Pakistan: 29th Congress of The Struggle – a historic gathering

On Saturday, March 20, the 29th Congress of The Struggle opened with sessions on the world crisis of capitalism, followed by a discussion on the impact of this crisis on Pgakistan, as the country is ravaged by war, rising unemployment, power cuts, and terrorist attacks. Economic collapse is causing widespread misery among the masses, leading to growing social protest. In these conditions, over the two days the total figure attending was 2,183 people.

The 29th Congress of The Struggle has been meeting in an economic, social and political crisis without parallel in the history of Pakistan. The economic collapse is causing widespread misery among the masses. 20,000 people are falling into poverty every day. To the scourge of unemployment is added the constant increase in prices of basic necessities and the daily electricity cuts that plunge cities, towns and villages into darkness sometimes for ten hours or more.

One well-known journalist wrote recently that we should be prepared to put up with power cuts because we have democracy. How hollow such words sound to millions of Pakistanis who are struggling to survive! The election of the PPP government has made little or no difference as far as the masses are concerned. Under the right-wing leadership of Zardari the government has carried out a policy of cuts and privatization and subordinated the country to US imperialism, participating in the criminal war in Afghanistan that has brought further death, devastation and misery.

The setting of the Congress was the impressive Awan-e-Iqbal Hall in Lahore. One week before the Congress Lahore was shaken by three violent bomb blasts that killed dozens of innocent people as well as police and military personnel. There are now many more terrorist acts in Pakistan than in Iraq and the situation is getting worse all the time. Therefore security was very high, with a large number of comrades acting as stewards.

There has been a steady increase in attendance in recent years, but this year has broken all previous records. Over the two days the total figure of those attending was 2,183 people. On the first day every seat was occupied both upstairs and down, and a number of delegates had to stand or sit in the aisles. This is particularly impressive because of the big increases in train fares that have made travelling costs far more expensive than in the past.

This undoubtedly limited the numbers attending, as did the serious security threat posed by the bombings. Whereas other political organizations and NGOs in Pakistan actually pay people to attend their meetings and conferences, the comrades of The Struggle have to find the money to get to Lahore and actually pay to attend the Congress. In addition many students were affected by exams. Without these problems there would have been an even greater number, which would have been too big even for the present hall to contain.

There is some assistance in finding food, however. In the days before the Congress, sacks of rice, flour and cans of ghee (cooking oil) began arriving from the villages where sympathizers donate whatever they can to provide food for the delegates and visitors. Just to find food and accommodation for such a large number of people would be a huge feat even for comrades in a developed country. In a place like Pakistan it is little short of a miracle.

The congress opens

At half past nine in the morning the delegates began to file into the hall, having passed through stringent security checks. The atmosphere is enthusiastic. There are comrades from every region and province of Pakistan: Karachi, Sind, Baluchistan, Punjab (North, South and Central), Kashmir, Pukhtoonhua (formerly the North West Frontier), and even the Tribal Areas (Waziristan, D.I. Khan) where war is raging between the Taliban and the Pakistan army.

Comrade Rehana from Kashmir opens the congress.Comrade Rehana from Kashmir opens the congress. As in previous years there is a good mix of youth and trade unionists. There are comrades from Karachi Steel and Karachi Electricity Supply, hardened in the struggle against the fascist MQM. These workers are used to facing terrorist attacks, contract killings organized by the bosses and the Mafia, sectarian strife between different religious and national groups, and many other problems. But Karachi remains the key to the socialist revolution in Pakistan. It occupies the same strategic position as did Petrograd in the Russian Revolution.

The varied costumes bear witness to the presence of different nationalities. The women (there were 95 female comrades present) in particular wear a variety of colourful clothes. Some have the oriental features of the Hazara people who came to Afghanistan with the Mongols of Genghis Khan. There are revolutionary youth from Kashmir, peasants from Sind, Baluchis, Punjabis, Pukhtoons and people from the Tribal lands of the North.

But instead of national rivalry there is a spirit of comradely unity and revolutionary solidarity. There is excitement, singing, chanting. As usual, before the formal sessions start a series of comrades come to the rostrum to sing revolutionary songs and recite revolutionary poems. At 10.30 the congress was formally opened by Comrade Rehana from Kashmir who is now in charge of work among women.

Before the start of the first session, delegates watched video messages of support and solidarity to the Congress from leading Marxists of different countries: the USA, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil (comrade Serge Goulart), Bolivia, France, Denmark and Britain. The warm approval given by the delegates showed the firm commitment of the Pakistan Marxists to proletarian internationalism and the IMT.

World perspectives

Alan Woods introduces World PerspectivesAlan Woods introduces World Perspectives The first session was on world perspectives and was introduced by comrade Alan Woods of the IMT. In his speech, comrade Alan explained that this was the most serious crisis of capitalism, not just since the Second World War, but probably in the whole of its history. The so-called free market economy stands condemned because it only survives on the basis of state handouts. Billions of dollars had been handed to the rich, whilst the governments tell the poor there is no money for schools, houses, hospitals or pensions.

