Peripheral Economy, Global Capital and Movements in Bangladesh: An Interview with Anu Muhammad

6 January 2011 by Manoranjan Pegu


Anu Muhammad is an eminent Marxist and a renowned academician from
Bangladesh. He is currently serving as Professor in the Department of
Economics in Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka. He is also the
general secretary of National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral
Resources Power and Ports and has been involved in various people’s
movements in Bangladesh. He, along with the committee, played an
instrumental role in the success of the Phulbari Movement against Open
Pit Mining in Phulbari, Bangladesh. He writes extensively on
globalisation, social transformation, gender, NGO and energy issues
and has authored more than 20 books. In this interview Prof Muhammad
speaks to Manoranjan Pegu on the politico-economic trajectory of
Bangladesh, in the context of capitalist globalisation and ensuing
geo-political changes in South Asia, and assesses the significance of
recent popular unrest in the country.

Manoranjan Pegu (MP): How do you characterise the overall nature of
the Bangladeshi economy, and its location in global capitalism?

Anu Muhammad (AM): Within the global capitalist system, Bangladesh can
be considered a peripheral capitalist economy. We are experiencing a
phenomenon where the situation in peripheral countries such as
Bangladesh is unfolding in a way very different from the standard
definition. Here the state has been very effective in creating a
repressive mechanism, but it has not been able to work towards
formulating its own policies. Practically, it operates under a ’bigger
state’, which is the larger framework of the global capitalist power
structure. The policies the government tries to implement are mostly
formulated outside the national parliament and even outside people’s
knowledge. The policies are formulated under different projects
supported by the World Bank World Bank
WB
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

, IMF IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.

http://imf.org
, DFID, USAID or some or the other UN
organisation. We find presence of consultants from these agencies in
every policy process and projects, which needless to say are
favourable to corporate interests.

It is a phenomenon where the system of imperialism works by
’manufacturing consent’ within the ruling class, accommodates them
within the larger global capitalist system to partner them in grabbing
resources, and control the total economy and its potential. There are,
of course, different political parties that comprise the ruling class.
We have seen them in power in different phases of our history, we have
experienced military rule too. At the level of policies, however,
there has been a clear continuity, the nature of the government
notwithstanding. Although the parties do not like each other or
quarrels often among themselves, they implement the same policies as
the policies represent the same classes and the same global corporate
interests. The local ruling classes find their existence, power,
security and affluence by being connected with the global empire. So,
this is some sort of a negotiated arrangement the local and the global
ruling classes have. With the so-called foreign aid, they have built a
major support base - consultants, big private sector owners and
beneficiaries from different projects. In the process, these
bureaucrats, consultants, media and the ruling classes have become a
vital pillar of global capital and they try to rationalise these
grabbing of common resources as ’development’.

MP: Can you briefly trace the trajectory of economic development in
Bangladesh? What has been the role of foreign capital in this regard?
What is the state and nature of Bangladeshi capital?

AM: In 1971, after getting independence, the initial promise was
different. It was expected that Bangladesh would take a different
route to development. But that promise and expectation could exist
only for a very short period. As the US government’s position towards
Bangladesh liberation war was hostile, the rulers did not favour the
US immediately after independence. That World Bank (WB) and the IMF
were also in a shaky position. Since 1973-74, the government’s
position kept changing, what with the post-Liberation rulers beginning
by favouring the rising rich locally and the US government globally.
In 1973, the World Bank and IMF re-entered the region and the
relations with the US government also began to change. After 1975,
this process became stronger under military rule. It became entrenched
during the 1980s under another military regime. This decade was very
important in setting the present economic direction of Bangladesh.

During this period, the neo-liberal programmes became more
synchronised and were rendered visible on a global scale. Bangladesh
had military rule then; right-wing regimes under Margaret Thatcher in
the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US were in power. All neo-liberals had
succeeded in asserting their power globally through military
aggression and/or financial institutions. During the same period, the
Structural Adjustment Structural Adjustment Economic policies imposed by the IMF in exchange of new loans or the rescheduling of old loans.

