Published:  03:51 AM, 01 May 2017

The Bastilles that must be stormed


It is May Day today. It is a celebration of those who possess the earth and yet are not permitted to be owners of its resources. It is a time when the have-nots of the world must remember that they need to have it all, in terms of morality and legitimacy.

For me and for millions of others around the world, May Day is a matter of deep-rooted conviction. I do not pretend to be a socialist, though I try to be one. That is what my heart tells me. I remain acutely conscious of the fact that I can never be a good communist. The reasons are simple. It takes great courage, an immensity of the sacrificial spirit and a totality of faith in the power of the common masses to change the world, to transform an individual into a socialist or a communist. And yet there have been in me all those stirrings that have regularly spoken to me of the rights that men are by nature heir to. I have kept faith in the principle of people all over the world, but especially in my country, coming by politics that would base itself on the socialistic model, that would propel Bangladesh decisively into the future.

On May Day, therefore, it is a whole lot more than a remembrance of Chicago 1886 that I go into. I go beyond that Haymarket tragedy, the same that today symbolizes the struggle of what we know as the toiling masses for a happier, better future for themselves. And I remember the Soviet Union as it used to be before perestroika and glasnost led it down the road to ruin. When you speak of human rights today, when you feel the urge for a world based on the rights of everyone to its resources, you remember with a certain touch of pride the sweeping psychological and political changes that the republic proclaimed by Lenin in 1917 and so solidified by Stalin subsequently caused around the globe.

You and I may have been put off by Nikita Khrushchev's shoe-banging at the United Nations in 1960. The tired men, Brezhnev and company, who led the Soviet Union into a disastrous war in Afghanistan in the late 1970s have never been our heroes. But the Soviet Union was, when it was around, a model for the future. In our collective memory, it remains an idea we can recreate out of its ashes. It is thus that we understand the yearnings in Vladimir Putin for a powerful Russia.

That is how my thoughts run on May Day. It is a time when I miss Che Guevara, the dedicated socialist who could have changed the face of our world had he not been done to death by the wolves in the Bolivian jungles fifty years ago. Guevara was one socialist who combined in him all the best that leftwing politics had to offer. He was charismatic, he was educated and he had faith. Like Fidel Castro, he knew that the most compelling argument in defense of rights was the power and the willingness of the masses to change their fate. I have been impressed by the rise of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua; and I have been deeply distressed at the way America's Reaganites forced them out of office.

It felt good to see the Sandinistas back in power, but there do not arise in us the feelings that the Sandinistas once epitomized. When pragmatism supplants idealism, you often lose something important. And you call that conviction. But conviction sometimes is revived through the arrival on the scene of men like Hugo Chavez. Venezuela's late leader held out hope for his nation's poor. He could have done the job better had he been a little less fiery in his approach to the neo-conservatives in the United States.

Some years ago, here in Dhaka, a young Chinese woman told me with a straight face that her generation had a poor opinion of Mao Zedong because in his time people were poor. Today, she said with a smile that spread from ear to ear, everyone in China was happy because there was a lot of money to go around. I listened to her, stunned into near silence, for here was a woman who clearly did not remember her history. And her history was the tale of a people who had struggled resolutely and mightily to cause a change in their fortunes. The Long March, the political will of Mao, Zhou En-lai, Chu Teh and Liu Shaoqi are historical episodes that will remind us of the glory that socialism was meant to be. Of course, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution turned out to be disasters. Of course, the repeated purges of men like Deng Xiaoping did not exactly endear Chinese socialism to many. But can you really agree with Deng's proposition that it did not matter if a cat was white or black as long as it caught mice? Socialism has always been about the means justifying the ends. It has not just been about ends.

On May Day every year, I have recalled with pain the passing of good men like Afghanistan's Nur Mohammad Taraki. There was D.N. Aidit who disappeared on a night of brutality in Indonesia long ago. Had Brezhnev not come in the way, Alexander Dubcek would have caused wonders in Czechoslovakia through his Prague Spring in 1968. Would Bangladesh have taken the rainbow-brightened road to socialism had there not been a falling out between Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Tajuddin Ahmad?

But my pain comes coated in a gentle silver foil of optimism, in the belief that there will be time someday for the poor and the dispossessed to reclaim the world for themselves. There will be time for the hungry and the angry and the subjugated to take charge of their lives and their universe and build, brick by patient brick, the structure of socialism that will take us a little closer to the creation of a better, prosperous and educated society for ourselves.

There will be time to inform ourselves that globalization is not what we need. Internationalism is what will give nations dignity, around the world. There are the sinister Bastilles that must be stormed, in order for our children and for their children to live happy, prosperous and responsible lives.

The writer is Associate Editor, The Asian Age

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