Comrade Bakhsh Thalho, president of the left-wing Awami Workers Party Sindh and a progressive writer, discusses the revival of left-wing politics, issues faced by the country and the global situation.
The News on Sunday (TNS): How do you see the concerns and state of left-wing politics in Sindh?
Bakhsh Thalho (BT): I believe that that situation of left-wing politics is improving, not only in Sindh but also globally. The Left had become weaker everywhere after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The national liberation, labour and democratic movements had grown week as well, but now the Left is getting stronger. We have seen signs of this in the expression of public anger against the occupation of coastal islands and Bahria Town and sensitivity to fake domicile and refugee resettlement in Sindh.
Let me first define what I mean by the Left. There is a perception among some people that it consists of socialists and communists. I, however, use the term ‘left’ in opposition to right-wing politics.
In simple terms, the right-wing comprises feudal lords, who kill and oppress; the Arab hunters, who destroy the environment; and the other enemies of the people. Those resisting the right wing are leftists. In my book, all friends of the people, nationalists, democrats, trade unionists, journalists, writers and lawyers questioning the status quo are leftists.
The way the public reacted to the recent assassination of Nazim Jokhio is clearly not right-wing.
Nazim Jokhio was martyred for trying to save birds, which is essentially an environmental protection issue. Baba Jan was jailed for ten years for similarly raising environmental issues in Gilgit-Baltistan. The leftists support the oppressed people and are raising their voices. I see a revival of the Left in Sindh and at the international level.
TNS: How difficult was it for the Left to pursue post-Soviet politics? How optimistic was it to attempt its revival?
BT: A revolutionary person is always optimistic. As Gramsci would say, “pessimist by intellect and optimist by will.” This is the attitude of every revolutionary worker. Hope is in their nature. Their world survives on resistance and hope.
Immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was much despair and a lot of blinding dust. In those days, a reference to socialism was considered an insult. But then there were young people like Asim Akhund who came back after studying abroad and started trying to revive ideological politics.
Nationalist and democratic politics in Sindh could not be strengthened without ideology. So, study circles were started and some progressive magazines began publishing. We started Adarsh, a magazine that promoting socialism in Sindh. Later, it was renamed Samajwad.
First, there were only small pockets of Left. The Labour Party was formed. Then a merger led to the formation of the Awami Workers Party. More groups are being formed today and new mergers are taking place. This is a welcome thing. It is hard work by socialist, communist and nationalist activists who have had nothing but a vision to sustain them.
The objective conditions were very difficult for left-wing politics after the fall of the Soviet Union. The resources were lacking, the society was not supportive, the path of peaceful politics was very narrow. On the other hand, extremism was increasing. The Taliban was emerging. Nevertheless, the left wing began to organise and its presence went from strength to strength.
The Left has always prevailed on the ideological front. There was a time when large dams, coal plants and construction of cities on islands were considered development. It is the resistance and ideological discourse of the people of Sindh that has given the state pause.
TNS: How do you see the Left alliances in Sindh? What is needed for such politics?
BT: There are alliances like the PDM that bring together the ruling parties, and then there are alliances like the Sindh Progressive Committee, the Sindh Action Committee and the Sindh Indigenous Rights Alliance that represent the people.
The Sindh Action Committee has been active on Sindh’s political issues. The left wing is a part of this alliance. The Sindh Progressive Committee, on the other hand, is different in that it is a left-wing alliance formed on ideological and organisational grounds. The SPC’s values include anti-feudalism, anti-imperialism, upholding the right of all nations to self-determination and secularism. Any political organisation following these principles can be a part of this alliance. Currently, the coalition consists of five organisations: Awami Workers Party, Communist Party of Pakistan, Jeay Sindh Mahaz, Awami Jamhoori Party and PPP-Shaheed Bhutto.
The SPC has been organising resisting on various issues important to Sindh. It has also been promoting and explaining its principles by holding corner meetings in various cities. This alliance has created a cadre that is involved in the process of resistance in support of the oppressed.
The SPC has also been an inspiring alliance. Seeing this, there have been attempts to merge the left wing at the federal level. The Sindh Indigenous Rights Alliance has been fighting against the tyranny of Bahria Town for seven years. It organised the APC against Bahria Town in which more than 50 political parties participated and rejected Bahria Town. It was for the first time in Sindh that so many political parties participated in an APC.
Coalitions like these are desperately needed because when we agree on an issue, our political power grows.
TNS: How important are labour and farmers’ movements?
BT: If we look closely, the peasant movements are over. The rulers have stuck to the Tenancy Act. Now the farmers are getting organised on the question of river water. Farmers’ committees are being formed and will probably lead to farmers’ alliances. The formal sector has also weakened. Only 5 percent of the workers in Pakistan are unionised. Most of the workers work the informal sector. So, there is the question of organising these workers. We have seen that when they come together, they put up great resistance and get results.
Different fronts of students, workers and women are resisting oppression. The workers’ resistance is increasing. In a revolution, all these come together. Public politics unifies them. On the other hand, new forums are being formed and awareness is increasing. The politics of the oppressed is getting revived.
TNS: Inflation is rising in the country. The people are suffering on account of privatisation and unemployment. What are the major reasons for this?
BT: The inflation will continue to rise for some time. The country is in debt, and that is the rulers’ doing.
This is what happens in a neoliberal system: the economy and the country’s people become slaves. Today bank executives are running the national economy. The economic policies do not include land reforms that have been declared haraam by the Federal Shariat Court. The Awami Workers Party has been contesting the decision in the Supreme Court. The bourgeois parties appear to fighting one another, but behind the scenes, they are united against land reforms. More than 85 per cent of the farmers in Sindh are landless, but the rulers are not ready to carry out land reforms.
On the other hand, there is a wave of privatisation. Education, health care and the energy sector are being privatised in the name of public-private partnership. As a result, people are deprived of basic amenities. Inflation and unemployment are rising sharply, but wages are not. The rulers have failed to enforce the minimum wage law. People are committing suicides. The only solution is to get rid of the debt-ridden economy. This can only be done by a political party that is not an agent of the imperialists.
TNS: The Covid-19 affected economies all over the world. How did capitalism come to grips with this?
BT: Capitalism thrive on such crises. It led to the World War II and made money by selling development plans. They say trillions of dollars have been spent in Afghanistan. The question is on whom was the money spent and who made money from it? Companies like Blackwater spend the money and reap more for their stakeholders.
This is anarchy. This is what Adam Smith called the hidden hands of the economy. Covid-19 badly affected the economies of the world. For the first time, China is worried. The biggest energy crisis is upon us. But the capitalist countries are still trying to secure their interests like they did in 2008. In Third World countries, the rulers have benefitted from Covid-19. When the virtual economy bubble explodes, it will change the course and procedures of global economy.
TNS: What will be the impact of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan on Pakistan? Who has benefitted from the Taliban takeover?
BT: Basically, it was decided in the Doha talks two years ago that the United States would withdraw completely from Afghanistan. The Taliban were the strongest force in Afghanistan once the US forces withdrew. They had eliminated other forces. So, they took over easily. The fact is that the US has been breathing life into the Taliban and the ISIS. It is clean-shaven liberals in the imperialist countries who have created religious extremism in the Third World.
The Taliban did not conquer Afghanistan, they have been allowed to take over. Now that the TTP has become stronger, the government of Pakistan is negotiating terms with them.
The interviewer is a freelance journalist. He tweets @RehmatTunio