Dr Sarwar – writings

Dr Sarwar’s writings posted here (in process)


Vol. 1 No. 6 FEBRUARY 6, 1953 PRICE 2 As.


President, Democratic Students’ Federation

As I sit to write about our glorious struggle for a better ducation and for a better future my mind is flooded with scenes – inspiring and poignant – which I will never forget. For how can I forget the mighty demonstrations of January 7 and 8, by thousands of disciplined students. How can I erase from my memory the tear-gassing, lathi-charging and firing during the three days that shook not only Karachi but the whole of Pakistan?  I can never forget the spontaneous support of the people and press of Pakistan for the right and just cause of students of Karachi.

I am writing this article with the mingled feelings of joy and grief. Joy for our great victory and grief for those who gave their lives during this painful struggle. When some day the history of the student movement will be written, as I am sure it will be, the names of those who fell martyrs will be printed in letters of gold. They will live in our memories as no one else has lived so far. Their sacrifices will always remain enshrined in our hearts.

And now when a settlement has been reached between the Prime Minister and the students I trust and hope that the authorities will do nothing which will affect the goodwill created. On our part we can assure the Prime Minister that it was never our intention to create any trouble. It is proved by the fact that despite grave provocations the students throughout the fortnight acted with restraint and showed better understanding than some of the officials of the Karachi Administration. The students appreciate that the Prime Minister eventually accepted their demands and saved the situation from taking a bad shape. However, I wish the Prime Minister could have taken personal interest in the matter before January 8 and if he had done so many precious lives would have been saved.

My idea in writing this article is to assess the situation as it stands today. For it is imperative to let you know in brief the background of the ‘Demands Day’. Since the inception of the Democratic Students’ Federation about two years ago, the DSF started drawing the attention of the authorities towards the deplorable educational condition that existed in Karachi. The DSF passed resolutions, held meetings and asked the Government to reduce the exorbitant tuition and examination fees. We asked the authorities to build more hostels and more than anything we appealed to the students to unite for fighting for their elementary rights and demands. While the authorities refused to pay any heed to what we said the students slowly and gradually started realizing their responsibility. A definite consciousness grew among them.

They started thinking as to how to get their demands conceded. They wanted to fight for their just demands but too many students’ organisations bewildered them. The official College unions were monopolised mostly by persons who just did not bother about the students’ welfare. They belonged to a class which was busy grinding its own axe.

Such was the situation till the last session. But this year things changed. Realising the fact that if their lot had to be bettered they must elect office-bearers to the unions who were their genuine representatives, they elected many honest and sincere students as office-bearers of different college unions. This was the first step in the right direction.

These elected representatives had to justify the trust reposed in them. An Inter-Collegiate Body consisting of all Vice-Presidents and General Secretaries of the Karachi College Unions was formed. It started its work and made it very clear to the Vice-Chancellor, who was all the time trying to disrupt it, that the ICB meant business.

As the days went by our campaign for better education caught momentum. In the meantime, the disruptive forces were not sitting idle. They were busy in planning and intriguing. The Vice-Presidents of Urdu and Law Colleges betrayed the students and succeeded though for a little while in misleading some other members.

In order to focus the attention of the authorities on the sorry state of affairs existing in Karachi colleges the DSF decided to observe ‘Demands Day’. Then the ICB took up this matter and in co-operation with the DSF made preparations for the day. We made repeated attempts to meet the Education Minister but on somebody’s advice he gave us a cold shoulder. Our intention was to observe  ‘Demands Day’ in the beginning of December but as the Education Minister was going to London to attend the Commonwealth Conference the ICB postponed it. What happened on January 7 and how the ICB frantically tried to meet the Education Minister is a matter of recent happening and all of us know it very well. Hence there is no need to mention in detail the events that took place during those days.

In fairness to the General Secretaries of Law College Union and Commerce College Union I must say that though they were not with us on January 7, they realised their mistake after the lathi-charge and tear-gassing of students’ procession and since then they have worked tirelessly and fearlessly for the common cause. By their work after January 7, they made amends for their past attitude which had helped only the enemies of the student movement.

