Capital has asserted itself as the worldwide mode of production since the XVth century. Since then, it has cemented every brick in every mine, factory, office where it extracts surplus value from those who it exploits. It oils its machines, air planes and computers... with the blood of those from whom it extracts surplus value. Capital has developed through poles, poles where wealth is concentrated coexisting with poles of poverty. But it imposes its dictatorship everywhere, in the North as in the South, in the East as in the West.
The worldwide essence of the capitalist mode of production also determines the international character of the proletariat as a universal class, containing within itself the everyday reality of exploitation as well as all the necessary conditions for a revolutionary movement against exploitation. Everywhere, in ever worse and terrifying conditions, proletarians are forced to sell their only property, their labour power, in order to survive. Therefore, it is as a worldwide class that they are led to struggle so as to oppose the rapacity of the bourgeoisie. Whether black, yellow or white, wearing overalls, sarongs or turbans, they are confronted by the social contradiction at every latitude.
It's therefore not just in the United States or in France that class struggle takes place. Strikes, riots, mutinies and expropriations have arisen in Nigeria, Burma, Indonesia, Mexico, Algeria, Iraq... violating the social peace the State is attempting to impose. It is obviously not in the interests of the bourgeoisie to emphasize that the living conditions of proletarians lead to violent opposition to the same social system everywhere. Therefore, everything possible is done to avoid proletarians in France or America identifying with the reality of their class brothers in Africa and Asia, and vice-versa. Far better to envelope Rwanda and Iraq in television's chaotic images of poverty, catastrophes and savagery than to zoom in on the social determinations at the origin of the conflicts taking place. in this way the model of a world divided into rich countries and poor countries is perpetuated while the existence of social classes is conveniently swept under the carpet. Shifting the contradiction is another way in which the dominant ideology denies the reality of class struggle (1).
What happened in Bangladesh some years ago will enable us to illustrate all of this.
Violent social storms have been sweeping through Bangladesh on a regular basis for several years. Bangladesh is a piece of land barely a quarter of the size of France, packed with a population of 120 million. Yet, worldwide, the issue attracting the media's attention is... the floods! This dimension of Bangladesh's reality is much more presentable and in tune with what the viewer wants to see. In addition, floods or monsoons are a lot easier to explain away as inevitable than are riots or strikes. For the bourgeoisie, what would be the point in shaking the dominant image of a country made of "too much water and too many poor people"?
However, it is not possible to completely black out the existence of class struggle and some information gets through. The following is a resume of news clips from various newspapers in December 1994: "On December 4th 1994 thousands of poorly-paid and poorly-equipped police officers, auxiliary militiamen (Ansars) mutinied, taking over two barracks, 22 officers hostage and managing to take control of the headquarters and training centre in the capital, Dacca. After 4 days, by which time the mutiny had spread to other provinces, repression began in earnest. The army's special forces attacked the occupies barracks, using very significant measures: artillery guns, rockets, helicopters, gas, armoured cars... with an official toll of 4 deaths and 50 wounded."
The first ideological image is therefore shattered: there are more than just disarmed, ragged, soaking-wet beggars in Bangladesh! A different technique is now needed to explain events and, this time, the media choose to on the traditional explanation of struggle between "official" and "opposition" parties.
What have the merchants of disinformation put together to explain the mutiny? The bourgeoisie presents the events as a further episode in the war "for power" between two women: one the prime minister and president of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and the other the leader of the "opposition" Awami League. The good citizen can turn over and go back to sleep, happy in the knowledge that these events are well-circumscribed within the democratic world, where class struggle is absent. The journalists performed their role to perfection. But what exactly is it that the dominant class wants to hide from us? If even cops are caught up in the social contradiction to the point of mutiny, the situation must be a lot more socially explosive than the bourgeoisie dares to admit.
Indeed, the mutiny in December 1994 in Bangladesh was just one episode amongst many in a long history of class struggle.
A social movement was paralysing the country at the very time that the mutiny took place. The bourgeoisie has carefully separated these two moments in order to create a different reality, ITS TRUTH, its information, to eternalise its reality throughout the world. Even if the struggle failed to centralise its demands, its leadership, we know that these two movements are one and are a manifestation of the proletariat's struggle to assert a single community of interests in opposition to the exploiters. In fact, scratch the surface of the mountain of disinformation piled, for the reasons mentioned above, on this region to realise that these events, which came to a climax in 1994-95, are merely the result of a long process of struggle beginning in the 1980's. The following is a brief outline.
