Fw (Links): THE LEFT IN PAKISTAN: A BRIEF HISTORY
abradley1 at bigpond.com
Mon Sep 24 06:21:06 MDT 2001
The following article appeared in issue number 13 of Links (September to
THE LEFT IN PAKISTAN: A BRIEF HISTORY
by Farooq Sulehria
(Farooq Sulehria is a member of the Executive Committee of the Labour Party
Pakistan and of the Editorial Board of Links.)
The left movement in Pakistan traces its origins to the Indian communist
movement. The Indian communist movement in turn drew its inspiration from
Russian revolutions of 1905 and October 1917. Lenin himself paid
considerable attention to India, and, long before him, Karl Marx showed a
great interest in what he called "an interesting country" and a "good future
ally". He wrote quite a few articles on the Indian subcontinent, especially
during the 1857 war of independence, which ended in defeat. That defeat
strengthened and consolidated the imperialist base for a century, an era of
exploitation, plunder and repression.
However, exploitation and plunder, requiring an industrial base and an
infrastructure, also gave birth to a vast proletariat. Intensified
exploitation also generated resistance by the peasantry.
By the early 20th century, trade unions and strikes had started appearing,
while the biggest provinces, Punjab and Bengal, were in total revolt as the
peasantry rose up against imperialist Britain's exploitation.
Indian revolutionaries who went into exile had also established contact with
their European comrades. Through these contacts the Russian Revolution of
1905 showed a new way forward to Indian revolutionaries. In 1911 these
exiled revolutionaries formed the Kairti Kissan Party in the USA. Soon it
had established itself in the USA, Canada and Europe.
The Russian Revolution of October 1917 shook India as well. In 1920, the
Communist Party of India (CPI) was formed; its leader M.N. Roy participated
in the meetings of the Third International. In 1934, the CPI was banned
because of its rapidly spreading influence. Its popularity had scared
imperialism. The ban did not prevent the spread of communist ideas, however.
Communists still worked tirelessly under different umbrella organisations.
In the meantime, the Third International under the leadership of Stalin had
gone through a whole period of degeneration. From the "Third Period" to
popular fronts and from the non-aggression pact with Hitler to alliance with
the allies, the Comintern had taken many somersaults. A total degeneration
of the Soviet bureaucratic clique manifested itself in its bankrupt theory
of socialism in one country and two-stage theory of revolution.
The CPI blindly followed the Stalinist line, betraying both the Indian
proletariat and the revolution. When World War 11 began, the CPI opposed it
until Stalin inked an accord with the allies. The CPI refused to lead the
fight against British imperialism because (1) Stalin had become its ally;
and (2) according to its two-stage theory, India had yet to undergo the
bourgeois democratic revolution under the leadership of the bourgeoisie.
On the other hand, teeming millions of youth, revolutionaries and freedom
fighters were offering heroic sacrifice to rid their homeland of British
imperialism. From 1940 to 1945, 10,000 freedom fighters were martyred; tens
of thousands were sent behind bars and tons of thousands flogged. But for
the CPI, these freedom fighters were "fifth columnists".
1946 proved the year of revolution. The subcontinent was in total revolt.
Mass uprisings, strikes and a mood of revolt marked the beginning of the
year. The proletariat was leading the revolt. On February 10, navy sailors
went on strike. To show their solidarity with the sailors, the workers of
the Royal Air Force went on strike. On March 1, sepoys [Indian soldiers
employed by the British] revolted in Jalapur. On March 18, in Dera Doon,
Gorka sepoys revolted. Karachi, Bombay, Madras and many other cities were in
the grip of a general strike. On April 3, following the Delhi police, the
police in the entire province of Bihar revolted. In May, 100,000 employees
of Railways and Post struck. On May 23, 400,000 industrial workers joined
During this wave of strikes, the CPI played the role of strikebreaker. Not
drawing any lesson from the defeated revolutions of China (1925-27) and
Spain (1934-37), the CPI remained blindly committed to the Stalinist line of
two-stage theory in the hope of a bourgeois democratic revolution which
never came. This ideological blunder, coupled with a shameful alliance with
British imperialism, alienated the CPI from the working class; they were
going in opposite directions.
