Workers’ unity can’t be easily broken – as is shown in this report by a visitor to the congress of the socialist group Jeddo-Jihad (Struggle) on 3rd and 4th November.
Pakistan is plagued by communal bigotry, the monstrous legacy bequeathed by British imperialism. In the days leading up to the congress, the entire country was paralysed by the agitation of fundamentalist mobs protesting at the acquittal on appeal, after nine years on death row, of a minority woman worker accused of blasphemy. For days on end, all the main roads were blocked and all phone signals were cut, bringing Pakistan to a near-standstill.
This situation created major logistical obstacles for comrades all over Pakistan trying to reach Lahore, and attendance was curtailed as a result; all the more credit to the persistence and dedication of the hundreds who overcame enormous obstacles to brave the communal mobs and the road blocks to get there.
The emergency caused by the fundamentalist agitation had been lifted only hours earlier, so many delegations were stranded en route and either arrived late or had to turn back. Nevertheless, 1500 still attended – a magnificent achievement. They had travelled in many cases for days through road blocks to reach the venue. The composition of the meeting was overwhelmingly proletarian, with a wide age range, maybe two-thirds being under 30, including a few teenagers and even children. Women comrades had faced particular difficulties in overcoming the fundamentalist blockade, and fewer than 100 were present; nevertheless a significant number.
The venue was the biggest auditorium in Lahore, costing the equivalent of £2,000. The hall was festooned with banners, wall posters, logos, portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky; and the debates were punctuated with revolutionary songs and poems, with a well-deserved ovation being given to one woman comrade whose late father was a revolutionary poet and who sang extraordinarily movingly. The organisation was highly professional, with streamlined conference hall management, stewarding and security features, body scanning, a loudspeaker system, badges designating delegates and visitors, etc., accommodation and transportation of delegates, and an efficient catering service, providing two lunches, an evening meal and a take-away packed meal for all 1500 attendees. There was a highly disciplined atmosphere throughout the congress. Its preparation and organisation were faultless, participation was comprehensive, and the level of debate remarkable; there were many outstanding speakers.
The elan and political level can’t be over-emphasised. There were times when it felt like walking into the pages of Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, or slipping through a hole in space-time into a congress of the Bolshevik party!
The contrast between the Pakistan of communal hatred displayed in all its ugliness on the streets and amplified in the world media, and the Pakistan of organised labour, of workers’ struggles and students’ willingness to learn displayed at these meetings sums up perfectly the stark choice posed by Rosa Luxemburg’s aphorism: socialism or barbarism.