Pakistan's Other Story: 7. War and Reformism – Lessons of a Derailed Revolution

The imposition of Martial Law in 1969 was in response to a profound political and social crisis rooted in deep economic and social problems that were threatening the capitalist system itself. None of the established political leaders opposed its imposition. In fact they welcomed it at a time when the political situation had rapidly moved beyond their control with the masses, though leaderless, making a shattering impact on Pakistani politics.

WAR, REPRESSION AND REFORMS - Lessons of a Derailed Revolution

“A mere reform of the capitalist system is no longer a viable solution. The capitalist structure was rejected by the mass upsurge of 1969. The reformed system which is being demanded by the public and the politicians with minimum wages for all workers, participation of workers in profits, social responsibility of the capitalists, etc,- may be in operation in Sweden or Yugoslavia but cannot be built in Pakistan through an evolutionary process”.

Dr. Mehboob ul Haq (1934 - 1998) 1

Field Martial Mohammad Ayub Khan, the strongest ruler ever in the history of Pakistan, was forced to abdicate power on 25th of March 1969.

In his parting speech he had said,

“This is the last time I am addressing you as President of Pakistan…The administrative institutions are being paralysed. The mobs are resorting to gheraos (siege) at will and get their demands accepted under duress. The persons who had come forward to serve the country have been intimidated into following these mobs.

“(…) It is my desire that the political power should continue to be transferred in a constitutional manner. In the conditions prevailing in the country, it is not possible to convene the National Assembly. Some members may not even dare to attend the Assembly session.

“(…) It hurts me deeply to say that the situation now is no longer under the control of the Government. All Government institutions have become victims of coercion, fear and intimidation. Every problem of the country is being decided in the streets.”2

The Regime of Yahya Khan

His last speech resonates of the rising pressure of the revolution raging from below upon the state and the ruling elite. The main reason why he was urged to abdicate by US Imperialism, army red tape and the ruling classes was that they thought it would take the steam out the revolutionary situation which had engulfed society. Although the opposition bourgeois politicians and parties had named the 'Individual Ayub Khan' as the target of the movement, his abdication did not have the intended effect of dissipating the revolutionary movement of the workers, youth and the oppressed masses. The political leaders of almost all the political parties immediately went into negotiations and compromise with the new Military regime headed by Gen. Yahya Khan. They were talking about parliamentary democracy, constitution, federative units formation in West Pakistan, equal rights of nationalities and other demands and tasks of the national democratic revolution. But the masses out in the streets, in spite of concession and reforms, were sensing victory and wanted it complete and total. They wanted to fight to the finish. The momentum and dynamics of the movement that had 'suddenly' burst into society were so intense that alarm bells were ringing in the echelons of power from Islamabad to London to Washington. The ruling classes and the state's elite were so terrified and shattered by its impact that they looked as if they had suffered a major defeat in war. There fear knew no bounds, and when the movement showed little signs of subsiding after the fall of Ayub they immediately embarked upon reforms. At least on paper the labour policy of 1969 is supposed to be the most radical in the country's history and that too under the Military dictatorship of Gen. Yahya Khan.

As explained earlier the high growth rate of the economy under 'the Decade of reforms' of the Ayub regime did nothing to raise general living standards as had happened during the Industrial revolutions in the advanced countries at the dawn of Capitalism. However, the economic burden of the growth had begun to bite the masses and workers who were absorbed in this Keynesian based economic growth and development.

The imposition of Martial Law in 1969 was in response to a profound political and social crisis rooted in deep economic and social problems that were threatening the capitalist system itself. None of the established political leaders opposed its imposition. In fact they welcomed it at a time when the political situation had rapidly moved beyond their control with the masses, though leaderless, making a shattering impact on Pakistani politics. In view of the turbulent situation Yahya Khan made some conciliatory remarks concerning 'the need for social equality', harking back to speeches made on similar occasions in the past by his predecessors:

“In our circumstances, there is no alternative to planned socialist (our emphasis) economic development. But planned development cannot be isolated from the demands of social justice. The wide gap which separates the different sections of society must be narrowed, and the imbalance which led to social strife and discontent must be removed…the objective of planned economic development should be the general raising of the standard of living all over the country and not the building up of a privileged class to the detriment and disadvantage of others”.3

The turbulent period preceding the imposition of Martial Law had brought to the surface an unprecedented degree of militancy in the labour movement which the government needed to contain. As deputy chief Martial Law administrator and overlord of the ministries of education, labour, health and social welfare, the first task that Air Martial Nur Khan set himself under these circumstances was to win the confidence of the leadership of the labour movement.

To this end Nur Khan made some statements with reference to the socio-economic conditions under which the workers had never received fair treatment. A tripartite labour conference was called in Karachi to which labour leaders were invited to meet employers, government functionaries and advisors to formulate a new, more 'realistic' labour policy.

“This form of discussion served the important purpose of providing a forum where labour leaders could come together with those in power to express their grievances, give vent to their frustration and to achieve a sense of importance and equality with employers and government representatives”.4

This was a new experience for many of them and something that was unthinkable during the Ayub period. This move by Nur Khan in reconstituting the tripartite labour conference and inviting numerous representatives of labour had an important psychological impact on the traditional trade union and labour leaders.

Many people involved in the movement against Ayub seriously expected that with his fall a new era would be introduced. As a result, the 'non political' labour leaders had high expectations about the government's intentions. The attitude of the employers on the other hand was openly criticized by the government to appease the workers in action. 'Action', said Aristotle, 'is the main principle of drama'. In Pakistan it was the revolutionary drama being played on the stage of history. The wording of the threatened bourgeois state spoke volumes of its fear of the revolution.

“This by and large first generation of industrialists have failed to realise the contributions which a contented and well-motivated worker can make to productivity and profitability. They have looked upon trade unions as instruments of extortion rather than as institutions through which mutual give-and-take can lead to a peaceful resolution of conflict and possibly higher productivity”.5

In the interest of 'harmonious labour relations' the government proposed the concept of a sole 'collective bargaining agent', purportedly to resolve the problem of rivalry and multiplicity of trade unions in the same establishment and to eliminate unrepresentative 'pocket' unions. Elections to determine which union would be elevated to the status of the 'collective bargaining agent' were to be held under the joint auspices of the government's labour department and the management of the establishment concerned. It is easy to see that once established as the collective bargaining agent, the leadership of a union would be in an advantageous position to perpetuate itself since rival groups and organizations would be deprived of the opportunity to operate legitimately until the next election, by which time such a rival organization would rarely survive the period of relative isolation from mainstream activity. However, it would appear that the practical implications of this legislation were not readily grasped by the labour leaders at the time.

There were two competing unions in Adamjee Cotton Textile Mills, the second largest textile mill in Karachi. An election was held, as prescribed in the IRO, to choose between the two unions. The polls were conducted by the Sindh labour directorate on the mill premises. The union that had been the incumbent bargaining agent won the election to become the sole collective bargaining agent for another two years. The rival union criticized the labour directorate and the mill management for favouring the establishment union, alleging that the following means were used to prejudice its case:

The rival union was not allowed to operate inside the mill premises to canvass support.

The established union was afforded all facilities, and its workers were provided free food and drink, Police prevented workers of the rival union from sitting in their union office outside the factory gate and removed their banners and badges from workers' shirts.

The mill management did not allow newsmen inside the mill premises to cover the polling process.

Thus, it was relatively easy for the management and the government to have a union of their choosing 'elected' as the collective bargaining agent with relative impunity for long periods of time. The goal of preventing illegal strikes and lockouts, which had always been foremost in the government's policy, was retained. The procedure leading up to a strike or lockout which could be considered legal was made extremely complicated and lengthy, and it provided for government mediation at a variety of possible stages.

If by some remote chance a legal strike or lockout could possibly materialize, the government added a further clause for restricting such industrial action if in its view the strike or lockout was causing hardship to the community, or was prejudicial to the national interest. It could then be prohibited by order of the government.

