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Radical Politics


Radical Politics historically covers individual or collective activities for implementing an ideology challenging the fundamentals of the existing system of politics and governance. Generally, it is a political movement advocating fundamental changes in the political, legal and economic structure of the existing authority or state, often but not necessarily, by extreme means. Thomas Paine (1732-1809), Voltaire (1641-1778), Bentham (1748-1834), Karl Marx (1818-1883) are the advocates of modern ideological politics of radical bias.

The history of radical left politics in the region may be traced back to the 1920s when the Communist Party of India (CPI) was formed on 17 October 1920 by some exiles in Tashkent, then part of USSR, with the initiative of Manabendra Nath Roy. The party had little influence in the area comprising Bangladesh till the late forties. During the twenties and thirties, the radical nationalist movement of the middle class youth was mainly directed in the form of terrorist actions against the British. Killing of British citizens and police officials was the main action of the terrorists. The greater districts of Dhaka, Chittagong, Mymensingh, Comilla and Barisal were the main centres of such actions. At that time many activists were killed in confrontation with the police and many were hanged in prisons. Besides, hundreds were put behind the bar for years, and many of them were sentenced to transportation to the islands of Andaman. Terrorists came into contact with communist literature in prisons, and many were converted to communism. After the partition of India in 1947, the communists of East Bengal, mostly Hindus, migrated to India due to repressive measures and communal riots.

The second congress of CPI was held in 1948 in Calcutta, which was represented by 125 delegates from East Bengal, and five from West Pakistan. Given the reality of divided India, it was decided to form a separate committee for the party working within Pakistan. Accordingly, a nine-member central committee of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) was formed. CPP was formally founded on 6 March 1948. CPP had little influence and organisation in West Pakistan but it developed rapidly in East Bengal. The policies and programmes of the party in respect of strategy and tactics had been similar to those of the CPI. Since the end of the Second World War, the influence of the Communist Party of China (CPC) had been increasing within CPI. When the CPI called for a 'socialistic revolution' through armed uprising, CPC approved it.

Between 1948 and 1950, there were many sporadic peasant uprisings and continuous peasant movements led by the organisers of CPP of which the most spectacular was the uprising of Hajong tribe at Susang Durgapur in the district of Netrokona. This continued for few years. The tebhaga movement was fought by tenant farmers in some districts in the northern region in 1946-47. Many peasants died in police firing. The struggle was called off following assurance that Tebhaga demands would be met. The NACHOLE uprising of 1950, was an armed confrontation between the tenants and the police. Peasant uprising and armed confrontations with the police also took place at Dhanimunia and Dumuria in Khulna, Barendra Durgapur, Chandpur and Egarokhan in Jessore and Bianibazar in Sylhet. Many organisers of CPP were killed and many more were put behind the bar. More than 3000 communists were arrested during 1948-51. Hundreds of them suffered imprisonment for years together without any trial. The party members went into hiding and became largely alienated from the people.

A plenary session of the central committee of CPI was held in May 1950, where a new provisional committee was elected. In April 1951, a draft programme of the Party was published calling for the creation of a broad-based anti-feudal and anti-imperialist front, including the national bourgeoisie. CPI then gave up armed struggle and started collaborating with the Nehru government and decided to participate in parliamentary politics. A similar change was wrought later in East Bengal. In a conference of delegates from different districts held in 1951, CPP decided to lay emphasis on mobilisations by infiltrating themselves in 'petty-bourgeois political parties'.

Starting from the 1950s, Maulana abdul hamid khan bhasani, with the help of communist and radical elements, organised the peasants through the Krishak Samity, the peasant front of the national awami party. Except for the period between 1954 and 1957, the Krishak Samity faced tremendous repression. Following withdrawal of Martial Law in 1962, the Krishak Samity became more active and had organised a number of powerful and militant peasants rallies in different parts of the country. In 1969, these peasants spontaneously stood up against jotedars, village touts, local government functionaries and repressive government officials in different parts of the country. In some places, they took to gherao and jalao and set up people's courts. In keeping with the new mood of the peasants, the Krishak Samity tried to popularise 'the land to the tiller' slogan. However, given its weak organisation and vacillating leadership, it could not give a definite shape to radical ideas.

The division in the international communist camp after the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party resulted in a split in CPI. A section of Indian communists formed a new party, the CPI (Marxist), and lent its support to the 'Beijing line'. A split in CPP followed. The pro-Beijing elements formed a separate party, Purba Pakistaner Communist Party (CPPP). The first congress of this party was held in Sylhet in 1967 where a proposal for achieving 'Swadhin Janaganatantrik Purba Bangla' (Independent People Democratic East Bengal) was adopted. However, a major faction led by Mohammad Toaha and Abdul Haque held the idea of achieving a people's democratic revolution within the framework of Pakistan. Ultimately CPPP had a rift, and the faction proposing Swadhin Janaganatantrik Purba Bangla led by Deven Sikder, Abul Bashar, Abdul Matin, Alauddin and others, formed a separate party in April 1969. They named it as Purba Banglar Communist Party (CPPB).

