People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 50

December 16, 2012



Progressive Cultural Movement: Historicising the Past, Exploring the Future

C Asokan

THE progressive literary and art movement in Kerala, known as the Purogamana Kala Sahithya Sangham (PUKASA), is celebrating these days the platinum jubilee of its formation (in 1937) by organising various cultural programmes, debates and seminars. The dominant Left cultural movement has been actively intervening in the field of culture as well as organising activities to establish and strengthen the democratic and secular cultural values in the public sphere of Kerala. Now the task that is now to be undertaken is to organise a national platform of various cultural movements active in other parts of India.




The progressive literary and art movement in Kerala started to function when in the field of culture, a part of superstructure of the society, the ideological struggle was quite intense, and it played a crucial part in transforming the society. Literature and art played a significant role in establishing the democratic and egalitarian socialist values in the public sphere. However, culture has now become something controlled by the finance capital. Today, entertainment or culture has become an industry in India as in
the other parts of the world; it is a field of business where huge profits are secured. A decadent pro-imperialist American culture is increasingly pervading the urban as well as rural areas of Kerala day by day. At the same time as these post-modern phenomena, religious revivalism and fanatic activism are also getting strengthened in our society.


In this situation, the PUKASA realises the importance of intervening in the present cultural scenario and of organising our people to resist the degenerative tendencies. Today, the values and ethos of the renaissance movement are getting jeopardised by the cultural invasions through the visual media. Fascist and terrorist tendencies are evident among the majority and minority religious groups, and among with the various NGOs promoted and financed from abroad. Thus the field of culture has become a terrain of ideological struggle where various forms of politics, ethics and aesthetics are playing crucial roles. The PUKASA has initiated new researches to develop new forms of communication and relationship to reinforce secular and democratic values in the public sphere that includes the cyberspace. It goes without saying that a large platform of all progressive forces and individuals is very much needed in order to forge the struggle for democracy and peaceful coexistence of various religions and non-religious attitudes and views.




It was in this situation that the PUKASA organised a three-day national seminar as part of its Platinum Jubilee celebrations in Thiruvananthapuram from November 30 to December 2, with the aim of taking note of the new challenges and issues in the cultural terrain. The inaugural function was held in the Gandhi Park, a public venue in Thiruvananthapuram.


However, the recent demise of P Govinda Pillai, popularly known as PG, came as a shock to the progressive community in the state as he was one of the founding leaders of the progressive literary and cultural movement in Kerala. As a communist leader, scholar, cultural critic and thinker, PG was respected and admired by people in the Left political parties as well as in other democratic groups. The inaugural function at Gandhi Park started by paying tribute to PG and a former prime minister, I K Gujral.


The function was inaugurated by Professor Aijaz Ahmed, an eminent scholar, writer and Marxist thinker, and was presided over by well known Malayalam poet O N V Kurup. The condolence resolutions were read by Professor V N Murali who is general secretary of the PUKASA and by Dr Ninan Koshi, a social thinker and Left co-worker.


On this occasion, well known Left thinker and economist Prabhat Patnaik released PG’s last book written in English and titled The Bhakti Movement: Renaissance or Revivalism?


M A Baby, member of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau honoured O N V Kurup, Puthussery Ramachandran and Sugathakumari, eminent poets who have made remarkable contributions to the growth of progressive Malayalam poetry, by presenting them mementos and golden shawls. CPI(M) state committee member Pirappankode Murali, its Trivandrum district secretary and state committee member Kadakampalli Surendran, the PUKASA’s state vice president and seminar committee convenor Dr S Rajesekharan, PUKASA district president and Malayalam poet Neelamperoor Madhusoodhanan Nair, and PUKASA district secretary and poet Vinod Vaisaki were also present at the inaugural function.


The inaugural function was followed by the Kathaprasamgam ‘Prema Silpi’ by Professor Vasanthakumar Sambasivan, and it was inaugurated by Professor V N Murali.




