Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Russian Revolution, was once reminded by a Western intellectual, in the wake of the October 1917 Revolution, that he had probably destroyed and demolished all the state, economic and military structures of monarchical Russia. “What are you going to do now?” he was asked. Lenin’s response was historical and true to his political genius and his determination to rebuild Russian society and state power. “We know how to demolish, and we know how to reconstruct,” Lenin responded. In subsequent years, Lenin proved himself right: he rebuilt Russian state power from scratch. The ravages of the First World War had destroyed Russian society completely and Russia’s peasant army was in complete disarray. They started returning from the war front to form soviets (roughly translated as committees). These committees or soviets established mostly by returning peasant soldiers provided the raw power, which the political genius of Lenin used to build the sophisticated power of the post-revolutionary Russian state. Lenin was no ordinary mortal—he epitomised the philosopher-politician, a product of historical process that saw the relentless struggle against the Russian oppressive monarchical state and a lifelong association with a political organisational base that came into existence during the lifespan of more than one generation. Lenin had a philosophical disdain for Western liberal democracy and all his life he advocated a people’s democracy, the social basis for which was provided by the downtrodden and especially industrial labour.
Readers would be at a loss to understand as to why I am making a reference to Lenin and his politics at the start of a piece that intends to analyse the political upheaval that is taking place in our society at the moment. Two Prime Ministers were ousted from power, and both have been accusing the military for orchestrating their ouster—both mobilising central Punjab, one after the other, within the span of four years, and achieving a certain level of success in turning the historically military-allied middle classes in central Punjab against the incumbent military leaders. We are in the midst of one such mobilisation in central Punjab.
Both Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan have failed to mobilise the public to the level where they could cause a serious panic in the officialdom of Islamabad. Still, the political nature of this upheaval is quite visible in society. In both mobilisations, the intended objectives of the political parties were clear: they either wanted the military establishment to support their political cause or they wanted the military establishment to at least stop supporting their political opponents. The leaders of both political mobilisations clearly wanted to influence the political policies of the military establishment. In any event, there has been a clearly dangerous streak visible in one of these mobilisations. This was Imran Khan’s insistence that the military establishment should have sided with him to prevent the no-confidence move against him from succeeding.
Incumbent PM Shehbaz Sharif was a duly elected member of the National Assembly when he tabled the motion to de-seat Khan. He was President of one of the largest political parties in the country, the PML-N. Why should the military side with Imran Khan and not with his opponents? We are not a banana republic or Baa’th-party-led Arab post-1945 revolutionary state where the armed forces act as an arm of the ruling party.
We are supposed to be a constitutional republic with a democratically elected government, non-partisan state machinery, judiciary, military and intelligence services. True, our military has a strong tradition and history of taking part in political, social and religious conflicts. On occasions in our history, the acts of military leaders to take sides in political conflicts brought them into conflicts—sometimes armed conflicts—with one or the other segments of the society. The Military is not like other institutions in the state machinery. For, the military is armed to the teeth. And their taking sides in a conflict is likely to lead to a civil war. Imran Khan is either too naïve to understand this or he is deliberately trying to start a conflict in the society.
This is where Lenin’s reference and his conversation with the Western intellectual becomes relevant. Allah Almighty perhaps has stopped producing giants like Lenin, who have the capacity to destroy as well as to rebuild and reconstruct. He did reconstruct Russian state power after it was completely destroyed by the revolutionary movement. In Pakistan, we have political pygmies who are in possession of enough political capital—popularity and public mobilisation techniques and technical capacity—to construct a juggernaut to destroy norms, institutions and political traditions that come in their way as obstacles to their ambitions for power. Yet they are completely devoid of any intellectual or political capacity and organisational base to reconstruct new political structures and norms that could replace the destroyed and demolished world.
One of them, Imran Khan, thinks that in politics all he has to do is to mobilise public opinion. For him, politics is nothing more than media management. His political party PTI could perform only two functions, a) manage media and control trends on the social media, b) act as an electoral machine which can deliver the bulk of votes to polling stations during general elections. The PTI is making an attempt to muster street power, its possible third function. But it has yet to demonstrate this capacity.
Nawaz Sharif’s political machine is good in media management and management of social media trends, and it has also demonstrated the capacity to act as an electoral machine in several past general elections.
The political machines of Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif are simply incapable of building an organisational base—an essential prerequisite for generating political and social power in society. Lenin was in possession of this organizational base: his party didn’t revolve around his own star value. Yet if you remove the star values of Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif, their political machines are next to nothing. Lenin’s party revolved around an organisational base that rivalled the Russian Tsarist order in its presence at the grassroot level in Russian society. It was Lenin’s political genius that converted the soviets formed by returning Russian peasant soldiers into a sophisticated form of state power. He was involved with an alternative organisational structure since his youth. Moreover, consider Lenin’s intellect and strength of character—he spent the major part of his life struggling against an oppressive Russian state and relying on state machinery in any way was beyond his imagination – and contrast this with Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif with their excessive reliance on intelligence services and courts as part of their struggle.
But Lenin and his style of politics are history. The main lesson that we can learn from Lenin is his honesty to his cause. Destroying a state structure or even aiming to destroy a state structure is too sinister an objective to work in our world today. We should probably not emulate Lenin.
Yet worse still are the ways of those who pretend or pose as Lenin and Imam Khomeini when in opposition, and yet serve the interests of business cartels when they are in power.