imt-pakistan-congress-2014

Report on Day One of the 33rd Congress of the Pakistani Section of the IMT

This year the 33rd congress of The Struggle was awaited with great expectation. The coming to power of the right-wing government of Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League was the signal for new and severe attacks against the working class and The Struggle and the PTUDC have been at the forefront of the counterattack.

imt-pakistan-congress-2014There has been not a single strike or protest where the comrades have not been active, often in a leading position. The PTUDC has launched a national campaign against privatization. Recently the government announced the privatization of 65 state-owned companies. The PTUDC expressed outright opposition, and soon the PPP, which when in government carried out privatization, announced that they too were against.

The first day of the congress of The Struggle opened in Lahore on the morning of 8 March 2014. It was supposed to take place in the spacious confines of the Aiwan-e-Iqbal building located at Egerton Road, Lahore, which is capable of holding over 3,000 people. But events decided otherwise.

Sabotage by the regime

The growing influence of the Pakistan Marxists has not gone unnoticed in the ruling circles and the state. For the last two years, the Intelligence Services have attempted to sabotage the congress. Just before it was due to open, the comrades in charge of organizing arrangements found that their mobile phones were mysteriously blocked.  

This year the sabotage assumed an even more blatant form. On Tuesday the 5th of March, barely four days before the congress was due to open, the management of the hall, which had been booked six months in advance, suddenly announced that the booking had been cancelled.

The reason given was that the hall had been booked to celebrate International Women’s Day. Who had made this booking? The Punjab Provincial Government, which is run by the Muslim League. The Chief Minister of Punjab is Shahbaz Sharif, Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother. He was clearly behind this move.

congress-2014-2The falsity of the pretext was even more blatant than the act of sabotage itself. In no country in the world are women so badly treated as Pakistan. Hardly anywhere do they enjoy fewer rights. No government has done less to rectify these crying injustices. And how does Shahbaz Sharif celebrate Women’s Day in Pakistan? He showed his great interest by getting on a plane for Turkey!

But showing great resourcefulness and an indomitable will to overcome all obstacles, the comrades mobilized all their efforts to find an alternative venue. Finally they booked the Alhamra Hall No. 1 located at Mall Road Lahore, which has a capacity of 1,400. In the past, The Struggle held congresses here, but the growth of the Marxist movement has completely outstripped this kind of meeting hall. But it was the only alternative. Fortunately, the second day of congress will be held on 9 March 2014 in the Aiwan-e-Iqbal building.  Although the space at Alhamra Hall was far too small for the expected 2,800 in attendance, undaunted, the comrades eagerly crowded into the new space, filling the aisles and several rows of chairs placed on the main stage. Unfortunately, due to the change of venue, several hundred comrades had to stand outside and traded places with comrades inside throughout the day, as not everyone could fit at the same time.

congress-2014-4But the sabotage did not end there. Throughout the day, power in the hall went out intermittently; sometimes, only for a few moments, at others, for over an hour. Such outages are an everyday occurrence in Pakistan. Regular load shedding is just one of the miseries the masses in Pakistan must endure as capitalism falls apart around them. But these were unscheduled outages, and the backup generator mysteriously burst a pipe, plunging the delegates into darkness several times throughout the day. However, showing the typical good humor and resilience of the Pakistani workers and youth, these blackouts were met with cries of “Inqilab! Inqilab! Socialist Inqilab!” (“Revolution! Revolution! Socialist Revolution!”)

The delegation

Delegates have come from all parts of Pakistan: From war-torn Balochistan in the South West to distant Gilgit Baltistan in the North, a mountainous area bordering the Xingiang province of China.

security-credentialsThe difficult and dangerous conditions in which the Pakistan comrades have to work is best illustrated by the situation in Balochistan.

Balochistan  province covers almost 48 percent of Pakistan’s surface area, bordering the Seestan and Balochistan province of Iran and parts of Afghanistan. Comrades came from the coastal areas of Balochistan along the Arabian sea where the Chinese want to built port in Gawadar as part of their strategic plan to strengthen their hold on the Indian ocean. Gawadar is close to the Strait of Hormuz, through which 35 percent of all the world’s maritime oil transport passes.

