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Volume 6 Issue 02| February 2012



Original Forum

Readers' Forum
The 'Indigenous' Experiment
-- Hana Shams Ahmed

A Forgotten People

-- Shudeepto Ariquzzaman

Living Culture

-- Interview with Prof. Anisuzzaman
To Be or Not To Be:Culture conflict of Bangladeshis at home and abroad
-- Ziauddin Choudhury

Trans-nationalism and Identity: The multinational Bangladeshis
-- Olinda Hassan
Going Diasporic in One's Own Land -- II
--- Rifat Munim
For the Sake of Sindhi
--- Naseer Memon
Unheard Voices
-- Naimul Karim

Photo Feature
The Untouchables

Bangladesh Genocide and the Quest for Justice

-- Mofidul Hoque

Fountain of Youth:Will the real younglings please stand up, please stand up?
-- Shahana Siddiqui

Has Left Politics any Future?

-- Syed Fattahul Alim

The Case for Moving Bangladesh Bank to Chittagong

--Nofel Wahid
Why Do Bangladeshis Love Maradona?
--Quazi Zulquarnain Islam


Forum Home

Has Left Politics any Future?

The Lefts have traditionally been the agents of change. There are strong reasons to be optimistic about the future, says SYED FATTAHUL ALIM

The lightning is so close at hand that it will strike at the first chance, and then there will be a pretty uproar. The young are fortunate, for they will see fine things. -- Voltaire

The Left
At formal or informal debates over politics, the talking point often centres on Left politics and its future in Bangladesh. In modern parlance, by Left politics is usually understood to be the legacy of progressive and secular political movements for social change. However, in Bangladesh and other South Asian countries, the political movements guided by different variants of Marxist philosophy are grouped under the label of Left politics.

The term Left wing can be traced back to the French revolution. It was represented by deputies in the French Legislative Assembly who were supporters of the French Republic. On the other hand, the Rightist were those who supported the Monarchy. By the mid-19thcentury, the term Left wing politics stood for the entire gamut of secular movements supporting nationalism, democracy, or socialism.

Peter J Anderson/seattle-flickr/getty Images

The Leftists who founded the International Working Men's Association, or the First International (1864-76), aimed to build a classless society. But they parted company over the difference between the communist Karl Marx and the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. Similarly, in the Second International (1889-1916), Vladimir Lenin, who belonged to the anti-war (World War I) faction, denounced as national chauvinists those leaders of the other faction who supported their governments. However, Socialists and Labour Parties who represented in this international declared two important days --the declaration (in 1989) of May 1 as the International Workers' Day and March 8 as the International Women's Day in 1910.

Before the introduction of Marxist ideology, there was the existence of radical or progressive movement for social change in this part of the world. There are historical records of secular movements in the form of uprising of peasants against exploitation and torture by Zamindars, the rebellion of the Santhals and other tribal people against British domination, the Sepoy mutiny of 1857 and various reformist movements including the social reform movement under Raja Ram Mohan Roy and so on in the 19th century.

Along with the scientific-literary ideas and the associated cultural movements, the political ideas of democracy including radical and reformist thoughts and the Left wing ideas originally came from Europe. And thanks to the British colonialists' desire to create loyalists among their native administrative functionaries and teach them English as the official language and thereby open the floodgate to the unhindered entry of all types of latest politico-ideological thoughts and movements in India.

Calcutta, the cradle
Since Calcutta (at present Kolkata) became the administrative as well as cultural capital of colonial India for about one and half centuries, naturally, it also became the centre of the political and philosophical thoughts and movements. Small wonder, this great city became the springboard for every brand of Leftist-Marxist as well as Rightist-idealist ideology, which flourished here in the heart of Bengal and then spread to other parts of the Indian subcontinent.

The ultra nationalist ideology and movements that budded in Bengal and spread elsewhere also started from Calcutta after the partition of Bengal in 1905. Sri Aurobindo Ghosh (1872-1950), who was the guiding spirit behind this movement, had his education from England. The Onushilon Samity and the various ultranationalist outfits that started the Swadeshi movement against the British imperial power in the early 20th century also owe their origin to this English educated would-be civil servant-turned sage, Rishi Aurobindo.

The ground for flowering of another western revolutionary ideology of Left wing politics of the Marxist brand was already created in Bengal. As noted in the foregoing, the establishment of the Indian Communist Party just four years after the socialist revolution in the then-Soviet Russia in 1917, created the ideal environment for propagating Marxist working class ideology of social revolution in the subcontinent.

The first generation communists found a large number of activists ready for recruitment from the ultra-nationalist Swadeshi movement that started with the partition of Bengal in 1905. Many activists from the movement, who used the method of secret killing and suicide attack on the colonial establishments and individual heroism to drive the British out of India, were on the run. They were being constantly pursued and persecuted by the British police. Many were behind bars, while others were serving capital punishment. Some of them, who were disillusioned with their method of politics, found the egalitarian philosophy of Marxism as an alternative path to free the countrymen from exploitation and foreign rule. They joined the fledgling communist movement. But they also brought with them their experience, their style of work of using disguise and secret organisational methods. The communists chose the method of building secret organisations and without building their own mass front decided to work in the multi-class broad based political parties like Indian National Congress (INC).

