Return of the Left: Will the hammer & sickle be enough?


The Pakistani Left has been rejoicing. They are hailing the creation of Awami Workers Pakistan (AWP) as a step in the right direction for building a socialist democracy in Pakistan. But as the revolutionary greetings are being exchanged, whispers of internal conflict, the controversial past of Pakistan’s left and ideological differences have also emerged.
What is the premise of this merger? Official party statements have declared that it is mobilisation of the masses against class oppression that has been the direct result of the feudal-capitalist structure of Pakistan’s economic and social systems. They concede that they have learned their lessons from the Soviet experiments with socialism and recognise the potential of a strong movement to fight the economic and social suppression. They confess to their most primary criticism; that there has been no organised force to demand such a social and economic upheaval.
But is the merger between Labour Party Pakistan, Awami Party Pakistan and Workers Party Pakistan the solution to the problems of Pakistan’s left? What are these problems? What do skeptics and believers say about these problems?
THE CYNICS: Dr Ayesha Siddiqua, analysts and author of Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, had several misgivings about the future of AWP. “What they are trying to do is wonderful in principle,” she tells Pakistan Today. “But it boils down to the operationalization of these principles.” She then went on to explain why she is cynical about the future of AWP.
“It is about execution, isn’t it? Running a mass campaign, mobilising the masses against the deep rooted patronage systems, it is not an easy task, and certainly not achievable just by bringing together three small parties,” she explained.
Dr Ayesha held that the future of AWP depends on the amount of resources the party manages to accumulate and expressed her doubts on the party’s ability to gather them. “Pakistan inherited Pakistan Muslim League. Therefore the only successful example of a successful party in country is Pakistan People’s Party. They ran an incredible campaign in the seventies – one that was so strong, its legacy has lasted many years. I don’t see AWP putting together such a campaign. They haven’t developed a constituency, they don’t have the resources,” she said. She further added that it is not a question of whether the party is needed; what matters more is the organisational depth and capacity of such a merger.
There are also questions about the ideology of the party – not just by the critics but also from the party members themselves. Critics have voiced their apprehensions about the three parties seeing eye-to-eye on the various issues that set them apart in the past. Labour Party Pakistan was known as a neo-Trotskyist organisation, continuing to stress the permanent revolution. Awami Party Pakistan was believed to be “ideologically hostile” to Marxism-Leninism, and known more for their liberal, democratic views on governance. The Workers Party Pakistan was known for its belief in the application of Marxism in Pakistan.
Dr Ayesha Siddiqa also questioned the plurality of AWP. “I have my doubts about AWP being a pluralist organixation. How can you stress on one class alone and completely intend to uproot the other?”
Professor Aziz ud Din Ahmad, former academic and a political analyst, too, remained on the bench. While lauding the change AWP hopes to bring, he also talked about the hurdles AWP has to overcome before it can manage to become a mainstream political force. “It remains to be seen if the new party is able to overcome some of the traditional flaws of the Left,” he wrote for Pakistan Today. “These include factionalism, addiction to terminology of a particular type, and failure to address the masses in a simple, everyday language they can best understand. Will the components of the new party which had so far worked separately and were at times involved in mutual skirmishes forget old rivalries and work as one party?” He, too, questioned the ability of AWP to manage the resources required for it to become a dominant political force of the Pakistani Left. “Will the new party be able to develop the minimum resources needed to contest the elections which have been made very costly,” he asked. “Will it be able to attract the burgeoning middle class and the civil society in general which happen to be politically the most active while maintaining its roots in its traditional constituencies of the working class and peasantry?”
The BELIEVERS: AWP, however, was quick to defend itself and shoot out replies to all the cynicism directed at it. Rana Aslam, former member of Labour Party Pakistan and currently an active member of AWP, said that in retrospect, the merger was a natural order of things. “It was time to do away with the old and bring in the new,” he said. When asked about the biggest hurdle faced while putting together the merger, he replied thoughtfully, “I would say it was convincing the senior leadership of the party to let go of the ideas of a bloody revolution. That isn’t going to happen and we were not sure anymore if we wanted that to be the way we came into mainstream politics.”
He further explained that AWP is a sign of maturity of Pakistan’s Left. “When we were three different parties, we disagreed on so many different issues; nationalization, feudalism, and even what our priorities were. This merger has allowed us to see the one common point that brings us all together: oppression, poverty and the common man that has been neglected as while political parties squabble within themselves.”
