The left reborn?

Published November 15, 2012

THE merger of three major left parties under the banner of the Awami Workers’ Party should be welcome not only to the much-scattered left political workers but also to all those who are interested in democratic pluralism.

The merger is clearly a victory of the sentiment shared by almost the entire left following in favour of ending their division into many, and inevitably weaker, factions. Their disunity was no small factor in restricting their outreach, and in undermining their credibility.

Despite the workers’ wishes, the leaders of the various left groups have had difficulties in forging organisational unity. Over the past couple of decades, quite a few attempts at getting the left groups together on a single platform did not bear fruit and the experiments that did succeed were extremely short-lived. The leaders of the new amalgamated party will be required to deal imaginatively and firmly with the factors that ruined their earlier unity initiatives.

The justification for the left’s desire to increase its role in public life lies partly in its past contribution to the growth of democratic and egalitarian ideas in Pakistan and partly in the country’s present need for a credible socio-politico-economic alternative.

Even if the testimony of Mr Hasan Zaheer, the author of the official version of the so-called Rawalpindi conspiracy, that within a few years of Independence the left was able to become a factor to be reckoned with, is discounted, the left’s role in refining people’s ideals of democracy and social justice can never be denied.

The growth of consensus on the people’s socio-economic rights, the imperatives of democratic federalism, the fullest possible respect for civil liberties and other human rights, and the need for an independent foreign policy are only some of the salient features of the left’s contribution to our people’s political thought. Its duty to protect these values that are under attack from more than one quarter is quite clear.

The circumstances in which the state of Pakistan finds itself today have created a fairly large space for the left to engage the people and guide them.

The country is dangerously poised in a contest between political parties that swear by democracy without perhaps a due comprehension of democratic politics, and certainly without the capacity to sustain people’s faith in a democratic dispensation, and the forces on the extreme right that tolerate the process of democratic election only as a tactical means to the establishment of an anti-democratic order under the veneer of theocracy.

A choice between an anaemic democratic camp and aggressive obscurantists is no worthwhile option. Whichever of the parties to this tussle comes out on top the people’s aspiration for a genuinely democratic order will not be realised.

The outcome could be measured only in terms of the setback to the cause of democracy and not in its favour. Besides, continuation of this confrontation between superficially democratic forces and sworn enemies of democratic governance is polluting the political discourse and preventing the people from concentrating on the root causes of their many-sided ordeal, from lawlessness and corruption to their continual impoverishment and derogation of their basic rights.

The left may not immediately be able to turn the tables on the marshals of the status quo but it can surely inject fresh ideas into the national discourse that will not only help the people make the correct choices but also have a positive impact on the thinking of the parties that are at the moment dominant.

Optimism on this count is backed by history. The left has traditionally made a difference to politics in Pakistan almost wholly on the strength of its ideas and rarely due to the numerical strength of its followers.

The speeches made at the new party’s founding convention on Sunday last contained many references to the resolve to move out of the geriatric ward by improving their appeal to young people and laying the foundation of a new Pakistan through socialism.

Neither of these objectives is likely to be realised without a new and radically unconventional effort to define the promise of socialism and to delineate the path towards its establishment in the face of the capitalist world’s sophisticated efforts to strengthen a neo-imperialist order under the façade of neo-liberalism.

The task will not be easy because the present-day socialist ideologues, especially in countries like Pakistan, have yet to prove their credentials for a clear and rational exposition of socialist principles and their application in a given national context. It may still be necessary to outgrow subservience to the older and more powerful parties in the international socialist councils and move towards a scientific application of the socialist principles to societies like Pakistan.

There can be no quarrel with the objectives adopted by the new party: the redress of the state’s hostile policy towards neighbouring countries; recognition of Pakistan’s multinational essence and the establishment of a genuine federal system based on the right of self-determination for all nations; break from the dictates of multinational capital and imperialism in all its forms; and replace the existing and oppressive state institutions with those that provide for basic needs and are fundamentally democratic in their functioning.

One should like to hope that it will be possible to spell out the party’s programme, and even the objectives, in a language the people can easily follow, driven as they are by a desire for guarantees of security of life and liberty and for relief from the grinding mills of abject poverty.

There is no limit to making mottos and manifestos highly attractive, the real task is to realise the promises therein. Like all other political entities, the new left party will be judged by its performance and not by its credo alone.

Tailpiece: An official ad on Malala Day contained some lines from Iqbal’s ‘Prayer’ that school students in the subcontinent have been singing for decades. The emphasis was on the light that learning brings to life. One is intrigued by the exclusion of two lines that idealised love of the poor and solidarity with the sick and the infirm. What good is knowledge and education if one does not learn to uphold these humanitarian values?


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