The 32nd congress of the Pakistani Marxists opened on Saturday, 9th March and was well beyond expectations in terms of the number of comrades and sympathisers attending. With 2769 comrades registering for the first day, this makes it the biggest congress ever. Comrade came from all over the country in a mood of enormous enthusiasm, as this country is plunged into the deepest crisis in its history.
Comrades travelled from far off areas to Lahore to attend the congress. It was not easy for them, as they have had to bear many hardships, including massively increased fares of trains and buses. Pakistan Railways are in a serious crisis and many trains have been removed from the timetable or privatized, increasing further difficulties for passengers. Due to regular petrol and gas shortages, simply arriving on time for the congress was a big difficulty. In spite of this the comrades were determined and started out on their journey one day before the scheduled time, in order to make sure no last minute hitches could delay them getting to the congress.
Many students, unemployed youth and labourers who could not afford the fares and fees for the congress had been raising Fighting Fund over the last few months so that they should not miss this historic gathering and play their important role in its deliberations.
The congress opened in the traditional manner of the Pakistani Marxists with a reading of revolutionary poetry in the various languages spoken in this country, Pushto, Sindhi, Saraiki, Urdu, Punjabi and Darri (a mix of Persian and Pushto).
This was followed by comrade Hamid Khan presenting the congress. In his speech he dedicated the congress to the memory of Ted Grant. In fact the congress banner celebrated the centenary of Ted’s birth. Hamid explained that it was thanks to Ted Grant’s lifelong struggle for the genuine ideas of Marxism, in particular his struggle against Stalinism, that the International Marxist Tendency exists today.
He went on to welcome all the comrades present in the hall, the many youth (80% of those attending were in fact youth), the trade union comrades, the women. The number of women present was actually double the figure of last year’s congress, which is quite an achievement, considering the segregation that women are usually forced to abide by in Pakistani society.
Lal Khan, the founding comrade of The Struggle, was then called to the stage to make some opening remarks. He explained that with the numbers attending the congress, and with those who would arrive the following day, this was going to prove to be the biggest ever congress of the Pakistani section of the IMT. In fact the figure of registered comrades, quoted above, confirms that.
This was followed by a viewing of some short excerpts of Ted’s speech to the Militant Rally in 1984, in which Ted explained the crisis of capitalism and the role the Marxists would play in transforming the labour movement. His speech was then translated into Urdu, which received a loud applause, with shouts of Inqalab, Inqalab, Socialist Inqalab [Revolution, Revolution, Socialist Revolution]. This slogan actually frequently followed the various speeches during the congress, as the comrades spontaneously broke out into revolutionary song.
This year Alan Woods was not able to attend, but a pre-recorded video message was shown to the comrades, in which Alan greeted the congress, explaining that it gathered at a key moment in history as capitalism has entered into the most serious crisis in its history. This was also met with loud cheering and singing.
Some of the messages of the different sections of the IMT were also read out in Urdu, including from Venezuela, France and a video message from comrade John Peterson, secretary of the Workers’ International League in the USA, each one greeted with thunderous applause.
Message from Malala
Comrade Javed Iqbal, a Pakistani comrade from Birmingham in the UK, intervened to read out a message that had been sent from Malala Yousafzai, the young sympathiser of the Marxist Tendency famous for her part in the struggle for the right to education for girls in Pakistan. She had taken part in the national Marxist Summer School in July of last year in Swat. She was tragically shot in the head in a barbaric attack by fundamentalists, and made headlines worldwide. She is now thankfully recovering in the UK.
The message she sent reads as follows:
“First of all I’d like to thank The Struggle and the IMT for giving me a chance to speak last year at their Summer Marxist School in Swat and also for introducing me to Marxism and Socialism. I just want to say that in terms of education, as well as other problems in Pakistan, it is high time that we did something to tackle them ourselves. It’s important to take the initiative. We cannot wait around for any one else to come and do it. Why are we waiting for someone else to come and fix things? Why aren’t we doing it ourselves?
“I would like to send my heartfelt greetings to the congress. I am convinced Socialism is the only answer and I urge all comrades to take this struggle to a victorious conclusion. Only this will free us from the chains of bigotry and exploitation.”
This was also one of the several moving moments of the congress. A close friend of Malala was also present at the congress, who was on the bus when the girls were attacked. She spoke, making some comments and reading out a poem. This young female comrade is an example of the calibre of comrades that belong to the IMT in Pakistan. In fact, throughout the congress comrades intervened from areas, where gang fighting, killings, bomb blasts, drone attacks, and generalised warfare is taking place. Listening to them makes one’s blood boil, as it graphically brings home the immense contradictions and injustices in this class ridden society.
European and Middle East Revolutions
The first main session was on World Perspectives, with an emphasis on developments in Europe and the Middle East, with Fred Weston of the International Marxist Tendency speaking. The session was chaired by comrade Hamid Khan. Fred Weston outlined the factors that led to the outbreak of the economic crisis in 2008, explaining the previous accumulation of contradictions within the world capitalist system, the previous enormous expansion of credit on a world level and overproduction which appeared on a gigantic scale. All of this led to the banking crisis, which was merely a reflection of the general crisis of the system as a whole.
