Can we start to discuss Marx again?
In a recent television interview Faisal Edhi, son of late Maulana Abdus Sattar Edhi and head of the Edhi Foundation was asked who he considered his ‘ideal’ in life. He replied that his father was his ideal and so his father’s ideal was also his ideal, and that particular personality was Karl Marx.
It was refreshing to hear Marx’s name mentioned in a non-derisory or non-condescending manner because over the last two decades Marx has become increasingly unfashionable. Marxist analyses, discussions of Marxist theories of economics, and ideas of a more egalitarian society have all drowned in the chorus that capitalism is the best. With the end of communism and with China’s enthusiastic embrace of consumerism, socialism and communism have been mostly written off as a failure. Some forms of socialist structures do persist in parts of Europe but these systems are in constant conflict with a globalised (and enticing) capitalist mechanism.
The welfare state in Britain has been undermined and corrupted by various mix-and-match policies, and the western media seems to go to great lengths to ‘reveal’ the dire conditions of communist or socialist countries. This coverage will typically consist of ‘secretly filmed’ reports showing empty supermarket shelves and food queues, or reports showing citizens too terrified to express their views.
Yet, reports of hungry children in the US, or the increase in Food Banks in Britain is rarely given the same sort of prominence as the reports that reveal ‘misery’ in North Korea, Venezuela, or Cuba.
In the midst of this narrative that ‘communism has failed’, there are now some voices that speak up for a system that is more egalitarian than capitalism. Thomas Piketty, for example, is a French economist whose work focuses on wealth and income inequality and who has been hailed (by The Economist) as "the modern Marx". His book Capital in the Twenty-first Century became a bestseller and generated a good amount of debate about global inequality and economic policy. But is the debate seeping into the public discourse? Is there a greater social awareness of socialist values?
A recent interview with a Karachi University professor was also interesting because in it he spoke about the social ills of the capitalist system. Professor Riaz Ahmed, a long time human rights activist for freedom of speech, boldly presented an economic analysis of Pakistan’s present situation. I use the adjective ‘boldly’ because he was speaking after several days in detention, after being picked up by Rangers on his way to address a press conference demanding information and transparency in the case of another, elderly KU professor who had been detained and charged by the Rangers in the crackdown on MQM elements.
Does the mention of Karl Marx and the random utterances of individuals signal a resurgence of interest in socialist ideas in Pakistan? Not really, but it is interesting that they are being more widely spoken about. Despite the assertion of religious parties that they are in favour of an egalitarian society, they are ever ready to wage a war against socialist/communist ideas.
In the murder of Mashal Khan, his education in Russia must surely have been a factor that enraged his murderers as communism is perceived by holy warriors as the work of the infidel or non-believer. This was the narrative used after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, when the West funded and armed Jihadi groups to fight the infidel. It’s a narrative that persists: May 1 was a public holiday in Pakistan -- yet many religious schools in Karachi made a point to remain open -- proving some sort of point about the history of Labour Day.
If religious parties are interested in an egalitarian society why do they not raise their voice about the glaring inequality of Haj -- where money will buy comforts and where ‘some Muslims are more equal than others’?