Structural Adjustments policies were enforced in the early 1980 to qualify countries for new loans or for debt rescheduling by the IMF and the World Bank. The requested kind of adjustment aims at ensuring that the country can again service its external debt. Structural adjustment usually combines the following elements : devaluation of the national currency (in order to bring down the prices of exported goods and attract strong currencies), rise in interest rates (in order to attract international capital), reduction of public expenditure (’streamlining’ of public services staff, reduction of budgets devoted to education and the health sector, etc.), massive privatisations, reduction of public subsidies to some companies or products, freezing of salaries (to avoid inflation as a consequence of deflation). These SAPs have not only substantially contributed to higher and higher levels of indebtedness in the affected countries ; they have simultaneously led to higher prices (because of a high VAT rate and of the free market prices) and to a dramatic fall in the income of local populations (as a consequence of rising unemployment and of the dismantling of public services, among other factors).

IMF : http://www.worldbank.org/
Programme (SAP) was formulated by the WB-IMF and
imposed on peripheral economies, Bangladesh was also a victim. Any
type of autocratic rule is very useful in implementing these
disastrous programmes, military rule, therefore, was very convenient
for the global power. Most of the policy reforms for wholesale
privatisation, trade liberalisation, withdrawing of the state’s
responsibility and other related things took shape during this period.
During the 1980s WB and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) entered into
the energy sector and concluded that energy sector should invite
foreign private companies. This was the beginning of a new phase.
Accordingly, signing of production sharing contracts (PSCs ) with
multinational oil companies began in the early ’90s.

Although major political parties of the country opposed the autocratic
government and its policies since 1982-83, and that government was
overthrown through a mass uprising in 1990, these parties as soon as
they got elected, one after another (1991 and 1996, again 2001 and
2009), became busy in implementing the same policies formulated under
the military regime. So, elected and non-elected, military and
non-military, made no difference in the realm of government policy
because ultimately all those governments represented the same class
and imperialist interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. .

Since 1982, governments have become more and more hostile towards
public enterprises. Adamjee Jute Mills, the biggest jute mill in South
Asia, and other public sector jute mills were shut down as a result of
the jute sector development credit from the World Bank. The public
enterprises were running losses and were going through negative growth
because of motivated policies of successive governments. On the other
hand, export-oriented industries have been experiencing the highest
growth, of about 8% per year, thanks to the support and favourable
policies of successive governments. Because of these opposite
movements net employment and net industrialisation have not moved
upward.

With the help of neo-liberal policy support, accumulation of capital,
through grabbing of public property, institutions and money, has
acquired a fresh momentum. The richest people in Bangladesh are those
who have been the main defaulters in public banks. These people also
occupied government lands, agricultural lands, wastelands, forest
land, wet land. Meanwhile, the grabbing of financial resources too has
gone on side by side. We find a new form of colonisation from within,
a phenomenon that has led to the emergence of a good number of
super-rich people, on the one hand, and a new flow of uprooted, very
poor people, on the other. On the one hand, we find dazzling shopping
malls, high-rise buildings, cars; and on the other, floating people
and dismantled public institutions. This rich class has also
discovered a rather profitable business proposition in real estate,
directly linked to land-grab, too.

Because of SAP-related policies, crisis of public institutions in
health and education sectors has intensified. The path has been
cleared for the establishment of many private hospitals, clinics,
coaching centres, private universities and colleges. That, needless to
say, has made all these services very costly. Media institutions
linked with big business houses have also been flourishing. The lumpen
rich have become the strong support base of the International
Financial Institutions (IFIs). Import liberalisation and unfavourable
policies towards domestic industries have badly affected domestic
market-oriented industries. Malls have found a more favourable policy
atmosphere than mills. This mill to mall phenomenon has failed to
create enough jobs. Lack of employment opportunities and continuous
migration of job-seeking people to the urban areas have triggered
growth of the informal sector that is unstable and uncertain. Thanks
to the growth of export-oriented garment industries, we have also been
experiencing an increased feminisation of the working class. The
growth of the new female working class has been giving birth to new
forms of resistance too.

To get a perspective, we have to look at another important phenomenon
in the same period, the NGO sector. The growth of a large number and
network of NGOs is an outcome of both state and market failure. The
NGO became a necessity because of rising poverty and inequality. There
was a widespread belief that NGOs would fill this vacuum and help in
diminishing poverty and inequalities. After working for more than
three decades, it has now been proved that NGOs cannot alleviate
poverty or inequality. If we look at the number, both scenarios have
deteriorated. By 1995 the percentage of people living below poverty
line was 48% and according to the WB reports it came down to 40% by
2005, but it has again increased to 48% in 2008. This means that the
population under poverty line has increased since 1995.

