CLASS STRUGGLE IN PAKISTAN There are obvious reasons that, as socialists, a discussion of the state of 'class struggle' in any

society is relevant. Analytically, we're with Marx in arguing that the essence of any social formation is the set of social relations that govern the production and distribution of the social surplus.1 The analytical dividends of this claim are the basis, obviously, of its political relevance, as well. The nature of the class structure governs the contours of the class struggle. Political interventions will be more effective to the extent that we're familiar with this general terrain, and can anticipate its likely evolution— that is, where struggle is likely to emerge, what sort of strategies are best suited to advance it, etc. These are all reasons that a discussion of 'class structure/struggle' is relevant, as regards any society.
1 I'm not sure how many of you have had to suffer through social theory seminars with graduate students, but in my experience this premise—which in my opinion is foundational to any critical, Left project—is routinely pilloried for being reductive, crude, Eurocentric, etc. The critique, as expressed by Dipesh Chakrabarty, for example, is that there will always be some 'excess stuff' left over—something particular to any given society that simply can't be explained by a universal framework. The label Chakrabarty gives to this gibberish is 'ontological plurality'—humans don't exist, he argues, in a single frame of 'secular and historical time.' His gripe, of course, is with the alleged Eurocentrism of Marxism. When you take the methods of Marxism and apply them to India, he's suggesting, you can't make sense of its irreducible 'Indian-ness.' The pithy Marxist rejoinder is not to deny that societies everywhere are different. It's of course true that societies have properties that are particular to them. Where Marxists differ, though, from folks like Chakrabarty, is in our understanding of the significance of this specificity. One of Chakrabarty's grievances, in 'Provicincializing Europe' illustrates this distinction to the letter. Chakrabarty, quite rightly, notes the follies of one kind of Marxist argument regarding economic development—the unfortunate claim that 'more developed countries show the less developed the image of their future.' As Chakrabarty notes, this can't capture the Indian experience—the growth that characterized English capitalism in its heyday was entirely absent from the subcontinent. But the lesson that Chakrabarty derives, from this fact, is entirely the wrong one—for him, the specificity of the Indian experience demonstrates the bankruptcy of any 'universal' theory of economic development—and, what's a corollary, the inapplicability of any claims about development based on the English experience, to India. Some things about India are just irreducibly 'Indian.' This, I hope it's clear, is simply mysticism parading as theory. The problem with the 'modernization'-Marxist argument is that it inaccurately specifies the universal lessons of the English experience—not that it attempts to learn universal lessons. To say this a different way: the problem is not the basic claim that, universally, the laws of motion of a society (i.e., in this case, the contours of economic development) are a product of certain facts about its social structure. The problem was that, in the modernization-Marxist argument, England and India were understood to share a set of structural parameters. In reality, owing to several historical facts—the impact of colonialism foremost among them—India was distinct from 19th century England. What Marxism does, then, is express specificity in terms of arguments and categories that are still universal—that apply, equally, to England and India.

But when it comes to Pakistan, I think, the stakes are higher still. The staple verdict on the country—swallowed whole hog by the mainstream, but also, unfortunately, by a handful on the Left—is that Pakistan is lost to the Islamists. The furor around the Blasphemy Laws, the alleged penetration of the Army by fundamentalists, semi-regular suicide bombings in city centers, and an active Taliban insurgency in the northwest all seem to confirm that Pakistan has been overrun by the religious right. A key tenet of this narrative is the claim that the concerns of ordinary Pakistanis are principally Islamist ones—they’re worried about medieval propriety, the corrosive influence of a ‘decadent’ West, the ‘Christian’ crusaders in Afghanistan, etc. The added virtue of a discussion of 'class struggle in Pakistan,' then, is to expose the sheer idiocy of all this. The mainstream narrative is clearly ideological, in the traditional sense of the word—it's the Islamophobic foundation of the War on Terror. Pakistan, we're told, is not much more than a waffling Army, a handful of brave secular elites, and the 180 million-strong barbarian horde that they frantically restrain. What better way to terrify domestic populations into swallowing whole the imperial mission? The narrative cannot admit of the basic fact that, as in any other society, ordinary Pakistanis harbor immense grievances against their economic and political overlords. A soon as one starts to discuss utility workers on hunger strike, protesting doctors being shot in front of the Chief Minister's house, or thirty thousand peasants blocking one of the country's main highways (all events which have happened in the last few months), the image of a unitary Islamist horde starts to dissolve. In the time that I have, then, I'm going to do my best to offer an introduction to class structure and class struggle in Pakistan. What I have is admittedly very schematic, which is only partly a consequence of the fact that there's not much time. For various reasons, I’ve organized this as a discussion of four 'actors': the Islamists, the nationalists (in the sense of national liberation movements), the peasantry, and the labour movement. I. ISLAMISTS As regards the various Islamist groups in Pakistan, I have two points. First—the main reason to mention the Islamists, in connection with class struggle, is to make explicit a point I alluded to above: specifically, that in

