The emergence of Bangladesh: Dynamics of people’s cultural and political struggles – Part III


Contradictions in the East Pakistan society determined the trajectory of dynamics of socio-cultural-political struggle in the land. The contradictions were in (1) rural, (2) urban, (3) industrial, and (4) in ideological, cultural and educational areas. It was in the areas of (1) economy, (2) politics, (3) ideology and culture, and (4) society. The contradictions were between (1) the rural masses of people and exploiters, (2) the industrial workers and industrial enterprise owners, (3) the people and capitals and its ruling machine. These were class struggles – struggles between classes.[34] These contradictions manifested in different activities, forms and organizations; in resistances and rebellions. [Principal contradiction, and principal aspect of the principal contradiction aren’t identified here.]
Alfred Comyn Lyall, a British civil servant, historian and poet, identified the Baangaalees as “unwarlike people”.[35] “By their racial nature, Macaulay believes, the Bengalis are a people who almost begged to be conquered and ruled; their weakness created a power vacuum into which the bold East India Company adventurers rushed.”[36] Macaulay writes: “Whatever the Bengalee does he does languidly […] he seldom enlists as a soldier. [….] There never, perhaps, existed a people so thoroughly fitted by nature and by habit for a foreign yoke.”[37] Macaulay had more “finding”: “The physical organization of the Bengalee is feeble even to effeminacy. He lives in a constant vapour bath. His pursuits are sedentary, his limbs delicate, his movements languid. During many ages he has been trampled upon by men of bolder and more hardy breed. Courage, independence, veracity are qualities to which his constitution and his situation are equally unfavourable. His mind bears a singular to his body. It is weak even to helplessness for purposes of manly resistance”.[38] Orme made another “accurate” observation: All natives are of “effeminacy of character”, but that the Bengalis were “still of weaker frame and more enervated character”.[39] Bishop Heber conveys similar evaluation. In the 1820s, the Bishop noted that Bengalis were regarded as “the greatest cowards in India”. He added: The “term Bengali [was] used to express anything which was roughish and cowardly”.[40]
Although the colonial masters and their theoreticians consistently depicted the Baangaalees as “coward”, “born to be ruled”, “ever-loyal”, “hungry for yoke”, etc. the Bangladesh people shattered the “myths” colonial masters manufactured as a tool to control this people; and the “myths” were shattered through the people’s years of resistance and rebellion. The Baangaalees heroically stood up to bravely break the shackle of slavery, and courageously challenged a state as they defied the ideology the state imposed on them, and the state. The people took up arms, organized their armed struggle, and waged a victorious war for getting liberated. It was in 1971. The people composed a history.

The world imperialism opposed the people’s War for Liberation, and the imperialist opposition was of geopolitical significance.[41] The masters stood as fools with their observations on the Bangladesh people. Imperialism failed to dictate the course of the war the “unwarlike” Bangladesh people waged for their liberation.
How was the history made by the “effeminate Bengali” people? What’s the dynamics?
There’s the General Law of Rebellion in case of all peoples in all lands: People don’t allow fear to be the principle of government, and don’t allow rulers’ arms to command people’s life. Rulers may inflict fear, temporarily, depending on historical and the prevailing socio-economic-political conditions, among a part of people. Rulers’ swords can turn victorious temporarily; and power of the rulers’ fear-spewing muzzle depends on historical and the prevailing socio-economic-political conditions.

A change was going on in mass-psyche in pre-independence Bangladesh as classes in antagonistic positions were in constant conflict with their respective interests that had political manifestations. An ideological, political, cultural, etc. shift was active among the people. Feudal, capitalist, colonial and neo-colonial, and even imperial ideas, and progressive and radical ideas were in constant contradiction. It was a long struggle spanning years.
“‘Law,’ from slave patrols and courts to statutes and appellate decisions, was a tool of empire.”[42] Referring to other studies Brophy identifies law as “a vehicle of control”. The Bangladesh people experienced Pakistan law as the tool of the state and as a hostile existence. But, that tool gradually got exposed, and turned blunt. Its fear-generating power lost steam.

“‘Law’ functioned to bring order”.[43] The Bangladesh people perceived the laws of the Pakistan state as a brazen bull unleashed to bring order for the ruling regime, as those, laws, were used against them, and people neutralized that bull by pinning its horns.

The people were gaining political and organizational experience as they were organizing and waging their economic and political struggles, as class struggle continued. Their social being determined their consciousness. It was a period of transformation, transition also, in politics, and in mass-psyche.

The ruling elites with its capacity for cooption considered their state as an absolute form of force ever victorious over the Bangladesh people. However, class struggle was turning intensified, and the state was experiencing defiance by the people. A number of contradictions galvanized class alliances while a few isolated another part, the dominating part, and the dominant ideology was losing ground.

