Volume 3, No. 9, September 2021
Editor: Rashed Rahman
In this issue we carry a Joint Declaration of three Left parties, the Mazdoor Kissan Party (MKP), Awami Workers Party (AWP) and the National Party (NP) regarding the results of a two-day conference of these parties in Lahore on November 14-15, 2020 on a possible merger into one larger Left party. Needless to say, the need for a larger Left formation that could play a more effective role in Pakistan’s politics has been felt across the board amongst progressive circles for some time.
Efforts towards Left unity began in 2017. Initially, these resulted in the formation of an alliance of 10 Left and nationalist parties under the rubric Left Democratic Front. However, due to reasons related to the internal problems in some Left parties, the alliance failed to take off. The nationalist parties withdrew, leaving just the three Left parties mentioned above to carry on the initiative towards forging unity amongst the progressive forces.
The Joint Declaration promises an advance towards the goal. However, no one should underestimate the difficulties that still dog the effort. The main bone of contention still appears to be the divide between Marxist-Leninists and others adhering, either in theory or in practice, to social democracy. What is needed is a clear theoretical, historical explanation of what these two trends on the Left represent and where lie the differences between them. Such a debate seems the need of the hour.
The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) grouping 11 opposition parties against the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) government of Imran Khan, which most honest, thinking people now accept as a creature installed by rigging the 2018 general elections and still backed by the military, seems to be acquiring some momentum in its campaign. One indicator of this development is the daily dose of abuse and worse heaped on the heads of the PDM’s constituent party leaderships by PTI government spokespersons. Ironically, as often happens in such instances, they more they pour scorn on their opponents, the more the PTI’s narrative appears tired, repetitive and increasingly less credible.
As to the PDM, after successful rallies in Gujranwala, Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar, it is gearing up for a big show in Lahore on December 13, 2020. Lahore may have lost some of its past pre-eminence as the heart of the country’s politics, if not the heart of the country per se, but a big, successful rally in the Punjab capital would further weaken the PTI government’s hold on power (possibly causing even its military backers to begin to entertain second thoughts, something not seen so far). If Lahore stirs to the PDM’s call, the planned march on Islamabad in January 2021 might begin to assume threatening proportions for the present dispensation.
As it is, the PTI government has fallen flat on its face in the two years since it came to office. Its handling of the economy in particular has fuelled inflation, unemployment and hardship. Even the PTI’s support base in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa now appears to be groaning under the burden.
If the PDM does not succeed in applying sufficient pressure on the government (and thereby on its military backers), Imran Khan could conceivably stay in power till the next general elections scheduled for 2023. However, when those elections loom and if the PTI government survives, that conjuncture could herald a bigger political crisis since the PDM would be hard pressed on the issue of whether to participate in a general election that would be a mere repeat (or worse) of the 2018 electoral farce.
If the PDM does succeed in its aims to topple the PTI government and usher in a genuinely fair and free general election, what can we expect from an ensuing PDM government or one led by one of its main constituent parties? Obviously, none of these parties are anything but status quo entities that could only enter the portals of power if the military helps shoo them in, either by more electoral manipulation or by allowing the holding of a genuinely free and fair election. They would then be expected to obediently cooperate with the military and its policies on a strategic level. This includes the present thrust of the military to lump every problem and its discussants, particularly dissidents and critics, into the convenient basket of Indian-supported ‘traitors’. In the hypothetical (so far) possibility of such a regime emerging from the PDM’s exertions, Nawaz Sharif’s defiant and hostile narrative regarding the military’s domination and manipulation of the democratic process would be a hurdle to any such new ‘scheme’ hatched by GHQ.