However, a good number of middle-class people have got involved with
this sector as employees, consultants, suppliers and so on. Many NGO
honchos have emerged as part of the affluent section of society.
Therefore, beneficiaries of the poverty alleviation programmes, or
micro-credits etc, are not the poor, but a section of the middle class
and the wealthy. In fact, with a few exceptions, creating an NGO has
become a good way of earning money in the name of the poor,
environment, gender, human rights. That has also led to a spread of a
begging culture. This growth of NGOs is also a neo-liberal phenomenon,
where the state’s responsibility towards its citizens is thoroughly
reduced and the market is given full authority in every sphere of
life. In this model, the NGO is a supplement to as well as an
instrument of market economy.

MP: When did Bangladesh open up its boundaries and adopt neo-liberal
policies and how do you contextualise the anti-mine movement in
Bangladesh?

AM: Let me discuss the point in historical perspective. The history of
Bangladesh and India has some fundamental differences. After
independence India opted for a national protectionist policy for the
local and heavy industries. Its priority was to build up national
industrial capabilities and public sector institutions. Up to the
1990s that policy not only helped the Indian bourgeoisie grow but also
founded a very strong industrial base. By the time India decided to
adopt the neo-liberal path, the country had its own big group of
companies. So, when it opened up, Indian big entrepreneurs became the
biggest beneficiary and all the foreign investments had to come in
joint collaborations, they had to compromise with big Indian corporate
groups and Indian groups also started investing in other places. But
in case of Pakistan, the rulers had no national perspective from the
very beginning. They assumed the place of a client state of the US.
The US has successfully used Pakistan as an instrument to materialise
their regional strategy to expand their hegemony. Pakistan was always
dependent on the US advisers. Thus, Pakistan grew with an
over-developed military-civilian bureaucracy, dependants on the WB and
the US state department.

Bangladesh, within a few years of independence from Pakistan,
replicated the same system. Soon Bangladesh was trapped in the WB-US
hegemonic model, where economic reforms took place not to develop its
potential but to create a vicious cycle of dependence. Wholesale
privatisation and opening up of the Bangladeshi economy to
multinational capital and creating a group of lumpen rich became the
main agenda of economic reforms. I discussed earlier its nature and
consequences.

Now we come specifically to the energy sector. Up to 1974 there were
some gas fields owned by the Shell. In 1974, the government
nationalised all those gas fields and established Petrobangla, a
national institution to take control of the energy sector. This was a
good beginning. Although there were a few pockets of gas offshore,
most of the gas fields were owned by the national institution. A
generation of skilled human resources could be developed because of
this. Until the late ’90s, almost 100 per cent gas production was done
by the national agency; the same was true for power generation and
distribution. As a result, both gas and power could be produced at a
very low cost and distributed at a low price. Petrobangla and Power
Development Board (PDB) were both making profits, although gas and
power tariffs were much lower until the late ’90s.

Since 1980s, as I said earlier, a shift in this policy began. It
started in 1982 with the WB and the ADB conducting an "energy sector
feasibility study". Conclusions of every study done by these agencies
are well known: privatise, commercialise, hand over national resources
to MNCs, etc. The same thing happened here too. The study argued that
Petrobangla (a profit Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. -making body) was a white elephant. They
prescribed that to develop the energy sector two things were urgently
needed:

1. To allow foreign private investment, and

2. For best utilisation of gas resources, export it to India.

Following these recommendations, steps were carefully synchronised to
open up the energy sector to foreign private capital, the MNCs.
Following necessary steps, signing of PSCs with oil MNCs for
exploration of gas resources began in 1993-94. Now most of the rich
gas blocks are with the MNCs: Chevron, Santos, Cairn Energy, Shell
etc. They produce about 50 per cent of the gas supply. Government
policy remains completely biased towards these companies, although
their price of gas is 30 times more than the national agencies that
are suffering from not only funds crunch but also from a lack of
policy support to utilise and develop their capability. Because of
the higher price of MNC supply, Bangladesh is now facing increasing
fiscal deficit; currently it is more than 20 billion takas per year.
The same thing has happened in the power sector since the mid ’90s. In
the name of development, construction of public sector power plants
was stopped after the IFIs signalled that they would not finance such
constructions. Gradually, this sector has also been handed over to the
Independent Power Producers (IPPs) or MNCs. Bangladesh is suffering
from another 15-billion-taka loss per year for high-cost power
purchase. All these figures will increase further with their
increasing share Share A unit of ownership interest in a corporation or financial asset, representing one part of the total capital stock. Its owner (a shareholder) is entitled to receive an equal distribution of any profits distributed (a dividend) and to attend shareholder meetings. . As a logical outcome of these ’development’
initiatives, periodic price rise of gas and power becomes routine,
making the economy more costly and less competitive.