This state of affairs benefited Congress and the Muslim League. Because they
led the revolt, a movement that could have ended imperialism as well as
capitalism and feudalism proved only a movement of national independence.
The millions paid a heavy price for the CPI's blunders. Not only was a
chance of class liberation missed, but the Indian subcontinent was also
plunged into bloodshed. Huge riots and migrations left behind indelible
stains of blood. In 1947, the British left India. The CPI supported the
partition and ordered its Muslim cadres to migrate to Pakistan.
Communist Party of Pakistan
The Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) inherited not only cadre from the CPI
but also its ideological legacy - i.e., the two-stage theory of revolution.
Following their theory, they joined Muslim League. In the Muslim League,
they supported the bourgeoisie against the feudal lords. But the Muslim
League was and always had been a party of Muslim feudalists. These feudals
soon managed to rid their party of the "infiltrators". These purges drove
the CPP to another extreme. Instead of organising the working class for a
revolution, it sought a shortcut - a coup.
Here too the CPP depended on a liberal section of the bourgeoisie, in the
persons of General Akbar and his mother-in-law, Begum Shahnawaz. They
discussed a coup plan with the general. This coup attempt, known as the
Rawalpindi conspiracy case, was only a discussion: it was unearthed in 1951,
before it was executed. The government banned the CPP, along with its
student and trade union wings. At the time of banning, the party had a
membership of 200.
Following the ban, CPP members formed the Azad Pakistan Party (Independent
Pakistan Party). This party was led by a radical nationalist, Mian
Iftikhar-ud-Din. In 1957, the Azad Pakistan Party merged with some other
so-called liberal progressive groups to form the National Awami Party (NAP -
National People's Party). NAP had a reformist program instead of a
revolutionary one. Anti-imperialism, secularism, regional autonomy and
industrialisation were features of its program.
After the merger, the Communists dissolved their independent identity and
did not organise any class movement independently. In 1958, as the
capitalist crisis worsened, the workers took to the streets. A working-class
movement had begun across Pakistan. It also affected the peasantry. In the
same year, NAP leader Maulana Bhashani (who belonged to the then East
Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh) formed an All Pakistan Peasants
Association (Kull Pakistan Kissan Association). A working-class movement
began in Lahore that gripped the whole country. To crush this movement,
General Ayub imposed martial law on October 26, 1958.
>From 1956 onwards, the Sino-Sovict bureaucratic conflict became grave. This
conflict was a setback to the international working-class movement,
disillusioning a mass of conscious working-class fighters and dividing the
Despite its bureaucratic deformations, the Chinese Revolution of 1949,
because of its success in ending feudalism and capitalism, had a great
attraction for the colonial world. The Chinese Revolution proved contagious
for Pakistan, which has a common border with China. Maoism attracted a big
chunk of the working class, youth and intelligentsia, especially students.
One big reason for a tilt towards Maoism was an aversion for Stalinism's
impotent theory of two stages, which was stopping the Pakistani left from
striking for revolution at a time when revolution was a battle cry. But the
Chinese bureaucracy was not a different phenomenon than the Russian. It also
had its own priorities and ideological deformations.
Events exposed the real character of the Chinese bureaucracy. It gave
support to military dictator General (later self-appointed Field Marshal)
Ayub Khan. In 1965, Chou En-lai congratulated Ayub Khan on his success in a
sham poll. The so-called election was not even based on adult franchise, but
on "basic democracy": a few thousand so-called elected representatives of
local bodies had to elect the president. Ne Chu, the head of a visiting
Chinese trade delegation, also termed military dictator Ayub Khan a
representative of the people.
When a war broke out between India and Pakistan in the same year, it was
called a people's war by the Chinese bureaucracy, which gave full support to
Ayub Khan's dictatorship and Pakistani chauvinism. When Marshal of the
People's Army Chun Lee visited Pakistan after the war, he made a mockery of
communist democracy, terming Ayub Khan's system of "basic democracy" akin to
the commune system.
Pakistani Maoists started supporting Ayub Khan. They also declared Ayub
Khan's foreign policy progressive, utterly forgetting the Marxist point of
view that foreign policy is merely a continuation of internal policy. The
ruling classes adopt certain foreign policies, and for that matter internal
policies, in order to safeguard and prolong their rule.
