Why are Bangladesh’s communists in such a debilitated state?

This is concurrently a conventional and complex question. You have to go back to history to find the answer to this question. Firstly, no leaders of the All Indian Communist Party moved here during the partition of 1947. Comrade Mozaffar was from Sandwip (Chattogram), but he did not come. Only Khoka Roy among the Bengal province committee leaders came here. Even Moni Singh was not in the central committee then, perhaps Nepal Nag was. There was a leadership vacuum. District-level leaders were given top leadership positions. Secondly, the communal riot of 1950 created another problem. A total of 15,000 leaders and activists were forced to migrate to India. You also have to consider the atrocities of the Muslim League against the communists in the Pakistan era. All know about Ila Mitra. I would tell you about another person whose name was not so familiar. She is Nankar Rebellion’s leader Aparna Pal. She suffered inhuman torture.

Is the "Ye azaadi jhoota hai” line of BT Randive mostly to blame for that?

Partly, not fully. Firstly, the Muslim League inherently could not put up with leftists. This is also true for the fundamentalists of today. I think the fundamentalist ideology of today is based on four pillars—opposition to India, opposition to Hindu, opposition to Bengali culture and misogyny has been added lately.

You were directly involved with the Education Movement of 1962. How did you join Communist Party?

I became a member of the Communist Party in 1961. I was in my first year. Communist Party was underground then. The party communicated with me. A person named Mokbular Rahman was the medium. He gave me ‘Shikha’, a cyclostyled newspaper. As per the party’s decision, we decided to take to the streets defying Martial Law on 21 February 1962. By then Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy was arrested.

How did Chhatra Union, Chhatra League and other organisations join hands then?

Chhatra Union was already prepared. Chhatra League was extremely agitated after the arrest of Suhrawardy. We then sat together. Incidentally, pro-Ayub Khan student bodies such as NSF and Chhatra Shakti were also invited. We convened in Madhur Canteen. Farhad bhai (Mohammad Farhad) played a bright and intelligent role in the meeting. Moni bhai (Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni) was there. Farhad bhai proposed a strike called the next day. NSF and Chhatra Shakti would not agree by any means. The debate continued till 12 in the night. When NSF and Chhatra Shakti leaders had left, Farhad bhai declared that strike would be called the next day. As it was midnight, pro-Ayub bodies would not be able to inform IB (Police intelligence). The strike was a success.

In the rivalry between Moscow and Peking, why did you opt for the latter?

Documents from China and Russia started to reach here by then. China’s stance seemed more revolutionary to me. Everything changed later. That China and Russia do not exist anymore. Russia does not officially adhere to socialism anymore and China veered unofficially.

What is behind this failure of socialism- theoretical or practical?

Socialism’s voyage was started in uncharted waters. Socialism had no prior experience. I would not blame anyone. Lenin did not have any experience. So, socialism went through a trial. Stalin was blamed for the fall of the Soviet Union. But why did the anti-Stalin elements that were in power for decades fail to amend those mistakes?

Pro-Moscow leftists took part in the liberation war with Awami League in 1971. A faction of pro-China leftists including you formed Purba Bangla Samannay Committee. What was your reasoning to float that?

Pro-Chinese leftists split into factions before 1971. Conflict of interest and personal issues were behind the rift as well as some political issues. We had prioritized Bangladesh’s liberation and decided to fight from inside the country. We had control over 14 areas of the country that were partially free. We had around 30,000 armed fighters.

You choose to oppose Awami League in full force after independence. Was that stance correct?

It is not true that we choose all-out opposition to Awami League. We opposed some aspects of the constitution but we supported the fundamental principles of the constitution. I still believe that was a big step in history.

But was Bhasani NAP’s stance different?

Maulana Bhasani’s stance that time cannot be supported. Once I went to him. Perceiving my stance, he told me that you are a communist so keep away from me. The politics I am going to venture into now would not conform to your politics. Communism and communalism do not go hand in hand. I would now do a bit of communalism. It is necessary.

Could the leftists fathom the fallout of the tragedy of Bangabandhu’s murder on 15 August at that time?

