Pakistan: PPP - legacy and the reality

The PPP’s present leadership takes its support base for granted. As a tradition, the PPP has prevailed upon the oppressed masses for four decades.

On a misty morning of November 30, 1967, around 300 people from various parts of Pakistan had travelled to Lahore, against all odds, overcoming the prevalent lull in society, to endeavour to struggle for the ideals of social and economic justice. The spirit of revolution was in the autumn air. The founding documents of the new party were unambiguous: “The ultimate objective of the party’s programme is the attainment of a classless society that is only possible through socialism.” But the events that made the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) a mass force were triggered by a student’s revolt in Rawalpindi that initiated the most audacious revolution in the country’s history. From November 6, 1968 to March 25, 1969, the masses ruled the roost. Those were the only 139 days in Pakistan’s chequered history that belonged to the oppressed people of this country. It was for the first time that the Pakistani proletariat’s vision was raised beyond the so-called ‘democratic revolution’ to revolutionary socialism and the overthrow of capitalism and landlordism. While most left parties were struggling for democracy, the PPP’s socialist programme was in perfect harmony with the aspirations of the masses that had entered the arena of history to transform their destiny. This revolutionary upheaval sent shudders down the corridors of power, not just in Islamabad but also far beyond. If one examines the declassified cables and diplomatic correspondence of the US and British diplomats of that time, the alarm and the fright of imperialism are glaringly evident. That was also the fundamental reason that made the PPP a formidable mass force and a tradition that is still present today, albeit in the throes of dismay.

To disarm and defuse the revolutionary upsurge, initially the ruling classes and their imperialist masters tried to divert the movement into the electoral plane. However, the elections of 1970 toppled the traditional capitalist and feudal elites that dominated the electoral politics in Pakistan. The elite then embarked on a war and the breakup of Pakistan to quell the revolution. The pressure of the uprising and the fear of the revolution were such that the military had to pass power on to Bhutto at the end of 1971, who immediately initiated the most radical reforms in health, education, labour, land, and other sectors of the economy and society. However, the PPP came to power within the confines of bourgeois state apparatus the masses had heroically struggled to overthrow. The old state remained intact and began to revive its despotic role. The entry of the bourgeois politicians into the fluid party structures further diluted the proletarian revolutionary content of the party.

Pakistani capitalism did not have any capacity for sustainable reforms. Its burgeoning crisis exploded in hyperinflation, leading to destabilising the PPP government and, ultimately, its demise. But the real reason for the revolution being derailed was the lack of ideological, political and organisational preparedness of the party. In April 1979 when Mrs Nusrat Bhutto went to meet Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in his death cell, the latter complained about the lack of a militant and assiduous campaign by the party for his release. Mrs Bhutto replied, “Zulfiqar, did you leave behind a Bolshevik party that would have fought and attained your release?”

The counter-revolution struck with a vengeance and the military coup of 1977 led by General Ziaul Haq and backed by US imperialism resulted in Bhutto’s assassination as the retribution of the elites who were bruised by his policies of reform, expropriation and nationalisation. Pakistan under Zia was transformed into a frightful society where relentless state repression and ruthless obscurantism crushed the masses. The private lives of citizens were monstrously intruded into by the state and religious vigilantes. Hypocrisy, deceit, selfishness, treachery and malice became social norms. Islamic fundamentalism was propped up by the state and supported by the US to crush the resistance against the dictatorship. It was this resistance by the masses and the PPP hardcore activists that gave a new lease of life to the party despite the ascendancy of the rightwing in its leadership. Devoid of a revolutionary alternative, the masses once again rallied around the PPP and put it back in power in 1988. But this time ideology was pushed to the back burner. Socialism and revolutionary policies were abandoned and the party embraced capitalism and endorsed imperialist policies.

Since the1980s, every successive PPP leadership and its government have drifted further and further to the right. These leaders have tried their utmost to be a part of the status quo and appease imperialism and the state. The policies of liberalisation, deregulation, restructuring, privatisation and other dictates of the IMF and imperialist institutions have pulverised the masses and aggravated the immense misery, poverty and deprivation in society. The absence of an alternative does not leave them with much choice. Socialism became a forbidden word among the PPP’s nominated leadership at all levels. The only real and effective opposition to the present capitalist leaders at the helm of the party will come from the forces that relate to and reinvigorate the socialist origins of the party.

The PPP’s present leadership takes its support base for granted. As a tradition, the PPP has prevailed upon the oppressed masses for four decades. But the real question is, for how long can the PPP prevail as a tradition of the oppressed classes? The alternative mass party cannot be created in a period of inertia. In ordinary times, the masses always opt for the seemingly easiest and the most readily available solution, but experience and huge historical events propel them onto the revolutionary path. Lenin in his epic work, Left Wing Communism — An Infantile Disorder says: “If you want to help the ‘masses’ and win the sympathy and support of the ‘masses’, you should not fear difficulties, or pinpricks, chicanery, insults and persecution from the ‘leaders’ (who, being opportunists and social-chauvinists, are in most cases directly or indirectly connected with the bourgeoisie and the police), but must absolutely work wherever the masses are to be found.” 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.

A renewed revolutionary upheaval is inevitable. History never repeats itself; it always repeats on a higher plane. There is a simmering revolt beneath the superficial distractions and reactionary events that are jostling society. That ferment will convulse the PPP in its initial phase. But that revolt with a genuine Marxist leadership will dislodge the implanted hierarchy and carve out a genuine revolutionary party to complete the socialist revolution that the PPP’s founding programme had envisaged.