Ammar Ali Jan, a key figure in bringing together this merger, further explained the dynamics of Pakistan’s Leftist politics. “The Left in Pakistan has remained isolated and scattered since the 1980s, when our state and society underwent a massive turn towards the Right under the draconian regime of General Zia,” he told Pakistan Today. “A period of defeat, stagnation and depression is often followed by a period of isolation and sectarianism, since no group or party actually believes that it can challenge the status quo in any meaningful way and hence reverts back to obsolete debates around “ideological purity”. Since the Lawyers’ Movement (and before that, the Okara Tenants’ Movement and the Faisalabad Power Loom Workers Movement, to name a few) there has been an increase in political consciousness in the country, particularly amongst the youth. This also meant that after almost two decades, a number of young activists, particularly in the National Student’s Federation, gravitated towards the Left.”
He then went on to explain why the need for the merger was felt by the existing Lefist parties.
“The task then was to convince members and the leadership of the three parties to recognize the changing dynamics in Pakistan, and generally around the globe, and to seriously start engaging in building a Left alternative in the country,” he said. “The merger process was naturally a difficult process because all parties had a distinct ideological outlook and different opinions on questions of strategy. However, a vast majority of members realised that one of the key revolutionary tasks of today is to build an alternative to market fundamentalism and to re-introduce class-based politics in the country. There was complete consensus on resisting imperialism, religious fundamentalism and fighting for the rights of women, oppressed nationalities and religious minorities.”
He said he was hopeful about AWP because today, there are more forces that unite the three parties than those who divide it. “The merger committee decided that the AWP must allow space for all tendencies of the Left, promoting a culture of open and frank debate, discussion and criticism,” he said, adding that parties often split in Pakistan because there is very little space for dissenting views, so this openness to new ideas is a positive development that will help maintain party cohesion.
Respondeding to Dr Siddiqa’s concerns about plurality of AWP. “I think there is enough plurality in the new Party, but, it should be clear that this a Left party of different Marxist tendencies coming together,” he said. “I think it is important to take a clear ideological position when the only ideology available is either neo-liberalism/market fundamentalism (practiced by all mainstream parties) or reactionary religious fundamentalism. AWP is creating a third pole, which insists that this a false choice and that there is an alternative to the present crisis.”
He then went on to explain the two biggest challenges of AWP. The first, he said, involves constructing a coherent organisational set-up throughout the country. This process will begin from next month with provincial committees being set up all across the country followed by district committees. The second, and more important, task is the party engaging with popular struggles erupting across the country. The main aim of any Left party is to become a consistent expression of popular movements, politicizing social movements by linking their struggles to structural and systemic injustices. Thus, the main challenge for AWP will be to develop a sustained engagement with such struggles without necessarily trying to subordinate them to the party, which was a common practice in the past.
He conceded to the argument that AWP is currently ready to engage in any serious electoral effort, except in a few places in KPK and Punjab, and stressed that that should not be the immediate task of the party.
“Electoral politics will become possible once the party has a powerful organisational network and when it commands the respect of various social movements across the country,” he said.
He also touched on the question of the role of religion AWP’s politics. “AWP believes that religion is a private affair between a human being and God, while it can also be used to inculcate feelings of cooperation and mutual respect in communities,” he said. The party has absolutely nothing to do with people’s personal beliefs. The main point is that we should keep religion away from our decadent state, not only to promote tolerance and more freedom of thought, but also to save religion itself from being corrupted, he added.
THE BYSTANDERS: The general elections are coming up. In the face of that, AWP is undoubtedly a rising force that cannot be ignored. Cynics and believers alike agree that now is not the time for AWP to flex its muscle. To the contrary, it faces the challenge of building a strong movement that becomes an alternative to the status quo. While that happens, what does the average man say?
“It remains to be seen, doesn’t it,” said Allah Yar, a local fruit trader. “We hear of parties emerging and breaking up every day. If this new party i has solid footing to stand on, I will not hesitate to support it. But in the meantime, I am not going to waste my time chasing dreams that seem so far fetched.”
Maryam, a student, was more hopeful. “Why not?” she asked. “If we can bring PPP to power so many times, if we are sick of the same old faces, why not give this one a chance?”
Ibrahim, a farmer, further said, “this party looks like it focuses more on industry workers than the peasants. If it does not focus on the peasants, it is losing out on the support the feudal lords have in the country.”


Comments are closed.