A few classes/segments were taking/gaining lead in the process. So, the questions need answers: What the classes/segments were those? How the task was being carried out? What was its political manifestation? What happened to the forces that claimed working for radical change? What were the factors and forces active in all the camps, behind success and failures? There was/were law(s) governing the changes in the pre-independence Bangladesh. What was/were that/those law(s) and how were those working?

People don’t stall down, don’t give up hope, don’t cease struggle – it’s a part of the General Law of Rebellion. “Fight, fail, fight again, fail again, fight again … till their victory; that is the logic of the people, and they too will never go against this logic”, writes Mao.[44] The way people fight is part of the General Law of Rebellion.
Class interests with historical capacity and possibilities interacting/contradicting in the reality prevailing at that historical period governed the political attitude, alliances and actions of the people. Political forces representing the people, its parts, and political forces interacting with the people to uphold either the people’s interest or self-interest had to move within respective class interests and class alliances. These aspects are part of the General Law of Rebellion.

The questions raised above lead to look at pattern of politics classes/segments were carrying on in the pre-independence Bangladesh, and at interactions between the classes/segments that were getting generated from respective interests.

Rebellion is defined in many ways, from narrow to broader perspective. Citing Professor Richard A. Falk, Anthony Cullen refers rebellion as “a situation […] characterized as a short-lived, sporadic threat to the authority of a state.”[45] Heather A Wilson and Lothar Kotzsch add their explanations on the issue of rebellion. There are domestic violence, upheaval, armed activities by gangs organized by imperialism, and national liberation movements. International Law and the Use of Force by National Liberation Movements, and Anthony Cullen’s The Concept of Non-International Armed Conflict in International Humanitarian Law discuss the issues.[46] Rebellion, others consider, as “the act of resistance by one or more individuals to lawful authority acting within the limits of its power.”[47] “Rebellion is, at bottom or in principle, a refusal of obedience, which manifests itself either by violence and assault, or by passive resistance.”[48] The definition broadens as it’s told: “When peace officers act outside of their right, or exceed their power, resistance is not rebellion.[49] It broadens further as it says: “Rebellion […] goes much farther than contesting the acts of a police officer; it calls in question the very government whose orders he executes; it raises against the government the same objections, of incompetency, or of exceeding its powers […].”[50]
Government is part of a state. The Bangladesh people questioned the Pakistan state, and rose against it as the state was incompetent, exceeded its powers, denied people’s rights, endangered people’s life, liberty and peace, threatened the way of life the people were aspiring for, and, even resorted to genocide to keep on its unlawful acts unimpeded. The Bangladesh people’s rebellion thus turned justified.

The Bangladesh people resorted to both – passive, non-violent, peaceful and, forceful – of the methods for resolving the contradictions the people were encountering. These form parts of the General Law of Rebellion in Bangladesh.
Rebellion is, Bouvier’s Law Dictionary says, “[t]he taking up arms traitorously against the government and in another, and perhaps a more correct sense, rebellion signifies the forcible opposition and resistance to the laws and process lawfully issued.”[51] To authority/government/state, revolting against their unfair economy and politics, against their tyranny, against their unjust acts and actions is traitorous while people consider rebellion as a just, rightful, essential act to redress grievances and unjust circumstance, to safeguard peace and prosperity. To the authority, etc. all laws they impose and processes they initiate are lawful while people consider many laws, etc. unlawfully enacted as those lacked people’s consent. The contradiction between the conflicting views carries elements of the General Law of Rebellion. The people in Bangladesh properly handled the contradiction as relevant political process created rationale and legitimacy for the act of their rebellion.

Power of all sorts energizes the General Law of Rebellion. With destructive power, authority of all sorts strengthens logic behind the General Law of Rebellion as the authority loses legality and legitimacy, acceptability and credibility to rule. The people in Bangladesh perceived the state of Pakistan has turned destructive and, at one stage, the state used carnage as a tool to subjugate the people.

The Bangladesh people’s perception came from the reality of humiliation, exploitation, deprivation, disparity and repression, murder at mass level, and the reality of imperialism. The logic for rebellion found its ground even before a drop of blood was shed.

