October 18, 2007 saw the largest ever mobilization of the masses on the streets of Karachi in almost a quarter century. According to the police, over 1 million participated, while the PPP leadership put up the figure at three million.
This huge convergence of the masses came after more than two very difficult decades dominated by reaction and a lull in the class struggle. The fall of the Berlin wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the intense disillusionment with the “democratic” experience and a right-wing shift of the traditional political and trade union leadership and other factors caused an apathy and skepticism among the masses in Pakistan.
This pushed back the political consciousness and blunted the will of the toiling masses to move into action. Apparently, this massive influx of people from all over Pakistan that thronged to the Karachi airport was to welcome Benazir Bhutto, the chairperson of the PPP on her return after an eight-year self-imposed exile.
However, there was much more to this mammoth welcome than what has been portrayed by the bourgeois media. The people could have had a much clearer glimpse of their leader on the television thousands of miles away than they did traveling such long distances in hazardous conditions, spending sleepless nights and putting in so much effort, energy and their meager savings to make this journey.
Thousands of buses and other vehicles traveled from as far as Kashmir and the remote areas of Pustoonkhwa. But their basic motive was to be “there”, to be part of a movement where they could express their grievances and deprivations, where they could exhibit their will and determination to struggle for a transformation of a system and society that govern their lives.
Their platform, their mode and the means of the expression of their will was the Pakistan People’s Party – yet again. And Benazir too, after almost two decades, again had to resort to the slogan of “Roti, Kapra and Makan” (Food, Clothing and Shelter) in her latest statements from abroad to ensure a mammoth crowd would welcome her and give her the political strength to bargain with the state and US Imperialism for greater control of the affairs of the state when catapulted once again into power.
But once she boarded the special vehicle to lead the procession she was flabbergasted. The first words she uttered after looking at the oceans of human heads in all directions, were, “It is un believable”.
Way back in 1998, Alan Woods, while speaking to a large meeting of workers in Karachi said, “When she returns to Pakistan millions will turn out to welcome Benazir, despite her policies and statements”.
But above all this massive turn-out of the masses towards the PPP once again vindicates the universal law worked out most concretely by Ted Grant on the question of mass movements, their orientation and adherence to their political and historical traditions.
For decades Benazir has been moving to the right in her economic policies, hobnobbing with US Imperialism, and has been trying to convince the Pakistani state and ruling classes of her adherence to the policy of preserving capitalism. Even before this return, she was in negotiations with the Musharraf regime and tried to strike a deal which was superficially rapidly eroding her political credibility. This was proclaimed especially by the chattering classes and the radical petty bourgeoisie who dominate the print and electronic media, as well as the intelligentsia in Pakistan. Locked in their narrow two stage theory they can only mechanically analyse politics and economics. The masses had a different perception.
Benazir had been twice in power in 1986 and 1993 and abandoned the masses in order to prove her loyalty to the existing order. Obviously, like every other ruler in this system, she indulged in the corruption and graft that is inevitable in this setup. Contrary to the perception of the media, the intelligentsia, Benazir and her sycophants, her popularity and support are not based on her “statesmanship”, “political astuteness” or “negotiating/ maneuvering skills” but on the legacy of the PPP that was born out of the 1968-69 revolution in Pakistan.
During the revolution, there was a virtual take-over of society and economy by the workers, poor peasants and the youth. From November 6, 1968 to March 29, 1969 there was a situation of dual power in Pakistan. Had there been a Bolshevik party at the head of the movement it could have taken power on at least 5 different occasions.
The workers had occupied the factories, the youth and students had taken control of universities, they refused to pay fares in buses and trains and the poor peasants in large areas of the countryside had besieged the landed estates. Most of the pro-Moscow and Pro-Peking left called for a “democratic stage” and even denounced the movement against the military dictatorship of Ayub Khan – as he was a close friend of the Chinese bureaucracy.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Benazir’s father, recognized the basic socialist character of the movement and called for a socialist transformation of society. This clicked with the struggle and conscious of the masses and the PPP became the largest party in Pakistan’s history almost overnight.
However, even with a relatively clear socialist programme and slogans, the 1968-69 movement was unable to achieve a revolutionary victory. This was due to the lack of a subjective factor – a Bolshevik Party. Bhutto carried out some radical reforms in agriculture, health, education and other sectors. He also nationalized large sections of the banking sector and industry – but the capitalist system was not overthrown. Hence, Bhutto was hanged by the vicious Zia dictatorship for going even that far.
This was the inevitable outcome of making half of a revolution. His legacy continues and is the main reason for the PPP’s support in Pakistan, despite of Benazir’s policies of compromise.
This clearly resonated on October 18 and the main slogans on the welcoming demonstration were “Bhutto you are still alive”. If not consciously then subconsciously the main reason behind the PPP’s support is the perception of it being a vehicle of change. That is why when the masses step into the arena of political struggle they initially converge around the banner of the PPP. This is also the reason that important sections of the state are terrified of this mass support for the PPP and cannot trust or give a free hand to Benazir in spite of her assurances and measures to preserve the capitalist system.
They only allow her to enter the echelons of power when the threat of a mass movement is imminent and after using her to diffuse such movements they ditch her. Now when the state is in severe crisis and its internal conflicts are out in the open it would be more difficult to devise a political regime based upon a contradictory class basis. This was proved by the two severe bomb blasts in front of Benazir’s caravan which killed 139 people and maimed another 500.
Islamic fundamentalism is mainly a state sponsored phenomenon and feeds upon the horrendous brutality inflicted by US imperialism in its “war against terror.” Its temporary rise is mainly due to the collapse of the left and the refusal, mainly on the part of PPP leadership, to stand up against imperialist aggression. This is despite the fact that US imperialism was instrumental in the coup and assassination of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto by General Zia ul Haq in April 1979.
The terrorist act against the people on the procession has been quite effective in diffusing the impact of this marvelous mass upsurge. The media and intellectuals are harping in some sort of game of speculative accusations on these blasts. From the look of it, this madness seems to have a method in it. It also shows the wrangling within the state and rattling of its structures. But these acts, whether carried out by the state or its Frankenstein monsters will not be able to totally curb the movement. The PPP leadership is trying to pacify the wrath of the masses against this outrageous act. But the vengeance of the masses will express itself in the electoral process – or more fervently in the revolutionary storms that loom large on the horizon.
The Islamic fundamentalists had called for several “Million Man Marches”, in the last couple of years against the US. But they could not get even 5% of that to their rallies. Now the fundamentalist alliance is also splitting, which is another reflection of the contradictions within the state. This could further aggravate their bigotry and fanaticism leading to more instability and turmoil. This distilled essence of capitalism cannot be controlled or curbed by this state or the system.
Similarly, when Nawaz Sharif, the former Prime Minister and a fabulously rich business tycoon, returned to Pakistan on September 10 this year, he could not muster a reception of more than five thousand people. This was in spite of the fact that there was a big media hype and massive sums of money pumped into propagandizing his “huge” popularity.
This was easily curbed down by the Musharraf regime. Nawaz Sharif would have long ago gone into political oblivion had Benazir not tried to prop him up as a political partner for “democracy”. Her main aim was to create an alliance with the right-wing to diminish any left radicalization within PPP against her class collaborationist policies. The media hype around Sharif was possible through the massive amounts of money pumped in to get the media coverage. Sharif’s social base is mainly amongst shopkeepers, wholesale dealers and small businessmen and sections of the urban petty bourgeois. These strata of society are historically and socially incapable of launching any defiant struggle against dictatorships. Sharif was also the product and political heir of the worst military dictatorship in Pakistan’s history under Gen. Zia ul Haq.
The media and radical petty bourgeois are shouting that the deal with Musharraf facilitated her return and allowed a mass turn-out to welcome Benazir. This is an insult upon injury to the downtrodden who braved so much agony and so many obstacles to reach Karachi. No doubt the state did not put up much resistance to the moving crowds. It is also true that those bourgeois and petty bourgeois PPP leaders who wanted party tickets to win elections also invested a lot of money in transportation and huge banners etc., to prove their loyalty. But larger capital was invested to swell the rallies of Musharraf, the Muslim League and the MMA (Islamic parties) but they were no match for what happened when Benazir returned.
The state’s resistance to the PPP rally was also weak because the state was split on the issue. They were terrified that if they attempted to block the millions from coming to the streets, that it could produce an explosion that would be impossible for the state to control. No obstacle can stop a mass of millions from reaching their destination.
It is not just the question that the Americans forced the possible coalition between Musharraf and Benazir (although both entered negotiations reluctantly) to strengthen Musharraf in the ongoing war against the Taliban. The main motive of the serious strategists of imperialism for pushing this deal was their fear of a workers’ uprising against privatization and other vicious attacks on the Pakistani proletariat.
Under the thunder of the terrorist bomb blasts, the political wrangling and the churned up “election” mania, the present regime, clearly in its twilight, is trying to carry out massive redundancies and complete the IMF’s assigned agenda. Just in the telecommunications (PTCL) sector alone the regime is sacking 29, 000 workers in an effort to carry out orders for privatization. Similar steps will be taken to carry out major redundancies and restructuring in other main sectors of the economy. The plan then would be to bring Benazir into some sort of a power-sharing deal and get her endorse these crimes against the working classes.
It won’t be easy. This is not 1988 or 1993. The bomb blasts in Benazir’s procession show how far the state and society have deteriorated since she was in power the last time.
The masses who converged to Karachi certainly don’t want this. They will vote Benazir into government as they have no other alternative at this point in time. They came out for exactly the opposite. They endured hundreds of casualties, stood waiting for her arrival for 30 hours, thousands walked miles and miles to reach the venue, and remained without food, water and sleep. For what? Certainly not for privatization, deregulation, restructuring, price hikes, unemployment and poverty. The oppressed and exploited gathered not to endorse corruption, liberal “democracy”, capitalist policies and the appeasement of imperialism.
Benazir has, at least verbally, changed the founding principle of the PPP from “Socialism is our economy” to “Mohammadi (Islamic) egalitarianism”. This won’t work in the long run. “Roti kapra aur Makan” (Food, Clothing and Shelter) can’t be provided through trickle down economics, necessary to maintain this crisis ridden capitalism and cozy up with US Imperialism.
On the basis of capitalist policies her stint in power will not be very long. On the one hand the intensifying crisis of Pakistani capitalism is exacerbating religious bigotry and terror. The economy is in shambles with the highest trade, current account, and budget deficits in history. Social indicators are amongst the worst in the world. The oil price hikes and the impending world capitalist economic crisis will have devastating effects on the already sinking Pakistani capitalism.
The state is deeply mired in internal conflict, and society in a deep malaise. The continuation of these policies would exacerbate the contradictions. On the one hand further blood, chaos and anarchy could push towards a barbarous nightmare, the elements of which are already making a frightening appearance in border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But this rally on October 18 has clearly shown the other face of Pakistan. On April 10, 1986 Benazir was accorded a similar rousing reception of more than a million people. On April 11, at a press conference she confessed that if she wanted to take power the previous day she could have done it easily. She was right! But she refused to take a revolutionary path. Still she was brought into power through a compromise with the establishment. She dashed the hopes of the masses and tried to maintain the status quo. The movement ebbed and she was overthrown.
Again in 1993 she was pushed into power by mass pressure from below. Yet once more she shifted further to the right. Will the story be the same this time around? Will this vicious cycle go on forever? We don’t think so. The misery and poverty is too immense. Living conditions are intolerable. The masses have endured a long period of reaction and oppression. It has taken an enormous effort for the masses to come to the fore. Millions united in a mass gain great confidence and a sense of collective strength. If Benazir follows her precedent this time around, it will not be the right-wing reaction or the State that will lead the revolt. Opposition will come from the same masses that came to welcome her with high hopes.
No force of reaction has ever and could ever mobilize such a huge sea of people in Pakistan. The toiling masses came out for change. They opted for what has been their political tradition for more than three generations. If this fails then the next time they enter the arena of history, instead of going to Karachi Airport they will move to occupy factories, take control of railways, telecommunications, electricity networks and expropriate imperialist wealth and assets, besiege landed estates and seize other key sectors of the economy on a much higher plane than their ancestors in the 1968-69 revolution.
The Musharraf-Benazir deal is still in confusion. Even if they try to act on the Washington script there are too many bumps and potholes on this path. It can fall apart as a result of any event – from judicial activism to terrorist attacks. Even if this uneasy alliance crosses onto the election plane and takes the shape of a new regime, the chances of its continuation are very bleak and imbedded with internal and external danger. The uprising of the masses from below will blow it apart at the first blow. The turbulence in the economy and convulsions in society are too severe to overcome by this conflicting implementation which the US is trying to manipulate.
This working class of Pakistan will take its destiny into its own hands and transform society. The Marxists in the PPP have been vindicated once again in their strategy and perspectives by the events on October 18 – after 21 long years. This vindication brings the revolutionary challenge much closer and clearer to them. The tasks of history are being posed more concretely today than perhaps ever before. The mass mobilization in Karachi has clearly expressed what people want – emancipation from exploitation, drudgery, misery, disease and slavery. A revolutionary socialist alternative was put forward to this movement by the Marxists. Through the events in the next few weeks and their experiences, the wider layers of the masses shall turn towards the revolutionary path. The tasks of the Marxists is to ensure that these toiling masses achieve their socialist victory – sooner rather than later.
- Three Million Receive Benazir Bhutto – the legacy of 1968-69 continues by Adam Pal (October 19, 2007)