Pakistan’s entire 73-year existence has been consumed by the struggle for a genuine bourgeois democratic parliamentary system. Such a system would obviously be an advance on military-imposed regimes, but it too would be limited in its scope for, and willingness to, address the myriads of problems that have rendered the lives of the vast majority of citizens of Pakistan close to hell on earth. Should enlightened progressives therefore support the PDM’s call for a genuinely free and fair election leading to a genuine bourgeois parliamentary democracy? Certainly it would be a blunder to oppose such a demand, given that it resonates with our people down to the grassroots, being a legacy of pre-independence movements as well as the sorry history of military domination since independence. The task of all progressives, dissidents and critics, including the Left, is to support democracy, even if it is at present bourgeois parliamentary, but not to stop there, as most mainstream parties tend to do. The critical need is to link such support to policies and measures in favour of the masses, which must be spelt out in detail. This requires the Left in particular to update its theoretical and practical stance in support of such spelt out policies. To paraphrase great Marxist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, look for great victories through the general democratic struggle, small victories through socialism in the present conjuncture.
The PTI government has finally, even to sceptics, exposed its inherent anti-worker policies by dismissing 4,544 employees of the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) in Karachi. Nothing, not even the average Rs 2.3 million severance pay per employee can compensate for these workers and their families’ suddenly bleak future. Reading the meaning embedded in Federal Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar’s statements on the issue, this dismissal is the prelude to 95 percent of PSM’s workforce being sent home. That obviously implies the final funeral rites for PSM. Of the 1,900 acres the PSM occupies, 1,300 have already been earmarked for ‘leasing out’. No marks for guessing what they would be ‘leased out’ for: real estate development for the rich along the lines of the Ravi Riverfront project in Lahore and the PTI federal government’s drooling over occupying Sindh and Balochistan’s islands for ‘tourist development’ (more real estate projects for the affluent to enjoy). And lest anyone harbours any illusions, once the 95 percent workforce dismissal takes place, the rest of the 600 acres will also go the same way, with the PSM plant being dismantled and scrapped.
To remind readers, PSM, which unfortunately had its planned development in phases with the former Soviet Union’s help interrupted by political developments in Pakistan since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s tenure in the 1970s, never really took off because it remained largely limited to the initial 1.1 million tons production capacity. This capacity could not even meet its fixed costs. Industry standards state at least three million tons production capacity is required for a steel mill to break even. This implies further increase in capacity to go into profit. Since this process was interrupted in PSM’s case, it turned into a lemon, a fate exacerbated by excessive employment under political pressure (by the Pakistan People’s Party, PPP, and later Muttahida Qaumi Movement, MQM).
General Pervez Musharraf’s prime minister Shaukat Aziz schemed to buy PSM on the cheap through a front conglomerate. When then Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry struck down the deal, Shaukat Aziz whispered in Musharraf’s ear that Chaudhry must be removed. What followed Musharraf’s accepting the advice was the Lawyers Movement, Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, Musharraf’s departure (Shaukat Aziz ran away from the country and has never returned), and the rest is history.
While the PSM workers, backed by other trade union and workers bodies, are out on the streets in protest against the dismissal of over 4,500 of their colleagues and the Sindh government of the PPP makes reassuring noises about taking over the PSM, spare a thought for the state of the working class in today’s Pakistan. The result of the process of deindustrialisation set in motion by General Ziaul Haq’s efforts to reverse Bhutto’s nationalisation has yielded 85 percent workers in the informal sector, with their numbers increasing. These souls do not even receive the state’s endorsed minimum wage of Rs 17,500 per month. In Pakistan, 83 percent of households earn less than $ two per day, the benchmark for being below the poverty line. These families now, given the inflation ushered in by the PTI government’s policies, cannot even afford two square meals a day and are virtually starving.
These facts may appear to some good souls as being peculiar only to a struggling economy like Pakistan. However, no matter how developed or affluent an economy, capitalism is inherently unable to provide full employment. In fact, it relies on a reserve army of labour to keep wages down. The developed world, reeling from the October 1917 socialist revolution in Czarist Russia, made concessions to the working class to stave off similar revolts, including the introduction of a welfare state (which has virtually by now been dismantled in the face of the generalised crises capitalism is going through). Experience has shown that only socialism can provide full employment, paving the way for a brighter future for humanity as a whole.