New Left or no Left?

Posted by Raza Rumi

Haider Nizamani’s excellent piece published by Dawn on March 18, 2010, deserves spotlight at PTH. We hope that the readers would respond to it and a debate can be initiated on this critical issue. Unlike the rest of mainstream media, DAWN has attempted to give some space to the otherwise neglected debate.

MR Muhammad Ali Siddiqi writing in the March 3 issue of Dawn (Pakistan’s New Left) has commented on the potential success of the Workers Party Pakistan (WPP), a new party formed by the merger of the National Workers Party and the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party.

The focus of this essay is not the newly formed party. I restrict myself to a general outline for political action suggested by the writer to rejuvenate the Left in Pakistan.

Mr Siddiqi raises the vital question of “how does the new party … create space for itself in the situation now obtaining in Pakistan?” I respectfully disagree with his answers to this question, and submit that recommendations offered to the Left to have a chance at gaining power indicate a poor understanding of the county’s political-economy, regional and international political politics, and the cultural prisms used by ordinary Pakistanis to make sense of the world around them.

A questionable assertion is of suggesting Tony Blair as the model to be copied in the following words: “Just as his ‘New Left’ in post-Thatcher era secured Tony Blair three unprecedented terms as Labour prime minister, so too does the WPP have a chance now to craft a new ‘ideology’ suited to the changed national and international situation.”

As a minor corrective, it was ‘New Labour’ that Blair professedly created and not the ‘New Left.’ I am not an expert on British politics but a cursory glance at the British Left’s view of Blair would suggest that he cleansed ‘New Labour’ of its leftist ingredients. Blair’s Labour brought the party much closer to the neoliberal mantra of Thatcher. Going the Blair way the Left will not win the support of the Pakistani masses, whatever its organisational incarnation.

Secondly, this comparison is erroneous. The Labour Party in UK has been one of the ruling parties, and when not in government it has been the government in waiting. Pakistani leftist parties, no matter what name they went by at any given time in the country’s history, have seldom been close to such a mantle. In fact, the electability of leftist parties is a dream that their leaders have never taken seriously.

The remainder of the article alerts the Left to four minefields that it should avoid. The writer makes three propositions. All of them have problems that could assign the WPP to the political margins of the country. Foremost among them is to get rid of anti-Americanism, because anti-Americanism is now the forte of Islamic parties and that sentiment is not going to lessen the ‘economic misery’ of the Pakistani people. True, assorted religious parties and individuals like Imran Khan champion simplistic and at time crass anti-Americanism. That is confusing anti-Americanism with anti-imperialism and reducing the former to the latter. In a bid to distance itself from the religious parties, the Left is asked to keep quiet whenever America’s role in the world at large, our region and the country is mentioned. Or worse, to condone it. Abu Ghraibs will not find mention in the parlance of the leftist party because Islamists are condemning it. Occupation of other countries in the 21st century would not ruffle the political conscience of the Left because that is anti-Americanism.

The writer also makes another questionable claim: “In the past, the leftist parties had shown themselves to be utterly indifferent to Pakistan’s foreign policy concerns.” He writes that the Pakistani Left has over the years opposed Pakistan’s jumping into US-sponsored military alliances in the 1950s, a partnership that according to him “opened the floodgates of American investment” in Pakistan. It would have been helpful to be given figures as an indication of the amount of investment as most of the harvest of that close relationship went into military use.

What is more troubling is the conclusion he reaches that Pakistan’s unemployment problem cannot be solved “without welcoming the flow of foreign capital and technology in a big way”. So welcoming it should be part of the new Left’s creed.

Fourth, the Left’s main enemy is “religious militancy” that is trying “to turn Jinnah’s Pakistan into a barbaric theocracy”. What was Jinnah’s Pakistan? And since when has it become the marker for the Left to choose enemies and friends? To me it appears more like a political Shangri-La that this country never was even during the 13 months that Jinnah led it. Little wonder that the biggest enemy of the Left is reduced to a trend, namely religious militancy, without putting into context the economic, political and social conditions that have given rise to it.

Let us visualise a political party in Pakistan that says nothing against the US role in the world, that strives to attract unbridled foreign capital, and that magnifies religious militancy as its biggest enemy. That sounds more like a social group of westernised upper middle class urbanites who have little clue about the economic, political and cultural dynamics of working Pakistanis. The reference to class is conspicuous by its absence, so are issues having to do with the federation and nationalities in Pakistan.

