The introduction looks at the terrible living conditions of the masses in the neo-colonial world, and, in particular, the current crisis in Pakistan, and a solution based on the needs of the working masses and the poor.
New introduction to “Marxism in Today’s World”
This is an opportune time for the publication of the Pakistani edition of this book.
Marxism in Today’s World analyses a number of key issues, which we believe are currently in the minds of many, including Pakistani workers. The subjects touched upon include the role and weaknesses of US imperialism, the effects of Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ and its repercussions in Pakistan and the region, and the role of the working class and its relations with other exploited layers, such as the urban poor and the peasantry. The ‘National Question’, both in its historical and contemporary settings, is dealt with in some detail. Special attention is devoted to the Middle East and Northern Ireland because of their importance. This issue is also of vital concern to Pakistani socialists, Marxists and workers. We also outline later the differences between the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) and others on the left on this issue.
The struggles of the Pakistani workers and peasants have entered a decisive stage. This is not just a battle restricted within the country’s borders but is having, and will have, repercussions in the South Asian subcontinent and also internationally. In this era of globalised capitalism, which has bound the world together with iron hoops, big issues concern workers in all countries. Hopefully, those who read this book will begin to find the answers to the problems of the workers’ movement today and apply them in the momentous struggle in Pakistan which is unfolding.
Collapse of military rule
The end of the seven-year long military dictatorship of General Perez Musharraf looms; his regime is confronted with one crisis after another. The dismissal of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, acted as a catalyst to draw to the surface all the festering, colossal discontent just below the glitter of Pakistan’s much lauded ‘economic boom’ with its average annual growth rate of 7%. A movement at the top transmits itself to the intermediate layers in society and this in turn denotes an impending movement from below: “The wind blows the tops of the trees first”. The lawyers’ movement around the Chief Justice achieved more than the alleged ‘mass’ political parties had in seven years! The latter refused to mobilise mass movements in defence of the Chief Justice but such movements gathered momentum without their consent.
This was revealed in Lahore in early May but most dramatically and bloodily in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, later in the month. Fearful of the support that the campaign for the Chief Justice would generate, the Musharraf regime hid behind the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) – a chauvinist reactionary party which primarily bases itself upon and politically exploits the Mohajir minority community in Pakistan (Muslim refugees from India following partition) Musharraf’s family were middle-class Mohajirs. More than 50 people were killed and 150 injured as the armed thugs of the MQM were unleashed. Even capitalist parties called for a ‘general strike’, not, we hasten to add, in the classical fashion of an industrial stoppage of workers but through the closure of shops, markets and small businesses. However, the net result of this was the further systematic weakening of Musharraf with the consequent ‘flexing of muscles’ of the opposition capitalist parties.
Some of them, however, have weak ‘muscles’, as evidenced by the scandalous agreement of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) and particularly its leader, Benazir Bhutto, to rush in and seek to prop up the Musharraf regime at the very moment that it faced its greatest peril. This was with the benediction of US imperialism – which seeks to shore up Musharraf because of his ‘pivotal’ role in the ‘war on terror’, particularly directed at al-Qa’ida, which is probably safely ensconced in the tribal areas of Pakistan, if not in Karachi itself. Despite the wishes of Benazir to sup at the table of the discredited Musharraf, it is not at all certain that she will be allowed to do so, such is the sweep of the anti-Musharraf movement. This could lead to his rapid collapse and the ushering in of elections and civilian rule. Benazir has justified her decision to contemplate a power-sharing agreement with Musharraf because her ‘party’ had waited too long already for power. What this means is that the feudal landlords and capitalists who form the bedrock of the PPP today lust after the ‘spoils of office’ whether through ‘democracy’ or under the wing of a military dictatorship. Little wonder that one commentator, writing in the British press, described Pakistan’s strange variety of ‘democracy’ as “really a form of elective feudalism” [William Dalrymple, The Guardian, London, 1 September, 2007]. No matter who wins elections and who officially rules, the mass of the workers and peasants will not, nor are their interests paramount.
In 1995, Transparency International named Pakistan as one of the three most corrupt countries in the world. Bhutto’s husband, Asif Zardari, is widely known as “Mr Ten Per Cent” and has faced allegations of plundering the country. The same goes for Nawaz Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N). Under Musharraf, at least in the first few years, a construction and consumer boom, together with one of Asia’s more successful stock market bubbles, led to a certain growth and benefits for a thin layer of the middle class, as indicated by the introduction of hundreds of new TV channels. But this only served to disguise the searing poverty of the mass of the 200 million population of Pakistan.