As usual, the same design was secretly imposed on the coal sector. In
1994, Australian Mining Company BHP came to Bangladesh to explore the
possibility of coal mining in Phulbari. In the mineral rules of 1968,
there was 20 per cent royalty, but after signing the feasibility
agreement with BHP that was reduced to six per cent. That was itself
illegal because after signing the agreement, you cannot change the
rule. In 1997, BHP left Bangladesh after realising that it would not
be technically feasible for open-pit mining in Phulbari because of its
depth, water system and geological structure. But a mysterious thing
happened before they left. A company registered in the UK was born and
BHP transferred its license to that company named Asia Energy. How
could it happen that such a big company transferred its license to a
newly formed company, and how could the government permit that?

Before 2005, people of that area, and we who work with the National
Committee, were unaware of these things because strict secrecy was
maintained. When Asia Energy started public contact in 2005 for
eviction, people realised that something very bad was going to happen.
In the beginning, people were told that good things would happen and
people were promised a lot of compensation. But at one point people
realised the real dangers of open-pit mining and the company’s
fraudulent activities. They started protesting against the project
from the end of 2005. People formed local organisations and contacted
us. In the beginning, we tried to understand open-pit mining and its
probable impact. We contacted the relevant government agencies for
their papers and assessment, but there were no papers, documents or
assessment reports from the government. So we had to go through the
Asia Energy documents to understand it, started studying Asia Energy
documents from the net and the pamphlets distributed within the
community. After deconstructing their propaganda documents, ’studies’
and publications we became convinced that the project would be highly
disastrous for the area and for the country as a whole. We were also
convinced that we had to stop it to save our water resources, fertile
land, people’s lives and livelihood and above all coal resources.

We went there and stayed there. In the National Committee, we have
political parties, academics, experts and individuals. It grew as a
new form of socio-political movement with its working experience on
national interest, especially against bad deals with the MNCs in the
past 12 years. The Phulbari movement is a huge experience for us, it
has shown how people from different ethnic groups - women and men -
joined the resistance movement despite the fact that many from among
their leaders were in cahoots with the company. The movement is
unprecedented, both in terms of the scale of the uprising and the
consciousness it has ignited, and is till date successfully resisting
this imperialist grabbing project.

MP: How do you assess the role and performance of micro-credit? How
much has it contributed to the capitalist penetration of rural
Bangladesh and its integration in the global network of finance
capital?

AM: Micro-credit in different forms has been in practice for long in
this region. Dr. Muhammad Yunus (Grameen Bank) and Fazle Hasan Abed
(BRAC) could institutionalise it and could attract global attention
through its monetary success. Initially, their micro-credit programmes
began with the promise of poverty alleviation, gradually its success
showed its strength in other areas. Currently, BRAC, Grameen Bank and
ASA control more than 80 per cent of the micro-credit market. From
micro-credit business these organisations have accumulated a lot of
capital and shown that micro-credit can become a corporate success.
They have also linked multinational capital with the micro-credit
network.

For instance, Grameenphone started its operation by relying on
micro-credit, offered borrowers mobile phone as a commodity form of
micro-credit, on condition of paying back in installments. Its initial
declared aim was to ’help poor’, ’alleviate poverty’, now Grameenphone
has become the largest company in Bangladesh with 90 per cent of its
subscribers being non-poor urban people. Grameenphone is actually an
entity of Telenor, Norway. They started with the poor and relied on
micro-credit and then at one point migrated to more profitable areas.
Grameen Bank has opened many other businesses, has developed joint
venture companies with French companies such as Denon and Veolia (a
water company), all in the name of poor. Intel and many other
companies are coming to Grameen Bank to make use of its wide network
through micro-credit.

