On Thursday, March 17, Alan Woods, the editor of Marxist.com, delivered a speech to a meeting of 45 members of the National Assembly and the Senate in Committee Room number 5 in the National Assembly building, Islamabad. This is the first time that any Marxist intellectual has ever held such a meeting. The meeting was organised by the Marxist MP Manzoor Ahmed together with the Chief Whip of the PPP in the National Assembly, Syed Khurshid Shah, who also chaired it. It was attended by some of the most prominent parliamentarians of Pakistan. Alan spoke for almost an hour on the world situation, the crisis of capitalism and the significance of the Venezuelan revolution.
He pointed out that over a decade after of the collapse of the Soviet Union, not one stone upon another was left of the illusions of the bourgeoisie. According to the World Bank, 1.1 billion people are living in conditions of extreme poverty, of which eight million perish every year because they are too poor to survive: “The murder of six million Jews in Hitler’s concentrations camps was a terrible crime. But this is a silent holocaust occurring every year, about which nobody speaks.”
Alan went on to describe the general crisis in Latin America, where the attempts of capitalist governments to carry out the dictates of the IMF and the World Bank have led to an unprecedented economic recession, mass unemployment, misery and suffering. He cited the case of Argentina, which was once the tenth industrial nation on earth and had loyally carried out the dictates of Washington and “free market” policies. The result was an unprecedented collapse and the biggest financial default in history.
He went on to describe in detail the revolutionary process in Venezuela, beginning with the Caracazo insurrection in February 1989. Under the so-called democratic government of Carlos Andres Perez, thousands of people were massacred. Yet not a word of condemnation was heard either from Washington or the mass media. These hypocrites are now constantly hounding the democratically elected government of Hugo Chavez, whose only crime is to attempt to carry out a policy in the interest of the poor and to stand up courageously to US imperialism.
Alan described in great detail how the Venezuelan bankers and capitalists, in alliance with US imperialism, carried through a coup d’etat in April 2002. This coup was defeated by the spontaneous movement of the masses together with the revolutionary section of the armed forces. He drew a parallel with the Pakistani revolution of 1968-69: “It is not possible to make half a revolution. Either the oligarchy is expropriated, or the counter-revolutionary forces will attempt time and again to overthrow the revolution,” he said. Unfortunately, just as Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Hugo Chavez attempted to conciliate the reactionaries. What was the result? They were encouraged to organise a new offensive in the form of the so-called general strike – in reality, a bosses’ lockout calculated to sabotage the economy.
This counter-revolutionary attempt was also defeated by the working class, which took over the factories and ran them under workers’ control. Once again, the possibility existed to expropriate the oligarchy and finish the revolution. Unfortunately, this opportunity was also missed. The result was a new offensive of the counter-revolution under the guise of the recall referendum campaign. Once again, the masses responded marvellously, giving Chavez a magnificent 60 percent majority.
Nevertheless, Alan warned, the revolution is not yet completed. It stands at the crossroads. Hugo Chavez has now come out in favour of socialism, and this is the only way forward. However, the counter-revolutionary forces remain active with the support of US imperialism, which is planning an attempt on Chavez’s life. Alan pointed out that groups of Venezuelan mercenaries are being trained by the CIA in special camps in Miami for this purpose: “These hypocrites talk about a war on terror, while at the same time they are organising terrorist acts from the territory of the USA.”
This lead-off was followed by a lively session of questions, answers and discussion. Among those who participated in the session were Zafar Ali Shah, a veteran PPP parliamentarian, Dr Azra, Benazir Bhutto’s sister-in-law, Sherry Rehman, prominent women’s movement activist, who has moved a bill to repeal the draconian anti-women legislation imposed by the Zia dictatorship.
Some of those who spoke expressed their appreciation of the views defended by Alan Woods, but others voiced doubts about the viability of socialism and a certain perplexity concerning the way forward for the PPP. In his reply, Alan Woods insisted that the PPP should return to its founding Manifesto, which advocates a socialist transformation of society. “The experience of Venezuela shows that whenever the masses are offered a bold programme of social change, they will always respond.” Alan also sharply criticised the PPP leadership for attempting to do a deal with the reactionary leader of the Muslin League (now in exile), Nawaz Sharif.
The final contribution was made by Aitazaz Ahasan, who, while apparently praising the speaker and even calling himself a “Marxist”, in reality launched an attack against socialism and Marxism. His whole intervention was shot through with pessimism and cynicism. Replying to his intervention, Alan countered that the real question that should be asked is not whether socialism is viable, but whether capitalism in viable: “Just look at the present world situation. You do not have to be a Marxist. You do not have to even be particularly clever. You just have to turn on your television set to see the profound crisis that exists on a world scale. American imperialism, the most powerful military and economic state that has ever existed, is bogged down in an unwinible war in Iraq. This war is costing them at least one billion dollars a week. This is a haemorrhage which even the richest country in the world cannot tolerate for long.”
The editor of Marxist.com pointed out that the crisis of capitalism, and the aggressive conduct of US imperialism, was provoking a massive movement of resistance on a global scale: “According to elementary mechanics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The same thing is true in politics. The invasion of Iraq provoked a movement of millions. In my own country we saw the biggest demonstration in British history. This shows that something is changing in society. Beneath the surface of apparent tranquillity, enormous contradictions are developing. This is also true in Pakistan. The masses in general are very patient and can put up with a lot, but the patience of the masses has its limits. Explosions are being prepared both in Pakistan and on a world scale.”