At 10am on Saturday, 10 March, the 31st Congress of the Pakistani Marxists opened its doors in the impressive Aiwan-i-Iqbal building in Lahore. This year there has been a record participation, exceeding all previous attendance. Over 2,600 people filled the huge hall to full capacity. There were no spare seats upstairs or downstairs and some people had to sit in the passageways.
This remarkable result has been achieved despite formidable obstacles. The rapid increase in the cost of living and the sharp reduction in living standards that were already hovering around the poverty line has made it difficult for many people to attend. Unemployment is also increasing rapidly.
In order to attend this congress in Lahore comrades had to travel long distances. For example, the delegation from Baluchistan have had to travel for 30 hours from Quetta to Lahore and again 30 hours or more to go back.
And travelling in Pakistan is not like travelling in Europe!The transport system in Pakistan is in a very bad state and Pakistan Railways can never guarantee that its passengers will arrive on time or even reach their destination at all and the trains are in a terrible condition.
The price of rail travel has doubled in the past year. This kind of thing seriously affected the budget of the congress. In addition to the severe economic problems, we have a war situation in both Baluchistan and Pukhtoonhua where the IMT has strong organizations.
As an additional complication, a rail strike delayed the start of the journey for many comrades who were left frustrated on the platforms. But the problem was solved and the trains packed with hundreds of revolutionaries with red flags started to roll.
Despite all these obstacles, people converged on Lahore from all over Pakistan. There are comrades from: Peshawar, Abottabad (where Osama Bin Laden was captured), Banu, D.I Khan, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, from the tribal areas of North and South Waziristan, Sialkot, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Lahore, Kasur, Faisalabad, Jhang, Chiniot, Multan, Layyah, DG Khan, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Sadiqabad, Mirpur Khas, Larkana, Hyderabad, Karachi, Badin, Thatta, Kalat, Khuzdar, Quetta, Rawalakot, Muzafferabad, Kotli, Jand and other towns and villages besides.
As usual, the level of organization and discipline was very high. All the participants were issued with cards of three types: delegate, member and visitor. Because of the well known dangers in this country, security was very tight with access to the hall strictly controlled. A special card of comrades on security was issued separately.
A proletarian congress
As in previous years there is a good mix of people representing all sections of Pakistan society: workers, students, peasants, trade union leaders, political activists, men and women, young and old, and members of every nationality in Pakistan: Pushtoons and Baloochis, Khazars and Sindhis, Punjabis and Kashmiris, all united under the banner of the class struggle.
The class composition of the meeting is overwhelmingly proletarian and the wide range of workers present was very impressive. Among the trade unionists present are workers from the railways, airlines, steel mills, banks, oil sector, Water & Power, irrigation, gas, textiles, chemicals, ports and shipping, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and various other industrial sectors.
Also present are doctors, nurses, hospital workers, journalists, professors and lecturers, as well as workers from companies like Unilever, Coca Cola, Nestlé and Honda. Workers from factories in Lahore were turning up after the end of their shift at 2pm, and students were coming at about the same time straight from the classroom many in school uniform.
The students are also well represented. Among those participating are students from the Punjab University, Sindh University, CMC Larkana, SAL University Khairpur, Urdu University Karachi, Balochistan University, AJK University Muzafarabad, NUML, BZU Multan, Islamia University Bahawalpur, various Engineering Universities in Lahore, Taxila, Kohat, Sindh, Khuzdar etc., Agriculture University Faisalabad, Sarhad University, Gomal University D.I.Khan, Government College Lahore, F.C. College Lahore, National College of Arts , LUMS and many other educational institutes of Pakistan. Also present were members of parliament (both from the Punjab National Assembly and the National Assembly), leading members of the PPP from a number of areas, the well known television presenter Qazi Saeed and the most famous pop star in Pakistan Jawad Ahmad.
In addition to the comrades from Pakistan, there were a number of international visitors from the International Secretariat in London, Holland, Britain and Germany. Unfortunately, a delegation from Afghanistan (seven comrades from Kabul) was refused entry following the death of some American soldiers.
We had also hoped to have comrades from India (including a Member of Parliament from Indian occupied Kashmir) but this was once more prevented by the bureaucracy that refused to issue visas.
First session: world perspectives
Before the formal proceedings commenced there was a brief session where comrades from different regions sang revolutionary songs and read out revolutionary poetry, most of which was composed by the comrades themselves.
