On the protests in Bangladesh: What is to be done?

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On February 5, 2013, Bangladesh erupted. Protests began in the Shahbag neighborhood in the capital Dhaka, but quickly spread across the country. The protesters demanded justice for the genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity committed during the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971. The International Crimes Tribunal, which, despite its name is not a United Nations organization, is an organ of the state of Bangladesh, is charged with bringing those responsible to justice under the Bangladesh International Crimes Act of 1973. This is the catalyst that is bringing the masses of Bangladesh onto the streets. Recognizing the danger to the social order, the regime, some Islamists, and paramilitaries have beat and shot the protesters. Complex history and complex interests have led us to this point. Again, we must ask Lenin’s question: What is to be done?


Prior to 1971, Bangladesh was internationally recognized as part of Pakistan; it was often referred to as “East Pakistan.” Even so, Bangladesh was a separate nation, part of the greater Bangla Zone, locked inside and oppressed by Pakistan. Bangladesh existed as a kind of colony within the semi-colonial, regional hegemon of greater Pakistan. Many of the land owners and capitalists of East Pakistan resided in West Pakistan or had close ties to the West. The majority of wealthy strata supported unity with Pakistan.  The majority of the middle and poorer strata experienced discrimination, second class citizenship, and loss of opportunity in the greater Pakistan dominated by Western Pakistan. Even though both regions had a majority that practiced Islam, there were ethnic and linguistic differences between West and East Pakistan. For example, Urdu was declared by Pakistan to be its only official language even though the majority in East Pakistan spoke Bangla, and many others spoke Punjabi. Many died protesting the linguistic discrimination. Several civilians lost their lives on February 21, 1952 when the Pakistani police cracked down on protesters. To this day, the day is remembered as Language Martyrs Day. Those in the East were excluded from many aspects of Pakistani society due to national chauvinism. While the West taxed and ruled the East, little was spent on infrastructure and development of the East. Even though Easterners constituted a majority of the country, those in the East were underrepresented in the Pakistani military, government, and other technical posts. The way elections were held in Pakistan sought to ensure that Easterners were underrepresented and kept out of power. Where there is oppression, there is social tension, there is resistance.

A political crisis occurred when the Eastern Awami League, despite the unfair electoral system, had a landslide victory in the elections of 1970. Under the constitution, the Awami League had the right to form a new government and select the Prime Minister. However, the Western economic and political establishment refused to go along with the vote. There had been a long history of the establishment refusing to cede political power to Easterners. The pro-Western Pakistani military establishment tightened its hold on the East. Between March 10th and 13th, Pakistan began increasing its troops and weaponry in the East. This would be followed by a brutal pacification effort against the East. In November of that year, the deadliest cyclone in history hit the East, killing an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people. The West intentionally let the East bleed by responding slowly with very weak relief efforts. A general strike and other acts of resistance would follow. It was in December that the Bangladesh Liberation War began.

On March 26th, 1971, the Mukti Bahini, the Liberation Army, was formed to resist the Western-imperialist backed genocide. Although the Soviets sought to use this to their advantage, the main danger to the world at the time was Western imperialism led by the United States or imperialism as a whole, not Soviet social-imperialism specifically. In the case of Bangladesh, class interest and national interest coincided as the national liberation movement gained traction among the masses. Three million died. Eight to ten million became refugees from the violence. Most of the violence was committed by the Pakistani military and their paramilitary supporters. Mass graves exist across Bangladesh where students, intellectuals, workers, peasants, anyone suspected of opposing the Pakistani establishment was murdered. There was a systematic effort to eliminate the intellectual and cultural elite of Bangladesh. Hindus and other minorities were especially targeted by the Pakistani military. An estimated 400,000 women were raped as part of the pacification efforts. Women students from Bangladesh were forced into brothels to serve the Pakistani military. Journalists were rounded up or deported to hide the extent of the atrocities. Yahya Khan, president of Pakistan, declared, “Kill three million of them, and the rest will eat out of our hand.”

The conflict took on an international dimension. The United States and Mao’s China aligned with the genocidal Pakistani regime. India and the Soviet Union aligned with the national liberation movement. Internal documents of the Nixon administration characterized events in Bangladesh as a “selective genocide,” yet the United States supported the Pakistani regime regardless. A high-ranking US official was quoted as saying, “It is the most incredible, calculated thing since the days of the Nazis in Poland.” China, as it slid into revisionism, also played a reactionary role. The revolutionary period in China was ending with the purging the radical left and rehabilitation of the revisionist right. Lin Biao was falling from power. China was beginning to align with the United States against the Soviet Union. In addition, China had historically been in conflicts with India. India also feared that the Bangla freedom movement would spill over into its own borders, where a significant Bangla-speaking population exists. India was already facing numerous peasant uprisings, including the continuation of the Spring Thunder Naxalite movement led by the Indian students of the writings of Mao and Lin Biao. After India intervened, the liberation war ended on December 3rd, 1971. An independent Bangladesh emerged. Bangladesh, already poor, was devastated. This was only made worse when in 1974, natural disasters and rising rice prices led to mass starvation across Bangladesh. The corruption of the new regime made things worse. An estimated 1.5 million people died as a result of the food crisis and epidemics: cholera, malaria, etc. Hit hardest were the poor: workers, peasants, lumpen. The United States saw this as an opportunity for revenge and cut off any aid to Bangladesh. The nominal reason was that Bangladesh traded with Cuba. The reality is that the United States helped to inflict genocide on Bangladesh because the regime would not fall into line with US-backed imperialism, because the regime tilted toward Soviet social-imperialism. By the time Bangladesh stopped jute trade with Cuba, the aid was too little, too late. The imperialists bled the masses.

