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     Volume 7 Issue 18 | May 3, 2008 |

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May Day -- and the Bastilles
in need of Storming

Syed Badrul Ahsan

Alexander Dubcek, first secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia

May Day, for me, for millions of others around the world, remains a matter of conviction. No, I do not pretend to be a socialist. I remain acutely conscious of the fact that I can never be a good communist. The reasons are simple. It takes great courage, an immensity of the sacrificial spirit and a totality of faith in the power of the common masses to change the world to transform an individual into a socialist or a communist. And yet there have been in me all those stirrings that have regularly spoken to me of the rights that men and women are by nature heir to. I have kept faith in the principle of people all over the world, but especially in my country, coming by politics that would base itself on the socialistic model, that would propel Bangladesh decisively into the future.

On May Day, therefore, it is much more than a remembrance of Chicago 1886 that I go into. I go beyond that Haymarket tragedy, the same that today symbolises the struggle of what we know as the toiling masses for a happier, better future for themselves. And I remember the Soviet Union as it used to be before perestroika and glasnost led it down the road to ruin. When you speak of human rights today, when you feel the urge for a world based on the rights of everyone to its resources, you remember with a certain touch of pride the sweeping psychological and political changes that the republic proclaimed by Lenin in 1917 and so solidified by Stalin subsequently caused around the globe. You and I may have been put off by Nikita Khrushchev's shoe-banging at the United Nations in 1960. The tired men, Brezhnev and company, who led the Soviet Union into a disastrous war in Afghanistan in the late 1970s have never been our heroes. But the Soviet Union was, when it was around, a model for the future. In our collective memory, it remains an idea we can recreate out of its ashes.

Chairman Mao Zedong

That is how my thoughts run on May Day. It is a time when I miss Che Guevara, the dedicated socialist who could have changed the face of our world had he not been done to death by the wolves in the Bolivian jungles more than four decades ago. Guevara was one socialist who combined in him all the best that leftwing politics had to offer. He was charismatic, he was educated and he had faith. Like Fidel Castro, he knew that the most compelling argument in defence of rights was the power of the masses to change their fate. I have been impressed by the rise of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua; and I have been deeply distressed at the way America's Reaganites forced them out of office. It feels good to see them back in power, but there do not rise in us the feelings that the Sandinistas once epitomised. When pragmatism supplants idealism, you often lose something important. And you call that conviction. But conviction sometimes is revived through the arrival on the scene of men like Hugo Chavez. Venezuela's leader holds out hope for his nation's poor. He could have done the job better had he been a little less incendiary in his approach to the neo-conservatives in the United States.

A couple of years ago, here in Dhaka, a young Chinese woman told me with a straight face that her generation had a poor opinion of Mao Zedong because in his time people were poor. Today, she said with a smile that spread from ear to ear, everyone in China was happy because there was a lot of money to go around. I listened to her, stunned into near silence, for here was a woman who clearly did not remember her history. And her history was the tale of a people who had struggled resolutely and mightily to cause a change in their fortunes. The Long March, the political will of Mao, Zhou En-lai, Chu Teh and Liu Shaoqi are historical episodes that will remind us of the glory that socialism was meant to be. Of course, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution turned out to be disasters. Of course, the repeated purges of men like Deng Xiaoping did not exactly endear Chinese socialism to many. But can you really agree with Deng's proposition that it did not matter if a cat was white or black as long as it caught mice? Socialism has always been about the means justifying the ends. It has not just been about ends.

On May Day this year, I shall remember with pain the passing of good men like Afghanistan's Nur Mohammad Taraki. There was D.N. Aidit who disappeared on a night of brutality in Indonesia long ago. Had Brezhnev not come in the way, Alexander Dubcek would have caused wonders in Czechsolovakia through his Prague Spring in 1968.

But my pain comes coated in the belief that there will be time someday for the poor and the dispossessed to reclaim the world for themselves. There will be time, as today is the time for Nepal's citizens to build a new world, for the hungry and the angry and the subjugated to take charge of their lives and their universe and build, brick by patient brick, the structure of socialism that will leave us a little closer to the creation of a better, prosperous and educated society for ourselves. There are the Bastilles that need to be stormed, in the interest of our children and their children.


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