Pakistan, these groups are considerably weaker than is commonly thought. They’re much less influential, for example, than their closest cousins in the Middle East. An imperfect illustration of this is the support that the religious parties have garnered at the polls—peaking at 11% of the popular vote in 2002, but down to roughly 3% in 2008. It’s true that this fact alone probably overstates their isolation. They certainly wield extra-parliamentary influence in ways that the Left can’t match. Yet, even in terms of street power, they’re hardly hegemonic. The world was abuzz, for example, when they put 50,000 on the streets of Karachi after the murder of Salman Taseer; but no one will have heard that secular Sindhi nationalists managed to mobilize more than three times that number, a year earlier. Second—in line with the theme of this session, where the Islamists have made inroads, socialists have to be materialists about the phenomenon. I’m reminded of Chris Harman’s great pamphlet, ‘The Prophet and the Proletariat,’ in which he takes great pains to do this, addressing the class basis of the various Islamist groups across the region.2 In Pakistan, there are two main religious parties: the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), and the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F). While they’ve entered into alliances in the past (in 2002, a grouping to which both were central won provincial elections in the NWFP), they are still very different organizations. The JI's base is the urban middle-class—very much of a piece with the revivalist, political Islam you see elsewhere. This was especially true when they first emerged, until the rise of the MQM robbed them of much of their base in Karachi. The party got its legs under Zia's dictatorship, who patronized them heavily as a counterweight to the PPP and the Left. They have a very active student wing, with whom Lefties have routinely dueled on campus—only recently there have been battles at a university in the Punjab over men and women sitting together in class. The JUI-F, on the other hand, has a largely rural support base—not quite rooted in the 'old exploiters,' but more in the clerical class, who benefited tremendously from money flowing in during the Afghan jihad. The party is widely derided for its almost comical opportunism: they sat in a coalition with Musharraf's government, and then again in coalition with the civilian government that was the result of his overthrow. It's difficult to overstate how reactionary they are— when Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian minister, was assassinated a few months ago,
2 Islamism of the old exploiters, Islamism of the new exploiters, Islamism of the rural poor, Islamism of the new middle class.

the JUI's parliamentarians refused to stand for a two minute silence in the National Assembly.3 Of course, there’s a whole slew of Islamist groups that steer clear of the political process. There are the Taliban-type insurgent groups, most active in the Northwest, who cross the border to fight against NATO in Afghanistan, but have also declared war on what they see as a ‘collaborationist’ Pakistani State. And there are various forms of very reactionary, often armed Islamist groups operating inside Pakistan–the Sipah-e-Sahba and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi foremost among them—who hew to a solidly sectarian agenda. There have been a few debates on the Left about how one ought to understand these groups. Not so much the sectarian types (who probably consist of 'lumpen' elements, in the main), but specifically the insurgencies in the NW. Some have argued that they represent the longstanding grievances that the rural poor of the region harbor against landlords and the State. Others, though, have claimed that their basis is more petit-bourgeois—sometimes, even, arguing that they represent a form of ‘fascism.’ This was the argument made by a communist party that made the grave mistake of backing the State’s very heavy-handed offensives against the Taliban. I don't really think it's worth our while to adjudicate between these positions in any detail, right now—my sympathies are with the former position, but the data to make it forcefully just doesn’t exist. Instead, what I’d like to note, before moving on, is that in my experience the spirit of Harman’s political recommendation in that pamphlet—‘with the Islamists sometimes, with the State never,’—doesn't have much resonance amongst the Pakistani Left. I’m not prepared to argue that this is a mistake, either. It is clear that in many recent instances where the Left has been successful (as in a recent trade-union movement in Faisalabad), it has worked unhesitatingly with individuals who have been greatly influenced by political Islam, or even who retain ties to Islamist groups. The better activists understand that in a country like Pakistan one builds a secular, left-wing movement by meeting people where they’re at, and gradually winning their confidence by defending their interests as workers, peasants, students, etc.—not by making ideological clarity a prerequisite for solidarity or even cooperation. This said, there have been great reservations about allying, organizationally,
3 White 2008