After the inauguration, the seminar sessions began on December 1 in K Damodaran Nagar (EMS Academy, Thiruvananthapuram). The first session on progressive movement in India started at 10 a m and the first paper was presented by Professor Prabhat Patnaik. He pointed out the fact that capitalism, especially finance capital, has invaded the sphere of culture as a centralised region of production of cultural facts and commodities. The centralisation of capital in the sphere of production, leading to the formation of giant multinational corporations, has led to free flow of capital in production processes across countries, and this is impacting every field including culture. Reforms and welfare measures are being discarded. Therefore supranational movements along with workers of other countries are necessary to defend the rights and reforms through coordinated struggles. The rejection of grand narratives by the postmodernists is not a rejection of the grand narrative of market economy or ‘liberal’ capitalism or of the religious grand narratives of Christianity, Hinduism or Islam; they are rejecting only Marxism. All the progressive movements, especially ours, are, however, built around the grand narrative of Marxism. Thus it implies the rejection of all progressive movements. Here we are confronting the all-embracing grand narrative of capitalism which has an imminent tendency to change itself and is in perpetual motion. It also implies that no “model” of revolutionary praxis is permanently valid. It is necessary to have a continuous innovation in revolutionary praxis --- where revolutions have succeeded in overthrowing the system as well as where they are yet to succeed. The creative community of the progressive cultural activists have to play a leading role in developing the progressive revolutionary praxis in India.


Professor Aijaz Ahmed stressed the fact that progressive politics and progressive culture had developed together in the country. It is evident that the Left oriented progressive cultural movement in India is much stronger in parts of India where the Left parties are strong. In the rest of India, the Left oriented progressive movement has declined very sharply and can be rejuvenated only if Left parties themselves get rejuvenated. We have to keep this dialectical relationship in mind when we talk about progressive culture. When we are working for a progressive culture, we are working for progressive politics too. The present situation demands a wide democratic platform for all progressive forces and individuals. There are many people who associate themselves broadly with the Left thinking, who write from a broadly Marxist perspective and produce movies and plays though without associating themselves with any of the communist parties in India. These individuals and groups have to be accommodated in a broad democratic cultural platform for developing a progressive movement and struggle in India.


Mihir Bhattacharya, a leading cultural activist and writer from West Bengal, said we must learn to listen to the people in order to organise them for cultural struggles, as their voices are being suppressed by the state and its institutions in various ways. PUKASA state secretary Kunju Muhammad (popularly known as KEN) also emphasised that the progressive movement has to take up the cultural traditions of the downtrodden people in order to communicate with them and develop a people’s cultural revolutionary praxis.


In the third session of the seminar, papers were presented on the topic “Progressive Art and Literary Movement: Regional Reflections.” In his paper on progressive literary and cultural movements in Maharashtra, Uday Narkar (Marathi) narrated the long tradition of progressive thought there. He emphasised the role played by Mahatma Jotiba Phule in the progressive movement against Brahmanism as well as British imperialism. Phule revolutionised Marathi theatre by deconstructing the puranic ideology to lay bare its material and social basis. Phule’s intervention in the arena of theatre halted the degenerating process and transformed it into a secular world.


Naresh ‘Nadeem’ (Urdu) pointed out the mistakes committed by the Progressive Writers Association in spite of its seminal progressive role. Due to the mistake of dogmatism, a section of its leadership derided a writer like Sa’adat Hasan Manto (Urdu) and ignored one like Muktibodh (Hindi) who both made a resurgence in the 1970s. The paper by Nadeem clearly showed how Manto was one of the finest products of the progressive cultural movement of our country and how he upheld its values and tradition despite all his idiosyncrasies.


Though Chanchal Chauhan (Hindi) could not come to the seminar because of indisposition, his paper described the growth of progressive literary movement in the Hindi-Urdu region. He explained the factors behind the formation of Progressive Writers Association and its development and decline. After the decline of PWA, organisations like the Janwadi Lekhak Sangh, National Federation of Progressive Writers (renamed later as PWA some years back) and Jan Sankriti March were formed; they sometimes conduct joint activities on specific issues like communalism and fascism.