The conflicts left deep wounds on Bengla society that have never healed. Many of the social and political conflicts were unresolved in the following decades. On December 24, 1971 Home minister of Bangladesh A. H. M. Qamaruzzaman said, “war criminals will not survive from the hands of law. Pakistani military personnel who were involved with killing and raping have to face tribunal.” In 1972, plans were announced to try to put one hundred top Pakistani military officers on charges of genocide. The Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunals) Order 1972 was enacted to put on trial only those Bangladeshis who had collaborated. However, over the years, the laws were modified to suit political agendas of the parties in power. For example, a general amnesty was issued in November of 1973 that granted amnesty to all except those found guilty of rape, murder, attempt of murder or arson. Yet in 1975, this amnesty was revoked. This pattern would continue until the present.

The International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973 sought to expand prosecutions, irrespective of nationality, for war crimes and crimes against humanity, ‘‘violations of any humanitarian rules applicable in armed conflicts laid out in the Geneva Conventions of 1949’’ and ‘‘any other crimes under international law.” However, nothing came of this since Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated in 1975 by military officers who opposed his consolidation of power and his corruption, but also opposed his support of moderately socially progressive policies: moderate land reform, advancing the status of women, secularization of society against Islamization etc. It is reported that the CIA knew of the planned assassination against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and did nothing to prevent it, perhaps even having a direct role in the plot. His regime fell in a military coup along with many of the policies associated with the Awami League regime. This assassination would throw Bangladesh into more chaos as a series of coups were unleashed. Some of the plotters of the assassination, after they had been overthrown by another coup, are reported to have taken refuge in Mao’s China, which had been quickly sliding into revisionism and aligning with the West since the decline, and ultimately death, of Lin Biao. The military ruled Bangladesh until 1990 when mass movements forced a return to civilian rule.

The Awami League came to power again in 2009 with the election of Sheikh Hasina against the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the main opposition, a coalition which includes Jamaat-e-Islami. Wounds were reopened when in 2009, the Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs of Bangladesh stated that Pakistanis would not be persecuted under the 1973 law. Thus those in Pakistan with much blood on their hands were given immunity. It was in December 2009 that Ghulam Azam, who had been collaborated with Pakistan, ascended to become chairman of Jamaat-e-Islami of Bangladesh. Many other collaborators found refuge within reactionary Islamist political parties known for stirring up sectarian violence against minorities. These parties often have deep ties to the security establishment in Bangladesh and to their counterparts in Pakistan.

Protests and counter-protests

Protests began in the Shahbag neighborhood of Dhaka on February 5th, 2013. The protesters had several immediate demands. They demanded the death sentence for those found guilty of war crimes by the International Crimes Tribunal. They demanded reversal of earlier verdicts in favor of capital punishment. Since then the protests have spread across the country with widening demands. Like other recent protests globally, social media, the internet, has played an important role. Events globally and in Bangladesh confirm Leading Light’s analysis that revolutions and social movements today have to break from past dogma to recognize new possibilities that technologies have opened up for both revolution and counter-revolution. In “New World, New Challenges, New Science,” Leading Light states:

“New technology and greater mobility open up new paths for revolution. Greater communication and mobility mean that revolutions may be increasingly dynamic in important ways. Subjective and objective conditions can change in explosive ways, very rapidly. Tempos can accelerate seemingly out of nowhere. Events in one location can quickly influence events and conditions around the world. Revolution will become more globalized in important ways. New technologies will have a profound  impact on how revolutions are made. New technologies will open up new possibilities during socialist construction.”

Even so, it is not just the mass movement that has quickly placed feet on the streets. So too have Jamaat-e-Islami and the security forces. Everyday more are shot and wounded. The streets are battlegrounds between protesters, counter-protesters, and security forces. At the beginning of March, 2013 the death toll stands at over 60. There will surely be more deaths on the horizon.