with the religious groups. Where the Left has shared a platform with the Islamists, the controversies have been severe [APDM]. Anyway, enough about political Islam (after saying it's not that important, I've spent ten minutes on it!) II.NATIONALISTS An aspect of Pakistani politics that is unfailingly underplayed, when it comes to lay coverage of the country, is the importance of provincial nationalism. In the three peripheral provinces (Sindh, KPK, and Balochistan), issues of national liberation have enormous salience. Indeed, for much of Pakistan’s history, these movements have carried the flag of progressive politics. This fact, it should be said, is a function of the exceedingly artificial character of the country. I can’t delve into details, here, except to emphasize that the movement behind Pakistan’s creation was a motley alliance of elites that never had meaningful roots in the country they would come to govern. One measure of this is the fact that ‘Urdu’, which was the ‘Pakistan’ movement’s ideological and linguistic bedrock, was spoken by only 7.3% of the population in 1951!4 The treachery of the project is perhaps best exemplified by the very bloody liberation of Bangladesh (what was East Pakistan) in 1971. For twenty-three years, the people of the province were effectively the subjects of a colonial occupation: pitilessly exploited economically, and denied their linguistic and cultural rights. Unsurprisingly, in this context the nationalists (and the Left worked under their ambit, broadly-speaking) were always the most popular political force in the province. When the central government annulled the results of the 1970 elections, in which nationalists had won a stunning majority (167 of 169 seats), and sent in the Army, the population rose in rebellion. Liberation came a few months later, but not before the Pakistani Army had brutally slaughtered hundreds of thousands. 40 years on from Bangladesh’s independence, the issue lives on in each of the peripheral provinces. Owing in part to the legacy of the British period but also to certain facts about Pakistan’s independence, the province of Punjab has emerged as the economic and political heartland of Pakistan. For example, the percentage of the population living in severe poverty is 25% in Punjab, but 49% in rural
4 The underdevelopment of the country, the lack of a common political tradition, and grave errors made by the Communist Party of India around Pakistan's independence all help explain why the nationalists, and not the independent Left, were strong in the early years of Pakistan.

Sindh, 51% in the NWFP, and 88% in Balochistan; similarly, while 29% of the Punjab's districts are classified as 'high deprivation', the number is 50% in Sindh, 62% in the NWFP, and 92 per cent in Balochistan. Of course, these grievances have not manifested themselves identically, in each province. On the one hand, in KPK the bearer of the nationalist cause is a mainstream political party sitting in alliance with the current PPP government; on the other hand, in Balochistan, nationalist insurgents are fighting the province’s fifth war of liberation against an exceedingly brutal central State. There isn’t time to explore the contradictions of these movements, individually— the extent to which they deserve the Left's allegiance varies greatly. In general, though, we can say that the Pakistani Left’s attitude to nationalism has always had to be more Lenin than Luxemburg. Self-determination has rightly been understood as a cause to which the Left owes its unconditional, even if not uncritical, support. In a country where provincial antagonisms remain so pronounced, it’s also unsurprising that many a Left activist has come to Marxism through engagement with the national question. III. AGRARIAN QUESTION

A central property of Pakistan's underdevelopment—in addition to this unevenness, across provinces—is the fact that some 63% of the population still lives in the countryside. This represents an awesome number of people: about 111 million. The figure is a little less impressive, but still large, if you look only at the share of the labour force that is employed in agriculture: out of a total labour force of about 55 million, about 44% (or 24 million) derive their income from agricultural activity. Of course, things have changed quite a bit, since independence: then, the ruralurban split was roughly 80-20, and the share of employment in agriculture was as high as 65%. Whereas the agricultural sector represented about half of GDP, then, it's down to less than a quarter, today. Nonetheless, all things considered, it's impossible to deny the contemporary importance of the agrarian question, in Pakistan. I don't want to wade into the details of debates about the precise character of Pakistan's agrarian transition (i.e., from feudal to capitalist). For our purposes it's sufficient to note a few things. Pakistan inherited a highly concentrated ownership structure in which precapitalist relations of production were dominant—sharecroppers cultivated a bit

