Saroj Datta and Lenin: Comments on a portrayal

Farooque Chowdhury

Mister Bhaskar Sur has done his job by pitifully portraying Saroj Datta and Lenin in the article “Saroj Dutta: The Portrait of a Leninist ‘Martyr’”, which was carried by Frontier on-line on March 26, 2017. Mister Sur has also reminded readers about a martyr – Saroj Datta – although the heading is, probably, skeptical about Saroj Datta – a martyr or not – as Mister Sur has put the word martyr within inverted commas. It’s a reflection of the writer’s mind. Or, probably, the writer is either mindfully mindless or mindless with a mindful appearance.  

Mister Sur writes in his article: “Dutta was arrested from the house of Debiprasad Chatterjee and murdered the next day early in the morning, when people had started taking their morning stroll. They found Dutta’s bullet ridden body in a city park.” Thus, Saroj Datta paid for the ideology he used to uphold! And, thus the writer is skeptical – “martyr”, as the heading says. A real “salutation” by the writer!

Do mistakes, flaws, blunder quash the act of upholding people’s politics and making sacrifice for the politics? Aren’t the act and sacrifice nobler than those committing no mistakes and expressing skepticism about a martyr? Status quo has not demanded supreme sacrifice from the unerring great souls. It’s an achievement of the great souls indeed! They survive to carry on the task of portraying a shaheed – martyr – with a pitiful tone. And, Saroj Datta continues to live to be portrayed with despise by these wise scholars.  

The article said: “They [Datta and his comrades] failed to see there could be no revolution in a democratic state even when it was a disguised plutocracy.” Thanks to Mister Bhaskar Sur for innovating a formula related to revolution: “there could be no revolution in a democratic state”. From now on, revolutionaries in “democratic” states should pack up their baggage for revolution and look for some “undemocratic” or “non-democratic” state to unzip that bag in those lands. What shall happen in “democratic” states with undisguised plutocracy? The formulation needs no explanation because of its “basic” concept of “democratic” state, which has been widely discussed long ago. Which is a democratic state? Are those the bourgeois democracies, the bourgeois republics? What shall happen if the bourgeoisie open their vault, and shower society with all the bourgeois democratic rights, and, all those spaces? What shall happen when bourgeois democracies with bourgeois democratic rights are bourgeois dictatorships? What shall happen to the autocratic state with the appearance of “democracy”? And, has not Mister Sur penned the following sentence in the article: “The post-colonial Indian state has been more violent than the colonial one in dealing with armed resistance”? After this, Mister Sur comes forward with his formulation!   

Mister Sur writes: “The communists [in India] now gave up their ‘people’s war’ as a temporary measure and participated in the first Parliamentary election of 1952, more out of compulsion than any real conviction in democracy.” Certainly, some facts belong to Mister Sur, based on which he makes the claim: “more out of compulsion than any real conviction in democracy”. And, Mister Sur, it should be expected, also owns some facts, based on which it can be claimed that the bourgeoisies or the comprador-bourgeoisie or the remnants of feudalism have “real conviction” on “democracy”. No, no pseudo-conviction. Whatever they – the bourgeoisies or the comprador-bourgeoisie or the remnants of feudalism – practice, they practice that not out of compulsion, but out of real conviction. Do related science and study findings support the innovative observation? And, is Mister Sur having some problems in conceptualizing democracy “in general”, and democracy and problems of democracy in a country having not completed bourgeois democratic revolution? Don’t elementary and complex discussions on the issue answer the questions? Democracy is always class based in all class-based societies. Mister Sur has to challenge this assertion if he likes to stand on the formulation he has made. With such confusion Mister Sur continued with his task – portraying Datta and, at the near-tail end, Lenin; yes, Lenin.

The article said: “As the ideology is a modern equivalent of revealed religion, it can never be changed.” Yes, Mister Sur claims: “it [ideology] can never be changed”. Probably, he has forgotten ideology’s source, from where ideology develops. Otherwise he would have written: Ideology changes with change in its source. Ideologies have changed. History bears the evidence. This is known to Mister Sur. Anyhow, he has missed or has liked to miss the information he knows.    

Mister Sur writes: “They decided Mao was their Chairman.” Mister Sur should move nearer to facts. It was not that “they decided”. The Mao related slogan, no doubt wrong, was raised as a slogan, and the slogan was raised with, no doubt wrongfully perceived, a particular view: proletarian internationalism. There were other similar wrongful perceptions/stands in/by the initiative. But, the single slogan doesn’t represent the entire movement. 

The article said: “Taking the lead from the Cultural Revolution in China, a similar revolution was launched by pulling down some iconic figures as Iswarchandra Vidyasagar, the great educationist and social reformer of the nineteenth century.” Whatever they did was not revolution similar to the Cultural Revolution in China as the two were different. Moreover, there was no scope to launch a revolution in India similar to the Cultural Revolution in China. All their efforts, part of those were wrongfully presented, were part of a struggle in the area of culture.

