling elites. Analysts like the above seem to be reluctant to acknowledge the unprecedented contribution of conscientious journalists and PTI workers towards guarding civil liberties and taking a stand against the establishment’s interference against democratic processes and structures as well as its subservient ruling coalition.

The second category of writers appears to believe that it is the ‘establishment’s refusal to act as mediator between Khan and PDM that caused the prevailing polarisation’. Interestingly, the establishment has never mediated between fighting parties. In fact, almost all military takeovers were either the result of establishment-sponsored political movements or of an exploitation of the prevalent situation to capture power.

The third group of analysts is of the view that it is the ‘corrupt’ elements within the establishment and political class who are responsible for triggering as well as perpetuating both the current political uncertainty and the economic catastrophe. They also believe that free and fair election is the only way to end these crises.

In my opinion, all the three groups tend to examine the symptoms rather than the underlying factors. Let’s then find the underlying factors.

Political parties almost always articulate the aggregated interests of their core support base and in a democratic polity they develop certain ideology with which to attract voters, so that they could capture power. For instance, it is perceived that the PPP predominantly represents the landed elite, while the PML-N’s core support base used to be big and medium businessmen. In Pakistan, workers and peasants don’t have a party of their own. So they have been ‘coerced’ or persuaded to support and vote either for big landlords or businessmen.

This absence is likely to be one of the reasons for perpetuating political crisis in our country. Pakistan has been experiencing this for a long time. But in my opinion, a large majority of people including many ‘intellectuals’ are confused because they are failing to comprehend the complexity of the situation. Some of them seem to be spreading confusion intentionally and some unintentionally.

Let’s draw some philosophical help from Marxist literature. Marx holds that “every class struggle is a political struggle.” So is the inverse, is every political struggle a class struggle? Mostly but not necessarily. See what Greta Thunberg, a 20-year-old climate activist, says: “Without changing the fundamental dynamic of exploitation, which predates the climate crisis, damages can’t be reduced.” I don’t need to state here all the statistics of systemic exploitation. Suffice is to say that a one per cent powerful elite has captured economic and political space.

In 1970, the people of Pakistan voted for ‘roti, kapra aur makan’. In 2018 they voted for insaf. The leader who had promised them bread and housing was hanged and the leader who had promised justice is now fighting for justice for himself. However, in both cases the vast majority of working people had perceived both these leaders simply as an ‘enemy of their enemy’. Bhutto’s descendants never uttered his slogan, and the people punished them back. Imran is stubbornly showing defiance and seemingly not willing to compromise on his main slogans — justice and end to corruption. He perhaps knows what his fate would be if he compromises. The recent steep surge in his popularity appears to be a sign of the people‘s rage against the tyranny of state-sponsored political oppression and the related economic injustice which they face every day. Put simply, for the working people every political struggle that they join is a class struggle.

The Marxian concept of dialectical materialism is defined as “the way in which two very different forces or factors work together (interact), and the way in which their differences are resolved.” In other words, dialectics is/are about contradictions. As the contradictions sharpen, polarisation deepens. Marxists further differentiate contradiction into two main categories — antagonistic and non-antagonistic. The former is one in which “the two sides do not compromise and both sides are predetermined to resolve it through struggle”, while the later one “can be resolved peacefully without destroying the other side”. Mao argues that an antagonistic contradiction could be transformed into a non-antagonistic one “if properly handled”. Shan Hong, a Chinese Marxist author, argues that the “quality of contradiction largely determines the form of struggle and the method of resolution.”

Today’s deepening polarisation is clearly a result of unresolved contradiction(s) — between state and citizens; employer and employee; and men and women. And since the quality of the contradictions remained blurred, the form of struggle also remained consistently problematic and deeply confusing. It is also evident that powerful groups are determined to preserve this rotten system, and as in the past, ready to punish everyone who actively tries to reform it. For this, they are even willing to risk destruction of the ship they are sailing in. Hence, all the more reason to demand resolution. No wonder Bertolt Brecht said: “In the contradiction lies the hope.” Though temporarily our hope lies in the holding of a free and fair election and in letting our constitution prevail.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2023.

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