The conditions of the Pakistani masses are symptomatic of the stagnation and decline of real living standards throughout most of the neo-colonial world, including Asia. The UN Millennium Development Goals report, released in July 2007, indicates that income and inequality in Asia is “rising fast and the pace of poverty reduction… is slowing”. The law of combined and uneven development – the latest word in technique and science alongside extreme backwardness of economic forms – is sharply expressed in the region. Alongside burgeoning skyscrapers in Beijing and Shanghai, and even Thailand – supposedly a middle-income country – more than a quarter of the population of these countries live on less than $2 a day. Booming businesses in Bangalore and Mumbai sit uneasily alongside the terrible poverty which scars India. For instance, half of adult Indian females are illiterate. The argument that the ‘free market’ and its ‘hidden hand’ will automatically solve the problems of the peasantry and the working class was deployed to sell capitalist globalisation and has been shown to be a myth. Yet even the Financial Times (London) commented: “It is not surprising that Hong Kong and Singapore have the widest rich-poor gap among the most developed cities in the world. The balance of political power makes it more attractive for them to pay attention to the needs of tycoons.”
According to the UN World Food Programme, which feeds the most hungry and desperate people, mostly with US maize, there are already 850 million people around the world who are undernourished. And this body has now warned that it “can no longer afford to feed the 90 million people” it helped in the last five years. One of the reasons for this is that the purchasing costs of food have risen “almost 50 per cent in the last five years”. Indian food prices have risen by 11 per cent, the price of a staple tortilla quadrupled in Mexico in February and crowds of 75,000 people came out onto the streets to protest. South Africa has seen food price rises of nearly 17 per cent. The reasons for this crisis are partly global warming and the consequent disruption of water patterns as well as a growth in general demand for commodities including food by the likes of China while the present boom lasts. There is also the drive to create non-fossil fuels, led by the US, in particular. This has meant that, even in the US, the corn belt of America has been transformed from the bread basket of the world into an “enormous fuel tank”. This has even affected the ‘advanced’ countries where the rise in prices of basic necessities such as food has widened the gap between rich and poor. In the US there are nearly 40 million people officially below the poverty line and the US Department of Agriculture recently predicted a 10% rise in the price of chicken. The prices of bread, beef, eggs and milk also rose by 7.5% recently, the highest monthly rise in 25 years. We have the grotesque situation now where there is competition for grain “between the world’s 800 million motorists, who want to maintain their mobility, and its 2 billion poorest people, who are simply trying to survive” [Washington-based Worldwatch Institute think tank].
On top of this, capitalist globalisation, particularly in the last 20 years, has enormously compounded the problems of the peoples of the neo-colonial world. Pakistan, its working class and poor peasants, and the neo-colonial world as a whole, has seen the dismantling of state industries. This, they were told, promised a glittering future on the basis of the ‘opening up’ of their economy. They have, however, reaped a bitter harvest of privatisation and brutal price rises. Rickshaw workers in Lahore and other cities of Pakistan have protested alongside lawyers because of the decrease in their living standards. Similar strikes and protests have taken place in the region. Bangladesh, for instance – once part of Pakistan before the split in 1971 – is a byword now for the crushing exploitation of the working class in the neo-colonial world. Cheap clothes, for instance, for Europe, Japan and the US are paid for by the most scandalous lowering of wages for literally millions of workers. Over the last ten years, Bangladesh’s clothing industry has boomed, fed by the huge demand for cut-price clothes supplied to Western supermarkets and discount chains. An estimated 2.5 million people work in thousands of factories in Bangladesh, but their wages have halved in real terms over the past years with monthly earnings as low as £7, or just 2p an hour! The working conditions put to shame even those which Karl Marx condemned in his immortal work Capital – in the chapter on the working day – in 19th century Britain. The rooms in which workers are crowded together are like ovens and “at night, the noise from the slums’ estimated 50,000 inhabitants, their screaming babies, radios and televisions is deafening” [The Guardian]. The president of the United Garment Workers Federation, stated to The Guardian: “Long hours, bad working conditions, poverty and the overcrowded and insanitary conditions in which garment workers are forced to live make them susceptible to a number of illnesses and diseases.” Tuberculosis, kidney problems and diarrhoea are just some of the horrific conditions confronted by this working class. In 2006, after garment workers set fire to 16 factories and ransacked 300 more to demand better pay, the Bangladeshi government introduced a minimum wage of 1,600 taka (£12) a month.
