Pakistan People's Party Past, Present and Future

By. Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed
(Member National Assembly of Pakistan)


Specific historical events give rise to populist leaders and movements. When these movements are organized around a revolutionary leadership that adopts scientific methods based on the ideas of Marxism, it can then lead to the transformation of society and of the whole epoch. However, during such extraordinary revolutionary periods, if the social transformation of society fails to take place, there follows a period of reaction, breeding barbarism, oppression, poverty, and backwardness.

The story of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is no different from this! The Pakistan People's Party was formed in such a period.

After the war of 1965 between India and Pakistan, the ruling class of Pakistan faced a severe economic crisis. The military dictatorship of Ayub Khan attempted to offload the burden of this crisis on to the back of the working class. This was nothing new for the Pakistani ruling class. The rapid industrial and economic growth in the 1950's was completely usurped by the capitalist and the military ruling elite. They failed to pass on the benefits of this rapid development to the working class and improve the living standards of the masses. Huge disparity in economic equality, education, and health developed and attacks on political and trade union rights created unprecedented contradictions in a society which seemed relatively calm on surface. There was an explosive situation simmering underneath. It was destined to explode. It was the explosion of these contradictions in society that created the PPP and enabled it to rapidly fill the political vacuum and become a mass party. The year when the PPP came into being was also the year that witnessed a revolt on the part of the working masses against the military dictatorship of General Ayub. This revolt above all was being spearheaded by the Railways workers, who successfully led a national strike in January 1967 from Khyber Pass to Karachi demanding an end to a life misery, poverty, an end to price hikes and more importantly better rights and facilities for workers through out the country.

The importance of this strike is such that not only it faced and fought severe state repression and brutality at the hands of the military rulers, which included the killing of three workers but it also faced opposition from the trade unions within the railways. The biggest of the Pakistani railways, the Railway Workers Union, which was aligned to the left wing National Awami Party (Bashani Group), opposed this strike. The rational given by these so-called left trade union leaders was that the strike was a CIA conspiracy. The truth is that the military dictatorship leaned on the Chinese bureaucracy and pleaded for help due to its support to the Chinese over the years. With the backdrop of Sino-Pakistani friendship, the Pakistani military rulers and Chinese bureaucracy convinced these traditional left leaders that the strike was a CIA conspiracy and should be opposed at any cost. This outright betrayal alienated the left leadership from workers and their struggle. The strike completely brought the railway to a halt for two days, bringing in a new militant leadership against all odds.

This proves beyond any doubt that a new leadership can emerge during a revolutionary upsurge against the government. This new militant labour leadership was to become a real force behind the PPP. This was the early trade union base for this new political party. Temporarily this strike confined itself to the railways but it laid the foundation for the upcoming revolutionary movement.

PPP Founding Convention

On September 16,1967, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Jalaluddin Akber Rahim announced the formation of a new party from the residence of Rasul Baksh Talpur. Jalaluddin Akber Rahim, who despite being a diplomat, considered himself to be a Marxist and was pressing for a new political party. The British and other European Marxist and left wing parties influenced JA Rahim. This announcement came in a background of a whirlwind tour of all the major cities of Pakistan, with consultations and discussions with left wing activists. It was during the tour that the demand for a new left wing party came to the fore.

The creation of the PPP and its founding convention took place under the shadows of Ayub Khan's unprecedented repressive dictatorship. In Lahore, the convention was barred from being held at any public place or at any of the Lahore hotels. The meeting was convened from November 30 to December 1, at the suburban residence of Dr Mubashir Hassan. Malik Aslam Hayat, and the President of the Lahore High Court Bar was designated as the convener of the meeting. Lahore was chosen because of its historical and political significance. According to Daily Dawn, 300 delegates attended the meeting. According to the party however, there were 500 of them. Half of the intending participants were barred by the state from attend the meeting.

The rulers of class society and the capitalist state falsely believe they can perpetuate their rule by exploiting the masses forever. Similarly, bourgeoisie experts and ideologues base their analysis and perspectives with mechanical thinking and with a non-dialectical approach. They do not look at the past, present and the future as an ever-flowing evolutionary process. Instead, they divide time into separate static entities. That is why they cannot predict big events and are always caught unawares by them. That was precisely why they could not understand the significance of this party. They could never imagine that this party would change the face of politics in the country for all times to come. Their estimation of the founding convention and this new party is reflected in their editorials which were full of ridicule and insults for those who attended the convention.

