Class struggle defined traverse of the Baangaalee people’s victory-1971 in Bangladesh. The people’s War for Liberation achieved the victory by defeating Pakistan in 1971.
Dynamics of class struggle also determined pace and forms of the political and other struggles the Baangaalee people were waging since August 14, 1947, the day the British colonial rulers transferred the bifurcated sub-continent to their comprador subordinates.
On August 14, 1947, according to a description by Tajuddin Ahmad, the first prime minister of Bangladesh, Pakistan rulers organized celebration of “independence from the British rule” in Dhaka, the capital city of the then East Pakistan, the eastern province of neo-colonial state of Pakistan, and now, independent Bangladesh. On the contrary, those days were witnessing struggles by peasants and laborers in remote areas in E. Pak. Innumerable such conflicts between the exploited and exploiters decided the Baangaalee people’s historic victory on December 16, 1971.
The victory is unique in the history of the people in this land. No other parallel achievement is there in the history of this people. The victory-1971 came with participation by the entire people, mostly from the rank of the rural and urban toilers.
Political demands raised, political pronouncements made and political documents formulated by the dominating sections throughout the long struggle reflected this reality of toilers’ power of participation in the struggles. It would have been impossible for all other classes among the Baangaalee population to carry on their struggles – electoral or non-electoral, participation or boycott, cooperation or non-cooperation, non-violent or violent, unarmed or armed – had not the toilers participated.
However, a contradictory scene prevailed: social sections not from the working class were at the leadership while the working class was powering all forms of struggles. The non-working class leadership was able to mobilize the working class en masse.
Thence, the leadership had to compromise to win over the working class. There’s a concurrent part of the reality: The working class in Bangladesh had no political organ capable of taking over the lead. Moreover, it was not equipped theoretically. The political incapability and theoretically unarmed position of the Bangladesh working class were rooted in its historical condition/development. This led the working class to turn follower of the dominating section, a compromising move, no doubt.
Many of the struggles in the neo-colony E. Pakistan, today’s Bangladesh, were solely organized by the working people – industrial workers, urban working people, peasantry from the poor and lower-middle strata, and less-earning urban middle class. These were in small, medium and large factories and branches of industry, in rural areas and rural market places, in transport and communication sectors, and in public and private offices/enterprises/financial institutions. These were heroic resistances by the masses of the people.
Nevertheless, the working class could not crystallize these struggles into a single and dominating political struggle under its leadership. It was a limitation under that circumstance, and a failure. Expecting something else from this class during those moments is nothing but letting brain go berserk.
These struggles by people from the lower strata were of short, medium or long duration, were with slow or fast speed, were sporadic or organized, were with less force or forceful, were mostly non-violent while a few turned violent. These were dependent on equation of class forces influenced by reality, and the reality, in turn, was influenced/impacted by these. Class interests impregnated the reality with class conflict. This pattern prevailed until near-midnight of March 25, 1971, the moment the Pakistan army began a 9-month long genocide by making an all out assault on the people throughout Bangladesh.
The entire course took a significant turn since near-midnight of March 25, 1971, the moment the Pakistan army’s first part, brutal assault code named Operation Searchlight, of the genocidal operation began. That was a turning point in the political process going on since August 14, 1947. And, that was a juncture in the history of the people aspiring for a democratic life.
One political process replaced other since that moment. The Baangaalee people never faced a modern armed force in a war-like situation. There was no such experience even during the long British colonial rule, not even during the Chottogram Rising under the leadership of Maastaar daa, not even during the Tebhaagaa struggle, and the Saaotaal and Haajong rebellions. Nevertheless, the war-like situation was imposed on the Baangaalee people. The situation pulled exploited classes together to defend their life, honor and rights.
Members of the public, the working people, never imagined that they would see tanks rolling through city streets on a mass murder mission. But, they witnessed the scene, and many of them turned silent before they could realize incidents around them. The public never imagined witnessing such murder at mass scale in response to people’s political aspiration, demands and moves within the legal boundary set by the neo-colonial state. But, the public experienced that murderous reality. There were heaps of dead bodies of the Baangaalee citizens; there were dead bodies strewn along city streets and alleys. Adam Hochschild describes mass murders colonial rulers carried in Congo: “If a village refused to submit to the rubber regime, state or company troops or their allies sometimes shot everyone in sight, so that nearby villages would get the message.” (King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, New York, 1998) Many Bangladesh villages experienced almost similar massacres. There are incidents that were more brutal, murderous and grisly than the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. All adult male members of a village in Rajshahi were shot dead after assembling them on the bank of the Gangaa (also spelled Ganga/Ganges). The ordinary Baangaalees never imagined that an armed force mostly retained with Baangaalee taxpayers’ money would engage into acts of arson at mass scale – set localities/houses/shops/market places on fire in different districts. But, the people had to witness the act. Violation of honor of a major part of the people is another dastard tale, which is unacceptable in human society. An exodus of 10 million people to India, and internal displacement, mainly from urban to rural areas, of millions of people within the span of a few months is a narrative of human suffering yet to be recorded fully.
