At the time of Partition in 1947, no formal decision to split the Communist Party of India (CPI) had been made. However, at the annual congress held in Calcutta (attended by delegates from Pakistan) in December 1948, it was decided that the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) should be established. A number of prominent Communists from Muslim backgrounds from UP were sent to help organize the party in Pakistan. But the exodus of Hindu and Sikh Communists from what became Pakistan considerably weakened the party’s support base.
In India, the CPI decided in 1948 to work towards a democratic revolution through participation in the electoral process. The party split in 1964 and the pro-Chinese Community Party of India (Marxist) came into being while the CPI continued with its pro-Soviet orientation. In 1969, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) was established by those convinced that, without armed revolution, class oppression in India would not end. Pakistan was a different story. The democratic process was not institutionalized for a long time; neither any scope for democratic socialism nor an armed revolution existed because the CPP lacked a mass base anywhere in the country.
While being pro-Soviet in Pakistan was considered unpatriotic, being pro-Chinese was not
Moreover, unlike India, where Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru steered his country away from aligning with either the West or the Soviet Union, in Pakistan the power elite was keen to solicit Western patronage. Even before Pakistan came into being, Muslim League leaders where busy lobbying American support in favour of a separate state in the Subcontinent on the grounds that Pakistan’s peculiar location in the northwest and northeastern zones of the region rendered it an ideal country geo-strategically to serve as a frontline state against the spread of Soviet influence. This approach continued after Pakistan came into being, and both the civil and military leaderships persisted in convincing the Americans to co-opt Pakistan into their anti-Soviet alliance.
In early March 1951, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan announced that the government had uncovered a plot involving certain officers of the armed forces and leading members and sympathizers of the CPP to overthrow the government. Although the charges could not be proved conclusively, the CPP’s general secretary, Sajjad Zaheer, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Muhammad Hussain Ata were sentenced to four years in prison and a fine of Rs 500 each.
In 1954, the CPP was banned. Pakistan joined SEATO in 1954 and the Baghdad Pact in 1955, followed later by CENTO. The Americans were provided bases for spy aircraft near Peshawar. In October 1958, the Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army, General Mohammad Ayub Khan, overthrew the civilian government and imposed martial law. The regime moved quickly to muffle the vibrant leftist press represented by the Pakistan Progressive papers. Notwithstanding such repression, the Communists continued to work through multi-class parties, demanding an end to military alliances with the West, an end to large landholdings, the distribution of land to the tiller, better working conditions for the proletariat, greater autonomy to the provinces and a secular democratic constitution.
During the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru requested US intervention to prevent a Chinese advance towards India. This did not happen as the conflict ended quickly, but it was enough for the US to greatly increase military aid to India to bolster it as a democratic bulwark against Communism in South Asia. During the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965, the US imposed an arms embargo on both states, but this hurt Pakistan more because it was almost entirely dependent on US armament. It was clear that the Western powers would not risk destabilizing or weakening India, which was considered a democratic counterweight to Chinese Communism in the region. This greatly disappointed Pakistan, which had been trumpeting its credentials as the US’s most “allied” ally in Asia. Interestingly, the Chinese government expressed strong moral and political support for Pakistan – even going so far as to threaten India – during the 1965 war.
The biggest setback to revolutionary Communism in Pakistan was Zia-ul-Haq’s takeover in 1977
Sino-Soviet political and ideological animosity, which had been brewing for a long time, came to a head in the 1960s. It culminated in an irrevocable split in the international Communist movement. In almost all countries outside the Soviet bloc, the Communists split up into pro-Moscow and pro-Beijing parties. While the pro-Moscow parties advocated peaceful strategies for advancing the socialist cause, their pro-Peking counterparts stood for militant armed struggle. Given the exigencies and compulsions of patriotism and nationalism in modern politics, a Communist party that looked towards the same ideological centre (either Moscow or Peking) for inspiration as the state in which it was based, was likely to have the advantage of working more freely than a party that chose to associate with a centre from which the state was estranged. Thus, while being pro-Soviet in Pakistan was considered unpatriotic, being pro-Chinese was not. In India, it was the reverse.
It was in these circumstances that Ayub Khan’s foreign minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, reoriented Pakistan’s foreign policy, cultivating closer ties with the People’s Republic of China. The latter responded warmly to such overtures, since its own policy was dictated by an overriding concern to prevent the spread of Soviet influence in regions close to its borders. In turn, the Soviet Union backed India in different ways, including military and economic aid. The US looked upon this Sino-Pakistan courtship with apprehension, but its paramount concern to contain Soviet influence in South Asia suggested that the emerging relationship between China and Pakistan could be a useful counterweight.