The global recession of the 80's had its impact on Bangladesh too. There, as everywhere else, austerity measures were imposed at an infernal rhythm so as to set the profit machine back in motion. Wage cuts, price increases, devaluation, massive lay-offs... were put down as consequences of "natural disasters" (floods, hurricanes - see text at the end) and the Gulf War in 1990-91 (2). All of these measures hugely intensified poverty in the region. The unbearable conditions pushed our class brothers, with nothing to lose, to increasingly violent struggle: wildcat strikes in 1989, a vast movement of social upheaval from October to December 1990, culminating in violent riots, notably in the capital, Dacca.
The struggles reached such a level over this period that the State decided to dispense with the services of General Ershad, who came to power by way of a coup d'état in March 1982. Thus, the bourgeoisie shed one skin at very little cost to itself and passed new constitutional reforms as further camouflage. The Awami League and the Bangladesh National Patry (BNP), as new and therefore more credible actors, intervened in the political scene to maintain and reinforce exploitation. But the existence of the parliamentary circus failed to resolve a thing. The BNP, now in power, merely continued of the capitalist program and took further measures towards the "rationalisation of the economy". 30,000 "surplus" proletarians laid off on the railways, in the jute industry, and at Biman, the airline. Little information has reached us as to how our class reacted to those measures, but it is impossible to completely hush up the violent conflicts which regularly jammed the cogs of the capitalist machine between 1992 and 1996. Here are some examples.
In January 1992 demonstrations by several thousand young workers were brutally repressed in Dacca. Their demands were said to "seriously threaten the balance of payments", according to the torturers entrusted with their repression. In February 1993 capitalists, enraged by striking textile workers, sent their guard-dogs in to quieten down the exploited workers who were refusing to work. This action was fully supported by the world bourgeoisie. There was no question of the World Bank giving an inch: austerity measures, here and elsewhere, had to hit hard. Capitalism must extract ever-increasing profits, make ever greater gains. Experts from the European Union urged the government to go even further in its restructure and to close down twelve unprofitable textile factories, resulting in the lay-off of several thousand workers. But the workers wouldn't take this treatment lying down and went out on strike. New polarisations emerged, such as divisions between "Hindu" and "Muslim" workers and the appearance of a "Mongolian" nationalist guerilla group, diverting proletarians from the direction of the struggle. The main trade unions played their traditional safeguarding role and tried to recuperate the struggles. In March 1993 the trade unions tried to put themselves at the head of the movement by calling for a "general strike". The work stoppage was massively overtaken by workers who had already been struggling for several weeks. The national economy was paralysed by blockages of most of the main roads and railways and social unrest affected all sectors.
In October 1993 four universities were temporarily closed, having been described by the government as "centres of conspiracy and terrorism". So great was the BNP's loss of credibility that, barely two years after coming to power, the ruling classes were already considering playing their classical card of alternation between bourgeois parties. Another team began to prepare for power. From November 1993 and throughout 1994, the Awami League and other so-called opposition parties prepared for the fall of the government by blaming the BNP for all the misery steeped on the proletarians since the collapse of the military regime. In an attempt to gain credibility, and to get the workers behind its banner, the Awami League started a boycott of the already much discredited National Assembly and called for the population to demand a further electoral merry-go-round.
But none of this prevented social tensions continuing to rise throughout 1994 and by the 26th of April Dacca was completely blocked by strikes. Day by day, there was growing opposition to the ever-more draconian austerity measures, recently imposed by the World Bank. The bourgeoisie was becoming increasingly concerned. "What we need for 'good business'" they said, "is a rapid return to social peace". With this in mind, foreign investors urged the government to be tougher on the strikers. "We're concerned with essential problems like order, security, and governmental stability. Otherwise how can we expect to attract any investors?"
Strikes and demonstrations followed one after the other in various sectors in April, May and June 1994. In July the opposition tried to take control of the social movement, calling for a day to "defend democracy against the rise of Islamic fundamentalism". But these attempts did not mix well with the demands of proletarians struggling to better their living conditions. The trade unions mounted their defences so as to back the Awami League, organising peaceful work stoppages, shutting workers away at home or in factories with their arms crossed in order to prevent any extension of the conflict. They also negotiated with the government to make a few deals, which they then presented as "great victories for the workers". As a reward for the trade unions' efforts the government dropped charges against 10 union leaders, at the same time as 5 proletarian militants were sentenced to life imprisonment for "terrorist activities", ie. organising demonstrations, strikes, picket lines and sabotages of production against the austerity measures.