In an article (Has the Left left Pakistan?) published in December 2007 in Dawn, I provisionally defined the Left in the Pakistani context as “identified leftist parties and individuals who question the existing social property relations and the international order associated with them. Marxism in some form remained its intellectual inspiration”. The ‘New Left’ of Mr Siddiqi is almost the exact opposite of that.

This is how I concluded my 2007 piece “With the Left nowhere to be seen in the formal political arena, Pakistan’s political discourse revolves around phrases like ‘extremism versus moderation’ both of which leave the fundamental structures of the society untouched”. Mr Siddiqi’s offerings, if accepted by leftist practitioners, would only reinforce my conclusion.

hnizamani@hotmail.com // http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/editorial/new-left-or-no-left-830

4 Comments

Filed under Activism, Left, Liberal Democratic Pakistan, movements, Pakistan

4 responses to “New Left or no Left?

  1. yasserlatifhamdani

    “Let us visualise a political party in Pakistan that says nothing against the US role in the world, that strives to attract unbridled foreign capital, and that magnifies religious militancy as its biggest enemy. That sounds more like a social group of westernised upper middle class urbanites who have little clue about the economic, political and cultural dynamics of working Pakistanis”

    Precisely why I am signing up if this party actually comes about! Because I don’t want no Nizamanazamani to tell me about “economic, political and cultural dynamics of working Pakistanis”…. Pakistanis … rich and poor… want to live a good life, educate their kids and get on with the programme.

    In my opinion though PPP has the ability to be this party… and that would be the best thing for everyone.

  2. hoss

    Mohd. Ali Siddiqui is a veteran, right leaning moderate, journalist based in Karachi.

    Recently a leftist journalist asked my opinion on his article and I told him that perhaps Mr. Siddiqui was not qualified to write about the left because he did not appear to have sufficient knowledge of the left politics in Pakistan. I think before Nizamani, Asha Amirali also responded to the article.

    Anti-Americanism in Pakistani politics as has been suggested by Mr. Siddiqui, is currently owned by the religious parties. The right ironically is regurgitating the old leftist slogans without following what was behind those slogans. Though Mr. Nizamani made the correct distinction between the left and the right’s stands however, he, imo, did not explain what the left approach should be. His response, “In a bid to distance itself from the religious parties, the Left is asked to keep quiet whenever America’s role in the world at large, our region and the country is mentioned” is mostly rhetorical.

    Should the left continue with the mindless anti-American rhetoric thus making itself indistinguishable from the religious right as suggested in the article(by Ms. Haider) below or make qualitative judgment on every US move in the area?

    There are two aspects of the US involvement. First, the US in Afghanistan is primarily an occupier and second, without the US help, prodding, and pushing the internal struggle in Pakistan against the forces of darkness would take an ugly turn. How do you deal with this conundrum?

    The forces that are opposing the occupying US army in Afghanistan are the same that are trying to usher in an era of religious extremism in Pakistan. While the US influence in one country (Pakistan) is positive in another country at least theoretically, it is negative. The small left in Afghanistan supports the war against the Taliban but stays tight-lipped when questioned about the occupation. Similarly, the left in Pakistan supports the efforts against the Taliban and other militant religious, and sectarian groups knowing full well that, had it not been for the US pressure, the Pak army would never have acted or would act against the groups it created and nurtured over the years.

    In this context Mr. Siddiqui’s suggestion that the left should not compete with the right in sloganeering against the US, instead, it should continue to focus on attacking the religiously extremist groups makes whole lot of sense.

    Mr. Nizamani and Asha Amirali should remember that the left and the US have worked with each other in the past. There is no reason to not work with the US in the current circumstance, when forces of darkness in Pakistan are bigger enemy of Pakistan than the US. It does not mean that the left should forget about US actions in Iraq or the US support of the Pakistan army in the past. The left have to find a way to work with the US and still oppose the Pakistan army which is the source institution of extremism and terrorism in Pakistan.

  3. Rashid Saleem

    The left wing political ideology has always symbolized a pro-people and a more liberal approach. This is what Pakistan needs. Whether its new-left or just the traditional left wingers, we need to have more liberal forces making the decisions to ensure stability to Pakistan and curbing the extremist ideologies.

  4. Mustafa Shaban

    Speaking of leftist policy, the PPP is in nature supposed to be a very leftist party, like it was with ZAB. But this time PPP is adopting a neoliberal extreme right economic policy which is not good for Pakistan.