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October 9, 2015



Social, not class, consciousness

Part - I
Read any newspaper or scholarship produced in Pakistan today, and the ‘Death of Class’ theory is confirmed. Blaming the political classes for all failure is common. Less discussed is how the politics of class has been thrown into the funeral pyre too.
This is the fruit of a postmodern, post-Soviet, post-real or virtual reality era. Fanning the flames of this ideological cremation is the complete surrender of class analysis by our New Intelligentsia. Sadly, the Elders seem to have packed up or, parked their own class awareness – often in the NGO sector.
A new generation of leaders, activists and opinion makers has landed on the country. They cannot be faulted for being conceived and born in an intellectual wasteland or, for being educated at Anglo-American universities during the dumbed-down, dangerous politics of George W or, the compromised, comprador politics of New Labour. Nor can they be blamed for growing up in the Disneyland democracy of Gen Musharraf – complete with a Mickey Mouse prime minister.
There is the argument that technology is a neutral tool. Yet, the technical leaps in the new millennium seem to have enabled the rearguard to be more effective than progressive forces. IT is used with remarkable efficiency for promoting and abetting hateful propaganda, spreading bigotry, organising flash mob violence, planning and executing assassinations and, systematically attacking not the ruling but primarily, working classes.
Sweeping censorship of democratic expression is proposed under cybercrime laws, while for decades, illegal armed hate groups were given free reign. Hate ideology thrived not just in mosques and madressahs but via mainstream school curriculums. Dozens of anthropological PhD theses proliferate on hijab empowerment and Islamists’ subjectivities – none on their printing presses, economic policies or opposition to curriculum changes, or their systematic persecution of free-thinking university professors and

Critically, though, neither the hate-inspired radical violence nor progressive movements for justice and peace are driven by a consciousness towards class equality anymore. In war and peace, love and hate, class is dead.
As if Facebook and social media were not enough, ‘My Spaces’ for this narcissistic under-35 lot, Pakistan’s mainstream newspapers have now relinquished entire editorial content to some professionals called ‘graduates’. The qualification to spread wisdom seems to be dependent on the ranking of the Ivy League university attended by the contributor. It seems that every graduate has at least one opinion and a corresponding column in him/her. After that, their attention deficit kicks in or they need to update their blogs or Facebook statuses or get real jobs.
Some newspapers have given these self-trained media professionals blogs on a playground called the Internet Edition. This allows the publications and their editors to give the impression that they are progressive and 21st Century relevant.
I propose that the medium does influence the political flavour and outcome of an ideology. Social media is for self-analysis, self-gratification and self-promotion. It’s a new venue for the chattering classes – just more expansive, and instead of an armchair, you need a keyboard. This social media generation is certainly more aware and connected as individuals than any before it, but their politics is less collective (that doesn’t mean how many friends or followers you have) and void of class-consciousness.
So what does class analysis look like? Two simple clues – it challenges the capture of modes of production and ideological institutions by the ruling classes and beneficiaries, and it participates in and advocates a sustained class-conscious movement to radically dismantle and change these very structures towards equality.
There are local examples that contrast the relevance against the absence of class-consciousness, as described above. These will be discussed in the second part of this article.
The writer is a sociologist based in Karachi. Email: [email protected]