What’s Left?

The Left could have a fu­ture in the Pak­istani con­text, pro­vided it ad­dresses the peo­ple’s eco­nomic is­sues.

Southasia - - REGION PAKISTAN - By S. M. Hali The writer is a prac­tic­ing jour­nal­ist. He con­trib­utes to the print me­dia and pro­duces doc­u­men­taries.

The Left in Pak­istan has had a check­ered his­tory. The So­cial­ist move­ment in Bri­tish In­dia owed its ori­gin to the Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion and the sub­se­quent mi­gra­tion of a large num­ber of the Sovi­ets to north­west­ern ar­eas, more specif­i­cally into the ter­ri­tory that is now Pak­istan and which was held by the Bri­tish Em­pire in 1922-27.

The colo­nial gov­ern­ment of In­dia re­pressed the Left from its very in­cep­tion, ac­cus­ing its pro­po­nents of de­vis­ing con­spir­a­cies to top­ple the gov­ern­ment. How­ever, the strong ide­o­log­i­cal moor­ings of the Left in­flu­enced vir­tu­ally all other streams in In­dia. They are even credited with the rise of rad­i­cal trends in­side the Congress in the post-First World War pe­riod. The mil­i­tant anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist stand of com­mu­nists at­tracted var­i­ous rev­o­lu­tion­ary fight­ers. Among them were the Gadar fight­ers of the Pun­jab, Bha­gat Singh’s peers, Ben­gali rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, the mil­i­tant work­ing- class fight­ers of the Bom­bay and Madras pres­i­den­cies and rad­i­cal an­ti­im­pe­ri­al­ist Con­gress­men from dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try. Even Sub­hash Chan­dra Bose, the In­dian na­tion­al­ist who un­suc­cess­fully at­tempted to lib­er­ate In­dia mil­i­tar­ily from Bri­tish rule in the wan­ing years of the Sec­ond World War, called him­self a So­cial­ist.

The Left played a ma­jor role in trans­form­ing the de­mand for in­de­pen­dence to a pro-peo­ple con­cept of free­dom – not just from

the colo­nial regime, but also from so­cial and eco­nomic ex­ploita­tion and sec­tar­ian strife.

With the di­vi­sion of the sub­con­ti­nent, the Left un­der­went nu­mer­ous me­ta­mor­phoses from a coun­ter­part to po­lit­i­cal con­ser­vatism of the hard-liners of the Com­mu­nist Party to the re­formist elec­toral project en­shrined in the birth of the Pak­istan Peo­ple’s Party (PPP), which pro­jected Is­lamic so­cial­ism as its rai­son d’être.

In Pak­istan’s for­ma­tive years, af­ter the demise of the Quaid, the Left came into di­rect con­fronta­tion with the gov­ern­ment. The then Prime Min­is­ter, Li­aquat Ali Khan faced the first at­tempted coup d’état by a col­lu­sion of Left­ists, in­clud­ing renowned in­tel­lec­tual Faiz Ah­mad Faiz and some dis­grun­tled el­e­ments of the armed forces. The coup was crushed and the pro­tag­o­nists tried and in­car­cer­ated.

Strength­ened by the sup­port of the ru­ral class, thanks to its tough po­si­tion on eco­nomic and so­cial is­sues, the Com­mu­nist Party pro­moted the cause of Pak­istan's farm­ers and la­bor­ers against the nexus of the landed gen­try. Al­though the 1954 gen­eral elec­tions were won by the Com­mu­nist Party in East Pak­istan, yet the class strug­gle peaked when mem­bers of the Pak­istan Mus­lim League and the Com­mu­nist Party were in­volved in a vi­o­lent scuf­fle with the East Pak­istani po­lice in 1958. The gov­ern­ment dis­missed the Com­mu­nist Party gov­ern­ment in the prov­ince and then ar­rested over 1,000 mem­bers of the Party in West Pak­istan, af­ter ban­ning the party.

