’21st Century Socialism in Pakistan?’ by Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

All Power to Awami Workers Party in Pakistan
It is a great pleasure to know that three grass roots organizations working with workers, peasants and urban poor are coming together to form one party. Now, we can hope to have a voice to fight for economic equality and civil rights of the majority of the people; a force to stand, through peaceful means, against the violence perpetuated by extreme right, US-NATO alliance, regional chauvinists, profiteering economy, and patriarchal structures. Sounds like a wish list. Why not? uddari

Nice flag



21st Century Socialism in Pakistan?
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

Three Marxist political parties in Pakistan are coming together to merge into one party of the left. In retreat for many decades, this is an important fi rst step for the revival of left-wing politics in Pakistan and strengthening the democratic politics of the country.A participant in this unity move explains the context and the challenges for the new united party of the left in Pakistan.

It is rare for Pakistan to be in the news for something other than suicide bombs, Hindu and Jew-hating mullahs and a very peculiar (and vulnerable) type of postcolonial democracy. A plethora of institutions, classes, ethnic groups and prominent individuals animates narratives of Pakistani modernity, most notably the omnipresent military and those who would challenge the men in khaki, including ethno-nationalists like those presently leading an insurgency in Balochistan.

Conspicuous by its absence in almost all such accounts is the Pakistani left. Even informed observers of Pakistan might have little or no knowledge of leftist forces in the country, at least in the contemporary period. Students of history will know that the Pakistani ruling class visited a great deal of repression upon leftists during the cold war when the country was the frontline against the Soviet bloc. Despite having to operate in extremely dire circumstances, the Pakistani left exercised not insignificant influence on the polity, and society more generally, until the 1980s.

Since the end of the cold war, however, the little space that the left previously garnered has, more or less, frittered away. Of course this has been the fate of the left in many countries. With the exception of the experiments in “21st century socialism” being effected in Latin America, the left continues to suffer from a crisis of identity in the face of changes in the global political economy associated with neo-liberalism.

The retreat of the Pakistani left has arguably been more damning and sustained than most, even if one limits the comparative frame to south Asia. It is, for instance, an uncomfortable truth that a majority of the more than 100 million Pakistanis below the age of 25 do not even know that there is a political left in its country, or indeed even that there is a competing ideology to the left of the dominant intellectual mainstream. The common sense notions that do exist are carry-overs from the cold war inasmuch as the term “communist” in Pakistan still connotes an irreligious world view.

Lighting the Lamp

There are, however, glimmers of hope amidst the relative gloom. On 11 November, three existing parties of the left – Labour Party Pakistan, Awami Party P­akistan and Workers Party Pakistan – will come together to form a new party with the goal of building a viable alternative to mainstream parties. This merger reflects recognition within leftist circles, both of the growing contradictions ­within the prevailing structure of power and the need for unity and maturity so as to take advantage of these contradictions.

Unity is of course a favourite slogan of the left. The Leninist tradition has, alongside unity, also emphasised ideological purity which, in far too many cases, has translated into sectarianism of the worst kind and continuous organisational divisions. The present merger is, in this regard at least, a first in Pakistan insofar as the three parties represent different Marxist traditions which have historically been distinctly opposed to one another.

Indeed, the merger process was ­impelled by younger activists within these three parties, and some outside of them, that do not carry the baggage of cold war sectarian conflicts (read: Stalinists, Trotskyites, Maoists, etc). It is also amongst the more recent entrants to the left fray that there is a greater critical ref­lection about the failings of 20th ­century socialist experiments, and a willingness to think in dynamic terms about the s­ocialist project in the present century.

While there has been resistance from a segment of the older cadre, the imperative of unity, especially in the face of the inadequacies of the existing parties, appears to have won through. The most obvious manifestation of the left’s r­etreat over the past two decades is in the composition of existing formations: a majority of the left’s existing leadership and rank-and-file is the same as it was at the end of the cold war. In short, the left has, since the late 1980s, struggled to induct young people into its fold, or at the very least retain those who have joined the ranks. The latter failing is an indicator of the lack of dynamism in the left’s analysis and political work, as young people, otherwise attracted to leftist ideas, are quickly alienated by its actual practices on the ground.

Needless to say, without a solid core of young activists, there is little chance that the left can make a dent in the cynical and patronage-based political order that exists in Pakistan. The left has not even been able to retain meaningful influence within its historic strongholds of industrial workers, small and landless farmers, and, of course, students.

One of the more promising initiatives on the left in recent times has been the revival of the National Students Federation (NSF), which between the 1960s and early 1980s was the flag-bearer of left politics amongst successive generations of young people. When Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in the country in ­November 2007, a small but vocal protest movement took shape on university campuses (mostly in Punjab), and the impetus of this movement led, some months later, to the NSF’s reconstitution.

