Reading Trotsky in Pakistan


It is hard to say when exactly Leon Trotsky’s ideas begin to draw attention in Pakistan. However, by the 1930s his theories as well as his struggle against Stalinism won some support in pre-partition India. In Clash of Fundamentalisms, Tariq Ali narrates the proceedings of a meeting held in Lahore in April 1969 where his Trotskyist ideas were received as a novelty.

In recounting that Lahore meeting, Ali tells the story of an old and witty comrade who staunchly believed in the left unity: “He turned to the pro-Moscow stalwarts: ‘Here we have our Sunnis.’ He glared at the Maoists: ‘Here we have our Shia.’ Then he looked in my direction and smiled: ‘And now this young firebrand wants us to embrace Wahabism’”(1).

Given Trotsky’s demonization by Stalinist and Maoist bureaucracies, it is impossible that the old left guard in Pakistan was unaware of Leon Trotsky. In any case, by the 1980s Marxist ‘Wahabism’ arrived in Pakistan in an organized form. It all began in 1980 in Amsterdam when a bunch of young left-wing exiles launched Jeddojuhd (Struggle), an Urdu-language journal. A small group of activists gathered around the journal. By 1986 a few leading members of the Struggle Group were able to return from exile and organize in Lahore.

The Struggle Group and Militant Labour in England

During the Amsterdam-days, the Struggle Group had come in contact with the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), a Trotskyist “international.” Its English section, known as Militant Labour, was an “entrist” group inside the British Labour Party, following the theory that small militant groups should join mainstream workers’ parties in order to pull them to the left. This strategy is termed as Entrism. The strategy is employed in an attempt to expand influence and was advocated by Trotsky in the 1930s in the case of France where Trotskyists were advised to dissolve their own organisation to work inside social democratic SFIO (2). By the early 1980s Militant Labour not merely won the control of Liverpool Council, but four of its members were elected as Labour MPs. Militant Labour held key positions in the Labour Party apparatus as well as in several trade unions. However, by the end of the decade the Labour Party managed to purge them, without facing consequences for having done so. The purge proved easy also because of Militant Labour’s sectarian approach. An over-optimistic perspective whereby Militant Labour was supposed to lead the fast-approaching revolution reinforced the sectarian approach. Consequently, having misjudged its own weakness and Labour bureaucracy’s strength, it failed to put up an effective fight back (3).

Despite having over 40 “sections” across the globe, the CWI had a negligible presence outside England. When Militant Labour was expelled from the Labour Party, it underwent a split over its future course of action. The faction led by Peter Taaffe advocated an “Open Turn,” implying the building of an independent organization and an end to “Entrism”. This faction later organized the Socialist Party. Today it remains one of several Trotskyist sects dotting the map of the British left. The other faction, led by Ted Grant, wanted to maintain its “entrist” strategy. Like the good lover depicted in Urdu Ghazals, no matter whether the beloved reciprocates or is heartless, the true Ted Grantist lover does not give “entrism” up. Thus today, whether “Comrade” Ed Miliband knows it or not, one can still find the Ted Grantist ‘tendency’ in New Labour’s office basement.

In any case, the split in London was reproduced in all the satellite-CWI sections, including Pakistan. A faction led by Farooq Tariq, consisting of perhaps one dozen Struggle members, followed Peter Taaffe’s lead and went on to build Labour Party Pakistan in 1997.

The other faction, led by Lal Khan, continues with its entrism inside the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), internationally recognized because of Bhuttos. It places its hopes on the Pakistani proletariat ultimately realizing that revolution will spring from PPP, a discredited political project that now symbolises corruption and ideological capitulation. But nothing discourages out “entrists”.

Getting recruited:
As a student of the Government College, Lahore, I dropped by the Pak Tea House almost daily. The Pak Tea House in Lahore was a place frequented by intellectuals and activists. It was here on November 11, 1993, I finally met the Struggle comrades. The occasion was the 33rd anniversary of the renowned activist Hasan Nasir’s death. He was tortured to death for his communist struggle by the military regime in the early 1960s. The meeting was organized by the National Students Federation (NSF), once a mass leftwing student body. While the NSF had disappeared after playing a huge role in the struggle against military rule in the 1960s, its General Secretary, Asim Ali Shah, could still mobilize enough resources to hold a small meeting.

