Pakistan: Left parties unite to form Awami Workers Party; 21st century socialism in Pakistan?

By the Awami Workers Party

Islamabad, November 2, 2012 – Three leftist parties, Awami Party Pakistan, Labour Party Pakistan and Worker’s Party Pakistan, will formally merge into a new party called the Awami Workers Party on November 11 as a first step towards building an alternative to the status quo which has brought Pakistani state and society to the brink of collapse. This was stated by leaders of the three parties at a press conference held on Friday at the Islamabad Hotel.

Speaking to reporters, Workers Party leader Abid Hasan Minto said that the institutions of the state are fragmenting, and often completely at odds with one another. Democratic institutions remain weak and underdeveloped in comparison to the military establishment and civil bureaucracy. The increasingly untenable situation in Balochistan indicates a wider crisis of the federation, thus confirming that our ruling class has learnt little from the secession of east Pakistan in 1971. Finally, the state continues to maintain a confrontational and interventionist posture vis a vis neighbouring countries, which serves only to isolate Pakistan and exacerbate internal divisions.

Minto said that the divisions within Pakistan society are quickly becoming irreconcilable. Conflicts along class, ethnic, sectarian, gender and other lines seem to be getting more acute on a daily basis. Violence is commonplace and the cultures of tolerance and harmony that have persisted for thousands of years in the region are increasingly marginalised. Both imperialist powers and religious militants constitute a constant threat to life, livelihood and indigenous culture.

Finally, Minto pointed out that governmental performance is abject. The economy is afloat only on borrowed money and time, with the State Bank printing almost Rs1 trillion a year simply to meet foreign debt obligations. Delivery of basic services such as health, education, transport, housing and drinking water has effectively been handed over to profiteers with personal links to state functionaries. Justice remains a pipe dream.

Leader of the Awami Party Fanoos Gujjar said that the mainstream political parties that are supposed to both analyse the root causes of these various crises and then devise workable policies to redress them are neither able nor willing to do so. Indeed many of these parties still remain accomplices of the military establishment. Mainstream political discourse is little more than mumbo jumbo while the business of politics is to extend unequal and unjust patronage and power networks.

Gujjar continued that the establishment and complicit political elite sustain neocolonial state and retrogressive, feudal social structures within Pakistan under the guise of defending the "greater national interest". This oppressive structure of power has been further consolidated by capitalist globalisation and thus the impoverishment and division of Pakistan’s working people deepens.

Progressive and left political parties throughout Pakistan’s history have always striven to transform these obsolete structures and democratise state and society, while also struggling for democratisation of the imperialist world order. In return the left has had to contend with untold state repression and reaction from the rich and powerful at all levels of Pakistani society. Today, the state’s reactionary policies have become a Frankenstein that is increasingly impossible to control, class and gender oppression have deepened, while the denial of federalism has ensured the rise and strengthening of centrifugal tendencies.

Farooq Tariq of the Labour Party Pakistan said that all of Pakistan’s myriad crises today, both internal and external, can be addressed only by bringing together all progressive, anti-imperialist, anti-establishment, secular political forces so as to embark on a long-term struggle towards a socialist society, free from exploitation of all kinds. He said working people need a political party that not only serves up rhetoric of change but can also provide a workable political program to deliver change on the basis of the countervailing power of the Pakistani people.

The left and progressive forces have made many sacrifices for the establishment of democracy in Pakistan, Tariq said, but until this day the working masses of this country have not benefited from the fruits of genuine democracy. The Awami Workers Party is committed to the establishment of real democracy – political and economic – free from the influences of the military, imperialist powers and a self-serving elite in which all members of society can secure their fundamental freedoms and develop their creative potentialities.

Farooq Tariq concluded by asserting that the Awami Workers Party is not a party of landlords, capitalists, generals or mullahs, but the downtrodden and long-suffering mass of working people. He said that AWP’s politics may not be welcome to the ruling elite, but it is the only politics that can extricate state and society from the current quagmire because only by transcending the feudal and capitalist order and the shift to a socialist system will the crises of Pakistani state and society be resolved.

In closing the leaders of the new party summarised the AWP party program:

  • Redressal of the state’s hostile policy towards neighbouring countries which has been used to justify the military establishment’s economic and political power.
  • 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.
  • Replace existing and oppressive state institutions with those that provide for basic needs and are fundamentally democratic in their functioning.
  • Immediate implementation of all existing land reform legislations and elimination of feudal social power in all its forms.

During questions and answers a firm stand against Kalabagh Dam was asserted, and it was pointed out that the party will run for elections but will also continue to build upon the historic traditions of the left in mobilising workers, peasants, students and women. This, the leaders of AWP said, is the only way to truly challenge the machinations of the establishment.

