COMMENT: Bhutto: a legacy betrayed —Lal Khan - Sunday, April 03, 2011

Bhutto’s real legacy has been betrayed by subsequent mediocre leaders. Most of the leaders and ministers of the present PPP are scions of those notorious 22 elite families against whom Bhutto had launched his revolutionary crusade 

Thirty-two years ago, on the night of 3rd and 4th April 1979, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was assassinated at the gallows in Rawalpindi jail. This was probably the most significant political murder in the history of the country. A terrified state, headed by the country’s most brutal and vicious dictator Ziaul Haq, carried out this harrowing act.

The ruling classes and imperialism were in connivance with the despotic general to eliminate the man who had become a threat to the state and the system after being deposed through a military coup in 1977 and then incarcerated in harsh conditions where he was subjected to physical and psychological torture, insults and humiliation.

After the ruling class was forced by events to hand power to him in December 1971, Bhutto carried out the most radical reforms in Pakistan’s history. His acts had bruised the interests of the capitalists, landlords and those of imperialism. Then the elite struck with a poisonous vengeance.

Bhutto may have been physically eliminated but his legacy remains a vital factor in Pakistan’s politics. However, his legacy has been severely tarnished and distorted by the clique that sits at the helm of his party and rules in the name of his legacy.

Like every individual, Bhutto’s political life comprised several phases, some of them contradictory in character. According to a recent interview on television, one of his closest confidants, Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, summed it up in the following words: “The main flaw of Bhutto’s policy doctrine was that it was based on two contradictory and irreconcilable ideological foundations, socialism and nationalism.”

Bhutto evolved during his political odyssey. Initially, he was moved by the post-World War II revolutionary upheavals, particularly in the ex-colonial world, during his student years. He was further radicalised while at Harvard when he read one of the books sent by his father, The Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels.

On his return to Pakistan, he was soon to be inducted into the politics of the elite, joining the government of Sikander Mirza and then Ayub Khan’s military regime. He became the foreign minister, but soon clashed with Ayub and was deposed.

His rebelling against the military dictator came at a very crucial period, as a mass revolt was simmering just beneath the surface. He formed the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in November 1967 and less than a year later a revolutionary movement of the youth and the workers erupted with volcanic explosions.

The programme on which the PPP was founded was far ahead of those of traditional left parties in Pakistan. The PPP stood for a socialist revolution, as compared to a democratic programme being put forward by the left. This connected with the aspirations of the revolutionary masses who were demanding the overthrow of capitalism and a transformation of the property and socio-economic relations in society. The state was suspended in mid-air and the workers, peasants and youth prevailed on the streets, in the factories and on the landed estates. The imperialists and their subservient elites in the whole of South Asia were trembling. They even went to war to try and derail the revolution, but a new wave erupted in its aftermath. The policies of Bhutto and the PPP in that period of mass struggle between 1967 and 1972, based on the irreconcilability of class conflict and revolutionary socialism, created the legacy that has survived as a tradition of the oppressed.

The PPP, however, not being a Bolshevik party, could not develop and prepare a cadre network that could overthrow and replace the bourgeois state. Hence, to stave off the revolution, the PPP was brought into office with the economic and state apparatus of the existing order, although ramshackle, intact. Hence, in spite of the radical reforms initiated, the PPP government of 1971-77 was absorbed into the logic of the priorities of a capitalist state and system. Now the state was calling the shots. Policies such as the nuclear programme, military aggression in Balochistan and the religious bills introduced at the behest of the state only ended up strengthening the establishment. The irony is that the present PPP leaders cite these very policies enacted during state power as Bhutto’s legacy.

As Bhutto tried to compromise, reaction upped its attacks on the PPP government. The capitalists stoked inflation and the PPP government was soon engulfed in a crisis. In 1977 the right wing started a movement covertly supported by the CIA to overthrow Bhutto.

After Bhutto was deposed and incarcerated by a military coup, he probably went through an intense retrospection. This was the most crucial phase of his political life. His verdict was defiant and a class fight to the finish. In his last book, If I Am Assassinated, that has ended up as his political testament, he wrote, “I am suffering this ordeal partly because I sought an honourable and equitable via media of conflicting interests in order to harmonise our disjointed structure. It seems that the lesson of this coup d’etat is that a via media, a modus vivendi, a compromise is a Utopian dream... Class struggle is irreconcilable and it must result in the victory of one class over the other. Obviously, whatever the temporary setbacks, the struggle can lead only to the victory of one class. This is the writing on the wall.”

This was Bhutto’s real legacy. It has been betrayed by subsequent mediocre leaders. Most of the leaders and ministers of the present PPP are scions of those notorious 22 elite families against whom Bhutto had launched his revolutionary crusade. Even the political protégés of Ziaul Haq, who carried out his gruesome murder, are part of the incumbent regime. Bhutto’s nationalisation policy has been publicly condemned by a ‘PPP’ prime minister, and the party’s socialist ideals have been ridiculed by these upstarts. They have unleashed an avalanche of neo-liberal capitalism, pillaging the masses.

However, the oppressed masses will not forego the founding socialist principles of the party. The main bastion of the support of the party is not within the circles of nominated cronies, but its strength lies in the masses who perceive it as an instrument of their salvation. From this orientation, a revolutionary movement, when it erupts, will carve out a genuine Marxist Leninist leadership necessary to complete the unfinished revolution of 1968-69 through a socialist victory.

The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at

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