Class Politics in the Era of Neoliberalism: The Case of Karachi, Pakistan
Mallick, Muhammad Ayyaz
MetadataShow full item record
In one of the fastest growing cities in the world, and the biggest city in Pakistan, Karachi, the question of political praxis has seldom been addressed in academic literature beyond the received wisdom of various 'primordial' identities. Politics in the city, which until at least the 1980s had a vibrant trade/labour union movement, has become increasingly fragmented along ethnic and religious sectarian identities. This paper examines the various contours of neoliberal urbanism as it manifests itself in the context of Karachi and the political praxis it generates. The approach draws upon a Gramscian spatial historicism to look at the constitution of 'historical situations as a confluence of multiple, spatially mediated temporal rhythms' (Kipfer, 2012: 86). In doing so, it will look at the combined effects of neoliberal praxis, formal neo-imperialism and Pakistan's continually evolving post-colonial state, on the emergence (or lack thereof) of working class politics in Karachi. Thus, the historically and geographically specific ensemble of forces at multiple scales (local, national and international) which act to impede and, in several cases, co-opt any forms of horizontal political praxis in the city will be elaborated upon. Light will also be shed upon the unresolved dialectic between residential and working spaces for Marxist praxis in urban areas. Thus, through local level analyses of the multi-scalar workings of state and capital, the paper argues that a dialectic of coercion and patronage animates - and restricts - the political choices made by Karachi's working class subjects. In doing so, the paper also advocates for an understanding of class (and the process of class formation) being as much an objective category as a subjective, lived phenomenon which operates over multiple spaces (i.e. both residential and working spaces) and is necessarily shaped by forces operating over multiple scales. The paper will draw upon the author's fieldwork in one residential and one industrial area of Karachi while combining insights from existing literature on class-based political praxis in other urban areas (especially in global South contexts) and current literature on Pakistan and its 'over-developing' state.