Languages, connected to economy including market, trade and commodity, are in conflict and in collaboration with contending class forces.

Thus, in general, and not taking into consideration stages society passes, languages are [1] inseparable question of democracy, and, in particular cases, of democratic struggle, and [2] a tool for subjection. The two contradictory positions depend on conflicting classes using it as a tool for conquests or for attaining democratic way of life.

Sheer class power, manifested in economy and politics, determines the question – a tool for conquests or for democratic struggle. A capital or an alliance of capitals can win or continue winning the “game” of conquests, or, turn a loser. A mature capital gains ground in the “game” while an immature capital rubs its nose on dust.

Whether it gains or losses capital unleashes onslaught on people – people’s economic, political, cultural and ideological rights and territories. Capital has to make the assault. Because capital can’t choose a path leading to its death, and, capital can’t survive without assaulting others, without conquering all, without trampling everything. People’s life turns the first victim in this campaign by capital. All aspects and parts of people’s life are conquered, degraded, defaced, demolished. These include people’s ideological and cultural spaces. Language, an essential in production process, can’t escape this hostile, barbaric reality imposed by conquering capital. Weaker the class or part more barbaric the assault turns; more backward a production process more complete is its elimination. Language walks along this path.

For other classes, the same fate waits in wings – capitulation to the charging capital. Succeeding in keeping some ground under own feet during the capitulation process depends on class power equation between the winning and losing parties. For overall gain, the winning party may concede bits of ground to the losing party. It’s a sort of compromise with ultimate exultant position. The compromise is for cooption.

This line of conflict/collaboration is found around the world. It’s in countries, in regions, with nations, nationalities and smaller and larger indigenous communities. It’s with languages rich with its grammar, literature, history and tradition being used by a comparatively larger population, and with languages without grammar, characters, written literature being used by a comparatively smaller population. It’s in processes transforming societies from one mode of production to another. Emotion can do nothing with loss and gain made in the process of vanquish and victory. “For the complete victory of commodity production, the bourgeoisie must capture the home market, and there must be politically united territories whose population speaks a single language, with all obstacles to the development of that language and to its consolidation in literature eliminated. [….] Unity and unimpeded development of language are the most important conditions for genuinely free and extensive commerce on a scale commensurate with modern capitalism, for a free and broad grouping of the population in all its various classes and, lastly, for the establishment of close connection between the market and each and every proprietor, big or little, and between seller and buyer.” (Lenin, “The right of nations to self-determination”, Collected Works, vol. 20, Progress Publishers, Moscow, erstwhile USSR, 1972)

Therefore, there remains the question in the face of capturing of market by the advancing capital and elimination of obstacles to the development of a single language for the market and its consolidation in literature – people’s right, right of the oppressed and the dispossessed. The question challenges the capital dispossessing people in many areas including language and literature.

It’s an issue of democracy, an issue of democratic rights, an issue of democratic struggle. In one pole, there’s market unified and made powerful by capital, and, in the opposite pole, there is people, a people’s language and literature facing elimination campaign by merciless market. Questions emerge: whether people will submit to market’s galloping power, whether people should allow market to trample all that secure people’s interest and obstruct market’s triumph – questions related to democracy, a democracy of people, not of market, where people, not market, decide.

With the entrance of market, a prayer wheel to a sect of economists who ignore the fact that wheels of market demolish all opposing it, with market’s autocratic power to dictate all including language, the question of democracy emerges with much importance and force. Jacques Attali, economist, philosopher, special adviser to the president of France for 10 years and president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development from 1990 to 1993, writes: The guiding principles of the market economy and democracy often contradict one another and are more likely to go head-to-head than hand in hand. (“The Crash of Western Civilization: The Limits of the Market and Democracy”, Foreign Policy, No. 107, Summer, 1997) Market takes care of interest of a few engaged with a profit hunt while democracy stands for people. The two, therefore, don’t collaborate. Rather, the two enter into conflict. This conflict is reflected in the areas of ideology, culture, language and environment, along with economy and politics. Market shapes democracy according to its good wishes – serve me. Consequently, democracy turns void of its spirit – people’s interest. Language is one of the areas of people’s interest. With own language, people interact among themselves, interact in production, interact in class struggle. The more their grip on it loosens the more their space is lost.

Today, languages people to use are decided by the imperialist capital, with its ownership of communication/media-machine. Not only language, dialects and vocabulary; expressions, entertainments, postures, definitions, even choices or preferences, desires and dreams are dictated by this machine. This means people lose space. It’s a conflict between two opposing interests, where people is the majority while that machine represents an absolutely miniscule group. The need for democracy and democratic struggle emerges when such a minor group overpowers an absolute majority on a socio-historical matrix.

Ultimately, in a capitalist setting, as Lenin finds, “requirements of economic exchange will themselves decide which language of the given country it is to the advantage of the majority to know in the interest of commercial relations.” (“Critical remarks on the national question”, CW: 20) And, in a people’s democratic arrangement, it’s people’s democratic choice, not market’s coercive power, which will make the final decision. Hence, on the question related to language and democracy, let people decide the issue in a democratic environment, which is free from market’s motive force, arbitrariness and coercion.

 

The article appeared first in the special issue of New Age, Dhaka on February 21, 2020 commemorating the International Mother Language Day.