“A strike or lockout becomes illegal if it is continued against the orders of the federal government, the National Industrial Relations Commissions, a provincial government, a labour court or a tribunal”.6

Zafar Shaheed makes a comment on this reformist manoeuvre of the new regime of Yahya Khan:

“In retrospect, some of the bold and 'liberal' declarations of the labour policy of 1969 sponsored by Nur Khan which misled certain people into believing that it was 'the most enlightened piece of labour legislation on the statute books' may be seen as a calculated move to create a structure of industrial relations that appeared to favour the interests of the workers even while its effect was quite the opposite. Also, it appealed to certain opportunist elements in the labour leadership now made vulnerable by grass-roots militancy.”7

“The movement which workers had taken into their own hands was clearly not amenable to control through legal procedures and formalities. The industrial situation in this period was such that the President of the All Pakistan Textile Mills (owners) Association (APTMA) had occasion to complain to the government that the textile industry had been gheraoed (besieged) by labour since 1969.8 In fact, there was a ban on political activities imposed at the beginning of Yahya Khan's government and this extended a fortiori to industrial activities. “A series of wide ranging retrenchments started in Karachi in 1969, coinciding with the imposition of Martial Law. In Karachi alone, 45,000 workers were retrenched during Yahya's regime.”9 The military court abounded with labour leaders and workers along with students and political activists. The practical labour policy of the government 'seemed allied more with short-term objectives, aimed principally at minimising work stoppages and maintaining urban tranquillity'.

This state of affairs indicated no fundamental change in government policy. Indeed, the 'caretaker' government of Yahya Khan was neither capable nor willing to undertake the fundamental changes in the economic system that were necessary prerequisites for nurturing the sort of amicable industrial relations which its labour policy purportedly sought. In any case, the government was too preoccupied with political campaigns for elections, which lasted from January to December 1970, and then with the political turmoil which led to war with India and the emergence of Bangladesh.

The PPP and Jamat-i-Islami

The imposition of Martial Law on 25 March 1969 provided Pakistan with only a short respite from the seismic forces set loose by the 68-69 revolution. Indeed, there are many indications that the growth of religious obscurantism was related to efforts by industrial and big business circles to regain the leverage they had lost in the November Movement, to prepare for the elections and to derail the revolutionary mood of the masses.

In the major urban areas, the Jamat-i-Islami, abundantly financed by Saudi Arabia and indigenous industrial sources, became the cutting edge of the post-Movement reaction. “As early as august 1969 re-emerging tensions between the JI and the PPP erupted into violence in down-country towns and in September there were serious JI-PPP clashes in Lahore, Lyallpur and Karachi.”10

The Jamat-i-Islami began to talk about making Pakistan 'another Indonesia'. Part of the left-right polemic concerned the then U.S Ambassador to Pakistan, Joseph Farland. It was widely believed that he had been the U.S. envoy to Indonesia during the Suharto coup against the Soekarno regime and the bloody massacre of the PKI. (In September 1965 in a coup against Soekarno, who was giving anti-imperialist statements, the CIA had used the Sarakat-a-Islam and other Islamic fundamentalist parties [some of them were sister organisations of JI in Pakistan] as an auxiliary force along with the Indonesian Army that carried out a genocide of the communists and their families. According to some estimate 1.5 million communists were slaughtered in the bloody counter revolution at the behest of US Imperialism.)

“Farland became the focus of the galloping anti-Americanism in Pakistan and the special bogey of the left.”11On a number of trips around the country he was met by demonstrations. One of these occurred on 5 March 1970. “At the Nishtar Medical College, Multan, where the Ambassador Farland was surrounded by students shouting pro-Palestine, pro-Viet Cong, pro-China and anti-U.S. imperialism slogans.”12

In Lahore wall posters announced the formation of a shadowy organization called the Musalman Sarfroshan ki Tanzim ('Organization of Muslim Fighters'), which warned all poets, writers and other intellectuals to behave or 'we will break their pens, smother their tongues and smash their heads…'

PPP and NAP-B leaders also identified a JI backed organization of street fighters and claimed that the JI was using Nazi terror tactics to protect 'the interests of their masters', i.e., American imperialists, feudalists and monopoly capitalists.”13

The anti-PPP campaign of the JI took a serious turn on 28 November 1969, when Bhutto was attacked by an infuriated, brick-throwing crowd of mullahs and youths at Sadiqabad in Rahim Yar Khan District. After this incident, PPP leaders began to make their own security arrangements. These evolved into the People's Guards, headed by left wing Major-General (retd.)Akbar Khan.14

The dismissal of left activist teachers from Islamia College in May 1969 became a celebrated left-right issue. Islamia College was an institution run by the Anjuman-i-Himayat-i-Islam, a body now under the control of conservative business circles in Lahore.

In the union elections in the Pakistan International Airlines Corporation (PIAC) in early January 1970 the new JI-backed PIAC Employees Union was rigged to win and replace the Airway Employees union headed by Tufail Abbas, a colleague of Mairaj Muhammad Khan in the NSF.

The JI victory in the PIAC union elections was the most notable success in a broader JI effort to penetrate the labour movement in Pakistan with well-financed and well-organized parallel unions.

The People's Party had greater success in penetrating the labour sphere because it concentrated less on established unions and more on the newly industrialized sectors and older industries and occupations that had not been unionized.

Industrial labour had been deeply politicized during the November 1968 Movement. Its growing militancy was evident in the wave of factory takeovers during the last days of Ayub Regime. Tensions remained in industrial areas after the imposition of Martial Law as the 'retrenchments' occasioned by the post-Movement economic recession enabled managements to dismiss the most militant workers. This is what happened at Packages Ltd., a large factory employing some 2,500 workers in the industrial suburb of Kot Lakhpat, Lahore.

In the strike of 1 November 1969 a whole series of issues was at stake: retrenchment, victimization of union office holders, long-term use of 'temporary' labour, the work-charge system, and no implementation of minimum wage scales, etc. On 4 November the strikes were attacked by goons and on 7 November, the new Industrial Relations Ordinance was announced, which, while it permitted workers to strike, also legalized 'lockouts' by factory owners.

The Packages strike touched off strikes and lockouts in all of the other major factories at Kot Lakhpat and within three weeks industrial actions had spread across the Ravi river to BECO at Shahdara, up to the new chemical complex at Kala Shah Kaku, to the industrial cities of Lyallpur, Multan and eventually to the major industrial areas of Karachi, Landhi-Korangi and SITE. This massive strike wave involved not only industrial workers, but began to affect lower level government servants. Strikes in the latter sectors went unreported, but it is known that even the Military Accounts Service went out on a job action during this period. One of the most interesting aspects of the November-December 1969 strikes was the interaction between the industrial and nearby rural areas. Most of the workers in places like Kala Shah Kaku, Kot Lakhpat, and at the DaoodHercules Fertilizer Factory between Lahore and Sheikhupura, were essentially rural folk who regarded their 'industrial employment as a profitable interlude in an otherwise largely rural and agrarian existence. Many hoped to save enough to return to their villages and buy a plot of land, though a few realized that they would likely never return permanently to their ancestral villages.

It was certainly significant that when the strikes and lockouts around Lahore led to police and goon violence, and when the Nur Khan administration finally decided to crack down, thousands of rural folks from villages surrounding Lahore, Sheikhupura and Gujranwala came out to join the striking workers and battle with the police.

In the atmosphere of the times it was inevitable that the strike situation would become highly politicized. The Jamat-i-Islami backed the industrialists, one of its publications characterizing the strikes as a 'conspiracy' of the left to prevent the holding of the general elections.

On 17 November 1969, Mian Tufail Muhammad, Amir of the West Pakistani branch of the Jamat-i-Islami, issued a statement which said: 'The tools of the upholders of alien systems of life have so intensified the sense of hunger in the simple-minded working class, that under present conditions, even if all the factories were handed over to the workers, it will not satiate their hunger, nor give them satisfaction.'

