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On Thursday March 21, over 500 enthusiastic members of The Struggle - the Pakistan Marxist organisation assembled in the Al-Hamra Hall in the centre of Lahore. The first congress took place 21 years ago in Amsterdam, where a tiny group of political exiles who had been imprisoned under the brutal dictatorship of Zia ul-Haq launched the Marxist paper The Struggle with the help of Ted Grant and Alan Woods and the British Marxist tendency. This was the biggest communist congress ever to be held in Pakistan, even bigger than the one held back in 1953 when 226 delegates met.
The platform was decorated with red banners and portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, with revolutionary quotations in Urdu. In the weeks leading up to the congress, a document for every session was printed in book-form and distributed throughout the country. They were discussed and debated in every branch, so comrades came well prepared to the congress.
The delegates had come from every region of Pakistan, and every nationality was represented: Pashtuns, Baluchis, Sindhis, Punjabis, Kashmiris, Saraikis and Hazaras. Some delegates had to travel for 36 hours to get to the congress. This is the only congress in Pakistan where it is possible to see the representatives of such-varied ethnic groups meeting together in harmony to discuss their common problems and to work out a Socialist perspective for Pakistan.
All social groups were represented - young and old, men and women, workers and peasants, students and intellectuals. But the great majority were workers and youth. There were workers leaders from Pakistan Steel Mills Karachi, railways, postal workers, cement works, heavy mechanical engineering, telecommunications, power and electricity, transport, port workers, textile workers, tannery workers, hospital workers, teachers and many others.
Among the youth, there was a very large delegation of about a 100 from Kashmir, the majority of them from JKNSF (Jammu-Kashmir National Students’ Federation), which at their recent congress voted overwhelmingly for a Marxist leadership. There were also Marxists from JKPSF (Jammu-Kashmir People’s Students’ Federation) and SLF (Students’ Liberation Front). This shows the growing support for Marxist revolutionary ideas in Kashmir, as defended by the programme of Campaign for Socialist Kashmir.
There were students from three universities of Sindh who have recently set up YFIS (Youth for International Socialism) groups in these universities. There was a very important presence from the Marxist students from the University of Punjab, which has been a bastion of Islamic fundamentalism for the last 30 years. There were also students from the universities of Multan, Baluchistan (Quetta) and Karachi. There were also Marxists from the PSF (People’s Student Federation), PYO (People’s Youth Organisation) and other mass youth organisations.
Unfortunately a delegation of seven Indian communists, both from the CPI(M) and CPI, could not attend. They were ready to come and had already paid for their travel but the blockade between India and Pakistan and the reactionary manoeuvres on both sides prevented them from being at the congress.
This congress marked an increase in the presence of women. This is extremely important for Pakistan, where the slavery of women and the general social backwardness makes it extremely difficult for women to participate in politics. For example one female comrade was prevented from attending because her brother objected! Several female comrades nevertheless attended the congress in defiance of their family wishes - an extremely serious act of bravery in the context of Pakistani society. They did not know what would await them on returning home, but their belief in the revolutionary cause gave them the courage to act according to their own convictions.
To give one example: one young girl, fourteen years of age, had saved her pocket money in small change for the whole year in order to pay the congress fees. All those attending in fact paid an average of £4 each to get to the congress, a huge amount in Pakistan. A mother of two from Rawalpindi told us: “My children are both ill with fever, but I could not miss this congress. So I gave them medicine and brought them here.” These are typical examples of the dedication of Pakistani women to the revolutionary cause. They were all extremely enthusiastic, following every word from the first to the last.
The agenda of this two-day congress was extremely packed, yet the attention of those present never flagged for an instant. The proceedings were opened by a female comrade who had spent eight years in prison under the Zia ul-Haq dictatorship, suffering severe torture for her role in the workers’ movement.
The first session on “World Revolution Today” was introduced by Comrade Alan Woods, editor of the British Marxist magazine Socialist Appeal and the website In Defence of Marxism (www.marxist.com). This led to many questions on a whole variety of subjects which Comrade Alan answered very effectively. One of the questions from a Kashmiri comrade was: “When will the Kashmiri people attain their freedom?” To this Comrade Alan replied: “I do not know when the Kashmiri people will become free. But I do know this: that for the past 55 years, Kashmir has remained in chains and that the bourgeois nationalists and fundamentalists have failed utterly. The problem of Kashmir can only be solved by revolutionary means. The Kashmiris will have conquered their freedom on that day when the people of Pakistan and India have conquered theirs.”
