Pakistan: Lessons of the PPP defeat

Although the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) bagged more seats in the May 2013 election compared to the 1997 elections the impact of last month’s defeat is far greater. This undoubtedly will have profound repercussions as PPP activists may succumb to pessimism. Questions over the PPP’s future haunt its supporters. The chattering classes are incestuously debating the PPP defeat, albeit superficially.

The role of the PPP top brass, besides corruption, nepotism, inefficiency and poor governance, are being cited as the major causes behind the PPP’s electoral rout. No commentator has mentioned the actual cause engendering the ignominious defeat: the ideological rightward shift by the party leadership and the abandonment of the party’s socialist origins.

The PPP emerged as a political force of the oppressed masses during the revolutionary upheaval of 1968-69. It was not a cadre-based Leninist party but it filled the vacuum of a revolutionary party when none other existed at the time. Its programme of revolutionary socialism (admittedly with nationalist and religious overtones) chimed with the growing sentiments and the aspirations of the raging mass movement.

However, the ideological diversities, loose organisational structures and the erroneous ideological basis of the left within the party, exacerbated the role of the individual and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto began to personify the party and the movement. In the subsequent period Bhutto became the face and the embodiment of the tradition of the working classes that had led the revolutionary upsurge.

It is true that individuals do play a role in history, but it is neither ultimate nor indispensible. Marx explicitly put it thus: “men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under the circumstances chosen by themselves, but under given circumstances directly encountered and inherited from the past.” In the absence of a revolutionary party and revolutionary leadership, Bhutto as an individual could not complete the socialist revolution, just as Lenin and Trotsky would not have been able to do it without the Bolshevik party.

The absorption of the PPP into the bourgeois state after the defeat of the 1971 war made it a captive of capitalism. In the initial stages it carried out radical reforms for the oppressed classes. But as the crisis of capitalism worsened, these reforms failed to change the lives of the masses resulting in apathy and disillusionment. This paved the way for the right wing to overthrow the first PPP government in connivance with US imperialism and impose a vicious dictatorship as revenge against the masses that had risen in a revolution to challenge the system. Bhutto was assassinated on the gallows in 1979 as Pakistan’s weak and historically redundant bourgeoisie and imperialism were not prepared to take any chances with Bhutto loose on the streets arousing a mass revolt.

It is a fallacy that the PPP’s ideological shift to the right only began under the stewardship of Zardari. It actually began with the PPP government that came to power after the fall of the dictatorship in 1988, accommodating to the military generals and the US imperialism. That right-wing shift has stayed the course ever since.

In her book, Daughter of the East, Benazir Bhutto wrote after her first stint in power, “But what we did in the economic sphere was truly unprecedented and revolutionary. During my exile in England, I saw how Prime Minister Thatcher’s policies had created a new middle class. My government became the first country in South Asia and the Middle East to introduce privatisation of public sector units. We deregulated our financial institutions. We decentralized the economy…” (P.397).

Thatcher went on to become the most hated politician amongst the British workers in recent history, while the neo-liberal economic policies adopted by the PPP were an outright rejection of the party’s founding documents.

In the 1993 elections, Benazir Bhutto in a television interview, conducted by Farhad Zaidi, boasted that ideology had taken a back seat in the PPP. The point is that when ideology takes the back seat, corruption, nepotism and greed begin to stir.

Asif Zardari and his cohorts even went as far as offering a share in the plunder to the workers – in reality a mere pittance – in order to bring them on board as partners in privatisation of state enterprises. The once socialist and radical left-wing PPP fathered by the mighty revolution of 1968-69 had become the Public Private Partnership party promoting capitalism.

A political party cannot endure eternally on the basis of the past sacrifices of its dynastic leadership, nor can it provide a vision without an ideology and a programme that can unite the masses in the struggle for emancipation.

The tendencies of opportunism and capitulation to capitalism inside the PPP have penetrated deeply. The PPP is not a social-democratic party in the classical sense either. There are no party congresses, ideological debates, or discussions. However, it has been a tradition for workers for over three generations. The traditions of the past can weigh like a nightmare on the brains of the living. The leaders of the party have always taken the support of the masses for granted.

The masses still don’t have an alternative choice. How long can such a situation continue and the masses tolerate such an excruciating system that is devouring their lives? The real mood of the masses is one of disgust with all the present politicians and the system they represent. Inevitably, a major eruption of class struggle will unfold in the coming period. In this situation the PPP will be torn apart by the contradictory class pressures that will be brought to bear on it. There will be ferocious factional struggles.

However, splits in the past have involved individuals instead of ideologies, policies and programme. Now the struggle has to be launched on a class basis to salvage the revolutionary role that the oppressed envisage in the party. If the Marxists in the party boldly put forward the party’s original revolutionary socialist programme, they can win the hearts and minds of the genuine activists and the working masses. The original party can then revive and play the role for which it was created with the blood and tears of the exploited classes.

Ted Grant used to say, “There is no future without the past.” The PPP’s survival is to be found in redeeming its socialist founding principles, tying the knot of history, completing the unfinished revolution of 1968-69 and transforming society. Otherwise it will eventually be consigned to the dustbin of history. A new wave of revolutionary class struggle will inevitably arise and chisel out a new party that will be instrumental in accomplishing the socialist victory. That is the only way out for the masses from this misery.