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.


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5 Comments

  1. Farooque happens to be a personal friend of mine. He’s a commie and I’m a socialist. Yet it doesn’t matter because we often see the same information, the same outlook and gist of some matter, from close to identical viewpoints. Yet he leans more toward political implications and I go for the evolutionary underpinnings for the way that something is in the way that it is,

    He nailed this topic in this article as far as I am concerned. He’s a good seer.

    Why are we so alike? I don’t know. It just happened, I suppose, due to our world views, our education and our genetics all fused into one purpose to serve the world both in terms of social justice and environmentalism.

  2. Hi Mr Chowdhury,
    I am sorry to say that I haven’t read your piece yet, but saving the link. Reason being: it is the same article that New Age has published in their Ekushey supplement. I was simply appalled to see that this year’s language movement special issue of theirs has only five MALE contributors. Therefore, I did not read any of the articles. Are there any shortage of female writers in Bangladesh? I think not. A publication, which outwardly promotes gender equality, simply cannot make such a grave mistake. Are they now displaying male chauvinism like the rest in BD? As their most respected columnist, I think you should ask the editor. With International Women’s Day approaching, perhaps you should pen an article about gender equality, and women’s role in journalism. Men in BD media then might pay attention for once. Women are non-stop screaming about it, but who is listening?

    • Avatar Farooque Chowdhury says:

      Ms. Zeenat Khan, I must thank you for raising voice for the female voice.

      Thanks for not reading my ordinary article. It would have wasted your valuable time, at least a few minutes. Frankly speaking, I myself was feeling that whatever I was writing was not worth-reading. Despite my hesitation, I have tried to write on an issue, but I have failed. I try not to forget my inability.

      Regarding female voice, I share your concern for female voice — let the female tell, express, raise their voice, have space in all spheres of life. You have rightfully raised the issue. I understand your frustration with the existing reality. However, reality has some other aspects which is missed sometimes.

      Regarding the articles in the special issue (February 21, 2020) you have mentioned of New Age: The concerned editorial authority can present an answer, if they like to the question you have raised. There might be a circumstance or a limitation, and limitation has different forms including time, space, access, availability, response. I feel, it will not be fair if I pass a comment without knowing the entire circumstance/limitation, and my comment without any related information may be wrong.

      I don’t know whether this e-journal — Countercurrents — is the place to raise question related to editorial policy of another daily until the daily declines to give space to the question presented before the daily. Even, my question regarding raising of question here (Countercurrents) instead of there (New Age) may be wrong. I apologize if I am wrong. Was it that New Age requested many to contribute articles/features/photo essays, but the invitation was not reciprocated? Was it that the honorable invitees were engaged with their other articles they planned earlier with commitment made earlier to other journals/dailies? I do not know. I have no intention to trespass into the area of editorial decision of New Age and of the honorable invitees. And, providing an explanation on behalf of New Age is not my area. I have just tried to find an answer from me to the question you have raised, and asked me to convey to New Age. But, Madam, is it possible for an ordinary reader like me to carry on the task you have asked me to do in your comment — “ask the editor.” I beg your pardon, Madam.

      I have a minor disagreement with you as you write “male chauvinism like the rest in BD”. I feel, all in Bangladesh are not male chauvinists. There are many persons who have the same concern, the same feeling you have.

      Thanks for suggesting to pen an article on gender equality.

      Thanks again for telling about the females, a part of humanity.

  3. Avatar David Kennedy says:

    Capitalism (market economy) is a way of organising society; language (spoken and written) is a way of communicating between persons.
    Capitalists seek control; language plays a vital role in control, hence Capitalists seek to control language.
    The link between language and power has been well-researched and practised, not least by Edward Bernays who demonstrated in the early decades of the twentieth century various techniques of mass persuasion, with great effect. Joseph Goebbels used these techniques in Germany; the State of Israel (like the USA) has since adopted and adapted them with world-wide success thus, despite the flagrant illogicality of its claims, demonstrates their effectiveness.
    Communication trumps logic.
    With still more powerful ways of communicating using digital, radio, and satellite technologies, the world has become like a single marketplace, dominated by those who control these channels of communication. Throughout recorded history, such dominance has resulted in widespread oppression and exploitation of the poor and the weak (hence the female). We are living in an Age of Mendacity and are entering into the Dictatorship of the Algorithm which informs, controls information flow, and limits response.
    Farooque is not a personal friend, but a kindred spirit, as is Sally. I have deep sympathy with Zeenat, but live in hope that one day the female voice will be heard, loud and clear, so the female perspective is never absent from any discourse.

    • Avatar Farooque Chowdhury says:

      Mr. David Kennedy, I am sorry for my delayed response to your comment. Thanks for reading my ordinary article. Thanks for making comments on the article. Your comment is actually an analysis in brief, which has helped me learn. Your comment within a few paragraphs has sharply analyzed a number of basic issues. Your comment also mentions some background information, which are useful.
      Regarding female voice, I agree with your hope. I have the same hope. The concerned editorial authority can present an answer, if they like. There might be a circumstance or a limitation, and limitation has different forms including time, space, access, availability. I feel, I will be wrong if I pass a comment without knowing the entire circumstance/limitation, and my comment without any related information will not be fair.