That day I spotted Shoaib Bhatti selling copies of monthly Mazdoor Jeddojuhd (Workers Struggle) while Shahida Jabeen was waving copies of the fortnightly Tabqati Jeddojuhd (Class Struggle).With no knowledge of the Struggle Group’s split, I saw the two Struggle newspapers as a step forward. “Wow, they are so active that they publish two papers,” I thought to myself.

I first came to know the Struggle Group through the columns of the late Zubair Rana (a noted left-wing columnist lovingly called Chacha, or Uncle, by his journalist colleagues and comrades) in the daily Jang. As a sympathizer of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party during my high school days in the 1980s, I keenly read Rana’s columns. In one of his widely-read columns, he mentioned Farooq Tariq’s return to Lahore. Farooq Tariq was described as a “Trotskyite” and Chacha Zubair Rana painted ‘Trotskyites’ as practitioners of revolutionary violence, or guerrillas. During my school days, I was indeed inspired by the Al-Zulfiqar Organization (AZO) and secretly entertained the idea of joining. But the AZO was headquartered in Kabul, making it difficult for me to approach the Bhutto brothers. Reaching Kabul was not easy, for many reasons.

Once, along with my two classmates, Toqeer Ahmed (now settled in Canada) and another now serving in Pakistan’s air force, we devised a plan to reach Kabul. My plan was to stay there while they wanted to journey onwards to Moscow. The immediate spur for these revolutionary destinations may illustrate the pulse of young students in the 1980s. Instead of fulfilling our plan, the three of us were unceremoniously expelled from college and saw no future in Sargodha.

We ended up in Lahore. One day, I found a Struggle pamphlet in a hostel room. I do not remember the title but it was an Urdu translation of an Indian pamphlet produced by the Indian section of CWI, New Socialist Alternative. Offering an alternative explanation for the Partition of India into India and Pakistan in 1947, the pamphlet indeed left an impression and revived my curiosity in the Struggle group. But given the underground nature of their work, I did not know how to contact them. Later I found out to my amusement that every Tom, Dick and Harry knew the location of the Struggle headquarters. But the group could not advertise its address on its literature. Meantime, my passion for armed struggle had dampened and on reaching Lahore, my priorities were trying to find love, hanging out at the Pak Tea House, and doing journalism, in that order. Journalism was the profession I sought. But when I came across Struggle “guerrillas” at the Pak Tea House that November 11, I decided to take the risk.

Owing to cultural inhibitions, inexperienced, and unsure of what was expected, I was reluctant to talk to women comrades like Shahida Jabeen; I instead shook hands with Shoaib Bhatti. He handed down a copy of the paper and shamelessly asked for ten rupees as a “solidarity price.” When he divulged the location of Struggle headquarters, I paid a visit to the Beadon Road office, a busy street in the heart of Lahore. After a few visits I joined. I consider myself fortunate to have been recruited. For the next twenty years, I devoted myself to the building of the organization that went on to form Jeddojuhd Inqlabi Tehrik (JIT) and, in 1997, Labour Party Pakistan (LPP). To this day, I am an unrepentant “Trot.”

LPP’s NGO turn:

The NGO phenomenon has been vigorously debated by the Pakistani left. The left, with the exception of LPP in Pakistan, viewed NGOs as a trap. The NGOisation of women, labour and other subaltern causes during the 1990s owed to, and reflected, the deep depoliticisation of the society. However, LPP launched an NGO and engaged in a few foreign-funded projects such as union building and schools for working children. LPP’s NGO work began in a haphazard way and offers important lessons for the left, particularly in the South.

In the early 1990s the Struggle Group ran a couple of informal schools for working children and staged street theatre in Lahore’s Dharampora neighbourhood. Riaz Fatyana, the then provincial education minister, let the Struggle Group use the local school building for evening classes. Both these projects were indeed translating into a grassroots movement in Dharampora.

