On Saturday 14th March, the 34th annual congress of The Struggle, the Pakistan section of the International Marxist tendency commenced its proceedings in Lahore. This was yet another milestone in the growth and development of the forces of Marxism in Pakistan. The congress opened with a tremendous display of enthusiasm as comrades from all over Pakistan crowded into the large hall of the Aiwan-e-Iqbal building in the centre of Lahore.
Over 2,800 attended the Congress this year. To have gotten such a big attendance was a huge achievement, given the rapidly deteriorating situation in this country. In past few months Pakistan has seen a surge in terrorist attacks in which more and more people are killed. A case in point was the massacre of more than 140 school children in Peshawar on 16 December in Army Public School, which sent a shock wave throughout whole country. Using this as a pretext, the state has increased security measures that make the lives of ordinary citizens even more intolerable than before. Innocent people are ruthlessly searched, their identities cards and other documents checked at various points in cities and towns, while the terrorists and their sympathisers roam about freely.
These difficult circumstances, combined with price rises, growing unemployment, power failures and many other problems, meant that the organization of this year's congress was an extremely daunting task. Many delegates faced arrest under the pretext of searches and the heightened security measures, which also meant that boarding and lodging arrangements were rendered extremely difficult. Yet despite all the difficulties comrades from all parts of country, from every corner of Pakistan managed to make their way to this vital congress.
The opening session
Fortunately the threatened torrential rain that had been predicted failed to materialise as the 34th congress had got underway. The pre-congress period has been a hive of preparation and organisation. Discussion documents for each session were written, printed and distributed. These included World Economic Perspectives, Pakistani Perspectives, and a book on China by comrade Lal Khan. In fact all three were produced in a book format. As everyone waited in anticipation for the start, the hall spontaneously erupted into cries of "Inqilab! Inquilab! Socialist Inqilab!" ("Revolution! Revolution! Socialist Revolution!").
The air was punctuated with revolutionary slogans as the Congress was opened by Comrade Anam Patafi who is leading the revolutionary women work in Pakistan. A number of activities were held on 8 March, international women’s day, one week before the Congress in many cities across Pakistan by PTUDC and Progressive Youth Alliance. Many women who participated these public meeting also attended the congress as observers. Comrade Anam welcomed the delegates from across the country and announced the Agenda of Congress.
The first thing she did was to call upon comrade Lal Khan to introduce the international visitors one at a time to thunderous applause. He introduced comrade Paul from Belgium, comrades Olivia and Florian from Swizerland, Adees from South Africa, and Yusuf Tarigami, a Communist MP from India.
As Alan Woods was able to attend this year's congress, he sent a special video greeting to the congress which were meet with enthusiastic applause. A recorded message was also received from John Peterson the secretary of the American Workers International League. The first to open the session on World Perspectives was comrade Rob Sewell from the International Secretariat of the IMT and editor of the Socialist Appeal in Britain. Given the vast scope of the subject and the time, he was forced to concentrate his remarks on a few important aspects, mainly dealing with world economy and the crisis in Europe.
"We have entered the most disturbed period in history. Above all, the capitalist system has reached its limits and is in terminal decline", explained comrade Sewell.
He explained that the crisis of 2008 introduced a qualitative change in the situation. "We witnessed the biggest crisis of capitalism since the 1930s and possibly in its history", he stated. This had come to a shock to the bourgeoisie who had ruled out any such possibility. It was, he said, not a "financial crisis", as the strategists of capital maintain, but an economic crisis of overproduction, as Marx had explained. Today, the crisis reflected a complete impasse of capitalism, namely an organic crisis.
Comrade Sewell went on to explain that to save the system, the bourgeoisie were forced to pump in trillions of dollars, like a terminally ill patient on morphine, to prop up the banks and capitalism generally. This resulted in colossal state debts. It forced the capitalists to embark on austerity everywhere to force the working class to pay for the crisis. The capitalist system could no longer afford reforms as in the past. Counter-reforms were on the order of the day.
Comrade Sewell explained that capitalism had entered a road of permanent crisis and continuous attacks on the working class. He quoted Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury Secretary to Clinton, who wanted that capitalism faced "secular stagnation", and a possible New Depression. Some already believed we were in a depression. This so-called recovery is the weakest on record. The United States is spluttering along at between 1 and 2 percent growth. This year its projected growth has been downgraded to 1.5% growth, a snail's pace, after falls in retail sales.
In the 1930's the USA grew after the slump by 9%, far faster than today. The US figures for unemployment had fallen, but the workforce had also fallen. People had given up looking for work. If the US had the same size workforce as before 2008, the unemployment rate would be T 10% now. The huge amounts of Quantitative Easing has done nothing to solve matters.