These conditions are not the exception but are typical of many countries in the neo-colonial world. If the grinding poverty was not enough to contend with, the rich world – Europe, America and Japan, the so-called advanced countries – are still extracting enormous tribute from the neo-colonial world. All the hand-wringing of the leaders of anti-poverty campaigns like ‘Make Poverty History’ has not made the slightest dent in the situation. Poor countries are still paying the rich world $100 million a day in debt repayment. As to aid, rich countries signed up for 0.7% of gross domestic product to be contributed annually in 1970. The UK will not achieve this until 2013 – 43 years later! In the wake of this, diseases which had either been eliminated or held in check have returned to scar the lives of the poor and the working class. Dengue fever is prevalent in some countries and is sweeping through South-East Asia. Hospitals across the region are filling up and the number of deaths mounting with no country left immune, from the richest, ultra-modern Singapore, to the poorest, Laos and Cambodia. One of the factors in the rise of Dengue fever – for which there is no known antidote at present – is the massive urbanisation that is taking place and the lack of clean water in expanding cities. Even a ‘second world’ country like Malaysia has seen a 50% leap in Dengue infections, with 56 deaths recorded in June 2007 and more than 1,000 patients admitted to hospital every week in July 2007.
Significant sections of the masses in Asia are in flight from these conditions through mass emigration. The ruthless capitalists in conjunction with the giant companies of Europe, the US and Japan, have adopted what one of their capitalists has described as “the Kleenex approach”: “You use them and then throw them away.” The richest countries of Asia are huge magnets for migrant workers and women marrying into economic ‘security’. In the five years to 2000, about 40% of Asian migrant workers went to other countries in the region, compared to just 10% in the 1970s and 1980s, when they flew from poverty to the US and Europe. By 2000, the Independent Labour Organisation states: “Asian migrants made up 40-70% of the workforce in the Gulf countries, 28% in Singapore and 12% in Malaysia. The Philippines is Asia’s single biggest source of migrant labour, with some eight million people – no less than 10% of the population – working abroad.” In the past, Pakistani workers, even those from the rural areas, have traditionally sought escape through migration to Europe, particularly Britain, and the US. Now, as the barriers have come down in ‘advanced’ countries and confronted by worsening economic conditions at home, they have fled to other Asian countries.
Nothing speaks louder about the bankruptcy of landlordism and capitalism in the neo-colonial world, as well as on a world scale, than that millions are forced to flee their homelands for the prospect of a crust of bread and security, a hope that is often crushed. This is particularly true of women, bought as spouses but “many south-east Asian spouses are being held more like slaves than free human beings”. The capitalists in the more developed countries, even in Asia, need the cheap labour provided by a steady flow of immigrants: “The [Japanese] government is encouraging companies to develop robots capable, for example, of lifting elderly people in and out of bed or acting as companions to those living alone.” But it adds: “No robot has yet been invented, however, that would make a suitable wife” [Financial Times].
These conditions are not the result of some kind of unsolvable situation or an ‘Act of God’ that should be borne patiently by the poor and the working class. They are the products of feudalism and capitalism, the system of private ownership of the means of production – the organisation of labour, science and technique – by a tiny handful of capitalists and landlords. Moreover, the solution to all the problems of the working class would be at hand in a democratic and socialist world. Then all the resources of the planet would be mobilised, in the first instance, to solve the problems confronted by the majority, which is the working class, the poor peasantry and the urban poor, both in the neo-colonial world, accounting for two thirds of the world’s population, and also in the advanced industrial countries. Capitalism will never be able to solve these problems. If it cannot do so in a favourable situation which, we are told, is the case today, hailed as a ‘successful’, even ‘spectacular’, economic boom, it will never do it in a recession.
The problems of the neo-colonial world (in the majority of countries) arise from the fact that the tasks of the capitalist-democratic revolution, which were carried out a long time ago in Europe, remain to be completed. This involves thoroughgoing land reform – absolutely critical in Pakistan, where feudal land relations dominate the countryside – a solution to the national question and the development of industry along modern lines, and freedom from the grip of imperialist domination. However, Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution, which we explain at some length in this book, holds that the so-called ‘national capitalists’ in these countries are incapable of completing their own revolution. The capitalist is invariably a landlord and the landlord a capitalist, while both are united through bank capital. Therefore, a thoroughgoing reform which would give the land to the tillers, the peasants, comes up against the opposition not only of the feudal or semi-feudal landowners but of the capitalists as well. An added factor holding back the capitalists from carrying out a programme for their own ‘revolution’ is the fear of the working class. Therefore, Trotsky concluded, only the working class, even where it is a minority, is capable of leading the peasants in this capitalist-democratic revolution, through the establishment of a workers’ and poor peasants’ government and spreading the revolution internationally. However, having come to power, this government would be compelled by the pressure of the situation and the masses to go over to socialist tasks of nationalising industry, the banks and finance houses. This would be on the basis of a socialist democratic planned economy with ownership and control vested in the masses, through democratically elected workers’ and peasants’ councils or committees.
