(From Viewpoint Online)
One of the starkest expressions of the eclipse of socialist traditions throughout Asia is the resurgence of dynastic idolatry. Crushed under the weight of oppression and brutality, and lacking a sense of their own power to rise up and shape their own destiny, the hopes of the poor and downtrodden in town and country are pinned on the hope of a saviour from Olympus who will deliver them from suffering.
Turbulent times create crises and splits within the privileged elite, elements of whom find themselves swept by forces outside their control into defiance of their peers. Inevitably, they too soon fall victim to the flood and perish. A mythology is woven around these accidental figures, and the beneficiaries are the widows and sons and daughters who inherit something of their aura.
The Gandhis and Mujibs and Aquinos and Sukarnos and Aung Sans, to name but a few, are all manifestations of this phenomenon, and it is in this context that the role of the Bhuttos is to be understood.
The history of Pakistan is a succession of unstable military dictatorships interspersed with even more unstable civilian regimes. These military regimes do not at all represent an attempt, no matter how feeble, by a weak bourgeoisie to overcome feudal restrictions. On the contrary, they reflect the total economic and social impasse of society, and given this context, they are favoured instruments of the feudal stranglehold.
The only regime that even remotely began to raise the prospect of inroads on feudal power was the brief civilian government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who at least did raise demagogically the issue of the 22 ruling families, and enacted some radical populist measures. This regime too, led by a ruling
feudal landowner and notorious playboy, came to adopt a democratic guise, not under the impulse of bourgeois-democratic historical aspirations, but under the explosive pressure of the revolutionary upsurge that began with the mass overthrow of the Ayub Khan military-feudal dictatorship in 1969, brought in its wake the national-liberation struggle that culminated in the secession of East Pakistan which became Bangladesh, and then after abject military defeat in the war with India a new uprising. It was when the Bhutto regime faltered and succumbed to the pressures of the feudal landowners that the counter-revolution triumphed. The savage ferocity of the Zia-ul-Haq military dictatorship represented the revenge of the feudal landowners, who introduced barbarous Islamic repression, mass hangings, torture and public floggings of PPP activists and supporters on a vast scale, in order literally to beat out of the masses that faint glimmer of hope, of democratic self-respect and
humanity, that they had attained during the events of 1969-77, and to reduce them again to slavish obedient beasts of burden. The long pirouette since the collapse of the Zia dictatorship of the alternating gangster cliques of the PPP and the Muslim League only further disoriented and demoralised the masses.
To talk of an independent bourgeoisie in Pakistan would be fantastic and fanciful. In India there were long established genuine local monopolies, deliberately cultivated by the British as a hedge against revolution. Given the vast population, these monopolies could for a time remain viable even though a consumer market only grew to some 10% of the population. But in Pakistan there was never any shadow of a local bourgeoisie capable of even verbally counterposing itself to imperialism. The “capitalists” in Pakistan are utterly parasitic; at best smugglers, gangsters and corrupt middlemen. There has been not even the pretence or hollow proclamation, as in India, of a bourgeois-democratic programme, but merely reactionary demagogy, born in the genocidal slaughter of partition, under the cover of communalism and “two nations”, and inevitably soon afterwards, an “Islamic republic”. No land reform; no modern industry; no mass education; only a very intermittent and grotesque parody of parliamentary democracy; and no national unification – on the contrary the most spectacular case in 60 years of national disintegration.
The succession of tumbling ex-Sandhurst tinpot military dictators swept away by defeat in the Bangladesh war, which at a stroke reduced the reach of the Punjabi feudal ruling caste by more than half, plunged what was left of Pakistan into revolution. Strikes, gheraos, uprisings, occupations, mutinies, millions on the march, impelled Bhutto the First – a suave playboy left holding the power following the unceremonious flight of the generals – virtually a hostage to the revolution played out on the streets. Bhutto found himself suddenly denouncing the rule of the “22 families” (including his own), and, until the movement began to subside, helplessly ratifying the democratic anti-feudal reforms already enacted by mass action on the ground. For these concessions he was never to be forgiven by the feudal elite. Barbaric revenge was soon to be inflicted by its vicious personification, the odious General Zia ul-Haq, in the form of an eleven-year reign of terror: mass hangings, torture and floggings. Bhutto personally was humiliated, tortured and hanged, and countless thousands publicly flogged into submission.
