Time ripe for revolution – 03 May 2023

Before that England had experienced revolutions between 1648 and 1688

The French Revolution is one of the major events of history that set into motion a new train of thoughts and demolished the archaic system based on absolutism, undue taxation and exploitation. Before that England had experienced revolutions between 1648 and 1688.

Peter Kropotkin states, “Two great currents prepared and made the Great French Revolution. One of them, the current of ideas, concerning the political reorganization of states, came from the middle class; the other, the current of action, came from the people, both peasants and workers in towns, who wanted to obtain immediate and definite improvements in their conditions. And when these two currents met and joined in the endeavour to realize an aim, which for some time was common for both, when they helped each other for a certain time, the result was a revolution.”

France at that time was already simmering under the burden of aristocracy and clergy who enjoyed absolute political power and possessed an immense share of the wealth to the exclusion of others, whilst the mass of the people was nothing but a beast of burden to the ruling classes. By challenging the status quo and absolutism with a weapon of reason, the thinkers of the period declared that the ruling elite had reduced man to servitude. But, by assuming liberty, certainly, the people regained all their qualities. With this, new avenues were opened to mankind. The march of ideas of equality among men, without distinction of birth; equality before the law; obedience of the law; the sovereignty of people to express their will; the freedom of contract between free men; and the abolition of feudal taxes and services set a new foundation of the states in Europe, which was soon to envelope the whole world.

Although ideas had their own potential to stir the stagnant water of thought, mere ideas did not trigger the revolution, rather, the fusion of ideas with action and the passing of theory to action did it.

In this context, the material conditions during the reign of Louis XV1 in 1774 and later after 1786, triggered by hunger riots, famine and refusal of peasants to pay taxes were the precursors of the revolution.

Are we also passing through the same conditions and stages in Pakistan? There is no doubt that the economy of Pakistan is in the doldrums, and the government does not have enough to invest in social development. As of today, Pakistan ranks 92 out of 116 countries on the Global Hunger Index (GHI). In addition due to its rating of 24.7, the country’s hunger level is termed “serious”. The World Food Programme (WFP) in its assessment has predicted that by the end of March, around 5.1 million people were within reach of famine-level hunger. Shockingly, the number is 1.1 million higher than in the last quarter. Therefore food crisis looms large.

To make matters worse, thousands of people in every city queue up for a single bag of free flour every month at government distribution centres. Tragic scenes of scores of deaths due to stampedes at those centres speaks of the level of poverty of the general population.

The high inflation rate, the weakening rupee, and dwindling foreign currency reserves have further diminished the purchasing power of the masses. The March inflation number surpassed February’s 31.5%, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, as food prices and transport fares plummeted up to 50% as compared to the previous year. Reports indicate that the minimum price of wheat per 40kg has jumped to Rs3700 and is likely to increase further.

Against this backdrop, the number of people susceptible to food insecurity counts into millions. The devastating floods have further aggravated the situation, forcing between 8.4 million and 9.1 million people into the abyss of poverty. Even before the floods, according to the National Socio-Economic Registry of Benazir Income Support Program, 25.5 million families consisting of 153 million individuals, subsisted on a low monthly income of Rs37,000 or less. Converting this amount into dollars (at Rs280 to a dollar) shows that their income has been a just $132 a month or 0.73 US cents per person per day. These statistics paint a scary socio-economic picture: two-thirds of Pakistan’s population has had less than three-quarters of a US dollar to spend each day.

The stark reality is that 22% of those in Pakistan live in poverty. Many of them cater to their basic needs and education through charities’ incomes. According to different surveys, unemployment is at an estimated 15 per cent. Almost, every household is feeling the pinch.

However, the ruling elite do not comprehend the grave situation and are engaged in a power struggle. But, like in France, it’s time for the two currents — the current of ideas, coming from the middle class; and the current of action coming from the masses wanting a better change in their — to join in the endeavour to realise an aim which has, for some time, remained common for both. The result will be a revolution when they help each other for a certain time.

The time appears to be quite ripe for a revolution to restructure the whole political order by a blend of the middle and working class as the traditional ruling elite has failed to function according to the aspirations of the general populace.

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