However, there are some lessons that we have learnt from this struggle. The first and foremost thing is that discipline and unity in our ranks is indispensable. Never before was such unity achieved among the students as this time. The reason for this united action was that while drawing up the demands we kept one thing in view. That was the general welfare of the students. Let us always remember that if we are united and strong nothing can stop us from winning our demands. The students deserve congratulations for standing united. Attempts were made to disrupt the unity of the students by raising the communist bodey but the students saw through this oft-repeated and stale game and refused to fall a prey to it. Let us guard our unity and I may tell the students here that such vile attempts will be made in future also but they should refuse to succumb to any such move whether it comes from the Chief Commissioner of Karachi or from some so-called student leaders who after lying low for some time have already reverted to their old game.

The second lesson that we have learnt is that if our demands are just and right we will have the co-operation of the public as well as the press. In fact in addition to unity in our ranks what enabled us to win most of our demands was this support from the general public and the press.

Another important thing which emerged out of this struggle was the great role played by the High School Students’ Federation in mobilising the school students in our favour. Had it not been for the active and close co-operation of this organisation it would have been somewhat difficult for the ICB to enlist the support of school students. I am confident that the school student wil organise and strengthen this organisation which will play a great role in their own sphere. To the college students I would say, “help and encourage the school boys and they will prove great allies”.

This struggle also brought out the fact that our sisters do not lag behind. The students of Women’s College and St. Joseph’s Convent did not cooperate with us in the beginning but they came out in open support after January 7. What held them back probably was their shyness, fear and apprehension. However, the artificial wall of seclusion was swept away as the student movement marched forward. And to the surprise of many the students of Women’s College and St. Joseph’s Convent went on strike and fought against their foreign principals of both the colleges whose behaviour was anything but dignified. I request the girl students through these columns that they should not allow themselves to be rusted in the four walls of their college compounds and participate in every sphere of student life. Without them no student movement can be complete and I am confident that they will not allow their principals to stand in their way.

This struggle has also brought into the forefront the dire need of an all-Pakistan students’ organisation. The student movement is quite strong in East Pakistan and by organising a students’ organisation on an all-Pakistan basis the students of both wings can come closer, learn from each other’s experiences. The Inter-Collegiate Body has already given a call for a convention to be held very soon. We must work earnestly to make the proposed convention a success for in it lies our future welfare.

I must again congratulate the students on their great victory. Let not the lesson be forgotten that it was due to unity in our ranks that we succeeded. However, even after this victory there is no room for complacency. We have to work hard and organise the students. We have to raise our standards both mentally and materially. And for this we have to work ceaselessly. We have to keep in mind our studies also. Let no one raise his finger and say that the students of today are not very qualified. Our struggle for better studies means that we have to register an all round progress.

Last but not least we have to continue the word started by the ICB Relief Committee. We must provide financial and legal aid to the members of the public who suffered for our cause. We cannot and will not forget them.

Long Live Student Unity!

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Published in ‘The Frontier Post’, Lahore, Aug 7, 1991

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The origins and necessity of democracy and socialism

By Dr M. Sarwar (circa late 1980s)

Democracy is perhaps the most widely used word in the world today. Almost every all countries in all the continents of the world proclaim itself themselves to be a democracy, notwithstanding the fact that they all have the most diverse systems of government. The word ‘democracy’ is derived from two Greek words, demos meaning people, and kratos meaning power. The word democracy could therefore be defined as meaning ‘power of the people’. In other words, the term democracy and its derivatives apply to decision procedures. In its original Greek sense, a decision is democratically taken if everyone is involved in it. A decision is taken democratically if it is reached by discussion, criticism and compromise. This decision is also supposed to be in the interest of all or of the majority, instead of only for a faction, group or party. Democracy as such has never been defined scientifically and has never been practiced according to its popular usage. In popular parlance, democracy could be defined as a government of the people, for the people and by the people. It could also mean freedom of conscience and freedom of expression. It could also mean tolerance of the other man’s point of view (as Voltaire is reputed to have said, “I do not agree with you, but I shall defend to the death your right to say so”). It would also mean that a minority has full freedom and opportunity to convert itself into a majority and take over the reigns of power.