The practice continued even after the partition of India. They remained largely invisible in the struggles they waged and participated throughout the period of tumultuous mass movements launched under the political parties like the INC until the time of Indian partition when the imperialists left India. Small wonder the Communist Party failed to make their mark and stake their claim in the nationalistic movement that led to the creation of India and the then-Pakistan in the post-colonial era.

The communists limited themselves to organising workers' movements through trade unions and in the cultural activities through spreading their ideology among the youths, the educated middle class. They did also organise some movements among the peasants for their awareness against feudal exploitation and for establishing their economic rights.

To be, or not to be
But the time demanded more from the communists. Had they, along with the nationalist parties like Congress, also been at the forefront of the mass movements with their own programmes for freeing Indian people from foreign political domination as well as foreign and local economic exploitation, the history would be different. Their failure to devise the correct strategy to establish their leadership in the Indian nationalist movement cost the communists and their party heavily. They were far behind the nationalist movement spearheaded by the interests of the landed gentry -- the bourgeoisie and the petit bourgeoisie represented by the leadership of the INC, the Muslim League and other multi-class nationalist parties.

Unsurprisingly, their contribution in the movement to free India remained largely unrecognised among the masses. For the same reason, their rejection of the Indian independence with the slogan, “Yeh azadi jhuta hai, lakho insan bhukha hai” (this independence is fake, as millions of people remain hungry) could hardly find a sympathetic chord among the euphoric masses inebriated by the joy of freedom on either side of the international border drawn by the British in the name of giving independence. We can see a similar frustration among a large section of the communists in the post-Bangladesh period, too. Again, the reason is that the communists could neither claim their leadership, nor declare their strong presence in the war for liberating Bangladesh.

A section of the communists including the then-pro-Moscow Communist Party joined the war in alliance with the Awami League. But their contribution was eclipsed by Awami League (AL), if only because Moni Singh-led the then-pro-Moscow East Pakistan Communist Party (EPCP)'s tailist role in the war behind the AL. Similarly, neither the Purbo Banglar Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) nor PBCP (M-L) led by Matin-Alauddin, or the Deben Sikder fact on of PBCP-ML, who fought the war, equally failed to establish their strong presence or leadership in the war. The story was not different in the case of Purbo Bangla Sarbohara Party (PBSP) (Maoist) led by Shiraj Shikder, or the Amal Sen-led faction of the East Pakistan Communist Party (Leninist). None of them could command any noteworthy influence though each of those communist factions participated in the liberation war separately.

The Sukhendu Dastider-Mohammad Toaha-Abdul Huq-led faction of EPCP (M-L), on the other hand, rejected the liberation war. But the later group of communists, except Huq-Toaha group, failed because they could not build a common united front with other fellow travellers in the war. However, they cannot at least be blamed for any kind of tailism.

The communists' support or rejection of the independence war was rooted in their political programmes. Some of the communist groups that supported and joined the war had made their class and economic analysis of society in such a way that they could consider Pakistan government either as a colonial power such as the Sarbohara party of Shiraj Shikder, or as the main enemy of national liberation (such ass PBCP (M-L). To others the society was ripe for socialist phase of revolution (such as Moni Singh led EPCP), briefly passing through the historical phase of democratic revolution. Imperialism was the external enemy, but defeating the immediate enemy of Bengali nationalist aspiration in, the Pakistan state, was the immediate necessity.

Generally, the agenda of the majority of the parties was to achieve economic emancipation and democratic freedom of the working class and the mass people. And to achieve that they would simultaneously wage the struggle against exploitation by the nexus of the feudal-comprador bourgeoisie class and their lackeys in the state and society.

Those who rejected the war outright, as the main faction of the then-EPCP (M-L) did, interpreted the situation in this way: Pakistan itself was a semi-colonial, semi-feudal state with international imperialism and regional expansionism as the main external enemy of national liberation. To them, fully-fledged civil war against Pakistan state was premature. In a similar vein, the war that was finally waged against Pakistani occupation was, to them, a work of the imperialists-expansionists and their local agents under the slogan of ultra-nationalism, whose aim was first to divide the working class and second, to protect the interests of the international imperialist-hegemonists and regional expansionists and their local agents.

The great divide
Apart from their interpretation of the war, the global ideological rift in the international communist movement had its impact on the local communists by driving a wage in the communist movement in the mid-1960s. The pro-Peking and pro-Moscow camps were created. In the wake of Mao Zedong's death (1976), and later, after China's adopting the policy of wooing the West to invest in its economy and allowing market economy and private capital to develop since mid-mid 1970s and following the collapse of Soviet Russia in early 1990s, the Communist parties in Bangladesh and elsewhere went through another wave of ideological crisis. They lost their international centre for guidance. Now left to their own devices, the communist parties of every brand have gone through break-ups, fresh alignment, realignments and further break-ups. Some of these parties are operating openly and participating in the election. The former pro-Moscow communist party, now Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) and the Workers Party of Bangladesh led by Rashed Khan Menon have opted for parliamentary politics.

