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Pakistan: Killings in Karachi spark mass workers resistance – forward to revolution and working class power!

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In Karachi on Saturday 12 May members of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), part of the ruling coalition in the Sindh provincial government, which supports the regime of General Pervez Musharraf, launched a vicious armed assault on the opposition movement. As violent clashes followed, the military put some 14,000 troops onto Pakistan’s streets operating a shoot-to-kill policy, which left over 50 people dead and some 150 injured. On May 14th the opposition responded with a nationwide strike, which paralysed Pakistan’s main cities. Luke Cooper reports on the pre-revolutionary situation and argues the working class must be won to the struggle for power.

On 5th May up to thousands of people took to the streets of Lahore as the suspended Chief Justice Chaudhry, flanked by a motorcade of some 2,000 vehicles, visited the city to address the Lahore High Court Bar Association. The movement that had begun with Pakistan lawyers opposed to his suspension has been joined by thousands of workers and youth demanding an end to military rule. As we warned last week the situation was intensifying and the government may be isolated “but like a cornered animal it is also still very dangerous. Workers, youth and students must be ready to defend the movement from repression.” (10th May 2007)

The repression struck on the 12th May in Karachi as opposition rallied again to greet the Chief Justice, who planned to speak at the Sindh High Court Bar Association. The previous day the fascistic thugs of the MQM blockaded the main roads into the city in an attempt to prevent the rally from taking place, with the open complicity of government agencies. In Karachi that week, in a bid to muzzle media reporting of the anti-government protests, state forces closed three television stations.

Despite this thousands of protesters defiantly mobilised and as they rallied the MQM opened fire and several hours of pitched battles ensued. Musharraf then ordered some 14,000 troops on to the streets of Karachi. Meanwhile, the Chief Justice was detained at the airport by the security forces. The clashes continued into Sunday with the government operating a policy of undeclared marshal law. Assemblies of over five people were banned and the Sindh provincial government, which is pro-Musharraf, said it would expel leading opposition activists from the province. The fighting continued into the week with low level fighting still reported today and now over 50 people are thought to have been killed, with some 150 more injured.

The Musharraf government now has the blood of its own people on its hands. Nevertheless Musharraf was cold and defiant as addressed his supporters in the more moderate Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) at a rally in Islamabad on 12th May. This rally had been planned for a number of weeks with many state employees forced to attend and participants were even promised two to five rupees ($3.5 - $8.5) for attending! Despite this Musharraf only managed to gather 20,000 “supporters”. He blamed the unrest in Karachi on the protesters who had “politicised the suspension of the Chief Judge” and pointed to the MQM rally as evidence of his continued popular support – the MQM rally had, of course, been allowed to take place without interference on Saturday.

Musharraf added that he would seek re-election from the sitting provincial and national assemblies this year for another five-year term and declared the “people are with me”. This would be done without any new elections for the provisional and national assemblies, which were last elected in 2002 – an election, it is widely recognised, that was rigged by the army. This desire of Musharraf to extend his rule is the background to the current crisis, as he needs a pliant judiciary to give him constitutional legitimacy – a role the judiciary has historically been glad enough to play for Pakistan’s many military juntas.

On Monday 14th May it had become clear that “the people” were not with Musharraf as all the large cities were paralysed by a national strike called by the bourgeois parties in the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy – particularly the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (N). The fact that these parties called such action is an indicator of the tremendous pressure from below. The working class had responded to the crack down on dissent with sheer defiance.

It is clear that Pakistan has entered a profound pre-revolutionary situation – which began with the mass mobilisation in Lahore, intensified with the fighting in Karachi and has continued in the mass strikes of the beginning of this week. The question who rules - the people or the military junta – is now being asked by the Pakistani masses. The working class by paralysing the cities with strike action have demonstrated in practice they have a leading role to play in revolutionary struggle to overthrow the regime.

This is indeed why the bourgeois parties are terrified of the general strike – as it demonstrates not only the political power of the working class but also the threat they can pose to the rule of capital. Only last month Benazir Bhutto, leader of the PPP, admitted she was in talks with the regime to strike a compromise deal but their timid demand, that Musharraf should cease to be head of both the political executive and the army, was too much for the regime. Even now as sections of the liberal bourgeois press openly talk of the “inevitable” end of the military regime, the demand the bourgeois parties advance is for the resignation of Musharraf and a transitional “civilian government”.

The Chief Justice Chaudhry has undoubtedly become a hugely popular figure but, like the Bourgeois parties, his political programme he fights for is an entirely insufficient for the great struggles that are now confronting the military regime. They have continued to call for the independenc of the judiciary. This is a progressive and correct slogan insofar as it protests against the control of the judiciary by the military junta, but we should remember on fundamental questions judges will always support the rule of capital not the workers. Indeed, in that sense they like the rest of the bourgeois state are never “independent” of the bosses.

Justice Chaudhry opposed the privatisation of the steel industry not because it was an attack on the working class but because it was a corrupt deal that would sell an asset worth 700 billion for just 21.6 billion rupees! Indeed, he is no friend of the workers having upheld legislation that attacked trade unionists, such as the SIndh government’s banning of the teachers union. Of course, we continue to defend Chaudhry from the attack of the military - but we also know the struggle has gone beyond this. It is now a generalised struggle against the military regime.

The PPP and PML (N) will now seek to turn the struggles of the masses “on and off” like a tap, so that they can force sections of the military and bourgeois state to the negotiating table. Indeed, it is a real possibility that sections of the military and establishment will now turn against Musharraf – well aware that the alternative is a deep revolutionary crisis that threatens the whole system. After all, large sections of a key pillar of the bourgeois state – the judiciary and law courts – have over the last two months been in open revolt against the military regime. Indeed, only yesterday (14/05) a Supreme Court Judge, part of the fourteen person panel that will hear Justice Chaudhry’s case, resigned from the panel.

