Shahzad Arshad & Martin Suchanek
On November 11, the “Awami Workers’ Party” will be founded in the city of Lahore. It would be difficult to overestimate the potential significance of this event in the life of the Pakistani working class. The party has been initiated by three large groupings of the Pakistani Left; two of these, the Workers’ Party and the Awami Party, have a background in Stalinism, predominantly in the Maoist movement, but have succeeded in attracting to themselves a number of smaller groupings in recent years. The third, the Labour Party of Pakistan has a background in Trotskyism and is an observing section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International.
Initially, the new party will organise some 15,000 working class activists, youth and students. Obviously, that is still far from being a mass party, particularly in a country of 172 million with a working class of tens of millions. Nonetheless, those 15,000 include many of the politically most advanced working class fighters – who can reach out directly to further tens of thousands.
A number of mass organisations are going to support the new party: The Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF) the All Pakistan Trade Union Federation (APTUF) the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) and the Muttahida Labour Federation (MLF) as well as the NSF (National Student federation). Some have already decided to affiliate to the new party.
The new party is also getting support from the power loom workers’ organisation, the Labour Qaumi Movement, which led a mass movement in recent years and that is well known for its militancy. Likewise, the Anjuman Muzareen Punjab, who fought for their lands against the military in the period of the Musharraf dictatorship, want to support the party.
The foundation could prove historic because it addresses the key problem that has faced the Pakistan working class for decades: There is NO working class party in this country.
This has repeatedly led to the political subordination of the working class and the masses – the peasantry, the urban and rural poor, the students and the oppressed – to different sections of the ruling class, of the capitalists and rural landlords. This political weakness was particularly highlighted in periods of heightened class struggle like the heroic movement that led to the downfall of the military rule of General Musharraf.
For decades, the bourgeois nationalist Pakistani People’s Party, the party of the corrupt, pro-imperialist president Zadari, has dominated the trade unions, presenting itself as “popular” – whilst being a run by a tiny clique of bourgeois and landlords. When it discredited itself in government, other populist and Islamist parties arose – most recently the Justice Party around the former cricket captain Imran Khan. Worse, some sections of the masses were attracted to reactionary petit-bourgeois movements like the militant Islamists, with their fake “anti-imperialism”, who are a constant threat to women, workers, national and religious minorities.
Pakistan’s political and economic crisis
There was no way out of this vicious circle, as long as the working class had no party of its own. Without such a party, it would always be other class forces – whether liberal and pro-imperialist or “anti-Western” parties of reaction – who would determine the future of a country in which the global crisis assumes an acute form.
Pakistan has been in economic turmoil for many years. The economy is in a state of constant stagnation, if not outright decline. This is a result of the global capitalist crisis, made worse by imperialist domination and plunder, the neo-liberal politics of the government and by the system of semi-colonial clientelism and corruption, imposed and enforced by imperialism and the Pakistan capitalists.
Pakistan is a country at war. In the regions bordering Afghanistan, the US – with the aid of the military and the government – wages a bloody war, causing the death of thousands of civilians, forcing hundreds of thousands more to flee their homes. And war does not only affect the border regions, it also oppresses the national minorities in Balochistan and Kashmir.
Pakistan is in the centre of the struggle for a re-division of the world with the US and its allies trying to maintain their domination while newly emergent Chinese imperialism aims to make Pakistan its semi-colonial ally.
As a result of all these factors, Pakistan is in permanent political crisis, with a ruling party in turmoil and the military and the judiciary continually playing against each other.
Working class independence is key
Pakistan is a country where we have seen mass mobilisations of workers against poverty, fighting for higher wages to match growing inflation, protesting against the running down of infrastructure and energy supply in particular. But it is also a country in which we can see the clear danger of the ruling class resorting to mass reactionary forces and/or a bonapartist, semi-dictatorial solution, as has been imposed in some parts of the country, the war-zones, already.
All these developments pose dangers and threats to the ability of the working class to rally the masses against the daily misery, against the system as a whole. To overcome such obstacles, it is essential that the working class’ own leaders, in every factory and every town, are won to a political strategy that combines mass organisation and mobilisation with the goal of overthrowing the entire economic and political system – and the elite that controls it. In other words, we need a working class party built on the foundation of a transitional programme.
Obviously, there is no guarantee that the new party will become such party. Indeed, the danger of failure will be there from the very beginning because the three founding organisations have not provided even a draft of such a programme or a strategy that could build the kind of party that we need.
The programme they have put forward for adoption at the founding meeting is far from revolutionary. At most, it is a programme of minimum demands with a vague reference to the ultimate goal – socialism. What is completely missing is any strategy that could link the struggle against imperialist domination, against capitalist exploitation and semi-feudal forms of exploitation in the countryside and for the liberation of women and the oppressed nationalities to the struggle for socialism.
The programme put forward by the Awami Party, the Workers’ Party and the Labour Party is essentially a compromise between the two organisations emerging from Stalinist Maoism and the semi-Trotskyist Labour Party. In this programme there is no trace of the transitional method, there are no transitional demands, no mention of workers’ control or the building of new workers’ organisations to organise and lead the fight for socialism.
Indeed, there is not much about this ultimate aim and how to achieve it at all: no mention of the need to smash the Pakistan state, its repressive and military apparatus, no mention of the need to fight for a workers’ and peasants’ government based on workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils and armed militias; no mention of the need to expropriate not only the most reactionary parts of the landlords and capitalists – but to expropriate the imperialist and big “national” capital alike and to introduce a democratic plan in order to re-organise the economy and social life in the interest of the working class and the masses; no mention of the need to make the Pakistani revolution permanent, to spread it and link it to the Indian revolution in particular and to the struggle for a Socialist Federation of South Asia.