Bhutto visited the Packages Workers' strike camp and made a rousing speech in which he also denounced the lockout provision of the new Industrial Relations Ordinance.15

The PPP party journal 'Nusrat' (victory) became the most important Urdu media source on the strike situation, while PPP left cadres helped organize several industrial actions. Yet, behind the PPP display of militancy and support, there was a growing difference of opinion between the central cell and the Punjab party cell over the extent to which the People's Party ought to become involved in student and industrial politics. The Punjab cell had already organized student, worker, cultural and women's wings and argued that these ought to be developed into strong parallel organizations that would ensure solid blocs of PPP support in these social arenas.

“The left socialists maintained that the past weakness of the labour movement was primarily the result of its refusal to become involved in political actions.”16

They looked forward to organizing a trade union federation that would be allied with the PPP and that would combine political and economic action. Indeed, some of them would later help to organize the Muttahida Mazdur Majlis-i-Amal, but by then they had broken with the PPP.

The central cell, however, did not want to lose broader student and labour support by identifying the party too closely with the radical left segments of each grouping.

On the question of factory takeovers by workers, as happened at the Allah Wasaya Textile Mills in Multan under the leadership of left PPP figures (Mahmud Babar and Ishvak Ahmad) and the Multan Mazdur Majli-i-Amal, the PPP Chairman opposed this kind of 'left adventurism.' On 25 November 1971, he assured a disquieted Multan Bar Association that the PPP was against violent means to achieve its political ends and that it believed in peaceful, constitutional methods.

In the cities, where PPP organizations were stronger, the rapid rise of prices after the elections and a wave of worker retrenchments in the large and medium industrial sectors created more palpable tensions. Buoyed by the PPP election victory in the 1970 elections, the party left wing and its worker's committees demanded the immediate transfer of power to a Kisan-Mazdur Raj ('Peasant-Worker Rule'). Increasing incidents of factory takeovers, strikes (hartals), and blockades (gheraos) occurred in all of the major industrial cities, but it was in Lyallpur that the most serious outbreak occurred. There, on 25 March 1971 after the arrest of Mukhtar Rana, PPP MNA and Lyallpur party Chairman, worker-led mobs went on a city-wide rampage and brought it to a stand still through a city wide successful general strike. People's Guards fought pitched battles with the police, destroying the Jhang bazaar Police station. “By nightfall the city was put under a curfew and the army called in to maintain civil order.”17

It is interesting that not a single trade unionist from Punjab gained entry into either the national or the Punjab Assembly. All such ticket applicants (e.g., Ziauddin Butt) had been screened out by the Central Parliamentary Review board. Thus, even before the elections, the central cell had determined the relative strength in the assemblies of the various groups in the PPP coalition.

The PPP leftwing had more success in making its influence felt in the industrial sector. There, high prices, worker retrenchments and the victimization of unionists fed a burgeoning crisis in worker-management tensions. Under Mukhtar Rana, MNA, a radical social critic and proponent of a Kisan-Mazdur Raj, pro-PPP unions began to occupy industrial units in Lyallpur, Multan and Sargodha. Rana, who claimed to be acting according to a party directive issued by Bhutto to seize control of industrial units which victimize workers, had the active support of Sheikh Rashid and the Punjab party organization. These efforts, which culminated in the Lyallpur riots of 25 March, were directed not only at the industrialists, but also at the establishment unions. Many of the pro-PPP worker's groupings to emerge during this and earlier periods were 'parallel unions' that aimed to replace older and less politicized trade unions, but their wrath was also directed to the persons from the elite and the right-wing entering the PPP through the backdoors.

The strength of the PPP-backed thrust is evident in the reactions of the established unions, as well as in the violence of the elite response. The WPFTU (West Pakistan Federation of Trade Unions) had backed the JUI in the 1970 elections, only to see its own constituency vote overwhelmingly for the PPP. By the time the Punjab Assembly elections were held two weeks later, the WPFTU had come out in favour of the PPP. The established unions showed considerable nervousness about 'parallelism' at the All-Pakistan Labour Conference held at Lahore on 26 and 27 December 1970. It was at this point that Bashir Bakhtiar, President both of the WPFTU and the Pakistan Labour party, began to make pro-PPP speeches. Finally, on 22 March 1971 as worker actions moved toward a climax, the Pakistan Labour Party (PLP) dissolved itself into the PPP. This was seen largely as a measure of self-preservation, but there is also little doubt that the PLP's entry into the PPP was smoothed by the central cell's desire to offset the rapid growth of PPP leftwing influence among the industrial working class.


The occupation of factories by the workers, the seizure of land by the poor peasants, the awakening of women and the valour of the students and youth created a revolutionary situation in both East and West Pakistan. The delay in the revolution diverted the movement along national lines in East Bengal. War euphoria was whipped up, which led to a ferocious civil war and the separation of Bangladesh in 1971. The Pakistani Army suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Bengali masses. During the civil war, hundreds of thousand of people were brutally killed and women raped by the Pakistan Army.

The outright reactionary character of the onslaught of the Pakistan Army against the Bengali masses was further compounded by the flagrant intervention of the Islamic fundamentalists as an auxiliary force of the Pakistan army in carrying out this grotesque genocide, even more brutally. The two main organisations were the subsidiaries of the main Islamic fundamentalist party, the Jamat-i-Islami. They were named 'Al-Badar' and 'Al-Shams'.18 Comprising of mainly lumpen elements, they were armed and heavily funded by the Pakistani state and in reality sponsored and bred by the CIA. Their atrocities far outnumbered those perpetuated by the Pakistan army, as it was under some military discipline and at least had to abide by some standards while carrying out the massacre of the Bengali civilians. At the same time, with the logistical and military support of the Pakistani Army, Al-Badar and Al-Shams targeted the communist and socialist students, trade unionists and activists in their orgy of mass murder and exterminations. They used this civil war to strike a savage reactionary blow at the revolutionary forces in the movement in East Bengal. This was one of the reasons that the nationalists came to dominate this movement and the socialist left that had pioneered this revolt was sidelined. The deep involvement of the Jamat-i-Islami in this 'Operation Blitz' of the Pakistan Army in East Bengal is exposed in a book by General Qureshi, who was a battalion commander in Dinajpur Saidpur districts of East Pakistan during the military operation. He narrates how the Amir (head) of the Jamat-i-Islami even went to the level of visiting combat troop formations in districts to expedite the role of these Islamic vigilante outfits, whose structures and methods had a close resemblance with the 'Black hundreds' in Russia and the 'Shock troopers' in Nazi Germany. Gen. Qureshi writes:

“Maulana Tufail Muhammad of the Jamaat-e-Islami visited us after the military action. He was, I think, the only leader of national stature from West Pakistan who took the trouble of travelling to the remote corners of East Pakistan to make a personal assessment of the prevailing conditions. It was good to know that, besides men in uniform, there were others equally concerned about the future of this ideologically and geographically unique country. The Maulana was particularly concerned about the performance of the Razakars, (volunteers) locally recruited and belonging to his party, and was happy to learn that their conduct was commendable. He jokingly remarked that his party cadres had always come to the rescue of the Army in tough situations, but my state of mind at the time was not receptive to this light-hearted observation; I thought it limited the scope of co-operation between Jamat and the Army. In fact, neither was the Army acting to preserve itself, nor the mujahids to perpetuate army rule; they were co-operating in the national interest, not doing each other any favours. Let it be said, to the credit of Jamat-i-Islami and these motivated Bengali Muslims, that they stuck it out with us till the end. They were prepared to go all the way to their graves in the name of Islam and Pakistan; unfortunately we decided to raise the white flag.”19

Again Gen. Qureshi explains that how far the army went to amalgamate these fanatic fundamentalist gangs in the army operations:

“The GOC (General Officer Commanding) discussed the effectiveness of the newly-raised East Pakistan Civil Armed Forces (EPCAF) and Mujahid units, and we exchanged views on the question of mixing these outfits with the regulars, at the grass-roots level, leaving command to the army. It was felt that this would provide the necessary numbers to show the flag, in strength, in the entire area of responsibility, and also ease the problems of provision of rations, ammunition, and other administrative back-up support.”20

In the aftermath of the Pakistan Army's surrender of December 1971, a new conflict began in Bangladesh. In the areas liberated from the Pakistani Army in East Bengal during the national liberation struggle, a form of soviets developed. The invading Indian army, in connivance with the reactionary bourgeois nationalist forces of East Bengal, tried to crush them. It is significant that during this time the seventh fleet of the American Navy was anchored in the Bay of Bengal with marines on board. American imperialists feared that the Indian Army might fail to crush the soviets that were rousing society in the new order, and that were mainly controlled by the Mukti Bahini and the JSD (Jatyo Samajtantrik Dal), the left wing of the national liberation movement.