However, the circus of union/government negotiations proved incapable of calming things down. During these struggles, violent confrontations took place between the hungry and the forces of bourgeois order, most notably in the port of Chittagong, a vital economic centre for the area. All traffic was systematically paralysed by the dockers and other strikers who joined them. Not a single boat was loaded or unloaded. In September 1994 further strikes and demonstrations took place in Dacca and in Chittagong.
According to the small amount of information which filtered through the bourgeoisie's blackout, class antagonisms rocking this area were intensified by the barbarous conditions in which capitalist exploitation was organised. One example among many: in September 1994, 200 workers - including children under 14 - were locked out of a clothing factory following several weeks on strike. The reason was simple: the workers had spontaneously ceased all activity and gone on strike, organising a resistance fund in order to put an end to the insults, blows, unpaid overtime, sexual harassment, wages lost for sickness or for time spent on the toilet. The bosses retorted by having 5 workers arrested for "terrorism", who were then locked up and beaten by the factory's thugs. Their wives met the same fate when they protested against this cruelty. In Bangladesh such brutality is the rule in the process of exploitation. It is not therefore surprising that every strike and demonstration immediately expresses itself through direct, physical confrontation with the forces of Capital and refuses to be put within the pacifist framework extolled by those who try to convince us that we will only get satisfaction by remaining calm and reasonable.
Social agitation spread to the countryside and in October 1994 proletarians burned a large part of the jute harvest in protest against wage cuts. In the same month, 2000 children protested in Dacca against the government's decision to forbid them to work. It is often their meagre wages which permit entire families to make ends meet and, despite what moralising democrats say, it is not "parents' wickedness" that forces very young children to sell themselves, to prostitute themselves in factories or on sidewalks for a crust of bread. It is the poverty in which this society of death immerses proletarians, including children, which pushes us to prostitution - sexual or otherwise - at younger and youunger ages throughout this squalid capitalist hell! Poverty, work, struggle - the circle closes.
In November 1994, new conflicts erupted in the textile industry and it was at this time that the class struggle reached an intensity not seen since 1989. Mutinies wreaked havoc on the security forces. In December 1994, on a background of strikes, demonstrations and riots across the country, entire barracks rose up and refused to obey the government. Corrupted by the social contradictions, themselves affected by the struggles, the usual repressive forces were no longer sufficient and the employers' white militia were brought in to guarantee the dirty work that the cops could not - and would not - guarantee any longer. The bourgeoisie was obliged to use elite troops to crush mutineers and to attempt to restore order. The dead could no longer be counted... but despite this the protest movement did not appear to stop. Social tension did not ease in 1995 and, on the 22nd January, thousands of textile workers went out on strike again. They made road and railway blocks across the whole country and confronted the forces of repression who fired on the rioters. Once again, the main seat of these social troubles was the port of Chittagong. Further demonstrations ensued and a home-made bomb was detonated as the prime minister's procession went past. By April, a further round of strikes commenced, affecting all major industries, but the transport sector in particular. The immediate demands were for wage increases, as well payment of a "high living costs" premium. Confrontations with the white militia resulted in several wounded. The poison of elections was then injected once again into the veins of the proletariat in order to divert it from its struggle.
During a "day of anti-governmental mobilisation" called by the opposition parties in Dacca in November 1995 the stewards were overwhelmed and violent confrontations erupted. By the 30th December, Bangladesh was completely paralysed, with no trains, buses, boats or air planes running at all. Pickets blocked any goods from leaving all depots, stations, ports and airports. The national economy, so dear to the worldwide bourgeoisie, thus found itself in a sticky position, with nothing circulating, hence no business. Proletarians apparently had the capitalists by the throat, but we have very little information concerning their capacity to remove themselves from the murderous government/opposition polarisation put in place by the bourgeoisie. No details have filtered through on the real capacity of proletarians to draw lessons from their past struggles to confront ALL political parties, to oppose ALL syndicalist for what they really are: the managers of Capital.
1996 did not see any major changes in the social climate. The information that has reached us does not suggest a lull, but on the contrary, further confrontations erupted during strikes in January, requiring the army to intervene before calm was restored. There was a continuous military presence, the prisons full to bursting. Faced with such serious events, the bourgeoisie sacked the acting prime minister and organised yet another electoral charade. Military units marched on Dacca and the possibility of a military coup came onto the horizon as another solution to the social struggles. The June 1996 elections were peppered with further incidents resulting in 20 deaths and 300 wounded, but it is very difficult to distinguish partisan struggles between various electoral fractions from the class struggle waged by the proletariat. Finally, the soldiers returned to their barracks and the Awami League was declared victorious. Although, this time, all of the parties had backed the spectacle of the ballot box, we have information that rate of abstention was very high, but, unfortunately, we do not know the exact figure.
