Marx in Bangladesh

Farooque Chowdhury

Marx was not aloof in the Bangladesh socio-economic-ideological-political reality. Incessant class struggle in the society along with development of ideas cropping up in the soil of class conflict was a home for Marx, the scientist-theoretician of the revolutionary proletariat. The society’s antagonistic classes compelled him to play a role in defining goals of the society, of the exploited in the society, which got manifested in the economic and political struggles the exploited were waging in the society for decades.

Millions moved
Thus, Marx has made manifold impressions in post-mid-August-1947 and independent Bangladesh. It ranged from analysis of ideology, socio-economy and politics to theoretical formulations related to life around, from culture, arts and literature to people’s organizations, charter of demands and struggles.

Thus, Marx moved millions of disposed people as the philosopher-politician of the disposed suggested: Philosophy is to be realized through politics. (Letter to Ruge, March 13, 1843) The act of making impressions continues. At times, it’s explicit, and at times, it’s implicit.

Over the decades, it was wide and wider, and never narrow or narrower as a tyro-description based on a few individuals depict. Sometimes, the entire society, other than a handful of exploiters, based its basic demand on the ideas and analysis of Marx as masses of the people in the land unequivocally stood for an exploitation-free society, as they made clarion call for socialism, which made parts of dominating segments in the society to inscribe socialism in its political document for class collaboration – the constitution. Even, the exploiters had no guts to oppose the demand at that moment.

Working classes
With irregular intervals, the entire working people in branches of industries stood for fair wages, better working condition and shorter working day; and the poor peasantry stood to claim its fair share of its produce and to get rid of interest-seeking capital in the formal and informal credit market. Marx defined those moments.  

Labor’s demands, movements and organizations in Bangladesh were directly influenced by Marx. Indirect influence of Marx was wider. The same was in many moves by the poor peasantry. White collar employees went through similar experiences. Marx sharpened those actions.

Intellectuals’ sphere, cultural orbit, and student-, youth-, women- and environmental-activism in the country couldn’t elude Marx’s influence in spirit and analysis.

None will claim that all of these activism/movements were completely influenced by Marx. But, parts of these, sometimes significant parts, and, on occasions, the determining/dominating parts carried spirit, ideas, analysis and politics of Marx.

Obviously, there were variations in extents in getting influenced by or carrying ideas of Marx, which depended on historical circumstances, class-power equation, level of development of people’s politics and organization of classes. But Marx was always present, directly or indirectly, in these as class struggles sharpened at times.

A few scholars miss history of the Bangladesh people, the people’s relations/antagonisms with the production-distribution system, and their yearning for decades – since mid-August-1947. The existing reality in post-mid-August-1947-Bangladesh experienced by the people led them to rise in revolt; and, they found Marx as a pathfinder. At times, they rose in arms; and, they were determining course of politics compelling some other parts of the society to move along.       

Moments were there in Bangladesh that found complete absence of rightist, reactionary ideas and initiatives in the areas/initiatives of people’s struggle. At significant moments in the history of Bangladesh, the rightist, reactionary ideas and forces failed to influence the people. Those were moments of changes in class powers equation within the reality – a crossroad in the country’s politics. Marx geared up those moments.

The labor took bold initiatives at the peak of the 1969-People’s Upsurge as it initiated Gheraao, encirclement of management authorities/owners of mills and factories in their industrial/office premises, and the capital had to bow down to those demands within a very short time. Those were unprecedented industrial actions. Marx was there in those industrial actions.

Significance of those grew as the labor that took those industrial actions was mostly young in the factory/manufacturing process, mostly first generation of industrial workers having ties to medieval and rural background with its ideological, cultural and political life. Much of that first-generation labor also had connections to small landholdings and rural life with many feudal and semi-feudal practices and relations. Much of that labor also tried to purchase land for cultivation and homestead with the part of their wages that they could save. But, the age, connections and practices failed to restrain the labor from taking those heroic industrial actions, which, in essence and in appearance, challenged and trampled laws of the state protecting the owners of the industrial establishments. Those industrial actions showed existing property relations, not life, are violable, one of the lessons from Marx. Those were advanced ideas and political actions being practiced in a society stifled by backward ideas and neo-colonial rule.   

Before to that gheraao movement, the workers and white-collar employees organized strikes in important branches of the economy and state, which included railways, postal and telegraph services, jute and other industries, and in banking sector. A few of those were country- [at that time the country (Bangladesh, then identified as East Pakistan) was a province of Pakistan] and industry-wide. As a strike-breaking measure, the Pakistan state had to deploy army on occasions. A number of those industrial actions were of longer time-period with a historic appearance. The Bangladesh labor, white collar employees and students, not the national political leadership, were the first to stand against military rule. Many of the demands of those struggles were forged by Marx.     