It is not by chance that the attempt to take back campuses from the right-wing organisations, and encourage left student activism more generally, has been followed by an initiative to merge existing parties of the left. If the present merger process is successful, the NSF will benefit greatly from institutional support that it currently lacks, while the new party will be able to focus on regenerating its creaking rank-and-file, and accordingly initiate the long process of establishing and deepening ­organic links between the party and the working people.

Once the Euphoria Subsides

There should be no doubt that the pro­cess of rehabilitating the left will be long, and often painful. In other words the ­actual merger is only a baby step in the right direction. There is no doubt that the profile of the left will improve, and those sitting on the outside looking in will no longer have an excuse to ­remain aloof from party politics on ­account of the left’s internal bickering. Only time will tell, however, if the new formation can bring together Pakistan’s long-­suffering working people and ­oppressed nations.

Notwithstanding the obsession of the world’s news media with the supposedly existential threat posed to Pakistan by the religious right, the left’s arguably biggest immediate challenge will be to bridge the growing ethnic divide in the country. The Pakistani ruling classes’ visceral mistrust of the democratic process and their undying commitment to a unitary nationalist ideology emphasising Islam and Urdu directly resulted in the secession of the eastern wing in 1971, and the deepening of conflicts within and across existing provincial boundaries since then.

The left has had to contend with the regionalisation of politics across south Asia and much of the world, so the challenge facing Pakistani leftists is not necessarily unique. Nevertheless, given the distinct rise of parochial trends in recent times, projecting a sensitive and nuanced politics of class that foregrounds Pakistan’s multinational character is, in the contemporary climate, a truly revolutionary task.

There are, at present, highly contrasting imperatives of doing politics in different regions of the country. The new party will likely try, as the left has done throughout Pakistan’s history, to build alliances with ethno-nationalists who stand opposed to the Pakistani centre. But it will do so in a trying context – many ethno-nationalists, particularly in Sindh and Balochistan, now view the western powers, and the United States in particular, as the guarantor of their right to self-determination, a perspective that flies in the face of the anti-­imperialist foundations of a left programme.

Imperialism remains a major impediment to the long-term democratisation of state and society, and here it is important to consider not just the role of the US, but also the states of the Arabian Gulf and China, multinational capital, and the international financial institutions (IFIs). The new party must move beyond sloganeering and develop a substantial understanding of the complex and contradictory ways in which imperialist influence is exercised. Further, and of particular importance is to develop an understanding of the extent to which an emergent middle class addicted to the neo-liberal economy and globalised cultural forms is a friend or foe of the subordinate classes.

This is a particularly pertinent question in light of the increasing polarisation between segments of the left and liberals who are inclined to view western governments and intervention in Pakistan and the wider region as necessary, desirable even, in the struggle to clip the wings of the religious right. In short, the struggle for secularism is all too often seen as an end in itself, rather than linked to the left’s historic tasks of securing national liberation and class equality.

As in many postcolonial countries of Asia and Africa, in Pakistan too the fragmentation of progressive discourse and politics is explained in part by the rise of the non-governmental organisation (NGO). While there is merit to the argument that NGOs – donor funding more generally – have undermined radical political praxis, it is just as true that they have exposed some of the left’s major failings. NGOs in Pakistan have, for instance, proven to be a vehicle for women’s mobility, whereas the left, especially in its current incarnation, cannot claim to have made any meaningful contribution to the struggle against patriarchy. If nothing else, the new party must dedicate substantial time and effort to increasing the number of women activists among its ranks.

It is not just traditional failings that have to be redressed. Relatively taken-for-granted political positions and strategies must also be re-evaluated. The process of what around the world is t­oday termed “informalisation” calls for critical reflection on traditional subjects of Marxist praxis such as the industrial working class and the peasantry. N­otions of the “vanguard” and how to remake the left in a competitive democratic context – rather than viewing d­emocracy as a “stage” that will pass into the “dustbin of history” – have been taken on by the left in many countries.

These questions will also have to be confronted by the Pakistani left and the new party which will come into existence on 11 November. According to the original timeframe that has been discussed to date, and will in all likelihood be confirmed at the founding conference, the first six months will be dedicated to creating a single party organisation where there are currently three, addressing outstanding ideological and political questions, and inducting new members. A party congress will then be called – probably by the summer of 2012 – to take stock of progress made and chart the party’s priorities and strategies for a subsequent period of two years.

And Then There Was One

The reality is that this initiative will not mark a major turn in the fortunes either of the Pakistani left, or its long-suffering working people. The collective resources of the three parties involved in the merger do not amount to the critical mass required to definitively reverse decades of retrogression and the myriad effects of neo-liberal globalisation. As was mentioned at the outset, however, the new party will be operating in a context that is nevertheless inviting, insofar as dominant forces are as divided today as at any other point in Pakistan’s history.