No, it could not be perceived correctly then. We were hurt and condemned the killing. But we later came to understand that the killing was not so straightforward. There was a local-foreign conspiracy was behind it. Bangladesh shifted its stance to the US block from Soviet-Indian block following the killing. Thus the incident is historically important. Bangabandhu banned religion-based politics and Ziaur Rahman reinstated it. We are now suffering the consequences of that shift.

Leftist politicians played important role in the last century’s '70s and ’80s despite many setbacks and rifts among themselves. Why did this trend halt after 90?

Two factors contributed to such fall. There was opportunism among the leadership. Communist Party split between Peking and Moscow in 1967. Why did the pro-China faction divide into parts within a few years? There is no answer to this question. In many cases, leadership feuds contributed more than ideological issues. Pro-Moscow leaders went to Russia so many times, were trained and taught Marxism. Yet two-thirds of central committee leaders of the Communist Party including the president and general secretary took a stand for the abolition of the party following the fall of the Soviet Union. This did not happen in India.

You were once known as pro-Peking and now a politburo member of the pro-Moscow Bangladesh Communist Party. What is the condition of the Communist Party now?

Among the leftist parties in the country, only CPB has some support base. A party becomes strong when it has some support base and engages itself in theoretical practices. On the other hand, it is true that there is a difference between today’s leadership with that of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Clash over leadership exists in every party.

Two of your booklets in the ‘80s were widely discussed in the political arena. One was ‘to the pro-Peking friends’ and the other was ‘to the friends of CPB’. You urged both of the parties to shun blind allegiance. Did they pay any heed to your calls?

They did not accept the call then but did later.

How much acceptance do they have among the farmers and workers?

The agricultural system has seen a massive change here. So the farmer’s movement would not come about like past. The production system in agriculture has been changed so new thinking has to be devised to launch any farmer’s movement here.

We have seen a massive farmer’s movement in India demanding fair prices of agricultural products. The Modi government had to give in and amend the law in the face of protest.

It is undeniable that the leftists are organisationally weak here. Alarmingly, bourgeoisie could have supplanted the leftists, but the fundamentalists did. Many people consider BNP as Awami League’s alternative but it is dangerous thinking as BNP is allied with a fundamental force like Jamaat. It is unfortunate that fundamental forces also have sway over Awami League. They changed textbooks as per the demand of Hefazat. We protested the move. I think there is no fundamental difference between Jamaat and Hefazat.

Eight leftist parties formed Left Democratic Alliance. How is the alliance doing?

The alliance is doing its part and it is taking some programmes.

But can these programmes have any impact on people’s lives?

Not much. There are even some parties in the alliance that have a single leader. They do not have a second leader.

Many people do not even consider the Communist Party and BSD as leftist parties and they consider these two parties as revisionists

How correct are they themselves? They would say they never gave in to greed or take any undue advantage. We also did not take any favour from anyone. Weakness in leadership exists in every party.

Soviet communism is abolished and China is moving towards capitalism. What is the future of leftists globally?

The socialist movement is going through a low ebb internationally but I think this is not the end. Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter said capitalism would ultimately be destroyed by its success and socialism would reawaken. He was not a Marxist. The crux of socialism is a planned economy and fulfilling the fundamental needs of all people. Capitalism can never guarantee that.

Your party had an enduring relationship with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which was in power for 34 long years in West Bengal. Why did they fail to bring about any change despite being in power for so long?

CPM was in power in one or two states, not in the whole of India. They could not change the economic structure of the country. Some lower-tier leaders of the party got involved in crime and corruption but no such allegations surfaced against any frontline leaders. They worked their best to ensure the basic rights of people.

From the experience of such a long political career, what do you think is the main threat for Bangladesh right now? What is the way out?

The biggest threat Bangladesh faces is religious fundamentalism. Again, we won against this force whenever we fought this menace unitedly. In the future battle, there must be a bridge between cultural forces and progressive political forces. We now need a government that is anti-fundamental forces and will establish democracy and rule of law. Specific programmes are needed for the welfare of workers, farmers and the middle class. Leftists and parties other than leftists should be united based on these programmes. A greater platform consisting of intellectuals, cultural activists and others has to be forged.

Thank You

Thank you.

* This interview appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Galib Ashraf

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