A visiting delegation of Swedish Teachers Union learned about these projects and promised to help. An NGO, the Education Foundation (renamed as Labour Education Foundation, or LEF) was registered to conduct Swedish-funded projects. While intentions on both sides were noble, they began to a long process of Struggle Group’s NGOisation. A couple of comrades opposed the NGOisation of activism and left the group. Struggle’s rival left groups began to taunt Struggle Group/LPP for its NGO work.

But undaunted by criticism, Struggle Group/LPP was able to use projects to reach wider layers of trade unions and activists across Pakistan. Most importantly, the monthly Mazdoor Jeddojuhd, became a weekly and it began to play crucial role in promoting left ideas at a time when socialism had been discredited as the old left-leadership had effectively distanced itself from socialism. (In fact both factions that emerged from the old Struggle Group courageously defended left ideas and offered a Marxist explanation for the Soviet debacle.)

The LPP’s steadfastness with regard to socialist ideas attracted many old left activists. It played a crucial, sometimes pivotal role, in a number of working-class struggles. However, unchecked NGOisation began to undermine its activism and growth. It could not be otherwise. Most importantly, it introduced corruption in the organizational culture. Through the LEF, the LPP could offer jobs and other perks. Some comrades wanted to hold on to the leadership positions. This led to personal clashes. Such clashes took political form in 2003-4 and a faction advocating a total break with NGO work split from the organization (4).

While I myself and number of other comrades did not side with the departing faction [because (1) we thought a personal clash had been given a political colour and; (2) unity was important], we agreed that the criticism of the splitting comrades, led by LPP’s chairperson Shoib Bhatti, was genuine.

As a result of an evaluation, it was agreed that the LPP would distance itself from the LEF [but the LEF would not be rolled back in view of the jobs of LEF staff] and leadership positions would rotate in order to avoid a “cult” of personalities. Unfortunately, the LEF had become too attractive to be resisted. Even worse, it was corrupting the labour movement outside of the ranks of LPP [as are other NGOs working in the name of labour].

Consequently, another small faction inside the LPP, including myself, began to advocate closing down the LEF even if it would cost some workers their jobs. I thought that the damage the NGOisation was doing to labour movement and activism was beyond repair and felt that the workers could be transitioned to other work. However, in 2013, the LPP merged with other two groups to form the Awami Workers Party (AWP).

While the jury of history is still out on LPP legacy, its bankrupt NGO turn offers many lessons. However, it is not merely the LPP experience. Lessons from Afghanistan ALO/RAWA(4) and Nepal clearly state the critical position the left needs to take with regard to the NGOs. Fortunately, the LPP was not defending its NGOisation in the name of Trotsky. The real injustice to Trotsky is the entrism practiced by the group organized around the fortnightly Tabqati Juddojuhd (Class Struggle). For clarity’s sake, I will refer to it as the IMT (International Marxist Tendency).

Entrism:

As stated above, “Entrism” was a political strategy Leon Trotsky advocated in the 1930s for the political group in France associated with Trotskyist opposition. Trotsky, for understandable reasons, was not able to dent the Third International when he was hounded out of the Soviet Union and the Third International. In a number of countries, there were small splits from the Communist Parties that identified with Trotsky’s ideas and opposition to Stalin’s bureaucracy. On the eve of World War II these groups formed the Fourth International.
Trotsky’s entrist idea was to have these small groups link with broader layers of workers through working-class organisations, particularly social democratic parties in Europe. Other revolutionaries have employed such strategies. In fact, ahead of the Partition in India, Muslim communists were advised to join the All India Muslim League, a party representing Muslim elite and it championed the Partition of India on confessional basis.