Despite the distorted pictures broadcast by the media, or even in the face of their total silence, such information confirms, yet again, the universal existence of class contradictions. When the proletariat struggles, be it in Los Angeles, Dacca, Lagos (3) or Paris, it struggles against the same attacks on our conditions of survival, which is why the bourgeoisie reacts in the same way everywhere. The bourgeoisie takes advantage of our weakness to swing social crisis in its favour. The following are examples of how they do so:
by organising democratic alternation, swapping a Clinton for a Bush, or a right-wing for a left-wing party.
by launching further "adjustment plans", "privatisation", in short, by further attacks on our class which always aim to extract ever more surplus labour, all in the name of "modernising production methods" and increasing the competitiveness of its companies.
by keeping so-called opposition parties and unions in reserve so that, during the inevitable social struggles, they can try to quieten things down by following the direction of the movement and steering it towards negotiations. If these measures fail, then they will call further elections, a new government, another 24-hour general "strike".
by encouraging competition amongst the proletariat, developing nationalism, dividing proletarians and setting them against each other. In this way, they try to stop all direct responses to the new austerity plans, developing all kinds of new polarisations - inter-religious, inter-ethnic, even corporative and regional.
Every time the proletariat asserts its own interests the bourgeoisie is intent on diverting the struggle towards further, reformist objectives: left against right, civil against military, Moslems against Hindus in Bangladesh.
When the media do cover any aspects of the assertion of our class, they do so by diverting and encasing them in little boxes of reform of the system, totally masking the organic unity of our class interests. Our class, on the other hand, is still too weak to take on the contradiction with its own press, contacts, networks, communist groups,... It is still too easily hoodwinked by the false images presented by the bourgeoisie.
Today it is still difficult for many proletarians - despite the objective community of interests which unite them - to identify with the struggles of proletarians in other parts of the world. The media's silence, outlandish information and distortion of the truth make a very effective smokescreen over the class struggle in Bangladesh, when watched from Europe or America. This is the case for the majority of social combats taking place in areas where the media coverage of an event depends on how spectacular an angle can be given to it: if it is not possible to reinforce the traditional "folklore" concerning a particular place, such as the floods in Bangladesh, overpopulation in China, the Indians in Chiapas, blacks in Los Angeles, then the spectacle is determined exclusively by a sordid calculation of the number of dead and the distance separating the information from those to be informed.
The multitudinous means of daily disinformation as regards the class struggle and the historic hushing-up of the communist movement are both examples of the terrorist assertion of a world in which exploitation (i.e it's essence) is categorically and systematically denied by the dominant ideology. The systematic organisation of disinformation is one of the pillars of the capitalist state just as the union and the political frameworks and repression.
BANGLADESH... not just floods! By this small contribution we want to work towards breaking the wall of silence surrounding such struggles and to show our class solidarity with our fellow proletarians struggling for the same reasons, for the same needs, in Asia as in Europe, in America as in the Pacific.
What lessons can be learned from these struggles?
To support our fellow proletarians "over there" also means to criticise them. This community of criticism will reinforce the proletariat who will then no longer find itself weak in the face of the same enemies and the same traps they set for us. Thus we must point out the enormous weaknesses of the movement in Bangladesh since 1989:
although the proletariat managed to make the bourgeoisie submit quite promptly and once again proved its remarkable capacity as a class, the exploiters, even whilst shaken and sometimes overwhelmed, managed to reorganise themselves, passing through the same austerity plans in different guises: military dictatorship, the government of the BNP and, finally, the Awami League.
even if the proletariat was often capable of struggling outside the opposition's framework, it must be noted that it did not manage to organise against the opposition, nor against all the organisms who have once again shown that their social function is not only to prevent any movement from erupting, but also to follow and frame any class movement so as to better ensure its defeat.
These two characteristics mark the limit of this 7 year wave of struggle in the region. The lack of organisation, centralisation and direction of the movement was prolonged by the proletariat difficulty in learning the lessons of past defeats, necessary to move forwards. Each time, the movements were massive, violent, and generally took place outside the bourgeois framework. But, each time, the incapacity of the movement to give itself its own direction led the defeated proletarians to the very structures which they should have done away with at the start of the struggle.
