Premises on question of political crisis

by Farooque Chowdhury

spc08TODAY’S Bangladesh faces political crisis as scores of news reports and views claim [an end-note to this article cites headings/summary/part of a few of those], and today’s Bangladesh doesn’t face political crisis as one can claim periods of turmoil are not crisis, can cite a few data from economy, and can also refer to a lull within a long period of crisis. Both the statements, one can claim, are correct in relative terms. On the other hand, any of the two cancels the other.
Only a scientific approach to the question — crisis — can provide a reliable answer. The approach should look into all related aspects instead of making sweeping remarks based on superficial observations and shallow search that ignores basic elements of crisis.
Political activity, agitation, movement, violent or forceful acts, etc are considered crisis by a section of analysts as many political acts are considered agitation, which actually are not. Similarly, a section of analysts interpret failure to reach an agreement and manifestation of bargaining between factions of dominating interests as crisis.
At the same time, most of the analyses concentrate on dispute/debate between or opposite positions of two major political parties as crisis while a number of the analyses find source of the crisis in individuals/leaders concerned as if the individuals/leaders concerned are irresponsible or vindictive or stubborn.
A careful reading will find a part of those analyses is part of lobby-activity/deceitful public relation job to manipulate the target group with threat-/scare-mongering and/or slanted/distorted information. The approach, amazingly, misses causes of crisis in real terms while gets engaged with incidents appearing crisis.

The first premise
IT’S difficult in Bangladesh to find a single period of time without squabbling, contradictory contentions, dispute and serious disagreement between factions of dominating interests. It’s not unusual in emerging political systems. At least a number of analysts from the core of the world system like to forget that matured political systems went through bloodier episodes on their way to maturity; and a number of matured political systems faced situations like shutdown of government for days, a state without government for months, replacement of elected government by unelected government, a state on the verge of bankruptcy, and a near-collapse of financial system. Bangladesh is not beyond the global system. Rather, the period Bangladesh faces is full with increased competition for market, investment opportunity, cheaper labour and geostrategic position, which lead to interference/intervention, subversion, provocation.
Factional fights within the dominating interests are not uncommon in the Bangladesh mainstream politics as in other countries with capitalist system. Tools, processes and institutions for domination have always been questioned by none, but by factions within the dominating interests in Bangladesh. Matured political systems don’t face the reality. The processes, institutions, etc are/were ridiculed, challenged, defied and defiled by one or other faction of the dominating interests. Sometimes the institutions, processes, etc were challenged, hit, ridiculed and hurt in a way that even politics appearing and/or claiming radical seemed follower of ahimsa, non-violence. A data set will show the number of state machines or its parts hit/hurt/harmed by the politics of existing production relation is higher than the number hit/hurt/harmed by politics for radical change. There were periods in Bangladesh politics that witnessed parts of the dominant politics standing for existing property relations were nullifying institutions essential for safeguarding the relations. Periods were there those institutions and processes were virtually made non-existent by the interests that require those to safeguard, solidify and consolidate the interests in Bangladesh.
Further aggravating the reality, there were periods when one institution for domination was questioning/challenging other, getting engaged with turf-war, one trying to nullify other, one suspending other, one cutting down other’s credibility, even one was degrading self-credibility and self-esteem. The acts of nullifying, etc sometimes reach to a level that sounds ‘radical’!
The factions cut down credibility while try to build up credibility. These put at stake their entire interest while get engaged into competition with each other. Its economic parts question its political reflection while part of its political manifestation hurts its economic interests. All the factions take stand for democracy in an abstract sense while subvert its democracy. Scholars in its service announce their allegiance to people’s rule while anchor solutions on individuals’ standing and advice from external masters as if democracy depends on a small group of individuals and external masters. They fail to identify self-class interests!
There are instances in steps by the dominating interests as a whole or by its factions that try to secure its democracy by depending on a few individuals’ good wishes on a fine morning, relying on individuals appearing apolitical instead of depending on political institutions and/or mechanism for securing its democracy, and thus undercutting its institutions.
Observations by a major party to the system at least snap the reality. On political context, the International Monetary Fund said in December 2013: ‘Political tensions and associated nationwide strikes (hartals) have intensified since February 2013 in the lead up to national elections, which are due by January 2014. Protests were further spurred by war crimes verdicts against leaders of two main opposition parties and by political gridlock over establishing a transitional government to oversee the election period’ (IMF Country Report No 13/357). On challenges ahead, the IMF mentioned: ‘Most immediately there are the disruptions and uncertainty associated with the forthcoming elections’ (ibid). On risks, it said: ‘The principal near-term risk is an intensification of election-related uncertainty, economic disruptions and violence, which would affect investment and growth, directly and through confidence effects’ (ibid). The report’s risk assessment matrix mentioned ‘Intensification of politically motivated uncertainty and tensions’ as one of the shocks. The report identified vulnerability: ‘Escalating violence and uncertainty would affect investment and growth.’ As potential impact it mentioned: ‘High: Growth prospects could be further dampened by a loss of confidence and a slump in investment and consumption. Balance of payments (BOP) pressures could emerge from lost export production.’ Similar observations/assessments/analyses are many that the dominating interests can’t ignore. All these explicitly mention ‘politics’, and this politics is the politics of the dominating interests.
It’s an almost difficult ‘story’, and the ‘story’ is frustratingly long, and sometimes sounds repetitive. The situation that emerges may appear static at first view. A randomly chosen few months’/years’ press reports on economy, society, politics and institutions for domination are enough to exhibit the show the factions always conduct.
Reasons, causes, sources of these acts and deals are obviously areas for inquiry. Whether these were necessary and whether these were mature and effective acts are essential questions that also need inquiry as answers to these questions help asses condition of the dominating system and the interests. There is liberty also to ignore these questions. Irrespective of position regarding inquiry or non-inquiry the undeniable fact is Bangladesh went through these acts, political tact, manoeuvre, etc that provide a deep look into the condition of politics, statecraft, capacity of the dominating interests, and its institutions, etc.

