Pakistan: October 2007’s fateful upheaval

There is hardly a day when the news coming out of Pakistan does not have some form of a calamity or trauma with harrowing footage splashing across television screens. Terrorist attacks or suicide bombings, earthquakes, floods, other natural disasters, unbearable price hikes, collective suicides of impoverished families, selling of children and human organs and so many other horrific events have become a norm in this tragic land. It has been years if not decades that the beleaguered masses of this country have had any blissful respite.

A generalised despair stalks the land. This condition is also reflected in the political, cultural, moral, social and ethical milieu that prevails at the top of this crisis-ridden social (dis)order. The body language and utopian promises of the rulers sans sentiment, vigour or belief lay bare their collapse of any confidence in the system they represent. The masses are bewildered and stuck in this quagmire of deprivation, destitution and devastation. The filthy rich and mighty are unashamedly flaunting their ill-gotten opulence of wealth and the spiralling gap between the haves and have-nots is straining society acutely.

The so-called progressive intelligentsia, devoid of any confidence in the working masses, are clueless about the perspectives of a mass movement. The masses are seething with a mood to revolt, and once that erupts only revolutionary Marxists with the scientific perspective and a programme of socioeconomic transformation will be able to organise and lead them to achieve their destiny.

The masses do not enter the arena of history and launch movements on whims. They have enough burdens of day-to-day life to bear and fight against. Revolutions and mass movements are not the norm, and are the results of exceptional situations influenced by many factors and momentous events. The last time the masses entered into such a movement was in the autumn of 2007 when Benazir Bhutto landed back from exile in Karachi on October 18 of that year. More than two million exploited, dispossessed and deprived souls had flocked to the boulevards and streets leading to Karachi’s airport. In March of that year there was another movement to restore the so-called independent judiciary, which, after all, is a pillar of the bourgeois state. It was mainly the civil society petit bourgeois elements that came in the thousands to fight for that issue. But the millions in Karachi had come for the real issues of life, bread, food, clothing, health, education and jobs.

Benazir returned to Pakistan on the back of a deal with the Musharraf regime brokered by Anglo-US imperialism. Benazir was a willing partner in this deal, as she wanted a harmonious transition. Pervez Musharraf and his imperialist backers were terrified of a mass revolt.

These oppressed and marginalised young people, workers and peasants were not there for a glimpse of Benazir, which they could have viewed far better on TV screens. They had come to show their naked hunger, emaciated bodies and dire lives for her to see in the hope that this time she would fight to change the system perpetuating their misery and poverty. They were clinging to their class tradition and hoping despite their past bitter experiences that maybe this time Benazir would represent the deprived and toiling masses. Benazir was flabbergasted at the sight of an ocean of humanity. She did expect a large turnout to welcome her but nothing like that mammoth mass of people. This massive turnout shredded the ‘deal’ to smithereens. The caravan started to move. At Karsaz the frightened elements of the state and reaction struck with two bomb blasts. Benazir was unhurt but more than 200 beleaguered souls perished. The brutality failed to halt the momentum. The feeling of togetherness with millions of compatriots marching shoulder to shoulder for a greater cause of emancipation strengthened the confidence and determination of every individual participant in the movement.

During the Musharraf era, despite higher growth rates, the conditions of the ordinary people had continued to deteriorate. These contradictions exploded on that fateful October day. The effect of the movement was much more on Benazir than vice versa. She felt the pressure and had no choice but to reflect this by adopting more radical stances. This campaign very quickly ended up being transformed into a movement and as it moved northwards it started to gain more momentum. The Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) original slogan of Roti, Kapra aur Makan (bread, clothing and shelter) was reintroduced in the PPP rallies in an attempt to keep up with the rapidly radicalising consciousness and demands of the masses. However, the fear of that rising mass upsurge sent tremors through the corridors of power, not just in Islamabad but in western imperial capitals as well. The extreme rightist sections of the ruling class finally decided to eliminate the epicentre of this mass movement. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in the crossfire of factions of the state. The imperialist guarantors ended up as impotent spectators. There was a lightning reaction to her heinous murder by the leaderless masses. Banks, police stations, cars, court buildings and other symbols of the state and instillations of hatred of the oppressed were torched to ashes.

The new leadership nominated in the ‘will’ pacified the resistance and turned the mass shock into a demoralising grief. The status quo was restored and the transition to a new ‘democratic’ regime led by the PPP was carried out. It was a ‘democratic’ counter-revolution that carried out some of the most brutal economic atrocities such as massive unemployment and price hikes upon the already impoverished masses. Their sorrow turned into agony and the movement’s defeat was turned into a rout. After five years of policies of sustaining a disastrous capitalism, the PPP regime was defeated in the last elections. The new right-wing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz regime came not with a vote of hope but one of desperation. In its first four months it has intensified that economic aggression more viciously. Such situations do not immediately provoke mass retaliation, but the wrath and indignation against this tyranny is piling up in the hearts and minds of the toiling classes. In every class society, class contradictions and conflicts are always present. Mostly, they are pushed into the background, but in extraordinary times and events that strike the right chord, class struggle erupts with an unforeseen vigour and lightning speed, cutting across the prejudices of the past and the divisions imposed by the ruling classes to perpetuate the rule of capital. The rotten elites of Pakistan, sooner rather than later, would be in for the shock of their lives.

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