A fatal combination of its geographical location, potential mineral wealth, complex ethic makeup and geopolitical considerations has turned it into a battleground for foreign powers. China, America, Iran and Saudi Arabia are all waging vicious proxy wars there.

The principal victims are as always the ordinary people. At the congress there are a large number of Hazara comrades who came from Balochistan. The Hazara people are being constantly targeted by Saudi-backed terrorist outfits who specialize in the slaughter of Shiites.

The comrades have also come from all parts of Sindh, including its largest city, Karachi, also the scene of much bloody communal strife and violence. Many have also come from the rural areas of the arid interior of Sindh including Larkana, Dadu, the coastal areas bordering India and the desert of Thar.

From Karachi have come comrades of all nationalities including Mohajirs, Sindhi, Pashtoon and others. Since Karachi is plagued by inter-communal violence, the fact that the Karachi comrades are drawn from all the ethnic groups is a guarantee of proletarian internationalism and solidarity.

From another conflictive region of the country that used to be called the Northwest Frontier, comrades have come from the tribal areas of Waziristan, D.I. Khan, Bannu and other parts of South Pushtoonkhwa. These areas bordering Afghanistan are in grip of the Taliban insurgents. Here many people are killed by US drones on a regular basis.

Our comrades from Peshawar, Swat, Malakand, Buner and other parts of North Pushtoonkhwa are also suffering severely from the Taliban reaction. There are even delegates present at the congress from Abbotabad and other adjoining areas where Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces.

A large delegation is also present from all parts of Pakistani occupied Kashmir where The Struggle has a strong base. This year we finally succeeded in getting the presence of Yusuf Tarigami, a  member of the Central Committee of the CPI(M) and a Member of Parliament of the CPI(M) in Indian-held Jammu and Kashmir.

Other delegates came from Rawalpindi, Attock, Taxila, Wah, Islamabad and other parts of North Punjab, from Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Gujrat and other industrial cities of Central Punjab. There was a large delegation from all parts of Lahore, the second-largest city with a population of more than 10 million.

From South Punjab, delegates came from Multan, Bahawalpur, D.G. Khan, Rahim Yar Khan, Layyah, Muzzaffargarh and all other districts. A large delegation from the most backward district of Punjab, Rajanpur, also came to the congress.

Thus, practically every region and area of the country is represented.

Trade Unions

Among the numerous trade unions present at congress are: Railways Labour union, Railways Workers union, PIA peoples unity (CBA), NOPE of Pakistan Post, Peoples union of Pakistan Steel, Hydro union of WAPDA, Oil and Gas sector OGDCL workers’ union.

Also present are the Young Doctors Association of Punjab, Karachi Electric Supply labour union, unions of hospital workers across Pakistan, Professors and Lecturers association from Punjab, Balochistan, Kashmir and Sindh, journalists unions across Pakistan, Punjab university Teachers’ union, the State Bank union, as well as workers from Habib Bank, National Bank, Allied Bank, PTCL workers’ federation, Pakistan Television workers’ union.

There are workers from many textile industries across Pakistan, workers of sewage and sweepers’ unions in many districts, Pakistan Ordinance Factory Wah, Heavy Industrial Complex Taxila. Also NADRA workers’ union, the unions of Coca Cola, Unilever, Nestle, Emco industries, Master Tiles, workers of the sports industry in Sialkot.

This gives a sufficient idea of the proletarian class composition of the delegates and their implantation in the organizations of labour.

Students Unions

As well as a healthy number of worker activists and trade unionists, many student and youth organizations are present, including the from the following organizations:

Jammu & Kashmir National Student Federation, Peoples Students Federation, Pushtoon Students Federation, Baloch Students Organization, Pushtoon Students Organization, Inqlabi Council Agri. University Faisalabad.

Also present are students from all major universities, medical and engineering colleges of Pakistan including Punjab University, G.C. University Lahore, National College of Arts Lahore, Peshawar University, Gomal University D.I. Khan, Gomal Medical College D.I. Khan, Malakand university, AJK University Muzzaffarabad, Quaid e Azam University Islamabad, Asghar |Mall College Rawalpindi, Gordon College Rawalpindi, University of Arid Agriculture, UET Taxila, Islamic International University Islamabad, Agri.