Another premise
THE construction of another premise is possible, which may appear is in opposition to the first premise.
Parts of machines, mechanisms, processes required for domination are being modified, updated and strengthened. It’s a requirement for persisting with domination. Contending factions of the dominating interests also reach into compromises as there are common interests of the factions. The factions engaged into competition go back to position that fundamentally don’t cross ‘red line’ — the limit crossing of which endangers fundamental interests.
Faction(s) of the dominating interests, at times, resort to extra-constitutional steps for resolution of constitutional issues, and, at times, extra-constitutional steps are accommodated through constitutional measure and process. Extra-legal measure(s) by the interests are legitimised by legal measures, and legal and constitutional measures with far-reaching implications are taken to discourage extra-legal/-constitutional measures. Amazingly, political analysts serving the dominating interests ignore those legal/constitutional measures.
In the area of economy, the reality is different from a part in the area of the dominating politics, the part in constant factional fight. On fundamental issues related to economy, there’s unanimity among the fighting factions of the dominating interests. But, there’s difference on the question of creating breathing space and shock absorber to dominated interests, which is a show of immaturity. Similarly, on the vital question of bulldozing with neo-liberalism, there is difference between the factions: one bulldozes while the other occasionally puts brakes in certain areas. These have implications on public life, and on people’s democratic struggle.
The already cited IMF report said after referring to relevant data: ‘Export performance is holding up reasonably well compared to other parts in the region’ (Figure 2. Bangladesh: Exports and Remittances, p 37), and ‘manufacturing, including the flagship garment industry has remained resilient’ (Figure 3. Bangladesh: Real and External Sector Developments, p 38). It also said: ‘Administrative improvements drove up tax revenues between 2009 and 2011’ (Figure 4. Bangladesh: Fiscal Developments, p 39).
On Bangladesh’s investment climate, there’s another observation: ‘Bangladesh offers some of the world’s most competitive fiscal and non-fiscal investment incentives. Bangladesh offers the most liberal FDI regime in South Asia, allowing 100% foreign equity with unrestricted exit policy, easy remittance of royalty and repatriation of profits and incomes’ (Royal Danish Embassy, DANIDA Business Partnerships, Bangladesh — Business Development Profile, February 2013).
Who can forget the profit Bangladesh banks made while their elder brothers in the metropolis were facing collapse? Who can forget the microcredit debtors’ ‘praiseworthy’ repayment rate? And, who can forget labour’s unorganised struggles, which were mostly non-political?
These indicate gains by related capitals, and its position and power. And, these indicate profit. And, these indicate appropriation of surplus value in a ‘happy and congenial’ atmosphere, which is uninterrupted and easy exploitation of labour by capital. Interruption in circuit of capital, in spheres of circulation and production would not have kept manufacturing resilient. Easy repatriation of profits, etc is not easy in a hostile and uncertain situation.
At times, the economic elites act in a mature way than its representatives in the area of politics, and at times the same elites sound fascist as it demands/suggests curtailing of rights, political/democratic/labour, although the suggestion/demand are non-functional. At times, the economic elites mobilise labour while part of its political representative fails in the mobilisation. Capital’s fascist-like aspiration and demand — curtail democratic rights: ban strike — shows its powerful position, its uninterrupted power in the areas of economy and politics.

