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Opinion

Khalid Bhatti
December 8, 2017

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PPP: the struggle within: Part - I

PPP: the struggle within: Part - I

There are many questions that 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 political, ideological and organisational crises. The main question is whether Bilawal and some of the party’s left-wing leaders will be able to turn around the PPP’s fortunes. Will Bilawal be able to play the role that his grandfather Z A Bhutto played when he was a young and charismatic leader? Mere use of old radical slogans and rhetoric will not be enough to attract the new layers of liberal and progressive youth and workers.
Bilawal Bhutto made a balanced, sober and passionate speech without mocking his opponents. But it will be wrong to compare Bilawal with his grandfather or even with his mother. Bhutto and his comrades were lucky enough to launch the party in the 1960s.
The 1960s and the 1970s were among the most radical eras of human history. Both the objective and subjective conditions were ripe for the creation of a radical left-wing and populist socialist party. The public were confident enough to take on the ruling classes. Trade union movements, student movements and peasant movements were strong. The working class was full of energy, courage and revolutionary zeal. However, these conditions did not exist when Bilawal partially took over the party. I will deal with this issue in the next article.
The PPP was formed 50 years ago as a populist socialist party. The party adopted a clear socialist programme. The PPP’s founding documents 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 fulfilment”.
The party declared that establishing a classless society was its main objective and promised to transform society on socialist lines. But it 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.
Bhutto’s efforts to highlight the irreconcilable class struggle made him the most cherished leader in Pakistan and transformed the PPP from a small group of a few hundred people to the largest party in the country almost overnight. It was the promise of a revolutionary change that gave hope and courage to the oppressed.
Z A Bhutto became the popular face of the party. As a charismatic leader and an exceptional orator, he popularised the ideas of equality, democracy, constitutionalism, social and economic justice and socialism. His radical and populist left-wing rhetoric and people-centric agenda captured the imagination of the toiling masses.
It was ideologues, indigenous intellectuals and young activists – like J A Rahim, Dr Mubashir Hassan, Hanif Ramay and Bhutto himself – that played a key role in formulating the ideas that went into the party’s programme. In fact, the idea to form a popular socialist party was the brainchild of J A Rahim, a former civil servant and Marxist ideologue, who wrote most of the documents and literature produced by the PPP. He convinced Bhutto – and subsequently other socialist leaders and intellectuals – to form such a party.
J A Rahim, Dr Mubashir Hassan, Sheikh Mohammad Rashid and other student, trade union and peasant activists were the main architects who set the foundations for the PPP across various cities, towns and villages of Pakistan. They used various Maoist and Leninist organisational methods in this regard. These activists set up numerous party offices, formed youth, peasant and labour groups and struck alliances with radical left-wing student and trade unions. A combination of ideologues, intellectuals, organisers, agitators and mass leaders eventually emerged as a force to reckon with over a short span of time.
The working classes launched a mass revolt that challenged the exploitative system and the Ayub dictatorship in 1968-69. The mass revolutionary movement of workers, students, peasants, middle class intellectuals and activists not only shocked the ruling classes and the state apparatus but also surprised many left-wing groups. The PPP intervened and took part in this mass movement. Contrary to the generally fabricated perceptions, the PPP was organised on the streets, factories, campuses and farmlands during the movement.
The slogans and radical programme of the PPP weren’t the only elements that earned the confidence and support of the radicalised masses. The PPP’s participation in the real struggle of the people also drew supporters towards the party. The emergence of the PPP as a force for the oppressed classes wasn’t just a result of its electoral victory in 1970 but the political by-product of a mass upsurge. The party gained widespread support because of its struggle and its radical programme of socialism. The PPP first emerged as a party that highlighted the class struggle and then as an electoral force in 1970.
The PPP was launched on November 30, 1967. By the time the 1970 election approached, three strands emerged from within the party. First, the socialists wanted to take a more radical line. Second, the centre-left wanted a softer tone and a reformist line. Third, the right-wing democrats, the upper middle class professionals and the feudal lords wanted to give a democratic face to the party so the ruling classes could become a part of it.
It was a time of intense ideological and political discussions and debates to formalise a strategy and a future course of action. The slogans of the party’s 1970 election manifesto reflected these strands. Bhutto tried to appease the different trends. Socialism is our economy. Democracy is our politics. Islam is our religion (faith) and all power rests with the people. These slogans were the reflection of that internal ideological struggle that was taking place at that time.
To be continued

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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