The Autopsy Of Democracy
Time has proved again that dominant interests do not necessarily need force to maintain their control; instead they train the people to identify their interests with the interests of their rulers.
The extent of human self-deception is unfathomable. It becomes the only way out for the masses when a coercive society failing to triumph over its contradictions uses every weapon in its arsenal – freedom, faith, and fidelity to one’s state – to deceive them. Spinoza compared the falsity of human freedom with a stone in the state of a free fall – conscious of its endeavour and thinking that its downward motion is the consequence of its free will.
Under dismal economic conditions, “the tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living (Marx).” The cadavers and the eclipsed traditions are conjured up. The long interred heroic past is recalled to life to massage the deflated national ego. The ‘ideal state of Medina’, frequently mentioned by the Pakistani ruling class, is an allusion to a myth woven around the cadaver of Muslim societies striving to inter the maceration in the glory of an unauthentic past.
What was the kernel of that state of yesteryear – if at all it was anything? Leaving the nature of emotional affiliation aside, that era for the majority of historians belongs to the Dark Age, when the idea of a state or a nation was alien to human thought. History has seen empires but at that remote juncture, when those empires ruled as super powers with primitive means, their crystallization into any form of state or a nation was as farfetched as thinking of invention of an aeroplane. The armies comprised of conscripts, mercenaries and peasants; the latter made the core of warriors and once they were devastated, the empires, especially the Romans, crashed to smithereens.
For reason of its primitiveness, the social conditions of north Arabia remained ambiguous, hence the historians never found it worth exploring. According to Philip Hitti, a renowned historian, Arabia is “about one-fourth the area of Europe, one-third the size of the US, yet what is known about it is out of all proportion to what is unknown. We are beginning to know more… about the Arctic and Antarctic regions than we do about most of Arabia”. Abraha, who wanted to monopolize the sanctuary of Mecca for his own ends led the only notable struggle for resources. It is no secret that “even in 1950 the kingdom had only fifty miles of paved road.”
Apart from a dominant tribal culture, northern Arabia had no other socio-political organisation. The scarcity of resources was evident and the only method to overcome hunger was to attack anyone who could be vandalized. Medina being an oasis was probably a little better off economically, yet the tribal feuds barely support the premise. A small agrarian-mercantile economy kept the pagans, Jews and Christians going not in harmony but in status quo. Addition of the Muslims was a mere addition of another tribe in the mélange of have-nots. A pre-capitalist economy alone is likely to sustain an unproductive crowd without altering any social organization of capital. The migration to Medina was more a struggle for survival than to attain hegemony, which no one in those conditions had.
Declaring such an arrangement a state is either an outright naivety or a political gimmickry, yet the Pakistani statesmen find an Orwellian parallel between a modern welfare state and an arrangement that was not even in the embryonic stage of becoming a state. Even after the fall of Mecca, the Muslims controlled a large swath of northern Arabia but the central authority was minimal. It was more or less hegemony in name that lacked the domination. The society structured on the basis of tribes meant that the “economic element”, according to Lukács, “was inextricably joined to political and religious factors” and the consciousness about the economic base was nowhere to be seen.
With the expulsion of Jews, the internal strife began to lose its momentum yet the identity of Muslims was not more than any other tribe that took control of a certain area of land formerly secured by the people of another religion. Even for religious consumption, the social organization that existed at the time was hardly enviable. The existence of slavery, the subservience of women, meagre means of subsistence, a gradual accumulation of power in one seat and survival by unpleasant and uneasy pacts (such as Hudaybiyyah and peaceful existence with Ibn Ubayy) nudges one’s attention to the prevalent flux in that society.
In their demagoguery, the politicians in Pakistan usually mention the reversion of society to the illusive state of Medina being an ideal substitute to the present-day destitution. There is hardly any possibility of one’s receding to the past, especially the one whose history is largely based on surmises and conjectures. Yet the only lesson worth learning from a tribal society is its yearning for a classless society, which it strove to achieve but, due to unfavorable conditions, flunked at it. The revolution terminated at restoration.
A lot has been said in Pakistan about observance of literal austerity, the need to cut down state expenses by giving up the luxurious lifestyle of the dominant class. It could be a pleasant change but the challenges the economy is facing are too gigantic to be overcome by these cosmetic measures. The saga of corruption harming the society, harped copiously to the extent of making it hackneyed, is one of the factors yet its subterranean roots can only be found in the implements that help to promote and sustain it. In bygone days when Pakistan was united, Maulana Bhashani visited a small village in central Punjab. While addressing the international Kisan (farmers’) conference, he in his nonchalant manners uttered a Zarathustra’s truth: “if you want the pockets to survive”, he said, “the pickpockets are bound to thrive”.
The reality as it stands now calls for a change of the system that has lost its validity to develop the productive forces. No matter how populist the leadership is, it will invoke the existing power relationships which have become redundant. The process of imposing the dominance of a class through an illusory triumph of democracy has already consumed the intellectual substance necessary for the survival of democracy. The right of expressing opinion/vote has become an instrument of domination. Such freedom does not allow the expansion of mind which remains fixated with the established reality, hence every change becomes a change for the same or for worse. The outcome can be an Adolf Hitler or a Benito Mussolini, the merger of state and corporate power.
Under these conditions, corruption does not remain a moral or intellectual act but an objective societal process. How else if not through bankruptcy of mind can people exchange their rulers tainted with equal magnitude of corruption? Time has proved again that dominant interests do not necessarily need force to maintain their control; instead they train the people to identify their interests with the interests of their rulers. For Horkheimer, democracy akin to this carries the stamp of “the stillness of the graveyard of dictatorship”.
Saulat Nagi is based in Australia and has authored books on socialism and history. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.