Crisis
THE question of crisis in capitalism should be understood in terms of antagonistic classes and the struggle that the classes carry on. The question of political crisis is related to the question of class struggle, and to its intensification and/or to intensifying it.
Crisis is inherent in a system that stands on antagonistic class division. But crisis doesn’t surface as visible fault-lines/breaches all the time, and doesn’t burst out all the time. At the same time, crisis in economy or in part(s) of it isn’t instantly visible in the area of politics. There’s uneven, irregular and asymmetric development of crisis.
Bourgeois politics is not always self-regulating as its economy has the same limitation. Intra- and inter-class conflicts and conflicting interests push it to the level of crisis that takes the political system to the brink of break down, and in circumstances, it breaks down. Other than intra- and inter-class conflicts there are external shocks and disturbances, which also ‘contribute’ to crisis or near-crisis. The political system tends to move towards equilibrium, and in circumstances, depending on position and power of class forces, equilibrium is achieved, even it is temporary.
Capital-labour contradiction, contending economic interests, and mechanism’s failure to balance those interests are at the root of political crisis. Political crisis is preceded by crisis in economy as it can’t escape contradiction between capital and labour. On case of crisis, areas of investment, rate of interest, rate of profit, outflow of capital, outflow of gold, currency reserve, monetary policy, etc show signs. Machines for domination face stalemate, and breakdown, which are shows of political crisis. The machines lose credibility. At the same time, dominated social strata losses trust on machines for domination.
Even, political crisis can be followed by periods of lull that may appear as stability. It may appear cyclical. Competing factions within dominating interests don’t go to the point of breakdown if the factions are not stupid — unaware of self-interests. Anarchy prevails during a period of political crisis. The anarchy begins from economy and dominates politics. Society and culture is shaken. The crisis situation thus creates conditions for emergence of a new context in the areas of society and culture.
There is a role of classes, dominating and dominated, during period of political crisis. Even, parts/factions of the classes may/can play distinctive and, at times, decisive role. Ideological and political questions emerge sharply during period of crisis. The questions take a long time to get charged, take a concrete shape from a seemingly abstract form.
There is every possibility for intensification of class struggle during period of political crisis. The possibility of intensification of class struggle during period of crisis depends on ideological, political and organisational preparedness. A stupid, sterile, subservient leadership in the camp of the people can’t take the lead required during the period. It behaves like a lackey or a donkey only to be denounced as betrayer to the people’s cause and as agent of dominating classes, and only to be dumped in dead pages of history.
Period of political crisis finds either mobilisation or demobilization of classes, which depends on the role of classes, its leadership, class alignment, and ideological, political and organizational preparedness.
Political crisis in the metropolitan areas of the global capitalist system takes a different appearance from the appearance of political crisis in the peripheries, which are not only dominated by the centre of the system, but also are directly, with intelligence and military power, with trade and ‘aid’ power, and/or with subversive acts, interfered regularly and intensively. Information media is used to supplement the interference. It’s the old imperialist practice. It’s bloody. It’s violent. It takes human toll. It exposes imperialism in its crude and cruel appearance. Thus imperialism acts as a ‘teacher’ to a distant periphery, which was completely unaware of imperialist intrigues hatched in the metropolitan centre of the world system.
It may appear strange, but imperialist project of interference often finds no other option but to create conditions that break down status quo in countries although the status quo serves imperialist interests and stands as a castle to safeguard the interests. It’s done as part of, in short, imperialist venture. But this creates crisis in the realms of economy and politics.
In period of crisis, foundation of status quo gets jolted, and prelude to radical change gets prepared. Class forces challenging status quo may/may not reinvigorate, and effectively/not effectively challenge status quo. It depends upon other factors including capital’s capacity to transfer the burden of crisis, adjust to cropped up situation, establish control over adverse forces/factors, regain lost space/power, subdue opposing class force. Alternative to crisis that arises are change in status quo, the old order, and changes in class alignment, class equation and class dominance in the system.
Crisis may spread to an entire system, or to a part or parts of a system. Crisis may not get all demolishing power in all phases of it. Crisis in a part or in an entire system may not bring down the system instantly.