I, personally, have never been convinced by the “entrist” strategy. In any case, one may argue over its pros and cons. However, Comrade Ted Grant took entrism to heart and it became central to his brand of Marxism. When Grant died in 2006, the mantle was passed on to heir apparent, Comrade Alan Woods. As a true disciple of Ted Grant, he is willing to enter social democratic parties that are rightwing and anti-working class. It does not matter that mass consciousness views these parties as symbolizing corruption, bureaucracy and privatization. Apparently there is no need to examine the move to the right by social democratic parties that have adopted neoliberal policies. A true believer, after all, is never shaken by reality.

As luck would have it, Pakistan was not blessed with any social democratic party of the working classes. Hence one had to be invented. But Ted Grant’s Pakistani disciples, in their enthusiasm, not merely found a traditional party of the workers in the PPP, they went on to describe it as a revolutionary socialist element in the 1968-69 “Revolution.” It does not matter that one cannot even call PPP a secular party. In its manifesto “Islam hamara deen hay” [“Islam is our religion”] was and remains PPP’s top slogan. If anything, PPP was a populist party, a typical Third World phenomenon of the 1960s/1970s. It can not be characterized even as a populist party anymore.

Instead of critically evaluating the Bhutto phenomenon, the Pakistan IMT highlights Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s courageous struggle against the Zia dictatorship yet demonizes his heirs. For them, Benazir Bhutto’s tragic martyrdom temporarily posed a problem. She was then elevated to the status of revolutionary leader without giving a second reading to publicised IMT documents written between 1980 to 26 December 2007, when Benazir was assassinated.

Since 1980, in every predictable statement, the IMT told us that the Pakistani proletariat soon would be up in arms to perform its historical mission [i.e. a socialist revolution]. Twice in these three-plus decades, the urban masses have taken to streets. First, in 1986, when Benazir Bhutto ended her exile; the second during the advocates’ movement in 2007-08.

In the first case, the IMT claimed that the revolution was high jacked by the ruling elite through incorporating Benazir Bhutto into the power structures. This assumes “Comrade” Benazir Bhutto was a minor child who did not realize that she was being incorporated–she somehow stumbled into the corrupt corridors of power in stupor, despite Struggle warnings. Then, in 2007-08, when she was about to usher a socialist revolution —having learnt from her past mistakes—she was eliminated. How simple!

The IMT critique of the Left:

The IMT critiques the Stalinist left, not merely in Pakistan, but everywhere in the colonial world has failed owing to its two-stage theory, which puts a democratic revolution before a socialist revolution. Every left debacle anywhere in the ‘Third World’ is ascribed to the two-stage theory. This formulistic explanation reminds me of a satirical essay by Urdu-language writer Mustansar Hussain Tarrar.

Tarrar narrates the story of a classmate who wrote only one essay, “My Best Friend”. Every time the Urdu-language teacher asked him for an essay, this classmate would find a way to adapt it to his “My Best Friend” essay. For instance, if the teacher wanted an essay on the Festival of Lights, he would start by saying something like “I went to the Festival along my best friend. XYZ is my best friend…” and then reproduce the usual text. Once, the teacher wanted him to write an essay on “An air travel” but advised him to make sure that his best friend was not travelling along with him.

Thus he began the essay: “I was travelling by air. My best friend was not with me. I was sad. When the plane took off, I was sadly looking towards the earth. Lo and behold! There I spotted a guy grazing his animals. It was XYZ who is my best friend…..”

Likewise, our IMT comrades know only one essay, ‘Two-stage Theory.’ They can equally apply it to the Nepalese Maoists, the Indian left, the Afghan PDPA, the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) or any of their subsequent heirs. It does not matter that the left in Nepal and India were able to build mass parties and the PDPA was able to capture power [while IMT itself has not been able to win a single seat in the local parliament independently]. According to our IMT comrades had these parties been practicing Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution, there would have been a socialist revolution.

No doubt, there is an element of truth in all of this. I consider the Theory of Permanent Revolution such an important document that I have attempted to translate it. But banalizing such important Trotskyist texts to clichés, divorced from all other realities, is not merely trivializing Trotskyism, it is, indeed, a disservice to the broader left cause. It is critical thinking that is the hallmark of Marxism. Trotsky deserves respect because he was critical and innovative. Socialism, above all, is innovation in theory and practice.