Pak­istan’s Left­ists were left high and dry fol­low­ing the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s, with two fac­tions emerg­ing in the post-split sce­nario: Pro-Bei­jing and Pro-Moscow. The pro-Moscow Left dis­solved into so­called lib­eral, pro­gres­sive bour­geois par­ties while Ayub Khan hi­jacked the Maoist Left. The Chi­nese bu­reau­cracy gave full sup­port to Ayub Khan's dic­ta­tor­ship. When Mar­shal of the Peo­ple's Army, Chun Lee vis­ited Pak­istan in 1966, he made a far­ci­cal com­par­i­son of com­mu­nist democ­racy, terming Ayub Khan's sys­tem of "ba­sic democ­racy" akin to the com­mu­nist sys­tem. Pak­istani Maoists started sup­port­ing Ayub Khan. In their my­opic viewpoint, they de­clared Ayub Khan's for­eign pol­icy pro­gres­sive, ig­nor­ing the Marx­ist point of view that for­eign pol­icy is merely a con­tin­u­a­tion of in­ter­nal pol­icy to safe­guard and pro­long the reign of the rulers.

Obliv­i­ous to the un­prece­dented eco­nomic growth in­ter­na­tion­ally, Pak­istan’s Left missed the boat. The post-World War II boom also ben­e­fitet Pak­istan, where the process of sig­nif­i­cant in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion took root, giv­ing rise to an anti-cap­i­tal­ism phe­nom­e­non: the pro­le­tariat. Ren­dered rud­der­less, Pak­istan’s Left started seek­ing pro­gres­sives among the bour­geoisie, to whom it could lend sup­port, in­stead of or­ga­niz­ing and iden­ti­fy­ing it­self with the pro­le­tariat. Its sus­te­nance of the work­ing class was con­fined to mere slo­ga­neer­ing. Re­sul­tantly, when a rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment, the first of its kind, be­gan in 1968-69, and ex­plo­sive

avant-garde events swept away Ayub’s mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship – one of the rich­est pres­i­dents of an im­pov­er­ished coun­try – the Left again found it­self in the lurch.

It saw light at the end of the tun­nel with the emer­gence of the PPP, whose pro­gram was rad­i­cal so­cial­ist since a Com­mu­nist leader, J.A. Rahim, was the au­thor of its ba­sic man­i­festo. Zul­fikar Ali Bhutto ap­peared in the po­lit­i­cal arena as a chal­lenge to the Ayub dic­ta­tor­ship and claimed to be the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the masses.

Bhutto, de­spite be­ing a land­lord from Sindh, and hav­ing served as for­eign min­is­ter in Ayub's cab­i­net, was an in­tel­li­gent bour­geois politi­cian, who raised the slo­gan of So­cial­ism and joined hands with some Left­ists to form the PPP. Ayub’s crack­down on Bhutto made him a sym­bol of re­sis­tance, en­hanc­ing his pop­u­lar­ity and grip on the party.

The emer­gence of the PPP as a party of the masses was no fluke; else­where in the de­vel­op­ing world too, par­ties with a so­cial­ist pro­gram had at­tained pop­u­lar ap­peal. Pak­istan’s Left was again found want­ing, when it sup­ported Bhutto on face value, tak­ing him to be a sup­porter of the pro­le­tariat. His style of freely quot­ing Karl Marx – “Work­ers of the world unite; you have noth­ing to lose but your chains” – en­deared him to them. But Bhutto was in fact a rad­i­cal bour­geois, whose feu­dal bent of mind would be his own and the masses’ un­do­ing.

In­stead of or­ga­niz­ing and launch­ing a class strug­gle, the Left iden­ti­fied with the work­ing class' il­lu­sions in Bhutto and the PPP and missed a golden op­por­tu­nity to rise to the oc­ca­sion. When peo­ple ul­ti­mately rose against Bhutto, the move­ment was hi­jacked by right-wing re­li­gious fa­nat­ics and re­ac­tionary forces and the Left failed to of­fer any al­ter­na­tive dur­ing this pe­riod. Bhutto was hanged af­ter a sham trial and Gen­eral Zi­aul Haq’s re­pres­sive regime curbed what­ever steam re­mained. The mil­i­tary rule ended fol­low­ing the plane crash that killed Gen­eral Zia, and elec­tions were held in 1988, bring­ing Be­nazir Bhutto to power. But she fur­ther dis­il­lu­sioned the work­ing class. The breakup of the USSR disen­chanted the Left and cur­rently they are in dis­ar­ray. The present grim eco­nomic so­cial mi­lieu makes it ripe for the Left to play its role but the lack of cred­i­ble lead­er­ship only adds to their prob­lems.

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