Intervention
INTERVENTION, subversion, aggression, war, patronisation of armed groups by imperialism can create political crisis in countries. Proxy war with its different levels is now well-known. The crisis can overwhelm and devastate entire society, can create havoc in the life of people in respective society. Imperialism uses its definitions, standards and values, which are destructive, show of double-standard, fraudulent.
These imperialist activities are as old as imperialism, and countries/societies still stand as example to this. In today’s world, the activities have been intensified and sharpened in terms of both strategy and tactics.
Political stalemate, deadlock, are created by imperialism as part of the “game”. However, fundamental relation in the area of production is not jolted by imperial campaign as the shepherds of the globe are cautious enough. At the same time, measures are taken so that people remain politically demobilized and deactivated.

Part of the premises
IN THE circuit of capital, in the spheres of circulation and production, in the reproduction process, no interruption or breakdown is visible yet in Bangladesh. A few sporadic or organized strikes and disruptions in production in a few factories/manufacturing units don’t disrupt the circuit or the spheres of production, etc.
There, yet, is no failure at different moments of reproduction process in Bangladesh. Capitals yet have not faced interruptions in appropriating surplus value in the country. The accumulation process, rather, moves unhindered. Dominating capital’s control over the working class and over the entire society, and profits that have been and are being made are a clear show of uninterrupted condition. Investment, industrial, trade and service units, profit, credit, etc show the same uninterrupted trend with variations.
Factions of dominating interests are engaged in a fight or in a series of fights. But, dominated interests have not been challenged systematically and politically by its opposing class forces. This challenge is absent not only in the area of politics, but also in the areas of ideology, culture, organization, and even in the area of publicity and information. Yet, struggle for political power by the class forces opposing the dominating interests is not visible. Ideological questions are not spelled out among the people.
On the contrary, political leadership of the dominating interests successfully keeps its hold on the masses of people. It can even mobilise and demobilize masses whenever it feels necessary. It fixes the agenda of the struggles and organisations of the camp that claims pro-people or pro-labour or pro-working people. The camp or factions within the camp virtually follow factions of the dominating interests.
One can temporarily forget, for the sake of a fallacious argument, labour’s and people’s fundamental rights. Requirements for labour’s survival, essential for capital’s reproduction, can also be forgotten in the same style. Labour’s safe movement and labour’s safety are required for reproduction of capital. It’s also essential for capital. It can be easily understood where the crisis is when the politics that claims to be upholding labour’s interest fails to raise slogan and mobilise labour for labour’s safe movement, for labour’s safety. On the contrary, capital mobilises labour with the demand. It shows, partly, both the relative condition and power of labour and capital, which helps understand the question of crisis.
Farooque Chowdhury is a Dhaka-based freelance writer.