Let me pose a very simple question; why has Trotskyism failed to bring about a socialist revolution in Pakistan even when the IMT does not practice a bankrupt two-stage Stalinist theory?  Where is the Theory of Permanent Revolution in the case of Pakistan?

Such is the trickery that in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province of Pakistan, it is not the PPP that can be seen as the traditional party of the Pashtoon proletariat but the Awami National Party (ANP). Likewise, in Pakistani-Held Kashmir, IMT does not practice its entrism in Bhutto’s PPP. It rather “entered” progressive nationalist formations with disastrous consequences for progressive politics in this part of Kashmir. But these inconsistencies, it seems, fail to discourage the IMT leadership and cadre in Pakistan. An explanation lies in the cult of personality.

The cult of personality:

When there is an ‘international’ consisting of only 50 members, there is a Kremlin, with a Stalin running it. The pattern is reproduced by the sections. But let me restrict myself to Pakistan. In the case of LPP, while it was a CWI section, we would simply reproduce CWI literature in Urdu. The two central figures based in London, Peter Taaffe and Lyn Walsh, apparently, knew everything on the face of the earth, there was no need to hear from any other voices.

In the case of IMT, Ted Grant and Alan Woods constitute the taproots of knowledge. From Venezuela to Greece, Pakistan to South Africa, Alan Woods knows it all. Religion, science, philosophy, history, politics, feminism, nothing escapes the breadth of Alan Wood’s vast knowledge. This is a feat Comrade Trotsky himself would not have managed to achieve. Those who disagree with Ted Grant-Alan Woods or Peter Taaffe-Lyn Walsh are banished.

Exactly the same pattern has been reproduced in Pakistan. Contemporary “Trotskyist” organisations in Pakistan have no place for dissent.

Many of these Trotskyist comrades I personally respect and they have been my personal friends. However, I cannot support their so-called Trotskyist politics. I hope some of them will pay heed to my words instead of declaring me a traitor, a renegade. It is time to question and evaluate the Trotskyist legacy in Pakistan. The bankruptcy of entrism and NGOised corruption is a cruel joke on the Pakistani working classes. This is the time to rescue Trotskyism in Pakistan from Pakistani Trotskyist demigods.

 

Notes:

1.  Ali, Tariq (2003)Clash of Fundamentalisms. London: Verso. P72

2. SFIO or French Section of Workers International transmuted in the 1960s into Socialist Party, presently in government.

3. The observations on Militant Labour’s purge are based on conversations with CWI comrades, notably Farooq Tariq, who witnessed the process of purge. The Rise of Militant: Militant’s 30 Years by CWI’s leader, Peter Taaffe, offers a detailed but not so objective story of expulsions.

3. Meantime, in 1998-99, the LPP was expelled from the CWI for its NGO work. However, the CWI used the NGO work as a pretext. The real cause was the CWI bureaucracy’s displeasure with the LPP leadership and wanted to replace Farooq Tariq as the LPP leader. How ironic! Most Trotskyist internationals and their sections continue behaving in the true Stalinist fashion. While the ‘Kremlin’ continues placing and replacing sectional heads, the sections continue revolving around a “cult leader.” Except for the United Secretariat of Fourth International (USFI), of which I am a member of, every ‘international’ has been engaged in undemocratic, top-down organizational practices. Even, the USFI, has committed such follies in the past. For an amusing satire on one-dimensional Trotskyists, Tariq Ali’s novel Redemption is an amusing read.

4. Revolutionary Afghan Women Association, or RAWA (http://www.rawa.org/index.php) is a front organisation of Afghan Labour Organization (ALO). Officially, RAWA denies any links with ALO. Having Maoist orientation, ALO committed ideological blunders during the 1980s such as allying with the USA and fundamentalists yet from the platform of RAWA, its women members heroically fought for the cause of Afghan women in the 1990s. However, money pouring in from the West, especially post-9/11 in the case of RAWA, led to ideological and organisational degeneration.

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