By Aima Mansoor
17 Oct 2014
The past inevitably casts a shadow on the present. Many people have speculated on PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s recent apology to party workers and have wondered what prompted that inexplicable statement. It is important, then, to give some context to the PPP’s sudden show of remorse.
A few thousand of Pakistan’s remaining progressive Left-wing activists met in Islamabad on September 28 for the first congress of the Awami Workers Party. This congress was originally to be held early in 2013 after the Labour Party Pakistan, the Awami Party Pakistan and Workers Party Pakistan merged late in 2012.
The founding conference back then rang with high hopes for the Pakistani Left and its commitment to set aside differences that had effectively disabled it in mainstream politics. In a conversation with me before the congress, Farooq Tariq jokingly referred to AWP’s founding conference as an arranged marriage. “We knew each other, were aware of each party’s political history but had never worked together.”
Working together has not been easy. Though the party had been calling for implementation of electoral reforms sought by the Supreme Court in its June 8, 2012 judgement, its leadership was unsure about its policy on the general elections in 2013. As a result of hasty campaigning and random ticket distribution, the party bagged a tiny percentage of the national share. The party could not and did not entertain delusions about its electoral chances. But the election experience should serve as a lesson on where the party needs to focus if it aims to make an entry to Pakistan’s parliament through popular politics.
With its first congress, the AWP seems to be coming to terms with the two core challenges all new parties face – building a movement and building a party. Which is why Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s statement should be of importance to the AWP? The PPP chairman welcomed leftist parties joining the political process and added that disgruntled PPP loyalists ought to look towards the AWP and the radical Left if they could not bring themselves to support the PPP any longer.
That the Awami Worker Party needs a mass base is an indisputable fact. The idea that disgruntled elements within the PPP should be reached out to is a viable proposal. In a Jiyala, the AWP would find a natural political worker, one who can be trained through a more coherent politics than mere Bhutto-ism.
There are those within the AWP who rightfully fear that the party would have no credibility if it embraced the politics of the PPP, which they see as a repulsive manifestation of dynastic politics they oppose.
But Jiyalas have a right to be cynical about socialism too. The PPP may have betrayed the Left by exploiting the ideology of emancipation, but its workers were the real victims.
It is no secret that revolutionary socialist ideology has become such a benign, toothless force in Pakistan that its slogans, imagery and general legacy can be tapped into by just about any mainstream leader – for just about any reason. Be it Bilawal graciously apologizing to his party workers, Shahbaz Sharif looking for poems of defiance, or even (heaven have mercy) Tahir ul Qadri declaring himself to have surpassed Marx, Engels and Lenin. Nothing could be a more damning indicator of the political bankruptcy of the Pakistani Left than the fact that the ruling-classes of the country, far from fearing socialist rhetoric, tap into its imagery as a matter of routine politics.
Is it, then, so difficult to imagine political gains by reaching out to a worker who is excited about emancipatory politics? Surely one can concede that for resurrecting the Pakistani Left through popular politics, a disillusioned PPP worker is an ideal ally, as opposed to engaging the petty bourgeois support base of the PTI. That conversation would be as useful as talking to a watermelon.
Former alliances in the Pakistani Left of the 1980s should be of note to the PPP as well. Many of AWP’s predecessors have shared prison cells with PPP workers. With a new federal committee, the AWP is eager to engage in new debates. The party currently has 5,623 members and aims to double them in the next two years. It wants to promote the very best of Leftist traditions through party unity, solidarity and a common struggle. Divided they fell. One hopes they can rise together.
Aima Mansoor is a journalist