There was a peasant uprising in some villages of Naxalbari in the Indian state of West Bengal during May-June 1967 where armed peasants led by a few dissident CPI (Marxist) leaders set up a 'parallel administration' and forcibly occupied the land of some jotedars (big landowners). The initiators of the Naxalbari uprising emphasised the strategy of political actions in the form of 'physical annihilation of the class enemies' and accused the CPI (M) leadership of 'neo-revisionism'. This debate continued for about two years among the pro-Beijing Indian communists and ultimately a new party was floated on 1 May 1969. The new party CPI (Marxist-Leninist) started replicating the Naxalbari experience elsewhere. The split in CPI (M) was quickly followed by a shift of strategy in CPPB. In a congress held in Pabna in June 1969, CPPB decided to follow the political line of CPI (ML). In the meantime, Awami League emerged as the major political party by successfully symbolising nationalist aspirations of the people of East Pakistan. It won a landslide victory in the general elections held in December 1970. The radical nationalist elements within the Awami League became very active in the political arena and were working in a clandestine manner for the independence of East Pakistan. After some eventful months, armed struggle against the Pakistani military regime began in March 1971. Bangladesh emerged as a politically independent entity after nine months of war of liberation.

The pro-Moscow CPP supported the liberation war and many of its members actively participated in it. However, the role of some pro-Beijing factions was negative during the war. A small fragment of CPPB supported the liberation war. A section of CPPP collaborated with Pakistani occupation army and fought against the freedom fighters. Another section belonging to both CPP and CPPB termed the war as a fight between Pakistani bourgeois and emerging Bangali bourgeois, and declared both the Pakistani army and freedom fighters as enemies of the people. Purba Banglar Sarbahara Party, an independent group among the pro-Beijing communists, was the lone exception. It participated in the war of liberation. This party was founded by siraj sikder in January 1968 (Purba Banglar Sramik Andalon). Towards the end of 1969, they formed Mao Zedong Research Centre in Dhaka. They viewed East Pakistan as a colony of Pakistan and put forward the idea of liberating East Pakistan through an armed guerrilla movement.

After independence of Bangladesh, the pro-Moscow Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB, the erstwhile CPP) decided to cooperate with the Awami League government in its nation building tasks. At a meeting of the central committee held on 4 February 1972, CPB decided to work in collaboration with Awami League 'to foster progressive thoughts within Awami League to a greater extent'. However, owing to its identification with the rule of Awami League as a tail ender, it lost its popularity rapidly and became marginalised. The situation of pro-Beijing communist groups was no better. During and after the War of Liberation these groups suffered further disintegration leaving a very bad image before the people for their role during the liberation war. After the war, their alienation from the people was more or less complete.

The central committee of Chhatra League adopted a resolution in its meeting on 5-7 March 1972 calling for 'the establishment of scientific socialism through a social revolution by intensifying class struggle'. Inner party strife within Chhatra League continued for some months, and the division was complete when two rival factions held separate council sessions on 21-23 July 1972. One group remained loyal to the official policy of Awami League and the other group aspired to achieve socialism through a 'social revolution'. After some eventful months, a new political party was floated with the name Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) on 31 October 1972. This party was the culmination of clandestine political work by a group, which could be traced back to the early sixties.

Bangladesh was in the vortex of political unrest and violence since October 1974. The nation was heading towards a deep crisis, and Bangabandhu sheikh mujibur rahman was thinking of a monolithic political system as the last resort to avoid a civil strife. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution was passed by the Jatiya Sangsad on 25 January 1975 with the enactment of a bill supporting a presidential form of government and a single-party political system. However, the single-party government with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as President of the Republic was overthrown by a factional military coup on 15 August 1975.

The anti-secular and anti-socialist forces became very active in the political arena after the August coup. A section of pro-Beijing communists welcomed the new regime. The coup opened the door of power politics and intrigue in and outside the cantonments. This resulted in another coup on 3 November 1975 by a group of senior army officers, which overthrew the government of Khondakar Mostaq Ahmad. This coup was short-lived as it was again overthrown by a counter coup in the early morning of 7 November 1975. An early morning announcement in the radio referred to a 'revolution' initiated by the 'Biplabi Gana Bahini', the armed wing of JSD. However, the 'revolution' was side tracked by the rise of General Ziaur Rahman. Soon JSD was accused of 'acts of subversion against the patriotic army and the integrity of the state'. A secret trial was held inside the Dhaka Central Jail where Col. abu taher, a leader of the JSD, was hanged and many of its top leaders imprisoned.

Socialism as a state policy had been officially recognised by the government of Bangladesh since its very inception. This was somewhat reflected in the first five-year plan (1973-78). However, since 1975 state policy itself went against the concept of radical social transformation. [Mohiuddin Ahmad]

Bibliography V putchkov, Thirty-five Years of Struggle, Communist Party of Bangladesh (Translated by Mozammel Hossain and Nazrul Islam as Sangramer Poitrish Bachhar, Bangladesher Communist Party) Dhaka, 1983; Sumanta Banarjee, In the Wake of Naxalbari, Calcutta, 1980; K Antonova, G Bongard-Levin, and G. Kotovsky, A History of India, Book 2, Moscow, 1979; Badruddin Umar, Purba Banglar Bhasha Andolon O Totkalin Rajniti, Dhaka, 1970.