End note
A. International Crisis Group, Mapping Bangladesh’s Political Crisis, Asia Report N°264, February 9, 2015, the executive summary of the report said: ‘The confrontation marks a new phase of the deadlock between the ruling Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) opposition …. [T]he political crisis is fast approaching the point of no return and could gravely destabilise Bangladesh unless the sides move urgently to reduce tensions. Moreover, tribunals set up to adjudicate crimes perpetrated at the moment of Bangladesh’s bloody birth threaten division more than reconciliation. … Yet, its sole demand – for a fresh election under a neutral caretaker – is too narrow to generate the public support it needs to overcome the disadvantage of being out of parliament, and its political capital is fading fast as it again resorts to violence. …Rather than building on that cooperation, the two leaders have resorted to non-democratic methods to undermine each other. In power, both have used centralised authority, a politicised judiciary and predatory law enforcement agencies against legitimate opposition. Underpinning the current crisis is the failure to agree on basic standards for multiparty democratic functioning…. A protracted and violent political crisis would leave Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia the ultimate losers …’
B. NDI, ‘Find solution to current political crisis: NDI to Bangladesh’, bdnews24.com, February 14, 2015: Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) has urged Bangladesh to find a solution to its ongoing political crisis. NDI President Kenneth Wollack made this comment when Bangladesh Ambassador Mohammad Ziauddin met him in Washington.
C. Moody, rating agency, warned: ongoing political violence in Bangladesh was likely to pull down the country’s credit ratings. ‘Find solution to current political crisis: NDI to Bangladesh’, bdnews24.com, February 14, 2015.
D. ‘Political crisis in Bangladesh: January 2015 update — Commons Library Standard Note’, Published January 21, 2015, Standard notes SN06696, Amended February 3, 2015, Authors: Jon Lunn, ‘The political scene in Bangladesh remains as turbulent as ever.’
E. The Financial Times, February 25, 2015, ‘Arrest warrant for Khaleda Zia deepens Bangladesh crisis’.
F. The Diplomat, February 27, 2015, Frederic Grare, senior associate and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, ‘Is Bangladesh’s Crisis About to Get Much Worse?’: ‘Bangladesh has plunged once again into one of those recurrent crises that have punctuated the country’s political life since independence. … Superficially, the ongoing crisis is yet another chapter in the decades-long struggle between the current prime minister and leader of the Awami League, Sheikh Hasina, and her rival and predecessor as prime minister, Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. … The crisis is clearly having short-term repercussions, and will potentially have major long-term consequences. …The situation could grow uncontrollable if the hijacking of the political system by the Awami League and the BNP leads to the further marginalization of large segments of the Bangladeshi population, and quite possibly to the growing radicalization of some of its fringes. … The absence of any obvious exit scenario makes the current crisis particularly worrisome. New elections, for which there is no legal basis, are not the solution. Bangladesh’s political elites do not share even a minimum baseline for democratic culture and procedure. Elections outcomes are systematically rejected by the losing party, and the victorious party continually refuses to recognize the rights of the minority, questioning its legitimacy as a political entity. New elections would most likely spark a new cycle of retribution, leading in turn to violent reactions from the opposition.’
G. The Economist, March 5, 2015, ‘The prime minister has backed the opposition up against a barricade’: ‘THE endgame may have started, but this week it became clear that it will take its time to play out…. Mrs Zia and her elderly advisers seem to be relishing the intensity of the standoff, perversely. More moderate figures from the opposition have all been sidelined. Instead space is being vacated for extremists, notably religious fanatics, who pose a growing threat. …It is unclear whether there is any peaceable way out. …However, the UN squandered much of its credibility in this context during the time of a coup in 2007.’
H. Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2015, ‘Bangladesh’s long political crisis: Deaths and a stilted economy’: ‘[T]he violence has eased but the political crisis continues to deepen.’
I. Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), New Delhi, January 6, 2014, Gautam Sen, ‘Bangladesh Political Crisis and India`s Options’: ‘Bangladesh is in deep political crisis. … The political impasse is likely to continue …. On earlier occasions, from the late seventies, the political contests were more for direct control of state power. Now there are wider implications.’
J. DW, February 10, 2015, interview with the South Asia Project Director and Senior Asia Adviser at the International Crisis Group: ‘Analyst says the latest round of political violence … marks a new phase of the deadlock … The crisis is … fast reaching a point of no return because daily violence is making any dialogue or compromise more elusive. If there is no compromise, the government might succeed in temporarily containing the violence through its security apparatus, but that will likely result in a future cycle of confrontation; or the violence could escalate further, increasing the risk of civil war.’
K. The New York Times, November 20, 2013, the opinion page, editorial, ‘Political Crisis in Bangladesh’.

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