The Pakistan People’s Party central executive committee and federal council meeting in the house of deceased leader Benazir Bhutto in Sindh province on 30 December brought no surprises for all those who know something about the PPP and Pakistani politics. Benazir Bhutto’s 19 year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto, was made the chairman of the party and her husband, Asif Zardari, co-chairman. The PPP also decided to contest the general election scheduled to be held on 8 January. The party leadership also decided to continue the policies adopted by Benazir Bhutto.
Many political commentators are calling this meeting a second founding of the Pakistani People’s Party, with a new leadership. But in reality, this new leadership is a continuation of the Bhutto family’s rule over the party. All these decisions are taken according to Benazir’s will that she left for the family and party. In it she asked her husband to take over the party but he handed over it to his son. Asif Zardari will in fact continue to run and dominate the party on the name of the Bhuttos.
The tradition of family inheritance was used in 1979 when Zulifqar Ali Bhutto, without any consultation, handed over leadership of the party to his daughter, Benazir. Now Benazir has done the same thing. The feudal dynasty tradition thus still continues into the 21st century.
Future of PPP policies
Benazir Bhutto’s sudden demise has created a huge vacuum not only in the PPP but also in national politics. She was a towering figure in the party and in national politics with a history of struggle and sacrifice against the establishment and the military dictatorship. Her anti-establishment image had faded considerably, especially in the last few months because of the deals she was trying to do with General Musharraf, backed by western imperialism.
However, the PPP leader’s violent death has made her a symbol of struggle and courage again – against fundamentalism and dictatorship. It is going to wash away many of the betrayals and political mistakes that she made for a short period of time in her political career.
The PPP leadership will use the sympathy wave and mood of grief to pursue the policies which serve their interests. It is most likely that the party will be able to maintain its unity intact and avoid any big split in the short term. It is also most likely that it will be able to win a majority in the coming election to form a government. The feudal dominated leadership will use the present mood and anti-regime anger to muster support from the working masses to strike a fresh deal with the military establishment to share the power.
Once in government, the party will have to deal with the real issues. The working masses will not give much time to a PPP government to solve their problems. One thing is very clear that the party of Bhutto will not be able to solve the problems faced by the working class and poor people. It has no alternative programme and strategy to solve the problems of the working masses. It will pursue the same free market economic policies implemented by previous PPP governments, which resulted in diminishing support. It is most likely that the PPP will continue its pro-US policy and support for the ‘War on Terror.
There are many factions and groups arising from the cult of personalities within the party. All the better known PPP leaders have their own groups of supporters. These are not based on ideas, principles or programme but are based on supporting particular personalities to make political gain. These groups and factions can be involved in open battle to get control over the party apparatus. Asif Zardari will not be able to keep the party intact for a long period of time. Big and small splits can take place in the party around different issues and questions.
In the absence of a clear programme which could unify the party, there is now also no charismatic leader which can hold the party together in the long run, in the way Benazir was able to do. In the future, the PPP could divide into different groups which can lead to new formations.
If a working class movement started to develop in the next couple of years, than a more radical formation could develop around leaders like Aitzaz Ahsan (the leader of the recent lawyers’ movement). The size and nature of any splits will depend on the concrete existing conditions of that time. One thing is clear: the present political road will take the PPP into disarray and deeper crisis.
Working class mood
The likely election victory of the PPP will be described by many as the revival of a political tradition. The PPP will undoubtedly gain some electoral support on the basis of the current wave of sympathy and the mood of grief. Benazir Bhutto’s killing has certainly sparked an anti-establishment mood and anger in the working masses. This sympathy and anger might turn into enough votes for the PPP to defeat the pro-Musharraf parties. But this sympathy will be a short term phenomenon and will not last long. It will not fundamentally change the consciousness and attitude of the working class towards the PPP.
It is most likely that the PPP will not be able to revive its base and support in the working class. This sympathy will disappear after the party comes to power and implements the same anti-working class and poor people policies. Some sections of the working class will come out to cast their votes against the regime and, in the absence of a viable working class alternative, vote in favour of the PPP.
It is not possible for the PPP to again become the party of the masses in the same way that it was in the past. It will be viewed differently. The more advanced layers of working people are not ready to trust the leadership of the party. Even in the wider layers, sympathy is not turning into practical support. The overwhelming majority of the working class is not ready to politically express themselves for the PPP platform.
The Sindh might be an exception in this whole situation, where the PPP enjoys the overwhelming support of the working masses in interior Sindh (the more rural, feudal-run areas) because of a rising tide of Sindhi Nationalism. In the absence of a viable working class alternative, the PPP can retain a sizeable electoral support amongst sections of the working masses. Nevertheless, it is not possible for the leadership to transform the party into a political force that can engender widespread hopes and illusions amongst the masses.
In the period before her death Benazir Bhutto had been failing to mobilise the masses behind her party. Her election rallies and public meetings were smaller in numbers compared to previous election campaigns.
The only people in Pakistan who still believe that the Pakistan People’s Party can be reclaimed or transformed into a radical, left wing fighting working class organisation are the so-called revolutionary Marxists working within it. Nevertheless, some leaders or sections of the party, under pressure from the masses, could at least verbally adopt a more radical left, anti-imperialist or social democratic position.
Lessons not learned
Zulifqar Ali Bhutto, the father of Benazir and founding chairman of the PPP, drew the necessary conclusion of his political failures before his hanging in 1979. In his last book written in prison, called ‘If I was assassinated’, he concluded:” I am spending time in this death cell because I tried to make compromises between two battling classes – the working class and the ruling class. No compromise can be made between these conflicting classes. This class war will only end with the decisive defeat of one class. This is the lesson of my present condition”.
Bhutto was not lucky enough to get a second chance after drawing this conclusion but his daughter refused to learn the lessons from his experience. ZA Bhutto got the chance to transform the state structure and political system but he ended up strengthening it. He introduced reforms which hurt the ruling class and they decided to take revenge. Bhutto had tried to reform the state and the system but failed at the end.
Benazir Bhutto tried the same and failed miserably. She did every thing possible to make compromises with the establishment but was never trusted by them. She failed to defend and promote the interests of the working class and poor masses. She tried to appease Pakistan’s ruling elite and to be acceptable to imperialism.
The struggle for freedom, democracy, and fundamental rights and for political and social transformation, to solve all the problems faced by Pakistan’s working class and poor masses is a struggle to change the system and state structure. This means a struggle against capitalism, feudalism, imperialism and rightwing political Islamism – all at the same time. These are interlinked with each other; any effort to defeat one of them will fail because the others will come to its rescue.
Benazir Bhutto wanted to end reactionary religious fundamentalism without ending capitalism, imperialism and feudalism. This cannot be done. The struggle against poverty, unemployment, price inflation and hunger is linked with the struggle to overthrow capitalism and to build socialism.
The present leadership of the PPP is not ready to take up this struggle against capitalism and feudalism. Instead it is working to strengthen the ‘status-quo’ – the present rotten system. The PPP leadership is not ready to learn the lessons and seems set to repeat the mistakes of the past. Workers and poor people, however, will be prepared to draw conclusions on the basis of the experience and bitter disappointments they have had. It is clear from the way the ‘succession’ to Benazir has been decided, and the lack of a real break from feudalism, capitalism and imperialism on the part of the PPP leaders, that an independent movement and party of the working class and poor is urgently needed. This would be a force with which to fight for a real change in the conditions of the mass of the population in Pakistan today and to conduct the struggle for socialism.