The fraternal spirit between senior army officers of the belligerent countries inspired by common service in the old India still remained a quarter of a century after India and Pakistan had fought three wars. One day after India and Pakistan had faced each other on the battlefront at the end of the Bangladesh war, a group of officers of the Pakistan Armoured Corps sought an Indian unit to which they could surrender. They finally located an Indian cavalry officer in the bar of a newly conquered club: before accepting their surrender, he insisted on standing them a round of drinks.

“With the advance guard of Indian army, the first Indian General into the city, Major General Gandharu Nagra said, 'Casualties are severe. Very messy.' I asked him if he had already met General Niazi. 'Oh yes', he said, 'he was very happy to see me. We knew each other at college.'”21

When the Pakistanis brought in their unit to lay down arms, Indians and Pakistanis fresh from the battle in the rice paddies of Bengal organised a round of hockey and football matches. From the office of Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi came a sharp message to the Indian Commander: he was engaged, he was reminded, “In war, not cricket”.Had the social revolution gone ahead in East Bengal, it would have been almost impossible to prevent it from spreading to West Bengal, where the left was already strong and society already radicalised. In the post-war crisis-ridden subcontinent, a red Bengal with its traditions of uprisings and rebellions would have led to a revolution throughout the whole region. This would have threatened not only the rule of capital in the subcontinent, but its impacts would have had devastating repercussions for American and western imperialism far and wide. The advent of the Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal was not accidental.

In West Pakistan, the defeated, humiliated and shattered Pakistan army was in no state to resist a new mass uprising. The armed forces had lost the mass support and were exhausted and bewildered.

General Gul Hasan in his memoirs graphically illustrates the mass revolt in East Bengal. The movement had defeated an army and clearly the oppressed had overthrown the system. He describes the situation in Bengal even before the Indian army had moved in:

“Prior to the take-over by General Tikka Khan, our troops had been confined to cantonments. Their movement was limited, owing to the insults and abuse heaped upon them, and at times they were subjected to attacks by the Awami League followers. To make matters worse, their ration of fresh supplies was discontinued by Bengali contractors, and their electricity and water supplies were cut off. This was a totally dismal picture. It was natural that when Army action was ordered, the troops could not possibly forget the indignities they were subjected to by the Awami League minions.

“(…) On the way back from China, I stayed in East Pakistan for a couple of days, mostly touring and meeting with various commanders engaged in quelling the rebels. They were confident, but bewildered by the mass murders of West Pakistan officers serving with the Civil Armed Forces and the East Bengal Regiments, by their own men. From my talks with them I gathered and this was confirmed later by General Tikka Khan who was good enough to ask me for dinner the day before I returned to the West that nothing was moving. Trains, buses, steamers, etc., were all damaged or lying idle because the crews had either gone across the border or were in hiding, afraid of the Army or terrified of reprisals by the rebels if seen to be co-operating with the Government, the authority of which Tikka Khan was busy establishing. It was not an encouraging picture that I brought back with me.

“At Khulna HQ I listened to a wireless intercept of the rebels. At one end, the speaker was a Major Jalil, a good officer who had served with me in 1 Armoured Division. He had deserted the service to lead the rebels. I was most upset, the more so because I never thought for a moment that he would be one to abscond. East Pakistan was doomed and we were wasting our time by making futile attempts to appease them; that juncture had long passed.”22


After failing to diffuse the revolutionary upheaval the ruling elites of the subcontinent had taken the extreme step of waging an all out war to derail the revolution. The defeat of the Pakistani army in the war had sent tremors through the armed forces; there were open rebellions in several garrisons. There had been scattered reports of soldiers banishing, seizing and even lynching the officers of the top brass. However, as the most formidable pillar of the state was trembling and shaking to its foundations, the international and the Pakistani media, dominated by the interests of capitalism, maintained a strict censorship. This was more so on the question of the revolts within the ranks of the defeated army against the officer caste, the ruling classes, and the system itself. In any case we again quote perhaps the most relevant source on the subject, the first and the last Commander in Chief of the Pakistan Army after the emergence of Bangladesh, Lt. Gen. Gul Hasan Khan. After sacking him Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto tried to change the chain of Command of the Pakistan Armed Forces, although it was more of a symbolic gesture and the changes were pretty cosmetic. The post of C-in-C was changed to COAS (Chief of the Army Staff). A JCSC (Joint Chief of Staff Committee) was set up to devolve the commander of the army. In his memoirs Gen. Gul Hasan has this to say in the chapter 'Tremors in the army'. He wrote:

“19 December will remain vivid in my memory as long as my faculties are not dimmed by the passage of time. The day itself was a bright one in Rawalpindi, but perhaps the weather did not feel inclined to share the tribulation which was entirely of our own making. The urge to drive to work to GHQ was not as compelling as it had been in better times. I was terribly depressed and demoralized by what we had done to ourselves. In the office there would be numerous inevitable cease-fire violations to be attended to.

“(…) Having initiated incorrect reports during the fighting, the Indians would be attacking desperately to regain lost ground to substantiate their previous false claims. Also, there would be a multitude of demands from our formations still occupying their battle locations. During the short drive, my thoughts reached out to the fate of our Prisoners of War: I was most distressed. With all this racing through my mind I noticed some people viewing the cars converging on to GHQ with undisguised contempt. I felt sorry for myself.

“(…) On entering my office, my staff officer informed me that the COS would be addressing all the officers of the Rawalpindi garrison later in the day. I did not know the purpose behind the talk but of one aspect I had no doubt: it would not be the easiest of tasks General Hamid had ever undertaken.

“(…) I received him at his arrival, escorted him to the lectern and sat in an empty chair in the front row. I cannot recall one word of what General Hamid said. I was emotionally too upset to pay attention, and in any case he was continuously interrupted by a near-rebellious audience. Once or twice, the COS left the stage and went out to collect himself, and then resumed his talk. I have never seen such a performance by a disciplined body of men, but I did not blame them; they too were charged with perturbation. The one incessant demand of the audience that I vaguely recall was that all officers' messes should be declared dry.

“(…) In my disturbed state, I could not figure out how that would help resolve our present dilemma, or any future ones that we were likely to inflict upon ourselves. In the afternoon I was told that Colonel Alim Afridi wished to speak me. The call was through soon, and he told me that the troops in Gujranwala were intensely agitated over the loss of East Pakistan and their demand was that I fly over to pacify them. I replied that I could not leave GHQ and that he should come over to see me, though I was not sure what good that would do. In the meanwhile Afridi did all the talking and I gained the impression that the troops in Gujranwala were on the verge of mutiny. Afridi also mentioned that the troops wished that General Yahya Khan should quit.

Exit Yahya Khan, enter Bhutto

“(…) Major General M I Karim, an East Pakistani officer, commanding 6 Armoured Division confirmed that the troops were shocked over the loss of East Pakistan and there was visible unrest amongst them.

“(…) I enumerated the happenings of the afternoon to the President. At the end, he assured me that he would quit as soon as it was possible for him to hand over to an 'elected representative of the people'.

“(…) 19 December 1971 was indeed a day that I will never forget it was the worst I had ever experienced in all my long service. The discipline in the Army was on the verge of snapping and the repugnant odour of anarchy was in the air. The climate was all the more awesome because there would have been no authority to arrest the rot, should it have set in.