The Pakistan Times of December 2, 1967 said that it was a gathering of nameless, faceless, political novices, students, hollow ideologues, petty lawyers and confused communists.

The Dawn of the same day said, "instead of being a serious political meeting, it was a meeting of inexperienced youth. It is another addition to the plague of political parties, one cannot expect this party to make any difference".

But the administration was so terrified that it refused to allow a political meeting at the Mochi Gate Lahore on Dec 3, 1967. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto appropriately commented on this situation, "Great movements always have humble beginnings."

The following convention had four sessions on the first day; Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto delivered a long speech. Then followed contributions and suggestions from the students, workers, peasants, engineers and other delegates. In the third session the founding document of the party, which was written by Bhutto and J A Rahim in Larkana, was discussed. In the fourth session, the formation of the party was announced. The founding document, various resolutions and the constitution of the party were also adopted along with the name and the flag of the party.

In accordance with Article Four of the constitution, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was elected as the chairman of the party, while J.A Rahim was elected as its Secretary General. Khursheed Hassan Mir became the Deputy Secretary of the party. The approved founding document of the party takes into account almost all fields of life. Although there are certain portions in the document that reflect the pressures from the primitive sections of the party, the basic principles of the document aim at the socialist transformation of society.

Basic Principles:

Objectives: The basic function of the party is to transform Pakistan into a socialist society in accordance with the aspiration of masses.

Guiding Principles:

The Party will follow the following guiding principles:

Classless society based on socialist democracy.
The use of socialist ideology for economic and social justice.

The basis of the party programme is as follows:

"The ultimate objective of the party is to create a classless society which in our age is only possible through socialism."

The founding document of the party was far more radical than those of the existing leftwing parties. Basically it was the programme for the transformation of society, and ultimately, the same programme played a decisive role in the party becoming the biggest political force in the country.

The period that followed the founding convention was marked by severe political crises and social unrest. On the one hand Ayub Khan's dictatorship was being rendered hollow and traditional chaotic politics was striving for its existence on the other. Various political alliances were being formed. The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and Democratic Action Committee (DAC) were formed, which represented the amalgamation of the right and left wing parties. While being rapidly popular amongst the masses, the PPP had to face repressive measures of the states on the one hand, and on the other it faced attacks from the rightwing political parties and the establishment. Along with the social chaos that existed on the political horizon, a storm was gathering in the depths of the society. It has happened many a time in history when one single step of the rulers triggers social explosions.

1968 Student Revolt

On November 6, 1968, the students of the Polytechnic College along with those of Garden College Rawalpindi were protesting against the excesses of the police and Customs Department when the police killed one student named Abdul Hamid. It unleashed the biggest ever movement in the modern history of South Asia.

From November 7, 1968 to March 25, 1968, this movement continued with unprecedented courage and persistence for 138 days. It was the longest ever movement in the history of South Asia. From Peshawar to Chittagong there was only one slogan: ‘Revolution, Revolution, Socialist Revolution.'

The youth, women workers, along with the other exploited sections of society both in east and west Pakistan, joined hands transcending all ethnic biases and entered into the arena of history in order to change their destiny. Individualism, selfishness, competition, jealousy, hatred and biases simply melted in the heat of the revolution. Brotherhood and collectivism replaced all the petty biases and disputes. The ruling class was trembling. The power slipped out of the hands of the powerful and the real power shifted into the fields, factories and streets. People refused to pay rent. The workers took over the factories. The youth refused to pay the fare on buses and trains.

On a conscious or unconscious level, this movement very quickly took a socialist character. This is precisely the reason why the PPP, with its radical socialist programme was able to develop deep roots in the movement and hence rapidly transformed itself into the traditional mass party of the working class in Pakistan. In other words the revolutionary movement of 1968 saved the PPP from the dustbin of history and turned it into a decisive force in the country. It simply uprooted the old breed of leaders and replaced it with a fresh one. During this movement more than 250 students and workers were martyred. Most of them were the direct victims of state terrorism. Until December 5, this movement was only confined to the youth and unemployed. When the rulers realized that oppression had failed to stem the movement, they resorted to reforms that included the cancellation of the university ordinance. They also announced they would sympathetically consider the other demands of the students. Despite these concessions, it could not be thwarted and now certain other sections of society joined the movement. It clearly shows that the character of the movement was not that of reformism.

