Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Left Unity in Pakistan: Foundation of Awami Workers Party

Colombo -- 5 January 2013
In November 2012, three Left parties – the Awami Party, the Workers Party, and the Labour Party that is affiliated to the Fourth International – buried past differences to join together as the Awami Workers Party.

These differences are not all minor or sectarian, as the parties involved originate in counter posed 20th century Marxist traditions namely: pro-Moscow Communism; Maoism; and Trotskyism. These currents have had historically profound conflicts on the relationship between party and class; the strategy for socialist revolution; and concepts of democracy and political pluralism, among many other questions.
The recent unification highlights three global trends: (1) the recomposition of the national Left is either ongoing or presents itself as a task for revolutionaries; (2) there is no ‘one size fits all’ model for regroupment; and (3) the difficulties of unity are worsened by the weakness of the workers movement and the aggression of neoliberal capitalism and other reactionary ideologies and forces, like the military and the mullahs in Pakistan.
In Pakistan, it was the revived left-wing National Students Federation that pushed the leaderships of the three parties to combine: recognising that the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts; and it is the youth who have been most enthusiastic supporters of this political project.
Another motivation, says general secretary Farooq Tariq, “was to strengthen the labour and peasant movement that [the Left parties] were able to build in parts of the country over the years. The movements were in some confusion about the three parties pursuing similar ideology and tactics with three different names”.


Merging from Below

An interesting decision was taken by the leaders of the three Pakistani parties not to merge from the ‘top’, that is through an organisational merger of the parties; but rather to unify from ‘below’, through dissolving their individual parties; and recommending their former members to join the new party as individuals.
The reason for so doing is for the former members to voluntarily accept the common programme and identity of the new party, and therefore transcend former allegiances and loyalties, while thinking anew about old questions and contemporary issues.
The Awami Workers Party will struggle for a democratic, secular, and socialist Pakistan. Some key ideas in its programme are for a pro-people foreign policy; recognition of the multinational character of Pakistan and for a genuine federal system based on the right of self-determination for all nations; break from the dictates of multinational capital and imperialism; and replacing the existing and oppressive state institutions with those that provide for basic needs and are democratic.
An immediate objective for the new party is to increase its representation and participation of women. This challenge, which exists everywhere, is intensified in Pakistan following the rise of Islamist ideologies that discriminate against women’s participation in politics and public life; and the insecurity caused by terror outfits and religious sectarian violence in its cities.
Initially, the interim leadership of the new party only included one woman. When this was criticised by many inside and outside the party, instead of making excuses or being inflexible, the existing leadership sensibly and quickly co-opted six more women. Currently, women comprise 40 percent of the interim Executive Committee.


Campaign for Mass Party

Not content to regroup the organised Left, the Awami Workers Party, has also embarked on a national campaign to become a mass party of hundreds of thousands of members; and to establish itself in provinces and regions where the Left has been marginal or even absent.
This ambition if realised, as we hope it will, brings its own problems that the Left in Sri Lanka would be fortunate to face.
How to rapidly transform the discontented into class-conscious militants opposed to all forms of exploitation and oppression, regardless of the identity of the abuser and the abused? How to turn recruits into socialist activists in workplaces, in neighbourhoods, and in mass organisations, instead of only passive or paper members?
The Awami Workers Party has received electoral registration and will contest in general elections due this year. It is also confident of gaining seats in provincial parliaments and local bodies. Between 30 April and 1 May, the first convention of the new party will elect its leadership, on the basis of its new structures and members.
The regroupment of the Left is not a short-cut to success for revolutionaries in bad times, or a quick-fix solution to the crisis of credibility of socialism. This is also clear from the successes and failures of Left unity initiatives across the world over the past two decades. However, as hard and risky as the recomposition of the Left has been and will be, it is a strategic task for Marxists in the 21st century.

(Published in Sinhala-language Haraya newspaper of January 2013)