The same thing is true also for BRAC. BRAC was initially interested
more in education, health and other essential public services. With
its increasing accumulation of capital through micro-credit, it
shifted to the business of textile, printing, education (including
setting up of a university). It is also in business with multinational
seed company Monsanto. In fact, its focus on education and health care
for the poor shifted more towards commercial activity. Thus the
micro-credit operation, in its process, has successfully been used as
a weapon to make macro business to grow in tandem with global capital.

But question remains, what about the much publicised objective, i.e.,
poverty alleviation through micro-credit? If we look at the hard
facts, compiled from different studies (not sponsored by BRAC or
Grameen Bank), we find a new debt trap for the poor people has been
created by micro-credit. You cannot find more than 5-10 per cent
people who could change their economic conditions through
micro-credit. The people who could change their economic conditions
were those who had other sources of income. If we closely look into
the system of micro-credit it appears clearly as a means to create a
debt trap. If you take loan, you have to repay in weekly instalments
and it means you have to be active, healthy and working all over the
year, which is not possible. In fact, it is impossible for the poor
millions, who constantly live in adverse conditions, to keep paying
weekly instalments all over the year. If there are any unfavourable
circumstances you are bound to be a defaulter. And once you become a
defaulter it creates a chain and you have to take loan from another
lender/NGO to repay the same. Micro-credit has connected the rural
areas and the population with the market but has made done that by
pushing them into a chronic debt trap.

Today Dr. Yunus is not talking any more about sending poverty to
museum. He has come up with a ’new’ idea of social business, which is
also unclear and seems to be fraudulent. The impact of micro-credit is
now well understood by people around, especially millions of victims.
However, the IFIs and global corporations seem to be very happy with
these experiments, as they find that the poor people can become very
useful objects for profitable investment of finance capital. Thus the
WB, HSBC, Citibank, and other multinational banks are entering into
the micro-credit market. Bangladesh has given a gift to crisis-ridden
global capitalism, which has consequently found the market of four
billion poor through micro-credit. It is very relevant here to quote
the Wall Street Journal, an important part of the global corporate
media. It said: "Around the world, four billion people live in
poverty. And western companies are struggling to turn them into
customers." (26 October, 2009). Obviously, micro-credit is a very
useful instrument to go with this objective.

MP: Due to more and more integration of the local economies into
global capitalism, they have become vulnerable to the ups and downs in
the global market. What has been the impact of the recent financial
crisis on the Bangladeshi economy?

AM: The financial crisis has not affected Bangladesh much. As the
number of Bangladeshis working abroad is very large, about seven
million send remittances from overseas. The remittance recently
crossed 10 billion USD, highest among the LDCs. It helped
significantly to create a healthy foreign exchange reserve, kept the
balance of payments Balance of payments A country’s balance of current payments is the result of its commercial transactions (i.e. imported and exported goods and services) and its financial exchanges with foreign countries. The balance of payments is a measure of the financial position of a country vis-à-vis the rest of the world. A country with a surplus in its current payments is a lending country for the rest of the world. On the other hand, if a country’s balance is in the red, that country will have to turn to the international lenders to meet its funding needs. under control, crucial in the recent financial
crisis and global price rise of oil. If remittances would not have
been so high, Bangladesh could have faced a much bigger crisis due to
the effect of SAP. However, overseas employment has run into some
problem in West Asia, Malaysia and North America.

Another probable problem area could be our export market. This is
concentrated in garments, and the markets for the same are also
concentrated in North America and Europe. There was a very high
possibility of negative impact on the export market. However, the
demand in this sector did not get impacted much, though there was a
downward trend in 2008-09.

So, overseas remittances and export earnings played a key role in
keeping macroeconomic stability in order. But the story did not end
there. People with low and mid income reeled under the impact of the
global crisis and price rise. There was a sudden rise in the price of
essentials, including rice, in the home market. It was estimated that
an additional 10 million (or more) of the population were forced to go
down under the poverty line during this period.

MP: Has the crisis impacted foreign direct investment in Bangladesh?
Has the World Bank, ADB or IMF decreased their funds?