This idea of Trotsky, while now more than 100 years old since its first formulation, is the most ‘modern’ description of the dilemma confronting the workers and the labour movement in the neo-colonial world. It was borne out by the actual experience of the Russian Revolution itself. The working class took power and, together with the peasants, introduced land reforms, defeated the forces of the counter-revolution internally and externally, and initiated what John Reed, the famous American author and chronicler of the Russian Revolution, described as the “Ten Days that Shook the World”.
Terror in Pakistan
A besieged Musharraf is stumbling from one crisis to another. On the one hand, he is torn by the huge contending pressures from both the rising opposition of the overwhelming majority of the population to see the back of his regime and, on the other hand, by the pressure from the military, which fears for Musharraf’s removal and how it would endanger their position. A recent book has shown the colossal private business interests of Pakistan’s military. Doctor Ayesha Siddiqa, author of ‘Military Incorporated: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy’ claims that this ’empire’ could be worth as much as £10 billion. Retired and serving officers run secret industrial conglomerates, manufacture everything from cornflakes to cement and actually own 12 million acres of public land, claims the author. Five giant conglomerates, known as ‘welfare foundations’, run thousands of businesses, ranging from street corner petrol pumps to sprawling industrial plants. The main street of any Pakistani town bears testament to their economic power, with military-owned bakeries, banks, insurance companies and universities, usually fronted by civilian employees. This book estimated that the military controls one third of all heavy manufacturing and up to 7% of private assets. All of this is allegedly to further the ‘good works’ of the military, with claims that there are nine million beneficiaries in schools, hospitals and other welfare facilities. But the author states: “There is little evidence that pensioners are benefiting from these welfare facilities.” Musharraf himself boasted in 2004 of “exceptional” military-owned banks, cement and fertiliser plants, innocently declaring: “Why is anyone jealous of the retired military officers or the civilians with them who are doing good contributions to the economy?” In reality, his regime is perhaps the most venal and open form of ‘crony capitalism’, in a quasi-Bonapartist military form, in the neo-colonial world.
Asia became synonymous with this term after the Indonesian revolution with the massive accumulation of huge wealth by Suharto and his family, as did the Philippines under Marcos. But it has also developed in a special way in Pakistan. A bloated military apparatus, mired in corruption owned vast parts of the economy, on the one side, and the majority of the population holding next to nothing, on the other side. As The Guardian (London) stated when commenting on ‘Military Incorporated’: “The furore [over the dismissal of the Chief Justice] has offered an insight into the raw power wielded by the generals.” Chaudhry, the Chief Justice, told the Supreme Court that military intelligence chiefs spent hours trying to pressurise him to quit on 9 March, before placing him under effective house arrest. The author of this book herself stated: “Over the past three years a lot of my friends have advised me not to publish this book. They think I have suicidal tendencies.” This is not without good reason because the military have used their power to bolster their privileges while also stepping in to remove civilian governments and remove opponents. Sharif, the former prime minister, following his arrival at Islamabad airport in September, was immediately and unceremoniously bundled out of the country on the next flight to Saudi Arabia! However, hundreds have suffered a worse fate, by ‘disappearing’. The generals have ruled Pakistan for more than 30 of the 60 years since Pakistan’s independence in 1947.
Given this experience, and the heightened hostility now to the military in Pakistani society, the regime fears, correctly, that once the floodgates are opened by elections and by the coming to power of a civilian regime, their ill-begotten wealth and power will be under the microscope more than ever before. Musharraf is attempting to screen himself and his military backers from the day of reckoning with suggestions of a coalition government involving the leader of the PPP, Benazir Bhutto. She has justified her overtures to Musharraf on the basis that it has the approval of the ‘international community’, namely the Bush regime in the US. This is an indication of how the PPP has been transformed under Benazir from an implicit threat to Pakistani landlordism and capitalism, and imperialism – which it undoubtedly was under the leadership of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – to one of the most reliable props for these very forces in Pakistan and the region. Her proposals have provoked bitterness and hostility, even in the ranks of the PPP. The ‘street’ in Pakistan cruelly taunts: “People’s Party de ballay, ballay / ade kanjar, ade dallay” [“Marvel at the Peoples’ Party – half whore and half pimp”].
No criticism of PPP and Benazir Bhutto
Yet noticeable by their silence has been the Pakistani representatives of the international group around Alan Woods. For months, while the criticism of Benazir was loud and clear – even dissident voices were raised within the PPP against her shameful political stance – neither the journal ‘Class Struggle’, its leaders nor its MP, uttered one word of criticism on Benazir’s cuddling up to Musharraf. But such was the clamour against Benazir that, belatedly, the leader of ‘Class Struggle’ has been compelled to write: “Her support amongst the masses is rapidly dwindling and there is a seething resentment amongst the PPP rank and file due to her desired deal with the Musharraf dictatorship.”
