Exactly 132 years ago today, on the first of May 1886, a rally took place in the Haymarket Square of the American city of Chicago. The participants — mostly common labourers, artisans, small merchants and impoverished immigrants — were protesting an incident in which police had opened fire and killed four striking workers who had been demanding an eight-hour work day. During that first May Day rally, as police moved in to disperse the crowd, someone threw a bomb. The resulting police riot left at least a dozen people dead. A sensational show trial ensued in which defendants were openly tried for their political beliefs, and not necessarily for involvement in the bombing. Four leftists were publicly hanged. The Haymarket incident became a source of outrage for people around the globe and Karl Kautsky’s Socialist International was quick to declare the first of May a commemoration of the Haymarket martyrs. Since then, in 175 countries of the world, but notably not in the US, May Day has become an international celebration of the social and economic achievements of the labour movement. However, with so little to celebrate on that front, and that little already dwindling everywhere, May Day is a sad annual reflection on how far the world has veered from the ideals of social justice. At a time when our electronic media is blaring argumentative noise, when queues of persons are disputatiously lining up outside our courtrooms, and noisy political rallies are the order of the day, we need to remind ourselves that the present set of political controversies is little more than a squabble between differing groups of the elite. The right of the people to vote — a hard-won right and one that is still constantly strait-jacketed in restrictions and impositions — will not, we already know, make much difference on the lives of the people. Voting and politics alone will not advance the cause of social justice. For context, let us understand that, as the modern age emerged, two broadly progressive trends of political thought developed: liberalism and socialism. Both were similar in that they posited the progress of human institutions towards a better future, rather than some kind of retreat away from a mythological ‘golden age’ in the past. Both philosophies preached tolerance and legal egalitarianism and opposed feudalism and monarchy. As for the USSR itself, thanks to the blunders of the Soviet dictatorship, it simply disintegrated as a state by the 1990s. In Europe and America, the bloated welfare state bureaucracies of the social democracies became too expensive to sustain The difference between them centred on the ownership of the means of production: whether these should be privately owned and managed or belong to the people. And this is clearly a fundamental difference. While liberal parties drove the burgeoning of democracy and capitalism, socialist ideas found their first vehicle in the International, an organisation founded by Karl Marx in London around 1870. After Marx’s death, his co-author Freidrich Engels helped establish what came to be called the Second International. This Second (or ‘socialist’) International is purported to have revised Marx’s revolutionary ideal of a dictatorship of the proletariat into a non-revolutionary model, based on bringing socialist change through the ballot box. This social democracy would become associated with the welfare state. The European socialist and labour parties, the Indian National Congress and several other Indian ‘left’ parties, and (at one time) our own PPP and ANP, have all been affiliated with social democracy. A Third (or ‘communist’) International was formed after the 1917 Russian Revolution, under the guidance of the Bolshevik leader Lenin, to reassert the revolutionary principle. The communist parties of the world were all affiliated with this ‘Comintern’. In the 1960s (with some subtle prompting from the USA), friction surfaced between the two revolutionary communist giants, the USSR and China. The 1960s also saw the appearance of a New Left. Disillusioned by the crudities of the Soviet totalitarian state, on the one hand, and on the other by the welfare bureaucracies of social democracy, young people turned toward a variety of idealistic left-wing ideas. These included concepts like the ‘permanent revolution’ of Leon Trotsky, the ‘perpetual revolution’ of Mao Zedong, and a wide range of pacifist-anarchist ideas. In Pakistan, the restless radicalism expressed by Pakistani youth in 1967-68 formed the core of a massive, generalised public revolt against the authoritarian Ayub regime. But things were eventually to change, everywhere. Many young people of the time had found their source of inspiration in the ideas of China’s great helmsman Mao Zedong. This particular idolatry required its adherents to turn a blind eye to China’s ‘Gang of Four’, the violent excesses of the Great Cultural Revolution, and the appallingly turgid prose of the pronouncements emanating from Beijing. No sooner had Pakistan played the matchmaker’s role in bringing the US and China together, we witnessed how the Chinese blocked Russian weapons supplies to the Vietnamese patriots fighting the US. After the Americans were nevertheless driven out of Saigon, the Chinese army helped install the blood-thirsty Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. China then directly attempted to invade a Vietnam still shattered from forty years of successive wars against Japan, France and the USA. The worst (for socialist ideology) was yet to come, with the ascent to power of Deng Ziao-Ping and his successors, who turned China diametrically away from the socialist dreams of the Revolution towards a capitalist single-party dictatorship. The phenomenal economic growth this has brought to China has been widely and deservedly praised. But, let it be quite clearly understood, it has nothing to do with socialism or with the left whatsoever. As for the USSR itself, thanks to the blunders of the Soviet dictatorship, it simply disintegrated as a state by the 1990s.In Europe and America, the bloated welfare state bureaucracies of the social democracies became too expensive to sustain. Margaret Thatcher’s right-wing crudities dealt bloody blows to enlightened thought and have since evolved to Donald Trump’s deadly neo-Fascism. Along the way, the historian Francis Fukuyama celebrated the Final Triumph of free-market liberalism and (ironically borrowing the phrase from Marx) the End of History. Earlier, in Pakistan, Bhutto’s PPP had been swept to power by a nation hungry for democracy and social justice. Both causes were to suffer. The authoritarian tendencies and feudal background of its charismatic leader led him to consciously turn his face against the left. Then, with dreams of becoming a Muslim World leader, he embraced the so-called Islamic bloc. The result was that that the withering ideological winds from the Gulf began to blow over our soil destroying both Bhutto and his Constitution. So, then, has it been ‘May Day’ for the political left? Have progressive ideas finally crashed and burned? So it would seem from the kinds of choices we have: Shahbaz, Imran the Zardari clan. But, if the political left has disappeared in the smoke of unrealised fantasies, the reality of brutal social inequity has not gone away. Consider the powerful anti-elite undertones in the otherwise spurious scourge of so-called Islamist terror now unleashed on the world. Consider the extraordinary rapidity of its all-destroying, nihilistic spread. The writer is a poet, author and columnist Published in Daily Times, May 3rd 2018.