The grotesque parasitism of capitalism was shown by the recent publication of the Forbes Rich List, which indicated that the process that Karl Marx described as the concentration of capital had reached obscene levels. It is untrue that the real division is between rich and poor countries. The richest man in the world is not Bill Gates but Carlos Slim, a Mexican, who has a personal fortune of $53.5 billion, which he increased by $18.5 billion last year. Bill Gates has slightly less – “only” $53 billion.

But there are quite a few multi-billionaires from poor countries, like Mukesh Abani, an Indian with a personal fortune of $29 billion, or another Indian, Lakshmi Mittai, with $28.7 billion. They have made these obscene profits from oil and steel, while millions of poor Indians do not have enough to eat and no access to clean water, education or health facilities. And there is no shortage of wealthy parasites in Pakistan either, said the British Marxist, pointing to the presence of at least one Pakistani on this Rich List.

Alan explained that the capitalists had only got out of the crisis by pumping huge amounts of money into the private banks and industries. But this only creates new and insurmountable problems. The unprecedented levels of state debt had to be paid, and would be paid not by the rich but the poor. The crisis of Greece capitalism was only the tip of the iceberg. The attempts to make the Greek workers pay for the crisis had already led to several general strikes and massive demonstrations. He said that other countries would follow the same path, leading to a general increase of the class struggle.

Passing on to world relations Alan pointed out that US imperialism was involved in an unwinnable war in Afghanistan. They would have to get out of Iraq and all they have achieved was to destabilize the Middle East. Obama was a picture of impotence, and Netanyahu could afford to defy him openly over the Palestine question. The Afghan war had destabilized Pakistan and had a similar effect in Central Asia.

Despite everything, the revolutionary potential was maturing. This was shown by the dramatic events in Iran, where millions had come onto the streets to defy the reactionary regime of the mullahs.

Alan pointed out that the governments are trying to place all the burden of the crisis on the shoulders of the masses. They gave billions to the bankers and now pass the bill to the poor. That is happening in Pakistan also. Fifty percent of all the wealth created by the sweat and toil of the workers and peasants of Pakistan is handed over to the foreign bankers in so-called debt repayment, while a further 28% is handed to the army, he said. “That leaves just 12% for health, education and infrastructure. And now they want to reduce even that!”

Comrade Woods spoke ironically of those journalists who write in the press that we must put up with power cuts ‘because we have democracy’. “These are not power cuts, but democratic power cuts,” said Alan, to loud laughter. “These are not price hikes, but democratic price hikes. And when the people protest on the streets of Islamabad, they are met by the police, firing democratic rubber bullets; they are blinded by democratic tear gas and wounded by democratic bullets.”

For those who ride around Islamabad in big limousines, that is democracy. But for the workers and peasants struggling to survive with 20-hour power cuts, democracy, if it means anything at all, must mean: Roti, kupra, aur maqan, (bread, clothing and shelter), Alan said, to enthusiastic applause.

Debate and reply

There was a session of questions and contributions, during which the Congress listened with great interest to a speech by Emanuel Tomaselli, of the Austrian Marxists of Der Funke and contributions by comrade Hameed Khan (Quetta) and Muazzam Kazmi of the German section of the IMT. Hamid Khan said that the revolution in Iran is moving forward and will have a big effect on Pakistan.

Comrade Emanuel explained that capitalism is a failed system, as it not only exploits working men and women, but also needs their financial contributions to pay back the huge amounts of money which were thrown at the banks in order to save them from collapse. Societies that destroy the wealth of the nations in order to save their productive systems are doomed and should be thrown into the dustbin of history.

Even human disasters like the earthquake in Haiti are misused for strategic military purposes to counter the influence of the Venezuelan and Cuban revolutions in Latin America, where the revolutionary process had gone further than anywhere else. He pointed out what effects the crisis has on the living conditions of the working class and the effects that this will have on the mass organizations of the class, which will be shaken from top to bottom.

He explained that Marxists in Europe are witnessing the dawn of big economic and political struggles of the working class in the imperialist countries. Politically this will be expressed in the rise of communist and left-wing parties, and in mass left currents in the social democratic parties. He ended by stating: “All political concepts are in crisis, except for revolutionary Marxism, and we are all optimistic. We must do everything to get prepared for the battles ahead.”

In his reply, comrade Alan answered some of the many questions that were passed to him. Asked about the PPP, Alan said that there are two PPPs: the PPP of the bureaucrats and corrupt careerists and the PPP of the millions of oppressed workers and peasants who voted for the PPP seeking to change society: “We are on the side of the latter and we are implacably opposed to the former. We will participate in all the protests and struggles to defend living standards, and strive to give them a revolutionary socialist content.”

Finally, Alan reported the historic decision taken by the International Executive Committee of the IMT to support the creation of the V International. This was put to the vote and approved by a unanimous vote, with a standing ovation that concluded the first session.