The emerging Sino-Pakistan liaison provided a leeway for a new type of radical politics in Pakistan. Chairman Mao Zedong’s writings became available in bookshops all over Pakistan. These inspired the more radical sections of the Pakistani Left to adopt Maoist ideas. While some joined Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, others tried to establish a presence in the student movements and trade unions of the time. Following the breakup of Pakistan in 1971, Bhutto came to power in a truncated country now confined to the western wing. He introduced some progressive industrial reforms and announced land reforms, but labour unrest and peasant agitations emerged in different parts of the country as some people wrongly assessed the new situation as ripe for advancing a revolutionary agenda. These, Bhutto crushed ruthlessly.
A brief period of armed struggle in parts of the former North-West Frontier Province (now KP) is noteworthy, however. Taking their cue from Mao’s peasant revolution, a group of Communists led by Afzal Bangash founded the Mazdoor Kissan Party (MKP) in Peshawar in 1968. In 1970, Major (Retd) Ishaq Muhammad from Punjab joined the MKP. He was one of the accused of the 1951 Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case and had been sentenced to prison. The NWFP was the only province of Pakistan in which, traditionally, not only landlords, but also peasants, were armed. The MKP was able to mobilize the peasantry in some areas and a number of armed encounters, notably in Hashtnagar, a fertile swathe of land in Charsadda district, took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s between landlords’ militias and MKP peasant forces. For a while, the MKP scored impressive success in some battles.
From 1972 onwards, when a coalition government led by the National Awami Party (NAP) and the Jamiyat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) was in power in NWFP, a liaison was established between the MKP and PPP. Wanting to install a friendly government in the province, Bhutto met Afzal Bangash and Major Ishaq: the understanding they reached was that his government in the centre would not support the NAP-JUI government in NWFP against the MKP, and that the latter could initiate peasant resistance against the landlords in the NWFP. I know this because Afzal Bangash and Major Ishaq were staying with me and another MKP member, Comrade Masud, in Rawalpindi at the time.
However, in 1973, the NAP-JUI government in NWFP resigned. The central government then used considerable force to wipe out the MKP enclaves in NWFP. In Punjab, the party was involved in similar initiatives in the western and southern regions where big landlordism was strongly entrenched. Here, state authority rested with the PPP government, while the Punjab peasantry was essentially unarmed. Consequently, police repression overwhelmed the MKP rather quickly.
The biggest setback to revolutionary Communism and leftism in general occurred when General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq captured power in 1977. He unleashed countrywide repression, crushing whatever modicum of trade union activism and peasant militancy remained. Once the so-called Afghan jihad took off, it was Islamist ideology rather than revolutionary Communism in which the Pushtuns began to be indoctrinated.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of Chairman Mao’s death in 1976, the new Chinese leadership drastically changed course and started investing resources in capitalist development. Such developments profoundly demoralized the Pakistani Maoists – revolutionary Communism faded away. The Pakistani Maoists survive today only as minor players. They have taken part in some peasant struggles on military farms, but Maoism is not an important force in Pakistani politics today.
The Communist project collapsed internationally after the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991. With the wisdom of hindsight, one might say that, despite rationalistic and scientific assertions, Communism proved to be an oversimplified analysis of complex societal relations. Yet the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, Lenin’s theories of imperialism and of the state and revolution, as well as Mao’s Red Book profoundly influenced several generations of men and women who looked for a revolutionary termination of unjust social and political conditions. The centrally planned collectivist economy did deliver an impressive range of services, but the lack of democracy, personal freedom and individual choice ultimately proved to be a contradiction that Communist societies could not resolve. Moreover, the excesses against political opponents and dissidents during the Stalinist era as well as during the Chinese Cultural Revolution brought the Communist utopia into disrepute.
However, humanism, compassion, solidarity and an intellectual culture emphasizing reason and a scientific approach remain outstanding contributions of the Marxist tradition. Consequently, critical inquiry and Marxist scholarship continue to challenge militarism, ultra-nationalism, religious fanaticism, tribalism and unbridled capitalism. While orthodox Communism has probably receded into oblivion, reformed Communists can partner with social liberals, social democrats, human rights activists, feminists and those seeking to eradicate oppression based on sexual orientation. Ultimately, a pluralist world order that upholds the dignity of the individual in law and social practice is an objective around which networks and solidarity can be built across national boundaries, regions and continents.
The demise of communism is generally viewed as triumph
of democracy and free market capitalism. However, in certain
ways, democracy and capitalism, freed of competitive ideology,
have become distorted, corrupted and created major problem
of economic and social inequality. Democratic governments are
increasingly working to promote the interests of wealthy.
This unhealthy alliance has disappointed large segment of
citizenry to the extent that participation in election in USA is
barely above 50% in presidential election and well below
50% in mid term election for the house and the senate(1/3rd).
Income and wealth distribution is so skewed that 1% gains 25%
of income and has almost 40% of wealth. This economic injustice
has become glaring in every capitalist economy including China.
State ownership of means of production failed but the unrestrained
capitalism is creating its own ills. Communism is now a discarded
ideology but the struggle for economic and social justice has
to continue. Those who care for social and economic injustice need
to regroup and create an ideology which can appeal to large
number of people discarding the element of coercion and
suppression of freedom.