Professor K P Mohanan (Malayalam), editor of Desabhimani weekly and the state committee member of PUKASA, presented a paper on evolution of the progressive literary movement in Malayalam. He underlined the fact that PUKASA has become a dominant Left and democratic forum in the field of culture by actively intervening in the Kerala culture as well as by organising a myriad of cultural activities. He explained the various ideas and views formed in the postmodern era as a cultural logic of late capitalism. He also asserted the fact that cultural activists of the PUKASA have developed a criticism of the postmodern ideas and defended the Marxian tenets.


Writers from Telugu, Tamil, Kannad and Oriya also presented papers on the occasion.




The fourth session of the seminar was on “Progressive Art Scenario.” The first paper was on painting and sculpture by Vijayakumar Menon who is a renowned art historian and critic. He started his paper by pointing out the fact that national movement in art was started in Bengal before Gandhiji appeared in the national scene. ‘Swadesivalkaranam’ at first began in painting. The foreign colours and images were abandoned for the sake of indigenous signs and pigments. It was Tagore who inspired this national movement in art. As a part of this movement, painters rejected oil colour and chose water colour. This was a historical event as the dress codes and colours are the signs of particular views. Renowned painters like Raja Ravi Varma and M F Hussain were punished in the name of dress code. Artists always responded to the problems of the society and nation. During the emergency, artists reacted to it by raising criticism through their artistic creations. They have responded against war and poverty. Vijayakumar Menon concluded his paper saying that art has shifted its focus from abstract to concrete after emergency period.


In this paper on folk art, Dr A K Nambiar, a well known folklorist and Left activist, said the folk art is an expression of the downtrodden people. So it is not only the art of the past and the present but of the future as well. Folklore can play a significant role in the class struggle, he concluded.


In his paper on cinema, film critic and PUKASA secretary V K Joseph narrated the evolution of Indian cinema and the influence of progressive ideas on its evolution.


Shibu Muhammad, in his paper on music, explained the ideological nature of musical structure and expressions. Almost all the people absorb without any doubt the metaphysical leaning of music as if it is quite natural. The session underlined the necessity of critical evaluation of all art forms as they are the ideological expression of class interests.




The fifth session was on secular culture in which two papers were presented by Dr P Soman and C Asokan, literary critics and cultural activists of PUKASA. These papers analysed the historical formation of secular space in Kerala culture and its present status. The renaissance movement and freedom struggle played an important part in the formation of secular cultural space in which religious as well as non-religious views coexisted peacefully and dialogue and discussions were carried out in a friendly manner, in the belief that all the religions are only different paths to one end i.e. God. Gandhiji’s definition that truth is God also shows the influence of secularism. But now religions and castes treat each other as enemies. The progressive cultural movement is inevitable in defining and promoting secular values, the session concluded.


PUKASA state secretary V Seethammal and also the state vice president of Vanitha Sahithi (women’s movement) associated with PUKASA, presided over this session.


The sixth and final session of the seminar was on “The Future of the Progressive Literary and Art Movement: Scope and Challenges,” and was presided by S Ramesan, a vice president of the PUKASA and Malayalam poet. He emphasised the point that the only alternative to the present invasion of market culture and fanatic attitudes is the secular cultural praxis being developed by the Left and democratic movements in Kerala.


Dr S Rajasekharan, a Malayalam critic and poet, presented the outlines for future action of the progressive literary and cultural association; saying that the emerging cultural organisation should include all the literary and artistic forms and practices of the country. So the present progressive literary and art movement has to be revamped as a front of progressive cultural workers. This platform will have to democratically coordinate the activities of all the progressive movements and groups which have been active in other states of India.


Professor M M Narayanan (a cultural activist and literary critic), Asokan Charuvil (renowned Malayalam story writer and PUKASA leader) and Prabha Varma (famous Malayalam poet and senior editor of Desabhimani newspaper) also presented their views on the future of the progressive cultural movement in India, especially Kerala.


The seminar concluded with a renewed commitment to fight against the degenerative cultural trends, to defend the secular democratic cultural values of our society and to explore new forms of struggle and practices.