People of Bangladesh Burn for Capitalist, First World Fashion
On November 25, 2012, a fire in a Bangladesh garment factory 40 miles north of the capital Dhaka killed at least 112 people. Many others were taken to hospitals to deal with burns and other injuries. The body count continues to rise. The fire is one of the worst industrial tragedies in the history of the country.
The fire began at about 7 pm on the ground floor of the nine-story Tazreen Fashion plant. The fire started on the ground floor where yarn was stored. As of 2010, the factory employed roughly 1,500 people. Although the regular workday had ended for many when the fire began, around 600 people continued to work overtime in the building. Unlike the First World, it is not uncommon for workers in the Third World to work exhausting schedules of ten to twelve to fourteen and even more hours a day. Most of the deaths were on the second and third floor because there were not enough exits. Of the few exits there were, none opened to the outside. Thus a trap was created for the victims inside. Maj. Mohammad Mahbub, operations director for the Fire Department, stated:
“The factory had three staircases, and all of them were down through the ground floor… So the workers could not come out when the fire engulfed the building.”
Recovered bodies were lined up in what appeared to be a government building and local fields. The bodies were often burned beyond recognition. It will take some time to identify the remains according to officials.
Many survivors reported how the workers, mostly women, tried to escape the inferno. Mohammad Raju, 22, worked on the fifth floor. Although he escaped, his mother did not:
“It was crowded on the stairs as all the workers were trying to come out from the factory… There was no power supply; it was dark, and I lost my mother in dark. I tried to search for her for 10 to 15 minutes but did not find her.”
Another survivor, Rabiul Islam stated:
“I smelt smoke and ran downstairs and found that the place was already full with black fumes.”
Since the fire was on the ground floor, many had to jump to escape the fire:
“With another worker, I broke open an exhaust fan in the second floor and jumped to the roof of a shed next to the factory,” he said. “I broke my hand but survived somehow.”
Over 100 suffered injuries from escaping, including jumping. Many were not so lucky. Dhaka district commissioner Yusuf Harun told the media that several workers died while jumping from windows or the roof.
Unfortunately, this tragedy is not rare. Bangladesh’s garment industry, the second-largest exporter of clothing after China, has a notoriously poor fire safety record. Since 2006, more than 500 Bangladeshi workers have died in factory fires, according to Clean Clothes Campaign, an anti-sweatshop advocacy group in Amsterdam. Experts say many of the fires could have been easily avoided if the factories had taken the right precautions. Many factories are in cramped neighborhoods and have too few fire escapes, and they widely flout safety measures. However, capitalism serves profit, not people. Terrible working conditions are a key component of capitalism. Capitalists compete with each other, they make profit, by cutting corners. While the neoliberals and globalists argue for more free-markets, more special economic zones, less labor and environmental regulations, over 100 workers burn to death in the Tazreen Fashion plant.
The garment industry employs more than three million workers in Bangladesh, most of them women as the victims in the Tazreen Fashion plant. The factories make clothes for Western stores and brands such as Walmart, the top employer in the United States. They also produce for Carrefour and IKEA. Critics have long said that global clothing brands like Tommy Hilfiger and the Gap and those sold by Walmart need to take responsibility for the working conditions in the Bangladeshi factories that produce their clothes. Similar problems have been part of imperialism since the beginning. The infamous British East India Company ruled India as its own backyard before the British Crown took over. The imperialists were heavily involved in regulating the production of Indian homespun cloth in an effort to protect British markets and to keep cheap commodities flowing to the imperial populations in Britain. It was Marx’s coauthor Friedrich Engels who remarked that the entire English population, including its working class, had become bourgeoisified. “For a nation which exploits the whole world, this is, of course, to a certain extent justifiable.”
“You ask me what the English workers think about colonial policy? Well exactly the same as they think about politics in general. There is no workers’ party here, there are only Conservatives and Liberal Radicals, and the workers merrily share the feast of England’s monopoly of the colonies and the world market.”
Today, the workers of the entire First World have a similar outlook. They care more about their fashion than about the human costs to Third World peoples, including the victims in Bangladesh. First World peoples care little about exploitation in Bangladesh because First World people, including wage earners and salaried employees, benefit from imperialism. Similarly, First World people care little that Bangladesh suffers environmental destruction wrought by First World consumption. This is true be they hipster or hip hopper clad in Tommy gear.
