Caste And Culture

Reimagining Revolutionary Cultural Work

Pon Chandan

The focus of political struggle is seizure of political power by the toiling masses, headed by the working class and it's Party. The economic struggles are launched to transform the economic status of the basic classes. Organising trade unions of various classes is one such means just as the movements for "Land to the tillers". Historically it's unfortunate that the economic struggles got degenerated into economism. Trade unions which were supposed to act as schools for learning and practising Revolution became Trade Organisations. Therefore, there was need for the revolutionary movement to retrieve the working class movement from this degeneration and the call for putting politics in command was reiterated. Whereas, the political struggles also got degenerated when a section of the social democrats took to parliamentary path as a permanent strategy for seizing political power, it was in this background that Naxalbari struggle in late '60s emerged to break away from this parliamentary path. And it was hailed by Chairman Mao and the Chinese Communist Party as the "Spring Thunder". Following the "Great debate" within the international communist movement Mao became a great inspiration for the naxalbari peasant uprising. Hence the focus of the political struggle that is seizing political power through armed struggle and reconstructing the political party to lead such a struggle was reimagined to suit the oppressive conditions. Although it was generally agreed by the Revolutionary movement asserting that the "power flows from the barrel of gun", it was however, clarified that it must be the party (that is politics) which should command the gun and not otherwise.

While there is some clarity about the objective and means for launching political and economic struggles but communist revolutionaries seemed to confine philosophical struggle in the closed rooms of study classes by branding certain ideologies as idealistic or materialistic or dialectical or vulgar materialistic etc. Similarly while the arena for political and economic struggle is it Revolutionary or revisionist methods, parliamentary or non parliamentary paths too are discussed and practised accordingly, in the given arena. Nevertheless, revolutionaries are yet to grasp the objective or the for conducting ideological and philosophical struggles.

For one thing cultural work is the way and means to pursue ideological and philosophical struggle for a total social transformation. There is a wrong notion in the camp of communist revolutionaries that Revolutionary cultural work should invariably propagate seizure of political power, hence cultural work with such a notion will not be satisfied unless it gives a call for seizing political power, whether it is a song or a small skit or a full length play, it should end up with seizure of political power! By definition and intent such a work is intrinsically, political and not cultural. Philosophical or cultural work which is serious about carrying on ideological and philosophical struggles should cater to inculcate new values which contribute for social transformation. In this context, it will not be inappropriate, if attention is drawn to ideological positions propounded by Ambedkar and Periyar. They insisted that in a Caste-ridden society political transformation is meaningless without socio- cultural transformation. They theorised that as long as caste hegemony remains political transformation will be the usurping of political power by the caste hegemonist forces by other means. Hence, they vociferously insisted on socio- cultural transformation as a prelude for political transformation. The other aspect which veiled the Indian Communist Movement till 1960s was the inadequate understanding with regard to the Base and Superstructure. Instead of a dialectical and dynamic relationship between the Base and Super structure, it was drowned with mechanistic understanding. It blindly believed that a change in the economic base will usher in the required change in the super structure. It assumed that caste and the related culture is just a reflection of the feudal economic base. Further, it imagined that capitalisation of the economy will render the caste structure redundant and it will wither away with the change in the base, the economy. Whereas, the capitalist and imperialist system reinforced the caste structure and made it much more oppressive. It is not to deny the paradigm that the Economic Base influences the Super structure. At the same time one cannot deny the fact that the Superstructure also exercises its telling influences on the Economic Base.

Here, one needs to refer about the emergence of Non- Brahmin movement in Tamil Nadu in early 20th century. The Brahmins who constituted less than three percent of the population had occupied more than 95% of the positions in the civil society by virtue of their historical advantage in the caste hierarch and hegemony. Hence the Non- Brahmin upper caste demanded for their share in the name of equity and democratisation of the civil society. The self-respect movement headed by Periyar was the torch bearer. It was essentially a socio-cultural movement. It demanded for proportionate representation. In all domains of the civil society, it took up vociferously cultural issues like opposition to Hindi imposition. It championed the cause of Tamil Puritanism as a cultural weapon to fight against Hindi/ Sanskrit/ Brahmin hegemony. These eventually became the cultural foundation on which the Dravidian/ Tamil Politics was conceived and facilitated the Tamil National and Comprador bourgeoisie to power in the State in the late 1960s. Failure to recognise the inter relationship between the cultural movement and political movement will l fail to lead cultural movement for a sustaining political transformation. To sum it up, it is important to recognise that cultural transformation precedes and succeeds political transformation. The need of the hour is to approach revolutionary cultural work in a professional manner similar to the way revolutionaries approach the political work/movement. At a time when saffron fascism is marching menacingly it is very important to assimilate Ambedkar and Periyar for waging the ideological struggle against the the Sangh Parivar.

[This is a shortened version of a paper presented by Pon Chandran on behalf of Anti-Fascist School, Coimbatore, in a conference held in September 2019, at Hyderabad, organised by Forum for Cultural Resistance Against Fascism]

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Vol. 53, No. 35, Feb 28 - Mar 6, 2021