Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Prison-House of Nations

Presentation on the Situation in Pakistan, by John Peterson, 5/9/2014

John Peterson spoke at Mayday Books, representing the Pakistan Trade Union Defense Campaign and the Workers International League.  He gave an excellent fact-based survey of the situation in Pakistan and a bit of the history of that country, and asserted that it was possible for Pakistan to have a socialist revolution if actual Marxists continued to gain enough influence in the Pakistani mass movement.

Pakistan is a country in a continuous crisis that basically doesn’t work any more.  The CIA is close to putting it on a list of ‘failed states.’  What has really failed is Pakistani capitalism for the mass of the population.  As John noted, the capital of Pakistan is in Switzerland, as the goal of the ruling class is to loot the nation for all they can get.  It is the 6th most populous nation in the world, at 190 million people, and its geographic location is central to that part of Asia.  Karachi has been declared the world’s ‘most dangerous place.’  Every power – the U.S., China, the Saudis, the Iranians, and India – are all attempting to control events in that country.  Peterson quoted Lenin in that Russia was a ‘prison-house of nations.”  He pointed out that the myriad ethnic and religious groups in Pakistan also make it – and the rest of south Asia – a prison-house of nations too.  The ISI is the Pakistani CIA/FBI/NSA and Pentagon rolled into one.  They control the country for all practical purposes, including the drug and arms trades, and work with the Taliban and other fundamentalists.  They dominate this section of the prison-house. 

Poverty is grinding and the infrastructure has not been improved since the late 40s.  Power outages are continuous – as the Pakistani’s say, they are the ‘happiest people on earth’ when the power returns.  The average income is Pakistan is $3,100 per year, or $250 per month – but that is an average, not accounting for class.  60% live on less than $2 a day.  30% live on less than $1 a day.  Official unemployment is 6.6%, but the figures are bogus.  Estimates of 70-80% of the economy is based on the black market.  Food prices have risen, as they are doing across the world, and the rupee has declined 40% in value.  Millions have to leave Pakistan to find slave-labor jobs in the Gulf states, in Australia or in South Africa. Remittances are $1B per month – a large part of the income of the nation.  So one of Pakistan’s key exports is human labor.  The top 10% of the population have 28% of the income.  The status of women is deplorable, below that of most countries.  The infant mortality rate is 88 in 1,000.  The rate in the US is 6 per 1000, and that is on the low end in ‘developed’ countries. 

Pakistan, according to Peterson, is a country of diseased capitalism, with elements of feudal land ownership and pastoralism.  The drug, arms and human slave trades are prominent.  Recently Pakistan became a majority urban nation, with much industry in Lahore and Karachi.  There is a large and growing proletariat.  The country also has rich agrarian areas in the Indus valley populated by peasants and small farmers, yet dominated by large landlords. While many suffer from hunger, the Pakistani capitalists still export food for profit. 

Peterson went through a history of Pakistan, which has a vast and complicated ethnic and cultural lineage, making it a melting pot of religions and nationalities like much of South Asia.  The Partition of 1947, ordered by the British Raj, is one of the great crimes of history, leading to millions being displaced and more than a million dying.  Peterson claimed Partition led to the biggest movement of humans in history, though some have now claimed that title for the movement of peasants from city to countryside in China.  Lord Mountbatten, Winston Churchill, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and Clement Atlee all participated in this bloodbath in different ways.  The Communist Parties, as was normal, sided with one nationalist bourgeoisie or another, supporting aspects of Partition.  Partition was based on an artificial line drawn in the soil by the British government - Hindus were to live on one side, Muslims on the other.  The book, “Indian Summer” is recommended as a good book on Partition. 

After ‘independence’ in 1948, 85% of the Pakistani budget was defense spending for that year.  China supported the 1958 dictator of Pakistan as part of their support of various ostensibly 'progressive' national bourgeoisies.  Pakistan fought 3 wars with India, one of the biggest bones of contention being Kashmir, which India now occupies with hundreds of thousands of troops. (See review of “Capitalism: A Ghost Story,” below.  Use blog search box, upper left.) The brutal and long-standing Indian occupation of a section of majority-Muslim Kashmir makes it the biggest occupation in the world.  

Peterson pointed out that the 1968-1969 revolution in Pakistan, especially East Pakistan (which later became Bangladesh) was very close to a proletarian victory.  A general strike shut down the country after police shot strikers. 25,000 rail workers marched in Lahore with red flags.  Electrical workers cut power to the government buildings.  Peasants began seizing land, especially in East Pakistan.  The armed forces were wavering in loyalty and the intellectuals and artists were moving to the left. However, the Communist Party supported the regime and did not call for the overthrow of the capitalist system.  Things stabilized with the formation of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of Zulfikar Bhutto, a landlord, out of this struggle.  The PPP called for nationalization of industry, armed militias to protect the population and socialism.  However it was mostly words, and the progress towards revolution stopped. Some reforms were achieved until Bhutto was assassinated.

A succession of military dictators changed power with the PPP and the richest man in Pakistan, the head of the Muslim League, who holds power today.  Usually the leaders of the PPP were killed and another election called, the latest being Benazir Bhutto.  The official “Islamification’ of Pakistan started under military dictator Zia ul Haq, who was supported by the U.S. and ruled for 10 years.  Peterson maintained that prior to those efforts to install Sharia law and Muslim fundamentalist principles, Pakistan was not an exceedingly religious society.  So the U.S, as in Afghanistan, promoted Islamic political fundamentalism. 

