By Dr Saulat Nagi
April 01, 2016
“One needs either a lot of strength or a lot of stupidity not to lose heart.” — Adorno
Another tempest of Calibanism is threatening to inundate the shores of beleaguered sanity — or whatever this species can be named after — in Pakistan. Every time when the status quo is slightly threatened, the reactionary hyenas — who loathe any change need some trivial reason to frustrate any such move. This time around the Women’s Protection Bill, passed by the highly patriarchal legislatures of a province understood as the forerunner of market economy, has become the inciting stimulus. Regardless of the shabby lame duck nature of this bill, otherwise a meek attempt to rescue the old patriarchal structure threatened by the necessity of capitalist mode of production that is demanding gender equality to exploit human labour on equal footing, it also reflects how the imposing necessity of objective conditions forces the paradigm shift in the reactionary ruling elite that otherwise refuses to shift its priorities. Yet again the religious forces, in habit of bullying, are taking it head on. The barrage of criticism, the threat of pulling the rug from the feet of the ruling party through Dionysian dance on the streets of capital city is already underway. The Freudian “infantile neurosis” is yet again making its mark.
Has Pakistan stuck at Lutheranism for far too long? The answer unfortunately is in the affirmative. What did Luther and/or Calvin stand for? Luther was the religious face of emerging capitalism, marching its way against the ancient, decaying feudal system, which in shape of Catholicism till then had ruled the European continent unchallenged. As desired by the capitalistic forces Luther divided every Christian into two halves. The internal half was spiritually free; “A Christian,” he said “is free and independent in every respect, a bond servant to none,” but externally, in real social world he “is a dutiful servant in every respect, owning a duty to everyone.” For Laing this bifurcation of an individual would have emulated an outright schizophrenic split, but in reality it was far worse and even more complicated than that. It was an absolute split into two distinct and opposing halves yet the inner half was not only compelled to recognise the reality of outer half but also despite alienation had to remain engaged with it.
In reality, human freedom was a sheer mockery since it wasn’t human liberation but divine law manifested in shape of earthly authority that reigned supreme. Even the creed of the earthly authority mattered little. What eventually counted was the wilful subjugation to the authority. Nothing was more heinous than an act of rebellion against the incumbent authority. “No evil deed on earth” could parallel with rebellion since the latter was a “flood of all wickedness.” When the Christians were captured by the Turks they were asked to follow the dictates of their masters. Since it was God’s will “that the king must be honoured and rebels ruined, and who is yet surely as merciful as we are,” he continues, “if you desire mercy do not get mixed up with rebels, but fear authority and do good.” (Selected Writings). That did not mean a Christian had no will. Indeed he had one but unlike his outer self his will was equally un-free. The freedom of a Christian was not “something completely of the flesh” since “Abraham and other patriarchs and prophets also had slaves.” These commandments made it easy to transform a class conflict into an unalterable divine law, and even a modest change was non-negotiable.
Any attempt on such possibility turned the believer into a ‘rebel’ who deserved perdition by excommunication. A Christian had to live with a double morality, to be free internally yet to remain in permanent subordination of an external authority. Freedom became a byword for un-freedom, an outright myth, a hoax.
Akin to all faiths, the immanent contradiction, a snag struck this ideology in its soft belly. A human being incapable of utilising his free will cannot be blamed for any personal deed. Since supremacy of God was inviolable any Christian following the commandments could not be guilty of any crime. Then where lay the responsibility of ‘sin’ prevailing in society? What happened to the Christian doctrine that created the sense of guilt and demanded human to seek redemption through punishment/confession? To rescue the Achilles heel of faith Calvin’s brainchild of “spontaneous necessity” came into play. A highly controversial “rationality” that transcends every irrationality yet remains the same. According to this, human is evil, his intention cannot be noble yet he cannot be forced into committing sins by natural design. The desire to commit sin is nothing but “voluntary enslavement” to temptation that the human is free to choose. What a paradox, a strange melange of utterly antagonist ideas. Through this irrationality a human being is permanently enslaved. He has no free will yet he is free to commit a sin. Pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth remained the terrible sins but disobedience to authority; in other words, any threat to the system became the cardinal one.
Luther discarded the old Catholic belief that recognised human being as a rational animal having a free will of his own. With this injunction he not only became an apostle of bourgeoisie but an outright advocate of every coercion carried out by capitalism. The aim was to stifle the thought process hence suppression of any possibility of non-conformity. Religion became a double-edged sword, human labour was left to augment the interest of the capitalist class, freedom became internal, and service to thy neighbour turned into unconditional subjugation to the authority. From then on, exploitation of the recipient of religious sanction was deemed sacrosanct. Thinking and reasoning became a curse since human reason could not be trusted.
“God” says Luther “cannot and will not suffer that good works begin by relying upon one’s own power and reason.” Work here was a euphemism for an intense objectified labour. Protest was prohibited. Human being converted into private property emerged as a mere tool for production of surplus value. Coercion was justified yet people were required to embrace the hegemony through consent as the latter was imposed through religious force. “Force” Marx says “is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new. It is in itself an economic power.” Bourgeoisie by replacing the old society was beginning to assert as a new economic power. It was draped in a cloak of religion.
Religion, contrary to the concept of intellectuals, cannot be taken in isolation since any existence of independent science of law, history and/or religion is nothing but a mirage. Luckas succinctly suggests: “There is nothing but a single, unified dialectical and historical-science of the evolution of society as a totality.” The religious phenomenon cannot be separated from the totality. Observed and analysed in fragmentation or in isolation it may appear as a giant but in reality it remains a spectre, only a mutilated expression of economic relations.
It was only after the two World Wars when expanded reproduction and the Cold War brought a temporary yet false prosperity to the people, the need for indoctrinated democracy and free thinking was found imperative, which led to secularisation of the Western society. “The democratic state” according to Gramsci “is not the product of kind heart or liberal education; it is the necessity of life for large scale production, for busy exchange and for concentration of population in the modern capitalist cities.” The same holds true for secularisation. State, a tool of capital, has only one dominant priority, the realisation and accumulation of its master/mentor. Unless in recession, it tries to remove all obstacles impeding this goal hence race, religion and all other cults are removed with a single stroke. Labour regardless of its caste, creeds and gender becomes a tool for attaining maximum profit/surplus value. In extreme inequality and poverty, people savour the piquant taste of equality in poverty.
Pakistan has yet to reach this historical stage. Despite embracing capitalism it has fallen short of these relations since the materialisation of capital requires keen, intense and purposeful efforts. Led by its shepherds — civil-military bureaucracy and political elite — this might be attained on the day of their burial, which is long overdue. In politics theocracy has already overstretched its role. It has to be cut to size. With massive Chinese investment as the state is changing its masters, the possibility of reigning in the unbridled reactionary forces is also becoming a real probability. Is Pakistan hoping and hopping to meet the destiny of Erdogan’s Turkey, which akin to Pakistan is beginning to immolate itself in the fire of its own making?
Dr Saulat Nagi is based in Australia and has authored books on socialism and history.