Since its founding as the Communist Party of India, a part of which later formed the Communist Party of Pakistan on March 9, 1948, the communist movement of Bangladesh has gone through a tempestuous time. Almost throughout the Pakistani era the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), which spearheaded the independence of Bangladesh, was banned. During Bangladesh's independence war the party formed several guerrilla groups that carried out armed resistance against the occupying Pakistani army. After the liberation, it gave support to the Sheikh Mujib-led Awami League government, which Mujahidul Islam Selim, who has just been re-elected general secretary of the party in the Ninth Congress, thinks was a mistake. “It is indeed true that we have lost some golden opportunities. We should not have given a blank support to the AL; we should have tried to consolidate our independence as a nation, at the same time we could have tried to project ourselves as a real alternative to the AL,” he says.
Selim admits that it was right to support Bangabandhu's progressive policies like nationalisation and non-aligned foreign policy but adds that it was unwise to not criticise his weaknesses and mistakes, such as his backing off from land reform, his giving himself up to imperialism, his party's mismanagement and corruption. It actually has taken a lot of hard work for the party to shed the image of being a stooge of the AL. Since the mid nineties, the CPB has been following the policy of creating what the party calls 'a left alternative', Selim says, “A left alternative is the only viable option to come out of the present crisis. And the leading role of the communists is essential to build up such an alternative. It not only has a future, it has eternity in front of it.”
But the creation of a left force parallel to the two big bourgeoisie parties is turning out to be a difficult job, as the other small left parties, whenever the elections come, form alliance with the AL. Another difficulty that the CPB faces in furthering its goal is the threats of terrorist attack that have been plaguing the country for the last couple of decades. In fact, the party was one of the first targets of bomb blasts. Six people died in twin explosions at a CPB rally in downtown Dhaka on January 20, 2001. Seven years after that grisly incident, the killers are yet to be brought to justice. A government led by Sheikh Hasina was in power, and some leaders of the ruling AL summarily blamed it on the internal feud of the CPB. When the party protested such foul play, the party's rally was attacked by goons belonging to the AL, and Selim, along with his comrades, was assaulted on the streets of the capital. It is indeed ironic that when five years later grenades were thrown at an AL rally and assassination attempt was made on the life of Sheikh Hasina, the BNP government blamed it on the AL leadership, saying the attack was an outcome of an internal squabbling of the party's top leadership.
Selim believes a bright left future is awaiting the country. “Bipolar politics is a total failure,” he says, “The bankruptcy of the bourgeoisie has been proven.” He thinks the ruling classes, especially the plundering capitalism, have established their domination over the so-called big parties. He says, “They want to establish such an arrangement that there will only be alternations of governments between the two parties, the reactionary polices of the state will continue to remain the same.”
But experiences, he says, tell us that these two parties are not civilised enough to share the plunder in a peaceful way and this culture has precipitated the anarchy centring around power, because power is so lucrative that the holders of it will not hesitate to do anything to come to power by hook or by crook. “But this arrangement,” he says, “having failed the ruling classes, is now seeking to dominate over not only the two parties but also wants to set up their own alternative.”
The party in its Ninth National Congress has called the present crises a systematic problem, saying the problems that the country is infested with cannot be done away without a total revolutionary change. Selim explains: “At the present moment there is a free market economy and a dependence on imperialism; even if we go to power and pursue the same policies no change will take place in the lives of the masses. Revolution is a must.”
The party thinks the country must reinstate the constitution of 1972 and the founding principles of secularism, democracy, socialism and nationalism should be re-established. Selim sees no contradiction between revolution and Islam, the religion that the majority of Bangladeshis practice. “If one puts it in proper context, one has to admit that Islam has brought about the biggest revolutionary change in human history. There is no contradiction between Islam and revolution or the issue of emancipation of the people,” he says.
The country, however, is still far away from a revolutionary change that will shake the base of its polity. The CPB has 30, 000 members in total; of them there are 7, 000 red card holders. Even though the party has bagged five seats in the elections of 1991, its support, as far as the arithmetic of popular votes is concerned, has slumped over the decades. A thriving left force in the country's politics, however, is a must for democracy to survive. Only time can tell whether the CPB can build a third alternative of like minded left parties that will bring about revolutionary change in the lives of the toiling masses.