over 50% of all land in Sindh and the Punjab. Though there were parts of the country in which small peasant-proprietors existed (roughly 30% of land in Punjab), their weight was weak.5 Despite this, the country never had meaningful land reforms. Two attempts, one in the 1950s and then one in the 1970s, had only cosmetic effects (a 'third', nominally more radical, was snuffed out by Zia's dictatorship on the pretext of being 'un-Islamic'). The result has been that the current agrarian structure has evolved not as a result of dramatic political intervention (as in China or E. Asia, for example), but as a consequence of secular pressures on the agrarian economy (i.e., the effects of things like population growth, competition between sectors of the agrarian economy, rural-to-urban migration, State policy in supporting certain kinds of crops/inputs/etc. (as in the GR))6 It's widely agreed that these factors have had a few important consequences: tenancy arrangements are much less common than they were at independence; the proportion of small and marginal landholdings seems to have increased (0 – 12.5 acre region); and there has been a broad consolidation of large and very large landholdings (50 – 150, and 150 and above).7 Over the course of the agricultural sector's evolution, there has been a marked rise in the proportion of agricultural output that goes to market: from about 12% in the early 1950s, the figure is at or above 80%.8 As best as one can make out, all this points to a consolidation of capitalist relations of production in Pakistani agriculture. Though large landowners still exist, they seem to have gradually been transforming themselves into capitalist farmers, increasingly employing wage workers rather than renting out land to tenant farmers. The obverse of this dynamic, of course, has been the marginalization and proletarianization of the poorest strata of the agrarian population—many have either been rendered landless (about 50% of Pakistan's rural population), or pushed into the slums of Pakistan's cities. Tellingly, a significant portion of their income now comes from sources other than agriculture.9 Alongside them, a peasant economy has survived (i.e., owneroperators using family labour), but on landholdings that are smaller in size than they were in the early decades of Pakistan's history.10
5 6 7 8 9 10 23, Zaidi 53, Zaidi 49-54, Zaidi 21, Zaidi 70% of the income of the bottom 40% of the population, according to a WB study. 49, Zaidi

What has all this meant, for struggle? Unfortunately it hasn't meant as much as one might have hoped, in terms of Left politics. The politicization of the peasantry was always much more pronounced in East Pakistan, which had a much less feudal agrarian structure. The peak of the class struggle in the West, in 1968-1969, more-or-less bypassed the peasantry. There was a short-lived Maoist insurgency in the 1970s, located mainly in a few districts in NWFP—and it actually still has a presence, though much, much weakened. The most promising example, in recent years, has been a movement centered in the district of Okara, in the Punjab. It was rooted in a set of productive relations specific to that part of the country, in which tenant farmers were directly employed by the State (in Okara's case, on farms run by the mililtary). The movement erupted in 2000, after the Army attempted to renegotiate the terms of the farmers' contract in a way that seemed to clear the way for their eventual eviction. It soon spread to nine other districts where tenants are employed by various arms of the State, and spawned an organization known as the Anjaman-eMazareen-e-Punjab. The AMP claims about one million members, and has spearheaded a struggle for ownership rights that is still ongoing. While there are organizational and political flaws aplenty in the movement, and it hasn't really expanded beyond its very specific geographic and social base—it is worth emphasizing that it remains, 11 years on, resoundingly militant, and routinely willing to resort to mass action in pursuit of its demands.11 IV. THE WORKING-CLASS

Let me move, now, to briefly discussing the labour movement. Some historical context is in order, here—it's not often known that, though the trade unions are organizationally pretty weak, this hasn't always been the case in Pakistan. Newly independent Pakistan lacked a meaningful industrial base; it inherited only 9% of the industrial enterprises that existed in British India. The result was that, with the exception of a very political group of railway workers, there was only a very small urban working-class, and thus not much of a national labour movement to speak of.12 Understandably, the country's planners saw such severe underdevelopment as
11 Akhtar 2006 12 1946 strength in W. Pakistan was about 115,000. in E. Pakistan, about 245,000 (Shaheed)

an enormous obstacle to Pakistan's viability. And for this reason (as well as the fact that initial industrialization is easier, as a rule), the first two decades of independence were marked by rapid rates of industrial growth—by the mid1960s, the sector accounted for almost 20% of GDP, and employed about 18% of the working population. An urban proletariat was born, concentrated around industrial clusters in Pakistan's major cities. Naturally, this had great implications, for struggle. From the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, the labour movement was an important political actor. There were a couple of years of elevated mobilization in the midto-late 50s, which were actually the setting for the first coup. (When the military government took over, it issued a labour policy that banned strikes in all public utilities—the added proviso being that, under the ordinance, almost all of the country's industries would be considered 'public utilities'!). Labour was a persistent thorn in the regime nonetheless, and it would play a leading role in the extraordinary wave of mobilization in 1968-1969 that brought the regime down. As some of you no doubt know, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto rode the 68-69 movement into power, and initially eased some restrictions on the labour movement— releasing some jailed leaders and making it easier to form trade unions. But when this led to autonomous action, as in a wave of mobilization in Karachi only a few months after his government came to power, he didn't hesitate to unleash the full force of the State against them. Speaking roughly, given the weakness of independent working-class organization in this period (which was a consequence of the fact that many on the organized Left had stood aside in 68-69, allowing Bhutto and the PPP to take many of the plaudits), the betrayal of the Bhutto years was probably the first of three factors that account for the gradual decline of the labour movement. The second was, undoubtedly, the fearsome repression under the dictatorship that overthrew Bhutto—Zia's government. Under ML, the minimum penalty for striking was 25 years imprisonment, and labour activity was banned in the promise of 'industrial peace.' All this understandably immobilized both the trade union movement and the Left. The third factor—and one that isn't really foregrounded enough—is the onset of neoliberalism in Pakistan, which began in earnest in the late 80s and early 90s, after the transition to democracy. A spate of privatizations led to public sector employment halving, between 1991 and 1998, which robbed the trade union

