On the chilly morning of 30th November 1967 a relatively small gathering of around three hundred people was taking place in the sprawling lawns of Dr. Mubashir Hassan’s house in Gulberg, Lahore. This was the founding convention of a new political party that was espousing revolutionary change in Pakistan.
Although the military dictatorship of General Ayub Khan at the time pretended to dismiss this event as trivial, the covert threats and repressive acts of the regime to sabotage this convention indicated the fear it had invoked among the echelons of power. The press was denied, every conference venue in the city was declared unavailable, travelling restrictions on the delegates from East Pakistan were imposed, plane seats were denied and there was a blackout of the meeting in the media.
The main newspaper of the regime, The Pakistan Times called it a “faceless gathering of political romantics, runaway students, ideological oddballs and crypto-communists.” The Dawn thought the “gathering looked more like a teenager’s jamboree than a solid political conclave... with the country already plagued by innumerable political parties, the addition of still another could hardly be expected to kindle popular enthusiasm.” Even the majority of those participating in the convention didn’t have the slightest notion that the organisation they were founding would become the largest political party in the history of the country almost overnight and would emerge as the political tradition of the oppressed classes of Pakistan. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was elected Chairman at the convention noted that the “beginnings of great movements were often modest and small.”
The main reason for this incredible development was the programme of revolutionary socialism put forward in the founding documents debated and passed by this convention. The mission of the party sent out to the world was unambiguous. The document stated, “The ultimate objective of the party’s policy is the attainment of a classless society that is only possible through socialism in our times.”
However, what gave the PPP its mass base was the revolution of 1968-69. The students triggered this revolt and it attained a revolutionary character when the proletariat and later the poor peasants joined this uprising with factory occupations, wheel jams and a general strike that brought the country to a halt and the powerful dictator Ayub Khan had to abdicate.
The traditional left advocated democratic change while the PPP called for a socialist revolution with the popular slogan of roti, kapra aur makan. The programme of revolutionary socialism connected with the fundamental aspirations of the toiling masses that had entered the arena of history to transform their destiny through a socialist revolution. That was the fundamental reason why the PPP became a formidable mass force and a tradition that is still present today, albeit in decline.
Although the socialist programme in the 1967 founding documents and in the 1970 election manifesto, which was even more radical due to the interceding revolutionary upsurge, was more or less based on the principles of revolutionary socialism, the organisational structures of the party were far from those of a Bolshevik-Leninist tradition. It was not a “state within the state” that is required for a victorious revolution to replace the bourgeoisie state with workers’ power.
The ruling classes tried to divert the revolution through the elections and even went to war with India to break the unity and momentum of the class struggle. However, the main reason for the defeat of the revolution was the lack of ideological, political and organisational preparedness and the dearth of revolutionary cadres to provide a collective leadership for the masses.
The PPP came to power but it did so within the state apparatus of the bourgeoisie that the masses had endeavoured to overthrow. Radical reforms were introduced in the spheres of the economy and society. But through the corrupt state and within the confines of a crisis ridden economy they failed to deliver. The entrance of the elite politicians into the loose party structures further diluted the proletarian content of the party. Its decline had begun.
The nuclear programme, the Islamic summit and the military operations in Baluchistan were bulldozed through according to vested interests and through the auspices of the PPP government that was dependant for its rulership on the very same state that had been created to secure the interests of capital. Then the counter-revolution struck with a vengeance. US-backed General Zia ul Haq overthrew the PPP government and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was assassinated on the gallows for his crime of nationalisations and radical reforms that had bruised the capitalists to some extent. Eleven years of subsequent tyranny brutalised the masses and pulverised society.
After the demise of the Zia dictatorship, once again the masses rallied around the PPP and put it to power in 1988. But by now “ideology had taken a back seat”. Socialism and revolutionary policies were abandoned and the party embraced capitalism and endorsed imperialist policies. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had written, “Let me make it clear that this is a party of the workers, peasants and students of Pakistan. It is a revolutionary party.” Benazir wrote in her autobiography, “My government became the first country in South Asia and the Middle East to introduce privatisation of the public sector units. We also deregulated our financial institutions.”
Ever since, every PPP government has drifted further and further to the right. The incumbent regime has brought in unprecedented price hikes, poverty and misery. The question is how long will or can this party prevail as a tradition of the oppressed classes? The masses have been dormant for some time but they are thinking and learning fast. There are increasing conflicts and dissent within the party. There is much more to come. But the only real and effective opposition to the present capitalist, feudal and lumpen leaders at the helm of the party will come from the forces that relate and reinvigorate the socialist origins of the party. The main battle of the class war in Pakistan will be fought in the PPP, provided it does not collapse as a tradition of the masses in the coming period.
Hegel said: “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” With the worst socio-economic crisis in the country’s history, this society can only be salvaged through a socialist revolution. Chairman ZA Bhutto had drawn the lessons of his life and death in his last book ‘If I am assassinated’, written in his death cell: “The coup d’etat demonstrates that the class struggle is irreconcilable and that it must result in the victory of one class over the other. Obviously, whatever the temporary setbacks, the struggle can lead to the victory of one class. This is the writing on the wall.” His last testament says it all.