Democracy is totally against any organ of the state to acquiring unlimited powers. There are always adequate checks and balances. The general pattern is to have powers separated and defined between legislature, executive and judiciary; legislation being carried out by a freely elected parliament, executive being the government formed by the majority party and judiciary being independent of all pressures and be free to interpret the constitution and safeguard the fundamental rights of the citizens. The concept of democracy has emerged in the its present shape after the struggle of man through centuries in search of dignity and self-respect. Philosophers and priests, soldiers and workmen, traders and peasants of numerous countries have played their role in enhancing the moving society towards a better future and for better living conditions. Democracy, being a political philosophy, has to be practiced in a society as a mode of conduct between the people, as a way of life. In a state, democracy is a system of government and deals with the relationship between the rulers and the ruled. It lays down certain codes of conduct for the government and the governed. Since we are dealing principally with the democracy as it functions in a state, it would be in the fitness of things to examine the evolution of the state itself and its role.

The state

The need for the state arises as the division of labour increases and society divides into classes. In tribal societies, the division of labour is still relatively simple; it does not divide into classes, and ; the maintenance of social discipline, the seeing to it that people carry out their customary obligations and that disputes between them are settled peacefully or in a way that does as little harm as possible to the community, is still too simple a business to require that it should being the whole time occupation of a hierarchy of persons clearly marked off from the rest of the community as its rulers. The need for the state arises from when the increasing size of the community’s size increases and from along with it, the extended division of labour inside it. Those who have authority inside the tribe owe it this not merely to personal qualities giving them an exceptional influence over their fellow tribesmen, but to status, to the position they occupy in their tribe. They are not leaders whose authority rests on mere strength of character, they are rulers who come by their authority in traditional ways.

As the increasing division of labour makes the clan or tribe no longer self-sufficient, the old social order breaks up. As the clan or tribe disintegrates into many smaller independent families, communal ownership of land and cattle gives way to private ownership, and the father head of each family becomes the only possessor of the land cultivated and the animals used by his the family. When the extended family disintegrates, the land, and cattle and other forms of property are divided at a father’s death, between his children or sons so that each becomes the separate owner of what passes to him. The division of labour expands and the use of money becomes general and more widespread. Some people grow more rich and acquire more property than they can cultivate or use profitably. While they grow rich, others fall in debt and lose their property and are obliged to hire themselves out as labourers or even to sell their liberty. With a fast expending division of labour and new systems of property and inheritance, society is soon divided into classes. Keeping the peace in society becomes more difficult. The classes thus created develop diverse and more often antagonistic interests. A strong government thus becomes the need of the time necessary to bring about reconciliation between the irreconcilable class interests.

Suppression and dissent

The state thus created, a machinery was set in motion for the suppression of a vast majority of people by the high and mighty of the society – all in the name of keeping peace and order. Religion was already playing its role in different parts of the world in giving a code of moral conduct to its followers and preaching submission to God, and surrender to him and his representatives in the Church. In the early Middle Ages, when both the spiritual and the temporal power were loosely and weakly organized, each interfered in the other’s sphere of the other with very little friction, — or rather, no serious attempt was made to define the two spheres. Later, as the two powers came to be better organized, each resented the interference of the other, and each defined and re-defined its authority in the endeavour to enlarge it.

