"The ruling class does not want the youth to come to politics. They are scared to youth who want change. The lack of student councils in the universities is direct proof of this fear," said Serajul Islam Chowdhury, writer, academic, professor emeritus of Dhaka University, and the convenor of the national committee to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution.
Also the editor of the quarterly Notun Diganta, Serajul Islam Chowdhury speaks to Prothom Alo’s Sohrab Hassan on politics, the election, social disparity, militancy and fundamentalism, education, freedom of the press and more.
Prothom Alo (PA): At a time when you all are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, why are the leftists in Bangladesh in such a poor shape?
Serajul Islam Chowdhury (SIC): Actually if you look at it differently, rather than saying the leftists are in a poor shape, you can say that capitalism has reached the extreme of barbarity. Capitalism has now taken on the form of fascism and is threatening people, nature, biodiversity, simply everything. It is this aggression that has pushed the leftists into this predicament. As it is, the left movement has never been able to gather strength in this country.
Meanwhile, there is a struggle worldwide against capitalism and imperialism. The leftists in all countries are involved in this in their own ways. This is happening in Bangladesh too. They are trying to overcome the frustrations and hesitations that had assailed them at one point and to rise up again. This is also reflected in their initiative to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution
PA: In an interview with Prothom Alo, the leftist scholar Badruddin Umar said that there is virtually no existence of any communist party in Bangladesh.
SIC: It is true that no particular communist party could achieve any significant position. However, there are quite a few organisations and groups. It is better to look for a movement rather than any party. There is a left movement. Whatever movement there is for social change, is being done by the leftists, not by the rightists. Just as there is no reason to be elated that the leftists are not strong, neither is their reason to despair. To despair means to surrender. Look back at 1971. Had we surrenderdd, would be have been able to drive out the Pakistani forces?
PA: How would you evaluate the role of the leftists in the 1971 Liberation War?
SIC: There is a lot of false propaganda about the role of the leftists in the 1971 Liberation War. But it was the leftists that were the ones to first raise the issue of independence. Maulana Bhashani spoke about it openly. 1971didn’t happen overnight. There were movements leading up to it and the drivers of the movement were the leftists. In 1971, the pro-Moscow elements wanted to fight the war under Awami League’s leadership, they didn’t have to join. The pro-Peking groups were divided and one of the minor groups did propagate the ‘two dogs’ theory. But they didn’t join hands on ground with the Pakistani forces. The other pro-Peking elements fought against the occupation forces within the country. The fight would have been a greater success of the nationalist leadership would have accepted the socialists as allies, not seen them as the enemy.
PA: Do you think it was right to have the Moscow-Peking divide within the Communist Party?
SIC: The Moscow-Peking divide was definitely damaging, but inevitable. After the death of Stalin, power went to the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. Party bureaucracy is more alarming that normal bureaucracy. It is wrapped in a façade of ideology. Under such party bureaucracy, the Soviet Union lost its commitment to revolution around the world. They compromised with capitalism and took on a peaceful coexistence and propagated a non-capitalist theory.
On the other hand, the capitalist world preached the joy of private wealth. The class which grew up under bureaucracy, responded to that call. Mao Tse Tung realized this and initiated the cultural revolution. After Mao Tse Tung passed away, China too turned towards capitalism.
In Bangladesh the divide has become extreme. And it has even been exposed that the leadership has become very dependent on outside quarters.
PA: The leftists are prone to blame everything on the bourgeoisie and the capitalist system. But why couldn’t the socialist countries come up with a better alternative?
SIC: Actually even the rightists are forced to admit that capitalism is the root of the prevailing crisis. That is why they are trying to give capitalism a more ‘human’ face. And it is not true that the socialist countries failed to offer a better alternative. The truth of the matter is evident if you compare the state of the basic requirements of food, clothes, shelter, health care and education, before the revolution in Russia and after. And from the aspect of women’s position, the change is astonishing. Pakistan gained ‘independence’ in 1947, the Chinese revolution took place in 1949. Now place the progress of Pakistan and of China side by side and see the different between the capitalist system and the socialist system.
The fact that capitalism still exists today is also because of the socialist world. They conceded in face of challenge. They have come forward with the concept of the so-called welfare state.
PA: What is the basic crisis in our socio-economic and state system? How far have the leftists managed to understand the crisis?
SIC: The basic crisis is in class disparity. It is not true that the leftists do not understand this. But they haven’t been able to find a way to eliminate this discrimination. From the British rule down through the Pakistan rule, this class discrimination was the main problem, but is was overshadowed by the problem of an undecided nation. The larger section of leftists failed give importance to the national problem. The national problem needed to be resolved in order to resolve the class problem. The nationalists too over the task of resolving the national problem, the socialists fell back. If Bangladesh was liberated under socialist leadership, the crisis which exists now, would have abated.