Throughout that long dark night of torture, an entire generation of workers and peasants never forgot that brief glimmer of human hope that they had experienced in those earlier days: that faint spark of expectation that they might one day rise above the level of brute pack-animals. That is the basis of the continuing, though successively tarnished, Bhutto name, and the rapidly waning appeal of the PPP, despite the fact that whenever it was returned to power following the fall of yet another general, it cosied up to the US embassy and betrayed once again the people’s illusions. Pakistan has thus continued its tawdry cycle of blundering pantomime military dictatorships, interspersed with brief chaotic interregnums of corrupt quasi-parliamentary regimes.
The classic truism that parliamentary regimes represent a check on militarism and that military regimes, being less accountable, are more prone to military adventurism – has little validity in this context. The corrupt parliamentary regimes before and since have been so far removed from accountability and control, and the military regimes so equally constrained by international imperialist pressures, that it makes little difference. Both are subject to pressure as much from the IMF and the Pentagon as from domestic sources. Either could, in extremis, seek advantage in military adventurism, even on a nuclear scale.
Like those of its predecessors Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Zia-ul-Haq, the Musharaf military regime too began with demagogic promises against corruption, etc., but soon proved itself an instrument of feudal rule within a context of catastrophic economic and social crisis.
With the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan, the collapse of the USSR, and the rise in the shape of al-Qaida of a new enemy raised and fed from within its own banks and embassies, US imperialism found itself in the humiliating position of having to depend upon a despised and universally derided military dictator who finally had no hope of clinging even to the last trappings of power for more than a matter of weeks; on a military machine incapable of even encountering, let alone defeating, its enemies; and on an intelligence apparatus half of which continues to support the other side.
The hopes of the people for some respite from their sufferings have once again been betrayed by the party of the feudal dynasty which through an accident of history came to be entrusted with them (the PPP), and cynically exploited by its gangster-businessmen rivals (the MLN). The leaders of both these parties were united in common dread of the mass movement that was to sweep the dictatorship aside, and who even resorted to propping up the tottering dictator for a last few months before he finally had to go.
The orientation of some left groupings in Pakistan to the PPP today is an expression of impotence mixed with nostalgia. The PPP today has long ago reverted to its original category as a corrupt feudal dynastic clique. It bears no resemblance whatsoever to a workers’ party. True, its origins lie in the revolutionary upheavals of 1971, when Pakistan lost a war and split in half, and the playboy oligarch Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was for a period swept along by the radicalised mood of the masses. It did not take long for the military/fundamentalist counter-revolution to exact revenge on him, by torture and the gallows, for the few token hypocritical demagogic phrases that were wrung out of him under mass pressure in those days. For the generation that lived through those heady days, under the shadow of the murderous Zia dictatorship the PPP did still represent a faint memory of that brief period when the workers and peasants could dare to hold their heads high.
But forty years have passed since then, and the intervening legacy of four successive PPP governments under Benazir Bhutto and Zardari (“Mr Ten Per Cent”) has been nothing but rampant and Byzantine corruption, combined with shameless subservience to the demands of US imperialism. It is pure fetishism to insist that the PPP still embodies in even the most distorted form the aspirations of the workers and peasants for a new society.
Like the martyrdom of her father, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto represents a further brutal blow to popular hopes for a better future, which, however tragically misplaced, had for want of an alternative been invested in her persona and her party. All the more need then to create that alternative – one which will rest not on unworthy illusions nor centred on fading chimeras, but the conscious mass action democratically exercised in their own interests and on their own behalf of the workers, peasants and urban poor.
If there is any country in the world crying out for the creation of an independent workers’ party, it is Pakistan, which is gripped in the most polarised social turmoil. Workers and peasants are on the march, the intelligentsia are in revolt, the state is visibly disintegrating, and sinister forces of counter-revolution are trying to intimidate the masses by terror.
No socialist deserves to be taken seriously which still clings today to the obsolete shop-soiled banners of the PPP, and stands aside from the LPP and the heroic work it is conducting in the factories and villages and on the streets.