The Pakistani state’s hegemonic project is today badly weakened. Even if renewed attempts to keep it afloat on the educational, religious, media and household terrains of civil society are made on an almost daily basis by a well-oiled critical mass of state functionaries and their lackeys in the media, educational institutions and so on, counter-hegemonic ­impulses are increasingly widespread. Balochistan is the obvious example, but just as important is the substantial conflict within the corridors of power itself.

The imbalance in the civil-military equation in favour of the latter is no longer so glaring, in part because it is not possible in the current climate to justify military intervention in politics like in the past. The superior judiciary has emerged as a new power centre, not necessarily to the unambiguous benefit of the ­democratic process, but nevertheless a shift away from its traditional role of being a junior partner to the military; the alliance of superior judiciary and military has indeed been the bane of democracy for most of the country’s 65 years.

The state’s hegemonic project has been structured around Punjab’s economic and political dominance (alongside the cultural pillars of Islam and Urdu). The left has long struggled for the establishment of a genuine federal system of government – a socialist one to boot – but now mainstream parties too have jumped on the federalism bandwagon. It goes without saying that none of these parties can be trusted to decisively undermine the unitary structure of power, but the very fact that the creation of a Siraiki province has become a mainstream issue speaks volumes about the rumblings within Pakistan’s extant power structure.

Of course the very fact that divisions within are becoming ever more apparent does not by any means guarantee a rupture. Just as likely, if not more so, is for identities such as religion (or sect) and ethnicity to harden and for oppressed social forces to become more bound to these identities than ever before. The left must also contend with the mundane everyday politics of patronage. In short, the left is tasked with both understanding what exists in the here and now and then fomenting meaningful and viable alternatives – in the realm of ideas and in actual political practice. There is no blueprint guaranteed to produce the desired result. But there is hope and expectation that this latest experiment with socialism in Pakistan will take us closer to where we want to go: a society in which the potentialities of all of humanity are allowed to develop freely. The choice today is as stark as it ever has been, that between socialism and barbarism.

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar (aasim@lums.edu.pk) is a member of the Workers Party Pakistan and a well-known academician.



‘A malevolent campaign by Govt of Punjab’ by Farooq Tariq

Today, most of the Newspapers in Punjab have printed a front page advertisement of the Health department of Government of Punjab. It showed a picture of an elderly women waiting to be treated and wrote, “Do you want to observe the oath of servicing the agonizing humanity or Trade Unionism”.

Trade unionism is been presented as an evil that is opposed to the humanity. This shows the absolute prejudice of the ruling class in Punjab against the workers’ rights and their means of organization. This is an effort of the Punjab government to break the young doctor’s strike. The Muslim League Nawaz has a record of anti workers measures during the last three years. Any union formed during this period has experienced some sort of victimization. The PMLN has not lifted the ban on labour inspection of the factories. The working class in Punjab has been treated with contempt. And now, the doctors are facing the same sort of treatment by an anti worker government that the trade unions are facing for a long time.

What are trade unions?
Trade unions are organizations that represent people at work. Their purpose is to protect and improve people’s pay and conditions of employment. They also campaign for laws and policies which will benefit working people.

Trade unions exist because an individual worker has very little power to influence decisions that are made about his or her job. By joining together with other workers, there is more chance of having a voice and influence.

All sorts of jobs and industries are covered by trade unions. Some unions represent people who do a particular job or work in a specific industry – for example, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), as its name suggests, represents journalists.

All over the world, there are trade unions of the doctors, here in this picture, doctors in Bahrain are protesting. (View downloadable Word file)

The International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions ratified by the Government of Pakistan confer the rights of freedom of association on the employers and workers. The workers and employers form and register their associations and trade unions in accordance with the law.

Labour Party Pakistan condemns this sort of malicious propaganda against the trade unions and is considering taking legal action against the Health Department for presenting trade unions image in negative terms.

The government is doing its best to break the solid strike of the doctors by recruiting new doctors. Labour Party Pakistan appeals to the newly recruited young doctors to join the strike after joining the department.

Please watch a trade union leader in Punjab telling the victimization of trade unions in Punjab during the last three years.

Farooq Tariq
Labour Party Pakistan
25 A Davis Road Lahore, Pakistan
Tel: 92 42 6315162

Shaheed Bhagat Singh Day in Lahore

Yesterday, at Shadman Chouck Lahore, the place where Bhagat Singh was hanged on 23 March 1931, several groups including Labour Party Pakistan organized a vigil. There were a good numbers of political activists present on the occasion. Lok Rahs organized a street theater on the spot. Later on the night, we were joined by our Indian friends, and drove straight from Islamabad to Shadman Chouck.