The struggle against Musharraf is potentially a tremendous blow to the White House and its “war on terror” in the Middle East and Central Asia. Musharraf has had their total support and they were completely silent about the bloodshed he unleashed in Karachi. However, even the imperialists may now move against him. For example, Rupert Mordoch’s The Times newspaper in Britain has urged Musharraf to open talks with the opposition parties. Their aim is to stabilise a pro-US regime and they know in the opposition parties exist potential pro-imperialist allies, like the PPP which is traditionally pro-West. The PML-N is less openly so but is sure to continue Musharraf’s neoliberal attacks and give tacit support to the “war on terror” should they enter a new government.

The critical question facing the workers and youth of Pakistan – is what kind of society and state do we want to emerge out of this crisis? The alternative to Musharraf that the bourgeois parties offer is no alternative. It is a return to the equally pro-imperialist, corrupt and neoliberal regimes of the 1990s. This would mean a continuation of the corrupt sell-offs of state industry and services but to the friends of the “democratic” bourgeoisie. It would mean a continuation of the oppression of the landless peasants – who only this weekend suffered further attacks by the military in Pubjab that left twenty two farmers injured. In short, it would turn an unfolding revolutionary crisis into a counter-revolution and the victory of capital.

The masses of the working class must now be won to the need to struggle for power – to end the rule of capital and establish a working class state that gives land to the peasants. As the Russian Revolutionary Leon Trotsky argued in 1917 the revolution must be “made permanent” – i.e. continue from the national democratic struggle to the struggle for working class power and world socialist revolution!

This can be done! The working class can be won to based on their emancipation - if revolutionaries advance a programme of action that links the struggle for democracy with the struggle for power:

For an all out general strike to bring down the military regime! The working class responded to the repression in Karachi with heroism and defiance. By paralysing all the main cities it showed it has the power to bring down the regime – now it must take the indefinite action that can bring down the government.
No to a “civilian government”! Yes to a revolutionary constituent assembly! This great mass movement must oppose all attempts at installing an undemocratic “transitional” civilian government – such a call is designed to demobilise the masses, just at the time when we should be going on the offensive. We fight for the popular movement to convene a democratic assembly elected by local assemblies and recallable by them.
Continue the struggle against capital! For an agrarian revolution! The immediate tasks of the constituent assembly must be to reverse the neoliberal programme of the Musharraf regime, bring the criminal military junta to justice. To sweep away the military dictatorship and ensure it can never be replaced, we fight within a constituent assembly to continue the class struggle against the capitalists and the big landlord by enacting an agrarian revolution that will give the land to those who till it, encouraging the peasants to organise cooperatives if they so wish.
For committees of action of both workers and peasants! In every workplace we fight for the formation of workers committees to organise mass action to bring down the regime. We fight for the formation out of these of city wide, regional and national committees of action to organise a national struggle for working class power. We fight for similar committees in the countryside as organs of agrarian revolution.
For a workers and peasants government based on councils of delegates and a mass people’s militia! Only the working class, allied with the poor peasants and the urban poor can form a government that will solve the great questions facing the country. To do so requires more than parliamentary elections – which cannot transfer power from one class to another - it requires a socialist revolution: the disbanding of the bourgeois state machine and its replacement with councils of recallable delegates.
Workers control of production, nationalisation of big foreign multinationals! The workers committees must combine the struggle against the regime with the struggle against capital – and take workers control of industry! We fight for an economy planned for need, separation of religion and the state and equality of all faiths before the law.
For workers self defence squads! We fight to defend the mass movement from an repression by the state or reactionary thugs like the MQM. To this end we fight for the arming of the working class and the disbandment of state instruments of repression – the police and security services.
For rank and file solidiers committees in the army! For soldiers to disobey any orders to turn their guns on the people! We fight to organise the rank and file soldiers in the armies who have no interest in maintaining the rule of this corrupt and dictatorship.
Bring women into the struggle! For equality and liberation! Women must be brought into the struggle for an end to military rule, this struggle must go hand in hand with the fight for the social, political and economic equality of women.
Down with imperialism! Victory to the resistance in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan! The struggle against Musharraf is part of a global struggle against imperialism – and his overthrow will be a huge blow the so-called “war on terror”
For a new world party of social revolution – the Fifth International! The struggle in Pakistan is part of a global struggle by the working class against capitalism. To lead this struggle workers need a new global party of socialist revolution! Fighting on every front to turn the struggles of today towards the conquest of power by the working class. In the history of the workers movement there have been four such internationals – today we must forge a new party, the Fifth to fight for socialism in the 21st century!
For world revolution and socialism! The struggle in Pakistan can be the first step in a world socialist revolution – if the working class come to the head of the struggle and fight for a workers state and win the peasants to the side by fighting for an agrarian revolution! This can be the first act in a world revolution against capitalism! For a socialist federation of South Asia!

The comrades of REVOLUTION Pakistan were quick to realise the great potential of the lawyers’ movement and fought at every moment to turn the struggle into a generalised offensive against the regime by the masses. In this critical situation we urge the comrade of REVOLUTION and supporters of the League for the Fifth International in Pakistan to form a Leninist-Trotskyist revolutionary organisation that fights for this programme of action amongst the masses. We propose the organisation stands in the tradition of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky and adopts, From Protest to Power, the programme of the League as its programme. We propose it immediately applies for membership of the League for the Fifth International.