When I hope for a resurgent left in Pakistan, I am in no way hoping for a centralized Communist Party or even a regular Marxist political party with its central and regional hierarchy. I am, instead, hoping for the revival of a mode of thinking of politics that is, at least, informed by some kind of socialistic idealism. This is all the more urgent as the Pakistani public sphere has been taken over by the religious political parties or by the centrist parties that are in constant embrace with neoliberal capital.
Responding to one of my earlier articles (on another blog), one of the learned readers was kind enough to inform me that “there are no neoliberals in Pakistan.” And though I was flabbergasted with this hostile response, I never really answered this reader as, it became obvious to me, we both were making what a category mistake: we both had a certain view of what neoliberalism is and then assumed that the other was aware of it. So first an explanation of what do I mean when invoke the term neoliberalism.
Simply stated, when I invoke this term and call the current stage of capitalism neoliberalism, all I mean is that in this regime (and this is a distillation of views of a whole group of economists and political theorist) the state and the corporations retrieve certain aspects of liberal capitalism as explained by Adam Smith. In such a rendering of global capital, individuals are posited as “self maximizers” and the economy is transformed into a spending economy buttressed by lower taxes, reduced government assistance, and privatization of most government functions. What is hoped, and has not really materialized, is that with less government intervention, those who posse’s capital will invest more and thus generate wealth, that would, eventually, trickle down to the masses. Thus, in an ideal scenario if the investors could keep most of their money they are likely to invest it, as they are self-maximizers, only if government adopted a laissez-faire attitude. All, it is believed, would benefit from this.
But as is obvious with just a cursory look at the global economics, the trickle down has not happened: in fact in the last thirty years wealth has concentrated upwards and poverty and suffering of the people has increased (see some details here). This has happened not because privatization and globalization are evil policies, but because the system has a major flaw as a global economic regime.
My these assertions are deeply informed by John Rapley’s work on the subject who describes the neoliberal regime in its two primary functions: The accumulative and the distributive. According to Rapley, the neoliberal regime has a wonderful record of growth in its accumulative function: those who have money can make more money. It is the distributive function in which the neoliberal regime fails: while the state privatizes its functions and gives up on its distributive functions, the private sphere is never able to fill the gap. Resultantly, the gap between the rich and poor continues to increase, as “trickle down” does not deliver.
It is imperative for any polity to have a degree of balance between the accumulative and distributive functions of the regime and unless third world nations return to some form of socialistic mode of production, the inequalities will never go away but would keep on increasing. It is in this particular juncture that a socialistic mode of thinking and politics can be useful not only in economic sense but also as a defense against the reactionary forces of religious and cultural fundamentalism.
When I invoke the term left, I do not mean left in the classical sense: a centralized communist party. I rather mean a loose coalition of like-minded Pakistanis with a socialistic outlook who believe in a secular public sphere and do not treat class, gender, and other identities as fixed but as fluid constructs within a national space. Most of all, the left signifies for me a strong commitment to a liberatory and redemptive politics that builds lateral solidarities—within and without the nation—against the forces of neoliberal capital.
Only a socialistic politics will enable us to challenge the normative drive of fundamentalism and for a very important reason: only an enlightened social democracy can counter the promise of socio-economic restructuring offered by the Islamist parties. Neoliberalism cannot offer any such drastic redistribution of national resources. Also, a socialistic politics will enable us to deal with issues of class, land ownership, and will force the government to take its distributive functions seriously as opposed to its accumulative function as dictated by the current stage of neoliberal capital.