Challenging imperialism

By Khurram Ali

Pakistan only witnessed genuine anti-imperialist movements in its early period, chiefly led by various socialist groups. In contrast, the Right, which remained a strong supporter of US imperialism in those days, not only received support from the West but also played a key role in fighting such anti-imperialist movements.

Even though many Islamic scholars and veterans of the Pakistan movement – including Molana Bhashani (called Mao-lana by the Jamaat-e-Islami) – were playing a leading role in such communist movements, rightwing parties and military dictators often used the labels of ‘ghaddar’ and ‘kafir’ to discredit such movements.

Since the late 60s, centrists and rightwing forces have realized that the people are aware of the fact that US imperialism is dominating Pakistan and is therefore indirectly responsible for their suffering. When constant repression and continuous censorship wiped socialists out of politics, populist leaders within rightwing and centrist parties started using anti-American rhetoric. But they subtracted the concept of imperialism from it, so that it turns into a mere slogan or a question of foreign policy. This is precisely why every such party chanted the slogan of anti-Americanism on the streets but implemented the neoliberal policies of the IMF and the World Bank when in power.

Without passing any judgment on the former prime minister, the way a significant section of society has responded to his anti-US rhetoric is encouraging. It reflects that the people of Pakistan still have an idea about who is controlling the policies and decisions of Pakistan and is somehow responsible for the deplorable situation a regular person is forced to live in. It is important therefore that these raw sentiments are provided with scientific understanding to channelize this anger in the right direction, instead of completely rejecting it because of its rightwing tendency.

Mao Tse-tung, who fought various imperialist powers to develop China into a truly sovereign nation state with an independent economic, political and foreign policy, recognized how imperialist countries like the US can still economically and politically dominate semi-feudal and semi-colonial countries like Pakistan, which are not under direct colonial rule. According to him, this domination is a result of a specific ruling elite comprising feudal lords, multinational companies, compradors (capitalists who rely on foreign companies and capital) and above all a section of state machinery involved in economic and capitalist activities.

All of these powers are direct beneficiaries of imperialism, and facilitate its control by not only furthering its policies but also keeping the country backward and dependent on exports of cheap raw material and natural resources instead of developing finished commodities. The trade deficit which results from exporting cheap raw material and importing finished products then forces the governments to seek loans from imperialist banks and financial institutions like IMF and World Bank. These institutions then further enforce such policies on these weak countries that keep weakening their economies and block their way towards real development and independence. It is a never-ending cycle which is maintained through a semi-feudal economic system and semi-colonial state structure.

This is precisely why the government of any political party or military dictator has not resulted in any significant change in the country. Pakistan is primarily an agrarian society with not more than 10 cities which could qualify as purely urban. While there are a significant number of semi-urban cities, still more than 50 percent of its population lives in rural areas, which are economically and politically dominated by a few families. Every political party and even military dictator looks upon these families, who are often termed electables, to form a stable government. Even the PTI, with much of its emphasis on new politics and the urban middle class, had no choice but to incorporate such compradors and feudal lords like Jahangir Tareen and Shah Mehmood Qureshi and seek support of certain powerful institutions entrenched in capitalist functions.

Therefore, it is impossible to expect a shift from the semi-colonial system towards an independent socio-political and economic system while there are in place feudal and comprador dominated assemblies, a state machinery running on IMF and World Bank loans and an underdeveloped economy which cannot survive on its own. Having said that, there are examples of several semi-feudal countries, above all China, that have been able to defeat imperialist forces and develop independent economies despite such hurdles. Having said that, almost all of them took a scientific approach and a leftwing route, instead of sentimental yet hollow patriotic and religious slogans.

Instead of making compromises with compradors, feudals and state machinery for a shortcut to power where they would not be able to do anything, they identified workers and peasants as the primary forces for any movement against imperialist domination, the semi-colonial structure and semi-feudal economy – and rallied all the oppressed forces, including the progressive section of the middle class to develop a united revolutionary front. It is not that the role of the urban youth was not important in this fight but that it recognized that their role should be to provide those ideological and other modern tools to workers and peasants which are necessary for them to politically fight against this system of imperialist oppression.

After coming to power, they redistributed the land to end feudalism, developed state controlled industries to produce finished products instead of cheap material for foreign capital and privatized multinational companies, developed a balance between agriculture and industry, made all state institutions subservient to political institutions and, above all, rejected the profit-oriented economy in favour of a need-based economy. It is this approach that allowed leaders like Mao to fight multiple imperialist powers and make their nations economically and politically independent.

I hope that the middle class youth chanting anti-American slogans today understands that imperialism is an entrenched system and to free Pakistan from its clutches would require a left-wing approach. It is important to chant slogans but the real task is to align oppressed classes, nations, genders and others to fight the current semi-colonial and semi-feudal system prevalent in Pakistan. Above all, it would need love and respect towards the people. As Mao recognized: “the people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history.”

The writer is an educationist and former central organiser of the National Students Federation (NSF). He can be reached at:

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