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Pakistan election: Vote Awami Workers' Party - and fight to make it a revolutionary workers' party

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On May 11 there will be a general election in Pakistan. The last government of the Pakistan People's Party, PPP, has been responsible for the continuation of the "war on terror", the imposition of IMF economic policies, widespread corruption and the rise of both internal and external debt.

In this situation, the working class faces enormous pressure from inflation, particularly the rising cost of petrol and basic commodities which make life miserable for millions. According to a recent UN report, Pakistan now lies 146th out of 186 countries on the Human Development Index. It is now equal to Bangladesh and only just ahead of Angola and Burma. It also has extremely low levels of investment in education and health; 1.8 percent of GDP on education and 0.8 percent on health. This is less than, for example, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The report concluded that 49% of the population are now living below the poverty line. On the other hand, the ruling class has benefited and enriched itself from the government's neoliberal policies and from corruption.

Over the last five years, the people have faced not only floods and other "natural" disasters but also military oppression and an increasing number of drone attacks on civilians. More than 4 million people have been forced into internal migration either by military operations or by man-made disasters. Military operations also continue in Baluchistan where the youth in particular are fighting for national self-determination and several thousands are "missing" or have been murdered by state agencies.

The Shia and Hazara communities have also been faced with murderous attacks in which many hundreds have been killed. The state is using these barbaric methods to create an atmosphere in which society is divided on the basis of ethnicity, religion and region.

Now, the whole ruling capitalist class is promoting the idea that these elections are a "big chance for the people of Pakistan" to make the country more progressive, more just, and to make life better for the ordinary people. They say that if the people make the "right choice" and vote "correctly", things will improve. They say that the elections themselves are a great success because this is the first time in the country's history that an elected government has completed its five-year term. They claim that, in the coming election, people will be able to determine their future and elect a new government. They argue that this is the way forward for the people because the "democratic process" is continuing without "interruption" from the establishment.

If we look at the real situation, however, it is clear that what this election is about is how the ruling class can continue with its neoliberal policies and the war on terror and yet make the government appear legitimate in the eyes of the working class and the poor. In reality, they offer nothing to the working class, the peasants and the youth in these elections. The elections are going ahead because the ruling class as a whole is facing a revolt from the great mass of the ordinary, working people. They also want to use the election to isolate the national liberation struggle in Baluchistan.

Many of the Liberals and the left portray the election as a struggle between the forces of the left and the progressives, on the one hand, and the right wing and terrorist forces on the other. They claim that the United National Movement, (Muttahida Quami Movement) MQM, the Awami National Party, ANP, and the PPP, represent the "progressive" forces because they face terrorist attack from the Taliban or other extreme reactionary Islamist forces. Similarly, they regard Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, PML-N and the Justice Party, PTI, of Imran Khan, as the political wing of the Taliban, because they present themselves as opponents of the war in order to maintain their mass support. As a result, the Taliban do not attack them.

Of course, there are real reactionary terrorist attacks, but the MQM, ANP and PPP themselves are very far from innocent, they have backed the war on terror for a whole decade. Clearly, this is a rather desperate attempt by these parties to present themselves as "defenders of democracy".

While we make it very clear that the method of terrorism is totally counter-productive in the fight against the ruling elite, we will give no support to parties that are responsible for war and murderous attacks on thousands, on the pretext that they are themselves innocent victims.

On the other hand, the PML-N and the PTI, present themselves as champions of "progress and development" and the struggle against corruption in Pakistan. The PML-N, the main opposition party nationally, has been the ruling party in Punjab, one of the biggest provinces in Pakistan, for the last five years. During this period they have tried to present themselves as a party of "development" in Punjab and as a party with policies "for the people".

What the last five years have shown is that this is just another party of the capitalist class, whose policies and "development" are strictly for the capitalist class. Under pressure from the masses, they have been forced to make some concessions to the youth and the poor, but they showed their true face in their vicious campaign and brutal attacks against the junior doctors' struggle. The opinion polls say that they have a good chance to win the coming elections. If they do, the working class people of the whole country will face sharp neoliberal attacks, all in the name of "progress" and "development" for Pakistan.

The PTI of Imran Khan has become very popular amongst young people in Pakistan. The party calls for "change" and "revolution" in Pakistan. They use radical rhetoric on a range of issues and pretend to stand for a radical alternative to the "war on terror" and to be committed to a fight against corruption and bad governance. In reality, they are not very different in their economic policies from the other bourgeois parties. They may bring some cosmetic changes in the name of fighting corruption and bad government, but their overall programme is based on making Pakistan attractive for foreign investment and they call for even more privatisations. Basically, they intend to implement neoliberal policies. Their idea of "good government" is further privatisation, the downsizing of public services and more job cuts. The PTI is generating big hopes amongst the people, in particular amongst the urban middle-class youth, but also among sections of the poor and the working class. Some analysts have even predicted that they could become the strongest single party in the elections.

What is clear both from the party manifestoes and from past experience is that none of the major parties in Pakistan will take a stand against the economic policies that are bringing misery to the ordinary working class and poor people in the country. As Nasir Iqbal of the young doctors put it, “The whole system exploits the working people and the poor, the electoral system is a fake, there is no real alternative for working class people in Pakistan today”.

In this situation, the working class of Pakistan needs its own party. The Awami Workers' Party, which was founded just some months ago, can build that working class alternative if it is prepared to build the working class movement, to help organise the trade unions and workers in the communities. It can become a real alternative if it provides clear answers on the issues of war, imperialism, terrorism, neoliberal economic policies and the national question. None of these problems can be solved under capitalism. The party will need to link the current demands of the working class, women, the poor and the national minorities to the fight against capitalism and for socialist revolution.

That means that the AWP has to be built as a revolutionary working class alternative. Participation in the coming elections should not just be a matter of publicising its existence or winning votes by backing the existing reformist leaders of the trade unions or appealing to voters on the basis of caste.

It means that, from the start, it must fight to overcome sectoral divisions within the working class and women's struggles and make them political. It will also mean overcoming the framework of social democratic politics which only talks about change within the system. It has to be built on a clear revolutionary basis.

It has to be clear on the character of the parliament and the state, which are instruments of the ruling class and cannot simply become instruments of the working class, the peasantry and the poor.

For us, a successful election campaign is one that takes forward the development of working class politics, strengthening working class organisation and the revolutionary current within the working class. For us, the aim of political struggle is not to find a compromise with the ruling elite, we are against the system as a whole. That is why we argue that the AWP should adopt an anti-capitalist election manifesto that makes it absolutely clear that we oppose all parliamentary alliances and unprincipled deals with any of the bourgeois parties.

We also argue within the wider trade union and peasant organisations that their candidates, too, should make no alliances or political deals with the bourgeois parties. Anything else would strengthen the illusion that working-class interests can be adequately defended within the existing system. As experience around the world has shown, time and again, that is destructive for the trade union movement and for the socialist alternative. Ultimately, it would mean defending the existing system, becoming the apologists of capitalism instead of its consistent opponents and, therefore, failing to build a revolutionary alternative.

That is why the AWP needs an anti-capitalist programme for its campaign. That is the only basis on which it can become a radical socialist alternative. Our party must be known as the party of struggle, a party that participates in the elections and tries to win seats but whose fundamental purpose is to organise the working class movement and to build a class struggle organisation with the clear objective of overthrowing capitalism and fighting for socialist revolution.