Volume 2, No. 3, March 2020
Editor: Rashed Rahman
Ten left-wing parties and groups met in Lahore on December 29, 2017 and decided to work together towards a new united Left platform. After a debate during the meeting, in which two points of view emerged regarding the project of pooling their resources to make more of an impact in national politics, they formed a representative eight-member committee to carry the process forward. The two divergent points of view revolved around not so much the principle of coming together in agreed form, but on its timing and manner of implementation. One view was to immediately announce the creation, name, etc, of the new Left platform, while the other view, which eventually was accepted, was that the process should be pursued step by step and not rushed into without forethought. The track record in recent years of such efforts at Left unity, mergers and the formation of new Left parties suggests that without a dialogue to identify areas of convergence amongst the parties and groups seeking to come together, and even more important, areas of divergence, such efforts are often stillborn or soon fall prey to the unresolved contradictions amongst them. The list of demands put forward by this new Left formation include: the recovery of all missing persons and following due process if they are suspected of committing any breach of the law; illegal immigrants to be deported to their country of origin (a demand of particular interest to Sindhi nationalists harbouring long standing complaints of their province, particularly Karachi and other cities, being inundated over the years with waves of such immigrants, upsetting the demographic balance and depriving the original inhabitants of their rights); halting forced conversions of minority girls (especially Hindu) and their dubious marriage to Muslims; regulation of the sugar mafia (which fleeces farmers by delaying crushing to decrease the weight of the sugarcane and defrauds them by short weighing); restoration of tenancy rights in protected forest lands in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; withdrawal of unjust criminal cases against the farmers of Hashtnagar and Okara Military Farms and their release, and the restoration of (banned since 1984) student unions.
The meeting rejected the Election Reforms Act 2017 and demanded reforms according to the petition filed by the Awami Workers Party (AWP) in the Supreme Court in 2012. The meeting hosted by the AWP deliberated on the current economic and political situation and agreed that the mainstream political parties of the ruling classes have miserably failed to present a solution to the country’s crises. Corruption, the main plank of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) of Imran Khan, the meeting declared, was an integral part of the bourgeois system and needs replacement by an alternative that can only be socialism. It bears keeping in mind how much of the country’s time and effort has been wasted by the distraction provided by Imran Khan’s one-point political anti-corruption agenda at the cost of the real issues confronting the vast majority of our people. At best Imran Khan’s campaign can replace the present incumbents with new faces. Whether it can also root out the endemic corruption embedded in the present system is a moot point.
The meeting also reflected on the persistence of feudalism in Pakistan. They charged the ruling classes with using religion to camouflage their exploitation of the people and suppress the narrative of the social forces striving for real socioeconomic change (as opposed to the loud but empty cries of ‘change’ by the PTI). This resort to using religion has exacerbated the trends of fundamentalism, extremism and intolerance. The meeting therefore resolved to launch a concerted struggle against these anti-people trends. The 10 Left parties/groups pledged to launch a concerted campaign against feudalism and fanaticism; support the workers, farmers and tenants; work for the supremacy of parliament against the (dominant) paradigm of the national security state; establish Pakistan as a multi-cultural country so that every nationality might have full control over its resources; ensure gender equality; reconstitute the state on the principle of separation of the state and religion; construct a socialist economy with no distinction of class in the education system reformed on scientific lines; free and fair access to all citizens with constitutional guarantees to shelter, employment, education and healthcare, and ensure a positive non-aligned foreign policy that promotes friendly economic and political relations with all neighbouring countries based on the principle of non-interference.
The parties that participated in and agreed to move forward on one platform were: AWP, Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party, Awami Jamhoori Party, Jeay Sindh Mahaz (Khalique Junejo), JK People’s National Party, Balochistan National Movement (Abdul Hayee Baloch, fresh from departing from an alliance in that province with the National Party of Mir Hasil Bizenjo), Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign (Lal Khan’s affiliated trade union front), Pakistan Mazdoor Mahaz (led by veteran Leftist trade union leader Tufail Abbas), JK Awami Workers Party, and the Communist Party of Pakistan. Balochistan National Movement left the new grouping dubbed Left Democratic Front. Not all these parties and groups boast equal strength. But all of them have been struggling for their ideas through one of the most inhospitable, discouraging periods in the Left’s history, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. While the coming together of all these formations and their initial step of pursuing a process of dialogue and discussion to give concrete shape to the aspiration for a united Left can only be welcomed as the first drops of rain for long on parched soil, no one should be under any illusion that the path ahead is not rocky, difficult, and a tall mountain to climb. The collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, with the remaining socialist countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Cuba struggling for survival of their regimes, considerably dampened the hopes of people everywhere who aspired to social justice and equality, only really achievable in a socialist system. China is embarked on an embrace of capitalism whose eventual outcomes are not certain. In Pakistan too it has had the effect of persuading large numbers of the intelligentsia that nothing can be done to better things. They have therefore lost hope and, through their consequent apathy, failed to play their historic role as guides and mentors for the people.
While the Left parties/groups have made a good beginning in a difficult if not hostile atmosphere, there is much to be done yet. Two areas in particular require urgent attention. One, the Left needs to update its knowledge of the world in the 21st century and of Pakistan and its place in that world. Two, while party organisation and growth is critical, this is a slow and somewhat unrewarding task in the present circumstances described above. The Left must revive/recreate its mass-based organisations on the foundations of the people’s problems, needs and aspirations, informed by the advanced understanding and grasp of today’s political and economic landscape. The changed structure of capitalism, which has weakened the trade union movement beyond belief through outsourcing, labour contracting and home-based workers, must be taken into account if the working class is to be mobilised. The dynamic of land ownership, tenancy and landlessness in the rural areas needs revisiting to update and give concrete meaning to the slogan of land reform. Pakistan being the fastest urbanising county in South Asia, the Left needs to study its impact on the rural areas (push factor) and in the urban areas (pull factor).
Last but by no means least, the Left needs to reach out to, and help organise for struggle, women (51 percent of our population), oppressed nationalities, youth (65 percent of our population), religious minorities and students. While far from an exhaustive list, a reiteration of these major tasks is daunting. Only conviction stemming from an updated, modern understanding of the socialist ideal and a changed world (and Pakistan) can provide the spirit, only advanced theoretical understanding can lead a credible revival of a united Left that proves capable of rescuing state and society from the fruitless trap of right wing versus right wing politics that is the only dish on the menu at present.
May the new year usher in a revival and credible impact of the Left, a necessary and critical factor if the country is to be pulled out of its seemingly intractable problems.