On December 6,1968 a new student convention was convened to reject the official package of reforms. This act of defiance further strengthened the movement and brought new layers of society like journalists, writers, intellectuals, teachers and crisis- ridden sections of the middle class in to the arena.

The fundamentalist parties tried to hijack the movement but they miserably failed owing to the revolutionary character of the upsurge. This movement of the masses was not only locked in a fight against capitalism and dictatorship but also decisively rejected the backward and reactionary ideology of the religious parties and very rapidly pulled large sections of doctors, engineers, and workers from the official departments. Notable among them were, the Central Medical Body (CMB), the Engineers Action Committee (ECS) and the West Pakistan Lecturers Association (WPLA).

The movement adopted a real revolutionary character when the vast section of skilled workers joined it. A relatively lesser number of skilled workers had participated in the movement up until that point as the traditional trade union leaders restricted themselves only to economic demands. By confining themselves to economic demands the traditional leadership was resorting to the policy of conciliation with the state. The aristocracy of labour leaders enjoyed enormous perks and privileges for this betrayal of the movement. This is the hallmark of the traditional labour leadership during the periods of lull and stagnation.

But by the end of 1968 and at the beginning of 1969, the movement had become so intense that now it had become impossible for these devious and experienced trade union leaders to keep the workers isolated from the movement. They became terrified by the sheer anger and rebellious sentiments of the workers. By now important sections of the workers has started to participate in demonstrations and rallies under the banner of the PPP. The economic demands of the workers were rapidly transforming into political demands and the proletariat was emerging as a decisive force within the party.

On February 1,1969, General Ayub Khan gave a conciliatory statement to quell the movement, but much to his chagrin it further aggravated the situation. He announced the convening of a round table conference of all the political parties. A rightwing alliance called the Democratic Action Committee (DAC) was formed and headed by Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan who was invited to the conference, which he accepted. The PPP refused to attend the conference. The revolutionary mood of the workers was clearly tilted towards the PPP, giving it maximum strength. The popularity of the PPP amongst the masses was beyond the imagination of the leadership. It was a shock for chairman Bhutto when he attended the funeral of Abdul Hamid in Pindigheb on November 8 1968. On November 10, 1968, while going from Pindi to Lahore, Bhutto was received by mammoth crowds on each railway station. This reception left a deep impact on Bhutto, but it also sent shivers through the military rulers who arrested him in Lahore when he was leaving for Multan on November 14, 1968.

Revolutionary movements usually leave a deep psychological mark on its leaders. It gives them strength and courage as well as radicalises them. Similarly, there was a dialectical relationship between Bhutto and the 1968-69 movement. It is very important to understand this relationship. This impact is clearly visible in Bhutto's shift to the left, forcing him to radicalise the manifesto in 1970. By late 1968 Bhutto was using extremely radical language. This can be seen in the following statement, which was made to party activists when Bhutto said, "The PPP is a revolutionary party. It is your duty to get ready for a big struggle. I am a true socialist- I am ready to fight against my own class. The final victory is not far away but socialism will take place when all the means of production including the land and the factories will be nationalized."

All the measures of Ayub Khan proved fruitless. He was on the retreat. On February 21, 1969 he announced he would not take part in the presidential election of 1970. This was an early indication of the success of the movement. Instead of pacifying the movement, it became even more intense. The civil servants went on a countrywide strike. The strike of the grade 3 and 4 clerks of the West Pakistan Secretariat spread throughout the whole country. Within a few days it was joined by the workers of the government hospitals, the PMD, Telegraph and telephone departments, the department of road transport along with low-income labourers. Under the influence of this struggle all trade unions formed a Joint Labour Council (JLC).

The JLC declared the first week of March as the week of workers demands. The intensity of the strike could be gauged from the fact that workers cut off the electricity supply to the General Head Quarters (GHQ) of the Army and the Presidential House. These incidents did not take place on a different planet. It happened here in Pakistan. They will take place again. In a revolutionary situation, workers overcome their fear. The leader of the electricity workers, Bashir Bakhtiar explained afterwards in an interview that the disconnection of electricity was a message to the rulers that time was up and they should pack their bags and go.

