COMMENT: Winds of change —Lal Khan - Sunday, February 13, 2011

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Mass protests and general strikes have taken place in Bangladesh. There is hardly any country where the working masses have not been affected and inspired by this movement in the Middle East. But some of the most scintillating repercussions are being witnessed in Pakistan in the present period

As the Arab revolution rages on from the coast of the Mediterranean to the waters of the Arabian Sea, shock waves have ripped through the echelons of power from Washington to Beijing. The despotic rulers of the region strenuously urged Mubarak to hold on. They were well aware that if the despot of the largest economy and country in the Arab world fell, their fate is sealed.

The Saudi monarchy seems to be particularly worried. It is riddled with conflicts of succession. The Saudi Arabian population, deprived of basic freedoms and unemployment close to 10 percent, could be vulnerable to the Tunisian and Egyptian syndrome.

As Karl Marx remarked, “When there is a revolution from below there are reforms from above.” Most of these regimes, from Jordan to Morocco and from Algeria to Yemen are offering reforms and concessions. They are announcing increased subsidies on basic goods, from petroleum to flour and making promises of pay rises.

Yet the impact of the revolutionary events refuses to relent and in one country after another there are unprecedented uprisings. In Kuwait the youth are calling to launch a resistance movement against the regime. In the Palestinian territories another intifada is looming on the horizon. Linked with this pan-Arab revolt it will have much larger reverberations than ever before. Hamas has been exposed in the Gaza strip, as is the Palestinian Authority that is rapidly losing its social base amongst the Palestinian masses.

Demonstrations in support of the Arab revolution have been repressed in several countries of the Middle East, including the West Bank and Gaza.

However, the most significant development of the Egyptian revolution is the entrance of the proletariat into the arena of history. Factories in Alexandria have been occupied and the workers of the Suez Canal have gone on strike. These developments are symptoms of the depth the movement is gaining.

The Islamic fundamentalists are in no position to control the uprising. That is one of the reasons why Hamas is not enthusiastic about the upheavals in Egypt. In a recent article in Time Magazine, Bruce Riedel — an experienced CIA official — actually came out in support of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is an important sign of the policy the imperialists are contemplating.

At the present moment in time they are extremely worried about the unfolding events in the region and behind the scenes at least important sections of the US ruling class are hoping for the exhaustion of the movement. They are talking about a “harmonious transition”.

However, the democratic set-up they want to impose would be “of the rich, for the rich and by the rich”. It would not solve any of the problems that were the real causes of this mass rebellion. With the exacerbating economic crisis poverty, unemployment and deprivation will only worsen.

Apart from the Arab despotic regimes the Zionist “democratic” regime in Israel is no less worried by the revolt. They have openly come out in support of Mubarak, which says a lot.

Interestingly this mass upsurge has had repercussion across the planet. One of the countries that have severely suppressed information about these events is China. Just by searching the word “Egypt” on China’s main Twitter service, Sino Weibo, produces a warning that “according to the relevant laws, regulations and policies, the search results have not been displayed”. This depicts the fear mass movements evoke in the regime that has been restoring capitalism in China.

Mass protests and general strikes have taken place in Bangladesh. There is hardly any country where the working masses have not been affected and inspired by this movement in the Middle East. But some of the most scintillating repercussions are being witnessed in Pakistan in the present period.

The revolutionary events in Tunisia had a deep impact on the struggle of the power sector workers of the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC). The courage and militancy they gained from the Tunisian workers and youth helped them win an important victory by the reinstatement of 4,300 fired workers.

Similarly, the events in Egypt have been instrumental in the sudden explosion of the struggle of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). This was one of the most privileged sections of the Pakistani proletariat. The attempt to privatise some routes of the PIA has given vent to other grievances of the employees. The incumbent regime will most probably have to retreat in this conflict too.

There are already simmering movements in telecommunications, postal services, WAPDA, railways and other state sector enterprises and institutions. If the struggles of the workers can unite in a large scale national movement this could unleash political upheaval.

As the Keynesian economic model of propping up capitalism began to crumble in the late 1970s, the “trickle-down” economics of Thatcherism was blindly followed by the ruling classes of these former colonial countries. State owned enterprises are considered unprofitable in a global economy with debilitating state intervention and massive public deficits. The ferocious forces of the market create razor sharp competition that makes the survival of state capitalist companies difficult. Hence the mantra of the dominant media and intelligentsia is privatisation, restructuring and deregulation.

In the last 30 years we have seen and experienced the disastrous results of these policies. The only way out of this crisis is the complete transformation of the market economy into a socialist planned economy under the democratic control and management of the workers.

The opinion makers of the ruling class are dismissing the possibility of an Egypt or Tunisia type revolutionary movement in Pakistan. They cite the religious, national and ethnic conflicts in society that would hamper such an outcome. Yet they forget that just days before the upheaval Egypt saw attacks on Coptic Christians and their churches. The same kinds of conflicts in Pakistan were cut across by the class unity of the working classes during the 1968-69 revolution.

There is an old saying of the Arab caravan guides, “The darkest hour of the night is its last hour.” The Arab revolution is piercing through that last part of the dark night of coercion and oppression of the working people. A new epoch has dawned. A new resilience of the class struggle has arisen. It is a new beginning.

The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at

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