Then the congress proper was formally opened by comrade Rauf Lund. Four draft documents are being submitted to the congress. These have been printed, distributed and have been discussed in all the branches and in regional congresses. The documents, which are being debated in the course of four sessions during the congress are as follows:
1) World Perspectives (the draft IMT document to be presented at this year’s world congress), 2) Pakistan Perspectives follows, 3) Organization and 4) Pakistan: After Socialist Revolution.
The first session on World Perspectives was introduced by comrade Alan Wood of the International Secretariat. In the course of an inspiring lead off comrade Alan provided a detailed analysis of the world situation. He pointed out that the entire situation had been transformed in the space of one year and emphasized the swiftness with which events are moving.
He then proceeded to explain the process of the Arab Revolution, which he stressed was unfinished: “The masses can only learn from experience and they are passing through a very hard school,” he emphasized, “After an initial phase of euphoria and democratic illusions the workers and youth can see that nothing fundamental has changed.”It is impossible to solve the problems of the working class under capitalism. A fundamental change is necessary.”
Comrade Woods condemned the hypocrisy of the imperialists over Iran, and predicted that Israel would attack although Obama was not in favour because of the risks involved. If Iran responded by closing the Straits of Hormuz the USA would be forced to intervene. This would cause a violent reaction all over the Middle East and in every Islamic country. He said there would not be a single US embassy left standing and there would be a revival of the Arab Revolution, which would move to a new and higher stage.
A war in the Middle East would lead to a sharp rise in oil prices that would put an end to the weak economic recovery and precipitate a new and even deeper crisis as happened in 1973. The future will be one of crises, wars, revolution and counter-revolution for the foreseeable future.
Turning to Europe comrade Alan pointed out that after all the plans, the EU had solved nothing. After all the painful cuts in living standards, Greece could never repay its debts and will have to default. This will provoke a chain reaction affecting Ireland, Portugal and Spain. But the most serious case is Italy, which is too big to fail but also too big to save, he said.
Finally, comrade Alan emphasized the revival of the class struggle worldwide. He pointed to the impact of the Egyptian Revolution in Europe (Madrid, Athens, London) and in the USA (Wisconsin, New York). It is only the beginning, but the process of world revolution has begun, he said. The speech was enthusiastically received by the delegates and visitors.
There followed a session of questions that ranged from Iran to Russia and from Venezuela to Syria. Comrade Alan answered all the points very effectively, and finished his remarks thus: “You saw what happened in Tunisia and Egypt. As night follows day the same thing will happen in Pakistan. Sooner or later there will be a repeat of 1968-9, Only this time we will have the necessary instrument to lead to victory: a revolutionary party and leadership.”
These words were greeted with applause and revolutionary chants. Then came a financial appeal. This really showed the mood of the comrades, raising a spectacular 18,590 rupees (1 euro = 120 rupees). Considering the very low living standards in Pakistan, and the fact that the great majority of people present are either low paid workers, students or unemployed, this was a tremendous result, particularly if we consider that all the delegates and visitors had to pay a lot of money to get to the event.
The second session was on Pakistan Perspectives, which was introduced by comrade Paras Jan from Karachi. In an impassioned lead off comrade Paras dealt in detail with the crisis of the Pakistan state, which is riven with contradictions and splits.
There are profound divisions between different wings of the bourgeoisie, between the government and the army and also deep splits within the army, which are complicated by the interference of US imperialism.
Comrade Paras denounced the brutal repression by the Pakistan army in Baluchistan. He pointed out that there were two proxy wars being carried out there: one between China and the USA for possession of the regions’ rich mineral deposits of oil, gas, coal and bauxite, and another between Iran and Saudi Arabia that seeks to foment religious division between Shias and Sunnis. The national question is being cynically used by these powers for their own ends.
At the bottom of everything is the crisis in the economy, which has reached record levels of collapse with daily outages that are not only causing suffering for the people but serious closures of industry. The poverty, factory closures, unemployment and constant price rises is causing a nightmare of suffering, without parallel even in the tragic history of Pakistan since Partition.
Another big increase in the prices of petroleum products and electricity has been declared from March 1st by the People’s Party government, which has once again lowered the people’s living standards.