In the post-Bangladesh reality, a large number of youths who participated in the war of liberation under Awami League's banner got disillusioned with their mother party's way of running the country. They formed the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (National Socialist Party) and declared their programme of socialism on the ideological basis of what they termed scientific socialism. A faction of pro-Awami League students' group, the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), led by ASM Abdur Rob, Shajahan Siraj and others, whose guiding spirit was another former firebrand student leader Sirajul Alam Khan launched a militant anti-government movement. Major (retd.) MA Jalil, who was the commander of Sector 9 during the war of independence, but later frustrated with Awami League, was the President of JSD. Colonel Abu Taher was another leader of the party.

But this urban-based socialist movement soon fizzled out in the face of political repression by the post-Independence Awami League government. Later, the military government of President Ziaur Rahman that came to power continued the repression.

The JSD, like their forerunners, the traditional communist parties, soon underwent numerous divisions on political-ideological ground. A section of that group under Hasanul Huq Inu is now engaged in parliamentary form of politics and a parliament member.

The traditional communist parties who rejected parliamentary form of politics have disintegrated into more than a dozen factions.

Those factions that believe in armed struggle as the only path to revolution are concentrated in small armed groups in different districts across the country. Most of them follow Maoist ideology, but differ on the tactical questions of organisation building and waging the class struggle until capturing state power.

The former Purbo Banglar Communist Party (M-L) led by Abdul Matin of 1952's Language Movement fame, and Alauddin Ahmed and Tipu Biswas, whose pre-independence slogan was establishment of People's Democratic East Bengal splintered into several factions after Bangladesh's independence. They launched a military struggle following the Charu Majumder line of West Bengal's communist party Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). After the debacle in that war against post-independence Awami League government, most of their leaders landed in jail. The remaining faction gradually reorganised but followed the extreme pro-Charu Majumder line of class annihilation as a way of building organisation. Their leader Mufakkhar Chowdhury was killed in a police raid during Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) government (2001-2006).

Another faction of the party, after Matin-Alauddin-Tipu Biswas were in jail, launched a theoretical debate to reorganise all the communist factions with pro-Peking background under a single banner with the slogan of communist unity. Finally, they formed a party led by Badruddin Umar-Saifud Dahar styled Bangladesher Communist Party (M-L).

The Purbo Banglar Sarbohara Party (PBSP)'s founder leader Shiraj Shikder was killed by police during Awami League government in January 1975. But later his party was also divided into several factions.

The EPCP (M-L) of pre-independence period, later recognised Bangladesh as an independent country in 1978 and assumed the name Bangladesh Revolutionary Communist Party (M-L). But it also underwent several divisions in the later phase of its history. A leading figure former EPCP (M-L), Mohammad Toaha formed Bangladesh Samyabadi Dal and denounced Charu Majumder's line of class annihilation. Another faction led by Nagen Sarker-Noni Dutta-Khondoker Ali Abbas followed orthodox Maoist line.

A remnant of Toaha faction led by Dilip Barua is now a minister of the incumbent grand alliance government led by Awami League.

What is noted in the above does not give a full picture of the latest status of all the Communist factions. And that is also not possible within the limited scope of the present write-up.

All is not lost
But that the fractious Leftist parties with Marxism as their basic ideology are now in a fractured state does not mean that Left wing politics has no future in Bangladesh or elsewhere. And since internationally they have no state power like erstwhile Soviet Russia, or Mao-era China to provide them with strategic support, does not imply that their future is sealed.

True, at present, unlike in the Cold War era, there is none to challenge the US-led western imperialism and their European allies. These imperialist powers have now thrown away their façade as champions of democracy and human rights. They are intervening everywhere to divide and re-divide the people and the resources of the world.

Simultaneously, the imperialist-capitalists are also in a deep crisis. They are falling from one catastrophe into another. After global recession triggered by US's sub-prime crisis of 2007, the ongoing Eurozone crisis, or European debt crisis since 2009, have drove the imperialist camp crazy. Serious questions have already been raised by their own intellectuals about the future of capitalist system itself.

The leftists across the world are still a divided house. Many are at one another's throat. Even so, a general consensus is building among them to unite and fight the imperialist hegemonists, the monopolistic and oligopolistic corporate capitalist interests whose interests the imperialists are protecting.

The people of the developing and underdeveloped nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America have seen through their real designs. Gradually, they are rising up in resistance against US-led western hegemony. The Leftists have started to reorganise again and joining the people's side.

Bangladesh is not insulated from all these developments taking place worldwide. The younger generation here, in the Middle East, in Africa and Latin America are rising up in revolt against their establishments. They are now the standard-bearers of change.

Syed Fattahul Alim is Editor, Science and Life, The Daily Star.

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