The formation of the Awami Workers’ Party (AWP) by merger of three main leftist parties has been cautiously welcomed by social movements and progressive sections of Pakistani society. After its relegation to the fringes of Pakistani society over three decades ago, the Left further isolated itself by small sectarian groups engaged in fighting “ideological” battles with each other, instead of analyzing or intervening in any meaningful way in changing the socio-political landscape of Pakistan. The merger is seen by many as a possibility of moving beyond nihilistic politics (including that of the Left) by formulating a coherent Left alternative.

The merger process is also linked to the particular unfolding of History in our times, as the shattering of the neo-liberal consensus (following the financial crisis), paves the way for a new round of struggles against the prevalent order, what Alain Badiou has recently called the ‘Rebirth of History’. This opens up new avenues for radical politics around the world that the Left is trying to grapple with, albeit with varying degrees of success, and the Pakistani Left’s decision to unite is part of this process of seriously engaging with the opportunities and challenges posed by this new global political conjecture.

Another reason for the enthusiasm, debate, discussion and criticisms of this merger, despite the numerically weak position of the AWP vis-a-vis mainstream parties, is because it claims to represent an idea that has moved millions, particularly in the 20th century. At an abstract level, it is the idea of equality, an idea powerful enough to make peasants in Vietnam stand up to the might of the US war-machine, and one that allowed millions of activists to bear the brunt of lonely isolation during periods of incarceration, only because the cause was worthy enough of such a sacrifice. Despite the relative numerical weakness of the Left, this idea remains etched in the political unconscious of this country, and certainly in that of the ruling class, who often go to any extent in suppressing any possibility of dissent that threatens their privilege.

While defending the AWP against what I believe are ulta-Left positions by certain sectarian Marxists, I want to point to some real hurdles that the party will have to overcome as it tries to become a relevant force in Pakistani politics.

Challenges for the Party

There are some very genuine concerns on the ability of the AWP to turn into a mass party in the country. I will highlight two major causes for concern. First of course, is the threat of disintegration, or what is termed in Leftist circles as a ‘split.’ There are often two main reasons for such recurrent splits in the Pakistani Left. First is the belief in absolute purity of a political organization, coupled with the belief that two people can constitute a revolutionary ‘organization.’ The lack of homogeneity within the AWP is seen by some Leftists as its weakness, rather than its strength. One hopes that such juvenile, apolitical and anti-pluralist views have already been superseded as the three parties decided to merge into one large political party with admittedly different ideological trends.
The second major reason for such splits is a lack of internal democracy through the suppression of dissenting views. This poses a greater challenge for the unity of the AWP since the leadership and the workers of the party will have to set new political traditions by debating and engaging with different ideas without accusing the others of being ‘traitors’ for simply airing their opinion. If the AWP is able to create an atmosphere for open and frank internal discussions, it will also create the possibility of introducing innovative ideas in Left politics in the country.

The second fundamental task for the AWP is to develop with organizational strategies to introduce an alternative in Pakistan’s politics. This is an incredibly difficult task. Large parts of the country are in the grips of violence, the numerical strength of the organized working class has decreased significantly, the trade union movement in the country is in a dire condition, the women’s rights movement has been tamed through NGO-funding, and most popular politics revolves around patronage. In such circumstances, how does the new party envision a rupture with politics as usual? What are the new forms of analysis and strategies that are required to formulate an adequate response to such historical circumstances? There are no easy answers to such questions, but such issues must be confronted if the party wants to truly move beyond the coordinates of contemporary politics in Pakistan.

Rebirth of the Political Subject, or Why you should join the AWP

Since the rise of neo-liberal governmentality, the figure of a ‘detached intellectual’ is praised as the ideal political commentator. It means that the intellectual gains her/his legitimacy by not taking sides in a conflict and staying ‘neutral’, since being attached to a political organization reduces her chances of being ‘objective.’ Moreover, and this is crucial, it means that an intellectual’s role is simply to formulate criticisms from the outside, to give correctives to movements and parties, but not be associated with them.

To the extent that such self-reflexivity emerges from a critique of dogmatic Leftist practices throughout the 20th Century, it should be welcomed. There is, however, something incredibly disempowering about the idea that the only site to analyze a political process is from outside of it. For example, for a dispassionate observer, the use of violence in the Russian revolution, or the anti-colonial struggles in India or Algeria might simply seem examples of ‘needless violence.’ However, one is lent an incredibly different insight into these events if one reads Lenin on the Russian Revolution or Bhaghat Singh and Frantz Fanon to understand the subjective nature of this violence. It is through the fidelity of such intellectuals to the struggle, and the clear and unambiguous choices they made, that they were truly able to bring forth the historical conjecture in which the question of violence vs. non-violence begins to make sense.

It is now time to re-engage with politics through precisely such subjective interventions, by choosing sides and following through with the consequences of those choices. One can remain critical of the project one engages with, and one only needs to read the writings of quintessential revolutionaries such as Bhaghat Singh and Fanon to understand this point, yet maintain fidelity to the cause. The AWP is not simply an organization that we need to analyze and comment upon. It is something that we must engage with and play an active role in, especially since it is pregnant with so many possibilities. Left activists, particularly the youth, can play a vital role in shaping the political trajectory of the New Left in the country through their passionate engagement with it.

The spectacular failure of capitalism around the world has shattered the liberal consensus on the capacity of this order to perpetuate itself eternally. The breakdown of this consensus has provided an opportunity for the international Left to propose an alternative to the current crisis. But it is also giving rise to nationalist/fascist tendencies around the globe. In Pakistan, the situation is grimmer since the absence of the Left has resulted in the choice between religious and statist militarization and liberal hypocrisy. Given this historical trajectory, and the terrible consequences that can flow from it, it is all the more important to become involved in constructing a radical alternative to keep alive the hypothesis of equality and freedom.

—Written By Ammar Ali Jan

(Published in The Laaltain – Issue 6)

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