THE OTHER COLUMN: No revolutions here —Ejaz Haider
The army can rest assured on that count. There is not going to be a revolution, not in the near future. But if a secular revolution is not possible, is there a possibility of a religious revolution?
Back in 1979, sociologist Theda Skocpol wrote a brilliant treatise States and Social Revolutions. Using the comparative historical approach, she sought to prove, through her study of French, Russian and Chinese revolutions, that social revolutions are structural, nonvoluntarist phenomena. Revolutionary situations develop “due to the emergence of politico-military crises of state and class domination. And only because of the possibilities thus created have revolutionary leaderships and rebellious masses contributed to the accomplishment of revolutionary transformation”.
This is a difficult way of saying that revolutions are not made; they happen. And they happen when certain basic conditions for their occurrence are met. Those conditions are not just intranational but also international. The contradictions within, placed in a context without, work towards basic changes in social and political structures in a way that is “mutually reinforcing”.
Howsoever revolutions might happen, they seem to catch the rulers off-guard. Louis XVI, after hearing about the storming of the Bastille, is reported to have asked one of his courtiers if it were a riot. The courtier replied: “No, Sire, it’s a revolution.” Chances are this exchange is about as true as the why-don’t-they-eat-cake story ascribed to Marie Antoinette; still, it reflects the inability of the king to understand what was happening under his watch.
But why am I writing about revolutions? It just came up the other day in a discussion with a gentleman at a dinner. Dinners, especially in Lahore, are not conducive to any serious conversation. The etiquette is to start a conversation and then allow it to trail off into polite nothingness. Woe betide the one who wishes to stick to it; it’s bad manners and violates the rules of the higher art of social bantering and pretension.
This was no different and within minutes of starting the discussion the gentleman, puffing on his cigarette, told me triumphantly the country needed a ‘revolution’; nothing less would do. Of course, this ‘conclusion’ did not proceed from any structured argument and the gentleman made plain to me by turning sideways and engaging another guest that having delivered himself of his wisdom he had closed the discussion. I knew better than to pursue the issue further.
But it set me thinking. Is a revolution possible in Pakistan? There are contradictions galore, alright. Nothing seems to work. There is no consensus on anything. There is no viable political process. The army controls every facet of life and treats power like virginity, guarding it from other contenders. In the absence of any legal means, shouldn’t something be brewing outside?
I picked up The Old Regime and the French Revolution by Alexis de Tocqueville, the man with the most incisive observation and a remarkable ability to connect the dots. What I found there does not appear to point to a revolution in this country anytime soon. At the risk of presenting a banal paraphrasing of de Tocqueville’s masterpiece, let me say that revolutions do not just start with a disconnect between the rulers and the ruled. They are not merely a function of sans culottes. They also require an intellectual class disengaged from the ruling class. Where the rulers manage even a modicum of connection with the intelligentsia, we see evolution, not revolution. That’s what happened in Britain. It didn’t in France.
To be sure, de Tocqueville did not approve of the revolution. He did not think that abstract theories could form the basis for good governance; in other words that precept will always, or should always, inform practice. But it is important to note his emphasis on the existence of an intellectual tradition even if separate from and independent of the ruling class. The French revolutionaries picked up their ideas from these abstractions. They mouthed them; showed the same “fondness for broad generalisations” and “pedantic symmetry”, “the same taste for reshaping institutions on novel, ingenious, original lines”.
“Never before had the entire political education of a great nation been the work of its men of letters and it was this peculiarity that perhaps did most to give the French Revolution its exceptional character and the régime that followed it the form we are familiar with.... The result was nothing short of disastrous for what is a merit in the writer may well be a vice in the statesman and the very qualities which go to make great literature can lead to catastrophic revolutions”.
This is not the space to go into the various writings that were pushing Europe towards cataclysmic events and bloody wars, nor is this the occasion to look at the merits or demerits of revolutions. The issue really is whether, among other ingredients required for a revolution, we have in this country the intellectual class capable of those abstractions that can educate a whole nation and make it politically conscious? Of this I am sure: there is none.
So the army can rest assured on that count. There is not going to be a revolution, at least in the near future. But if a secular revolution is not possible, is there a possibility of a religious revolution? No. Despite a surfeit of ‘Maulanas’ and ‘Allamas’ this country is as devoid of a genuine Islamic intellectual tradition as it is of secular intelligentsia. On that, later.
Ejaz Haider is News Editor of The Friday Times and Contributing Editor of Daily Times