He outlined the worsening social conditions, the attacks on welfare, the attacks on labour rights, the growing unemployment. And showed how all this is what explains the explosion of class struggle on a European-wide level. He explained how this broke out in the weakest links, starting with Greece, but very quickly spreading to countries such as Portugal and Spain. He explained the growing radicalization among workers and youth, which is not limited to the south European countries, but is also being felt in the north, such as Denmark and Britain. All this is producing a widespread questioning of the system throughout Europe.
He also dedicated a significant part of his introductory speech to the events in the Middle East, explaining first the background to the revolutionary events of 2011, the social and economic conditions that prepared that movement. In highlighting those revolutionary events, he also explained that in spite of the enormous revolutionary energy of the masses, because of the lack of a mass revolutionary party of the working class, the vacuum was filled by the Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. However, because these forces have no answer to the crisis of capitalism, once in government they have been very quickly exposed in the eyes of the masses in both Egypt and Tunisia. Now in both countries a new wave of revolution is unfolding, as the workers and youth begin to draw conclusions from their recent experiences. Thus also in the Middle East we see a further radicalization of the masses, while at the same time the capitalists increase the pressure with more and more attacks.
Although starting off with very different economic and social conditions, the processes in both Europe and the Middle East are all part of the same process of world revolution and this will inevitably have an effect also on Pakistan.
Claudio Bellotti, an Italian comrade, member of the Executive Committee of Rifondazione Comunista and a leading cadre of FalceMartello, the Italian section of the IMT, was also present in the congress, and spoke on the latest situation in Italy after the recent elections. He explained the serious crisis Italy finds itself in and the threat this poses to the European Union as a whole. He also offered some poetry, this time from Dante’s Inferno, which was particularly appreciated. Arsalan Ghani, the President of the Postgraduate Union at Cambridge University also intervened, explaining the situation facing students in the UK with the increasing fees and other attacks. He explained how first in Belgium and then in the UK he had taken part in solidarity activities with workers and stressed the need to take part in the struggle wherever comrades are based.
Many questions were posed to Fred Weston on such issues as the role of religion, the future of the Venezuelan and Egyptian revolutions, the situation in Iran and Afghanistan, and many others. In answering, Fred Weston explained that there was no guarantee of victory of the socialist revolution as history has amply shown over and over again. What is required is the building of mass Marxist currents and later parties that would be capable of providing the workers with the revolutionary leadership they deserve. In answering the point on religion, he pointed out religion has a grip on the minds of the many because of the terrible conditions they are living. But rather than discussing the next world we should be working together to change this one. He ended by stressing the need to build the forces of Marxism in Pakistan and on a world level.
The next session, chaired by comrade Ghufran Ahad, was on the economic, political and social crisis of Pakistan and perspectives for the socialist revolution. Adam Pal introduced this session with a very fiery and passionate speech, in which he outlined the terrible conditions suffered by the Pakistani masses, the growing unemployment and poverty, the collapse of the infrastructure, the closing down of whole swathes of industry and in this context the many local ethnic conflicts, such as in Baluchistan or Sindh, where different factions within the ruling class, backed by this or that imperialist power, are fomenting ethnic conflict to push through their own agendas.
He outlined the growing hatred of the masses towards the wealthy elite, which is producing a generalised alienation towards the establishment as a whole. What is being prepared is an explosion from below comparable to what we saw in Egypt and Tunisia two years ago.
Comrades Khukula Bacha from Swat, Paras Jan from Karachi, Nazar Mengal from Baluchistan, Doctor Aftap, member of the YDA (Young Doctors’ Association), Ilyas Khan, a well known PPP leader from Multan, Saadullha Mehwand, an Afghan comrade, and Gurdas Singh, a Sikh comrade all intervened in the debate. Changez Khan from North Punjab read out a poem in Urdu during the session.
The conference then broke up into three commissions on Trade Union work, Youth Work and Women’s work, to discuss in greater detail these important fields of activity. The reports on the commissions were to be made on the second day of the congress.
Before ending the evening session the famous singer, Jawad Ahmed, came on stage and gave an outline of his latest album, which includes two very moving songs, one about the terrible death of close to 300 workers in a factory fire in Karachi and another on Bhagat Singh, a revolutionary socialist fighter who was hanged by the British in 1931. Jawad has also written a new Urdu version of the Internationale, which is also on his new album.
Jawad then invited both Fred Weston and Lal Khan onto the platform as he prepared everyone to join him in singing his new version of the Internationale. Many other comrades also joined them. Then the whole congress joined Jawad who led the singing of this anthem of the international socialist movement. It was a very moving moment of the congress, and a fitting end to the first day.
Lahore, March 10th