Later, Marshal Lee also called India an "aggressor", not bothering to
elaborate whether this referred to the Indian ruling class or the Indian
In 1967, a Chinese trade delegation visited Pakistan. The statement by the
head of the delegation said: "Led by General Ayub Khan, Pakistan has made a
great development in the fields of agriculture as well as industry. The day
is not far when Pakistan will achieve total economic independence."
(Pakistan Times, 29-10-1996). The policies of class collaboration that the
Chinese bureaucracy had adopted were nakedly manifested in Pakistan during
The Soviet bureaucracy was not playing a radical role either. It was
supporting the Indian bourgeois. The line for the pro-Moscow left during
this period can be gauged from an extract from a monthly party organ,
Outlook. In April 1964 it wrote: "Our newly emerging bourgeois will come in
conflict with the international bourgeois. Driven by economic compulsions,
Habib Ullahs, Sehgals and Walikas will have to turn to socialist bloc for
trade. This process will end western monopoly on our economics. This is
where we are heading for. And I will be the biggest mad if I oppose General
Ayub for this door opening towards left."
To another question, the same issue suggested that, were the masses
conscious, the "basic democracies" could become training institutions for
The pro-Moscow left dissolved into so-called liberal, progressive bourgeois
parties. The left itself remained divided into pro-Moscow and pro-Beijing.
The former would support one section of the bourgeoisie, terming it
progressive, while the latter would support the other section of the
bourgeoisie, terming that progressive.
The left during this period failed to see the unprecedented economic growth
internationally. The post-World War II boom also affected Pakistan. A
process of significant industrialisation had begun for the first time,
giving birth to capitalism's gravedigger, the proletariat, in a big way. The
left during this period, instead of organising and associating itself with
the new layer of the proletariat, was hunting for progressives among the
bourgeoisie to whom it could lend support. Its flirtation with the working
class was confined only to sloganeering. This was why, when a revolutionary
movement, the first of its kind, began in 1968-69 and explosive
revolutionary events swept away the military dictatorship which had made
dictator Ayub the richest president of the poorest country, the left was
Revolutionary movement of 1968-69
During this movement, which went on for few months, two parallel powers were
in operation. On one hand, workers and peasants controlled the country. On
the other hand, due to the absence of proletarian leadership, the
bourgeoisie was in control of the state apparatus.
The movement had begun as a protest against a hike in the price of sugar.
The students joined this protest. A student of Rawalpindi Polytechnic
College, Abdul Hameed, was shot dead in a protest demonstration.
This spark ignited the whole society. Now the proletariat joined the
movement. The workers were taking over the mills and factories, the
peasantry had risen up, and strike committees appeared, controlling the
cities. In the industrial district of Faisalabad, the district
administration had to seek the permission of local labour leader Mukhtar
Rana for the supply of goods through trucks. All censorship had failed.
Trains were carrying the revolutionary message across the country. Workers
invented new methods of communication.
It was a new phenomenon. But it had not come from the heavens.
Industrialisation, and exploitation and oppression widening the gulf between
rich and poor, brought about this change. In the 1960s, the ruling classes
had intensified their plunder. For example, in 1965, according to the
Delhi-based weekly Links, dictator Ayub's family assets were estimated at
Rs250 million, not including the wealth transferred abroad into foreign
banks. Similarly, 66 per cent of industrial capital, 80 per cent of banking,
and 97 per cent of insurance business was owned by 22 families. In contrast,
the average monthly income of a working-class family was Rs780 (US$16 at
In 1967, railway workers were the first to take action, going on strike. The
official union had opposed the industrial action. The unofficial union,
controlled by Communists, also opposed it because they were supporting
"anti-imperialist" Ayub Khan. Nevertheless, the railway workers formed
workers' committees and began their own action.
The government resorted to all kinds of repression, but it had to grant some
of the demands before, the strike was called off. The working class,
peasantry and students all were in total revolt. But the left, still caught
up in its two-stage theory, was dreaming of bourgeois democratic revolution
led by progressive bourgeois.
Professor Muzafar Ahmad, a Communist leader of the National Awami Party,
explained this position at the time in Outlook. He said that when he talked
of favourable objective conditions, he did not mean objective conditions for
socialism but for bourgeois democracy. Consciousness in Pakistan was in no
way socialist, therefore revolution must pass through stages, he added. We
definitely need a revolutionary party, but in the next stage, he concluded.