Long live the proletarian struggle in Asia and throughout the world!
Let's organize our own information networks!
The proletariat has no country!
Let's smash isolation!
1. This ideological reality is not the prerogative of the multinationals of bourgeois information. Smaller ideological enterprises such as trotskyists, maoists, councilists and libertarians put forward exactly the same model. A superb caricature of this can be seen in the publications of the ICC (International "Communist" Current) in which all the racist posturings of this vision can be found: "central and peripheral countries", "Iraqi Lumpenproletariat", "desperate Mexican peasants"... For a more detailed account of this issue, see Communism 10: "Social-democracy's eternal euroracist pacifism".
2. The deportation of 90,000 workers from Kuwait and Iraq increased the misery of more than a million people. A single expatriate proletarian had managed "to support" an average of twelve people by sending back part of his income to his family.
3. See our text "The development of class struggle in Nigeria" in Communism 9, which also tried to break the wall of silence surrounding proletarian struggles in the region.
Murderous floods and famines... thanks to nation and progress!
In the first Century, Bengal was known for its gold, pearls, spices, and perfumes. At this time it was an important commercial centre with ports, roads and largely navigable rivers...
In 1406 a Chinese interpreter accompanying a trade expedition spoke of the area as "commercially prosperous", producing scissors, knives, swords, rifles, vases, painted objects, 5 or 6 types of cotton, handkerchiefs, gold-embroidered silk bonnets... with abundant farming of sesame, millet, beans, ginger, onions...
It was not until the arrival of English capitalists and the Progress they brought with them, that living conditions began to degrade little by little.
The East India Company set itself up and the English bourgeoisie traded at full pelt. It imposed its own trade rules and very quickly began producing the same cloths in England that it had initially imported. This resulted in a profound transformation - Bengal was shifted from a position of manufacturer to that of supplier of raw materials (cotton, jute). The consequences of this change were enormous for agriculture, which went from a auto-consuming polyculture to an exporting monoculture and meant that all land was then used for monoculture. From then on, as elsewhere, crises in production of this raw material, now practically the only crop, went on to lead to famines. The first of these famines was in 1770. We want to stress that it was capitalist progress itself which brought about the famines, not some local climactic or geographical conditions. The situation only worsened when an even more speculative monoculture arrived on the scene: opium. Destined for the Chinese market, English capitalists sold opium throughout the 19th century up until 1939. In 1947 India was divided in two: the Indian Federation on one side and Pakistan on the other, Pakistan consisting of two territories separated by 1,500 kilometres. A war broke out between West Pakistan and East Pakistan, the latter backed by India. Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) was created in 1971 as an outcome of the war.
If there's no mention of floods before the division of India it is simply because this area which suffers so much today was not yet inhabited. And for good reason! This area, composed mostly of the southernmost delta of the Ganges (mostly swamps and mangrove groves!) remained virtually deserted until 1947.
What was it that drove massive numbers of proletarians into this area? Nothing but inter-imperialist interests.
Backed by England, the partition of India (officially done on the grounds of preventing religious wars between the Hindu majority and the Moslem minority ) ends up by placing the Hindus into the Indian Federation (now modern India) and the Moslems into East and West Pakistan. This division meant the forced movement of large numbers of proletarians, something which today would be considered ethnic cleansing. East Pakistan (future Bangladesh), is economically the least interesting part of Bengal, the Moslems placed there because of, in part, the pressure of the Hindu bourgeoisie who wanted the most prosperous area for itself. This was fully supported by the English capitalists who were keen to maintain trade relations with their Indian ex-colony.
The artificial increase in Bangladesh's population as a result of massive forced moves was soon followed by a demographic explosion. This is why this tiny state, barely 5 times the size of Belgium, has ended up with a population of 120 million people (12 times as many as Belgium, twice as many as France) and a population density of 810 inhabitants per square kilometre. In the areas most hit by floods there are easily 1000 inhabitants per square kilometre. (As a reminder, Belgium and Holland, listed amongst the most populated countries, have a density of "only" 350 inhabitants per square kilometre.) All of these people have to go somewhere. The only solution that international capitalism has found is to push these people further into the swamps mentioned above. Hundreds of thousands of proletarians drown as the waters rise and they are squeezed between strict political borders and the sea. And all of this thanks to the progress of capitalism which forced people to move to areas in which no one would have considered living in previously. The hundreds of thousands drowned are the price to pay for the continuation of Progress and the Bangladeshi Nation.