Land Reform in Bangladesh

Land reform is a well-discussed issue in Bangladesh, yet a solution to the problem has proved elusive. Over the last few hundred years the toiling masses have repeatedly tried to build movements to overthrow the landowners, which for lack of political ideology and organisation have ended mostly in defeat. The rare instances of success have led merely to a reconstitution of the rural tyranny. By the Bangladeshi Trotskyist organisation, Democratic Workers Party, (Gonotantrik Mazdur Party).

Compared to the land area, the population of Bangladesh is huge, and the vast majority live in poverty, super-exploited by the bourgeois class, itself under the direct control of imperialism. The low level of industrialisation has kept nearly 90% of the people in the countryside, where lack of infrastructure of all kinds means everyday existence is a struggle.

Land reform is a well-discussed issue in Bangladesh, yet a solution to the problem has proved elusive. Over the last few hundred years the toiling masses have repeatedly tried to build movements to overthrow the landowners, which for lack of political ideology and organisation have ended mostly in defeat. The rare instances of success have led merely to a reconstitution of the rural tyranny.

Political parties of all shades in Bangladesh raise the slogan of land reform. Real progress on this question would have a great impact on the lives of the toiling masses in this country. But the bourgeois parties try to fool people with promises of land reform when elections draw near. Time and again it is shown to be nothing more than cynical manipulation of a rural population desperate for change.

Since 1971 all the governments of Bangladesh have introduced some sort of land reform programmes, at least on paper. But in most cases land turned over for this purpose has ended up in the hands of rich landowners, a result of corruption, unwieldy bureaucracy and the poverty of the landless. The failure of bourgeois land reform proves our prognosis that land reform cannot be carried out without nationalisation of the land under the direct control of urban and agrarian workers. The eviction of the bourgeois forces from power is the necessary first step to carry out land nationalisation.

The Bangladesh Landless Association (BLA) has been involved in the movement for land reform over the last two decades. We stand for revolutionary change in land ownership, administration and use. Land must be managed with the aim of ensuring the welfare of the majority of the population, in an ecologically sustainable way. The present exploitative and discriminatory system of land ownership must be replaced with equitable ownership, as well as equitable distribution of agricultural products. For more effective utilisation of arable land, improvements have to be made in agricultural infrastructure, including mechanisation, irrigation, pest control and natural disaster mitigation schemes. Local communities, organised in a transparent, democratic manner, must have control over agricultural investment for maximum efficiency.

The agrarian question is bound up with the democratic and national issues, all historically bourgeois questions. However in the imperialist epoch it is no longer possible to fully resolve these questions under capitalism. The military, political and economic dependence of the semi-colonies, their backwardness and economic unevenness, are fundamental to the imperialist world order. There can be no separate stage of agrarian revolution in which the capitalist class could carry out the progressive reform of land.

Recent history shows that, in many parts of the world, the bourgeois nationalists have proved unwilling to take any radical measures, which could threaten their alliance with semi-feudal landlords or big capitalist farmers, when faced with demands for a comprehensive solution to land hunger. Any major land reforms that have been introduced - in Bolivia, Peru, and Punjab in India - have always been in order to side-track a revolutionary solution to the question. The reformist solution to land hunger can only temporarily quieten the calls for land reform. In effect, the measures carried out have simply created a new layer of small peasants - in need of credit and machinery - that has fallen into the hands of usurers, banks and rich farmers.

The most desperate group in the countryside are the landless peasants, or agri-labourers, robbed of their inheritance by the oligarchy, colonial planter and "green revolution" alike. Today there are over 600 million landless peasants in the semi-colonies. In Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, between a quarter and a half of the rural population are landless and in Central America over half is landless. Most face severe privations, a situation relieved occasionally by day or seasonal labour. Many migrate to the towns in the hopeless search for work. These people constitute a necessary ally of the proletariat.

The BLA stands at the head of the fight for social justice for the land hungry. We must make demands and put pressure on the ruling class for land reform while at the same time having no illusions in the ability of the bourgeoisie to make good their promises. It is essential to begin now the fight for the earliest possible formation of co-operatives as a transitional measure.

Democratic Workers Party, (Gonotantrik Mazdur Party).
GPO BOX-2473,
DHAKA-1000,
Bangladesh