For a variety of reasons, the Church set itself in order more quickly than the state, and the Pope acquired greater authority inside it than the temporal princes in their kingdoms. Until the fourteenth century, it was the spiritual rather than the temporal power that took the offensive. It was argued that the church which helps men to achieve their highest end, is necessarily superior to the temporal power, which looks after their lesser ends. Thus, though both powers are divinely instituted, the lesser power is subordinated to the higher in the sense that though the church does not itself exercise temporal power, it has a duty to see that those who exercise it do so worthily, and i. Its most powerful instrument in carrying out this duty is ex-communication, for when a prince is ex-communicated his subjects no longer owe him obedience. In all societies there are limits to what men will put up with from those set in authority over them. In all societies man has a sense of his own dignity. He feels himself entitled to certain courtesies, he resents insults, he resents interference. He resents it, not only because it frustrates his desires, but because it humiliates him. As a social creature, he is both dependent and independent; he must live with others and must serve them and be served by them. Liberty of conscience was not admitted in the Middle Ages. The church being highly organized ruled the faithful with great authority and tyranny. Any doubts expressed in the Pope or God could be punished with barbaric severity. The first to rise against the absolute authoritarianism of the Pope were the men of the church themselves.

Martin Luther rose with the slogan of priesthood of all believers. He believed that every Christian could interpret God’s word for himself and their faith alone was enough for salvation. Surely a man who would go thus far in those days must have believed in liberty of conscience. In 1525, he wrote “No one is to be compelled to profess the faith but no man must be allowed to injure it. Let our opponents give their objection and hold their tongues and believe what they please”. Persecution was thus questioned and challenged by an ever-increasing number of people in important positions. The friends of toleration were many, but they were disorganized and could not launch any organized struggle against persecution.

The cause of toleration was furthered in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century by some of the Christian sects and by liberal groups inside one or two of the larger churches; by the Socinians and Unitarians, by the Anabaptists and Baptists, by the Armenians in Holland and by some churchmen of England. They argued the case for toleration before the triumph of rationalism in the west, before Spinoza, Locke and Bayle. By the end of the sixteenth century political arguments for toleration had become quite frequent. Philosophical arguments were coming forward in favour of toleration. Locke in his ‘Letter concerning toleration’ argued for it as a law of nature. Spinoza argued for a man to hold any opinion which was not seditious or subversive. The principle of liberty of conscience was clearly and boldly asserted by Spinoza and Locke, and by other writers too in the second half of the seventeenth century. Spinoza does not believe that the purpose of the state is merely to give security to its members, to liberate them from the constant fear of death; its purpose is to enable men to live in harmony and enjoy peace, which is not mere absence of war but a virtue based on strength of mind. Spinoza does not believe in a god who offers men salvation on condition that they hold certain beliefs sincerely; he does not advocate toleration primarily because he fears that intolerance will encourage hypocrisy, nor yet because he fears that the attempt to achieve uniformity of belief will incite more conflicts than it appears; he advocates it because he puts a high value on freedom of thought.

Emergence of toleration and freedom of conscience

I have gone in some detail over the origin of toleration and freedom of conscience, because in my opinion this deals with the fundamental of the origin of democracy. Now let us briefly examine the political and economic structure of society in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the period which brought about the emergence of toleration and freedom of conscience. Though simultaneous developments must be taking place in several countries of the world, we choose to take up the records of the countries of Western Europe, particularly of France and England, for the simple reason that historical evidence is more easily available from their past. Also, because of the emergence of traders and bourgeoisie, it was possible for them to bring about an industrial revolution which is supposed to have brought the onset of democracy in the world.

The period under review was a period of rule by kings in all these countries. Feudal economy prevailed and a mercantile class was just coming up. The king was all powerful and had the divine right to rule. His role was more or less than that of an arbiter between the conflicting interests and feuds amongst the people living in his domain. He was the arbiter between the masses of people and the exploiting classes. It is difficult to be precise as to whom he favoured more between the two feuding classes – the feudal and the mercantile. It could be that he played one against the other and was happy and contented to receive pledges of loyalty and submission from both. Both the classes vied with each other in offering their unreserved services for him. But evidence has it that the king favoured the mercantile classes more. For is it not true then that tradesmen were becoming richer and richer and were filling up the coffers of the King (which was useful in his extravagant living and maintaining his army, court and administrative machinery) and also providing him with all sorts of luxury goods obtained from all over the world.