The tragedy in the Tazreen Fashion plant demonstrates an important observation in Marx’s Manifesto. Marx understood that capitalism further socializes production. Peasants are turned into armies of workers. Capitalism brings more and more people into a unified production process. Today, this continues as globalization. People all over the world are linked together through the global economy. Yet, at the same time, capitalism creates new divisions, new contradictions. Ownership and distribution remain private under capitalism. And, new lines of power are formed. Global capitalism has created First World that exists at the expense of the Third World. The principal contradiction today is the First World versus the Third World. Understanding this contradiction is the key to understanding society and revolution today.
Connecting the dots: Third World poverty is a product of First World wealth
Bangladesh is one of the poorest and most densely populated countries in the world. Its 150 million residents have a per capita income estimated to be about 848 US dollars. The child malnutrition rate is 48 percent. Adult literacy rate is roughly 58 percent. Almost half of the population of Bangladesh live below the poverty line as established by its comprador capitalist state; the reality is that almost the entire population lives in poverty by world standards, especially by First World standards.
“The population in Bangladesh is predominantly rural, with almost 80% of the population living in the rural areas. Many of them live in remote areas that lack services such as education, health clinics and adequate roads, particularly road links to markets. A low estimate of 20% of the rural poor is in chronic poverty. They suffer from persistent food insecurity, own no land and assets, are often uneducated and may also suffer serious illnesses or disabilities. Another 29% of the rural population is considered moderately poor. Though they may own a small plot of land and some livestock and generally have enough to eat, their diets lack nutritional values. As a result of health problems or natural disasters, they are at risk of sliding deeper into poverty. Women are among the poorest of the rural poor, especially when they are the sole heads of their households. They suffer discrimination, have few earning opportunities and their nutritional intake is often inadequate.
In the urban areas, there is about 37% of the urban population living below national poverty line. For those living in urban areas, especially the capital Dhaka, and major industrial cities such as Chittagong, Khulna, and Rajshahi, they enjoy a better standard of living, with electricity, gas, and clean water supplies. Despite this, there is still a significant proportion of Bangladeshis living in slums that fall apart during the monsoon season and have no regular electricity, limited access to health care and to clean drinking water.”
Bangladesh suffers from environmental devastation created by the consumer culture of the First World. Most of the population lives on the flood plains of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Meghna and those of several other minor rivers, areas prone to severe flooding. Eighty percent of the population of Bangladesh lives in areas prone to severe flooding and chronic disease like cholera, dengue, malaria, etc. Bangladesh has had a delicate relationship with its ecosystem. This relationship has been upset, especially since the impact of global warming and other ecological crisis have only increased as a result of global capitalism.
Just as the people of Bangladesh drown, they also burn as a result global capitalism as the workers of Tazreen Fashion plant can attest. The workers of Bangladesh suffer because they toil under unsafe, exploitative conditions. Third World peoples produce goods in factories owned by First World corporations and their allies. Third World peoples work long hours, day after day, so that First World populations and their comprador agents can profit. And, in the case of the Tazreen Fashion plant, Third World peoples burn so that First World peoples can have the latest fashion, so First World peoples can live in comfort.
Revolution is the real solution
The problems of Bangladesh are the problems of the Third World, the vast majority of humanity: terrible exploitation, horrendous living and working conditions, underdevelopment, poverty, unnecessary diseases, epidemics, lack of healthcare, famines, wars, hopelessness, etc. Capitalism by its very nature serves the capitalists. Capitalism is governed by profit. It does not serve the needs of the people. The problems of capitalism will not be solved within the framework of capitalism itself. Such problems are fundamental to capitalism itself. They cannot be reformed away. As Lenin taught, to hold that capitalism can be reformed into its opposite is revisionism. The only answer is total revolution. The entire global system must be swept away and replaced with something new: New Democracy, New Socialism, Leading Light Communism.
Revolution begins where pain and suffering are greatest. It is because the system has so failed Third World peoples that they take on the world-historic mission of the proletariat, the liberation of all of humanity, the creation of Leading Light Communism. This is why Lenin pointed to the East as the “storm center” of the world revolution. Mao said the East Wind will prevail over the West Wind. Lin Biao pointed described the world revolution as a global people’s war that begins in the “global countryside” to encircle the “global city.” The Third World will rise to defeat the First World.
Revolution can only occur when both objective and subjective conditions for revolution align. Objective conditions for revolution exist in the Third World today: poverty, exploitation, crisis, etc. What does not exist are the subjective, the ideological and organizational conditions. This is why it is so important to put the most advanced revolutionary science, Leading Light Communism, in the hands of the masses. Only by applying the most advanced revolutionary science of Leading Light Communism can we hope to sweep away the old world through global people’s war, to build the New Power, to create a new world of global equality, justice, sustainability. All power to the poor peoples of the Third World! Armed with Leading Light Communism, the masses of the Third World, are invincible.