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Some remarks on the issue of Pakistan

posted 27 Mar 2010, 13:46 by Admin uk   [ updated 27 Mar 2010, 13:51 ]
by Pat Byrne

Less than 18 months ago, the IMT leadership expelled a large section of its Pakistani section. As the biggest section in the IMT this was obviously a very significant event. But very little information about the reasons for the expulsion emerged at the time. The lack of resources of the expelled comrades and their distance from the other sections of the IMT meant that only the leadership's propaganda was circulated among the IMT's membership and in the international left generally. This propaganda centred on the supposed corruption of Manzoor, the leading comrade of the expelled members.
 
Last week, Heiko, another recently expelled member of the IMT, decided to attend the annual congress of the expelled group who call themselves the Left Opposition of the IMT. He wanted to see if the accusations of corruption had any foundation. His description of the conference and related material can be viewed on his Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=593903407&ref=ts
Central to the accusations made against the Pakistani comrades is the charge against Manzoor for taking up an appointed position as head of the PPP's national labor bureau. It is asserted that accepting an appointed position is against the whole tradition of the IMT who stand for election of officials. Thus the charges of corruption. However, the tradition of the IMT and the Militant out of which it came is very different on this question.
 
In the Militant in Britain we took an entirely different approach to the question of taking positions. Yes, we campaigned vigorously for the election of full-time officers and were famous for this position in the labour movement. However, where we were unsuccessful and these remained appointed positions we went for them on certain conditions. 1) That we had a base with which the appointed comrade could work. 2) That the position was used to the full to campaign for fighting and democratic policies. Appointed union comrades like Terry Adams and John Macreadie worked closely with our CPSA Militant caucus in the struggle to transform the union into a democratic and fighting body. The results were dramatic and long-lasting, both in terms of union policy, militant action, democratisation and the growth of support for Militant in the union. This position remains so today within the enlarged union, the PCS, it being among the most democratic and militant unions, and with an excellent leadership many of whom are CWI members. I'm proud of what we accomplished by combining the work of the appointed and elected officials. Incidentally, when preparing for industrial disputes the comrades frequently used to consult the history of the American workers in books like Labor's Giant Step and Teamster Rebellion and use their tactics. Unfortunately, the rest of the comrades knew nothing about this and the brilliant role our union full-timers played in it because the Internal Bulletin was not really accessible to us.
What then about accepting a position appointed by a political party rather than a union one. Let me give an example of this once more from Britain. The positions at Labour Party Headquarters were always appointed. But this did not stop us supporting Andy Bevan when he applied for the position of National Youth Officer. His success in being appointed was a great victory and was seen as such throughout Britain. The newspapers and the television ran a determined campaign to stop confirmation of Andy's appointment but it went through. They even encouraged the other Labour Headquarters staff to picket Andy when he came into work. However, we were able to use this position to remove a lot of undemocratic obstacles that had been slowing down the growth of the Youth Section of the Party. This helped the YS to go from strength to strength as did the growth of the Militant.
 
To sum up: while it far better to achieve positions by election, where elections don't exist, it is not necessarily wrong to accept appointment. It all depends on what you do with the position. Indeed this applies whether someone is elected or appointed.
From what Heiko is reporting on his Facebook page, Manzoor has been able to use his position to win major improvements for the workers including new pro-union laws, transfer of day labour into permanent positions, wage hikes etc. As a result the union movement in Pakistan has grown tremendously in the last two years, and have now come together in a new People's Labour Federation in which Manzoor and his comrades are playing a leading role. And from Heiko's report a significant number of industrial workers from the Federation were at last week's conference. Also, apparently some foreign companies have been complaining about Manzoor's support for workers' demands to the President and Pakistan Peoples' Party leader, Zardari. The President ignores them because of the levels of working class support that Manzoor's work is delivering to the PPP.    
 
Incidentally, I understand that the leaders of what is now the IMT section in Pakistan went along with Manzoor's appointment. Then later they demanded he resign all his positions in the PPP which naturally he refused. Why they should have done this is explained by one of the comrades pushed out of the IMT as follows:
 
"The problem with the Pakistani section started to develop in 2005 onwards, when for the first time STRUGGLE (Pakistani section of IMT) started to make serious inroads into the broader layers of the working class movement. As soon as the organization started to expand, a polarisation started to develop between the comrades who were involved in the mass politics and the comrades who were in charge of the internal work. When the organization was at its propaganda level, the comrades in charge of the internal work had strong authority over the organization because of their grip over the fundamentals of Marxism. But for a revolutionary organization to achieve success, it must know how to make the working class understand what the meaning of socialism is for them and not only for the few hundred intellectuals."
 
The conflict between propaganda and agitational work is one that is familiar to anyone who has worked in the mass movement. In Militant I saw too many examples of major opportunities lost or messed up because of the dominance of the full-timers who did no work in the mass movement over the comrades who did. I am sure that all the comrades on this list can provide their own examples of this. Last year while talking to an ex-SWP union activist, he asked me what the problem with the SWP was, in common with many other left organisations. Before I could reply he burst in with: "It's the fucking ex-student full-timers arrogantly telling us what to do. Wankers!" His language may have been blue but his point is all too often true.   
 
The ex-IMT Pakistani comrade continued with his expanation of the split:
"The other problem was with their perspective, while Manzoor and the expelled comrades were of the opinion that this is a counter-revolutionary period and we should consolidate our positions in the PPP, Lal Khan's people's perspective was that this is a revolutionary situation and we should focus on independent work."
 
While I wouldn't exactly describe the current period even in Pakistan, as a counter-revolutionary one, I think their assessment is a lot closer to reality than that of the IMT supporters. We can see here a parallel with the expulsion of the Iranian comrades. In Iran, Alan Woods is again carried away with radical hyperbole describing the situation as revolutionary, while the comrades on the ground make a more sober assessment. 
 
On the question of work in the PPP versus independent activity, one of the many problems of the leninist movement is the tendency of its leaders to view its comrades like followers that can be marshalled in one direction or another. The phrase often used by the IMT's leader, Alan Woods, and loved by all the other sectarian gurus is "All forces to the point of attack". But any sensible approach would understand that rather than moving members from one campaign or area of work to another, that cadres can only be made when comrades lay down long-term roots in the working class movements they are involved in. And that there is no need to pose 'either or' decisions on where the organisation works. Thus, there was no reason for the Pakistani comrades to decide to drop their long-term work in the PPP in favour of work outside. Both could be done and results compared over a period of time. And thus no need to push out the comrades who want to continue working in the PPP.
    
Manzoor's refusal to resign from his PPP positions, and his failure to attend a meeting of the International Executive Committee (echoes of the argument used against the Iranians) were the reasons cited for his expulsion. This was followed by expulsion of anyone who supported him which turned out to be a large section of the membership. The IMT leadership at first claimed that only Manzoor was outside the organisation. But it has become clear that a major proportion of the section have ended up in the Left opposition.
The turnout at the two rival conferences is no clear guide to the comparative membership numbers of the two bodies as Pakistan is famous for its large rallies. Even in the UK, I recall how Gerry Healy's SLL and then Workers Revolutionary Party was able to hold massive rallies of thousands but actually only had a few hundred members. That said, it is likely that Manzoor's organisation will have much greater influence among the workers because of their role in the PPP's Labor Federation. How this will work out in terms of membership will be proved in the coming years.
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