The response of the audience was shown by the standing ovation, which showed the dedication of the Pakistani comrades to the cause of the proletarian internationalism. A message of solidarity from the Turkish international comrades was also greeted by rapturous applause. Then followed quite an intense debate about the tactics and strategy of the Pakistan revolution, where differences of opinion in an open and comradely spirit were raised.
On the second day the congress heard a report on Pakistani perspectives, followed by an organisation report, and separate reports on finance, the paper, trade-union work, youth work, women’s work and other activities. Finally, a new central committee was elected. All decisions were carried unanimously, and the collection raised a magnificent £3,000.
At the beginning of every session there were the recitals of revolutionary poetry by different comrades, the youngest of whom was a little girl of five years old. Finally, there was an international report on the work of the international Marxist tendency, and closing remarks, followed by the singing of the Internationale in English and Urdu simultaneously.
The impact of this congress on all present is difficult to express. Despite all the terrible difficulties which the Pakistani Marxists faced in the last period, this event proved to everybody that we have emerged with heads unbowed. A number of old Communist and worker militants who attended were deeply moved. One of them said: “I have attended many congresses of the Communist Party in the past, but I have never experienced anything like this. I feel that I have found my home.”
One of the highlights of the congress was a marvellous speech by one of the leaders of the steel workers in Karachi and organiser of the PTUDC in Karachi. He narrated how the steel workers, 15,000 of them, entered into a lightening revolt not just against the management and the regime, but forced the traditional trade union leaders to an unprecedented occupation of the steel mills. Such was the impact of this action that within 24 hours they had won each and every demand for which they had been struggling for the last fifteen years. [See Workers Occupation of Pakistan Steel Mills ends in Victory]
This struggle showed the real face of the Pakistani proletariat. The workers showed determination and courage, but also exemplary order and discipline. Not a single window pane was broken; there was not a single act of violence, not a single scuffle, and yet they achieved an unprecedented victory against the bosses and the military. This shows the real balance of forces in Pakistan today.
The last ten years have been a very difficult period for the forces of Marxism in Pakistan. The horrors of mass unemployment, poverty and illiteracy have been compounded by the horrors of Islamic fundamentalism and bloody ethnic strife. Now the imperialists have unleashed war in Afghanistan. However the Musharraf dictatorship, which is doing the bidding of US imperialism, has proved to be a very weak and toothless regime.
The workers and youth of Pakistan are rapidly recovering their fighting spirit and class-consciousness. They are losing their fear. The stage is set in the not too distant future for a decisive showdown between the classes. In the present situation, and given the extraordinary advances of the Marxist tendency in Pakistan, we felt that the time is right to gather together the forces of revolutionary Marxism under the very noses of the military regime.
The Musharraf dictatorship, pressurised by US imperialism on the one hand and Islamic fundamentalism on the other, is not in a position to clamp down seriously on the Left, and is even attempting to get a “progressive” image by putting “left” personalities in the government! These sorry individuals have exchanged what little was left of their principles for the sake of their careers and bank balances. They must be roundly condemned as traitors and collaborators.
Despite his attacks on fundamentalism and attempts to appear “progressive”, Musharraf is carrying out a pro-imperialist and pro-capitalist policy. He is slavishly implementing the policies of the IMF and World Bank (that is, the policies of US imperialism) which are ruinous to Pakistan.
However, as we saw in the strike at Pakistan Steel, this dictatorship has feet of clay. It periodically organises acts of repression, which has led to the closure of some union headquarters and the arrests of union members, such as in Baluchistan earlier this year. One of our leading female comrades was threatened with arrest and when the police came to her house and saw she had escaped, arrested her 12-year old daughter instead. There have been many cases of torture.
But the kind of repression carried out by this regime is hesitant and inconsistent, reflecting the weakness of the regime, its lack of a social base and its internal divisions and splits. It bans demonstrations but permits indoor meetings. Our congress was an indoor meeting, “by invitation only”. Otherwise, it could have been two or three times the size. In fact, many people who found out about us and asked to attend were turned away.
Yes, the Pakistani Marxists are forced to work under severe restrictions. The risk of a clampdown is ever-present. We have had our fair share of arrests. But thanks to international support we have succeeded in getting our comrades released and continuing the work. Our influence and authority is growing by the day and by the hour. This was shown by our congress, which will be the starting point for a massive campaign of agitation, propaganda and organisation, preparing the way for a mass revolutionary Marxist organisation in Pakistan which is ready and able to face the stormy events that are being prepared.