Can Pakistan be a socialist country?

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Alim Ullah Soomro
The writer is a freelance contributor. He can be reached at soomroaleem3633@gmail.com

The novel corona virus has exposed the weakness of capitalist system by severely affecting free market-economy and revealing scarcity of health services accessible to general public. Resultantly, the notions of socialism like universal basic income, promotion of socialist policies and taxing the rich elites are generating academic and political interest again. After the outbreak of Covid-19, capitalism is being assaulted and abused by the major segment of the society creating a hope for socialism in Pakistan.

Let suppose for a while that capitalism undergoes major changes in it and the socialist ideas appeal the world greatly and are translated into a reality, can Pakistan implement those ideas for the well being of nation?

In very simple words, socialism is a reform package that costs money. Given the precarious economic condition of Pakistan, it cannot afford this package. The success of this economic philosophy is a function of availability of resources. Many people derive their inspiration from the success of Scandinavian model of social democracy, not knowing the fact that it was North Sea oil that ensured constant flow of money. In Scandinavia, the rich elites pay willingly their fair share of taxes, almost 40 per cent of GDP, to make social democracy a success story. However, in our country, people are dishonest, corrupt and evil. Even those representing people in parliament hide and launder the wealth they acquire through bad practices.

The nature of a state is also a determining factor whether any ideology will be successful or not. Pakistan, historically, has been living with a siege mentality that if right amounts of resources are not allocated for the defense of the country, one day India, Iran or Afghanistan will invade it. We are so poor that we happily rent out our so-called strategic position to take money from our patrons. We often compromise our economic sovereignty to ensure survival. After every four or five years, we approach multilateral lending agencies to secure loans. Pakistan lacks resources and if this is not the case, it lacks expertise to utilise those resources. Traditional security is ensured at the expense of human development. How is it possible for such a poor country to implement socialist policies?

In 1970s, the Arab world experimented with socialism and it delivered results. The model was working well thanks to skyrocketing oil prices following Arab Oil Embargo. But once oil prices underwent massive slump in around 1980s, Middle Eastern monarchies were struggling to run affairs smoothly. Zulfiqar Bhutto brought Arab Socialism in Pakistan but he failed miserably. Socialism costs money and at the time the country was cashless. Unless economic status of the country is changed, implementation of socialist policies would be a wishful thinking.

Another important question is whether or not Pakistan will ever experience a Marxist revolution since many people live in an abject poverty, unemployment is rife, and inequalities are burgeoning. Keeping in view the history of the country and present state of affairs, the possibility of a revolution now or in future is almost zero. Before going to analyse whether Pakistan is fit for a Marxist revolution, one needs to analyse the general causes of a revolution.

Socialism in Pakistan will be a distant dream because its economy is poor, leaders are corrupt, capitalist are powerfull and people are not united

Revolutions occur when people are dissatisfied with the system, when their needs are unmet, suffer from tyranny, destitution and hopelessness, and above all when they have common interests and are religiously, ethnically and to some extent, economically homogenous. They occur largely in big urban centres as power is concentrated in major cities by virtue of being seat of governing authority.

If we take a look at the current demography of Karachi only, we will find hundreds of different ethnic communities living side by side. Even some major colonies are divided along ethnic lines. The economic standing of each community and their professions also vary. Their heroes, source of inspiration and political affiliations are also different. Precisely, their interests are not similar and so is their vision. Unity is a must-element for triggering a revolution. People are disunited. And unity is compromised in this way.

Leon Trotsky said, “if the poverty was the cause of revolutions, there would be revolutions all the time”. From his words, it can be inferred that there are also other factors, which motivate people to rise in rebellion. The level of motivation is largely dependent upon the level of access to accurate information, which is ensured by media and government agencies. Today, almost all media houses are owned and operated by wealthy capitalists who are fearful of losing their interests, if people are shown true picture of what is being done for them and what is happening around them. People are indoctrinated; they are kept passive through media manipulation. Their attention is frequently diverted from core issues haunting the country and its people. Resultantly, we have a population that is docile, passive, and seemingly indifferent to miseries they suffer. But when it comes to define our characteristics abroad, we term it as resilience.

Revolution is another name of challenging status quo. And challenging status quo means overcoming numerous barriers. One such big barrier to Marxist ideas will be capitalist themselves. They will resist any change that will affect their vested interests. Take example of Bennito Mussolini. He was a staunch supporter of Marxism till 1919. When he suffered pounding defeat in general elections in Italy before becoming prime minister, he was financed and cocooned by capitalists. Capital even changed his ideological orientations. The Capitalists feared that if communism in economic sense prevailed, it would be a death blow to their investments and ultimately power.

Antonio Gramsci coined the term “Historical Block”. This includes powerful sections of society whose interests are well served under existing setup. At the time of partition, this block included civilian and military bureaucracy along with landed elites. Today, this block has expanded its horizons since merchants, traders, clergy and businessmen are included. They are reaping huge benefits from the status quo. Who is going to challenge this historical block?

Revolutions do not take place in isolation. It always needs a critical mass necessary for triggering it. Pakistan lacks such critical mass. Middle class is considered as catalyst for revolution. It is this class that pushes society towards revolution. There is no clear-cut demarcation between upper, middle and lower classes. Who is going to further the cause of people working in informal economy, suffering in brick kilns, waiting for state to provide them relief?

Political parties too have sidelined labour issues for a while. Their focus is on civil liberties instead of labour rights. Very few progressive political parties exist in the country, but not all of them are united. The house of Left is divided. And lastly, it is the young generation that demands for change because they have to spend better days of life.

In Pakistan, there is great academic bias towards socialist ideas. Books recommended in universities are replete with the ideas of free market economy, free trade, deregulation, neoliberalism and so on, but no regard for socialist ideas. Is it still good to hope for a socialist revolution in Pakistan? Simply, Pakistan, at present, is not ready for socialist revolution and implementation of socialist policies.

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