The Pakistan Congress of the IMT opened, as per tradition, with revolutionary poems. The Congress assembled in the main hall of the electrical and hydro workers' union in the centre of Lahore. The mood was (appropriately) electric, but it was also tempered by the tragic death of a young comrade from Dadu in Sindh, who was involved in a train accident on the way to the Congress.
The Congress saw around 260 participating for the weekend. They came from every region of Pakistan: from Kashmir in the north to Karachi in the south. Groups of workers were also represented from various companies and sectors, including Pepsi, the textile industry, the young doctors’ association, the telecommunications PTCL Union, steel mills, railways, the professors’ and lecturers’ association, the government engineers’ association and others.
The Congress was overwhelmingly young, and was of a very high political level. It had the feeling of comrades getting down to business.
Nothing solved since 2008
Comrade Paras from the Executive Committee delivered a moving tribute to the young student leader, Mehran Jamali, who sadly died the day before. He sent condolences from the Congress to his parents and friends.
At the start, the international guests (comrades Roberto from Italy and Florian from Austria) were also given a warm welcome.
The first session on world perspectives was chaired by comrade Rashid, and was introduced by Rob Sewell, on behalf of the international leadership of the IMT.
Rob opened by explaining that the world situation was dominated by turmoil and instability at all levels. "Nothing has been solved in the 10 years since the deep slump of 2008, which represented a fundamental turning point," he explained.
Comrade Rob pointed to the pessimism of the bourgeoisie internationally, as reflected in the contributions at Davos. They are fearful of the future, with a new slump on the horizon, and the lack of any measures to deal with it. "They have used up all their ammunition," he explained.
Rob dealt with the growing threat of a world trade war, the outlines of which are to be seen in the conflict between the United States and China; and also in Europe.
All eyes are now on Britain and the crisis over Brexit. The crisis within the May government and the split in the Tory Party are a reflection of the general crisis of capitalism. Everywhere, the traditional parties are in crisis, including in the United States. Where Brexit will end is difficult to predict, but Britain is entering into a convulsive period. If things end badly, it could provoke a European crisis.
Instability rules everywhere. In France, the Macron government, which supposedly represented the victory of the political centre, is in deep crisis with the movement on the streets. In Algeria, the masses have also taken to the streets.
The speech was interrupted with applause and cries of "Inqalab!", "Inqalab!" ("Revolution!", "Revolution!")
After wide-ranging questions and discussion, Rob summed up, pointing to the essential role of leadership and the vital subjective factor being prepared by the IMT. "No one else will do it but ourselves," he stated, to loud cheering.
Pakistan: jailhouse of nations
The second session was on a document on Pakistan perspectives, chaired by comrade Karim Parhar, from Baluchistan, and introduced by Adam Pal on behalf of the Executive Committee.
Adam gave some background to the birth of Pakistan, explaining it was an artificial state, supported by imperialism. For a whole period, it was used to crush revolutions in the region.
But now this role changed, as the Pakistani state and ruling class are now in conflict with their own imperialist masters. "Pakistan was facing the most serious economic crisis in its history," explained Adam. "It has gone begging to the IMF, but has come away empty-handed."
The US is using the IMF to pressurise Pakistan. There is even a danger that Pakistan will be put on the Black List of the FATF (Financial Action Task Force), where it is already on the greylist. If this happens, it would simply intensify the crisis.
Sharif and PPP governments have not solved anything. In the past, there were many IMF programmes, but these simply imposed a greater debt burden on Pakistan. The rupee has lost 33 percent of its value in the last year. Any agreement with the IMF would mean a wholesale privatisation programme, including the state insurance company.
With the China-Pakistan corridor, Pakistan industry has been forced to close factories and workers have lost their jobs.
There has been much bloodshed in Balochistan. There have been fights over privatisation and the government was forced to back off. Living standards are declining, with real wages in freefall. This reflects itself in a deep social and political crisis.
With the crackdown on social media and a ban on government criticism, there have been increasing protests. There is no trust in any political parties or leaders. All the traditional student organisations have also collapsed.
As the elections in India approach, there have been many scuffles on the Kashmir question between India and Pakistan. This new conflict brought the spectre of war to the fore. Ironically, Pakistani generals have been appearing on the TV pleading for peace. While the fighting has stopped, this is not a real peace. The ruling elites of Pakistan and India continue to build up friction. Modi is facing an election and is stirring up anti-Muslim sentiments. The only power that can defeat Modi is not the Pakistani generals but the working class. Kashmiri blood is shed for the benefit of elites on both sides. The Kashmir problem cannot be solved on national lines, but only on internationalist lines.
Adam went on to deal with the national question. "Although nationalist parties are reduced, national oppression in all areas has increased." The Marxist tendency needs to link national oppression with the daily struggles of the working class. No national movement can succeed by becoming a stooge of an imperialist power. We need to bring all the oppressed together on a clear, class-based programme, as only the working class can lead the struggle to a conclusion. He concluded, "We have no interest in separating the struggles on national lines."
