The revolutionary upsurge which erupted in both parts of Pakistan from October 1968 to March 1969 and which resulted in the overthrow of the dictator Ayub, marks a turning point in the history of the IndoPak sub-continent. It shows quite clearly that despite the siege mentality of Pakistani politics (the fear of Communist ‘invasion’ in the cold war years, the threat of India, etc) the masses have succeeded in breaking through the ideological straightjacket in which they had been confined since the coup of October 1958.

What began initially as a student revolt and a revolt which for the first two months was sustained only by the heroism and determination of the Pakistani student movement, later enveloped the lower petty bourgeoisie and finally brought into play on a nationwide level the growing strength of the urban proletariat. The main feature of the upsurge was its spontaneity, and despite the fact that there had been a foretaste of this spontaneous working-class militancy during the 1966 railway-workers’ strike, the wildness with which the new upsurge burst on the Pakistani political scene took the established ‘left’ parties completely by surprise. For the first few weeks the latter refused to intervene and dismissed the revolt as just another student struggle which would be crushed by the dictatorship with ease. There is reason to believe that the ruling class, too, was harbouring the same misapprehension. In all fairness it should also be mentioned that the student movement itself was not aware during the first phase of the struggle of the forces it had set into motion. It was only after the December Incidents, when a student call for a General Strike in some urban centres met with an immediate and total response from the workers, that the more conscious elements began to realize the real strength of the movement they had detonated.

The upsurge spread like fire and engulfed every single urban centre in Pakistan. In West Pakistan many small towns which had been thought to be politically insignificant now showed their mettle for the first time as the urban masses battled with the police and attacked private property. The joint student-worker battles with the army and police, factory occupations, gheraos, the winning of unbelievably high wage demands by the workers and the possibility of dual power in some cities was not enough even to pose the question of a seizure of state power or to lead to an effective dual power situation. The main reason for this was the lack of a revolutionary vanguard party or even of small revolutionary groups of the sort which existed in France in May 1968, in Mexico in October 1968 and in Argentina at the beginning of 1969. For one whole week the structure of authority in Dacca, the capital city of East Pakistan, had completely collapsed. All initiative lay in the hands of the Students Action Committee (sac). Instead of mobilizing the masses and starting to implement some of its 11-point demands or at least posing the question of their implementation, instead of declaring Dacca a liberated city, the sac took over the role of the bourgeois state and its main triumph was to prevent the disruption of the cricket Test match between Pakistan and the mcc. No effort was made by any grouping to set up a People’s Council to govern the city with representatives from sac, the Peasant Associations and the factories. The latter was clearly a possibility, as many militants admitted in private discussions afterwards, and if steps had been taken in that direction it would have transformed the situation overnight, so that when the bourgeois parties united under the framework of dac (Democratic Action Committee) to start negotiating with Ayub, a People’s Council would have been the alternative present to the masses.

Despite the absence of revolutionary parties, there can be no doubt that the five-month upsurge represented a major step forward for the toiling masses in Pakistan.footnote1 It produced a growing feeling of selfconfidence among the masses and a realization of their own strength. This leap of consciousness enabled the masses, in particular the industrial working class, to continue their struggle for better working conditions and higher wages after the upsurge had been halted by the imposition of Martial Law and the take-over of power by the Army C-in-C, General Yahya Khan. Despite stringent military regulations banning strikes, there has been a continuation of the strike wave in both parts of the country since March 1969 which continues to the present time. Again the most startling aspect of the strike wave has been its spontaneity: the trade-union movement in Pakistan is extremely weak and the bulk of the official trade-union ‘leaders’ are either in the pay of the government or the bosses, and sometimes receive money from both. This has led to a great and spontaneous militancy at factory level. Despite the fact that workers have been shot dead by police during lockouts or that their leaders have been imprisoned and whipped, the government has been unable to halt the strike wave. And it was precisely in order to restrain the mass movement that the military government was forced to offer concessions such as the promised General Election for October 1970 (which has been postponed to December ‘because of the floods in East Pakistan’) on the basis of adult franchise. There can be no doubt that the election campaigns of the bourgeois and reformist parties have succeeded in diverting the militancy, but the ruling class is miscalculating if it imagines that a liberal-democratic régime will be able to contain the movement. The exact opposite will be the case, as the limited freedoms which any elected government will be forced to concede will give rise to an extension of political struggles and more co-ordinated factory rebellions. To visualize the future political development of Pakistan it is essential to define its historical background and the class structure of Pakistani society, which reveals the two options open to the country: gradual disintegration supervised by the United States, or socialist revolution.

The state of Pakistan emerged in 1947 as a result of the combined and uneven development of two national bourgeoisies in the Indian subcontinent. But whereas the Hindu bourgeoisie was capable of creating and sustaining its own political party, the Indian Congress (a party which, despite the recent split, has succeeded in preserving and maintaining bourgeois continuity and hegemony in India since Partition), its Muslim counterparts were too weak to create their own party, and instead supported the Muslim League. The League was a feudal formation which had been created in 1906 by Muslim nobles and landowners because they felt it was necessary to ‘foster a sense of loyalty to the British government among the Muslims of India’.footnote2 The feudal landlords financed the party and exercised control over it. Although the balance of forces was modified by the influx of petty-bourgeois elements in the late ’thirties, the latter could never exercise complete control, despite the abilities of their leader, Mohammed Ali Jinnah who became Pakistan’s first Governor-General after independence. Jinnah’s death a year after in 1948 removed the last restraint from the landlords. The Muslim masses, who had been beguiled by slogans of a ‘paradise on earth’ during the struggle for Pakistan, saw that it was the Muslim landlords who had acquired a country.

From 1948–58 Pakistan witnessed a decade of ‘parliamentary government’, but without a single General Election. The most important development was the complete disintegration of the Muslim League in the provincial elections in East Pakistan in 1954, where a League majority was smashed by a United Front opposition which won 300 seats out of 310. The defeat of the League in the East was followed by a growing anti-feudal movement in the West and it was becoming clear that a General Election might result in a government not firmly committed to United States imperialism. It was to forestall such an election that General Ayub seized power in October 1958. Given the class nature of the army and the social background of the officer élite a ‘Nasserite’ direction was ruled out from the first day of military dictatorship. From 1958 to 1968 there was no generalized challenge to Ayub’s power. The propaganda machine of the Ayub régime both internally and externally (mainly via The Times and The Guardian) presented a picture of glowing economic progress, reform, stability, etc. It is therefore only essential to study the class structure of Pakistani society to see that nothing much changed during the decade of darkness.

West Pakistan consists of four provinces, Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan, and the North West Frontier Province (nwfp).