Peterson described a large congress of the “Struggle” group in Pakistan, affiliated with the Workers International League, which he attended.  He commented on the good humor of these 2,500 comrades in the face of such chaotic conditions.  Poetry, oddly enough to our experience, played a role in the congress.  Peterson addressed the assembled on the situation of the U.S. working class.  The “Struggle’ group has comrades in the trade unions, in the youth organizations, in the women’s groups, among the unemployed, and among entertainers and radio commentators.  They have organized somewhat successful electoral campaigns even in Waziristan, which is the target of constant U.S. drone strikes.   They are in the midst of a campaign against privatization – as the government has decided to hand over 60 industries to private enterprise.  They work inside the PPP as the mass organization of workers in that country.  They have 40 offices, are in 25 regions and have 25 full-timers.  They organized May Day rallies in 60 Pakistani cities, and have a campaign in Kashmir with the Communist Party of India (M) to oppose that occupation.  He mentioned that “Mallala” the girl who was almost killed by Muslim fundamentalists, is a supporter of socialism and once attended a “Struggle” conference.

They call for an ‘irreconcilable struggle’ for a “Socialist Federation of the Indian Sub-Continent,” and work with internationalists in other countries that their comrades have been forced to go to for paying work – places like Afghanistan, India and others.  Peterson observed that while there are some Islamic fascist groups like the MQM who have killed trade unionists and leftists, the hard-right Islamic groups are disliked by the majority of the population and get very small votes.  They have degenerated into criminal thugs who deal drugs  - sort of a ‘Mafia with an ‘Islamic’ cover.   Telling to Peterson was that few Pakistanis stop for the omnipresent 5 prayers a day.  (See also commentary, “Rock The Kasbah,” below.)

Peterson answered questions afterwards and the audience adjourned to talk with beer and snacks and donations for the Pakistan Trade Union Defense Campaign.

And I heard it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
May 10, 2014


AA said...

Too many errors in the talk. I've listened to many bad talks at Mayday but this was among the worst. For starters, GDP per capita is around $1300 -- not $3000. There was nothing inherently wrong with Partition -- Congress Party and Muslim Leaguers couldn't agree on a power-sharing arrangement and the partition of British India was the consequence. Swat is not a rich agrarian area -- that would be the Punjab province, which is the breadbasket of the nation ("Punjab" means "five waters," since it is irrigated by five rivers). 85% of the defence budget is not on defence. See the following for a more accurate analysis:

And the errors in the talk just go on and on and on. Someone who has spent two weeks in the country cannot have the foggiest idea about it.

Red Frog said...

We'll, we've listened to many 'bad' right-wing comments by you, too, AA.
A supporter of Partition - really? As a good nationalist yourself, who looks down on the working class, you might be able to make factual comments, but political ones are useless.

The error on the Swat is mine and I will change that, as I was taking notes.

Socialist Appeal said...

Nice write-up, Mr. Frog! There were a couple small factual errors in your notes which you may consider updating: Remittances account for $1 billion per month—not per year. Pakistan is imperialism, local capitalism, feudalism, and even more ancient forms all layered on one another (I suppose pastoralism is included!). The revolution was 1968-69.

As for the largest human migration, China may be larger in sheer numbers, but that's been over the course of 30+ years; partition was 15+ million people forced out over a few days / weeks, with a million slaughtered. I'd say that counts for some kind of record.

AA, I never asserted that Swat is the agricultural heartland—it is known as the "Switzerland of the Subcontinent," and does in fact produce some marvelous and renowned produce.

GDP per capita in 2013 was estimated at $3,100 by the CIA:

The 85% defense budget was for the year 1958.

These are all simple facts.

As for your assertion that this was one of the "worst" talks at Mayday, were you even there? If so, why did you not raise some objections or correct the errors and enlighten me and the audience? I would have been more than happy to be corrected on any factual errors. I would have also been happy to debate with a supporter of Partition! No offense, but only political cowards scuttle away without a word and then take to the internet. Keyboard political quarterbacks are a dime a dozen.

I make no claim to be an expert, but being from a country doesn't make one an expert—especially if you don't bother opening your mouth to engage in a friendly and educational political debate.

Thanks again for the concise summary, Frog, nice to see you again!

AA said...

The format of the talk was such that informed discussion could not be raised.

This is World Bank data on the GDP, which gives it at $1,290 a year:

The class structure of Pakistan is partly "comprador capitalism" -- the leading Pakistani business families operate as junior partners to transnational capital (I myself worked for such business houses for some years). The Habibs, Dawoods, Adamjees, etc. are such families, as is that of Nawaz Sharif's Ittefaq Group. And partly is large landowners -- a feudalistic structure. This combination of urban industrialists and feudal landowners, along with the armed forces, rules Pakistan. Multinational capital and Western governments call the shots from abroad.

The MQM represents people like me -- Mohajirs, immigrants from India. It is Karachi-based. The PPP draws its support from Sindh and ML(N) from Punjab.

The drug trade is partly army, partly Pathans, partly early smugglers (such as Seyt Abid).

Old World Bank figures estimate the black economy as roughly four times the size of the official economy -- though its doubtless greater now.

I speak, read and write fluent Urdu and lived and worked in Pakistan for 11 years.

Marcus Mayo said...

"The format of the talk was such that informed discussion could not be raised."

That's just complete nonsense, and a flat-out lie. Everyone was welcome to offer any sort of question, comment, or critique. I chaired this discussion, and I made certain to scan the entire audience several times, and gave several opportunities for any sort of rebuttal or comments from anyone and everyone. You had an entire room full of people who were there to learn about Pakistan and the struggles there. If you are so certain that this was the "among the worst talks at Mayday", wouldn't you, as someone who has lived there, have some sort of obligation to "set the record straight" so that the audience doesn't come away with a bunch of error-filled information (according to yourself)? Instead, as John stated, you chose to take to the internet with disrespectful and arrogant comments.

We're quite confident in our ideas and perspectives and surely would welcome any counter-arguments from a supporter of such a humanly disastrous policy as partition.