“All these alarmingly ominous happenings, putting the very existence of the Army in jeopardy, and hence whatever remained of Pakistan. But who was in a position to undertake the task of pacifying the Army?”23

This was a situation when yet again, after several occasions since 7 November 1968, a socialist revolution could have been insurrected and the exploitative rule of capitalism and the yoke of imperialism could have been over thrown once and for ever. Trotsky had written in the founding documents of the Fourth International, the Transitional Programme that, “The historical crisis of human mankind has been reduced today to the crisis of revolutionary leadership”.24

The People's Party was not a Bolshevik party and Bhutto was no Lenin. The absence of a revolutionary party had let this revolutionary opportunity slip through the fingers of the Pakistani proletariat and the oppressed masses. Although many brilliant works have been done on the 1971 India-Pakistan war, the movement in East Pakistan, and the emergence of Bangladesh, yet there are very few books which give a class perspective of this saga of 1971 in East Bengal. Unfortunately, to dwell upon this subject a whole separate work is needed. Hence, due to the topic of this work, we must restrict our analysis to the momentous events that took place in those convulsive days in what still remains of Pakistan.

During the military operation and the defeat glaring in its face the Yahya dictatorship had inducted an artificial interim government into the fold of its regime. Nur ul Amin from East Bengal was made the Prime Minister and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the supposedly deputy Prime Minister and Foreign minister of this set up.

Bhutto flew to New York on 8 December 1971, hoping to recoup on the diplomatic front some of the ground Pakistan had lost in Bangladesh. “We will not rest,” he assured his cheering countrymen who had come to Karachi's airport to see him off, not if it took “a thousand years” to clear “Indian aggression from the sacred soil of Pakistan.” He rested a bit at the Pierre, however, before going to the Waldorf Towers for breakfast with Henry Kissinger in the US Ambassador to UN George Bush's suite on 11 December.

Kissinger recalled. “Elegant, eloquent, subtle, Bhutto was at last a representative who would be able to compete with the Indian leaders for public attention. The legacy of distrust engendered by his flamboyant demeanour and occasionally cynical conduct haunted Bhutto within our government,” wrote Z. A. Bhutto’s American counterpart.25

Kissinger advised Bhutto that

“Pakistan would not be saved by mock-tough rhetoric. 'It is not that we do not want to help you; it is that we want to preserve you. It is all very well to proclaim principles but finally we have to assure your survival.' … The next forty-eight hours would be decisive. We should not waste them in posturing for the history books. Bhutto was composed and understanding. He knew the facts as well as I; he was a man without illusions, prepared to do what was necessary, however painful, to save what was left of his country.”26

“Tiger” Niazi surrendered on 16 December, signing a formal instrument in Dacca's race course the next afternoon and giving up the entire army, 93,000 of Pakistan's soldiers, and officers. It was the most ignominious defeat in the nation's history, one that even Bhutto's rhetoric was unable to conceal from millions in West Pakistan, who had hoped and prayed and desperately tried to believe every brave lie he told them.

From New York Bhutto flew to Key Biscayne, Florida on 17 December to meet with President Nixon and Kissinger on Bebe Rebozo's yacht, where he was assured of ample U.S. military and monetary support. He boarded Pan Am flight 106 on the evening of 18 December for the long voyage home to the much-diminished nation he was now to lead, stepping down in Rome shortly the next day. Air Marshal Rahim Khan had ordered a Pakistan International Airlines Boeing to be sent specially for Bhutto from Karachi. The flight to Islamabad allowed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to stopover in Teheran to confer with the shah before finishing the last lap of his sadly triumphal trip home.

The cry of “Death to Yahya Khan” alternated with “Long life to Bhutto!” Yahya had wished to hang on, but when his chief of staff, Lieutenant Gereal Hamid Khan, briefed most of the junior officers at the National Defence College in Pindi on the morning of 20 December on the recent events in the East, he was met with angry questions and epithets, “The younger officers were shouting 'Bastards', 'Drunkards!', 'Disgraceful!' and “ 'Shame' … Lieutenant-General Hamid Khan's composure and that of generals of the front row had completely collapsed … Yahya Khan had played his last card. The game was up.”27

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto landed at Rawalpindi soon after the well-staged drama in the NDC (National Defence College) had convinced Yahya that he had lost more than a war. Mustafa Khar, Bhutto's trusted lieutenant, was waiting in his blue Mercedes inside the airport gate and drove with Bhutto directly to the well-guarded President's House. The building surrounded by high barbed-wire walls with spiked steel gates would soon become Bhutto's residence. Yahya was nervously waiting inside with broken Generals, Peerzada and shaken Hamid, sipping whiskey without any soda.

Bhutto had been driven to Pindi's Punjab House after having been “sworn in” as the new president of Pakistan and chief martial law administrator, the two jobs he took over from Yahya on 20 December 1971. Yahya was left to pack up and vacate the President's House as soon as he could. Lieutenant General Gul Hasan had been called to Punjab House, and thought, in fact, that he was going to meet Yahya there as he ascended the narrow stairs, flanked by two six-foot-six Presidential House guards.

Bhutto asked Gul Hasan to take over Yahya's job of army commander in chief, for that was one position he knew he could not fill. As current chief of the general staff, Gul Hasan knew all the general officers personally, having trained many of them, including the obsequious “dark horse,” Major General Zia-ul-Haq (1924-88). Gul Hasan asked for time to “think about it,” still surprised to find himself with a new president.

After the defeat just sustained by Pakistan's army, the job of commander in chief must have sounded more like a crown of thorns than a high honour.

Let's go back to our bachelor C-in-C and see what he has to say on this episode. General Gul Hasan writes in his memoirs:

“At 1200 hours my Staff Officer told me that the President wished to see me urgently. In my mind I quickly went over the drill of how I should broach yesterday's events with him, and got into my car. Just then Javed Nasir came up and instructed the driver to take me to the Punjab House; I asked Javed Nasir what on earth the President was doing in the Punjab House. He replied that the Military secretary had called a minute ago and given him the message. This was an added enigma. The President was normally at the President's House or at his Secretariat. The Punjab House was where the Governor stayed when visiting Rawalpindi.

“(…) On reaching the Punjab House, I found the gates closed. When the guard saw my car, he opened them, but the driver had some considerable difficulty driving through crowds of people gathered outside the compound wall.

“Somehow I managed to get to the top of the steps, where I was met by the Military Secretary who showed me into one of the rooms. Inside, I was astonished to see Bhutto.

“Bhutto left his chair and embraced me and shed some tears, which appeared genuine enough, though I was to learn later that he was equally adept at shedding the crocodile variety. He got down to business. He wished that I should take over the Army, informing me that General Yahya Khan and Hamid had been sacked. I was stunned by this disclosure and asked him how he fitted into the scheme of things. He replied that he had taken over the offices of President and Chief Martial Law Administrator from Yahya Khan.

“I told him that I was just not interested in taking over the Army. Once the disengagement of troops had been accomplished on the border, I wished to retire: I had had enough.

“'I do not accept that,' said Bhutto. 'You are a friend of mine and you have got to help me to get the Army on its feet.'

“'I regret, but my mind is made up,' I replied. 'I am certain you will find plenty of others, senior to me, who will be more than willing to assist you.'

“The conversation continued in the same vein for quite a while. He was very insistent, so I told him I wished for a few days to think over the matter.

“'No, no there is no time. I am addressing the nation today and your appointment is the cornerstone of my speech.'

“'I do not know how my appointment should become the cornerstone of your speech because I am sure there are more pressing matters the nation is anxious to learn about.'

“'I will not take “no” for an answer,' he said.

“'Well, then give me a couple of days to make up my mind, one way or the other.'

“He again gave me a long sermon, stressing urgency, confidence in me, friendship, brotherhood, and so on. I knew I could not get out of it. I was now in a quandary.

“'I must have time to think over it,” I insisted. 'I hope thirty minutes will not derange your plan.'

““He took me into an adjoining room, where I sat down. As he was leaving, I asked him if it would be possible to have a cup of tea sent to me. This came presently.

