On 2-3 December 2023, a nationwide Workers’ Socialist School was organised by the Red Workers’ Front (RWF) in Landhi Industrial Area, Karachi. A large number of workers from both the public and private sector industries, in Karachi and across the country, took part in this historic occasion.
Not only was this the first ever RWF school – the culmination of years of patient, consistent work to build workers’ study circles in industrial areas across the country – in fact, this was the first political school in the history of Pakistan’s labour movement organised explicitly for and by workers, with the aim of introducing the working class to the ideas of Marxism and of Leninism.
Students and youth from various universities and educational institutions were also present at the school. Moreover, two comrades of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) came from Britain specifically to attend. In total, around 170 people listened and actively participated in the school’s political discussions.
Prior to the holding of this national school, local and regional workers’ socialist schools, and workers’ study circles had been organised across the country, including in Lahore, DG Khan, Quetta, Loralai, Bahawalpur, Timurgarh, Kashmir and Karachi.
This preparatory work was reflected in the impressive turnout. Some travelled over 20 hours to be there. In Pakistan, where wages are already extremely low, most workers do not receive paid weekends. Attendance of the school therefore meant losing one or two days’ wages for most workers. And yet, workers from public and private sector industries, trade unions and associations from all over the country participated in the central school.
This included workers from WAPDA (Water and Power Development Authority), Pakistan Railways, the Paramedics Union, Pakistan Post, Pakistan Steel Mills, electricity workers, the Hospital Workers Union, Karachi Municipality, Karachi University Teachers, KMC, Port Qasim, Kashmir Teachers Union, APCA and other clerical staff associations, Public Works Department, General Tyres, IIL industry workers, Union Textiles, Habib University office workers, Getz Pharma, Marriott Packaging, the Pixar workers union, Karachi Export Processing Zone workers, Opal Laboratories, Al Danial Packages and Younis Textiles.
Before the school had even been opened, the mood was electric, expressed through songs, poetry and the chanting of revolutionary slogans before the school’s opening and throughout the weekend.
The first day of the main school began with an international report entitled, ‘The Rising International Labour Movement and the Need for Socialist Ideas’. The report was presented by comrade Ben Curry from the international centre of the IMT, with translation by comrade Aftab Ashraf, the central president of the RWF.
Ben explained how capitalism has essentially been on the life support of state aid since 2008. As the system has staggered from one crisis to the next, there have been waves of class struggle, general strikes and revolutionary movements in one country after another, from the Arab Spring of 2011 through to the strike waves of the last year.
These movements show that the world is everywhere pregnant with the potential for socialist revolution. However, despite all the courage and sacrifices of the working class, the socialist revolution has not yet broken out on account of the absence of a revolutionary party armed with Marxist ideas, able to lead the working people towards the seizure of power. But through the ebbs and flows of the rising class struggle, a harder, more radical mood is developing within the working class, and the most advanced layers of the class are drawing ever closer to communist ideas, making for better prospects to build such a party than ever before.
Pakistan on the brink
After the international report, the first session of the school was held on the theme, “The Crisis of Capitalism and Revolutionary Movements: in Pakistan and Globally”.
Leader of the RWF, Paras Jan, gave a passionate and fiery lead off on this broad and important topic. The crisis of capitalism and the worldwide radicalisation of the working class is also coming home to Pakistan. The country’s economy is being deeply affected by the slowdown in China, and above all by the end of the war in Afghanistan. For years, the parasitic ruling class of Pakistan has turned the country into a war economy, and the end of that war has plunged the economy into crisis. As a result, we are seeing deepening austerity cuts and attacks on the working class.
Events are shaking up the consciousness not only of workers but also of middle-class layers. The ruling class is in crisis. All its political parties are hollowed out and despised, from the PPP to the PML-N and the PTI. Unable to find a path forward, the generals and others are fighting among themselves. Politics has become a stage-managed farce, devoid of content, and full of sleaze and sex scandals. The judiciary, the mullahs, politicians, and every pillar of the state is despised.
All this is shaking up consciousness. The ruling class is desperately trying to muddy the waters and stem the tide of struggle, its latest effort being to deport Afghan refugees, whipping up Afghanophobia. Our comrades alone on the left have stood against this putrid tide.
But all the ruling class’ efforts are in vain. Conditions are propelling the working class into action. As the marvellous contributions from the floor brought out, we are beginning to see a revival of the movement of the working class for the first time in decades. And the RWF is stepping to the fore in these struggles. Anything could now spark a pre-revolutionary situation.
In the discussion, comrade Ben Gliniecki from the British section gave a report on the developments in Britain and the work of the IMT there. Comrades painted a powerful picture of the awakening movement of the working class. Karim Parhar (RWF National General Secretary from Quetta), Maqsood Hamdani and Salma Nazer from Lahore all contributed excellently.
Recent months have seen extremely radical movements of public sector workers in Punjab, of thousands of female healthcare workers, a mass movement against the mass privatisation of primary schools in Punjab and Sindh. We’ve seen WAPDA and other state industry workers engaged in mass protests against wage delays.
But perhaps most incredible of all has been the mass movement against the payment of electricity bills in Kashmir, which was reported on by Yasir Irshad, national Vice-President of the RWF from that region. We highly recommend comrades follow our coverage on this, and will continue to report on these developments on marxist.com. The IMT and the RWF have been at the forefront, initiating this campaign and the formation of Awami Action Committees all across the region. The movement has become so powerful that 5 million people are now refusing to pay for electricity, and in October, the regional government was forced to sit down and negotiate after thousands of women came out in protest - a fact of immense significance in an extremely backward region where women are usually marginalised from the public sphere.