Thomas Paine asserts in Common Sense: “Arms as the last resource” when “period of debate is closed”. Paine expects a new horizon as Common Sense declares: “By referring the matter from argument to arms, a new era for politics is struck – a new method of thinking hath arisen.” The Bangladesh people found the period of debate closed by the Pakistan military junta in the late-March, 1971, and relevant issues were referred to arms, as the junta unleashed a genocidal campaign against the Bangladesh people; and the military campaign was let loose without any provocation by the people. With speed and spread, with brutal force and meticulous implementation, the genocide was unprecedented in continents. The period was with the Pakistan state’s treachery, betrayal, brutality, and arson and murder at mass scale, and the Bangladesh people by resorting to armed struggle heroically created a condition to make a historic forward march towards a new era for politics for a humane, democratic, peaceful, prosperous life, and for an equitable control over and distribution of resources. It was a historic destiny. The new era for politics was long with treacherous turnings, costly compromises and backlashes; but, ultimately, it was a people’s era for politics, a part of the War for Liberation. And, the rebellion revolved forcefully. The working class challenged the state machine although in terms of age and experience, the working class was comparatively younger, which is another aspect of the dynamics of the struggle. Grievances the people had were much in all areas of life, beginning from economy to culture and politics. Motive behind the people’s demands was simple and humane: getting free from suffering, hunger, exploitation; a better life with health care facilities and housing; a fair share of the fruits of their labor; a space for practicing democratic rights. Denial of these demands and suppression of workers made them aware of their rights to organization, assembly, expression. It was lessons from life: class struggle and struggle for production.[52]

The struggle was, at its initial stage, sporadic, isolated, on the one side. On the other, the struggle covered all the people. The first types were economic struggle turning to political struggle. The working classes initiated these. At times, white-collar employees also initiated such type of struggles. The type of struggle was, at times, cultural having impact on life and livelihood of all the people; and, at times, the cultural struggles turned political. The same happened with economic struggles. Gradually, these two types of struggles joined together. It was slow, at the beginning. At times, these cooled down due to coercive measures or deceptive moves by the ruling regime, and on other occasions, many number of these struggles gained victory/concession from the state/authority. But, as a whole, the right-denying, coercive system prevailed making the people anguished and discontent.

A part of the political leadership unceasingly and steadfastly upheld aspiration of the people. Thus this leadership gained acceptability and acceptability among and legitimacy in the eyes of the people. On the contrary, the state was gradually losing ground – loss of acceptability, credibility, legitimacy, and the ideological basis.

There was a horizontal and vertical spread: classes opposed to the state were joining hands as their aspirations, interests and demands were of similar type, which was a vertical connection, while, horizontally, the people were widely and massively getting connected and mobilized. On the opposite, the state was getting isolated in both ways: vertically and horizontally: its support base was being squeezed and it was getting isolated from the ground – the common people. The state, on occasions, appeared suspended.

Two opposite forces with opposite interests – the people and the ruling regime/state – were moving towards a collision course having different power, capacity and velocity. The class forces gathering in the two opposite poles were basically different. In the ruling regime’s pole (RP), it was the ruling classes while the poor, the working classes, the middle class was in the people pole (PP). The two poles had different power. The RP was all-powerful at the initial stage while the PP was having less power at the beginning. For example, a number of movements were pressed or muzzled down, Other than a few moments of equilibrium; there was imbalance of power from the very beginning, which sustained throughout the entire period. Imbalance favoring the RP was from the initial moment, and it was longer in the entire period. Imbalance in favor the PP was at the later part of the period. The RP was making assaults all the time while the PP took time to counter-charge.

The PP had to traverse a zigzag path, and, it took time to gain momentum, to attain required velocity to subdue the RP, to push it out. On a coarse plane, stern hostilities from inimical class forces, bulwarks-trenches-fence structures the hostile classes set up/dug/erected – it was time consuming for the PP to gain momentum. But, it succeeded, at last. The gained momentum was, at the later stage, so forceful that the RP couldn’t out-maneuver and subdue the PP.
Within the PP, forces were interacting – interactions between the PP’s part, which had both positive and negative effects; but, at last, all parts joined in unison and made the last charge on the RP bastion. The victory was gained.
Within the RP, similar process of interactions between its parts was active; but with a basic difference from the PP. Parts of the RP were getting immobilized, and competition, intransigence and incoherence, to many extent, developed between a few of its parts, which consequently weakened the RP. It was a weakness/incapacity of its leadership; and a failure to reconcile competition between its parts. The competition is inherent in the parts. It’s competition of interests. One part’s interest was different from another. There were backward moving forces while others were aspiring to take further steps. One of the RP leadership’s failures was failing to reconcile this opposite pulls within the camp. These opposite pulls were inherent in the camp as the parts were having opposite interests, which was a contradiction.

One common character was in both of the poles – the RP and the PP. It was motion of change. But the slow motion was in opposite ways – the RP was losing its credibility, acceptability and legitimacy slowly while the PP was gaining acceptability, credibility and legitimacy slowly. This slow motion was at the initial stage. After change in equilibrium, the motion changed. The motion of RP’s loss and the motion of the PP’s gain increased; it increased rapidly, and the rapidity was so fast at the last stage that it appeared the RP crumbled like a house of cards.