“After some forty minutes I entered the room where Bhutto was and told him that I would accept the job, but only if certain conditions were met: First, that I would serve in the same rank that I held then lieutenant-general despite the fact that the C-in-C was always a four star general.

“Secondly, he should arrange to effect a disengagement of troops on the border. This was a prelude to the return of our Prisoners of War; the sooner they returned the better. He said this question was uppermost in his mind, and he was already working on these lines.

“Finally, I told him that if I took over the Army, I wanted no interference from anyone, himself or any of his ministers included. At this he smiled and assured me that was the reason why he had selected me for the job.

“Bhutto having agreed to the conditions I had imposed for taking over the appointment of C-in-C of the Army, I had no option but to accept. I left Bhutto and returned to GHQ.

“I was not elated by my appointment. I felt no joy. I just felt worn out. It did not come as something which I had been yearning for. I was fully conscious that the job would be no bed of roses, especially in view of what the Army had endured in East Pakistan and more so because of the momentous and eventful 19 December. I was far from being thrilled: actually, I was the most unwilling occupant of that office.”28

These were exceptionally historic moments which graphically demonstrate beyond all doubt that all the reformism, centrism, and revolutionary/socialist rhetoric of populist leaders ends up compromising a revolutionary opportunity with the bourgeoisie state and system.

All had been planned, arranged and organised in Washington, New York, Key Biscayne, and Florida before Bhutto returned to Pakistan.

The army had to be re-established with its credibility and its sacrosanctity in society restored, even though it was a difficult task for the ruling classes at that delicate juncture in Pakistan's chequered history. It was Herculean task which only the leader of the masses Z A Bhutto could have accomplished, and the populist medicine used for this miracle to have taken place was a mixture of rhetoric of the emancipation of the exploited oppressed along with Pakistani National Chauvinist overtones and acts of radical reforms. What else was expected of the PPP and its leader? The creation of a Bolshevik party to carry through a revolutionary transformation of society; a long patient persistent struggle and the building of Marxist cadres, like tempering steel in the white hot furnace of events and struggles were necessary. But that was not to be in Pakistan. It's not just that Bhutto had to pacify the army get it back on its feet again, he also had to deal with the revolutionary ferment seething in the bowels of society: the masses were still yearning for a change. After sorting out the problems within the state Bhutto immediately turned to the masses.

On the same freezing night of 20 December 1971 he spoke on the radio and television.

“My dear countrymen, my dear friends, my dear students, labourers, peasants… 'Those who fought for Pakistan' I have come in at a very late hour, at a decisive moment in the history of Pakistan.

“We are facing the worst crisis in our country's life, a deadly crisis. We have to pick up the pieces, very small pieces, but we will make a new Pakistan, a prosperous and progressive Pakistan, a Pakistan free of exploitation, 'a Pakistan envisaged by the Quaid-e-Azam'. With your co-operation …I am taller than the Himalayas.”29

'Socialist Revolution' was missing in the first speech of Quaid-e-Awam as soon as he sat in the saddle of State power.

He went on to restore the stature of the army:

“I want to tell our gallant armed forces that have fought in East Pakistan that our hearts are with you,” he said. “We will not rest till we have redeemed your honour… These are not empty words.

“(…) We will stand by you, we are with you. If you go down, we all will go down together. Remember my words…we are doing everything in our power.”30

Although Bhutto had aroused expectations amongst the majority of the workers, the advanced layers, especially in Karachi, were not pacified with reforms. He went on a spree of radical reforms calculated to diffuse any new upsurge, but he was destined ultimately to failure in the crisis ridden capitalist system

A substantial section of left-wing radicals involved in the labour movement entered into alliance with the PPP from the outset, and were subsequently instrumental in acquiring working class votes for the party in the 1970 elections.

The workers expected electoral promises to be fulfilled and when the new government appeared on the scene, they insisted that their demands be met. A government publication for mass consumption and publicity described the industrial situation at the time the PPP came to office:

“Strikes, factory sit-ins and lockouts were rife, crippling the entire industrial complex and bringing production almost to a stop …As soon as Mr Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, pledged to Islamic Socialism, the end of exploitation of man by man and a betterment in the lot of the workers and peasants, assumed office, the dam containing over a decade of pent up workers' emotions burst.”31

The government issued directives to employers demanding reinstatement of all workers who had been victimized during the preceding militancy and also spoke of a new 'comprehensive labour policy' with substantial benefits for the workers. As the federal labour minister put it, the party could not ignore the fact that the workers had rendered great sacrifices for the success of the PPP. However, on the other hand the government deplored the 'law and order situation' arising from labour unrest and warned labourers that enemy agents were also within their ranks. The employers' organizations were threatening to close down all industrial establishments unless industrial anarchy was curbed. The intent of the government and the role of the new labour policy were made clear by a statement it issued in conjunction with the announcement of this new labour policy. The government expressed confidence that with this announcement, 'all intolerable activities such as gherao (besiege) will now come to an end'; otherwise, the government warned that the power of the street would be met by the power of the state.

The announcement of the new labour policy in February 1972 was a direct response to the heightened state of labour militancy and also reflected the fact that the government felt compelled at least to appear to service its debts to the workers' electoral support in some manner. This is somewhat ironic since the effects of the labour policy, far from bringing concessions, further tightened government controls over industrial relations, the reality of which became manifest through later practice.

The 1972 labour policy did not have its intended effect of calming the workers; they were compelled to resort to other means at their disposal.


Most of these more militant leaders had come into prominence during the 1968-69 upheavals and had been dismissed by their employers in the continuing cut-backs under Martial Law. They plunged into industrial action that the new government had to confront during its first six months in office. The primary goal of this phase of industrial action was the reinstatement of sacked colleagues and an end to the lockouts that had continued despite government directives to the contrary. “The widespread workers resurgence was such that the new government started arresting workers within forty days of assuming power.”32

“The strong stand that the government resolved to take at the time of the announcement of its labour policy was given added impetus by the increasing pressure of industrialists who threatened en bloc closure of their industrial establishments if 'the lawlessness was not checked'”33

“In retaliation to the united stand of the employers, six major trade union federations joined to form the Sindh Workers' Convention. Between them, they represented over 75 percent of the total organized labour force of Sindh province and the vast majority of the organized workers of Karachi.”34


Their aim was to launch movements against 'anti-labour actions', the banning of strikes, etc. This convening of major labour federations was in part a response to an earlier coalition of workers in the industrial areas of Karachi. At the grass-roots level, workers of plant unions in the same industrial areas had joined to form the Karachi Mazdoor Action Committee, with two representatives from each of the unions in SITE. In other major industrial area of Karachi, the Landhi/Korangi Labour Organizing Committee (LKLOC) had achieved a similar unification of forces early in 1970. To the extent that these grass-roots organizations of workers were instrumental in making the movement more responsive to the demands and interests of workers, the labour federations and white-collar 'outsider' labour leaders who wished to maintain their position in the labour movement had to quickly align themselves with the fighting stance of activists who were becoming increasingly important in the movement. Indeed, one particular labour federation which was conspicuous by its absence from the Sindh Workers' Convention had already lost much of its support among workers and continued to do so because of its refusal or inability to pursue a militant policy.

A major confrontation between workers and the authorities first took place in SITE, the larger of the two industrial areas of Karachi. At least three workers were killed on 7 June 1972 when police opened fire on workers who had gheraoed (besieged) Feroz Sultan, a textile mill when on payday they did not receive their wages.

“On the following day, when the funeral procession of one dead worker whose body had been retrieved by the workers was being taken out of the workers' colony at Banaras Chowk, police and paramilitary forces again opened fire. Police sources reported ten deaths, including a woman and a child.”35

All the industrial units of SITE and Landhi went on strike, which continued for twelve days.

After the firing incident, militant shop-floor labour leaders had entrenched themselves in the workers' colonies in SITE in company with a few militant white-collar outsiders and other radicals who were basically representatives of one particular labour federation.