In March the workers began to take control of the factories. Power was in their sight and totally realisable. They could see the end of the capitalism was possible through the work of their own hands. Above all, they began to realise their own power. This was the stage, at which the class was at its highest consciousness and was in a position to take over the rapidly disintegrating state. Marx explained this process long ago when he said that the workingclass becomes ‘a class in itself to a class for itself."

In rural areas the policy of "Gheroa and Jalao" threatened the lives and properties of the feudal lords. A peasant revolt was in the offing. The reactionary forces were desperately trying to survive in the face of the success of the socialist revolution. Big businesses was lavishly spending money and leaning on the conservative parties the DAC and the PDM so that their assets could be saved. With the weakening of Ayub Khan's dictatorship, the exploiting classes tried to halt the revolution through the Jammat-e-Islammi and Nizam-e-Islam parties. These parties demanded that Ayub Khan should stay in power until a peaceful transfer of power could be worked out. It was also the position of Ayub's Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, S.M Zafar. On March 2, 1969, Jammat's acting leader, Amir Mian Tufail Muhammad, opposed the deposition of Ayub Khan because according to him it would sabotage the will of people, which had been expressed in the round table conference (Dawn March 3).

Amir Mulana Maudoodi came back from abroad to participate in the roundtable conference. When he realised the conference could not foil the movement, he ordered his fascist thugs to cut the tongues of those who uttered the word socialism. But by that time the state, the army, the Islamic and rightwing parties alongside the capitalist, and feudal lords, and even American imperialism were weakened to such an extent that they became completely helpless and impotent in the face of the revolutionary tide.

This was also the stage of the movement where all the conditions for a successful socialist revolution were present. Even the army was showing cracks and divisions. The rank and file soldiers and the lower ranking army officers were showing sympathy with the revolutionary masses and the PPP (in the elections of 1970s, most of low ranking army officers and soldiers voted for PPP). The army is also part of the society and reflects all the class contradictions with in it, with its senior officers coming from the ruling class and the junior officers and the ordinary rank and file soldiers coming from the working masses. It was this latter section of the army that was beginning to develop sympathy with the revolutionary movement. Had there been a real organised socialist party with trained cadres, the split within the army on class lines would have been inevitable.

Formation of Soviets

The movement of 1968 -69 was revolutionary in character and power was there for the taking. Workers and students committee were established in the very early stage of the movement. In November an ad hoc student committee was formed in Rawalpindi. These committees very quickly spread throughout the whole country. Had there been a revolutionary party or had the PPP been organised on the principles of the Bolshevik Party, it could have easily penetrated these committees with its trained cadres and laid the foundations of a socialist workers state. The ad hoc committees or soviets also formed in rural areas. The power that fell from the corridors of power could have been democratically channeled into a successful socialist revolution.

During this movement of 138 days, there were from 10-15 occasions where workers could have seized power. Unfortunately, there was no prior preparation of the movement. The PPP had a socialist programme but did not have cadres who were trained in the scientific methods and strategy of Marxism. Because of this the PPP failed to intervene in the workers and student committees and failed to provide a decisive lead and organise the class to smash the capitalist and feudal system and its rapidly disintegrating state and replace it with a socialist system.