Comrades who came into the discussion included Khalid Jamali, from Dadu, Sindh. He explained that the national question was becoming severe: "Where the national question was thought to be resolved, as in western countries, it has reemerged again due to the crisis." He pointed to the oppression of religious minorities in Sindh, especially the Hindu population. They face brutal oppression, where landlords kidnap young women, convert them to Islam and then treat them as mistresses. He also pointed to the collapse of the PPP in its traditional base in Sindh. "The IMT allows us to look beyond the narrow national horizons," he said.
Then, comrade Yasir Irshad from Kashmir spoke about the situation. He dealt with the tensions on the border. After years of leaning this way and the other, with negotiations and then threats between the ruling classes, they allowed the crisis to get out of hand and this led to actual conflict.
Yasir explained that the conflict can never be solved on a capitalist basis, but only through a socialist confederation of the region. "With the rise of capitalism, it built states, now it is leading to their disintegration.”
He was followed by comrade Liaqat from Karachi, who spoke about the recent, massive real estate scandal in Bahria Town, involving $16 billion lost through corruption.
Then, comrade Siddiq from Malakand spoke about the weakness of the leadership of the Pashtun movement. The Pashtuns have experienced years of oppression, with thousands killed and thousands more made homeless, all at hands of foreign powers and the state. Thousands of Pashtuns are currently living in displacement camps.
"The movement rebellion erupted out of this situation. However, the old nationalist parties are making inroads into the PTM leadership, and they will destroy it. People who are on the Americans’ payroll are making headway with the leadership. This is creating a very dangerous situation," explained Siddiq.
Comrade Khalid Mandokhail, from Balochistan, spoke about the national question. "The pressures are breaking the artificial state of Pakistan apart," he said. But the repression is provoking resistance. The PTM showed great potential before, but was undermined due to its nationalist leanings.
This was followed by a contribution by comrade Sanaullah from Karachi. He dealt with the artificial borders drawn by imperialism. Pakistan is a client state, but has its own separate narrow interests in suppressing ethnic minorities in the region. When the USSR collapsed, they started their own little games. The ruling classes of the oppressed nationalities were revealed as having the same fundamental interests as that of the dominant nationality. He concluded, referencing Trotsky, that a national movement can't achieve independence by passing through stages of national liberation before approaching the class question, but must link up with the working class immediately.
Abdullah from Faisalabad spoke of the conditions of the workers in the textile industry. Criticising the privatisation policies of the government, he also criticised the lawmakers who trebled their salary within minutes, while the minimum wages of the poorest workers have been suppressed for the last decade. Textile workers are struggling against the repression of the bosses. Conditions are ripe to build the tendency amongst these workers.
Rawal Asad from Multan spoke about the economic crisis and counter-reforms, and their effects on society. Separate struggles against privatisation are now linking up with one another, which has not been seen in decades. Our trade union front has an important role in building these bridges. Over the last three years, we have intervened in practically every struggle in the country.
Saima, a female comrade from Kashmir, talked defiantly about the state repression in Pakistan, but said the youth are not afraid of jails and paramilitaries.
Razzaq, from Balochistan, also spoke passionately about China's impact on Pakistan. He explained that Pakistan had become a battleground between China and the USA. Chinese labour is now coming into Balochistan: hundreds of thousands of workers. Reactionaries have attacked this development for upsetting the national and social harmony. We say, however, that this is opportunity to reach out to those workers in solidarity and fight discrimination.
Rai Asad, a new full-time comrade from Lahore spoke next. He talked about the various student struggles emerging in Pakistan. He attacked the policies of the government: the censorship, etc. He then tackled the illusions of middle-class youth in nationalism, liberalism, and feminism. Although we must not ignore these questions, we need to link them to the class question.
Adam Pal then summed up the discussion. Pakistan, he said, was riddled with contradictions. In the US-China conflicts, Pakistan is trying to play both sides, as it can't afford to go with one or the other. "Pakistan is trying to ride two horses at the same time, leading to contradictions." Pakistan is still dependent on US as it wants an IMF loan. Despite some anti-American rhetoric, it still operates as a friend of America in the talks taking place in Afghanistan.
The whole rationale of Pakistan’s military and state is anti-India, thus leading to more contradictions.
As regards the future of Afghanistan, whether the US stays or leaves, there will be bloodshed. There is no stability possible. The future lies with the working class of Iran, China, India and Pakistan. While we are in favour of the right of nations to self-determination, at the same time we are opposed to any form of nationalism.
After the session, commissions took place on youth and trade union work, and work amongst women.
Crisis of liberalism
The second day of the Congress was chaired by comrade Umer Riaz from Islamabad. He introduced Comrade Paras to lead off on the crisis of liberalism. The Pakistan section had just produced a 274-page book on the issue, entitled A Marxist Critique of Liberalism, which served as the background to the discussion.