A second major default of the new party is the fact that it does not allow for the formation of factions or tendencies inside the party. This runs the danger not only of stifling life in the organisation and allowing bureaucratic expulsions but also of creating what it claims to prevent – secret and unprincipled factionalism behind the backs of the members.
We think that the new party will need a very different internal regime – one based on a revolutionary programme of action – as the Revolutionary Socialist Movement, RSM, and the League for the Fifth International have presented in 2011 – and on democratic centralism. We need a party organisation that is based on unity in common action and intervention and on the freest possible debate on programme, strategy and organisation – including the right to organise factions or tendencies. This kind of organisation will help to educate the members during a debate, allow the party to learn form mistakes and thereby increase the unity of the organisation in action.
All these weaknesses, however, should not blind working class militants to the enormous possibilities that the founding of the party provides. It is a party whose future character is not yet decided. That will depend on the further development of its actions, its programme and its ability to rally thousands of militants in the struggles ahead. The formation of the Awami Workers’ Party is a real step forward, a real arena of political debate and organisation in which to build a mass working class party – independent of all parties of the bourgeoisie in the country.
Whether or not this potential will be realised, will depend on political argument and struggle inside the new party. The RSM, Pakistan section of the League for the Fifth International, welcomes the formation of such a new party in Pakistan. The RSM will join and help to build such a party because we want to play an active part in arguing for the workers’ party we need.
We call on all socialist, anti-capitalist and communist organisations in Pakistan to do likewise. We call on all trade unions and all other organisations of the labourers in town and countryside to affiliate to this new party. We want a party that reaches out to organise all strata, all sections of the working class and the oppressed: skilled and unskilled, trade unionised and the mass of un-organised workers, workers in the cities and in the countryside. We want to unite all workers of all nationalities, religious and ethnic groupings. We want to organise men and women, youth and elderly.
We join this new party because it already brings together thousands of working class fighters. There are already a number of trade unions who want to affiliate or discuss affiliation. We want to encourage them to send union delegates to the party’s leading bodies at local, regional and national level, to form cells/branches of the party in workplaces, recruit as many of their members as support the party politically and make whatever financial contribution they can to the party.
The new party should use the approaching parliamentary elections – and any seats that it can win – as a tribune from which to expose the crimes of the government and our rulers, as a means of exposing anti-working class, anti-democratic and all other reactionary legislation, as a means to rally the people to struggle. Any elected representatives should take only a skilled worker’s wage and contribute the rest of their salary to the party. They should hold themselves accountable and recallable by the party and their electors.
Within this new party, the comrades of the League for the Fifth International will fight for it to become a consistent party of struggle. It needs to combine mass mobilisations for better conditions and wages, against the scrapping of democratic rights, against war, imperialisms and the military, against capitalist exploitation and big landlords with the struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of the entire system. It needs to replace the rule of the imperialists and the capitalists with a workers’ and peasants’ government based on workers’ and peasants’ councils and the armed people.
We think that in order to be build such a party, the new party needs to be:
– a party of struggle against all forms of exploitation and oppression: against imperialism, against the military and all sectors of the ruling classes – the bourgeoisie as well as the big landowners (the Zamindari), it needs to fight for full rights for all – for the rights of self-determination of the oppressed nations, for women’s rights and full equality at every level of society, for the freedom of the youth from oppression.
– a fighting party must be a party that is active in all struggles, it must be based on active branches and organisations that unite the workers, support their struggles and give direction to their activity. It must be a party that fights for trade union independence from the state and the bourgeois parties and for overcoming the fragmentation of the workers’ movement via mass, class struggle, trade unions in every branch of the economy.
– a party that is committed to the formation of workers’ organisations that go beyond the limits of trade unionism or individual campaigns, based on rank and file democracy and the principle of recallable delegation to leading positions, new organisations that can ultimately organise and lead the working class in the overthrow of the existing state and themselves form the basis of a new, revolutionary social order.
– a party which is based on a revolutionary programme of transitional demands that links the daily struggle with the struggle for power. The current draft is not such a programme. But we are convinced that we will get a hearing for our proposals in the context of the proposed debate and we will present a proposal for an action programme for the party in the context of that debate.
– a democratic party, where all members have the right to discuss and argue for their positions, to form tendencies and platforms as long as they loyally carry out the agreed policies of the party. We want a democratic party, where the leaderships are elected and accountable to the members, where all major decisions on programme, on strategy and tactics are made after an open and democratic debate. This in turn will educate all the members to understand the party’s politics, explain them to other workers, win them to the party and carry out the agreed policies with vigour.
– an internationalist party, since it is impossible to build a socialist society in a single isolated country, especially one with such remnants of backwardness inherited from feudalism and British colonialism. Therefore, we need to build a party on an international level, linking up with socialists across the subcontinent and, indeed, around the world, into a new International, the successor to the previous four.
Such a party, we are sure, would transform not only the whole labour movement, but the whole country. Why? Because the struggle for the future of the country would no longer be conducted between competing bourgeois parties, a reactionary military or extremely reactionary Islamists – all of whom want to maintain a capitalist order, all of whom are tied to imperialism at the end of the day. The struggle for the future would be one between the dark forces of reaction and the working class, rallying the peasants, the oppressed nations and all others who suffer from the current, barbaric system in the struggle for a future without exploitation and misery.