The Left in Bangladesh

Badruddin Umar

A leftist may be defined as one who is opposed to feudal remnants, comprador bourgeoisie and imperialism. Leftists in this sense almost entirely belong to the communist movement. Formally outside the communist movement there may be persons or groups who are inclined to the left, but while being so they are necessarily friendly towards the communist movement in a general way and gravitate towards it. Fidel Castro and his revolutionary group is a relevant example. Thus any one opposed to and inimical to the communist movement is excluded by definition as a leftist and invariably belongs to the rightist camp. This is for the simple reason that the communists are ideologically and organisationally the most consistent and effective forces against feudalism, comprador bourgeoisie and imperialism and opposition to the communist movement inevitably leads any one or any group towards the forces of reaction.

The communist movement in Russia, though led mostly by persons from the middle class, was based on the working class. In China it was based on the peasantry. But in India it was led by men from the middle class and was at the same time based on the middle class. In the late thirties and forties of the twentieth century the Communist party of India organised working class trade unions and peasant associations and some of the movements led by them were powerful and effective, but they did not constitute the base for the communist movement in the sense the working class in Russia and the peasants in China did. This difference went a long way in shaping the character of the leadership of the Indian CP as well as the movements led by it.

There was another factor which differentiated the Indian CP from that of Russia and China. In India the parliamentary system of politics introduced by the British and practised by the Indian bourgeoisie had a profound influence on the communists and the communist movement. This was the reason why in India the working class and the peasant movement organised by the CP remained tied to constitutional politics and the electoral system and could not acquire a truly revolutionary character as it did in Russia and China. There is no scope for elaborating this point here, but it must not escape our notice that so far revolutions have not taken place in any country of the British Commonwealth.

There was a third factor which influenced the character of the CPI.

Unlike in Russia or China, a very large number of leaders and workers of various terrorist organisations like the Onushilon, Jugantar and others joined the CPI in the late thirties and forties. It was the time when the communist movement in India began to take shape and be organized on a large scale.

The CP came to be led by many former terrorists. They had forsaken their terrorist ideas and practices, but most of them could not overcome their sense of alienation from the people which characterised their earlier mode of thinking. The terrorists wanted to change the society, but they had no programme to take the people along with them. They were well- meaning, but they thought that they could achieve their objective in isolation from the people as their liberators. This goes a long way to explain why terrorist thinking came to influence and determine the line of political struggle in India. In fact, in India political line for sometime moved like a pendulum from one side to another, from parliamentary practice to terrorism, and finally came to be divided on a national scale on that basis. The division in the international communist movement also contributed to this development. Both parliamentary practice and terrorism in the name of revolutionary action strengthened the middle class base of the communist movement and created conditions for the liquidation of its communist character.

The state of the communist parties in Bangladesh and the character of their leadership cannot be understood without a reference to the communist movement and communist leadership in pre-independence India, because the Communist Party in East Bengal was formed out of it and was led by the same persons belonging to the middle class.

The communist party of East Pakistan (EPCP) held a party conference in Kolkata in 1956. There they decided to carry its political work through the Awami League which was then the biggest political party in East Bengal. They decided to pursue this tactical line because they felt difficulties in communicating with the people directly. Most of the CP members and leaders at that time were persons from Hindu families. They thought that it would be more effective if they could work through Muslims. That is why they first formed the Gonotantric Dal (Democratic Party). But the Gonotantric Dal could not make any headway. Then they decided to work through the Awami League. What is surprising is that they did not try to organise the working people, the peasants and workers. The old peasant organisation and the trade unions were liquidated after the collapse of the Ranadive line in 1950. The Student Federation also ceased to be a functioning organisation. But the EPCP had no plan to reorganise them.

Instead, they decided to work among the people, the people at the grassroots, through the Awami League. Their fraternity with the Awami League did not last long. It ended in early 1957 at the Kagmari conference of the Awami League after their confrontation with the latter on the question of Pakistan-American military pact signed in 1954. Being opposed by Suhrawardy and his followers, the impractical attempt of the communists to force the Awami League to change its pro-imperialist foreign policy failed. But the communists did not learn the proper lesson from this. They did not realize that it was not possible to coerce a bourgeois petty-bourgeois political party to change its class character. So they came out of the Awami League and formed another petty-bourgeois party called the National Awami Party (NAP) in 1957.

