Overview of congress
Today (April 1st) the 27th congress of The Struggle, the Marxist Tendency in Pakistan, opened its annual congress, held once again in the 2000-capacity Iqbal Hall in central Lahore. The delegations had been arriving throughout the previous day, and some during the night.
Comrades arrived from all over Pakistan, from every region and province, workers, trade unionists, peasants and youth. Every national and ethnic group that lives in this vast country was represented, from as far as Quetta in Baluchistan, from Karachi in Sindh, to the tribal areas in Pukhtoonkwa (formerly known as the North West Frontier Province), from Kashmir and of course also the main cities of the Punjab.
Fifty comrades came from Baluchistan, where The Struggle now has over 200 members, mainly based in Quetta. This is an area where at present there is a proxy war going on between China and US imperialism involving a planned oil pipeline that the Chinese want to bring from Iran through the region. The comrades from Quetta had to travel on a long 36-hour train journey to reach the congress.
Sixty comrades arrived from Karachi. Recently the comrades in Karachi held their regional congress, where around 350 took part, the biggest ever gathering of Marxists in the city. Again, the journey is a long one, taking 30 hours. The Karachi comrades have just been through an intense period, including the election campaign where comrade Riaz Lund was standing on a PPP ticket, defending a revolutionary socialist programme. In the Karachi Steel Mills alone the Marxists have 23 active supporters and overall they have a long list of 700 to 800 contacts made in the recent period.
Manzoor Ahmed, former Marxist Member of the National Assembly, addresses the congress
From the area of the Sindh region, known as interior Sindh and including the town of Hyderabad, more than 150 comrades arrived. From the North Sindh and South Punjab area 65 comrades were present, while 50-60 comrades came from Multan, 200 from Jampur and Kotaddu [South Punjab], close to 300 from the Central Punjab and more than 150 from the North Punjab/Islamabad area.
Kashmir has become the largest region with close to 500 members now and the target was to get 600 (including sympathizers) to the congress. Comrades from all over Kashmir travelled down from the mountains and gathered to come together on a special train. Pushtoonkwa is a relatively new area of work, the first comrades having joined the Tendency only three years ago. Now they have over 400 members, and 200 of these were at the congress.
All in all 1962 comrades were registered at the congress, which is an amazing achievement considering the massive increase in costs since last year. Transport costs alone have doubled, while the price of accommodation has tripled. This put a huge burden onto the shoulders of the comrades and some clearly found it difficult to find the money. This has partly been made up for by organizing several very successful regional conferences and aggregates. Apart from the Karachi congress, there were others in Sindh, the South Punjab, D.G Khan, Rawalpindi, Kashmir and others. Due to the short time between the end of the election campaign and the congress itself in some areas the congress documents were discussed in the branches, but no regional meeting was possible. After the congress these areas will hold regional aggregates.
There were two Swedish comrades who had had the privilege of traveling on the train down from Islamabad, a train festooned with red flags and banners and comrades chanting revolutionary slogans and singing revolutionary songs.
Again, like last year, there was an important delegation from India, including Member of Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament) from Kashmir Comrade A.R. Shaheen where the influence of the Tendency is making steady progress and more and more activists on the left are showing a keen interest in building in India what we have built in Pakistan.
Riaz Lund, the Marxist candidate in Karachi
There was an impeccable and professional organization of the whole congress. Three main documents were produced in Urdu, World Perspectives, Pakistan Perspectives and an Organisational Report. Three thousand copies of each were distributed throughout the country for discussion prior to the congress.
This year security had to be much tighter, considering the latest events to hit Pakistan. In the past Lahore had been free of bomb attacks, but this year the city has suffered several. Everyone was checked as they came into the congress. They were given their credentials, signed and recorded and checked by the area secretaries. The comrades were also given a list of rules and regulations that everyone had to adhere to. A special thankyou should go to the comrades of the security team who took their job extremely seriously.
By 9.30am most of the comrades were present in the hall ready for proceedings to begin. This year because of heightened security measures it took a lot longer for the comrades to get into the hall.
Before the official opening of the congress several comrades were called to the rostrum to recite revolutionary poetry and sing revolutionary songs. One of these was a young female comrade from Baluchistan, who read out a poem about being a "rebel in this society". This is exceptional if you consider the area she comes from where the oppression of women is still a very serious question.