Paras explained there is enormous confusion about liberalism and other petty-bourgeois ideas. Liberalism is a fundamentally different ideology to Marxism – in fact, it is its opposite.
The crisis of capitalism means a crisis of society’s official ideology. The youth is looking for a way out. It was the role of liberalism to confuse the movement and divert it into safe channels. Traditional beliefs are being undermined, shattered. There is an enormous questioning of received wisdom.
Today in Pakistan, there is a massive proportion of people using mobile phones compared to the past. Years ago, there would be just one landline and TV per village. Alongside this modern technology, basic services are worse than before. 45 percent of children suffer from stunted growth. 70 percent of population face mental problems and suicides are on the rise. This is a clear example of combined and uneven development.
The rise of Islamic fundamentalism has pushed people to look towards liberal ideas, liberal democracy, etc. The NGOs are also involved in erecting this liberal facade, backed with millions of dollars from abroad. Liberal politicians are wrongly regarded as "progressive", but they defend the capitalist system. Often, scratch a liberal and underneath you will find a reactionary.
While Marxists are opposed to oppression, we link the fight against it to the need to overthrow the capitalist system. We also link our demands to those of the working class.
An example was given of a recent feminist march in Lahore. Firstly, it shows how times have changed: this 3,000-strong march would never have happened 10 years ago. Nevertheless, the ideas on the march were confused and middle-class in the main. Fundamentalists attacked the protesters mercilessly, even threatening to rape them.
The march clearly reflected a ferment in the petty-bourgeoisie. They are caught between the two dominant classes. However, they failed to connect with working-class women, with some even bringing their servants. For working-class women, wage differentials are massive. One in four will face domestic violence during pregnancy. Murder and rape are commonplace, with 137 women killed by members of their own families last year. That is only the reported figure: most such killings go unreported.
This led to a lively discussion. Comrade Razzaq from Baluchistan intervened to say that we need to tell the truth, and should not rub perfume on the violence. “Ideology is not relevant now, say our critics”, but this is not so. Only Marxist ideology can explain the world and offer a way forward.
Paras summed up the discussion and answered the questions raised. He dealt, among other questions, with the national question and the need to link this struggle with the working class, something that both the liberals and nationalists oppose. The liberals spread confusion. Our task is to explain the real issues. Once again, the session ended with revolutionary chanting.
Building the IMT!
In the afternoon, the Congress discussed the questions of organisation and growth, introduced by comrade Aftab Ashraf.
The importance of the revolutionary party evident for all to see, he said. A revolutionary party in Egypt at the time of the Arab Spring would have transformed the situation. Again, in France today, a revolutionary party would have posed the question of power. There are countless examples of failed revolutions: for example, in 1968 in Pakistan, which led to the disastrous situation we have today.
There are massive opportunities opening up in Pakistan – and we need to be ready! We don't have a lot of time and there is much to do. The key question is to build the tendency. A whole layer of very fine cadres has been formed in the past period. The authority of the tendency has spread with our interventions. We now need to transform quality into quantity. To achieve our aims we need to be completely focused.
We are seeking those looking for a real alternative. Of course, we need a balance between external work and our internal work. To strengthen our trade union work will also strengthen the branches. We are building the revolutionary party, or at least the foundations thereof.
Comrade Aftab explained the importance of the Progressive Youth Alliance and Red Workers Front. The PYA is the most recognised left-wing youth organisation in Pakistan. We initiated a discussion for a general strike in the past year and got a tremendous response from the rank-and-file workers. There have been many isolated actions over the last 10 years. However, we must be one step ahead and take this discussion to more and more layers of the working class. We should also focus on women workers. 60 percent of the 100,000 textile workers in Lahore are women. This question must be discussed in all areas of our work. Our aspiration is that at least 25-30 percent of the organisation should be women.
We also need to increase our full-time apparatus, with our growing numbers. That means professionalising the work, and improving our finances to build our apparatus. Of course, inflation is a problem; and the need to ask for more resources is ultimately a political question.
450,000 children die every year from preventable diseases. Who is going to save future children? We must be revolutionary not only in our words but in our deeds. Aftab appealed for comrades to increase their financial commitment by 100 or 200 percent.
The targets put forward were to build the PYA, especially in the universities. After comrade Anam gave the report of the women's commission, it was agreed to build amongst women and recruit another 20 female comrades in the next three months, with the establishment of three, new women’s branches. To prepare for May Day, demos should be organised against privatisation and for a general strike.
Lastly, we must increase our membership to over 500 within three months and reach over 700 by the end of the year.
All these targets were agreed upon, as were the reports.
The final session was an international report given by Rob Sewell, which covered the progress of the IMT worldwide. This was met with great enthusiasm.
Rob then summed up the Congress as being the best one ever held. It was professional and brimming with confidence. The enthusiasm could be seen in the eyes of all those present. The Congress formally ended with a rousing rendition of the ‘Internationale’ in Urdu, followed by the continuous chanting of revolutionary slogans. All in all, it was a tremendous experience for everyone involved.