He then declares: “In such difficult circumstances the tasks of Marxists are clear. It is vital the revolutionaries stand shoulder to shoulder with the workers and the toiling masses in the most difficult and nauseating conditions into which they are being forced by the ebbs of historical evolution. The role of the PPP leadership is no different from that of the Social Democratic leaders of Europe and elsewhere.” Yes, the PPP and its leaders are “no different from the social democracy in Europe and elsewhere”; they are bourgeois formations and workers have deserted their ranks.
Contrast the stand of their PPP MP to that of Militant MPs Dave Nellist, Terry Fields and Pat Wall, when they were members of Militant and also Labour MPs in Britain. They never hesitated to condemn the political backsliding of the right-wing dominated Parliamentary Labour Party, to criticise the left MPs and to support workers in struggle. They went to the wall in the struggle against the poll tax that was defeated under the leadership of Militant and the All-British Anti-Poll Tax Federation, which mobilised 18 million people not to pay the tax, bringing Thatcher down in the process and consigning her to history. The British supporters of ‘Class Struggle’ advocated, unsuccessfully, that the Militant MPs Dave Nellist and Terry Fields should pay their poll tax to avoid expulsion from the Labour Party! Shades of the past in their attempt to hold onto their PPP MPs in Pakistan today! Militant, the forerunner of the Socialist Party, and the British representative of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), worked successfully within the Labour Party in Britain when it did represent working class people at the bottom. That situation has long gone as Labour has been transformed into a capitalist party. Both Blair, and new leader, Gordan Brown, have shamefully praised Thatcher, who is considered a modern Genghis Khan by the working class because of the social havoc that she reaped with her prototypical neo-liberal policies in Britain. They have subsequently been deployed throughout the world, with terrible effects.
The so-called ‘traditional workers’ organisations’ have metamorphosed before our eyes into capitalist formations, as is the case with the PPP. It is dominated at all levels by feudals and capitalists, political backsliders, and all of those ‘on the make’ at the expense of the Pakistani masses. All of this, however, is a closed book to the Class Struggle organisation and its international co-thinkers, which condemns all others, irrespective of their effectiveness within the movement, as ‘sects’, unless they follow their dogmatic line. Yet, it was Marx who defined a sect as possessing a ‘shibboleth’ with which it sought to distinguish itself from the real movement of the working class. Marx’s definition aptly describes ‘Class Struggle’ and the Woods group today, who mix bombast and gross exaggeration of their own tiny forces with vicious denunciations of others who do not follow their complacent and undialectical approach. Their ‘shibboleth’ is the ‘traditional organisation’ when the parties they describe no longer represent the working class!
The same mistakes have been adopted towards the vital tasks of the revolution in Pakistan; for instance, on the right of self-determination for the oppressed nationalities in Pakistan. This state was founded on the basis of the domination of the Punjab, accounting for four fifths of Pakistan, more specifically the Punjabi landlords and capitalists. Almost from the outset, this has undoubtedly fed the feeling of national discontent and oppression, in North-West Frontier, in the tribal areas, in Baluchistan, in Pakistani-dominated Kashmir and elsewhere, even latterly in Sindh. A Marxist policy, which is pursued by the Socialist Movement Pakistan, the Pakistani section of the CWI, fights for the rights of all oppressed peoples, for equality and against discrimination on racial, ethnic, religious or national lines. This does not mean that we advocate the right of self-determination, including the right to secede, without taking into account the mood of the masses. It is the right of the peoples in the distinct national areas mentioned above to choose their own path. We would prefer, as Lenin did in relation to Russia, a socialist confederation with the right of autonomy of all those areas outside of the Punjab who may then choose autonomous status. However, if the oppressed nationalities wished to separate from even a democratic workers’ state, then the workers’ movement must accept that, as Lenin and the Bolsheviks did in the case of Finland, which was granted independence from Russia in 1918. A socialist society cannot be built on the “slightest oppression or discrimination”, to paraphrase Lenin, but only by the greatest efforts of the majority to accommodate and satisfy the demands of the oppressed, including those who feel nationally oppressed.