Mister Sur recollects “blowing up ‘bourgeois’ educational institutions” and writes: “Dutta was the brain behind this revolutionary orgy of violence.” All blame on a single person? Was there none with a brain to desist Datta? Then, shouldn’t Datta be praised if any analyst finds some praiseworthy aspects in the initiative in future?  

It will be a factual assertion if the number of demolished statues and blown up educational institutions are found out. Similarly, it will be nice if the number of places – cities, towns, suburbs – experiencing the acts of demolition and blowing up are found out. The facts will help ascertain whether or not those – the acts of demolition, etc. – were the main thrust of the effort. And, it will be nice if facts on the role played by lumpen elements infiltrating the movement are gathered. Lumpen elements were asked by status quo to infiltrate the revolutionary initiative and to create indiscipline. Are not few facts on this aspect already available? No doubt, the leadership has to bear the ultimate blame as it failed to foil infiltration by lumpen elements. Isn’t it better to find out facts while blaming the leadership?      

The article said: “Dutta went underground and under the stress of the situation became febrile, paranoid and almost demented.” Many experience these, and that’s a reflection of a part of leadership. But, today, is portraying Datta as an almost “demented” person, as the article claims, within the taste of a sane writer portraying the person murdered for his politics, which tried to uphold interest of the working classes? Yes, the writer has all the rights to define his boundary. But, shouldn’t a portrayal cover some more, some attributes, some other characteristics? Datta was ignorant as he failed to imagine that the acts of lamenting him by intelligent writers wouldn’t cease decades after his murder.

Mister Sur, then, moves further. He pulls out Lenin to have a comparative discussion on Datta. Datta and Lenin were different, and the perspectives of them were different also. Then, should the comparison go on? Mister Sur knows well his intellectual approach.

Referring to, as Mister Sur expresses, “the intemperate language and sheer barbarism of some of pieces written [by Datta] during this period”, Mister Sur writes: “It reminded me of Lenin in a similar situation”. And, to describe Lenin, Mister Sur cites A People’s Tragedy: the Russian revolution 1821-1924 by Orlando Figes: “His [Lenin’s] outward manner became vulgar and coarse. It was hard to believe that this a cultivated man. He mocked his opponents, both inside and outside the party in crude and violent language. They were ‘blockheads’, ‘bastards’, ‘dirty scum’, ‘prostitutes’, ‘cunts’, ‘shits’, ‘cretins’, ‘Russian fools’. This manic alteration of mood was characteristic of Lenin’s psychological makeup.” A nice reference! There are many more similar descriptions. Mister Sur is well aware of those. He is modest enough to cite only a single reference. Readers “are” to believe that with such “manic alteration of mood” Lenin was able to stay at the position of leadership of a party, which was organizing a revolution, was opposing an imperialist world war, was dealing with a number of enemy armies trying to kill the revolution, was facing an imperialist encirclement and blockade, and was carrying on other similar gigantic tasks like planning GOELRO. An amazing capability of the party led by a person with “manic alteration of mood”! Then, with the same characteristics why did Datta failed? The writer, Mister Sur, obviously has an explanation. He will, hopefully, provide it in the future. Mister Sur is wise enough, which leads him to a reference appropriate to describe condition of a person like Lenin. Obviously, Mister Sur knows about Orlando Figes, the conservative historian, who focuses on individual, not the broader perspective. Figes once described himself as “a bit of a Tony Blair man”, [yes, sarcastically addressed as tony-be-liar after the lie-based Iraq invasion] and “mildly pro-Menshevik” on the question of revolution. (Andrew Marr, “Makers of their own tragedy”, Independent, March 26, 1997) Figes finds “parallels between the Russia of 1917 and the Russia that has emerged since the 1991”. (ibid.) Praiseworthy lesson from history! Times Literary Supplement named A People’s Tragedy as one of the “hundred most influential books since the war.” It’s mysterious that Mister Sur has not refereed to some psychologist having the same version on the mental condition of Lenin. And, it’s also mysterious that Mister Sur has referred to none of the persons staying closer to Lenin during all the difficult times Lenin was passing through. Mister Sur has not also referred to veteran politicians or diplomats or philosophers and many similar fellows from the camp opposite to Lenin. There were a number of such fellows having scope to interact with Lenin. A nice sense of judgment of Mister Sur to portray Saroj Datta as he was referring to a historical figure – Lenin! Three cheers for the scholarly approach followed for portraying a revolutionary! It’s an intellectual capability and a service to be admired by a camp – the mainstream, the status quo. The mainstream media has a lot of space for this type of enlightened article. And, it’s a mystery: why do wise persons capable of evaluating a lot including real conviction to democracy, Saroj Datta and Lenin fail to suggest a proper path to mokkho, and with this failure they occupy space of Frontier!

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka, Bangladesh.        

Mar 31, 2018

Farooque Chowdhury

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