However, those moments lost their momentum, which was a very normal consequence in that perspective, the historical, social, economic, political, organizational reality. But, it was not a total eclipse; and, all messages were not lost. Experiences of struggles and politics educated the labor. Marx had a role in those lessons, struggles and politics.

In the national political life, Marx shaped many political demands of the people. However, none of these moved along a straight line, a wrong expectation a group of pundits nurture within their heart. Similarly, none of these were beyond the existing class power equations of the time, a fundamental factor those pundits invariably ignore with their genre of knowledge they stubbornly clutch with. Consequently, all these imprints were not always having a complete Marxist, revolutionary proletarian character. That was a show of existing reality, which included position and power of classes involved with the actions.

None of the peasant movements in Bangladesh were organized by the crooked rightist, reactionary classes or any of its parts although, at times, it tried to mobilize part(s) of the peasantry – rich, middle and poor. All the peasant movements, from Sunamganj and Golapganj in the north-eastern Sylhet region to the Tanko movement in the northern Mymensingh region to Naachol [mainly spelled Nachol] in the western Rajshahi region in the early-post-mid-August-1947 Bangladesh were organized by the communists. The demands these movements raised and the rights it claimed were progressive, and anti-feudal in nature contributing to progressive march of the society. Marx assisted in formulating the demands and identifying the rights.

State machine used its force to subdue the revolting people. People and the organizers had to pay with blood as the state machine stood in defence of the existing property relations. Jiban Sangram by Moni Singh, Naankaar Bidroho by Ajay Bhattacharja, and Bhaashaa Aandolon O Tatkaaleen Raajneeti and The Emergence of Bangladesh, Class Struggles in East Pakistan (two volumes covering 1947-’58 & 1958-’71) by Badruddin Umar, and similar works describe the struggles. Statement by Ms. Ila Mitra, a leader of the revolting Shaaotaals [mainly spelled Shantal] in Naachol, – a description of torture with boiled, hot eggs, etc., inflicted on her – and the force employed on political prisoners in hunger strikes for weeks tell a story of brutality the state, exploiters’ ruling machine, practiced.

One of the major political demands of the poor peasantry was abolition of Zamindari, a feudal system with Bengal variety, without compensation. This demand was organized, among others, by the Communist Party; and the party, despite deviations, was trying to follow Marx.

The poor peasantry actively took part in the mass upsurge in 1969. Their haat hartaals, strikes in rural weekly market places, were like flames in a seemingly bucolic background. The fires of protest by the rural masses resembled the days of the famous Tevaaghaa movement, the share croppers’ historic movement that engulfed wide parts of undivided Bengal.

Participation of the rural masses in the 1969-Mass Upsurge was wider stretching the entire Bangladesh and was basically political in nature as it lent its force to the movement’s major call for direct, universal franchise, and opposed the existing system of truncated representation. The rural masses routed out the rural political cohorts, crystallized in local government structures based on distorted representation, of the state. Marx stands for people’s representation in all levels of governance, for a people’s democracy.   

These local operatives of the regime were mostly the rural rich with reactionary, rightist politics and ideology. The peasantry’s other demands were related to lessening of land tax burden, and abolishing of predatory credit system, profiteering and hoarding, all of which were operated by private capital. All these demands were political and progressive; and Marx unfurls the flag of progress.  

Consequently, the rightist, reactionary political forces rotten to the core lost ground in the rural areas for the time being. As an upshot of this successful move by the peasantry, the state lost its rural “legs” – the truncated local government system, which was controlled by those regressive political forces in the rural rung. That was a meaningful development in the people’s struggle for progress. The dominating part of those reverting socio-political forces lost its acceptability and credibility, which had an impact on the following political developments in Bangladesh including the people’s Glorious War for Liberation. Marx is always against regressive forces, which leads those forces to not turn misers in their act of condemning the proletarian revolutionary.

With dedicated work for years, bracing persecution including long prison-terms, and making supreme sacrifice communists organized the poor peasantry. Maulana Bhashani, a left-leaning political leader with a mass following, also had a leading a role in rousing the poor peasantry. Dhaka dailies of the period as well as Unasattarer Gana Abhyutthan: Rashtra, Samaj, Rajniti (The Mass Upsurge in 1969: State, Society and Politics) by Dr. Lenin Azad present detailed description of the 1969-rural scene with peasant actions. Marx was for mobilizing the masses, for masses on barricades.