Formation of Pakistan People's Party
The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) was formed on September 1, 1967. Its
program was radical socialist; a Communist leader, J.A. Rahim, had written
its basic manifesto. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (the father of Benazir Bhutto)
appeared in the political arena as a challenge to the Ayub dictatorship. The
Communists (both pro-Moscow Stalinists and Maoists) were supporting the Ayub
dictatorship, while Bhutto was representing the nnasses' feeling.
Bhutto, himself a feudal lord from Sindh, had been foreign minister in
Ayub's cabinet. An intelligent bourgeois politician, he raised the slogan of
socialism and joined hands with some leftists to form the PPP. When the Ayub
dictatorship started targeting Bhutto, he became a symbol of resistance,
strengthening his popularity and his grip on the party.
In fact, the PPP's popularity was a sequel to the 1968-69 revolutionary
movement. Even prior to 1970's first ever general election on an adult
franchise basis, the masses had joined this party because of its socialist
program. The labour leaders who became strong because of the 1968 movement
joined this party.
It was no accident that the PPP became a mass party. In the colonial world,
only parties with a socialist program become popular. This reflects the need
for a socialist change. But the Pakistani left as usual failed to understand
the unfolding events. They found a radical bourgeois in Bhutto and started
supporting him. Instead of organising and launching class struggle, the left
developed the working class's illusions in Bhutto and the PPP. They
reconciled with feudals and capitalists in the PPP, and even presented them
as leaders. Hence the PPP became a working-class party with feudal leaders
who used socialist sloganeering.
Instead of organising the PPP on a radical socialist program, it was
organised on a bourgeois democratic basis, which led to a right-wing turn by
the party. It was again their ideology that stopped the left organising the
PPP on a revolutionary basis. The left was just working in line with the
foreign policy of Moscow and Beijing.
When the PPP came to power in 197Z, many Communists joined the government,
but the PPP could not bring any fundamental change despite some radical
reforms. This disillusioned the working class. The proletariat took to the
streets during the period May-September 1972. The movement was especially
strong in Karachi. The government decided to crush the movement. A
demonstration of workers was fired on in Gandhi, Karachi, leaving dozens
dead. This angered the Communists who had joined the government, and some of
them resigned in protest. Perhaps they had forgotten that capitalist
governments, no matter how radical they may be at times, always repress the
Disillusioned by Bhutto and the PPP, the left went looking for more
progressive bourgeois figures, leaving the working class, having illusions
in the PPP, at the mercy of its feudal and capitalist leaders.
The left failed to offer any alternative during this period. Hence when the
disillusionment grew, it was right-wing religious fanatics and reactionary
forces that became an alternative to the PPP. In 1977, a movement began
against the government, spurred by economic conditions and US intervention.
The left did not understand the nature of the movement nor analyse the
nature of its leadership. The left termed it a movement of democratic
liberties and urged the working class to join it.
In a statement from Hyderabad jail on April 12, 1977, Miraj Mohammad Khan, a
leader of the pro-Beijing Qaumi Mahaz e Azadi party, and Sher Mohammad Marri
and Ata Ullah Mengal, two pro-Moscow Baluch nationalist leaders, said: "We
appeal to the workers, peasants, students, intellectuals and toiling masses
to join the ongoing people's movement which is a movement of democratic
liberties. We believe this movement will rid our motherland of the
dictatorship." They hoped to rid the "motherland" of "dictatorship" through
religious fundamentalists. Terming the Bhutto regime a dictatorship was not
correct either socially or politically.
The hope of democracy from religious fanatics backed by the USA was
irrational. Their illogical analysis and hopes were soon dashed when another
military dictatorship rid the "motherland" of Bhutto's "dictatorship". It
was the left that suffered most during this military regime, led by General
Zia Ul Haq.
Left in the 1980s
The 1980s were years of resistance against the dictatorship. The proletariat
offered heroic resistance and an unprecedented fight back. For the left it
was a decade of mergers and alliances.
Bhutto was hanged in 1979, showing that the bourgeoisie doesn't tolerate
even some reforms, and imperialism can go to any length to crush the
Bhutto's hanging once again popularised the PPP, and it became a symbol of
resistance against dictatorship. A united front, Movement for Restoration of
Democracy (MRD), was formed. The PPP right wing, liberals and the left all
joined hands on this platform. A united front against dictatorship is not a
wrong policy, but the left, instead of presenting a transitional program and
linking it with a socialist program, reduced itself to social democratic
By this time the Communist Party (pro-Moscow Stalinist), Workers Peasants
Party (MKP, a Maoist party) and Socialist Party (a Stalinist party) had some
good mass bases in different areas. But they did not use these bases to
launch an independent and organised struggle.
The national question during this period became even sharper because of
ruthless oppression by the regime in Sindh, North-West Frontier Province and
Baluchistan. But the left failed to take a Leninist stand on the national
question because that was not Moscow's line.
In 1986, Pakistan National Party, a faction of MKP, National Democratic
Party and Awami Tehrik (People's Movement), all four pro-Moscow groups,
merged to form Awami National Party (People's National Party). It was
another attempt at a class-collaborationist alliance with illusions in the
bourgeoisie; bourgeois nationalists were the main leaders of the new party.
Soon the Pakistan National Party dissociated itself from the merger,
followed by Awami Tehrik and the section of MKP. In 1987, QIP (National
Revolutionary Party---Qaumi Inqlabi Party) was formed again as a result of
mergers among different left and bourgeois nationalist parties, but after
one year it was disbanded. In 1988, Qaumi Mahaz-e-Azadi (National Liberation
Front), a Maoist party, and the Workers Party (a Stalinist party) merged to
form AJP (Awami Jomhori Party - People's Democratic Party), but barely a few
months had passed when, on the eve of an election, the merger was split. The
National Liberation Front, led by Morai Mohammad Khan, left the party. The
issue was whether AJP should support Benazir or Nawaz Sharif.
However, in 1986 a new element had entered the politics of the Pakistani
left. This was the Struggle Group, activists who called themselves
supporters of the monthly Mazdoor Jeddojuhd (Workers Struggle). The Struggle
Group, formed in 1980 in the Netherlands, was working within the PPP because
this was a period of fight back for democracy and the working class had many
illusions in the PPP.
In 1986, the group's main leadership returned from exile because there were
limited liberties available now under the military dictatorship.
The collapse of the Soviet Union shattered the Pakistani left. It almost
disappeared. On the other hand, the military regime ended following the
plane crash that killed military dictator General Zia, and elections were
held in 1988. Benazir Bhutto came to power, but she badly disillusioned the
Disillusionment with the PPP and the break-up of the USSR generated
hopelessness and desperation. The Stalinist left in Pakistan, as elsewhere
in the world, turned to social democracy. The early 1990s were a period of
counter-revolutionary consciousness in Pakistan, giving birth to the rise of
The Struggle Group, however, did not lose faith in socialism. It ended the
entrist policy in view of its analysis that the working class would leave
the PPP from now on and that an alternative should be built. To build this
alternative party, it launched a Jeddojuhd Inqlabi Tehrik (Struggle
Revolutionary Movement) in 1993 for the formation of a workers' party by the
trade union movement. In 1997, after some success, it formed the Labour
Party Pakistan. The Stalinist parties by now had shrunk to small groups.
For the sake of survival, the Communist Party and MKP merged in 1994 to form
CMKP (Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party). On June 3, 1999, another three
parties - AJP, Pakistan National Party and Socialist Party - merged to form
the National Workers Party (NWP). Both CMKP and NWP still believe in a
bourgeois democratic program, while NWP is turning more and more to the
right. Both are ageing parties with hardly any chance of growth.
At present the LPP, CMKP and NWP are the three main parties. Besides these
three, there are some left groups having little influence. None of the left
parties has a mass base. The left as a whole is hardly recognised as a force
at present. However, the LPP has achieved some success since its formation
in gaining a semi-mass base, especially in Sindh. There exists a big gap on
the left. The LPP is filling the gap. At present it has a membership of more
than 1500, but it is not yet a very consolidated membership.
Future downsizing, privatisation, poverty and ever increasing joblessness
will make workers take to the streets, and the left will get a chance to
organise these radicalised masses. But at the same time, fundamentalists may
appear as a big danger since they are at present more organised and strong.
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