COMMENT: Civil society revolutions—Lal Khan - Sunday, April 17, 2011

The petit bourgeoisie constantly vacillates between the ruling classes and the proletariat. They prefer the status quos so long as their businesses are moving along but once that hope is lost, in an enraged frenzy they give themselves up to the most extreme measures

As the economic, social and security crisis has erupted in unprecedented proportions, there has been the raucous charade of a ‘revolution’ coming mainly from right-wing leaders and parties in Pakistan. As if the rhetoric about revolution by Shahbaz Sharif and his recitation of Habib Jalib’s poetry were not enough of a disgrace for the late socialist poet, now the MQM has upped its ranting on revolution and that too to be led by the middle classes, the petit bourgeoisie or the so-called ‘civil society’. Similarly, the Jamaat-e-Islami and others on the religious right are spouting off about a metaphysical revolution, totally alien to the scientific, economic and social realities of today’s world.
Yet none of these ladies and gentlemen really have any idea of the scientific and real meaning of a revolution. Revolution, as opposed to evolution as a way forward for the socio-economic development of human society, was in fact discovered by Marx and Engels in their intense quest to develop the social sciences for the emancipation of the human race and to put an end to misery in a world that could produce plenty to fulfil human need after the Industrial Revolution. Marx called revolutions “the locomotives of history”. The theory of scientific socialism was similar to what Darwin had discovered in the natural sciences with his celebrated work, On the Origin of Species.
The incumbent socio-economic system and its political superstructure, that has been lately reinvented by imperialism in the name of ‘democracy’ and reconciliation, is teetering on the edge and all the revolutionary rhetoric of those who are in state power and enjoying the privileges, perks and plunder through this rapacious ruler-ship, are terrified of a revolutionary upheaval of the masses.
Marx wrote about such deceptions in 1851: “The fact that the democratic- republican institutions are required as a means, not of doing away with two extremes, capital and wage labour, but of weakening their antagonism and transforming it into harmony, epitomises the peculiar character of social democracy. However different the means proposed to achieve this end may be, however much it may be trimmed with more of less revolutionary notions, the content remains the same.” (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.)
At the present moment in time, Pakistan’s economy is based on foreign remittances and the huge black economy. The main consumption in this economy is provided by the middle-class that makes up about 20 percent of the population. This has been propped up by credit financing in the recent past. However, now this has backfired and the debt burden is not only leeching the state but has also plunged this petty bourgeoisie into a severe economic situation.
After the betrayal and ebbing of the movement of the oppressed masses in the winter of 2007, the political malaise that has set in was used by the new coalition regime to attack the toiling masses. Under the blows of this crisis, the petty bourgeoisie swung in the direction of reaction. Large swathes of it have been lumpenised. It has also pulled behind it sections of the workers and youth.
The middle classes are the main support base for the bourgeoisie when there is a relative lull in society. As a class, this is an exploited and disenfranchised one. It looks upon the bourgeoisie with envy and often with hatred. The ruling classes, while utilising middle class support, distrusts the latter for it fears its potential to break the barriers imposed from above. In the absence of a proletarian movement and a revolutionary party, the petit bourgeoisie begins to look upon the working classes with contempt and considers them responsible for its own misery.
This class is economically dependent and politically atomised. Hence as a class it cannot conduct an independent policy and cannot play a leading role in a revolution. It idealises small businesses — the typical characteristic of small proprietors — when instead the revolution is all about the transformation of property relations. The petit bourgeoisie has a profound aversion to the big landlords and large corporate monopolies, but, at the same time, it is terrified of losing its privileged position and being pushed down into the working class. At any cost, it desires to maintain its ‘superior status’ as owners of property.
This gives rise to a contradictory psychology. Hence the petit bourgeoisie constantly vacillates between the ruling classes and the proletariat. They prefer the status quos so long as their businesses are moving along but once that hope is lost, in an enraged frenzy they give themselves up to the most extreme measures. The economic ruin of this class in conditions of capitalist disintegration makes it vulnerable to religious fundamentalism and neo-fascist tendencies.
The social basis of the ethnic MQM is made up of these elements, along with the possibility of gaining some material benefit from a party that has been in state power for almost 20 years and cannot really exist without it. With so many tenures of ‘power sharing’, it has not delivered to the masses even in those areas where it has its social base.
After the defeat of the revolutionary wave of 1967-72, the proletariat of Karachi was torn apart in ethnic strife. That is when the petit bourgeoisie developed as an ‘ethnic force’. The same is the case with the religious right and terrorist outfits. Most of the high level operatives are from the upper middle classes. Some of them have become billionaires through these acts of terrorism linked to the black economy. The vicious Zia dictatorship indoctrinated religious bigotry into the army and other sections of the state and society in the 1980s, and its ramifications are still haunting society today.
The characteristics of the petit bourgeoisie are prominent amongst the middle layers of state bureaucracy and the judiciary, hence the convictions based on the blasphemy laws and the widespread conservatism within state institutions. The Muslim League and other conservative parties that base themselves on these layers of the urban and rural petit bourgeoisie will lose this support to more radical tendencies that have already eroded their social base.
But this radicalisation will be more towards the left than to the right in the stormy events that impend. In the wake of a new wave of class struggle, the question of a revolutionary transformation of society and socialist alternative will be posed. With the emergence of a Marxist leadership, the political horizon will be transformed and these parties today, shouting slogans of “civil revolution”, will be swept away by the rising tide of the proletarian revolution.

The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review
and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at 

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