Populist leaders do have an effect on the masses. What is also true is that the size and revolutionary fervour of the crowds they pull has an even greater impact on the consciousness of the leaders. The dialectical interaction and the chemistry between the leaders and the masses at particular moments in history trigger upheavals that create revolutionary situations
Revolutionary periods are historical exceptions. The masses enter the arena of history to transform their destiny with their bare hands. On October 18, 2007, when Benazir Bhutto returned from her last exile, a vast sea of the oppressed masses converged in Karachi. Estimates vary from about 1.5 to 2.5 million. As she came out of the airport, the sight of the sheer enormity of the crowd flabbergasted her. It changed the whole political scenario and the plans of the elite for a smooth transition and to avert an upheaval. The deal brokered by Washington and London with Musharraf was ripped apart. The masses had turned out in such huge numbers, and not just to catch a glimpse of a leader personifying their political tradition. They could have watched better glimpses of her on their television screens. They had come to exhibit their own miseries and deprivations to the world and express their will and determination to strive for an end to this system of exploitation and tyranny. The masses, in their own instinctive and peculiar ways, were yearning for the programme of revolutionary socialism clearly inscribed in the founding documents of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). It was this policy and the slogan of ‘roti, kapra aur makaan’ that had inspired them to adopt the PPP as their political tradition for more than three generations. Populist leaders do have an effect on the masses. What is also true is that the size and revolutionary fervour of the crowds they pull has an even greater impact on the consciousness of the leaders. The dialectical interaction and the chemistry between the leaders and the masses at particular moments in history trigger upheavals that create revolutionary situations. The ruling elite was panic-stricken. Their right wing orchestrated a grotesque terrorist attack on the rally in which about 200 innocent souls perished and hundreds were wounded. Yet, the wretched of the earth refused to retreat.
In the aftermath of these events, the PPP’s election campaign became more of a mass movement that began to threaten the regime. The passion of the masses, invigorating the movement from below, obtained the revival of the slogans of yesteryear from the PPP’s platform. Jitters ran through the echelons of power in Islamabad and even in Washington and London. The whole game plan was unravelling. The obscurantist sections of the state became terrified as the movement radicalised. In their desperation and perplexed mind set, these reactionary elements decided to remove the epicentre, the main icon around which the movement had converged. They assassinated Benazir Bhutto in a gruesome act on December 27, 2007. The Americans and others who brokered these plans and deals to preserve this rotting system stood gaping and could not even lift a finger to protect Ms Bhutto with whom they had made so many lofty pledges. Or perhaps they were themselves frightened of the rising tide of the masses and did not interfere.
The initial response of the masses was that of sorrow and shock. But within hours this changed rapidly into mass fury. Such was the ferocity of the upsurge that the state was suspended in midair and for more than three days the writ of the state had vanished. The masses vented their pent up hatred as they attacked banks, police stations, the factories where they were oppressed, court buildings and other installations that were a source of their misery, repression and socio-economic exploitation. Again, this spontaneous outburst petrified the ruling elite, the establishment and their imperialist masters. Then ‘plan B’ was set into motion. The masses, due to lack of a revolutionary leadership, drifted back into despair and apathy. The ruling elites started to prepare ferocious attacks upon them to preserve the interests of the capitalists, landlords, imperialist corporations and financial institutions. Elections were postponed and their results were tailored in Washington, denying the PPP its outright majority, increasing the seats of the right wing parties and installing a coalition government in which the masses could not have a say. Some of the right wing leaders connived in this intrigue. As the theory of ‘reconciliation’ came into action, an unprecedented avalanche of price hikes, cuts, deregulations, privatisations, redundancies and attacks on the living standards of the already impoverished masses was unleashed. The masses are still in shock and bewilderment with the agony and pain of these ‘reforms’. All this was done in the name of democracy. Although democracy is not a social or economic system, it was imposed upon the masses as an ideology or a socio-economic system. The Roman republic, the Athenian democracy, etc, are proof that democracy has been a tool to run different social and economic systems in history. The PPP’s founding document (1967) and its 1970 election manifesto very clearly elaborate that without socio-economic equality, democracy is a farce. Lenin described capitalist democracy aptly in his epic work, Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, when he said, “Bourgeois democracy, although a great historical advance in comparison with medievalism, always remains, and under capitalism is bound to remain, restricted, truncated, false and hypocritical, a paradise for the rich and a snare and deception for the exploited, for the poor.”
The harrowing crisis that is pillaging society is an indication of the incompetence and incapability of an obsolete socio-economic system. Such is the organic crisis of neo-colonial capitalism that even with high growth rates the poverty, hunger, disease and deprivation of the teeming millions continues to intensify. Cancer cannot be treated with aspirin. It now needs some radical surgery. Without a socialist revolution, not a single problem of the people can be solved. After the great revolution of 1968-69, the significance of the movement that began on October 18, 2007 is that it is the most recent reminder of the potential courage and the burning desire of the masses in Pakistan to transform society. This movement of ‘uncivil’ society had cut across the frivolous and cosmetic media hyped movements of ‘civil’ society (the petit bourgeoisie). Arise they will, yet again. That is the verdict of history. With a revolutionary Marxist leadership they shall be victorious.
The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org