The need for a revolutionary party

Having a socialist programme is not sufficient on its own. It certainly enabled the PPP to establish deep roots in the movement and the class, but it was not enough to overthrow the rotten and decaying capitalist system and its state. Due to the prevailing objective conditions, the PPP did succeed in becoming a mass movement, but it was still a bourgeoisie party with conflicting interests and under these circumstances it could not become a party with a strong socialist ideological pinning. It was precisely due to this that the party failed to understand that it was not sufficient to overthrow the military dictator General Ayub, but that there was a need to provide a programme and strategy to overthrow the capitalist and feudal system, which the dictator represented. That is why when General Ayoub announced his resignation on March 25, 1969 the movement ebbed, particularly in West Pakistan. In March 1969 the PPP's party paper ‘Nusrat' announced the convening of the PPP's National Conference for 4 through the 6 of April. The main objective of this conference was to organise the achievements of the movement. They had intended to invite women, students, workers, peasants, intellectuals and journalists to the conference. But when General Yahya Khan imposed Martial Law with a ban on political activities, the PPP again failed to provide a lead and postponed the conference. The first national conference was called at Hala on July 3, 1970. But the whole conference focused on the forthcoming elections and completely failed to give a lead to the party activists and the masses on the need to continue the struggle for the total overthrow of the system. Besides, it was too late since the revolutionary tide had already subsided. It was on the retreat just like PPP leadership. The second conference was called in Rawalpindi at a military stadium after the party had come to power on December1, 1972. By this time the PPP leadership had abandoned a major chunk of its socialist programme and there was large dissent amongst the party activists. It was this dissent and disillusionment, which was also reflected in some layers of the PPP leadership, that resulted in the resignation of JA Rahim at the conference.

Wars and revolutions are exceptional periods in history. Not only do they not take place on a regular basis, but also they do not last over a prolonged stretch of time, because in a revolutionary situation, life, social values and the system are severely disturbed. It is an intense situation. Society cannot stay in such a situation for a long time. In revolutionary situations the power of the state is suspended in mid air and in these situations either a revolutionary party leads the workers and seizes power and establishes a workers' state or this power is snatched away through various reactionary and repressive measures including civil wars and the ruling class will once again rule with greater repression and exploitation. The movement of 68-69 continued for a record time of 138 days. These experiences show that there was a real need to totally smash the decaying capitalist state and replace it with a workers' state with socialist planning and organising of all of the means of production. Otherwise even a revolutionary party is forced to use the existing state apparatus. In such a situation a revolutionary party is even used by the existing state structures and thrown away at the rulers convenience. This has happened to the PPP many times over.

Do we need any more explanation? The existing state apparatus is based on the requirements of capitalism and its ideology is built around them. For a socialist system we need a completely different kind of state, which runs counter to the capitalist state. The State in this system is either the tool of the capitalists or in the case of Pakistan is the tool of a rotten and decaying social order, and is the partner of the ruling class. Whoever tries to rule through the capitalist state, will definitely end up as its instrument. A state established to run a particular historical, social and economic system cannot work for an alternate system.

If we look at the history of the PPP, it is less a party and more a movement and has now been simply reduced to a tradition. Even Bhutto many times professed that the PPP was more of a political movement, which had organised various factions to run itself (Dawn Book Review 9, November, 2003).

As long as the PPP remains a movement, in the final analysis, it will always be used as a tool by the ruling class to perpetuate their interests. Despite all the sacrifices of workers for this party, their aspiration cannot be fulfilled until there occurs a complete socialist change. In the founding document of 1969, there exists material that can give rise to a revolutionary power, which could bring about a socialist society. It is the same goal for which countless unsung heroes sacrificed their lives.

Today after 36 years, the situation is no better for the masses. The reality is that poverty, disease and crime has been increased manifold. Life has become even more miserable. We have a greater need for the socialist programme and transformation of society. This movement needs an organisation. First of all, the organisation is an ideology and after that it is a perspective, programme and strategy. The need for a socialist revolution today has never been greater.

If we closely examine recent events and the mood of the working masses, we can say with great honesty that we sense a new movement, which will be far more intense than the movement of 68-69.

We are impelled to repeat the last message of Chairman Bhutto, which he wrote in his death cell. "I am suffering this ordeal partly because I sought an honourable equitable mediation of conflicting interests of the country in order to harmonise our disjointed structure. It seems that the lesson of this coup is that taking a middle way or meditation is a Utopian dream. The coup demonstrates that the class struggle is irreconcilable and that it must result in the victory of one class over the other".

As long as the class system exists, class contradictions and conflicts will always exist. This conflict ebbs and flows. But it continues in all conditions. It will rise again. If it erupts, it should not be defeated again. This time it will be fought to the end. It will achieve its socialist aims and goals. It is not only the lessons of the founding document but also a need of the hour. The founding documents of the 1967 convention today shriek vehemently for a socialist alternative to end the misery and agony of the teeming millions.

Kasur, (Punjab, Pakistan),

December 2003

See the Contents of the Winter 2004 Asian Marxist Review

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