The RP’s assault on the PP was all through the period, since creation of the neo-colonial state. It widened the assault by hitting the culture – first it was the language, which was followed by practices, etc. Assaults in the economic and political areas were also from the beginning of the state, as the system the state was organized to safeguard was anti-people. It hurt the landless and poor farmers, industrial workers, and middle class – the people. The political leadership of the RP was representing the property interests that harmed and hurt the PP. The language and culture issues cemented the PP. All the classes/segments within the PP found that their base was being torn down. The RP’s losing of legitimacy began.

This was the dynamics of the Bangladesh people’s cultural and political struggle.

Note and reference:

* This is part III, concluding part, of a write up to be included as a chapter in a book planned.

34. Literature of different communist parties/factions identified the contradictions as between (1) the peasantry and semi-feudalism, (2) workers and manufacturing industrial capital, (3) people and the bureaucratic-comprador capital, (4) people and imperialism. On the other hand, the Baangaalee nationalist politics and its literature identified the main contradiction as between the Bangladesh people and the capitalists, a certain number of industrial-trading houses, in West Pakistan, the western wing of the country.
35. Lyall, Alfred Comyn, History of India, From the Close of the Seventeenth Century to the Present Time, vol. 8, ed. A V Williams Jackson, 1907.
36. Brantlinger, Patrick, Darkness, British Literature and Imperialism, 1830-1914, Cornell University Press, 1990.
37. “Lord Clive (January 1840)” in Macaulay’s Essay on Lord Clive, ed. William Henry Hudson, George G Harrap & Company, London, 1910.
38. Macaulay, “Warren Hastings” in Macaulay’s Essay on Warren Hastings, ed. Mrs. Margaret J Frick, The Macmillan Company, London, 1900; also quoted in Sir John Strachey, India, Its Administration and Progress, ref: Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial Masculinity: The ‘manly Englishmen’ and The ‘Effeminate Bengali’ in the late nineteenth century, Manchester University Press, 1995.
39. Orme, History of the Military Transactions of the British Nation in Indostan, cited in John Rosselli, “The Self-Image of Effeteness: Physical Education and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Bengal”, Past and Present, 86, February 1980; ref.: Mrinalini Sinha, op. cit.;
40. Bishop Heber, quoted in Ketaki Kushari Dyson, A Various Universe: A Study of the Journals and Memoirs of the British Men and Women in the Indian Subcontinent, 1765-1856, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1978, ref.: Mrinalini Sinha, op. cit.
41. Bass, Gary J., The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2013.
42. 91 N.C. L. REV. 1817, THE NAT TURNER TRIALS, ALFRED L. BROPHY; Brophy cites Morton J. Horwitz, The Transformation of American Law, 1780–1860, 1977, Christopher Tomlins, Freedom Bound: Law, Labor, and Civic Identity in Colonizing English America, 1580–1865, 2010, and others.
43. ibid., Brophy cites Daniel Lord, “On the Extra-Professional Influence of the Pulpit and the Bar: An Oration Delivered at New Haven, Before the Phi Beta Kappa Society”, of Yale College, July 30, 1851, in Daniel Lord, On the Extra-Professional Influence, S S Chatterton, New York, 1851.
44. Tse-tung, Mao, “Cast away illusions, prepare for struggle”, Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, vol. 4, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1961.
45. Falk, Richard A., “Janus Tormented: The International Law of Internal War”, in James N. Rosenau, The International Aspects of Civil Strife, 1964; Cullen, Anthony, “Key developments affecting the scope of internal armed conflict in international humanitarian law”, Military Law Review, vol. 183.
46. International Law and the Use of Force by National Liberation Movements, Oxford University Press, 1988; Cullen, Anthony, The Concept of Non-International Armed Conflict in International Humanitarian Law, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
47. Lalor, John J., ed., Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States, Maynard, Merrill, and Co., New York.
48. ibid.
49. ibid.
50. ibid.
51. 1856 edition.
52. Parts, references and explanations included in the essay were partly used in other articles by Farooque Chowdhury. The articles were published in New Age, Dhaka. These include “Dynamics to the days of March 1971”, March 26, 2017, “May 1: Glints at Bangladesh labor’s struggle”, May 1, “Rekindling the spirit of independence”, December 16, 2016, “The Bangladesh Left in the glorious War for Liberation: A brief note”, March 26, 2019, “The general law of rebellion in Bangladesh”, December 16, 2014, “Bangladesh Liberation War exposed a neo-colonial state’s failure”, December 16, 2015, and two other articles published in the same daily on December 16, 2014 and on February 21, 2017. Another article is “Bangladesh wins freedom”, Frontier, Kolkata, January 10-16, 2016.

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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