The communists were in a much better position in the NAP and held leading positions in it. It emerged as an anti-imperialist and anti-feudal democratic organisation. Peasant and trade union organisations were formed at the initiative of Maulana Bhashani and came to be largely controlled by the communists. But communist leadership did not mean leadership of the CP. The labours of the communists were crucial in organising these mass and class organisations, but its political benefit went to the NAP and its president Bhashani. The peasant and trade union organisations were formally associate organizations of the NAP and were politically tied to it. The NAP, in spite of its declaration of allegiance to socialism, remained a petty-bourgeois party. As such it influenced the activities of the peasant, trade union and student organisations. The communists had no way of preventing this development. On the contrary, they too began to be more bourgeoisfied, and in the process whatever communist character they had eroded considerably. Thus, while trying to develop NAP as a socialist party, the communists themselves began to imbibe all sorts of petty- bourgeois values and in spite of all their revolutionary clap-trap the party largely lost whatever communist character it previously had. This change was clearly visible after the communists left the NAP. They did not realize what harm was already done to their own character and their ideological perception. They failed to realize that a basic rightward trend already developed in their party. This process continued after the split in the international communist movement and through the fractured development of the new parties.

The CP in East Pakistan was further alienated from the broad masses of the people, the workers and the peasants, in the changed circumstances. As has been said earlier, the leadership of EPCP was not only middle class but the vast majority of leaders and workers came from Hindu families. Apart from being middle class, as Hindus, they felt isolated from the people, the vast majority of whom were Muslims who were under the spell of Pakistan. After the partition of the country the CP led peasant movements in certain areas of East Bengal, but those areas were all inhabited mostly by non-Muslims, Santals, Hajangs and such others. After the collapse of those movements, the CP had no peasant organisations.

The idea of organizing peasants and workers was virtually abandoned by the CP after 1950 and they decided to reach the people through petty bourgeois political parties organised and led mostly by Muslims. With this object in view they first took the initiative in organising the Gonotantri Dal and then decided to work also through the Awami League.

These are very important and decisive factors which determined the character of the CP, its leaders and members in general. In spite of all declarations of working class leadership and revolution, the EPCP was basically a party of the middle class like its parent organisation, the Communist Party of India.

On the eve of the war of independence, the pro-Chinese parties followed the Naxalbari line formulated by Charu Majumdar, which in spite of its declared pro-peasant character had no real mass base in the countryside and quickly degenerated into terrorism.

There is no scope for a detailed account of what happened to the CPs in 1971, but it has to be stated briefly. The pro-Russian EPCP endorsed the Awami League line without any reservation and thereby virtually liquidated whatever remained of their so-called communist character. As a follow up of this development they formally liquidated the CPB and merged with the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL) formed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975 and formally became a part of the ruling class.

The pro-Chinese Communist parties, which were called EPCP (ML), opposed the Awami League line and described the fight between the Awami League and the Pakistan military government as a fight between two dogs. Being wholly divorced from the realities of the existing political situation in 1971, they were completely alienated from the people. Their line was doomed and it liquidated their position as communist parties. Each of these parties was split during the course of the war, and in spite of their nominal existence became politically irrelevant. After 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman hunted down his political opponents like the Jatiya Samajtantric Dal, a break away section of the Awami League, and particularly the leaders and workers of the pro-Chinese CPs and their sympathisers and killed thousands of them. The Rakkhi Bahini, a para-military force, formed by him, had its camps throughout Bangladesh and it arrested and then tortured and physically liquidated them.

The ruling Awami League was a party of lawyers, jute brokers, other kinds of middle men, small traders, primary and secondary school teachers, insurance agents, unemployed youth etc who were divorced from production. After seizing state power, instead of acquiring wealth through production, they began to plunder existing wealth. In order to extend their area of plunder, they nationalised industries, commercial houses, banks etc in the name of socialism. In addition to this, thousands of opportunities were created for the Bengalis to build their careers and acquire wealth. In the absence of any left and democratic political process, the entire youth in Bangladesh began to avail themselves of every opportunity at hand to build their career and fortune and it shaped their mindset. From that time onwards, for them there was no looking back. It became a part of their culture.

This turned out to be the most serious impediment to a new left political development. The CPB which merged with Sheikh Mujib’s BAKSAL was revived when Ziaur Rahman lifted ban on political parties. But emerging from the womb of a fascist party like BAKSAL it had no communist character. It is still the largest of the so-called left parties in Bangladesh, but being still ideologically tied to the Awami League it is impotent as a leftist political force.