Comrade Sewell also pointed to the collapse of growth in the so-called BRICS economies. These were to be an engine of growth but have turned into slow growth areas, starting with China, which has slowed to a 24-year low. Massive overproduction and dangers of a property crash have added to its woes. Growth could shrink to nearly 6% in the next year. Japan is once again in recession.
The epicentre of the capitalist crisis is Europe, he said. "European capitalism has been in and out of recession for the last 5 years, with no signs of recovery", he said. Spain, Portugal, Italy and France are in the doldrums. Germany is slowing down, especially after the sanctions imposed on Russia. Greece, however, was the centre of the European crisis, explained comrade Sewell. The economy's GDP had fallen by almost 25% in five years and was already had two bailouts and needed a third. Greek capitalism was bankrupt. This draconian austerity imposed on the Greek working class had plunged large sections into misery. Suicides were a record levels. But these conditions were having a profound impact on consciousness.
There was a widespread questioning of capitalism. There was a hatred of the bankers and bourgeois politicians. There was a yearning for fundamental change. But the working class was being held back by its organisations. The PASOK had betrayed the workers and had paid the price by its destruction on the electoral front. The masses looked for an alternative and found it in SYRIZA, based on a programme of anti-austerity and reforms. From 4% support it climbed to 16 and then 20 and 35 percent, until it was swept to power in the recent elections.
The Greek people were disgusted by austerity imposed by the Troika of IMF, EU and ECB. Pressure was on SYRIZA to break with the past. But the German and European capitalists wanted Greece to pay. With economic conditions deteriorating, SYRIZA accepted a deal to continue with the memorandum under a new name. This has resulted in big opposition in the party. If SYRIZA remained true to the programme it was elected on it should proceed to implement the reforms demanded by the Greek people. But to do this it needs to defy the TROIKA and take over the banks and basic industries and take economic power out of the hands of the capitalists and place in the hands of working people. A class appeal should be made to the workers to follow suit and unite together in a Europe for workers, a socialist Europe, where the economy can be planned in the interests of the majority.
Comrade Sewell said that Greece was not unique. The old parties were becoming increasingly discredited and new parties were emerging to their left. This was graphically illustrated by Spain and the rise of PODEMOS. The old Socialist party had been increasingly discredited and the United Left was not radical enough. This has resulted in the growth of PODEMOS to 300,000 members. A new situation is opening in Spain as a consequence. Other countries will follow this development in the future.
Events will not take a straight line, however. The Spanish Revolution of 1931-37 took place over several years. This pattern will be repeated again, where the mass organisations will transformed and retransformed.
Comrades intervened in the discussion which followed. Of pn particular interest was the intervention of comrade Yusuf Tarigami, who had recently been re-elected as a Communist MP in Indian Kashmir against massive opposition. During his election campaign he was issued with a fatwa by the local mullahs. He explained the polarised situation that had developed, but was confident of the future. He ended by saying that whatever steps The Struggle comrades took in Pakistan, he and the Indian Marxists would give their support. Such remarks meet with tremendous applause.
Comrade Olivia from Switzerland gave a report of the work in her section which was enthusiastically received by delegates. After the discussions with a number of questions, comrade Sewell answered the questions and summed up. He once again stressed the key point that there was no way out on the road of capitalism. The objective situation was transforming the consciousness of the working class everywhere. The opportunities for Marxism had never been more favourable. One victory in any country, including Pakistan, would transform the world situation. "Our time has come", he said to massive applause and cheering. "Forward to the victory of the world socialist revolution!" This was met by a spontaneous outpouring of of emotion on the part of a multitude of comrades who expressed their enthusiasm for the ideas and perspectives of the IMT.
Perspectives for Pakistan
Over an excellent lunch of a spinach and chicken curry, with salad and tea, the delegates commented favourably on the morning’s discussion. Following these informal discussions, the Congress proper resumed its deliberations in the afternoon with a session on Pakistan Perspectives, which was introduced by comrade Adam Pal. Adam made a fervent speech about the appalling situation facing the working class in Pakistan.
"The more we know the more we hate the system”, he said. “We need to get a firm grasp of the nature of this epoch. Where is Pakistan going? What are the ruling class up to? The rottenness of this class is exposed on a daily basis. What they are telling us and what we are experiencing are entirely different."
He went on to explain that the Pakistani state was brought into being after a bloody separation and has become a failed state. Look at every area of the state and it is in crisis. Petrol shortages had reached a new peak few months ago, resulting in chaos. No measures can solve the problems or create a revival of the economy, as prices are continually rising, together with the basics such as gas and electricity.
