Pakistani Marxist MP speaks out: Interview with Mansoor Ahmed, Member of the Pakistan National Assembly

In this interview Mansoor Ahmed explains how he intends to use his position as a member of parliament to defend the interests of the workers and peasants of Pakistan. Interview by Jonathan Clyne.

JC: What will your role be in parliament?

MA: My duty is to raise the problems of the working class on the floor of the parliament. There are so many problems. Since partition the ruling class has not solved any problems. The rate of unemployment is very high. We have the problems of the peasants, health, education and foreign policy. Poverty has increased during the 54 years since partition. Basically this parliament is the parliament of the ruling class. I'm a representative of the working class in this parliament, so I will raise all these issues there. However, my role outside the parliament is more important. My election is a good chance to organize every peasant, every worker, every youth.

JC: What is the main solution to the problems faced by the workers and peasants?

MA: The only solution is a socialist revolution. Nothing less than that. These days there is no room in the economy for any reforms at all. The system must be transformed, it cannot be reformed. We will struggle for the socialist policies inside and outside parliament. Nowadays many people are saying we need a revolution. They don't believe in the system. Everybody is suffering from the miseries of the system. They don't know how a revolution can be achieved, but they want change. Our task is to provide the leadership, to provide the party. This will take time. It won't happen within days or months. However, within the next period there will be revolutionary and counter-revolutionary movements. A revolutionary movement can erupt abruptly and then we can change the whole of society.

JC: If there was a revolution what would be the most important things to do?

MA: We must eliminate feudalism, fundamentalism and nationalise the commanding heights of the economy and expropriate imperialist assets. There is a marvellous potential productive capacity in Pakistan. But due to the crisis of capitalism and the policies of the IMF more than 7000 factories have been closed over the last decade. In the past we have had nationalisation, even big nationalisations in the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto era in the seventies. The problem was under bureaucratic control. Now we must have it under the democratic control of the proletariat. This will lead to an enormous increase in production.

JC: There have been several wars with India and now at this very moment millions of troops are massed on either side of the border; don't you think that after a socialist revolution India would try to attack Pakistan?

MA: Yes, but the Indian working class is the largest working class in South Asia. It is our biggest ally. They can play a role in stopping the war of the Indian ruling class against a Socialist Pakistan. We in Pakistan can never stop them by ourselves, but the Indian working class can. The Indian working class has a marvellous tradition of struggle. I think that the Indian and Pakistani revolutions are not two separate things. If we are to carry through the Pakistani revolution we must carry through the revolution in the whole sub-continent. After the socialist revolution partition can be ended through a socialist federation. It's a beautiful sub-continent. The working class is very hard working and artistic. The history of the last 5000 years is full of rich culture and civilisations. It is the ruling class in the sub-continent that is responsible for all the poverty and miseries that has marred this society.

JC: In this election the fundamentalists have received their highest votes ever. They got 16% of the seats in parliament, in the past they have only achieved 5%. Why is this?

MA: It's very simple. A key issue in the Pakistani elections has been the mood against American imperialism. The fundamentalists have used this issue, above all in the provinces that border with Afghanistan. No party, no single candidate of any other party (including even most candidates of the PPP) came out against American imperialism. American imperialism has played a very bad, a very dirty role, not least in Afghanistan. They bombed civilians. Originally, in the past, American imperialism used fundamentalism, now they have withdrawn their money and the fundamentalists have turned against the US. The PPP must take a stand against imperialism. It is an open secret that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged in 1979 by the military Government on behalf of US imperialism. I took a clear stand against imperialism and as a result the fundamentalists in my constituency received less than 1% of the vote.

JC: There are also enormous national, religious and ethnic conflicts in Pakistan. How can these be overcome?

MA: Everybody is killing one another. In the Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and North West Frontier, everywhere there is a constant turmoil and conflagration. A movement of the working class would cut across all this. At the moment the working class, especially in Pakistan, is not active. It is waiting, observing. There are only some small movements now, but ultimately there will be a massive upsurge.

JC: What is the position of women in Pakistan today?

MA: The position of women is very bad. They are doubly exploited. Once by the system and then by the males. Millions of working class women are working more than 16 hours a day. They also look after the children, cook the food and work hard in the home. They are not treated like human beings. There is also the tradition of Karo Kari (honour killing). In some areas women are never allowed out of the house and are not even allowed to speak. They are the most oppressed in Pakistan. They are 48% of the population, a fact which shows that there is a generalised neglect in the care of female babies.