The platform with international visitors and Ali Wazir, the Marxist candidate in Waziristan, speaking
Comrade Paras, the regional secretary of the Punjab, then gave a speech dedicating the congress to Ted Grant, who spent a lifetime defending the ideas of genuine socialism. The congress is being dedicated to Ted Grant and the role he played in building up the International Marxist Tendency. Particular attention was placed on his role in defending the fundamental ideas of Marxism in an epoch when it had become fashionable not only to "revise" Marxism but even to abandon it altogether. It was acknowledged that without Ted this organization would not be here today.
Comrade Manzoor, the former MP from Kasur, opened the morning session by introducing the international visitors from Sweden (Tomas and Linus), India ( A.R. Shaheen) and the representative of the international leadership of the IMT, Fred Weston. This was followed by a brief speech by comrade Lal Khan, who presented the three comrades who had stood as candidates in the recent election, comrades Manzoor, Riaz Lund and Ali Wazir.
As comrade Riaz Lund stepped up to the rostrum the congress rose to its feet in a massive round of applause. This was in recognition of the courageous campaign he conducted in Karachi in the face of some of the most brutal political gangsters in Pakistan. During the campaign he was shot at and in his speech he explained that we are prepared to fight to the end, that we risked losing comrades in that campaign to the thugs. He concluded by explaining that in the election campaign we fought for socialism not for seats.
This was followed by the speech of comrade Ali Wazir, another comrade who stood as a candidate in the recent elections. The area he stood in is South Waziristan (Wana), a tribal area, and he was directly challenging the Taleban. He explained that in the election campaign "we defended the ideas of comrade Ted Grant". During the election campaign he was accused of being a Communist. To this he replied that "if defending the interests of the workers means I am a Communist then I admit to being a Communist". He said, "We fought in the heart of the Taleban territory. They have money, they have mercenaries, but we have the ideas and we will fight them and we will win. We will defeat them." Another comrade from his area, Anwer Zaib then spoke outlining how the campaign was organised in Waziristan.
This was followed by the first main session which was devoted to World Perspectives, and led off by comrade Fred Weston, who said:
"Last year's congress was a record and enthused all comrades in the International Marxist Tendency. Every comrade in the International is following keenly the developments in Pakistan, both from the objective point of view, but also from the point of view of the development of the Pakistani section. The last time I attended a congress in Pakistan was exactly ten years ago, in 1998. I can remember then how impressed I was by the work of the Pakistani Marxists. At that time we held the congress in the Lawrence Gardens Jinnah Library Hall, which had a 240 seat capacity. Now I am standing in front of almost ten times that number of comrades. We have come a long way Comrades!
"My only concern is where are we going to find a hall big enough to hold the 5000 and the 10,000 that we will become in the next period? And where will we get the pots and pans and plates to cater for such numbers?
"The whole International recognizes the unstinting work carried out in very difficult conditions and salutes every single one of you. Your success is the success of all our comrades, from Canada to Argentina, from Britain to Nigeria, from Sweden to Australia and New Zealand, from every section and group that we have spread across the globe."
He then proceeded to outline the world situation, explaining that this is the most turbulent period in history. Pakistan confirms that with the dramatic events of the past few months, from the two million strong rally that welcomed Benazir Bhutto to the day that she was assassinated. He laid emphasis on the serious economic crisis that is developing worldwide and how this would impact on the situation in Pakistan. He also highlighted the immense polarization that is developing between the classes, which is at the heart of the present unstable world situation. There is an accumulation of immense wealth at one end and huge poverty at the other.
He ended his speech by returning to the question of the role of the Pakistan section and the tasks before the comrades in building a powerful Marxist tendency embedded within the labour movement, as part of an international tendency in all countries. This was met with a standing ovation by all the comrades.
Fred Weston speaks on World Perspectives
There followed a session for questions and contributions. Many questions were asked. Questions varied from the role of the trade unions, the position of the PPP in government, the situation in both Iran and Iraq. One comrade asked what would be the foreign policy of the US administration after the coming presidential elections. Another raised the role of China. One comrade asked what were the prospects of world war in the coming period, and another asked about the attitude of Communists to the religious feelings of individuals.
In his reply, Fred Weston tried to deal with all the questions in the short time available. In replying to one comrade's question he pointed out that a successful socialist revolution in Pakistan would have to spread to the surrounding countries. If it were isolated for too long it would at best end up like Stalinist Russia or Maoist China. That is why it is so important to build an International movement.
He explained that,
"Pakistan cannot isolate itself from the effects of the world market. If powerful China ended up being sucked into the world market, how can Pakistan resist? Socialism in one country is not possible. If it was not possible in the Soviet Union and China how can it be possible in Pakistan?"