The Baangaalee people’s last traces of trust on the morbid state named Pakistan withered away from that moment. A new dynamics took hold of the people’s struggle. The neo-colonial state resorted to naked, violent, brute force to draw conclusion to a certain number of contradictions it was facing. It was a live image of a brute, incapable and immature state!
Most members of the subaltern classes never handled any firearm – a modern weapon, a modern machine. But, the situation compelled them to take up those. The public never imagined of charging police armory. But, the situation compelled them to openly charge police armories in districts. The people never imagined of breaking down prison. But, the situation compelled them to break down prisons in districts, and free political prisoners. The people never imagined that they would engage into armed skirmishes and pitched battles against the Pakistan army for long hours, demolish culverts, set up barricades, and lay sieges. But, the situation compelled them to engage with such armed activities in districts.
The first hours of the Pakistan army’s armed assault at massive scale faced stiff, heroic, intense resistance from the Baangaalee members of the East Pakistan Rifles (EPR), the paramilitary border security force, and the police force in Dhaka with a heavy sacrifice by the Baangaalees.
In areas away from Dhaka, developments, seemingly dramatic both in the life of the law-abiding and peace-loving citizens and to the state pushing forward with iron claws and spewing fire, emerged: People took control of many districts and areas, identified as liberated, smashed all authorities of the state machine in those areas, and, set up their authority in skeleton form. Many of the areas under people’s authority were district and sub-divisional, part of district, headquarters.
In more than two cases, thousands of people, armed with hatchets, spears, arrows and bows, encircled cantonments, kept the Pakistan garrisons there isolated. The people also armed themselves with rifles taken away from police armories.
In these cases, Baangaalee members of the EPR, police, and soldiers, who could come out from cantonments and other army camps, from the East Bengal Regiment of the Pakistan army joined the people. Thus, there were automatic and semi-automatic firearms including light and heavy machine guns.
Baangaalee members of the EPR took control of many border outposts. Wireless communication systems of the police and the EPR helped communicate between fighting units/localities.
Baangaalee members of the Pakistan army and the EPR staying in their rural homes as part of their leave during the period, and members of Ansar, a paramilitary force the Pakistan state organized with members from rural community as a first-line of defense, began imparting elementary training to the rural youth in many areas of Bangladesh. The rural population spontaneously helped the fighting soldiers, members of the EPR, police and Ansar forces with ration and logistics.
There, thus, emerged acts of fraternity between the people and former armed members of the state.
These developments, almost with lightning speed in a social reality, happened during the first hours of resistance – March 26, 1971 to early-/mid-April 1971.
These developments – all out military assault by the state on an entire population, millions of people joining armed resistance all over the country, smashing down the state’s authority over vast tracts of land, creating people’s authority, mutiny/breaking down of discipline in the armed forces, and the fraternity – were unimaginable to many including all the contending parts of the mainstream political forces even in early-March 1971. These appeared dramatic to many!
These developments were unimaginable even to the revolutionary proletarian political forces intensively and unceasingly engaged with organizing masses of the rural poor and industrial workers for a radical change since a long time. However, most of them responded to the call of the time.
The developments, irreversible, were with dynamics originating within conflicts of class interests. Nevertheless, that was the reality of contradiction.
The mainstream never analyzes the dynamics, and forces creating the dynamics although the analysis is required for grasping further political developments. One of the reasons for this denial is fear of admitting the role the exploited classes played in the entire episode, which carry future implications. A dissection of the developments finds nothing but the determining role of class struggle, which mobilized people with unprecedented force and creativity.
Politics shaped incidents, and incidents shaped politics approaching to 1971-Bangladesh as it, politics-incidents-politics, happens everywhere. Pakistan regimes’ repression on the Baangaalee people, and people’s resistance to the regimes continued uninterrupted.
One part of the resisting political force completely relied on marginalized people, banked its political program on participation of the marginalized, popularized its program for radical change, continued organizing the poor peasantry, industrial workers and other downtrodden, and the people found the radical program as a path to emancipation from exploitation and wretchedness. It was a dream for a democratic life, a life better and dignified than all other ways of life.
The program, with variances in analysis and slogan, of the progressive/anti-imperialist/anti-exploitation, radical political forces included termination of exploitative relations, expropriation of imperialist capital, changes in class power equation and ensuring people’s democracy. All these aimed improving the people’s living and working conditions. It was a revolutionary politics of the exploited.