movement of many former strongholds. Anemic economic progress over the neoliberal period has placed severe structural obstacles in the way of workers, today: the proportion of the Pakistani labour force employed in manufacturing has actually declined, down to 13% today—the figure was as high as 18% in the mid-1960s, and still at 15% in the late 1970s. These decades have also been accompanied by a growth of casual labour, high levels of real unemployment, and the increasing informalization of work, all of which raise the costs of industrial action. Moreover, general trends towards proletarianization in rural areas aren't easy to take advantage of, since labour unions are banned from organizing agricultural enterprises under Pakistani labour law. The consequence of all this is that working-class organization is uniformly pretty weak. Something in the region of 2 million workers belong to unions, but even these are of very varying political promise. It is true that the recent economic crisis has brought an uptick in struggle; like in many other parts of the underdeveloped world, real wages have plummeted in the face of skyrocketing commodity prices. Many prominent struggles have erupted in the last couple of years, including an extraordinary strike of something approaching a 100,000 power-loom workers in the city of Faisalabad. Ongoing, as we speak, is a struggle of 4,500 workers at a recently-privatized utility company in Karachi. But whether these actions are laying the foundations for a regenerated trade union movement and a revitalized Left is still, unfortunately, a little less clear. CONCLUSION So, in closing, where does all this leave us? Roughly-speaking, I think that Leftists here have two different kinds of obligations, regarding Pakistan. The first is an intellectual one, which is to insist on the kind of structuring thesis that this session has been urging on us: Pakistan, like any other society, is defined primarily by its class structure—its population, first and foremost, consists of workers, poor peasants, landless agricultural workers, what have you, whose principal grievances are a property of their exploitation. As I've been arguing, this way of approaching the country is not only infinitely

more rewarding, analytically, but it also has the welcome effect of undermining the support systems of this nation's imperial adventures. This, in turn, relates to our second obligation, here in the US, which is a political obligation to rebuild the antiwar movement. Obama has given the gohead for a full-blooded commitment to two more summers of fighting, in Afghanistan, with the promise of only a slow drawdown after that. Counterterrorism operations in the form of drones and night raids are slated to continue indefinitely. Aside from the misery it promises to the people of the region, the US war in AfPak is simply not propitious for Left revival in Pakistan. Not only does the empowerment of the military and the State apparatus threaten to squeeze the oxygen out of popular movements, but the US' actions give succor to right-wing narratives that would explain empire as a modern-day assault on the 'Islamic ummah.' When the religious alliance won the provincial elections in 2002, as I mentioned previously, anti-imperialist sentiment after the invasion of Afghanistan was a leading factor. To the extent that we succeed in building a mass anti-war movement in this country, of course, these narratives cease to have much resonance. There aren't many better counter-arguments to the trope of a Western crusade than hundreds of thousands of ordinary 'Westerners' protesting the murderous policies of their own governments. In this sense, there's a nice symmetry to the ideological effects of the reviving of struggle, in both countries. The right-wing, here and in Pakistan, is fond of telling ordinary people that they're locked in a 'Clash of Civilizations', allied with their co-religionists or countrymen, in a battle against the heathens on the other side. Our key insight, as socialists, and the promise of the struggles to which we must lend our weight, in each country, is precisely the opposite. We understand, instead, that ordinary people everywhere are locked in a common fight—against conniving ruling-classes in a struggle to forge something resembling a habitable world. In many ways, despite many an encouraging struggle in both the US and Pakistan, times have been a little lean, recently. But if we have learned anything from the Arab World, it is that lean times aren't really a good predictor of anything.

Thanks.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful