Pakistan: Perspectives of a mass revolt

Written by Lal Khan
The slogans of eliminating feudalism, and for democracy, secularism, human rights, social justice, gender equality, national sovereignty are hardly new In spite of the thick and voracious din of the meaningless political rhetoric being churned out in barren debates, there is an underlying gloom of political indifference in society. Although there have been innumerable sporadic outbursts and protests by the oppressed masses against the ferocious socio-economic attacks, a widespread mass revolt has not yet erupted. In their cynicism, the intelligentsia blames the workers and the masses of being meek, slavish, cowardly, frail and corrupt. Most have come to the conclusion that class struggle is finished and the revolt against this exploitation and repression will never come. What the intellectuals of civil society cannot understand is the dynamics of the class struggle. The consciousness of the masses is not revolutionary or progressive at all times, but profoundly conservative, especially in periods of lull, economic insecurity and reaction of various degrees. They adapt to the status quo because it is more convenient. In ordinary times, they stubbornly cling to the prevalent order, its morality, ethics, conventions, traditions, culture and prejudices. But then explosive events induce profound shifts in the consciousness of the masses. This is not a gradual evolution but has a violent and convulsive character. Revolutionary consciousness does not develop smoothly in a continuum. A revolutionary upheaval is precisely that critical point where quantity transforms into quality. The working classes in Pakistan have such traditions and a history of such revolts. In these very weeks and months, 44 years ago, a revolutionary storm lashed across Pakistan. Before those volcanic eruptions, there was a relative lull and stagnation in society for two decades. Just one event, the shooting by the police of a student of the Polytechnic Institute in the outskirts of Rawalpindi sparked off the revolt that was simmering beneath the surface. Quantity had turned into quality. In all of the 65 years since its inception, the history of the people of Pakistan has been only those 139 days from November 6, 1968 until March 25, 1969 when they ruled the roost. The working classes entered the arena of history to change their destiny with their own bare hands. The revolution took a decisive turn and began to challenge the state and the system when the revolutionary vanguard, the proletariat took charge. There were occupations of factories, peasant Panchayats (committees) seized the landed estates and the students took over the schools, universities and colleges. Women were in the forefront of the struggle. The state was dissipated and hung in midair. Power was in the hands of the people. The force and the range of the revolution were conceded by no other person than the strongest and the most formidable ruler in Pakistan’s history, Field Marshal Ayub Khan. At the time of his abdication on March 25, 1969, in his parting speech he said, “[...] the administrative institutions are being paralysed. Most of the civil officers have left their posts and so have rent collectors, and their records have been burnt. The mobs are resorting to gheraos (sieges) at will and get their demands accepted under duress...In these conditions prevailing in the country, it is not possible to convene the National Assembly. Some members may not even dare to attend the Assembly session...The situation now is no longer under the control of the Government...Every problem of the country is being decided in the streets.” What can be a greater refutation than this speech for those sceptics and reformists who reject the 1968-69 upheaval as a revolution. A socialist victory was lost not due to any complacency of the toiling classes, who went the whole hog to achieve it. The revolution was detracted and dissipated due to the absence of a revolutionary party and a Marxist leadership. There were a number of significant groups and organisations of the left but they all ended up wasting themselves in bourgeois or nationalist parties seeking a national or democratic bourgeois change, betraying a clear and absolute opportunity of socialist transformation. Today we are once again faced with a relative lull in the movement and a certain disorientation of the class struggle. The media, intelligentsia and the dominant politics is by design and fears discussing and talking about the system that is the real cause of this crisis and mayhem. By inculcating democracy in place of a socialist system, they substitute a political formula for social content, which is a deception and deceit. They know that nothing can be solved under rotten capitalism. With an election on this basis, nothing is going to change or get resolved. Several outfits with vague leftish overtones are artificially manufactured time and again through unprincipled mergers and rotten compromises. Ideological and programmatic issues are undermined in opportunist zeal to attain the political limelight and be part of the mainstream politics of the coercive system. Abnegating any policies of the overthrow of capitalism through revolutionary socialism, they talk of reforming capitalism and its state institutions that have decayed to the core. In this, they are only trying to provide capitalism yet another crutch to prolong its exploitative rule. The slogans of eliminating feudalism, and for democracy, secularism, human rights, social justice, gender equality, national sovereignty are hardly new. The existing mainstream parties have been espousing these policies for long. The problem is that the tasks of the bourgeois revolution cannot be realised within the confines of capitalism in its present debilitated condition. On the other hand, the burden of their tradition weighs heavily upon the toiling masses. The Pakistan People’s Party became a mass tradition as a by-product of the 1968-69 mass revolt. Ironically, its incumbent leadership is carrying out the dictates of imperialism and perpetuating capitalist coercion. The rightwing and religious parties with their dwindling support want to cash in on the misrule, while their policies would wreak havoc for the masses if they come to power. In the state of despair, the ordinary people will register their protest probably with abstentionism. With no other option available, a large section of the masses will try the electoral choice. But when voting with their hands through the ballot fails to deliver, the toiling masses will sooner rather than later arise out of the temporary slumber and vote with their feet. A renewed wave of the class struggle will flow in full. Another much mightier 1968-69 looms large on the horizon. Its victory can only be ascertained by a subjective factor, organised, prepared and determined for a complete socio-economic transformation.