AM: FDI in Bangladesh has been concentrated in energy and
telecommunications. Investors in these sectors are in a very good
shape, enjoying super-profits and other benefits because of very
favourable policies of the government. New investments are also taking
place. However, awareness is rising against harmful investment in
energy and power sectors. Funding in the name of aid is not
necessarily made for the need of countries like Bangladesh, but is
related with their employment, market creation for their goods and
making the economic policy compatible with the larger interest of the
global empire. Thus in their own interest aid will not decline. IMF
has been trying repeatedly to tag Bangladesh with new credit. WB and
ADB are busy selling new projects. If the so-called foreign aid
decreases I would be happy. Foreign aid comes in the disguise of
facilitating poverty alleviation but it actually facilitates the entry
of global grabbers of resources into Bangladesh. The ’aid’ business
has also created an unnecessary, long-term liability, and strengthened
pressure from the corporate bodies to make policies for their benefit.
The ’foreign aid’ process is closely associated with increasing
corruption among officials, ministers, consultants; dismantling of
public institutions and, above all, erosion of national capability,
confidence and vision.

MP: You have long been associated with struggles against dispossession
and corporate grabbing. What is your assessment of the process of
primitive accumulation in Bangladesh, and what are the modes through
which this process is realised?

AM: Currently, the phenomenon of Bangladesh is closely linked with the
present phase of global capitalism. The accumulation of capital, both
globally and in Bangladesh, are characterised by land grab and
dispossessing people. Our ruling class is accumulating property by
grabbing common resources such as land, river, forests and so on; and
the global empire is accumulating by occupying resources, new land or
country. In Bangladesh, global corporate bodies are interested more in
natural resources under the soil or water. The MNCs or global oil
companies, which are already occupying the onshore gas resources in
Bangladesh, are now trying to take control of the Bay of Bengal. The
Bay of Bengal is important for US military hegemony in the region,
thus US companies are trying to take ’legal position’ as forerunner.
Global capital has been trying to grab coal mines in Bangladesh, and
to ensure higher profits they are pushing for open-pit mining, which
is threatening dispossession of millions of people, destroying water
resources, fertile land and ecology.

The important feature of the present-day imperialism is that it
doesn’t have to go everywhere with its military to grab land. The WB,
IMF and other such managerial bodies of global capital, act as
’civilian military’ to ensure compatible policies for plunder in the
name of development. These policy reforms are sufficient to legitimise
new form of occupation and grabbing. That is possible if they have the
local ruling classes with them.

MP: You have been in the leadership of various people’s struggles
against dispossession, and in recent years, people have also talked
about a growth in workers’ militancy in Bangladesh. What is your
assessment of the people’s movements here? What are the problems and
prospects of counter-hegemonic movements in Bangladesh?

AM: We have recently witnessed militancy among garment workers.
Garment workers form a new social force that became visible in the
’90s. The gender composition of the working class has also changed due
to the increasing presence of garment workers, who are mostly women,
within the larger Bangladeshi working class. They are suffering from
low wage, abuse, job and physical insecurity and also sexual
harassment. The government and the capitalist class have made policies
to ban trade unions. This repression itself created resistance, mostly
spontaneous. In 2006, it created a mass uprising in Dhaka and
surrounding areas. The rising anger due to inhuman working conditions,
low wage and sexual harassment against women has compelled them to
burst out with their discontent on to the streets again and again.
Workers’ mobilisations have faced severe repressions every time, but
this has tremendous impact on the working class in general.

Before the garment industry reached this stage, most of the working
class was in public enterprises. Adamjee Jute Mill (large-scale
private sector during the Pakistan period) has been the centre of
working class resistance since the ’60s. I consider its closure in
2002 as not only an economic onslaught but a political act against the
working-class movement. The global and local ruling classes tried to
dismantle the potential of massive workers’ mobilisation. But the
ruling class is, as always, unable to understand the dynamics of the
working class. They closed down big enterprises, including Adamjee,
and thought that it was the end of the workers’ resistance. But in
2006 within four years of Adamjee’s closure, Dhaka almost collapsed
because of the garments workers’ resistance.

I think the prospect of counter-hegemonic movements in Bangladesh is
also related to people’s movements in other parts of the world. Now we
are becoming more and more global and the issues are also kind of
similar. And so are the enemies. The movements in other parts of the
globe inspire us as our movements do the same for the other areas. In
Bangladesh, we are witnessing the re-birth of a counter-hegemonic
movement. After the fall of Soviet Union, left movements in
Bangladesh, like many other places, were faced with multi-faceted
ideological crisis. The phase we are passing through now in the world
is a phase that has to be highly creative. We have experiences of
successes in Soviet Union, Latin America, China, Vietnam and so on,
but we have also had failures. This recognition of failure along with
successes is very important for going ahead with a clear vision.

