Four principles of Bangladesh: In quest of Socialism

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Published on May 11, 2021
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In a bid to enjoying freedom from colonial rule, we joined with the Pakistan part following the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 based on religion. But our illusion got broken soon when we found that the West Pakistanis, staying thousands of miles away from us, turned our golden Bengal into a crematorium within two decades by using religion as a shield. The Bengal region, which was always abundant in crops and food, faced famine within one and half a decade after the formation of Pakistan. Due to the food shortage caused by the overall exploitation by the West Pakistanis, the Bengal had to import food in 1964. Moreover, all the wealth of the country remained in the hands of few families in entire Pakistan. This portion of elite capitalists is historically known as ‘Baish Poribar (22 families)’. They grabbed 90 per cent of the state wealth in their hands and the rest 10 per cent remained for the whole population. Bangabandhu, who was actively involved in the movement for creating Pakistan, realized the cheating of the West Pakistanis within few days and began concentrating on improving the lifestyle of ordinary people. The then young leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman started planning to reform the country’s economic system to bring smiles on the faces of the exploited. Since then, the concept of socialism got connected with the philosophy of the Bangladesh state. And it was not included suddenly in the Constitution as a key principle of independent Bangladesh, but due to historical backgrounds.

Many believe that socialism means a state without religion and isolated state mechanism like China and Russia. But it is a wrong concept of socialism. A group of defeated force in the Liberation War and a capitalist class spread propaganda against the idea among the people. That is why there is very little discussion on this topic. But let’s talk in detail about this issue.

The people of Bengali always dreamed of the socialist system in an independent democratic country that Bangabandhu worked for. Based on the people’s aspiration Awami League won the first-ever general election of Pakistan in 1970. For the same reason, Jukto Front got victory too in the 1954 provincial election. For achieving their economic freedom, the peasants and the working-class cast their votes for the ‘boat’ symbol of the Awami League to elect Jukto Front, instead of affluent landlords. Even after the independence, people chose Awami League unanimously in the 1973 general election. People never rejected Bangabandhu’s boat symbol because he, throughout his political life, tried to reduce the sufferings and miseries of the exploited and poor people and build a discrimination-free and equal social system. People kept their trust in Bangabandhu as he always wanted to improve the country by improving the lives of farmers, workers and ordinary people. The ordinary people even did not fear to battle in empty hands against modern armoured Pakistani junta force on Bangabandhu’s call for independence.

The Founder of Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman dedicated his whole life to fulfil the promises towards his people – both before and after the independence. He decided the four principles of the state in the Constitution with nationalism, democracy, secularism and socialism at the same time. But this socialism is not the same as that of other countries. Bangabandhu’s philosophy regarding this socialism was the introduction of a socialistic economic system in a democratic mechanism to improve the lives of 90 per cent of people who are exploited. It is a unique economic plan that was the sole brainchild of Bangabandhu, aiming to establish an equal and humanitarian social system.

Socialism of Bangladesh is the Democracy of the Exploited

Regarding socialism, Bangabandhu on November 4, 1972, told the Constituent Assembly, “The main idea of my socialism is an exploitation-free society. We do not want to hire socialism from other countries. Different countries adopted socialism in different ways. China has not adopted the way Russia did, rather it follows differently. Even staying beside Russia, Yugoslavia, Rumania and Bulgaria approached different socialism based on their environment and national contexts. Go to the Middle East – Iraq goes one way, but Egypt does another way. Socialism is not possible by hiring it from overseas, those who have done it cannot establish socialism. Socialism is not possible with studying lines, commas and semi-colons, rather it requires step by step forward in line with the country’s environment, status and mentality of the country’s people, their customs, financial status and attitudes.”

Following his release from Pakistan jail after the independence, Bangabandhu clearly outlined what the nature of the new state would be. At a press conference on January 14 after his homecoming, Bangabandhu said: “My ultimate goal is to establish an exploitation-free country, meaning socialistic economy.” In the process of establishing socialism, he said: “We believe in the democratic process. Also, the contexts of different countries are different from each other. So, Bangladesh has to adopt its process based on its own context.”

Later, Bangabandhu used to discuss ‘Bangladesh-style Socialism’ in detail at every public rally, parliamentary sessions and meetings. Bangabandhu termed the socialistic economic system within democratic government structure as ‘democracy of the exploited’.

Speaking at the first anniversary of the independence on March 25 in 1972, the Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman said: “My government has belief in social revolution internally. The old social system must be changed not with unreal theories. The old social structure has to be reformed with practical experiences and needs of the country.”

On May 9, 1972, Bangabandhu said at a function in Rajshahi: “People of Bengal cannot live without socialism, that is why I initiated to establish socialism. No one can be the owner of land above 100 bighas, the surplus land will be distributed among the landless people.”