They included Ramesh Yadev, based in Amritsar and actively involved with folklore society; Shahid Siddiqui, a former member of parliament and editor of Nai Duniya, a leading Urdu daily; Jatin Desai, an activist-journalist, a national joint secretary of PIPFPD and a bureau member of South Asia Human Rights (SAHR); Mazher Hussain, from Hyderabad and executive director of COVA; Haris Kidwai, General Secretary of PIPFPD, Delhi chapter; Bharat Modi, from fishing community based in Porbandar (Gujarat); Kangkal Shanth Kumar Nikhil Kumar, a journalist based in Delhi; Mahesh Bhatt, a prominent Indian film director, producer and screenwriter; and, renowned South Asian intellectual Kuldip Nayar.

We demanded that the place should be named Bhagat Singh Chouck. On the occasion, Asid Hashmi, a leader of Pakistan Peoples Party and chairman of Auqaf Department announced that one of the main buildings in Lahore will be named Bhaght Singh building.

I spoke to Kiran Singh, son of the nephew of Bhagat Singh on telephone, and we exchanged greetings and a commitment to continue the struggle of Bhagat Singh for a Socialist Indian sub continent.

Bhagat Singh was one of the most prominent faces of Indian freedom struggle. He was a revolutionary ahead of his times. By Revolution he meant that the present order of things, which is based on manifest injustice, must change. Bhagat Singh studied the European revolutionary movement and was greatly attracted to socialism. He realized that the overthrow of British rule should be accompanied by the socialist reconstruction of Indian society and for this, political power must be seized by the workers.

Though portrayed as a ‘terrorist’ by the British Imperialism, Bhagat Singh was critical of the individual terrorism which was prevalent among the revolutionary youth of his time, and called for mass mobilization.

In February 1928, a committee from England, called Simon Commission visited India. The purpose of its visit was to decide how much freedom and responsibility could be given to the people of India. But there was no Indian on the committee. This angered Indians and they decided to boycott Simon Commission. While protesting against Simon Commission in Lahore, Lala Lajpat Rai, an Indian author, freedom fighter and politician who is chiefly remembered as a leader in the Indian fight for freedom from British Imperialism, was brutally Lathi-charged, and later he succumbed to injuries. Bhagat Singh was determined to avenge Lajpat Rai’s death by shooting the British official responsible for the killing, Deputy Inspector General Scott. He shot down Assistant Superintendent Saunders instead, mistaking him for Scott. Bhagat Singh had to flee from Lahore to escape death punishment.

Lala Lajpat Rai had established a TB hospital in Lahore in memory of his mother Ghulab Devi. The hospital is still one of the largest in Pakistan fighting TB.

On 8 April 1929, Singh and Dutt threw a bomb onto the corridors of the assembly and shouted “Inquilab Zindabad!” (“Long Live the Revolution!”). This was followed by a shower of leaflets stating that it takes a loud voice to make the deaf hear.

The bomb neither killed nor injured anyone; Singh and Dutt claimed that this was deliberate on their part, a claim substantiated both by British forensic investigators who found that the bomb was not powerful enough to cause injury, and by the fact that the bomb was throwaway from people. Singh and Dutt gave themselves up for arrest after the bomb. He and Dutt were sentenced to death by a court in Lahore. Bhagat Singh and his comrades went on hunger strike, which lasted for several weeks, against the conditions of the prison for prisoner rights.

Even Muhammad Ali Jinnah, one of the politicians present when the Central Legislative Assembly was bombed, made no secret of his sympathies for the Lahore prisoners – commenting on the hunger strike he said “the man who goes on hunger strike has a soul. He is moved by that soul, and he believes in the justice of his cause.” And talking of Singh’s actions said “however much you deplore them and however much you say they are misguided, it is the system, this damnable system of governance, which is resented by the people.”

On October 7, 1930, Bhagat Singh, Sukh Dev and Raj Guru were awarded death sentences by a special tribunal in Lahore. Despite great popular pressure and numerous appeals by political leaders of India, Bhagat Singh and his associates were hanged in the early hours of March 23, 1931.

Several popular Bollywood films have been made capturing the life and times of Bhagat Singh. Some of them are as follows:
Shaheed-e-Azad Bhagat Singh (1954)
Shaheed Bhagat Singh (1963)
Shaheed (1965)
The Legend of Bhagt Singh (2002)
23 March 1931 Shaheed (2002)
Rang De Basanti (2006)

Farooq Tariq
Spokesperson, Labour Party Pakistan
25 A Davis Road
Lahore, Pakistan
Tel: 92 42 6315162
Fax: 92 42 6271149
Mobile: 92 300 8411945