A very successful First Congress of the Socialist Movement Pakistan (SMP) – affiliated to the cwi – took place over the weekend of the 19/20 March 2005 in Lahore.
The Congress was attended by 84 delegates and visitors from all regions of the country and was addressed by, amongst others, Peter Taaffe, General Secretary of the Socialist Party of England and Wales, who is on a speaking tour of Asia. He has already visited Malaysia before arriving in Pakistan. He introduced the session of the Congress on international perspectives.
Prior to the Congress, Peter Taaffe had spoken on the world and Pakistani situation at a crowded press conference in Hyderabad in Sindh province. His comments have received widespread coverage throughout the media in Pakistan. The report in the English-language Daily Times – the second largest English-language paper by circulation in Pakistan – was typical of press comments: “‘End for capitalism’ demanded”! A further quote said: “Speaking at the meet the press programme, he said his party was promoting the ideas of the working class of the whole world that they should unite and rise against what he called American imperialism, which was the greatest danger to the world… He said that the aim of his visit was to raise awareness amongst the working class and unity among their ranks to combat imperialism and capitalism. He was optimistic that the future belonged to the working class and socialism.”
In addition to this, in the provinces of Sindh, of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), in Punjab, in Kashmir and in the cities of Karachi and Islamabad, Peter Taaffe’s comments were widely reported. Also, his speeches at very successful public meetings in the cities of Karachi, Tandojan (in Sindh province), in Islamabad and Lahore were covered in the Urdu press. Typical were the comments in the Kashmiri paper Nawaiwaqat (Voice of the Present) – the second largest Urdu newspaper in Pakistan. This paper said that Peter Taaffe commented: “International imperialism had made the life of working-class people throughout the world miserable… 530 people worldwide have more wealth than the population of 3 billion people… Health, education and employment have become a dream for the masses. Society can only be developed on the basis of the socialist revolution. Socialist revolution is the only way forward. Capitalism has failed and we cannot live under a failed system.”
In addition to this, Peter Taaffe has also been interviewed by the Urdu section of the BBC World Service with an estimated audience of 35-40 million worldwide. This interview was repeated three times on the World Service.
The delegates at the SMP Congress came from all corners of Pakistan: the Punjab, including the city of Lahore, from Sindh (particularly the major city of Karachi), from Islamabad, from Kashmir and many other areas and provinces of Pakistan. Many members of the SMP were disappointed that they could not attend because of the costs of travelling and the distances involved in getting to the Congress. It took the comrades from Karachi more than a day to arrive in Lahore. Comrades from Baluchistan and the NWFP were particularly hampered by the costs of travel.
As the Congress met, Baluchistan saw a big resurgence of conflict between the Baluchi people and the police and the army of the Pakistan central state. The Congress discussed these developments and concluded that this signified an aggravation of the national question in Baluchistan. None of the traditional capitalist parties in Pakistan have come out clearly for the right of self-determination of the oppressed minorities in the country. Even some Marxists are opposed to championing the national rights of the oppressed minorities, such as in Baluchistan or Kashmir. Only the SMP is prepared to clearly support the demands of these minorities. In relation to Kashmir, for instance, Kashmiri comrades speaking at the Congress explained that they stand for an independent socialist Kashmir as a step towards the socialist confederation of the countries of the region. We will be carrying further analysis of this vital issue in the near future.
Significantly, there was a very good attendance of left and revolutionary trade union leaders and workers from a wide geographical spread and from different industries. They considerably added to the discussions that took place at the conference. Only a few days before the Congress, a minister in Musharraf’s government admitted that 63 per cent of Pakistanis are at or below the poverty line. The working class and the poor in Pakistan are groaning under the weight of diseased Pakistani landlordism and capitalism, huge rises in prices, a growing army of the poor – as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore – sackings and attacks on workers’ rights and conditions.
Khalid Bhatti, in his introduction to Pakistani perspectives, gave a searching analysis of the crisis of capitalism and the situation of the working class, as well as the role of the SMP. The creation of a significant revolutionary force, in turn, can help create a mass party for the Pakistani workers. A lively and informative discussion followed. The traditions of the working class were spelt out as was the terrible plight of the peasants, a majority in this country. They are kept under the iron heel of the feudal landlords and their armed ‘retainers’, and the police and the army of the Pakistani state.
An important contribution to the discussion came from a telecommunications worker, describing the crisis facing the trade unions (membership is down to just 2 per cent of the workforce) and what the SMP and workers generally have done to change the situation. A leader of a mass peasant organisation described the plight of the peasants and the Saraikis people, the fifth ‘forgotten’ national minority in Pakistan. Jamal Khan summed up the discussion, concentrating in particular on the national question and the importance of the Kashmir.
Rukshana Mansoor, in the session on Building the SMP, emphasised the development of our own cadre organisation in the first instance and the building of branches. She urged the delegates and visitors to seize the great opportunities for socialist and revolutionary ideas, which can take mass root in the country. An additional decision of the Congress was to set up a Pakistani section of International Socialist Resistance.
The Congress finished with enthusiastic recitations of radical and socialist poetry and the singing of revolutionary songs. We hope to carry a more comprehensive report of the Congress later as well as interviews with workers.