Firefighting for the Ruling Classes …. Dr. Rasheed Hasan Khan
A note on the paper “Strength of the Streets…” About the Labour Movement
and the Struggle in Karachi in 1972 by Kamran Asdar Ali
Kamran Asdar Ali has chosen a very important period in the history of the labor movement in Pakistan as the focus of his research. In general terms, his overview of the labor movement, especially the events of June and October 1972, are fairly accurate and objective, but errors are to be found in some inferences he has drawn from certain past events. Moreover, his penchant for the frequent inclusion of certain subjective opinions as facts, mars the quality of the paper as an authoritative scientific research paper.
Kamran Asdar Ali writes —–
“In its effort to re-establish state authority after the debacle in Bangladesh, the Bhutto
Government not only crushed the radicalized movement but sought to reconfigure the
Working class according to its own vision of clientilist politics. There was also severe
repression, in the shape of arrests and dismissals, of any dissenting voice from within the
working class. “
This is the key to understanding the events of 1972. Contrary to many liberal Social Democratic critics of the Bhutto regime, he has grasped the most important element in the dynamics of the events of 1972. He has placed the onus of the critical post-election shift in the policy of the PPP where it belongs, rather than make bureaucracy the scapegoat and shift the blame from the real decision makers.
His account of the unsuccessful but relentless struggle of working people in the period between the exit of the Ayub Regime and the installation of the Bhutto Regime (1969-71) for the acquisition of minimal basic demands, provide the backdrop of suffering and misery, which the faithless Bhutto regime caused to overflow in a lava of despair and violence when it used naked force to subdue the working class. But he fails to make the most important inference i.e. the premeditated violence by the government in Feroze Sultan Textile Mills on June 7/1972, gave rise to a spontaneous movement of protest and resistance. Neither the workers nor the trade union leaders were responsible for the catastrophe or its aftermath.
There were only two rational options in that situation. One, to try to organize and give correct direction to the movement, or, Two, act as the firefighters of the exploitative system and renege on the commitment to the working class and the oppressed people. There were many Social Democratic critics, then and later on during and after the struggle in Landhi in October 1972, who, behind the parapet of Working Class Politics hurled epithets of Left Extremism, adventurism and what not, while covertly holding the brief for the government and the exploiting classes. To put it bluntly, at that juncture, working class in Karachi was a target of a brutal campaign of suppression, what line of action would these ‘friends of the working class’ advocate that would be correct politically? Kamran Asdar Ali should have given deep thought to the issue and put down his own inference from facts rather than repeat the self serving epithets hurled at the workers by the firefighters of the ruling junta in his paper.
Another very serious canard he has included in his paper goes as follows—
“These leaders, along with radical elements in other communist groups, such as the MKP, guided the workers. They believed that the state had become weak due to its defeat in eastern Pakistan/Bangladesh and the workers had finally arisen from their slumber. This, according to them, was an insurrectionary moment much like that of 1917 in Russia. They argued that once
State violence against the working classes would be exposed; the nation and all the progressive forces would rise in their support and sweep the state away. “
To be brief, political thoughts are not for personal edification only, if this was the analysis of ‘these leaders’ then the same would also have been broadcast to the public via pamphlet, posters and all means of mass communication. Did Mr. Kamran Asdar see any shred of such evidence before he included this ‘valuable information’ in his monograph?
Another important issue that he touched upon in the paper is the issue of Language Riots in July 1972,
“As the strike progressed, a section of the middle-class Mohajir population in Karachi
was gearing up for another fight. The creation of Bangladesh and the dissolution of the
One Unit system had opened up the long-dormant language and ethnicity question in
Pakistani politics.66 Within this context, as the labor struggle was continuing in Karachi,
the Sind government made a corresponding move as a response to sustained demands by
the Sindhi people to restore the original status of Sindhi as a compulsory second language
in schools. The bill also favored, without prejudice to the national language (Urdu), the
gradual learning of Sindhi by all provincial government officials. This bill created a
violent reaction by a large section of Karachi’s Mohajir population that was closely
aligned with the Urdu language and its constructed linkage with Muslim nationalism.67”
By now the people of Pakistan have become well acquainted with the tactic of the political ‘red herring’ or creating a diversion by raising another issue and smothering the old issue. Language riots were fomented by the PPP government to side track public attention from the sheer horror of the carnage in the industrial area in Karachi and the less than spectacular Simla Agreement.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, let us make it very clear that we have always struggled for the political, economic and cultural rights of all nationalities of Pakistan. We opposed one unit, we struggled for the change in the nomenclature of NWFP in line with the wishes of the people and the use of Sindhi as one of the official languages of Sindh.
In conclusion, it must be said that that true historiography does not consist of a transcription of conflicting versions of the same events but comprises of deriving correct conclusion from facts about the motive forces and the dynamics of historical events. If one is to sidestep the onerous task of gathering facts before putting the pen to paper, the result at best would be a compendium of conjecture and kitchen gossip.