Many criticised Lenin’s position on self-determination, up to and including the secession of a state if it so desired. For instance, the immortal Rosa Luxemburg had a wrong position on the national question – arguing that this would dismember a multi-national state and, thereby, compromise the struggle to establish a socialist society. However, Lenin understood that the workers in Great Russia, which comprised 57% of the population, by standing for the rights of the oppressed minorities and nationalities, could win the confidence of the oppressed peoples. In the event of a revolution to overthrow the Tsar and capitalism and landlordism, these national minorities would then not break away but voluntarily participate in a socialist federation. Lenin’s ideas were brilliantly confirmed in the Russian Revolution. His approach remains the key – applied, it is true, in a much more complicated world – to winning the confidence of the oppressed minorities and nationalities and linking that to the idea of a socialist confederation. It is this approach which informs the programme and the work of the Pakistani supporters of the CWI. This involves supporting the idea of an independent and unified socialist Kashmir, as a step towards a confederation of the South Asian sub-continent.
The real situation concerning the national question in Pakistan is shown in the North-West Frontier, in Baluchistan, where there is civil war, and in the tribal areas, in particular. In Waziristan, for instance, a tribal area that hosts an estimated 2,000 al-Qa’ida fighters, a CIA officer was quoted in The Guardian (London) saying that Pakistani soldiers in the area are “huddling in their bases doing nothing”. He complained that they adopted this position because “any other approach would reveal that they were unwilling and unable to do anything about Talibanisation”. Behind the scenes, the Pakistani army is riven between moderates who fear the process of Talibanisation – which the Financial Times admits is a much greater “strategic threat” than what exists in Afghanistan – the professional jihadis who want to embrace the Taliban, and a middle group of officers who are not too fond of the Taliban but who resent doing anything under pressure from the US. Because of this, “the Pakistani military remains paralysed”.
In fact, the recently released secret paper sent from Islamabad and now freed from the US national security archive, a confidential memo from November 1996, described the real situation. It states: “For Pakistan, a Taliban-based government in Kabul would be as good as it can get in Afghanistan… Many Pakistanis claim they detest the Taliban brand of Islam, noting that it might affect Pakistan, but this apparently is a problem for another day.” The document confirmed perhaps the best-known open secret in Pakistan: “Throughout the 1990s, the ISI [Pakistan’s intelligence service] considered Islamic extremists to be foreign policy assets.” However, Musharraf, who is a product of this military machine, with its dirty intrigues in Afghanistan and elsewhere, was compelled by the pressure of US imperialism to face up to the Islamic fundamentalists. This resulted in the massive bloodletting during the conflict at the Red Mosque in Rawalpindi. Hundreds were killed in this conflict, which represented a massive blunder on the part of Musharraf and has given a boost to the fundamentalists.
Right-wing political Islam
At the same time, the strength of these fundamentalists within Pakistan is grossly exaggerated as a means of boosting Washington’s ‘War on Terror’. They have never received more than 10% in elections but were undoubtedly given a leg-up by the brutal assault on the Red Mosque. As many Pakistani politicians and commentators have remarked, this could have unintended and dangerous consequences for Musharraf. Indira Gandhi, India’s prime minister in 1984, ordered troops to attack the Golden Temple in Amritsar, where Sikh militants were holed up. Up to this point, these militants did not have overwhelming sympathy from the mass of the Sikh population. The occupation of the Golden Temple, handled with skill over time, could possibly have been defused. However, the brutal attack on the Golden Temple, and the deaths of militants widened enormously the circle of sympathy of ordinary Sikhs who profoundly resented the government’s brutal, high-handed action. Gandhi paid for this with her life.
Musharraf, who regularly faces assassination attempts, may have created a similar situation for him and his regime by the assault on the Red Mosque and by other actions. The occupation of the Red Mosque by Islamic fundamentalists was clearly a provocation but by dragging out the conflict, negotiations could have been possible to defuse the highly-charged sentiments generated. These militants did not have the support of the majority of the population of Pakistan at the outset. The fundamentalists grouped together in the bloc of six religious parties, around the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), has drawn its support from the petty bourgeois in the main (the middle class of both town and countryside). Some workers and youth have also been drawn into their ranks because all other avenues of advance have been closed off to them, and they have been deserted by the main parties. The cause of endemic corruption in society is the poverty-stricken character of Pakistani landlordism and capitalism. A Financial Times correspondent commented, “The patronage-based system in the poor country [means that] there is not nearly enough patronage to go round”. Pertinently, he adds: “No Pakistani regime has enough jobs and money to satisfy both the political elites and large numbers of the impoverished young male population. Sooner or later, these forces of discontent come together in unrest that eventually spreads to northern Punjab, where most of the army is recruited.”
Comparison with Iran
The Pakistani generals, with gaping splits in their ranks, are not averse to switching tack, with attempts at a form of ‘regime change’, so long as this ‘new’ regime does not challenge their power. This presented a conundrum for Benazir and her manoeuvres to enter the government. She was insistent that if she shared power with Musharraf prior to proposed elections later in 2007, he must forsake his military uniform. If he had refused and insisted that he was a representative of the army, this would have further alienated the already discontented ranks of the PPP, who see Musharraf as the personification of the military machine that hanged Benazir’s father. Musharraf has now declared in mid-September 2007, that he will resign as army chief in November. Musharraf, however, is beholden to the army, which, as we pointed out before, fears a purely civilian regime which would be under colossal pressure to clip their wings this time. The precise march of events is impossible to work out in exact detail, except to say that the Musharraf regime’s days in power are coming to an end. Large-scale repression, in the charged atmosphere of Pakistan today, will not work.
The situation in Pakistan bears comparison with the situation in Iran on the eve of the overthrow of the Shah. So combustible is the social situation that an ‘accidentally dropped match’ could ignite an explosion. A military clampdown could provoke uprising, similar to events in Baluchistan and Waziristan, but on an all-Pakistan scale, involving the mass of the Pakistani population, led by the workers and poor peasants, on the one side, and an isolated Musharraf, together with the military and the Karachi-based MQM on the other side. Some may be cowed if military repression is used, as was the case in Karachi. But, repression employed on a larger scale, and particularly in Punjab, could provoke a revolution. While the army could be used against the fundamentalists of the Red Mosque, and deployed to assist the MQM in Karachi, used against a mass movement of Punjabi it would mean that even the army would tend to split.
Therefore, Pakistan today is on the brink. At the same time, scepticism and confusion amongst the masses is rife. They know what they don’t want: the bloated and discredited military regime, and landlordism and capitalism. But what to put in its place? The PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League are head and tail of the same coin. “The rats are leaving the sinking ship,” as one Pakistani observer put it when describing the resignations of the grandees from Musharraf’s ‘party’ in order to join Sharif’s ‘Muslim League’ and even the PPP. Benazir, on the eve of her intended return to Pakistan, said “her campaign would be inspired by the old slogan of her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – ‘food, clothing, shelter'”. How? By joining the government of a military dictator! No more than before when she was prime minister is she able or willing to carry out these promises made by her father. She is a prisoner of the class from which she comes, the landlords and capitalists. “Food, clothing and shelter”, as with “Peace, land and bread” in the Russian Revolution, is only possible by a direct appeal to the masses on a programme of socialist revolution and in opposition to the social forces on which Benazir rests.
These parties, the PPP and PML-N, are empty of real workers, peasants or the representatives of the masses. Pakistan is crying out for a new mass-based party of the working class and the poor. The trade union movement, presently very small and representing only a small percentage of the workforce, will undoubtedly play a key role in the formation of such a party, as will the Pakistani section of the CWI. Indeed, Pakistan is perhaps riper for the development of such a party than other parts of the world, particularly in the neo-colonial world. Since the formation of the state, a distinct workers’ party, apart from the presence of the small Communist Party, has not existed. Even in its most radical phase, the PPP was never a typical traditional mass party of the working class. It was a radical populist party which, in the absence of a mass workers’ party, found an echo amongst the Pakistani workers and peasants at a certain stage under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Now the whole history of the workers’ struggle, the discrediting of the PPP, the rebuilding of the trade unions in which the Trade Union Rights Campaign (TURC) plays a fundamental role, are preparing a new generation of workers and peasants in the process of laying the basis for a broad-based but distinctly socialist mass party. This can begin to lead the working class out of the morass of Pakistani landlordism and capitalism.
Big effect of world events
World events will help this process, particularly the enormous radicalisation taking place in Latin America, emphasised by the situation in Venezuela and Bolivia. Bolstered by increased oil revenue, the Hugo Chávez regime has promised to introduce ‘Socialism for the 21st Century’. He has also invoked the figure of Trotsky, emphasising at one stage, Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution. Unfortunately, he interprets this as a series of gradual reforms, rather than a sharp break with landlordism and capitalism, which is emphasised in Trotsky’s theory and which is needed if socialism is to be realised. Chávez’s reforms have benefited substantial sections of the poor without as yet encroaching on the fundamental interests of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie. It is true that a form of ‘nationalisation’ has been introduced. But, in reality, this is partial state control of sections of the oil and other industries. Other regimes in the past, both in Latin America and elsewhere, have gone further than this and yet have still been overthrown by right-wing reaction. Following the Portuguese Revolution of 1974-75, where two thirds of industry and the land were taken over, a creeping counter-revolution handed the majority of it back to the former owners. The same was true, on a much more bloody and vicious scale, in Chile, with the Allende government, which was forced in the early 1970s to carry through nationalisation of 40% of industry. Allende fatally left the army intact; in fact, he promised the military chiefs that he would not touch the army structure, particularly the privileges of the officers, and refused to arm the working class. In so doing, Allende prepared his own and the Chilean working class’s terrible fate. In Bolivia at this moment, the government of Evo Morales is repeating Allende’s mistakes by promising not to touch the officer caste. At the same time, the right, backed by the overwhelming majority of the bourgeois and landlords, are threatening civil war in the oil-rich states, which could escalate into a national conflict. Recent events, and the whole of history, attest to the fact that no privileged group has disappeared from the scene of history without a struggle and usually without any holds barred. Latin America today is no different. Therefore, piecemeal reforms will not solve the problems of the working class.
