The PPP is preparing to commemorate its 55th Foundation Day on November 30. The PPP’s founding day provides an opportunity to the party to prepare a balance sheet of its current policies, political strategy, achievements and failures. It also provides an opportunity to look back to its glorious past, ideology and programme.
It is a day to discuss the main challenges faced by the people of Pakistan and to come up with clear solutions and the party needs some serious soul-searching on this day.
The PPP was formed on November 30, 1967 at the residence of Dr Mubashar Hassan in Lahore as the party of the people, the party of the oppressed. Within a short span of three years between 1967 and 1970, the PPP had become the second largest party in the country and the most popular party in West Pakistan (present-day Pakistan).The party succeeded in capturing the imagination of Left political activists, workers, peasants, students, professional layers of the middle class and intellectuals on the basis of its socialist economic programme and radical slogans.
The 55-year history of the PPP is a tale of struggles, sacrifices, triumphs, defeats, betrayals and commitment. The party has seen many highs and lows in the last 55 years. From the hanging of its founding chairman Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to the murder of its charismatic chairperson Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, the party has suffered a lot. Many party workers lost their lives in the struggle for democracy, rule of law, and social and economic justice. Thousands of party workers and leaders faced brutal repression and spent years in prisons and torture cells. But the party has so far survived against all odds.
The PPP is celebrating its founding day at a critical juncture. Pakistan is facing one of the most serious economic and social crises in its history. The country’s debts and liabilities stand at an historic high of Rs62.5 trillion. Pakistan now spends almost half of its revenues on debt repayments.
It is becoming increasingly painful and difficult to sustain such a high level of debts. Inflation is soaring at 26.6 per cent and has turned the lives of the working class and the poor into a living hell. Inequality and class divide has reached unsustainable levels, and poverty and unemployment is on the rise.
There are many questions the PPP leadership needs to answer in order to regain the confidence and support of the people and the glory that it has lost over the years. The party is facing serious questions on political, ideological and organizational fronts. It needs to overcome its current ideological confusion. It also needs a leftwing turn to win over the support of the struggling public. To do this, the party needs to adopt radical social democratic policies to overcome the current economic and social crises.
The PPP needs to come up with a new radical social democratic economic programme based on its basic founding principles and socialist ideas. The party needs to break with its current neoliberal agenda and pro-rich economic policies. Mere use of old radical slogans and rhetoric will not be enough to attract the new layers of liberal and progressive youth and workers.
The party needs to win over the middle-class youth and other young workers to regain its lost ground. It needs a new education and employment policy to attract young people. It has been obvious that the party lacks the political strategy and programme to win over young urban voters despite having a young leader.
The party needs a programme for the youth with clear solutions to their current problems of expensive education, lack of economic and employment opportunities. Without winning over the young people and new layers of the working class, the party will likely continue to struggle on this front. The party needs young blood to reorganize its structures and needs to formulate progressive and pro-people policies and agenda to revive its political fortunes.
The PPP also needs to embrace its radical past. It had abandoned its radical past to make it more acceptable for the ruling class and forces of the status quo. The results of that experiment showed that it caused more damage to the party. Now, the party needs to go back to its radical roots with a combination of ideologues, intellectuals, organizers, agitators and mass leaders that made the party popular in the past.
The PPP was formed 55 years ago as a populist socialist party. The party had adopted a clear socialist programme. The PPP’s founding documents of 1967 were unambiguous about it: “Only socialism, which creates equal opportunities for all, protects [people] from exploitation, removes the barriers of class distinction, and is capable of establishing economic and social justice. Socialism is the highest expression of democracy and its logical fulfillment”.
The party had declared in the founding document that establishing a classless society was its main objective and it promised to transform society on socialist lines. The party had decided to adopt the path of a democratic struggle as a means to bring change instead of following the revolutionary path to overthrow the capitalist and feudal order through a mass revolutionary movement.
Chairman Z A Bhutto had become the popular face of the party. As a charismatic leader and an exceptional orator, he popularized the ideas of equality, democracy, constitutionalism, social and economic justice and socialism. His radical and populist left-wing rhetoric and people-centric agenda had captured the imagination of the people.
The party leadership needs to realize that the PPP was formed to wage the struggle against the status quo; the current rightwing politics and policies are causing damage to the party.
The party needs to go back to its basic ideas and principles. The slogans of ‘Roti, Kapra and Makaan still resonate with people. Democracy is our politics. Socialism is our economy. ‘Islam is our religion’ and ‘power lies with people. This is all still very relevant.
The writer is a freelance journalist.
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