He dealt with the question of the trade unions by explaining that,
"We welcome the lifting of the ban on unions announced by the Gillani government. But we also understand that it is not enough to have trade unions. The major contradiction of the epoch is that between the willingness of the workers to struggle and the rotten leadership of the labour movement, always ready to compromise. We must fight inside the unions to win them to a revolutionary programme."
He ended his speech by explaining "the marvellous opportunity that opens up now within the PPP and the wider labour movement to build a powerful Marxist tendency as a step towards that day when the workers of Pakistan will finally be able to take control of society and run in their interests," which was met with a rapturous applause and chanting of revolutionary slogans, as the congress dispersed for the lunch break.
After the lunch break Comrade Manzoor Ahmed spoke on the National Question. The Islamic fundamentalists were heavily defeated in the recent elections. Now all attention is on the coalition government that has been formed, but as this fails to solve any of the burning questions facing the country, the comrade explained that the ruling class could play the ethnic card. There are already indications that they are getting ready to promote ethnic conflicts and the Marxists must be prepared for this and intervene in the movement offering a class alternative.
Comrade Lal Khan speaking
He also gave a historical analysis of the National Question as it affected Pakistan and India, explaining that the separation imposed on the peoples of the subcontinent was a crime and had no progressive content whatsoever. He added however, that the rising class struggle brings together the different nationalities and cuts across the ethnic divide.
Referring to the comrades present in the hall, he said that once a comrade joins the Marxist tendency, whatever nationality he may come from, he becomes a member of the international working class. He explained that in the hall were present comrades from different nationalities and religion who had joined forces voluntarily and they "have broken the shackles that were holding them back."
As he ended his speech the congress broke out once again into chanting slogans. This time it was, "Revolution, Revolution, Socialist Revolution" and "No national wars, no religious wars, but class war!"
There followed some very interesting interventions by comrade Adil from Kashmir, comrade Anwar Panwar, a leading member from Sindh, and comrade Hameed Khan from Baluchistan. Manzoor then summed up in a speech that became more fiery as it went along, ending with a standing ovation from all the comrades present.
The congress then broke up into three commissions on Trade Union work, Youth work, and Women's work. Tomorrow the sessions begin with a lead off on Pakistani Perspectives, which we will report on later.
Congress Credential Card
But before concluding we believe that it is worth listing the different industries and workplaces that the comrades are active in. There were comrades present from the following: PTCL (Telecoms), WAPDA (Water and Power), Postal workers, Teachers' Unions in all provinces and Kashmir, Hospital workers, Pakistan International Airlines, Steel Mills, Textile industry, leather industry, banking, WASA (Water and Sewage), Railways, KAPCO (Kot Addu Power Plant), KESC (Karachi Electricity Supply), Syed Bhai Industry (Lahore), Civil Aviation Authority, Municipal Employees of various districts, Treet Corporation, Jamshoro Power House, Journalists' Unions, National Highways, Unilever, Fauji Fertilisers, Excise Department Union, Police Department.
The work among the students has also spread across the whole country. Present at the congress were comrades from the following Universities and Colleges: Baluchistan University (Quetta), Karachi University (Karachi), Federal Urdu University (Karachi), Sindh University (Jamshoro), Liaqat Medical University (Jamshoro), Shah Latif University (Khairpur), Islamia University (Bahawalpur), BZU University (Multan), Punjab University (Lahore), University of Engineering and Technology (Lahore), Lahore University of Management Sciences, University of Central Punjab (Lahore), Agricultural University (Faisalabad), Federal Urdu University of Islamabad, National University of Modern Languages (Islamabad), Quai-d-e-Azam University (Islamabad), University of Arid Agriculture (Rawalpindi), Ayub Medical College (Abbottabad), Islamia University (Peshawar), Gomal University D.I. Khan, Malakand University (Malakand), AJK University (Muzzaffarabad), King Edward Medical College (Lahore), Nishter Medical College (Multan), Government College University (Lahore), Comsats University (Abbotabad).
This impressive list shows how the Marxist tendency in Pakistan has sunk deep roots both among the working class and the youth, which puts them in a key position to intervene in the dramatic events that are about to unfold in the coming period.
Lahore, April 1, 2008
For all photos have a look at the gallery
- Second day of the 2008 congress of The Struggle (Pakistan) by our correspondent in Lahore (April 2, 2008)
- Pakistan: Biggest ever gathering of Marxists in Karachi by Adam Pal (March 10, 2008)
- Pakistan: Coalition - no solution! by Lal Khan (February 20, 2008)
- Pakistan elections: The Mother of all Frauds by Alan Woods (February 19, 2008)
- Massive fraud! - An Eyewitness Account by Erik De Bruyn in Karachi (February 19, 2008)