“The government made it clear that it wanted to negotiate with representatives of this group of leaders since they were evidently in control of the situation in the industrial areas.”36

Regional committees were formed to organize meetings in their respective areas; two general meetings of workers were to be held daily to keep them informed of the latest developments.

“The conflict in Landhi started over wage demands in a government run machine tool factory. The protest spread to neighbouring textile mills and finally paramilitary forces literally bulldozed their way into a mill. Four persons were killed in the firing that took place.”37

As factories in Landhi remained on strike, police forces searched for the 'ring leaders' in the hills behind the industrial area where the workers' colonies are situated much in the way that they are situated in SITE. A battle was fought when they disrupted workers' meeting in which two more workers were killed and about fifty injured.

Although the government did pay 'compensation' money to the families of workers who had been killed, as it had done in SITE for the June killings, by this stage it was not willing to negotiate on any demands. The chief minister of Sindh gave employers permission to terminate the services of those workers who did not resume work within a period of forty-eight hours.

“The army was called out in Landhi, and another worker was killed. The police escorted workers en masse into factories to resume production.”38 During October, labour leaders of SITE had already been arrested to pre-empt any meaningful sympathy-strike occurring in that industrial area.

The government consolidated its strong position through a presidential ordinance in October 1974 which further amended the existing labour laws. “The industrialists immediately acclaimed the ordinance as 'fulfilling a need which was being felt for long, for effectively maintaining industrial peace in the country'”.39

“In February 1975, the labour minister said that its aim was to check the multiplicity of trade unions which were hampering the growth of a 'healthy' trade union movement.

“(…) the law also aimed at dealing with corrupt labour leaders who created unrest in the industry to serve their own ends. Such leaders were neither friends of the workers nor of the people and hence needed to be punished if they worked for illegal strikes”.40



Proletarian revolutions go through several phases. There are ups and downs, ebbs and flows; there are several basic analogies between these revolutions in different periods of history, and different features that influence the process of a revolution. The elements of history, culture, level of socio-economic development and even the terrain of a country where the revolution is taking place all have a certain impact on the revolutionary movement. There is also the question of the timing and the duration of a revolutionary upheaval. Some revolutionary movements can continue for years with small ebbs and flows while others can be in an explosive state for weeks.

The energy unleashed by the 1968-69 revolution in Pakistan was also because of a politically virgin proletariat with no long history of reformist trade unions and parties. But this upsurge also went through a tortuous process, the main reason being the lack of a genuine Marxist leadership and a revolutionary organisation.

Such a party needs a clear programme, perspectives, correct ideas, flexible strategy and tactics and above all a bold, determined and courageous leadership. The most outstanding example of such a party was the Bolshevik party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. In his brilliant work, State and Revolution, written during the course of the revolution in 1917, Lenin clearly defined the pre-conditions of a revolutionary situation.

The first condition was that the ruling class should be split and unable to rule as in the past. The second condition is that the middle class should be in ferment and vacillating between the ruling class and the masses. The third condition is that the working class should be prepared to fight and make great sacrifices to win.

Last but not least, what is needed is a revolutionary organization with a revolutionary leadership that is able and willing to put itself at the head of the masses and lead them to victory.

In the light of these postulates developed by Lenin the situation in Pakistan in those days of the 1968-69 revolution was ripe with these conditions. The conflict between the ruling classes had been exacerbated by the crisis in society and the economy. Even the 'invincible' Ayub Khan regime was being torn apart by the conflicts within the stalwarts that had become irreconcilable and led to revolts and betrayals by the most trusted lieutenants of Ayub Khan.

Ayub Khan's governor of West Pakistan, Malik Amir Mohammad Khan, notorious for his tyranny and oppression, who gave Ayub Khan vital support, had been deposed; it was a severe blow to the cohesion of the regime.

Even the split between Ayub Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1966 was a clear indication of this sharpening of contradictions within the ruling class and its regime. The squabbling amongst the ruling classes was further intensified by the rising tide from below. However, the Americans and other serious strategists of capital were terrified and used all the energy at their disposal to quell the movement.

The crisis had gripped all classes and strata of society. The initial outburst was led by the students and this in itself reflected the deep malaise within the middle classes. Unemployed engineers, doctors and other professionals were in the forefront of this militant resistance to the regime. The high growth rate and industrialisation under the Ayub regime was unable to provide jobs and absorb even the professionals and the white collar workers from the lower middle classes. The graduates in different fields of science and the arts burnt their degrees in the demonstrations in the main squares of most main cities and towns of Pakistan. This was an expression of the extreme disenchantment and disillusionment of these middle class youth with the capitalist system. The vacillations amongst the middle classes had reached a stage of explosive convulsions. And as it happens in every revolution the petty bourgeoisie was riding more and more with the proletarian masses as they could see no way out of their woes and deprivations in the existing order. This further galvanised the movement and gave it a greater confidence and encouragement.

But above all, what the workers and the poor peasants indubitably demonstrated was their will, capability and determination to carry out a socialist revolution.

As has been explained in the previous chapter the revolutionary wave swept the whole country. Even in the remote areas of Pakistan the reverberations of the revolutionary upheaval were palpable. From the remote areas of Sindh to the Pushtoonkhwa (North West Frontier) the peasant revolts were unprecedented in recent history. The landed aristocracy felt besieged and their centuries of rulership was threatened. Their oppression and tyranny was tattered and smashed by the hurricane of the peasant revolts. Such was the character of this epoch that the workers leaders were so emboldened they went to extremes that were unthinkable in ordinary times. They had suddenly felt an instinct of such courage and valour that they did the impossible. The occupations of factories, bringing the whole country to a stand still through a wheel jam, general strike were things that were read in books or known through the narrations of the veterans of the previous revolution.

“The role of the strike in general is to make the working class aware of itself as a living social force. The general strike is the highest expression of this. Lenin was fond of quoting the words of a German song: “All the wheels stand still if your mighty arms so will!” By participating in the strike movement, especially where this achieves an active form with mass participation, the workers acquire a feeling of their own strength through unity. The strike is a levelling phenomenon, serving to bind together the most advanced, politically conscious workers with the broadest layers of the class, who are aroused in action from the inertia of “normal” times.”41

Yes there was violence, killings and other adventurous acts; these are part and parcel of every revolution in history. But some of these extreme measures were the result of the absence of a revolutionary party that could have given a greater organisation, cohesion and discipline to this mass revolt. The revolution does not unfold in an orderly and pre-determined fashion, like an orchestra responding to the flourishes of a conductor's baton. It is a living play of forces, an equation even more complex than war between nations.

The 1968-69 revolution very graphically demonstrated the strength, consciousness and the capacity of the workers to transform society. They proved on the streets, in the factories, in the villages and landed estates that these wretched of the earth when they move on to a revolutionary plane can work wonders, even in a so-called theocratic state like Pakistan. A revolution in action is the most decisive school for the working classes. In the 1968-69 revolutionary movement the toiling masses, most of them 'illiterate' and 'primitive', learned how to organise, debate and enthuse the struggle at lightening speed.

Within hours they learnt how to man the barricades, organise protests, fight and protect themselves from the repression of state force, and then regroup for a new assault. In the mass demonstrations there was a spirit of class solidarity previously unseen in Pakistan; hand-in-hand they marched forward, very few aware of whose hand they were holding, whether a woman worker clasped the hand of a male worker, Christian of Muslim, etc. The prejudices of religion, sex, ethnicity, race, nationality, clan or tribe evaporated in the red heat of the revolutionary struggle. Red banners, flags and pagaris (head covering) coloured the whole landscape. In the so-called conservative Pakistani society men and women were attired with some symbol of red clothing. The whole atmosphere was filled by a euphoria never experienced by the oppressed masses in Pakistan before these titanic events.

But to gain a proper perspective of this struggle and draw the correct conclusions from the revolution it is important to understand the ideological essence, the destiny envisaged in the psychology of the masses, and above all of what they hoped to achieve in their own way. There was not a trickle of pessimism and the more the attacks of the State intensified, the more the revolution was stimulated and the masses infuriated against the system.