To complicate matters even more there is the cancer of fundamentalism, the question of nationalism, which has caused a civil war in Baluchistan, where China and American imperialism are engaged in a proxy war over gas and raw materials. The question of Kashmir remains unresolved. War is raging in Pukhtoonhua where people are killed every day by US drones. There are killings every day in Karachi because of the fascist MQM, criminal gangs and religious fundamentalists.
Then there is the crisis of the People’s Party and the disillusionment of the masses who can see no alternative in any of the political parties. Comrade Paras cited the words of the Minister of Transport to justify the butchery of the railways: “Why do we need railways? There are many countries in the world that do not have any railways.” [shouts of “shame!” from the railway workers].
The general political turmoil is leading to a feeling of desperation among the masses, a situation which is pregnant with explosive consequences. It is leading to an increase in revolutionary class consciousness among a layer of the advanced youth and workers.
The debate was opened by comrade Nehal Khan from Balochistan. Referring to the law of combined and uneven development, he pointed out that the unification of countries like Germany was achieved as the result of the development of the productive forces under capitalism in its epoch of ascent. But in Pakistan the bourgeoisie has been unable to develop the productive forces since 1947, and so unification has been achieved by forcible means and necessarily involving national oppression.
“The US congress has attacked radicalization of the Balooch national movement. The Pakistan army is killing the Baloochis with the same weapons the USA has given them to kill the Taliban. But where the leaders of the national movement lack clear ideas, the national question can easily be used by imperialism and the ruling class, as has happened here.
“The people of Balochistan are being used as an appendage to the war in Afghanistan. In order to head off the radicalization of the youth, the ruling class is using the poison of religious fundamentalism. But we stand for the ideas of Marxism-Leninism. We fight for the unity of the working class in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism. And our ideas are getting an echo in the ranks of the nationalists. Our material is being read by the guerrillas in the mountains.”
Comrade Rehana,who is responsible for woman’s work made a powerful denunciation of the oppression of women in Pakistan and in particular the monstrosity of so-called honour killings.
Comrade Fazl-e-Qadar, the leader of the Peshawar railway workers in Pukhtoonhua, said: “In 2007 we had a dictatorship. Now we have a democracy and we are worse off than before. They are destroying the railways, PIA, the steel industry. And then they tell us: Pakistan is doing well.
“Democracy and dictatorship are two sides of the same useless coin that is called capitalism. Pakistanis is like a bus in which the driver does not know where to go. In fact, the driver has gone mad and all the tires have burst.”
The next speaker was Haider Abbass Gardesi from the PPP of Multan. He said:
“Lal Khan says there is no future without the past. Maybe I represent the past. But I have come here to shake hands with the future. I was a young student in 1968, but now I am proud to stand on this platform and declare: I have joined the IMT!”
Hardil Kumar, a steel worker from Karachi, said that the mullahs in Karachi had held a demonstration of students from the madrassas with slogans like: Down with capitalism, socialism and communism.”
He added: “In the iron foundry, when we throw water on hot iron it evaporates. And when the revolution gets to white heat in Pakistan the same will happen to the mullahs. Balochistan is in flames. But in the furnace some things melt and others become tempered. In Balochistan the forces of the proletarian revolution are being tempered.”
Asif Rashid, a student leader from Rawalpindi, said that there was a new wave of interests in the ideas of socialism that were being discussed in every college and university.
Rauf Lund (PPP DG Khan) said: “The mullahs only talk about us when we are under the ground or up in the skies. [Laughter]. We stand for the unity of all workers above all religious, national, racial or linguistic divisions in the struggle for the socialist goal.”
In a surprise appearance, Jawad Ahmad, the famous singer and film actor went to the platform and said: “I did not come here to sing but to listen. I am often invited to sing at concerts. But today I only wished to come and listen to you. But so many people are asking me to sing and so I will.” Jawad then proceeded to sing the Internationale in Urdu, in a new translation he has made himself. The entire congress rose to its feet, clapping in rhythm to the international anthem of the working class.
To end the first day’s proceedings, in a fiery speech, which was very well received, Lal Khan began by recalling the first congresses of The Struggle with a handful of comrades in exile. Now the situation was completely transformed. It was not only a quantitative but a qualitative change – a new spirit, born of conviction. This is what guarantees the success of the IMT and the victory of the revolution.”
This concluded a very successful opening session. After the main sessions in the evening the delegates broke up into three commissions: work in the trade unions, youth work and work among women.