Bangabandhu worked relentlessly for the economic freedom of the people for more than three years after the country’s Liberation War. He nationalized the bank, insurance, jute mills, cotton mills, sugar mills, internal and coastal shipyards, Bangladesh Biman and some other sectors. The big industries which were in the control of few persons were nationalized to give ownership to the seven crore Bengali people. He also took the initiatives to launch a cooperative system in 65,000 villages where the ownership of the land will not be changed but unemployed farmers and workers will work on the fields and the government will subsidize fertilizers, pesticides and seeds etc. With an increased amount of production, the crops will be divided into three portions – one for the landowner, the second one for the labour and the rest for the state. Thus, the agricultural outputs were planned to increase three times with modernization and ensure food supply for all. It was basically an outline for improving the fates of working-class people who are the majority of the total population. But before materializing the plan, Bangabandhu was brutally assassinated by a group of barbaric killers, who later shattered the country’s Constitution into pieces. The plan Bangabandhu took to remove the tears from the eyes of the country’s poor people ended. Though ‘socialism’ remained in the paper, the overall philosophy was completely lost. The fate of the majority of exploited people fell into darkness with the aggression of military junta, extremists and occupational capitalists.

Though the country was born with the dream for freedom of the exploited Bengali nation from any sort of discrimination, there rose a tout class craving for power due to the conspiracies from extreme leftists and anti-liberation forces. These hindered the initiatives taken by Bangabandhu for the economic liberty of the ordinary people. Fed up with the existing democratic system, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on January 25, 1975, said in the parliament: “We want democracy for the exploited. This democracy is not for those who looted public money at nights, who are influential wealthy people and who supply money to the foreigners for buying votes, rather it is the democracy of the exploited.” This democracy of the exploited is socialism in the Bangladesh context and is regarded as one of the four pillars of the Constitution.

To reach the goal, Bangabandhu simultaneously asked the farmers and labours to increase the production, and government staff to change their attitudes towards people. He also called upon them to get rid of the British and Pakistani colonial mentality.

Socialistic System and Bangabandhu

From his early political life, Bangabandhu struggled against the exploitation and repression of the people. He lost his studentship from Dhaka University for waging protest for the rights of the fourth-class staff of the university. He followed his previous leaders and was on the side of the creation of Pakistan before the partition. But he realized that Pakistanis tool trapped the Bengali nation in the chain of slavery. Regarding his feeling then, he wrote in his memories that the illusions of the Muslims had already gone away. Socialism was in the heart of the Bengali people to get relieved of the exploitation, repression and communalism.

The time the Bengali nation started its movement for rights and justice was very crucial as there were rises of communism across the world. China got its independence in 1949 and Pakistan in 1947. But China changed its economic and social status within a short time by the socialistic system. On the other hand, the people of East Bengal suffered from famine and poverty due to Pakistani exploitation. Particularly Bangabandhu was inspired by China while visiting the country in a Peace Council meeting in 1956. He wrote detail of his experience in his ‘Amar Dekha Naya Chin’ title. While travelling by plane and train, he was amazed to see the greenery beauty of China – it seemed like somewhere in Bangladesh to him. Like Bangladesh, they were also exploited by the English and the Japanese. But Bangabandhu was surprised to know the way they changed their fate in terms of state philosophy, pro-labour policy and evolution of industries within few years since their independence.

China with Communist Party in power had their criticism. But seeing the mega development projects, Bangabandhu wrote: “The opium addict nation has woken up from sleep suddenly. Nobody takes opium now, nobody feels dozy. They are now full of optimism, not frustration. The country has been independent, everything is for the country’s people.”

Though China’s pro-labour policy fascinated Bangabandhu, he did not want the same socialism in Bangladesh. Regarding this, he further clarified: “I am not a communist. I believe in socialism and do not believe in the capitalist economy.”

Basically, this trip was an impressive one for Bangabandhu, but at the same time, it gave the food for thoughts for Bangabandhu to reform the social system. Bangabandhu’s political career was pro-people from the very beginning. He saw the acceptance and popularity of his early political colleagues and veteran politicians Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq among the farmers. Later, while accelerating anti-Pakistani politics, demands related to farmers and workers were mostly highlighted in the 11-point charter. The urge for an exploitation-free society always complied with the rise of nationalism through the language movement. All student organizations, including Chhatra League formed by Bangabandhu himself, always voiced against the capitalistic attitude, called for the cancellation of foreign money and nationalization of big industries. In continuation of these demands, Jukto Front also pledged to abolish the Zamindari process and nationalize the jute mills.

The 11-point charter in 1960 also demanded the nationalization of banks, insurances and jute mills. The Awami League campaign and programmes also called for establishing socialism in 1969 to ensure economic justice for all.

Awami League included socialism in the 1970 election manifesto. Ahead of the election, there was a biennial conference of the party in June. From the council, it was announced: “The equality among the people will be established by abolishing monopoly, capitalism, feudalism, zamindari, jotdari, mahajani system and introducing socialist economy within democratic structures.” Following this announcement, Awami League launched its election campaign. From then, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman stressed the need for bringing the ownership of the country’s wealth to the country’s people at every election rally. The principle of founding exploitation and discrimination-free state and equity-based social system is regarded as socialism in Bangladesh contexts.