Students and youths refused to pay the fares on trains and buses, and the authorities were impotent to press upon them to pay up. Mainly in the cities, people dwelling in rented houses refused to pay rent. Workers occupied the factories and peasants took over the landed estates.

In reality the masses in this revolution were challenging the existent relations of property; and the ownership of property is not challenged in a 'democratic' revolution. The fore most symptom of a socialist revolution is the challenging by the deprived of the sacred ownership of property in a capitalist/feudal set up. This revolt against the prevalent property relations was the basic aspect that made the character of the 1968-69 revolution socialist.

As we have seen above all the objective conditions as laid out by Lenin in 1917 were certainly there. But the tragedy of the 1968-69 revolution was the absence of the subjective factor. Revolutions don't occur every day. But the culmination of the objective conditions and the subjective factor is a decisive necessity. The objective conditions are constantly changing. But when the mass consciousness starts to move towards a collective struggle to change society it is vital that the subjective factor has to be in place to accelerate this movement into change, intervene in the objective situation and rapidly ripen it to lead it to the revolutionary overthrow of the existing system. The objective situation and the subjective factor have to go through a dialectical interaction to motivate and invigorate the revolution to achieve a socialist victory. The absence of this interaction cannot bring the outcome of a successful revolution.

Trotsky wrote on this historical process that leads to a qualitative change for a revolutionary conclusion. Trotsky wrote in 1928,

“It is a typical Menshevist dodge to shift responsibility for the mistakes of the leaders on the “masses” or to minimize the importance of leadership in general, in order thus to diminish its guilt. It arises from the total incapacity to arrive at the dialectic understanding of the “superstructure” in general, of the superstructure of the class which is the party, and the superstructure of the party in the shape of its central leadership. There are epochs during which even Marx and Engels could not drive historical development forward a single inch; there are other epochs during which men of much smaller calibre, standing at the helm, can check the development of the international revolution for a number of years… Among the numerous difficulties in a proletarian revolution, there is a particular, concrete, and specific difficulty. It arises out of the position and tasks of the revolutionary party leadership during a sharp turn of events. Even the most revolutionary parties run the risk of lagging behind and of counter posing the slogans and measures of struggle of yesterday to the new tasks and new exigencies.”42

Hence the most vital lesson we can learn from the success of the 1917 October revolution in Russia and the derailed revolution of 1968-69 in Pakistan is the lack of this cohesion of the objective and the subjective.

But after the failure of reforms the ruling class went to war, and as is known, revolutions are born from the womb of the war. Although the movement had ebbed to some extent after the abdication of Ayub Khan, still the end of war brought another wave of revolutionary struggles. As there were tremors and revolts in the army after the war, similarly the advanced workers in Karachi and other industrial cities of Pakistan yet again endeavoured to change the system. This was the case in the 1971-72 period when Pakistan was going through the throes of a traumatic defeat. But this time the movement was isolated amongst the advanced layers of the workers.

The processes that unfolded after 25 March 1969 can be observed in every revolution. The fall of the old regime is greeted with enthusiasm by the masses. There is universal rejoicing, as men and women enjoy the new-found freedoms. This is the stage of democratic illusions, a carnival in which people become drunk with the sensation of liberation and hopes that know no bounds. Alas, this beautiful love-feast is not destined to last. The enormity of the illusion rapidly finds its counterpart in the depth of disappointment as expectation cracks its head against reality. “We have scotched the serpent, not killed him,” exclaims Shakespeare's Macbeth. Gradually, the idea begins to dawn upon the masses that, beneath the tinsel and the speeches, nothing has really changed. The old order has merely swapped its garb and its mode of address, but the same old masters still remain, and the same old problems too.

This rapid spread of disillusionment does not affect all layers at once. It finds its first expression in the ranks of the most advanced section of the masses. Vaguely realizing that the power won with so much effort and sacrifice is slipping out of their hands, the advanced guard instinctively lashes out. This is a moment of utmost danger for the revolution. The advanced guard understands more than the mass, and impatiently pushes ahead with demands for precipitate action. It is necessary to win over the rest of society, which lags behind and has not yet drawn the necessary conclusions. If the advanced guard breaks away from the mass, it can become isolated and cut down by the reaction.

The new PPP government was carrying through a process of reforms and selective repression. Ultimately, by 1974 the movement had ebbed. Disillusionment was wide spread and individuality and selfishness had come back to impose their psychologies on society.

A revolutionary opportunity that had taken decades to come was lost. As a consequence the masses were to pay a heavy price and endure decades of hardship and suffering. In the final analysis the absence of a revolution party and a clear Marxist leadership was the only reason that this great revolution had receded and was derailed. That is the most vital lesson of the 1968-69 revolution.

The whole question of the relationship of the Party and the mass movement can be reduced to the difference between the finished scientific programme of Marxism and the necessarily unfinished, incomplete and contradictory movement of the masses.

The generation of today has to learn and absorb the lesson of the vital importance of building a Marxist revolutionary force. Another 1968-69 impends. It will come sooner rather than later. This time the presence of a subjective factor shall lead to a victorious outcome. After all, this is now the struggle for the survival of civilization and human existence.

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1Played the longest role as the country's main economic planner. Joined the planning commission of Pakistan in 1957, remained the chief of the commission, finance minister and major economic planner of the country in most regimes for almost forty years in the first fifty years of Pakistan's existence. Quoted in Zafar Shaheed, The Labour Movement in Pakistan, (Oxford), p. 269

23Ayub Khan, Ayub Khan Diaries 1966-72, (Oxford), p.547-548

3Dawn, 11 April 1969

4Zafar Shaheed, The Labour Movement in Pakistan, (Oxford), p. 65

5Introduction to Industrial Relations Ordinance (IRO) 1969

6Sections 26 to 32, Industrial Relations Ordinance IRO 1969

7Zafar Shaheed, The Labour Movement in Pakistan, (Oxford), p.268

8Dawn, 12 January 1972

9Dawn, 6 January 1972

10Imroze (Lahore), 20 September 1969; and Pakistan Observer, 21 September 1969

11Musawat, 22 July 1970

12Combat (Karachi), 28 March 1970

13The Pakistan Times, 10 October 1969

14General Akbar Khan was also charged for treason in the 1957 'Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case' along with the CPP leaders. Including the left wing poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, they were incarcerated and sentenced to prison for different periods of time

15The Pakistan Times, 14 November 1969

16Dehqan (Lahore), Vol. 1, No. 2, 13 September 1971

17The Pakistan Times, 26 March 1971

18Names of two battle grounds where Prophet Mohammad had fought wars with the 'infidels' in the 8th century A.D.

19Major General Hakeem Arshad Qureshi, The IndoPak War, (Oxford 2002), p. 91, 92

20Ibid p.95

21Gavin Young Observer London 19 Dec 1971

22Lt. Gen. Gul Hasan, Memoirs of Lt. Gen. Gul Hasan Khan, (Oxford), p. 275, 313

23Ibid. p.339-346

24Leon Trotsky, Transitional Programme, p.17

25Henry Kissinger, White House Years, p.907

26Ibid., p. 907-8

27Taseer, Bhutto, p.130

28Lt. Gen. Gul Hasan, Memoirs of Lt. Gen. Gul Hasan Khan,(Oxford), p. 347-351

29Z. A. Bhutto, Addresses to a Nation 20 December 1971, in Z. A. Bhutto, Speeches and Statements vol. 1,December 20, 1971-March 31, 1972 (Karachi: Government of Pakistan 1972), p 1-16, quotation at p.1

30Ibid, p. 17

31Pakistan Pictorial 1973: 75

32Dawn, 30 January 1972

33Dawn, 21 and 25 May 1972

34Dawn, 30 May 1972

35Dawn, 9 June 1972

36Dawn, 13 June 1972

37Dawn, 19 October 1972

38Dawn, 2 November 1972

39Dawn, 15 October 1974

40Dawn, 3 February 1975

41Alan Woods, Bolshevism: The Road to revolution, p.211

42Trotsky, The Third International after Lenin, p. 73