Nevertheless, events in Latin America are the opening lines in a new chapter of colossal radicalisation and struggle, when all ideas will be put to the test. This will coalesce with increasing economic problems for world capitalism, as reflected by the recent turmoil on the world financial markets, and the ‘credit crunch’ which has followed in its wake. If the American bourgeoisie, in particular, and its Federal Reserve, decide to once more ‘prime the pump’ by slashing interest rates, this will be at the cost of rising inflation and also the piling up of even more problems for the future. The present economic problems, however, left unattended, will result in an economic recession, the scale of which is not possible to measure at this moment in time but which is likely to be serious. This will finally help to shatter the claims of the capitalist globalisers, in the 1990s and now, that a new period existed that would “end history” and usher in a peaceful, ‘humanitarian’ phase of world capitalism. There is little that can now be used to prop up capitalism and avoid the economic difficulties it confronts. Neither China nor India can offer a lifeline. China’s turbocharged growth rate, particularly in the purely capitalist sectors, has been at the expense of the super-exploitation of the working class. Yet China has more poor than the whole of Africa. If the world economy, particularly the American economy, goes into a tailspin, China cannot rescue world capitalism. It is dependent on the consumers of the US, whose disposable income has been cut because of the downturn in the housing market. This has left millions stranded: one million families have lost their homes; another two to three million are threatened with the same fate. These events underline the analysis of the CWI of the present situation and the relevance of Marxism today.
Capitalist crisis and Marx
Even the capitalists dimly recognise the relevance of Karl Marx today, as the crisis of capitalism develops. BBC Radio Four’s listeners in Britain actually chose Marx as the ‘greatest philosopher’ in a poll two years ago. In August 1998, when economic meltdown occurred in Russia, following the currency collapse in Asia, the year before, the journal of finance capital, the Financial Times, pondered whether their system had moved from “a triumph of global capitalism” to its crisis in barely a decade. The article was headlined, “Das Kapital Revisited”. The present tremors in the world finance markets prompted a similar response from Jeremy Warner in The Independent (London) on 23 June 2007: “Yet the world as it was then is not without its parallels in today’s supercharged global economy, and, after decades in the wilderness, it is possible that some of Karl Marx’s central ideas might enjoy something of a revival.” But, in a masterpiece of bad timing, as the world was about to enter a financial and economic crisis, Warner went on: “Nor really am I talking about the propensity of the capitalist system to repeated periods of crisis, which Marx thought would inevitably lead to its own destruction. That too has been found wanting. Developed economies have learnt to control the wilder excesses of the free-market system. So we have our social safety nets, our deposit protection schemes and our macro-economic management. The social unrest that Marx anticipated has as a consequence been largely defused.” Tell that to the panic-stricken savers who queued up at the Northern Rock Bank in Britain to retrieve their assets or the one million American families who have already lost their homes following the sub-prime mortgages crisis!
Bourgeois writers and billionaire speculators, like George Soros, now queue up to praise aspects of Marx’s teaching: “Marx and Engels gave a very good analysis of the capitalist system 150 years ago, better in some ways, I must say, than the equilibrium theory of classical economics.” Additionally, in October 1997, the business correspondent of the New Yorker, John Cassidy, reported a conversation with an investment banker: “The longer I spend on Wall Street, the more convinced I am that Marx was right. I am absolutely convinced that Marx’s approach is the best way to look at capitalism.” After the present financial meltdown, many more, and not just bankers, will share his view of Marx.
However, most of this praise for Marx is on his diagnosis but not his remedy for capitalism – social revolution led by the working class and the poor. The workers and peasants of Pakistan, and of the world, need to draw all the necessary political and organisational conclusions from the mess that capitalism has created today. There is no other road to follow than to overthrow landlordism and capitalism in Pakistan, with a programme involving a socialist, democratically planned economy and to take this message to the workers of the South Asian sub-continent, to Asia and to the world. Hopefully, this book will further the process of gathering together the best workers, youth and poor peasants to create such a movement that can prepare the way for a new society, which, in turn, can open up undreamed of plenty for the presently downtrodden masses.
Peter Taaffe, General Secretary, Socialist Party, England and Wales