Rethinking Resistance in the Age of Capitalist Realism
Radical politics, crossing the various currents of anarchism and communism with somewhat repugnant practical incarnations, has always offered an inextricable resistance to hierarchical power. Some were statists, some were not. This antagonism on the level of sensibility was not unique to people like Marx and Bakunin: workers were already protesting against wage slavery elsewhere. What the former did was comprehensively theorize the emerging contradictions of an economic system and define the objects of revolt. The common thread of hatred of dominating figures intermingled with the philosophies of existentialism, postcolonial theory and even postmodernism had Marxist currents, whose proponents joined communist parties at certain stages of their lives – having a characteristic relationship of ebb and flow.
In a genealogy of activism, the meticulous understanding of “the enemy” must therefore precede the parochial orthodoxy of any theory. People have been misunderstood in part because of the left’s narcissistic nostalgia for old experiences of the affinity between theory and practice, eventually naturalizing capitalism. They somehow concluded that the economic relations developed over the course of history were somehow sacrosanct against an alternative steeped in human thought, leaving some room for state intervention. But the specter returned with unprecedented profiteering, the difference being the absence of any concerted political organization to resist it. Since then, the encroaching neoliberal order has plagued our existence and delimited the horizon of any radical notion. As Žižek once observed, “on the level of common sense, the farthest one can go is enlightened conservative liberalism.”
Political stalemate has thus evolved into a grosser form as we move from societies with a developed intellectual culture to societies subject to religious censorship and controlled arenas of debate. In our part of the world, the struggle for change must therefore take into account the landscape of social behaviors, levels of capitalism, cultural nuances and bureaucratic structures specific to the country.
The failure of revolutionary politics in the subcontinent was partly due to the faulty and confused analysis of the cadres of the Communist Party of India who, in their Stalinist dogma, managed to coherently consider a relationship between the class struggle and national liberation. Likewise, the shift from organizing anti-war protests to online pacification from Moscow and flirting with Congress in the early 1940s had betrayed the oppressed, as Laal Khan detailed in her book, Partition: can it be undone?. This wavering on the ideological front was reminiscent of the Communist Party of Pakistan, a post-partition continuation of the CPI, whose leadership, including General Secretary Sajjad Zaheer, came from the northern Indian ashraf: not knowing much about regional patterns of ethnicity and culture. Yet unconditional enthusiasm to envision a more egalitarian future based on shrewd historicism has helped working people claim their rights. The reason for Manto’s exceptionalism among progressives can be attributed to the fact that he emerged as a great diagnostician of chaos psychology, in contrast to critiques of sexual perversion and the use of Freudian parameters. He tried to situate displaced morals in the context of the external crises around the 1947 Partition. ‘somewhere else. The reason for the resistance.
Marxist theory has since evolved from the days of Rosa Luxemburg towards autonomists and critical theory. Some contributions came, ironically enough, from those philosophers who rejected meta-narratives and strong thinking. Take, for example, Baudrillard – whose concept of sign-value in addition to exchange-value explored new avenues of commodification. Literary critics like Frederick Jameson and Terry Eagleton furthered the cause on the literary front. Discourses on the social causality of mental illnesses inscribed in capitalist relations of production opened up new fields of study that challenged the individualization of things. In our country, left-wing academia should produce a synthesis of previous theory while taking into account the evils of state protectionism, colonial art, and “unproductive feudal thieves,” as Eqbal Ahmad once called them. In doing so, they must not only become intellectual hedonists, but also reach out to the masses in order to fully grasp the situation and stir up popular uprising. Because it is “important” in every sense of the word to locate the causes of capitalist disasters, climate being one of them, and our calculated response to it.
Recent floods in Balochistan “na deeda aur na shunida”, South Punjab, Sindh and now Swat are wreaking havoc on the lives of already oppressed people. Governments responded with the usual media theater and philanthropic immediacy while mourning the unpredictability of the calamity in the background. What this attitude does is that it limits the scope of action by ignoring the scientific consensus that in this age of ecological crises, the only thing predictable is unpredictability. Around the world, social justice is being made inseparable from climate justice, giving rise to new fields of study like ecofeminism.
The Global North is responsible for more than 70% of the global emissions that contribute to these effects. Since the days of the Industrial Revolution, unregulated capital has contributed to the deterioration of our ecosystems. The economic inequalities intrinsic to capitalism also play out on a global scale because the regions that have contributed the least are the most devastated by climate change. South Asia is one of them, where the situation is exacerbated by the neglect of national elites. We must organize politically to demand climate reparations from the countries with the highest carbon footprints and hold our local governing bodies accountable.
In short, the left needs to get its house in order – not in the Jordan Peterson sense, but in the sense of shrewd caution about the relationship between theory and people’s sensibilities. We must question the legitimacy of the institutions. In this time of crisis, every individual must embody some form of activism because indifference to resistance is a luxury the developing world cannot afford.