The people of course did not matter to any one of their God’s chosen sons. Whenever there was a conflict between power and poverty, whenever there was any demonstration of discontent and protest, it was crushed without any mercy. There often were peasant revolts or small urban uprisings, but they were always drowned in blood. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries could really be called the centuries of enlightenment. By this time the traders and mercantile classes had converted themselves into a formidable burgeoise. The capital and goods coming from the colonies had set in motion a vast network of industry all over Europe. The conflicts between the burgeoisie and the feudal lords were becoming even more sharp not only in the economic field but also in the political field. The administration of the country could no longer be left in the lazy and corrupt hands of the feudal lords. The minds of the people could no longer be kept in fetters. Superstition and obscurantism must give way to science and technology. Society was ripe for a qualitative change in its pattern. A revolution was the answer.

Bentham freely admitted that political power is always limited and always shared. His account of sovereignty is emphatically not an argument for unconditional obedience; on the contrary, it is combined with a plea for watchful criticism of government and resistance when resistance is for the public good. The utilitarians came forward with the arguments that all men have certain fundamental rights and that every man follows his own interest. James Mills thought that a man’s proper share of the means to happiness produced by labour is the produce of his own labour or its equivalent. If he gets less than his share, someone else gets more. The general happiness is best promoted by assuring to every man the greatest possible quantity of the produce of his own labour. Mills further says that the strong will always try to get more than their proper share; they will always, if left to themselves, try to deprive the weak of the produce of their labour. Therefore, men must unite and delegate to a few some of the power needed to protect them all.

Tom Paine is of the opinion that no government is legitimate unless it has the consent of the governed, it follows that democracy alone is legitimate everywhere and always. Rousseau declared that society is evil, irrational and corrupting because it allows great inequalities unconnected with differences of ability or merit. He came forward as the most revolutionary of all critics of the established order. 14th July 14th, 1789 will go down as a red letter day in history; for on this day the people of Paris rose in armed revolt and stormed the old medieval fortress of Bastille. On this day Bastille, symbol of an outdated tyranny fell to the people. In distant Copenhagen the Scandinavian man of letters Steffens told his sons the news with tears of joy, and added that if they were failures in life henceforth they could blame only themselves, for “poverty would vanish, the lowliest would begin the struggles of life on equal terms with the mightiest, with equal arms, on equal ground”. The great French Revolution had begun. The whole of the French nation had risen against the established order. For many years to come the slogan “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” would resound all over Europe. Wherever the legions of Bonaparte moved (and they trampled the whole of Europe under their feet) they carried this message with them and brought about a turmoil from which Monarchy and Feudalism could not survive in any of the European countries.

The world had never seen such a drastic change in the social relationships as it did in the aftermath of the French Revolution. History would have to wait for about a century and a half to record an event, a revolution, which would change the social relationship on a greater scale. The impact of the French Revolution was felt everywhere, particularly in the countries of Europe which had become or were aspiring to become industrial nations. The revolution, though betrayed later, carried its message far and away. For the first time democracy, a unified action of the masses of people, had triumphed. The betrayal of the French Revolution brought a great disillusionment to the people and the intelligentsia. A new crop of philosophers was born in France and England, known as early socialists, who began to work and write on how to organize society to bring greater happiness to mankind. These early Socialists had a great sense of history. They were believers in progress and they knew that progress in the past had been slow. They knew that the society they had hoped to transform had been different in the past from what it was in their time, and they were aware that the pace of change was increasing. Amongst the more prominent of these early socialists one could name were Owen, Thompson, Fourier, Proudhan and Saint Simon. They believed that the industrial society would be a society of equals. Everyone would be rewarded according to the contribution he made to society.

