Fifty years ago this week, on May 20, 1968, a volatile period of civil unrest began in Paris. Eventually, the government of General Charles de Gaulle was brought to a standstill. This would inspire youth-led revolutionary upsurges that were to spring up in many countries around the world… including here in our own Pakistan. The best known figure in this French uprising was the young Daniel Cohn-Bedit (AKA Danny the Red), whose book Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative was a classic of the cluster of ideas that became known as the New Left and which were to travel around the world. The fervour of this New Left wave, albeit arising from entirely indigenous origins, reached a special pitch in Pakistan from October 1968 onwards. To the astonishment (not to mention discomfiture) of many in Pakistan at the time, the Left showed immense vitality throughout the 1968-69 uprisings and in the 1970 elections. The parties that swept the polls in every part of the country — the Awami League in East Pakistan, the Pakistan People’s Party in Punjab and Sindh, the National Awami Party in NWFP and Balochistan — were all populistic social democratic parties with strongly left-wing manifestoes. In my last piece in these pages, I had pointed out that as the modern age emerged, two broadly progressive trends of political thought developed: socialism and liberalism. Both were similar in that they posited the progress of human institutions towards a better future, rather than some kind of decline away from a mythological ‘golden age’ in the past. Both philosophies preached tolerance and legal egalitarianism and opposed feudalism and monarchy. 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 was a fundamental difference. In much of the world, the two tendencies compete powerfully with one another. However, I am taking them together here as both were and are unrelentingly modernising socio-political systems that are distinct from Right-wing mythologising and particularisms. Incidentally, the personalities regarded as founding figures of both these modernising social philosophies; Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill, were born in this month of May. With the departure of BB’s luminous personality from our political horizon, whole mountains of hope that ordinary Pakistanis had been clinging onto, disappeared In our Subcontinent, both philosophies played major roles in the Independence movements led by the socialist Jawaharlal Nehru and the liberal (there’s no point in obfuscating that fact) Mohammad Ali Jinnah. As the Independence movement split into two, aiming separately for an independent India and an independent Pakistan, much of the socialist Left also swung over as champions of the Pakistan project on the principle of the right of self-determination of nations. With our penchant for rewriting history, we have erased the very significant political and intellectual roles played by leftists like Daniyal Latifi, Sajjad Zaheer, Mian Iftikharuddin, Abul Mansur, Hyder Bux Jatoi, Fazle Haq, Hamid Khan Bhashani, and others prior to and in the days after Pakistan’s independence. It was men such as these, along with middle-class liberals like Suhrawardy, Chaudhri Zafarulla, and Mujibur Rahman who provided political energy to the new nation. Our indolent feudals, parented and nurtured by imperialism, pursued their little power games and left mundane things like the running of the government to the bureaucrats and military Babus. The bizarre Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case in 1951 drove the socialist Left underground. The Bureaucrats’ Coup of 1954 extinguished the influence of even political liberals. Ayub Khan, first as Army Chief and then as Defence Minister, drove Pakistan’s entry into CENTO and SEATO, the US-backed pacts that were specifically aimed at cordoning off the USSR and China. After he had declared himself as, successively, Chief Martial Law Administrator, President, and Field Marshall, this product of Sandhurst proceeded to set up a dictatorship that he and Justice Anwarul Haq called ‘revolutionary’. Ayub’s stint in power was of course the archetypal post-colonial military despotism, which many others in Africa and Asia would rush to emulate. It was noteworthy for its efficiency in governance, with trains running on time for the first and last time in this country’s history. The regime was also blatantly pro-West, anti-Communist, anti-Socialist, anti-Federalism, and anti-Democracy. Cold War America poured its largesse into Ayub’s Pakistan. US academicians like Gustav Papenak guided the so-called Harvard Group in the Planning Group in running the country‘s economy. Papenak extolled the ‘robber barons’ of Pakistan’s business elite who in collaboration with an increasingly corrupt bureaucracy built a heavily protected industrial base. Samuel Huntingdon extolled the virtues of Ayub Khan in terms that were almost oriental in their excessiveness. With all his errors, his authoritarianism, his elitist contempt for his fellow countrymen, his near-racist attitude towards the inhabitants of our former Eastern Wing, there are still those who regard Ayub’s time as some kind of ‘golden page’ in our history books. However, the spurious stability of the Ayub years scarcely concealed the titanic forces of regional, ethnic, and class disaffection that were seismically boiling over below. It is these forces that erupted in 1968 in the strings of uprisings across Pakistan. This almost-Revolution of the youthful New Left forced the powers-to-be to enact major reforms (for example, the removal of One Unit) and conduct our first general election. In those elections, as I have already mentioned, the parties of the Left completely swamped pro-Right parties everywhere. In a land of so much squalor, such enormous class differentials, and our gaping regional and ethnic fissures, the people inevitably chose left-wing alternatives as the normative political path. After the 1971 war, Bhutto’s PPP formed the government here and Mujib’s Awami League in what was now Bangladesh. The Bhutto regime’s own follies and excesses gave strength to the evil reaction that was to overthrow it. The Satanic ruthlessness of the Zia regime crushed and decimated the leaders and followers of the Left in Pakistan. And yet, despite its destruction by Zia, by1986 the democratic Left had begun to gain strength again with the arrival on the political scenes of Bhutto’s exceedingly courageous daughter, who now preached a doctrine closer to Millthan Marx. It is not the purpose of this piece to analyse the successes and failings of Bibi Shaheed’s two stints in power, or of her stewardship of her party. Nonetheless, with the departure of her luminous personality from our political horizon, whole mountains of hope that ordinary Pakistanis had been clinging onto, disappeared. The elections we are now going into offer no left-wing alternative whatsoever, whether of the liberal or the socialist or even the merely populist Left. It’s Tweedle-dee Sharif, or Tweedle-dumb Khan, or Tweedle-wheedle Zardari, or some kind of combination of these three. Sadly, this month of May has brought us no new, fresh flowerings. The writer is a poet, author and columnist Published in Daily Times, May 17th 2018.