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March 13, 2020

The social democratic model

Opinion

March 13, 2020

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is clearly on a mission to revive the party in Punjab, and especially in Lahore. For the first time in recent times, he tried to reach out to representatives of different sections of society including lawyers, women and left-leaning political activists.

On the one hand, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is trying to reactivate the party organisation to regain lost ground in Punjab where the PPP was once a popular political force. On the other hand, he has been trying to clarify the ideological position of the PPP on different issues.

He did try to make one thing very clear: that the PPP is a social democratic party and stands for the ideals of social democracy and that he stands for a social democratic economic model.

Just the use of the term ‘social democracy’ or ‘social democratic economic model’ is not enough to clearly define a concrete economic programme without outlining the details. The party needs to come up with a clear position on the neoliberal economic model and the role of the state in managing and running the economy.

There are three main pillars of the social democratic economic model. One, the state plays a leading role in the running of the economy and in providing basic services and utilities. The state also plays an active role in the redistribution of wealth in society. The public sector plays an important role in the economy.

Two, highly regulated free market and capitalist enterprises within a capitalist framework. State control and regulations stop the capitalist class from amassing wealth beyond a certain limit to maintain a relatively fair society.

Three, high tax levels on rich individuals and big business to finance the project of a welfare state. The state spends massive resources on education, health, public housing, transport and social security. The state provides the basic needs, services and utilities to the most deprived and downtrodden sections of society.

The PPP needs to initiate discussions in the organisational structures at every level to bring clarity within its ranks and at different tiers of leadership on the concept of social democracy and a social democratic economic model.

The basic founding document of the party clearly states socialism as its economic policy. The main objective to form the PPP in 1967 according to the basic document was to create a classless society on socialist principles.

The party had a strong left current arguing for a socialist economic policy and manifesto. Senior party leader Sheikh Rashid known as Baba-e-Socialism was the leading left figure in the party. But the situation changed in the 1990s.

But since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the party hardly mentions socialism in its manifesto. The party moved to the right along the lines of the international social democratic movement. Social democracy embraced neoliberal economic ideas and policies in the 1980s. Neoliberalism is still the most dominating ideology of our times.

The British Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn is the only social democratic party in Europe which embraced the ideas of democratic socialism.

But the Labour Party lost the recent elections even with a radical reformist programme. The failure of the Labour Party to win the general elections has raised many questions on radical manifestos and demands. It was a big setback to the left wing within the social democracy.

So it is not a straight forward process for a party like PPP to fully embrace the ideas of socialism without going through a phase of reform. The party can get an echo in different sections of society with a clear radical reformist programme to address the fundamental problems of the economy and the working people and the middle class.

The most important initiative by the PPP has been the seminar on ‘Current Economic Crisis and its Solutions’, which was presided by Bilawal Bhutto and in which leading Pakistani economists expressed their thoughts and ideas about the current crisis and its solutions. Leading economists Shahid Hafiz Kardar, Dr Kaiser Bengali, Dr Hafiz Pasha and Qaes Aslam shared their thoughts on the current economic crisis and its solutions.

Such dialogues, debates and interactions not only clarify the political and ideological positions of the party but also help formulate and develop solutions on different political, economic and social issues.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto spoke well on social democracy, democratic socialism and the current crisis. He also lamented the PTI government for implementing anti-people economic policies. He also spoke about the common person’s economic conditions as well as those of working and poor people. He said that “How can those (who are) unaware of the ground realities find solution to the prevailing economic problems here.”

The highlight of this seminar was the speech by Dr Kaiser Bengali, who not only defended the nationalisation policy of Z A Bhutto government in the 1970s but also outlined the social democratic economic policies and model in clear terms.

He rightly pointed out that industrialisation in Pakistan was initiated by the state in the 1950s and 60s. The Pakistan Industrial development Corporation (PIDC) set up the industries with public investment and then handed over the industries to the private sector.

He stressed the need to abandon neoliberal economic policies and bring back the role of the state in national development and the economy. He emphasised the need to increase the public investment in education, health and infrastructure development. He stressed to build a social democratic model for the economy.

Pakistan needs a new pro-people model of economy and policies which works for the masses. It needs a people’s charter of economy and democratisation of the economic structure. Pakistan also needs a national dialogue on economy involving all stakeholders. Without serious and meaningful reforms, we will continue to face a crisis-like situation most of the time.

The writer is a freelance journalist.