PA: Many bourgeoisie countries ensure the fundamental and human rights of their citizens. Why have the socialist countries failed to do so?
SIC: That is the bourgeoisie narrative. Just look at America to see the state of human rights in a democratic country. Capitalist human rights are for five per cent of the people, based on the exploitation and deprivation of the remaining 95 per cent.
PA: Do you see any ideological difference between the ruling Awami League and the opposition BNP?
SIC: There is difference outwardly, but no in reality. Both parties are imbibed in capitalism. They want power to exploit and loot, for for the welfare of the common people.
PA: The leftists speak of changing the state system. So why have they failed to play any effective role in changing society?
SIC: One of the reasons is resistance from the capitalists, particularly the capitalist-controlled media. The capitalist system has divided people. There is conflict among the capitalists, but they are united when it comes to holding on to the exploitative social system. Another reason is the lack of study. The lack of knowledge is the reason of overall weakness and this weakness is suicidal for those who want social change.
PA: Shouldn’t there be a harmony between politics and culture in the country? Is the nonchalance in this regard by a section of the leftists aggravating?
SIC: It is not true that the leftists are nonchalant about culture. In fact, no leftist is a leftist is he doesn’t understand the value of culture. It has always been the leftists that have stood up against any attack on culture in this country. It was the leftists who stood up in protest against the recent changes made in the textbooks at the behest of Hefazat.
PA: Is it better or not for the Leninists to increase in number among the left parties in Bangladesh?
SIC: Ideological differences are the main conflict. It is good news if the Leninists are actually increasing among the leftist parties. Lenin was exceptionally knowledgeable and a true revolutionary. And it can easily be said that it is better to be a Lenin than a Hitler, or even than a Mahatma Gandhi.
PA: Where did the downslide in education begin in Bangladesh and what is the solution?
SIC: This downslide is because of the three systems of education that exist. One of the most harmful things that capitalism has done is to commercialise education. The solution is to stop capitalism. It is not a easy task, but there is no other alternative. Reforms are required, but these reforms must be linked to the target of changing the capitalist social system.
PA: What is the biggest obstacle to freedom of thought and expression in Bangladesh?
SIC: The main obstacle is the lack of cultivating knowledge and the eagerness to express oneself. The editor of the newspaper Samakal which was published 60 years ago from today, Sikandar Abu Zafar, had written that people had said the paper wouldn’t survive because there were no readers, no advertisements. But he later saw the main problem was the lack of good writing. That holds true today too. Another threat to Samakal had been state intervention. It cannot be said that there is a fearless environment for free expression in independent Bangladesh. The Information and Communication Technology act is an obstruction to independence. Militant and terrorist activities are also alarming. The environment is not conducive to free expression of knowledge.
PA: What is the cause behind the rise of militancy and fundamentalism in Bangladesh? Do you agree with the concern of the ruling quarters in this regard?
SIC: It is the prevailing state and social system that is the reason behind the rise of militancy and fundamentalism. Under this system, unemployment has increased, cultural growth has been stunted, and there is an increasing lack of democracy. This gives rise to frustration and drug addiction. Militancy and fundamentalism is a sort of addiction. If the ruling class was really concerned, they it would be their responsibility to destroy the social system that nourishes such evils.
PA: A recent Prothom Alo survey on youth indicated that present-day politics failed to appeal to the younger generation. Why is this so?
SIC: The ruling class does not want the youth to come to politics. They are scared to youth who want change. The lack of student councils in the universities is direct proof of this fear.
PA: The general elections are scheduled to be held at the end of 2018 or beginning of 2019. The political parties are preparing accordingly. How do you view this?
SIC: The political parties are driven by greed for power. The main problem for the people is the prevailing system. They will want to vote, but there is no guarantee that they will be able to do so. But no matter who comes to power, things won’t change. That is for sure.
PA: The 1973 university order that gave the universities autonomy has been mostly misused. How far are the teachers responsible for this?
SIC: It is true that a certain section of the teachers are responsible for this. They want material benefits. It is not easy to get those benefits through the pursuit of knowledge. It is easier to benefit through party loyalty. Teachers see that unless you join hands with the party, you don’t benefit. In fact, you may face danger. That is why they join up with the party or appear to be with the party. This divide is in all professions. But having this divide among teachers is extremely harmful. After all, they have an exemplary role in society and they have an extensive and deep impact on society.
PA: Thank you.
SIC: Thank you.