True equality consists, according to Saint Simon, not in everyone’s taking an equal part in the management of common affairs, nor in everyone’s getting the same income no matter how little useful the work he does, but in everyone’s having the chance to contribute as much as he is by nature capable of doing, and being rewarded according to his contribution. If every man’s position in society depends on his usefulness to it, and if all men are sufficiently educated to see that it is so, then hierarchy is acceptable to all and there can be effective authority with almost no use of force. Owen and Thompson produced schemes for cooperative production, and they both took it for granted that these cooperatives would be run democratically by their members.

The prime function of these communities would be not to keep the peace, but to organize labour efficiently and to distribute its fruits justly. It would be, in the language of Saint Simon, administration rather than government. Thompson favoured a system of provincial, state and national legislatures elected by the people grouped in communes. Every law voted by a higher legislature must also receive the assent of a majority of the legislatures inside the region subject to it. He proposed many other devices to ensure that laws would, as far as possible, be acceptable to the persons required to obey them; he advocated the referendum and recall. He also favoured the popular election of all officials, including judges. All the early socialists believed that in a society without ignorance, exploitation and insecurity, there would be no need for organized force. Marx and Engels believe that a state is an instrument of class rule. They believe that in any given state, there are irreconciliable classes existing with their own class interests and the function of the state is to keep peace between them. In any given state, one class rules over the other class. The rulers are in a privileged position and with all the coercive machinery of the state in their control, they are in a position to perpetuate their rule. This according to Marx is really the dictatorship of one class over the other. Democracy in the real sense of the world will come when the coercive state machinery is done away with. This means the real democracy will be enjoyed by the people when the state has withered away. But this will happen only in a classless society – a society free from all exploitation. How will this happen? This according to Marx will happen when the working class in an industrial society will bring about a revolution and capture power. Then it will establish the dictatorship of the proletariat over the former exploiting classes. In a socialist society everyone will be a working man, whether he works with his hand or mind, there will be no parasites, no one to take away the surplus value of labour, then after the elimination of the former ruling classes, would emerge a society where there will be only one class – the working class, only then will there be true democracy, and then there would be no need for any coercive state machinery, then there would be no need for a state and its paraphernalia (the police, jails etc.) and then the state would wither away.

Questions for Pakistan

In brief we have discussed above the evolution of the thought leading towards a democratic society. Here at home, in Pakistan, what sort of a society are we living in. ? Are we still partly, if not wholly, a tribal society? Are we an industrial society or are we moving in that direction? Are we moving back into an abyss of obscurantism? Are we living under a military dictatorship? These and many more such questions must arise in the minds of the people. The questions posed above need serious deliberation and must be answered by the social and political thinkers of the country.

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Comment from S.M. Naseem, July 20, 2009: Very well-written and well-informed piece, especially for someone who was not exposed to formal education in social sciences. I think much of his learning on these issues came from the one-year incarceration in Karachi jail during 1954-55 when we all read a lot of books on various subjects, especially history and economics. One book that I recall we all read was “Man’s Worldly Goods” by Leo Huberman. I am sure Sarwar went on to read a lot more both during and after his time in prison.

3 Responses

  1. […] uploads in the ‘Writings’ section of the blog Dr Sarwar blog – including ‘Censoring the Quaid’, a piece Dr M. Sarwar wrote in 1991 for his fortnightly column ‘Karachi calling’ […]

  2. […] see: ‘Censoring the Quaid’ by Dr M. Sarwar, Aug 7, 1991 The Frontier […]

  3. Dr Sarwar (may his soul continue to educate us) is right but ignoring the responses of the Quaid to question during the struggle for Pakistan is not “cricket”. The liberals and the “maulanas” are both guilty of ine-sided interpretations. “The Constitution of Pakistan was written 1400 years ago. There no need to write another”. The words are not exactly his but substantially the same. There are others.
    I think our job is to search what he meant. I think we are alergic the word “Sharia”. The Quaid studied Islam and came to the conclusion that there was nothing in Islam which was contrarary to democracy and democratic practices-especially justice and equality. That was his message.

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