These protests occur on the heels of nationwide discontent and strikes over the factory fires that claimed hundreds of lives last year. They also occur on the heels of numerous natural disasters that have ravaged Bangladesh’s poor, with the ruling regime slow to react, if it reacts at all. All parties of the reactionary classes, whether they cast themselves as social-democrats, capitalist-modernizers, Islamists, socialists, communists, etc. are discredited in the eyes of the advanced segment of the masses, the Leading Lights of the Bangla Zone. Sheikh Hasin’s discredited regime faces a national election this year. Even though the protests have legitimate demands, the regime seeks to use the protests to deflect criticism of itself. The regime seeks to use the legitimate discontent of the masses as a pretext for the suppression of the opposition. Various revisionists have reportedly uncritically aligned with the state. The contradiction between the regime and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which includes Jamaat-e-Islami, is a contradiction amongst the enemies. Two manifestations of the Old Power are slugging it out while the masses bleed. Imperialists and the First World manipulate the situation to their own advantage.

Even so, there is an opportunity here to try to push the masses further toward real revolution, toward Leading Light Communism, the end of all oppression. Leading Lights must not tail the regime as many of the revisionists have. Leading Lights ought to use this opportunity to raise awareness amongst the masses of the larger problems facing society. Look at the big picture. Channel the anger of the masses against the collaborationists into anger directed against the whole system of Old Power, the whole of capitalism, imperialism, semi-feudalism, and all the horrors of the old system. The masses lose no matter which faction of the ruling class holds power. The problems of the Bangla Zone will not be solved through social-democratic reform. The nature of the Old Power is to preserve its rule in one way or another. Whether the Old Power wears a social democratic, Western face or an Islamist one, the masses lose. Although the protests will not lead to genuine revolution, Leading Lights can use this opportunity to educate, to train, to lead, to gain valuable experience. Mass movements of these kinds, where there is mass outrage, but genuine revolutionary infrastructure is lacking is all too common. Objective conditions — poverty, oppression, etc — are not enough to make revolution. Subjective conditions — the development of New Power, revolutionary political-military-cultural infrastructure, revolutionary consciousness, the genuine leadership of the Leading Light Communist Organization and the most advanced revolutionary science of Leading Light Communism — is also required. Seek to elevate the sites of the masses, while still keeping a realistic, scientific perspective. Scientific leadership is key.

Old Power versus New Power

Revolution is not achieved through compromise with the Old Power. The Old Power is there to serve the reactionary classes. The Old Power — the state, the civil and cultural institutions, the security-military apparatus, etc. — is a weapon only wielded by the reactionary classes. The state does not sit above class struggle, it is an instrument of class oppression. It is a means by which one class oppresses another. Revolution is not made by achieving piecemeal reforms within the Old Power. Revolution is made by sweeping away the Old Power, the old society. Revolution is a process of creating what Lenin called dual power, New Power that exists alongside the Old Power but, at the same time, contends against it. The New Power of the Leading Light is a shadow state, a shadow society, a shadow power, a shadow leadership that is largely clandestine until the time is right and it can emerge to openly contend with the Old Power through politico-military confrontation, through the global people’s war of the Leading Light. When the New Power of the Leading Light is strong enough to emerge in the open, red zones, base areas, will be established to go head-to-head in military confrontation with the forces of reaction. Mass movements like the protests in Bangladesh give us the opportunity to educate, train, recruit, gain experience. We should not dismiss them simply because the reactionary classes also strive to manipulate them. Rather, as much as possible, we should seek to lead. However, we should not lie to the masses. Even if this particular regime falls only to be replaced by another capitalist one due to the social unrest, we should always point out the limited nature of the protests and reforms generally.  We must be patient with the masses, but also firm in our resolve. We must not be afraid to lead, to be Leading Lights. While it is important to involve ourselves in mass movements, we must not liquidate into them. We must try to channel the masses in our direction. We must use these opportunities to expand our ranks. However, we cannot place our entire focus on the mass movement. We must continue the construction of the New Power of the Leading Light. We must hold firmly to the glorious strategic plan of the Leading Light. There will always be bumps in the road. There will always be twists, turns, surprises. We must continue on our course as laid out by the most advanced revolutionary science to date, Leading Light Communism. Patience. Loyalty. Discipline. Sacrifice. Leadership. Long live memory of the heroes of the Bangla Zone! Be the Leading Light! Follow the Leading Light! Long live the Leading Light! Our sun is rising. Our day is coming.


1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangladesh_famine_of_1974
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1971_Bangladesh_atrocities#Operation_Searchlight
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangladesh_Liberation_War
4. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/28/bangladesh-death-sentence-deadly-protests
5. http://tribune.com.pk/story/515492/large-scale-protests-bangladesh-deploys-troops-as-protest-toll-hits-76/
6. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/world/asia/bangladesh-sees-deadly-day-as-protests-persist.html?_r=0
7. http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/03/04/bang-m04.html
8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheikh_Hasina
9. https://leadinglightcommunist.org/184/
10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangladesh_Nationalist_Party

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