The fact that the question has been raised about the possibility of a revolution is significant. That it is being dismissed on the ground that the people of Pakistan have never rebelled before is perhaps something which the government needs more to continue on its present course than to consider corrective measures.
The time is now ripe to see whether previous revolutions have any resemblance to the present situation. It is true that the French, Russian, Chinese and Iranian revolutions all occurred at a time of inflation. In that respect, the time seems currently ripe. The inflationary spike we are experiencing has created revulsion amongst the government, but is the revulsion enough to cause people to become so desperate as to take on the might of the state.
Certain key factors need to be considered. First is the possibility of a revolution occurring without leadership coming from a pre-existing party. The Russian Revolution was not led by any party, and led Lenin to propound that a revolution had to be led by a vanguard revolutionary party. Even with the French Revolution, one can discern a leadership in the shape of the Girondins and Jacobins, who coalesced from members of the Third Estate.
The Etats General had been summoned after 175 years. However, its commoners were followers of Voltaire and Rousseau and votaries of what was seen as the English Revolution of 1649, when Charles I was beheaded. The Russian Revolution provides a similar example, or rather the first Revolution does, the unsuccessful one of 1905, as it led to the summoning of a Duma, the first in nearly 300 years, after the one in 1613 which installed the Romanov dynasty.
However, that Duma did not lead to the formation of a revolutionary party. There was already one, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. It had already split into the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions, the former of which played such an important role in 1917. The vanguard party did not bring about the February Revolution, in which the Czar and the Czarist state was overthrown, but it took power in the October Revolution, and later became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Is Pakistan heading to a revolution? Inflation is punitive, but the answer depends on how much people trust the 1973 Constitution and how it is operated.Does the 1973 Constitution answer the economic question? It must not be forgotten that the proponents of democracy have based their appeal on its doing so. However, the present hybrid rule is straining that narrative, and the nightmare of the establishment should be that that confidence will give
Both Russian Revolutions resulted from military reverses. In 1905, Russia had just lost the Russo-Japanese War, with its fleet destroyed at the Battle of Shimonoseki Strait. The Revolutionary War in Europe started after the French Revolution, not before. However, China experienced its Revolution after World War II. Iran’s war came after the Revolution, not before. There not having been a war is not a bar.
As wars generally cause economic hardship, they might be an enhancing factor, but to go back to Lenin, the rulers and ruled must both feel that matters cannot go on as they are. Has that stage been reached in Pakistan? It would seem not. The government may possibly have reached the point of despair, though there re no signs of its having done so.
The essential question is whether the people have reached that point. Perhaps more important, do they have anyone to provide them leadership? It should be noted that the Marxist parties, which had fulfilled this tole in earlier revolutions, are almost non-existent. That might not be a disqualification, but more serious has been the result of the collapse of the USSR, and the turn of China towards ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’, which is another way of saying capitalism with the Communist Party’s control undisturbed.
China is not going to foment any revolutions in Pakistan. So long as the Pakistani state shows willingness to maintain a relationship with China, it is impossible that it will support any revolution here.
One direction from which revolutionary leadership could spring is the religious parties. The fact that they cannot win an election should incline them to revolution as the only means they could get into power, but their lack of an economic programme is an apparently insurmountable handicap.
As for the past parties of government, they do not seem to have much of an economic programme either, except that of offering better management. That seems to leave them unable to solve the economic problem faced by the people.
Even the PPP is not a revolutionary party, having always come to power through elections, and with the help of ‘electables’ who stand for the status quo. It should be clearly understood that revolution implies a discarding of the constitution. That would be problematic in Pakistan’s case, because if indeed desperation drove people to revolution, it would be the first time a democracy would be overthrown. In previous revolutions, democracies have not been overthrown, unless you count the overthrow of constitutional rule in Turkey by the military under Gen Kenan Evren in 1980, or the overthrow of elected governments by military coups in 1958,1977 and 1999.
There may be the example of the TLP to consider. Perhaps more of interest than its ideology is its recent protest. The death of three policemen sent the message that the steel framework of the state was under pressure. No one is claiming that it has cracked, but the police is not going to be happy that the killers of its comrades are now going through.
This will reinforce the image of a state willing to negotiate with militants. The indication is that the state is weak, but is there anyone out there which will take this as an indication that the time is ripe for a takeover? It also has not been examined what relation exists between militant use of religious issues, and the economic unrest.
The TLP stayed away from economic issues. That is interesting, for one argument against them was economic. Could Pakistan afford spoiling relations with the European Union, which would result from acceding to the TLP’s demands, while the EU was such a large destination for Pakistani exports? Apart from detailing how it would deal with inflation, it would also have to detail how it would handle this specific issue.
It is perhaps relevant, considering the supposed ties of the TLP with certain quarters, to note that the leader of the 1905 workers’ demonstration in 1905, Father Georgi Gapon, was an Okhrana agent, and was ultimately killed by members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party after he tried to recruit them.
However, the assumed control of certain quarters over religious parties should not conceal the fact that they provide an alternative in a way that no one else does. If a party was to arise that won public confidence in its ability to solve the country’s economic woes, it could well use that confidence to lever its way into power.
The absence of a constitution is a big advantage. It should not be forgotten, which means that the government is free to do what it wants. Bhutto’s nationalisations came before the 1973 Constitution was passed, and Martial Laws have all acted in the absence of a constitution. In all the revolutions mentioned, constitution-making as a matter of years. Until then, the government just made things up as they went along.
Is Pakistan heading to a revolution? Inflation is punitive, but the answer depends on how much people trust the 1973 Constitution and how it is operated. Does the 1973 Constitution answer the economic question? It must not be forgotten that the proponents of democracy have based their appeal on its doing so. However, the present hybrid rule is straining that narrative, and the nightmare of the establishment should be that that confidence will give.