Youth & culture
A major part of the students and youths got imbued with progressive ideas since mid-August-1947. It was a hard struggle. But, the ideas turned popular gradually, and the student and youth communities actively organized democratic movements. A part of this democratic movement was anti-imperialist. The democratic student movement continued to oppose imperialism. They popularized the slogan for socialism. Shouldn’t one find Marx there? A failure in that search is nothing but presenting self as a joker with a scholar’s identity.

Modern cultural movement was overwhelmingly progressive in Bangladesh. It opposed reactionary ideas, upheld progressive thoughts; and reached the masses, which was evident during the War for Liberation the masses of people carried forward. The cultural movement played a substantial role in mobilizing the people for initiating the War for Liberation. Much of it talked about exploitation, told about the exploited. Marx is an unwavering warrior against exploitation.

Two politics
The reality that generated the concerned organizations and movements was of exploitation, inequality, deprivation, and class conflict. The concerned organizations and movements were shaped and articulated by analysis and ideas of Marx: a society free from exploitation, a humane society, a society based on equity and equality, a society marching for termination of property relations that exploits all of human existence, a people’s democracy, a commoners’ voice in all spheres of life. These were evident in the programs, demands, literature, etc. of the concerned organizations spearheading the movements.

The ideas with the socio-political forces aiming progress challenged the ideology and concept of the state, and parts of the state’s political mechanisms existing at that moment. These reached a point of significance during the War for Liberation, the period the people rejected the ideology the Pakistan state was upholding. The political program the leading faction of the society during the moment adopted reflected this development in the mass psyche.

In the entire scene, two politics, two cultures and two ideologies were in existence; and all of these emanated from the economy, which was based on exploitative property relations. One of the two politics, ideologies and cultures never questioned the exploitative property relations while the other consistently raised those questions, and challenged ideas and concepts related to the system of exploitation. The first was of the exploiters with coatings of confusion, lies and imagery figures while the other was of those questioning the exploiters in a pointblank way – identify exploitation with its modes, methods and tricks, name the source of inequality and profit, question rationality of the system. The politics questioning the exploiting system was led by the adherents of Marx. They based their position on the analysis, ideology and politics of Marx although they had differences in interpretation and implementation procedure of those.

Even, many mainstream political leaders very often/regularly premised their political position on the concepts of equality and exploitation-free society. Sheikh Mujib’s many deliberations in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly based on those concepts. Those deliberations criticized huge property amassed by a few in the western part of Pakistan while described the striving Baangaalee poor failing to arrange burial shroud for their dead dears in the eastern part. Many rightists of the rightists profusely promised an exploitation-free society while they approached the people. None of them were Marxists. But they had to borrow from Marx as the people were yearning for equality, were aspiring to get rid of the yoke of exploitation. A number of rightist organizations had to float labor unions, obviously with rightist ideology and politics, and obviously escaping the question of exploitation. But those rightists had to rely on labor although the basic concepts of those rightist forces don’t accept the concept of conflicting classes. That was their game with a mirage. However, with their effort to organize the labor they failed to ignore the class question, which is a denial of their ideology. It’s an act of self-denial. It’s really impossible to make Marx vanish or to escape from the author of Capital, book that stands for the exploited.

An essential antagonism
The exponents of the exploited, Marx and his friend Engels, once wrote: “[T]here is an essential antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat”, and “bring the property question to the fore”. (The Communist Manifesto) The people’s politics in Bangladesh persistently tried to proceed along this line of class antagonism, and to raise the property question over the decades.     

Any learned scholar obviously will fail in his adventure to find Marx in Bangladesh if the scholar begins counting the words “Marx”, “Lenin”, “Mao” in political documents of left-leaning political parties/organizations, and draws conclusion of presence or absence of Marx on the basis of number of the words he counted in those documents. That type of wetting of brows will be a game, and a childish game, or a below-novice level of search/research/scholarship, or a futile exertion to present a broad issue with a narrow circumference. That type of learnedness neither understands Marx nor succeeds in looking into related history, ideology and politics the pro-people socio-political forces carried forward over the decades. It’s a distorted perception and practice producing a corrupt presentation, and a rookie-level of exercise with Marx. The more serious part of such sully effort is its belittling of the concerned people’s struggle, and ignoring many sacrifices the people have made over the decades – a dishonest, dirty job, no doubt.

Note: Observations/comments made in the article, supplementary to an earlier article – “Confusion in finding Marx in Bangladesh” (New Age, Dhaka and, June 6, 2018; and Frontier, June 11, 2018, Kolkata) –, are based on research findings by and news-reports from the main- and people’s-streams, publicly accessible official documents, and other related literature, reference of which any reader can ask for from Farooque, who writes from Dhaka.

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.

Jul 09, 2018

Farooque Chowdhury

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