Ashfaq Saleem Mirza says there are two major martyrs in South Asia, Bhagat Singh and Hassan Nasir. They gave their lives fighting against tyrannical rulers. “But their sacrifices could not bring any major changes in the socio-economic lives of the people of the subcontinent” (Suggestions for Discourse, p. 126).

Oh well. Relationship between individual actions and broader development is complex.

“Bahot mushkil hai dunya

ka sanwarna,

Teri zulfon ka pech-o-kham nahin hai.”

Still the individual’s action may have a logic in itself. It indicates the general direction of history.

“Jaanta hoon kay nasheman nahin baaqi sayyaad,

Phir bhi ek lutf khalish-e-hasrat-e-parvaaz mein hai.”

After all, there is something in what Sartre made a practical question with his concept of “engagement” or commitment. I cannot forget the crowd of young men and women visiting the house where Trotsky lived in Mexico and where he is buried. They could not possibly have witnessed the days of the Fourth International. But they still pay homage to the commitment of a man, hunted and hounded by a great power and a worldwide movement; and still hurling defiance at a ruler who termed himself a “genius revolutionary”, but set bands of assassins to kill that one man. Guevara’s tomb at Havana inspires the same respect.

Bhagat Singh, our benefactor, our “mohsin”, had not been given his due place in our history because we had a tendency to separate our struggle for independence from that of India and were not certain of Bhagat’s place in it. I think there is greater clarity of thought now and Bhagat is getting his due place.

Hassan Nasir’s struggle was for social emancipation and we were not entirely clear about its significance, because, as Ashfaq Mirza says: “In an underdeveloped country like Pakistan, where the literacy rate is less than 40 percent, most of the people are not aware of their ideological identity” (p. 145).

Any interpretation of the broad sweep of history is often distorted by the details. And there logic takes over to fill the gaps. Ancient Indians did not write history. Perhaps, they were right. Where time is circular, there is no need to chronicle the sequence of events. Therefore, the poor modern historians have to depend on ancient coins, study surviving buildings etc to guess what happened. But some things are just not known. There logic takes over.

If a prince conquered an area and began taxing the land instead of the produce of the land, the net result, over a period of 50 years or so, would be a higher rate of exploitation. The next step is a permanent rise in the general rate of exploitation. That would entail its own consequences. The volume of investible surplus goes down. Foreign trade falls. Process of class differentiation slows down. The result can only be decline in the volume of tribute from the primary producer and the advent of military feudalism.

Here the narrative following the imposition of tax on land is driven mainly by logic to arrive at military feudalism.

I am not supporting Karl Popper’s critique of historicism. The question is not whether historicism “changes” anything. When Marx says, “philosophers have hitherto explained the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it”, he only says that the knowledge of how the world works does not suffice. It must lead to action to solve the mankind’s problem. To compare that with a pure study of the laws of history is unscientific. Kant says: “But it is wisdom that has the merit of selecting, from among the innumerable problems which present themselves, those whose selection is important to mankind.” I think Marx is more precise, the mankind sets before itself only those problems which it can solve.

The writer is a retired ambassador.  Email: abul_f@hotmail.com