In the late ’90s we formed a new united platform with number of left
parties and other non-party persons to speak out and mobilise against,
and resist imperialist hegemony. After our successful resistance
against a number of anti-people projects of the MNCs, we discovered
the rebirth of people’s confidence. From our experience of people’s
movements on different issues, we find the potential of a breakthrough
is very bright. No doubt, we need to be very creative and innovative.
At this point, revolutionary militancy and revolutionary academic work
should go together. As the World Bank, IMF and other corporate bodies,
along with their embedded consultants, academics and media have
created a strong hegemony of ruling ideas; we need well-organised
efforts to break this hegemony to bring real alternative into social
consciousness. Radical movements demand counter-hegemonic ideology. In
Bangladesh we are now trying to address those issues.

MP: During the recent visit of India’s Finance Minister to Bangladesh,
India signed an agreement offering $1-billion credit facility to
Bangladesh at a particular interest rate, which many in Bangladesh
have found “disgraceful” and “too high”. This line of credit for
Bangladesh was the one-time single-largest credit package offered by
New Delhi to any other country. And it has been frequently noted that
through such lines of credit, India, like other more advanced
countries, has been facilitating the overseas expansion of its
domestic capital. What is your assessment of the present
Indo-Bangladeshi relationship? Don’t you find streaks of
sub-imperialism (both in economic and political terms) emerging in
this relationship as in the case of India’s relationship with Nepal
and Sri Lanka?

AM: The question of India is very important for us. Without locating
India and the role of Indian corporate big capital we cannot get rid
of overall hegemony of global capitalism. India has the highest number
of rich people but contradictorily India also has the highest number
of poor people. The current Indian state is not representing Indian
people but is representing Indian big capital. India for South Asia is
the same as what the US is for the world. It is hegemonic, oppressive
and undemocratic. The present India should be characterised with the
rise of big capital, unprecedented accumulation of wealth and power in
few hands, and its linkages with global monopoly capital. This India
can be termed as sub-imperialist within the global capitalist system,
and within South Asia it is imperialist. This India has recently
increased its military expenditure to a record high level, also
building military alliances with the US. They are both now trying to
take control of the Bay of Bengal. With the increasing interests of
India, China and the US in Bay of Bengal, the possibility for creation
of new alliances or conflicts is rather high. Either way, Bangladesh
is going to suffer.

Now global corporate bodies including the ADB, the WB or MNCs consider
India a regional centre. Therefore, their projects are selected in
line with the interest and long-term programme of Indian big capital.
For example, the coal that the British company, Asia Energy, wanted to
extract, when it attempted to start open-pit mining in Phulbari, was
supposed to be exported to India. When the US oil multinational UNOCAL
was trying to export gas, the destination was once again India. Now a
number of projects have been conceived to build new coal-based power
plants in Khulna and Chittagong. It is apparently a joint project, but
the result will be different for the two countries. Bangladesh will
have carbon emissions and dispossession of farmers that will create
social tension and human tragedy, but Indian companies will earn huge
profits.

Indian big business has access to huge potential market in Bangladesh,
especially after the SAP. India’s presence is very high in every
sector in Bangladesh. It is trying to monopolise each of those
sectors, started utilising aid or credit, very well-known instruments
of imperialist control and influence. Recently, India granted 1
billion USD loan to Bangladesh for building its own transit
facilities. This transit is going to change everything in South Asia.
Bangladesh is entering into the ambit of India’s military, political
and economic domination on a scale not seen before.

I don’t know, how far the military aspect of the domination will go,
but economically India is going to have a commanding authority over
Bangladesh. India is claiming that Bangladesh is the land of
terrorists and they erected fences around border, then how can they
feel comfortable in taking their goods through Bangladesh? Yes, it
will be used as an excuse. So, they will demand more regional security
coordination under India’s control. The security system of Bangladesh
will be subordinated to India status and interests.

Indian sub-imperialism behaves similarly with Nepal, Sri Lanka and
other smaller countries in the region. In this context, people’s
movements of India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and
other neighbouring countries should have a very high level of
cooperation and coordination to strengthen united struggles for
building a free, democratic and different South Asia not polluted by
Indian or big capital’s hegemony.



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