University of Faisalabad, G.C. University Faislabad, BZU Multan, Islamia University Bahawalpur, QMC Medical College Bahawalpur, Sheikh Zaid Medical College Rahim Yar Khan, Shah Latif University Khairpur, Sindh University, Karachi University, Balochistan University and many others.

How did they get here?

congress-2014-5From Quetta in Balochistan it takes almost 36 hours to get to Lahore, but from various other far-off parts of Balochistan it can take more than 48 hours to reach Lahore. A special railway carriage was added to the Quetta Express bound for Lahore with the  permission of Pakistan Railways to accommodate the delegation from Balochistan.

From Karachi it also takes around 24 hours to reach Lahore. To complicate matters further, delegates from Waziristan had to run the gauntlet of dozens of army checkpoints and complete body searches in many places to reach Lahore. This prolonged the long journey still more.

From Gilgit on the Chinese border it takes around 24 hours to reach Lahore, with a journey through the mountains of Karakoram. K-2, the second highest peak in the world is part of this range. Comrades coming from Skardu, near Siachen between India and Pakistan – the highest war zone in world – have to travel for several days to reach Lahore, keeping in mind the weather conditions and the fear of terrorists who frequently  kill passengers travelling on public buses on a sectarian basis.

From rural parts of Sindh and Punjab, with no roads and lack of transport facilities, it takes long journeys even to reach the main cities. In recent years, deaths in road accidents have sharply increased in Pakistan due to dilapidated transport infrastructure which is in a state of collapse. Trains are many hours late and in the worst cases, delays may even last days.

Lastly, the recent waves of price hike fares have increased many times, making it even more difficult for people to attend the congress. With power cuts a routine occurrence in this country, many industries are shutting down resulting in ever-increasing unemployment. This makes it difficult to collect finance for attending congress and also for those in employment to apply for time off from work.

Women have come to from all parts of the country. However, it is very difficult for a woman to get permission to travel such long distances. In spite of all these formidable obstacles, many female comrades have managed to reach the venue well on time. Women delegates include students, nurses, hospital workers, doctors, teachers, journalists and house wives

Peasant workers and leaders have travelled from all parts of the country, including South Punjab, Pushtoonkhwa and Sindh.

In addition to comrade Yusuf Tarigami from India, who we have already mentioned, international visitors include comrades Alan Woods, from the IMT International  Secretariat in London, John Peterson, the national secretary of the Workers International League (US section of the IMT) and Ylva Vinberg and Stefan Kangas from Sweden. There are also ten Afghani comrades at the congress, who are an inspiration to all comrades at the congress.

Many months of preparation have gone into organizing this important event. Discussion documents were prepared and distributed. These include documents on World Perspectives, Pakistan Perspectives and Organization. All three have been very well-produced in book form. In addition, the comrades have produced an Urdu translation of the book Marxism and USA by Alan Woods.

Other books published this year include the second Urdu edition of Ted Grant’s Russia from Revolution to Counterrevolution, and The Relevance of Marxism Today by Alan Woods. A special issue of The Struggle was produced for Women’s Day, 8 March.

Day One

congress-2014-3After several comrades read revolutionary poetry and after a brief welcoming speech by comrade Lal Khan, the congress session proper was opened by comrade Alan Woods who delivered the report on World Perspectives. The mood in the hall was electric as comrade Alan raised the comrades’ spirits with his inspiring and revolutionary enthusiasm for the congress, despite the attempted sabotage. He recounted the magnificent mobilisations of the working class in the last 12 months – including Turkey, Brazil, and the 17 million Egyptians who overthrew the hated Morsi government “as easily as a man swatting a mosquito.” Mixing in a few sharp jabs and humor at the expense of the world’s ruling class, Alan’s speech was met with roaring laughter, spontaneous clapping and cheers.

Then, referring to world relations, he pointed out that after the fall of the USSR, the USA was the only world superpower with colossal economic and military might. But with colossal power comes colossal arrogance, he said. He pointed out that the limits of this power had been reached. This is shown by the clash between America and Russia over Ukraine, with the US and EU impotent as the Russian oligarchy moves to reassert its old spheres of influence. Alan described the reality of the situation in Europe and the US economy, and how this is the deepest crisis in the history of the system.

