East Bengal (1971): the unfinished revolution
The first mass revolt in Pakistan came not on a national but on a class basis. In 1968 there was a scintillating mass upheaval that created a revolutionary situation. For 139 days the working class, the peasantry and the youth were in control. The episode of the signing of the instrument of surrender on December 16, 1971, at Paltan Maidan, Dhaka, and the subsequent breakup of Pakistan has been the subject of controversial historical interpretations for the last 39 years. A vast majority of this analysis reflects the interests of the different wings of the ruling classes of the South Asian subcontinent. Hence the official historians have grossly distorted the events and the real aspirations of the oppressed masses during the social blizzard that swept across the region between 1968 and 1972.
Yet one reality that no one can deny is the historical failure of the Two-Nation Theory that had led to the bloody partition of 1947. The fragile and artificial nature of this ideology had already been exposed when already in March 1946 Jinnah had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan of retaining a united India, albeit in the form of a confederation with extended autonomy for the confederating units.
It was the provocation of Nehru at the press conference in Bombay that had forced Jinnah and the Muslim League to back out of the plan. Nehru was lured into this act by the charming influence of Edwina Mountbatten at the behest of Winston Churchill who, along with the serious strategists of British imperialism, wanted partition at any cost to ensure the continuation of their policy of divide and rule, preservation of capitalism and sustaining imperialist plunder of the subcontinent.
In the 27 years after the creation of this hybrid state, social and economic development under the nascent ruling classes was of an extremely uneven nature. Although growth rates had soared in the 60s, their impact on society was contradictory. Instead of creating national unity and developing society, it resulted in the aggravation of class disparities and national deprivation. After all, Pakistan was not born as a nation state but was comprised of different nationalities. Pakistani capitalism had failed to create the integration of a modern nation state.
However, the first mass revolt in Pakistan came not on a national but on a class basis. In 1968 there was a scintillating mass upheaval that created a revolutionary situation. For 139 days the working class, the peasantry and the youth were in control. It was also the only time that there was a genuine unity of the people on a class basis that had cut across the prejudices of ethnicity, religion, nationality and sectarianism.
In East Pakistan the main leadership was in the hands of Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani and the National Awami Party (NAP), while in West Pakistan the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), under the leadership of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, ruled the roost. The state was hung in midair and the mighty General Ayub Khan had to confess in his parting speech: "Every problem of the country is now being decided in the streets."
Unfortunately at the peak of the movement in 1969 when Bhashani was on a visit to China, Mao Tse-tung had bluntly told him that the Chinese would welcome NAP support for Ayub Khan. But the masses in Pakistan hated and despised the brutal dictatorship of Ayub. He was the central figure of the system against which the movement had erupted.
This caused a severe setback to the class struggle, especially in the East. Hence the movement that had erupted on class lines started to divert onto a nationalist discourse. This brought Mujibur Rehman's Awami League into the arena. The working classes who had embarked upon the audacious path of overthrowing capitalism were severely hampered by the lack of the necessary instrument (a revolutionary party) to carry out the socialist insurrection. They were forced to turn their attention to the electoral plane to achieve what they had first sought to accomplish on the streets.
The Awami League's landslide in East Pakistan was mainly due to the desertion of the movement by the traditional 'left' leadership. But the Awami League was a bourgeois reformist party and had no intention of taking on the establishment. It believed in negotiations and compromise.
In a revealing interview with AFP, Sheikh Mujib had confessed, "Is the West Pakistan government not aware that I am the only one able to save East Pakistan from communism? If they take the decision to fight I shall be pushed out of power and the Naxalites will intervene in my name.