On the other hand, in the same camp that was opposing the Pakistan state, there was a political force that kept a position, which was not only far away, but also, fundamentally different from the position of the radical part. While paying lip service to pro-people programs including socialism and inserting the program into its political documents, it had no program to expropriate exploitative relations, change class power equation, and re-structure ruling machine favoring the exploited people.
The two parts consisted of a number of classes with contradictory class interests while united on a common ground – national liberation. These two parts were in conflict with the Pakistan ruling elites. Therefore, there was class struggle always going on at different levels. The class struggle continued in ideological, economic and political spheres.
This conflict between the people’s aspiration and the rulers’ interest created tension, which the ruling elites couldn’t handle successfully. The ruling machine had no process and mechanism to handle such contradictions and tensions other than waging a war against a people that paid lion share for retaining the armed forces.
The Pakistan ruling elites continued with their politics by resorting to a war against the Baangaalee people. It was a reality articulated by Lenin in a lecture: “War is a continuation of policy by other means. All wars are inseparable from the political systems that engender them. The policy which a given state, a given class within that state, pursued for a long time before the war is inevitably continued by that same class during the war, the form of action alone being changed. (“War and revolution”, Collected Works, vol. 24, Progress Publishers, Moscow, erstwhile USSR, 1977) The Baangaalee people encountered such a war.
Rousseau in The Social Contract defined war as “a relation, not between man and man, but between State and State, and individuals are enemies only accidentally, not as men, nor even as citizens, but as soldiers; not as members of their country, but as its defenders. Finally, each State can have for enemies only other States, and not men; for between things disparate in nature there can be no real relation.” But, in 1971-Bangladesh, the Pakistan state established antagonistic relation with the Baangaalee people in the form, intensity and width of a war for keeping a land – Bangladesh – occupied. The bloody developments confirmed the Marxists’ definition of state – nothing, but only a machine to rule.
The Pakistan ruling elites engaged into armed struggle with most other classes/factions of classes in Bangladesh, which was an intensified and open form of class struggle.
Since its usurpation of political power on August 14, 1947 in Pakistan, the ruling coterie failed to build up the political process and mechanism necessary for handling class conflicts according to its convenience. It had to cross the threshold of non-military macro-politics on the near-last hours of March 25, 1971 as political authority of the ruling elites began eroding/evaporating since early-March 1971.
Sociopolitical dynamics and political dynamics changed since the early-March days in 1971. Sub-political organizations with their interrelated parts were acting. A few of those were acting through conflict while the rest were in consensus. A new political coordination emerged within each of the contending political camps. These impacted the dynamics that emerged since the night of March 25, 1971. None of these sociopolitical and political dynamics, and sub-political organizations was isolated from classes/factions within classes.
The politics and the political organizations/institutions the Pakistan ruling elites were imposing on the Baangaalee people were unrealizable, unmanageable and unsustainable. The reason: The ruling elites had no capacity, in terms of ideology, credibility, acceptability, institutions with co-opting capacity, and economy, to handle the contradictions within its system for exploitation/extraction. Handling of contradictions includes managing aspirations and demands of the repressed people, which the ruling coterie lacked.
The Bangladesh people’s struggle for a democratic life had to traverse this reality, and the reality radicalized them, and they, in turn, compelled parts spearheading their political struggle to take radical posture including inserting the program of socialism in one of the basic documents of the state, which was getting organized.
Following Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit, it can be said: Both the contending parties, the Pakistan ruling elites and the suppressed Baangaalee people, felt no constraint in resorting to political and physical actions since early-March-1971 as both were striving to establish self-, and independent authority and power. It was a conflict between subjective desires and objective conditions, where the Baangaalee people successfully handled the objective condition as their subjective desires were in accordance with objective reality although the Pakistan state machine militarily appeared powerful. Its administrative mechanism shattered down and turned ineffective during the non-cooperation movement in March-1971 in E. Pakistan. Even, judges of E. Pak. High Court were not acting according to the military rulers’ desires. Ultimately, the Baangaalee people’s political system prevailed as they could successfully handle contradictions according to their aspiration within the existing condition.
There emerged organizations, formal and informal, and completely new in Bangladesh society, in the process. These included the force/units of the Freedom Fighters, organized and trained in Indian territories along Bangladesh border, under the non-left leadership, and guerrilla units/organizations under the left leadership, explicitly anti-imperialist political forces, within Bangladesh.
These developments in areas of subjective and objective conditions were dependent on and germinated from interests of contending classes; and that’s the reason to consider these as connected to class struggle. The victory of the Baangaalee people, defeating Pakistan, in December-1971, thus, traversed the path determined by class struggle.
Note: This abridged version of a longer article was originally published in Victory Day Special issue of New Age, Dhaka, on December 16, 2018, the Victory Day of the Bangladesh people’s War for Liberation, the day eastern part of the Pakistan armed forces surrendered in Dhaka.
Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.