Pakistan: Awami Workers Party officially launched, leaders elected

By Nisar Shah, information secretary

November 12, 2012 -- The Awami Workers Party was launched yesterday at Awain Iqbal Lahore by holding its founding conference. Over 500 delegates and observers participated in a day-long proceeding of the conference.

The conference started by one-minute silence in memory of Iqbal Haider, who had died earlier on the day and also for Fanoos Gujjars’ wife, who died also on the day. Fanoos Gujjar left Lahore after hearing the news of the death of his wife, he was elected as chairman of Awami Workers party in his absence.

The conference elected a 57-member Federal Committee and later the Federal Committee elected the new office holders of the AWP. They are Abid Hasan Minto (president), Fanoos Gujjar (chairperson), Farooq Tariq (general secretary), Dr Hasan Nasir (senior vice-president), Baba Jan (vice-president), Javed Akhtar (deputy general secretary), Dr Farzana Bari (women secretary), Akhtar Hussain (secretary education), Nasir Mansoor (labour secretary), Younas Rahu (peasant secretary), Hamza Virk (youth secretary), Talib Hussain (finance secretary) and Nisar Shah (information secretary). They are elected for a period of six months and AWP first congress will be held after that.

The draft constitution of AWP was approved by the founding conference.

There was a very good mood of jubilation at the conference and lot of slogans were raised in favour the demands for the working class.

Left unites: To offer an alternative to status quo, new left party formed

By Waqas Naeem, Islamabad

November 3, 2012 -- Express Tribune -- The merger of three progressive parties has brought a new political alternative on the horizon for Pakistan’s masses. On November 2, 2012, three parties — the Awami Party Pakistan, the Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) and the Workers Party Pakistan — announced an impending merger to form the Awami Workers Party (AWP), which aims to turn the fortunes of the working class by challenging Pakistan’s political status quo, the establishment and the right wing, as well as the feudal and industrialist elites.

At the press conference announcing the merger, LPP leader Farooq Tariq said the founding conference of the AWP will be held on November 11 at Aiwan-e Iqbal in Lahore.

“A break from the diktats of multinational capitalism and imperialism in all its forms, replacing existing oppressive state institutions with fundamentally democratic ones and better relations with neighbouring countries are among the new party’s immediate objectives”, said Tariq. The party will also work towards establishing a genuine federal system and to end feudalism in Pakistan with fair land distribution.

Abid Hassan Minto, a Workers Party Pakistan leader and constitutional expert, said even though myriad questions are being asked about the performance of the Pakistani state today, there is no clear-cut state policy to tackle problems faced by the public.

“Exploitation, financial corruption, profiteering and land-grabbing are all part of the status quo,” he said. “People are searching for an alternative system.” Responding to a question about how this merger is different from ones in the past, Minto said there is no ready-made formula for the success of a political party, but experience is an important asset. He said debate and discussions are crucial towards political activity and the party will try to promote discourse in the society and improve on the past experiences of left-wing parties.

Minto said the Awami Workers Party will try to achieve an alternative system by mobilising the masses. “It’s not easy to change things, but these challenges can only be fought with public power”, Manto said. “People are the solution.”

Minto said they are presently more focused on forming the party and contesting the upcoming elections is not a high priority. However, the party will contest on a few seats.

“We will be contesting the elections from 40 to 50 constituencies, mostly in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa”, Fanoos Gujjar, central president of the Awami Party Pakistan, said. Gujjar said the Awami Workers Party plans to name female candidates in constituencies which have historically been won by feudal lords. “Although our objectives might sound similar to other political parties, the difference is that our leadership is from among the masses, not from among the feudals or capitalists, and we want to empower the common people.”

Farooq Tariq, leader of LPP, said that in their individual capacities, the three parties have recently worked with the Okara peasants’ movement and the Faisalabad loom workers’ movement, and the AWP will continue in the same vein to support trade unions, peasant movements, minority rights and women rights.

He said the AWP will support the National Students Federation (NSF), which has upheld the left-wing tradition among students in Pakistan, and also work with students to combat religious fanaticism among the younger generation. Rafiq Malik, a party worker, said the AWP will also have its own youth wing.

Responding to a question, Minto said the AWP will support the creation of new provinces and the right to self-determination for all ethnicities.

The press conference was attended by party workers and members of civil society, some of who seemed quite upbeat about the new development.

“The creation of this party is a welcome change”, said Samina Nazir, executive director of the Potohar Organisation for Development Advocacy. “People who think and want to vote in the elections don’t have any alternatives to mainstream political parties. This party might just be that alternative”, she said.

21st century socialism in Pakistan?

November 1, 2012 -- Economic & Political Weekly (India) -- 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. Aasim Sajjad Akhtar is a member of the Workers Party Pakistan and a well-known academician.

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 November 11, 2012, 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, Trotskyists, Maoists, etc). It is also among 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 among successive generations of young people. When dictator General 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 Pakistan 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 program.

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 November 11. 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 neoliberal 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 Pakistan 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.