The second session

After the lunch break came the second session on Pakistan Perspectives, before which, the famous singer Jawad Ahmed sang the Internationale in an Urdu translation that he has made himself. The whole congress rose to its feet to sing the final verse with tremendous revolutionary spirit. It was an emotional moment, followed by loud chants of Inqlab, Inqlab, Socialist Inqlab! (Revolution, Revolution, Socialist Revolution!)

Comrade Paras Jan introducing Pakistan PerspectivesComrade Paras Jan introducing Pakistan Perspectives The second session, on Pakistan Perspectives, was introduced by comrade Paras Jan, who began by stressing the effects of the crisis of world capitalism in Pakistan. The government is using the excuse of the “war on terror” to justify its attacks on living standards. Comrade Paras denounced the reactionary Moslem League of Nawaz Sharif, but also pointed to the thorough degeneration of the leadership of the PPP, which had completely capitulated to capitalism and imperialism.

Comrade Paras pointed out the deep contradictions within the Pakistan bourgeois state, the conflicts between sections of the armed forces and intelligence services. He emphasized the revolutionary role of the youth and particularly the workers. He pointed to a number of strikes and demonstrations in the last year despite the difficult conditions. Even in Bannu, in the middle of war-torn Pukhtoonhua, the workers have gone on strike. The PTUDC has done marvellous work and is getting a good echo. Everywhere there is a ferment of discontent, even in areas where war is raging, like Baloochistan and Pukhtoonhua, people are open to revolutionary ideas.

During the discussion there were interventions of comrades from Baloochistan, Kashmir, Puhktoonhua (former NWFP) and Sind. Congress gave a particularly warm welcome to comrade Amjad Shahsawar, the President of the JKSNF, the biggest youth organization in Kashmir, which is led by the Marxist tendency. He emphasized that the only solution for the Kashmir problem was a socialist revolution in Kashmir, India and Pakistan: “And the only force capable of bringing about such a revolution is in this hall!”

Comrade Fazal-e-Qadir, the leader of the railway workers from Peshawar, spoke against the Stalinist theory of two stages, which led to the defeat of the Revolution of 1968-9, and directly to the dictatorship of Zia-al-Huq. The workers have been paying the price ever since.

Replying to the discussion, Lal Khan, the leader of the Pakistan section of the IMT, said that not only the economy of Pakistan was in crisis but the very ideological basis upon which Partition was based. All the artificial divisions that cut across whole nations are reactionary, including the Durand Line, which is rejected by the Pukhtoon people. The way forward was shown by the Russian Revolution that united the oppressed peoples of different nationalities on the programme of the socialist revolution.

“What has Pakistan given the people since Partition? Only 15-20% of the people are working in the official ‘white’ economy. The official wage is not enough to live on – it is barely enough to exist. Now conditions are even worse with loadshedding, gas shedding and all the rest. The conditions of life are intolerable. Yet the PPP leaders talk of national reconciliation!

“More than half the industrial investment in Pakistan is in the hands of the generals. The country is being de-industrialised. At the same time the country is being controlled by US imperialism. The disastrous policy of so-called defence in depth has sucked us into the war in Afghanistan. It has led to an explosion of the drug trade and terrorism, a flourishing of the black economy and the disintegration of the state and society.

“The kind of democracy we are fighting for is not the fake bourgeois democracy but a real soviet democracy, based on the rule of the working class. The only way to force the PPP to change course is to subject Zardari and his policies to a merciless criticism and lead the struggle of the masses against privatization and in defence of jobs and living standards.

“We reject the Stalinist theory of two stages: ‘first fight for democracy, then socialism’. In fact, the Pakistani Stalinists no longer have the two stage theory but only a ONE stage theory –having forgotten all about socialism! (laughter)

“Pakistan is depicted as a religious Islamic society, but in fact most Pakistanis hate the fundamentalists. We are fighting against the fundamentalists and the imperialists. Comrade Ali Wazir is here in this hall, but 25 other comrades from the [tribal areas] of Waziristan could not get there because the army blocked the bridge and stopped them [they arrived on the following day].”

Lal Khan summing up the discussion on Pakistan.Lal Khan summing up the discussion on Pakistan. In closing, comrade Lal Khan poured scorn on the attempts of the enemies of the Marxist movement to belittle the achievements of The Struggle and spread lies about this congress. Pointing to the massive attendance, which filled every seat in this vast hall, with people standing and sitting in the aisles, Lal Khan threw out a challenge to the renegades and enemies of Marxism:

“I say to these people: come and see for yourself! [laughter and applause] Come here and take a good look! Count the people present! Count every one! And then tell us that this is not a real workers’ congress! Come here and ask people what they think, and they will answer with one voice: the voice of revolutionary Marxism!”

These last remarks of Lal Khan were greeted by a standing ovation and the chanting of revolutionary slogans. The delegates then broke into three groups for commissions on trade union work, youth and women.

[A report on the second day of the congress will be published tomorrow...]

Photo gallery (of both days)