The pro-Chinese parties split into several groups and tried to reorganise themselves after 1971. But, being theoretically bankrupt, they were incapable to formulate any concrete and workable line for a new political development. Consequently, they became parties or groups of no consequence.

After the establishment of Bangladesh, the contradictions which intervened in the growth and development of the revolutionary communist movement in India and East Pakistan were resolved or became inconsequential. Communal, linguistic, racial and regional contradictions which acted as impediments were virtually removed. What survived was the class contradiction. In such a situation it was natural to expect that class contradictions would rapidly develop. The youth and the common people were expected to join the socialist movement actively and in large numbers. But that did not happen. As has been said above, unprecedented opportunities opened up before the old and new generations of people and in the absence of any mentionable left or communist movement, personal careerism became the order of the day. Bangladesh came to be ruled by a regime which began to expand and consolidate a new middle class basically through all conceivable ways of plunder, corruption and deception and it created social and cultural climate in which any revolutionary development became utterly impossible. It created habits and attitudes of the new middle class which made them indifferent, and even hostile, to the interests of the broad masses of the people, the peasants and workers. In the old days revolutionary ideas used to attract a significant section of students and the youth. But the state of the society in Bangladesh became such that the new generation was not at all inclined towards socialist and revolutionary ideas and not interested in organising any movement for a radical social change. On the contrary, for promoting their self-interest they developed a kind of commitment for maintaining the status quo. This has not changed even after 42 years of the independence of Bangladesh.

It, however, cannot be said that the students and the youth in Bangladesh are indifferent or apathetic to politics. Reactionary political parties like the Awami League, the BNP and the Jamat-e-Islami have their large student and youth organisations. They dominate the educational institutions and rule the streets. It is quite consistent with the general condition of the new society in Bangladesh in which pursuit of self-interest has become the summum bonum of the new generation. Vested interests have been created for them and they have developed a stake in middle class politics. Thus the leaders and leading workers of student and youth organisations of the parties in power not only get large sums of money from their parent organisations, but are also allowed to make money by manipulating government and university tenders. Collecting money as chanda or contribution from commercial establishments and rich people is a major source of their acquiring money. These are nothing but forces of plunder let loose in the political field by the ruling class. Here mention has been made of student and youth politics of the middle class because the leaders and workers of student and youth organisations of the traditional left are also drawn from the middle class and are influenced by them.

One other factor must be mentioned here. In addition to domestic intelligence operations, Bangladesh has now become a field of various international intelligence agency operations. In addition to this, there are foreign-financed non-government organizations (NGOs), some of which organise intelligence operations in addition to their overt activities. Students, youth and other people active in political, cultural and other areas are not wanting who are connected with them. These intelligence operators infiltrate more in the leftist than in the rightist organisations. I have described here very briefly not the condition of the left movement, but that of the left itself, because this is the most important aspect of the present situation. If we properly understand the character and condition of the left, then the virtual absence of any effective leftist movement and the character of some minor movements led by them will become quite evident. It is not surprising that today, the left in Bangladesh has practically no workers and peasant organizations worth the name and their student and youth organizations are unworkable political instruments for any kind of revolutionary movement. They all operate within the framework ofbourgeois politics.

It, however, would not be proper to say that the entire new generation is totally indifferent to the condition of the people and are unwilling of do anything for them. There are some who try to help exploited, oppressed and distressed people in their individual capacity. There are others who, in small groups, organise some kind of charitable activities. But in spite of their good intentions their efforts are basically non-political and do not contribute in any way to develop democratic and socialist political organizations and movements without which it is not possible to effectively strengthen any struggle for social change.

At the end it must be mentioned that in the situation obtaining in Bangladesh, as has been described above, there exist very small Marxist- Leninist organisations which operate outside the framework of ruling class politics. In the face of an indifferent people, a hostile bourgeois intelligentsia and press and a fascist ruling class, they are struggling hard. But in spite of great possibilities, their influence on the general political situation is still insignificant.

It is, therefore, no exaggeration to say that the left as a political force has long been ineffective in Bangladesh. What is known as left, particularly the traditional left, may be described as left of the ruling class.


[This article was read by Comrade Badruddin Umar himself on 21th November, 2013 at a conference jointly organised by Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata, and Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Berlin.]

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