Alan also spoke at length on the national question. He received great applause when he explained that it is not about black or white, Christian or Muslim, Sunni or Shiia, that there is only one war: the class war between the rich and poor, between the working class and the tiny handful of parasites that exploit the world working class and use the policy of “divide and conquer” to maintain their rule.

Following a lively session of questions and answers, with questions and contributions on Iran, Southern Europe, Venezuela, Ukraine, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Qatar, imperialism and more, Alan summed up.

After lunch – an incredible feat of feeding over 2,500 people a hot meal including traditional biryani, salad, and hot tea – the comrades settled in for the next session: Pakistan Perspectives, introduced by comrade Lal Khan. The crowd was silent and entranced as he passionately explained the dire situation confronted by the Pakistani working class. He began by stressing that sixty-seven years since its inception, the country is in a worse state than ever before. The state is in a mess, with conflicts and clashes between the different institutions. The state apparatus is decaying and crumbling all the time.

There are six proxy wars going on in different regions with the armed forces involved in bloody conflicts throughout the country. Terrorism and suicide bombings have become a daily routine. More than fifty thousand people have been killed in this conflagration that has engulfed the land.

congress-2014-1Lal Khan explained that the informal sector, or the black economy, makes up two-thirds of the economy. It provides 78% of the jobs which are contract labour providing no benefits and based on starvation wages. This black money thrives on corruption, the drug trade, kidnapping for ransom, extortion and other heinous crimes. Important sections of the state agencies are involved in this criminal accumulation of illicit wealth.

The ruling class has failed to complete any of the tasks of the national democratic revolution and this uneven development has created severe contradictions that are appearing in ever more explosive forms.

More that 80% of the population is forced to resort to non-scientific medication, 78% live below the poverty line; almost half of the population is illiterate; 1,184 children die every day from malnutrition and curable diseases and 16,5000 women lose their lives each year during child birth. The political parties have lost all credibility and so-called democracy has carried out worse social and economic attacks against the masses than even the most vicious dictatorships.

The ferocious neo-liberal economic policies carried out by the previous PPP-led coalition government pulverized society. As a result of this betrayal by their traditional party, the masses fell into despair and political indifference. The present regime of the mafia capitalists has gone even further in its callous attacks on the workers and the poor with record price hikes and unemployment. They are carrying out the dictates of the IMF with brutal arrogance.

Religious reaction is being promoted and the right wing is trying to crush any dissent or the movements of the youth and the workers. This situation cannot last for very long and a mass revolt will erupt sooner rather than later. Either the PPP will collapse, or it will be purged by the rising tide of the class struggle will purge it of the lumpen-bourgeois and feudal leaders who have been at the helm for two decades. Lal Khan interspersed these serious comments with flashes of brilliant humour, which was greeted  with raucous laughter and spontaneous singing after his speech ended, and it took the chair several friendly calls to order  before everyone took their seats for the discussion. 

The discussion was very intense, and a huge impact was made by a 13 year-old female Pashtoon comrade spoke on the subject of International Women’s Day. She explained how women in this society are doubly or triply oppressed, exploited one way as a child, another at age 10, and another at age 12. Young women in these areas are moved from one prison (their fathers’) to another (their husbands’), as early as age 12. She was emphatic that the struggle for the liberation of women must be linked with the socialist revolution, and explained that the Russian Revolution in 1917 was begun by women, and that the women of Pakistan must do the same. This was met with uproarious and emotional applause by the delegates.

Both qualitatively and numerically, there is no significant force on the left in Pakistan other that the IMT. The coming events will pose big challenges to the forces of revolutionary Marxism in Pakistan. Capitalism has failed miserably and is pushing society towards barbarism. Only a socialist revolution can save society and ensure the survival of this great country, the cradle of one of the most ancient civilizations in the world.

In the evening there were commissions on women, trade unions, and youth. The women’s commission also doubled as a celebration of International Women’s Day.

Stay tuned for more pictures and a report on day two.

 

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