There is no solution to this within this system. The basic problem is an economic problem. Women's work is not counted by the system and the money they earn they have to give directly to the men. How can you change things when the education and heath system is at such a low level? Only 1.2% of the state budget is spent on education. It is shameful. Only 0.7% of the budget is spent on health. NGOs are supposed to be working for women, but what have they achieved? Nothing. The conditions for working class women are worse than before. Improving things for women is interlinked with the socialist revolution. In some layers of society, such as among the ruling class, the position of women is more advanced, but among other layers slavery still exists. This has to be changed with a leap not with reforms.

JC: What was the role of women in your campaign?

MA: It was very good. For the first time in the history of Kasur we had big public meetings with women. In one meeting we had more than 500 women. I addressed that meeting. It was marvellous. They were very happy and very enthused. In the coming period we shall try to accelerate women's participation. Women played a key role in my campaign. Before entering parliament I want to arrange a big meeting with women to listen to their problems and ask them to guide me in my work and I will raise their problems from the floor of the parliament.

JC: What has been the role of the trade unions in your constituency?

MA: I have had big support from all the trade unions. The unions are not large, but their support has been very important, especially the Power-Loom Workers' Union, the Rickshaw Drivers' Union, the Bank Workers' and the Water and Power Workers' Union. I have also had the support of the Journalists Union and Postal Workers' Union. The Sanitary workers, who are Christians, have given me their full support. I worked with the unions not just during the election, but also before the elections and now I will hold meetings with them to discuss what I can do as an MP for them. The essence of my campaign has been that everybody has not been campaigning for Mansoor but for themselves. This has been the decisive reason for my victory.

JC: What were the main activities of your election campaign?

MA: There were two main things. Firstly, there was the man-to-man, woman-to-woman and door-to-door campaigning that involved many people. Secondly, there were the public meetings that I spoke at. There were marvellous public meetings. It has been like a dream to speak during the course of one day at 15 public meetings. You can see that I still have a problem with my throat a week after the election. I must have spoken at more than 200 public meetings during the whole campaign. In every public meeting there were no less than 1000 people and in some areas the meetings were of more than 10,000. We didn't organise them by advertising on buses, because the Government did not allow us to arrange big public meetings, unlike all the other candidates. This was because we were really against the Government.

The candidates standing against me were very rich. During the campaign I challenged my opponent candidates to drink a sip of ordinary Kasur water which I was drinking in front of thousands of people. But they are not used to this and they didn't dare drink it, as they would have got sick if they had. They didn't accept the challenge. One of them, Nelufar Qasim Mehdi, is from the classical bourgeoisie. Her family is one of the ten richest families in Pakistan. Nelufar spent almost 50 million rupees on her campaign. That is a big amount in Pakistan. Khursid Kasuri, another wealthy candidate, spent 35 million rupees. For my whole campaign my expenses did not even touch the figure of one million. It is very interesting that people have given me money, published my posters, my stickers. We do not even know who printed one of the stickers that supported me. People have supplied my campaign with cars. People helped spontaneously. These things have inspired me. When I came down from the stage to meet people hundreds of them would gather around me, one man came to me daily and gave me 100 rupees (probably most of his daily wage). Another time I found a piece of paper in my pockets when I got home. It was a cheque for 10,000 rupees from a person I don't know. They have given me a lot of love, a lot of everything. I defeated the rich candidates thanks to the working class, the peasants and the youth.

JC: The way your campaign was organised and the ideas you stand for are very different from most of the PPP candidates and in particular from the leadership. Has it been an advantage or a disadvantage for you to be a PPP candidate?

MA: I was campaigning on the basic manifesto of the PPP. In 1968 and 1969 there was a big movement. It was a marvellous revolutionary movement, that changed the mood of the masses. The PPP is a product of that movement, and explains why the PPP is the most popular political party among the working class. That movement produced the best manifesto ever in the history of Pakistan and even in the history of the whole sub-continent. It contains the ultimate goal of the PPP - to build a classless society through the socialist revolution. Even the manifestos of the Communist Parties in the past have not had the agenda of the socialist revolution so clearly stated; instead they have stood for a national-democratic revolution. It has been easy to be part of the PPP and put forward a socialist programme. I am not defying the basic manifesto and character of the PPP. The leadership is.

JC: What has inspired you in your struggle?

MA: The ideas of Marxism have inspired me. After Marx and Engels, I have been inspired by Lenin and Trotsky, and then by the ideas developed by Ted Grant and the international Marxist movement gathered around the In Defence of Marxism web site, and specially the idea that Marxists should fight for their ideas within the framework of the mass organisations in order to reach the working class.