Adam explained that the state stands on the shoulders of the black economy, a cancerous tumour that is bigger than the ordinary economy. The ruling class is rotten through and through. While future generations are mortgaged to imperialism and capitalism, the bourgeoisie have billions in offshore banks and want a high value rupee to increase their wealth.
"There is a crisis of the state, which is based on corruption. There are open splits and conflicts within the state. They are fighting over contracts, kickbacks, and money, while blood is being spilled on the streets. They say they are fighting Taliban, but they are financing them. The terrorists can't exist without state support”, he said.
Adam stated that in the present moment there was no other force working for socialism in Pakistan except ourselves. Before we intervened in anti-privatisation struggles, but now we have to organise them. The IMT is the only serious tendency in the working class in Pakistan, Adam declared.
There followed a lively discussion with comrades coming in to outline the experiences in their areas. A young female comrade from Multan spoke about the movement of women workers in Pakistan. She attacked the bourgeois feminists and explained that only socialism can solve our problems and provide the material basis for the emancipation of women. Women can never be free as long as the dictatorship of private property continues to exist.
Other comrades spoke about the situation in Kashmir and in Baluchistan. Comrade Nihal Khan from Baluchistan spoke on the national question. He explained that the ruling class was not able to create a viable nation state and had presided over huge national problems. The Baluchistan people have always resisted the efforts to subject them. Many have been killed in this armed struggle. But they have drawn lessons that the way forward was not guerrilla struggle that has separated them from the masses. At the same time they rejected the parliamentary way of the bourgeois nationalists. Only Marxism offers a real alternative, he said. The national question can only be solved by linking it with the class question and the socialist revolution.
The session was summed up by comrade Lal Khan, who explained that the congress was not a national congress but an international one. The economy had fallen further into crisis as the black economy had grown from 60% to 78%. Corruption had become the norm, as the wealthy build prestige buildings while the poor go hungry. People give alms to the poor, but those who give such miserable handouts are millionaires who do not pay tax. They are the real criminals. They justify the black economy and use religion in the same way. He exposed the links between the state and the Taliban terrorists.
Lal Khan quoted a survey by the Pew institute which recently looked at 33 countries and the percentage of people participating in politics. This revealed that only 12% are interested in politics in Pakistan, and these were mainly from the middle class. There was a complete alienation amongst working people. The PPP is almost dead as a political party. Our task is not to revive it but work to build up the forces of Marxism. Only the IMT can build a mass party of the working class offering a revolutionary programme. At his conclusion, the congress erupted into applause and revolutionary songs.
Workers and youth
This was then followed by three commissions, one on trade unions, another on women and a third in youth work.Trade Union leaders and workers from various industrial sectors participated in this Congress in impressive numbers. A large delegation of 72 workers from the railways was an outstanding feature of this event. These workers came from different cities and work in different departments of the rail system. They belonged to different left wing unions on the railways. Many of them are members of IMT and some were sympathisers. The railway workers have a long tradition of struggle in the Sub Continent, so that the participation of railway workers in this year congress is a big achievement and will send a message of struggle to all railway workers across the country,
Workers from Pakistan International Airlines, Pakistan Steel, WAPDA were also present from different cities. These departments are now under threat of privatization. A large number of young doctors, nurses, hospital workers also participated in the congress this year. An important feature of the Congress this year was the publication of first issue of the PTUDC bulletin “Mazdoor Nama” (Workers News). This will contain news of workers struggles and in various industrial sectors and the activities of trade unions. Comrades of the PTUDC announced that they will publish it on a monthly basis and the first issue was widely appreciated by the participants of the Congress.
Another important feature is the publication of “Azam”, the organ of JKNSF (the Kashmiri students’ organization) before the Congress. A large delegation from Pakistani-occupied Kashmir is participating in the Congress. Comrade Yousaf Tarigami from Indian-held Kashmir also came, despite threats and difficulties in regard to his visa. The Kashmir dispute between nuclear-armed neighbours has been the cause of many wars in the region.
Both India and Pakistan encourage religious hatred and national oppression on both sides of Kashmir. A coalition government of the right wing BJP and the nationalist PDP in Indian held Kashmir has recently been formed. With this in mind, the participation in the Congress of comrade Tarigami, who has recently won the state elections against these forces and a numerous delegation of young Kashmiri students from the JKNSF is big step forward in uniting the struggles of Marxism on both sides of Line of Control. In addition, student activists from the Baloch Students Organization, Pashtun Students, Gilgit Baltistan students and other progressive student organizations are also participating in the Congress. Students of many leading universities, medical, law, agriculture and engineering colleges are also present.
Lahore, 14th March