These events are symptoms of a bubbling mood that cannot be long in bursting to the surface. The urgent task is one of building the revolutionary organisation, of recruiting to the IMT, and building a revolutionary communist alternative. In this task, the party press is vital, as explained by comrade Sana Jalbani, organiser of the newspaper Worker Nama.
The theme of the second session of the school was “Where do the profits of the capitalist class come from?” This talk was led off by comrade Adam Pal, the main leader of the Pakistan section of the IMT, Lal Salam.
Comrade Adam skillfully expounded on a topic that is so often mystified: the question of surplus value, i.e. where the profit, rent and interest of the capitalist class comes from. The capitalists claim that they deserve all this, that it is a reward for their genius or personal ‘risk’. They hide the source of their fortune. But Adam explained how, in the words of Balzac, “behind every great fortune of uncertain origin, there is a hidden crime”.
It was Marx who revealed the source of profit in the three volumes of Capital. Although reading this work is often seen as a daunting task, any worker who is prepared to work hard to understand it can do so. And it was in clear and simple terms that Adam explained the ideas of Capital, beginning with the commodity, and moving through exchange value, use value, the idea of socially necessary labour time, of labour power, commodity exchange, money, etc.
Finally, having expounded on the labour theory of value, Adam showed where surplus value comes from, and how it arises not from the great genius of capitalist investors, but from exploitation of the working class, through the sweat and toil of this class. After the lead off, comrades Aftab Ashraf and Ben Curry joined the discussion, shedding light on various aspects of the topic, while Adam Pal summed up the session in light of the many penetrating questions posed by worker comrades.
The capitalist state
The second day began with another extremely important theoretical topic, led off on by comrade Aftab Ashraf, national President of the RWF: “The Capitalist State and the Working Class”.
Be it democratic, monarchical or dictatorial, all capitalist states fundamentally exist to defend the private property of the capitalist class. The fundamental task of the working class is to smash the capitalist state, and create a workers’ state as the tool for the founding of a new society: a socialist society.
This topic goes to the heart of the tasks of revolutionaries, and the comrade covered a vast array of questions without overwhelming comrades, from the emergence of the state some 10-12,000 years ago amidst the Neolithic Revolution, to the smashing of the capitalist state by the socialist revolution and what that future society may look like, taking examples from the Soviet Union.
Aftab explained how the capitalist state rules in the interests of the capitalists, how it has been used to crush workers, from the 1967 railway strike where thousands of workers were killed, to the Musharraf years, down to the present day. Despite the form it has taken, and the democratic frills it might have adopted, its fundamental function remained the same.
After the lead off, we had contributions from comrade Ben Gliniecki, comrade Sana Zehri from Hub, comrade Ajmal from Kashmir, Comrade Rashid Azad from Hyderabad, and Central President of All Balochistan Clerk and Technical Employees Association Shamsur Rehman Kakar.
After the session, the comrades were treated to a marvellous performance by a theatre team consisting of student and youth comrades of the Lahore branch of the Progressive Youth Alliance that had participated in the School. Their production of Safdar Hashmi’s “Machine” was received with enthusiastic applause by the workers, not to mention by passersby in the streets of Karachi, who stopped to watch the whole performance!
Revolutionary struggle in South Asia
After the theatre, the fourth and final session of the school was held, titled “Revolutionary History of the Workers’ Struggle in South Asia”. Yasir Irshad, national Vice-President of the RWF, opened the discussion on this topic.
In this wide ranging talk, he covered the struggle of the workers of the subcontinent against British imperialism, through the revolutionary movement of 1968-69 in Pakistan, to the recent revolutionary wave in Sri Lanka. The wonderful revolutionary traditions of the workers of this region came out in the course of this discussion.
After the lead off, comrade Adam Pal opened the discussion. Finally, Yasir Irshad summed up the discussion in light of the many questions from comrades.
After the fourth session, the national General Secretary of the RWF, comrade Karim Prahar, presented a brief report on the achievements of the front and the future challenges we face and the targets that we must hit.
Karim spoke about the important work of building up study circles, carrying out socialist agitation, which has drawn a layer of workers around the RWF, and awakened a thirst for socialist ideas among them. He discussed the work the comrades have engaged in: criticising the prevarications of trade union leaders in recent struggles, taking up the defence of Afghan migrants, fighting for flour subsidies, leading electricity protests in Kashmir, building successful May Day rallies and events in 23 cities this year, and regularly publishing Worker Nama and Mazdoor TV.
The need now, the comrade explained, is to regularise our circles, and above all to recruit workers to the IMT. We must be bold in putting the question of joining the revolutionary organisation to workers. As Karim explained: we cannot hide our position. Those who do not understand our position and are critical of it today, will understand it and will join us in the future.
After the report, comrade Aziz Khan, the main leader of RWF Karachi and president of the General Tyres Workers’ Union, who played a very important role in organising the school, addressed the participants on behalf of himself and RWF Karachi. For their hard work in organising this school, thanks must go to all of the comrades, especially in Karachi, who worked hard over many months to make it happen, and especially to comrade Anam Khan who was hard at work over the whole weekend.
This memorable, historic event – the first, no doubt, in a new tradition that will be continued in future years – was closed with remarks from comrade Ben Curry of the IMT International Centre, with translation from comrade Aftab Ashraf. Only after comrades gave a rousing rendition of the anthem of the world workers’ movement, The Internationale, was the school closed.