People's Democracy

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


No. 22

May 30, 2010

 Semmalar: 40 Years Of Class Struggle In The Field Of Literature


 SP Rajendran


"Culture is an important component in human history. Literature is an important component of culture. It plays a vital role in history. In all societies, dominant culture always reflects the interest of ruling classes. The exploited classes contend and contest such dominant culture, making it an important area of class struggle. When the working class is fighting for social change, it goes without saying that there should be progressive change in the field of culture also"


Sitaram Yechury, Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) pointed out in his message on the occasion of the 41st year celebration of Semmalar.


Semmalar in Tamil means Red Flower which  bloomed 40 years ago and is now entering its 41st year.


The Tamil literary monthly magazine has played an important role in promoting progressive and working class culture through its content and is helping the oppressed and suppressed people in their fight against the present ruling classes. It  is the longest serving literary magazine of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).


It was 1970. After the division of Communist Party of India, CPI (M) Tamilnadu state committee felt the necessity for a literary magazine and published an 80 page journal Semmalar on May 1970, priced for 50 paisa, from Madurai.


The eminent novelist K Chinnappa Bharathi became its first editor; and from the very beginning, veteran leader of the Party and long time editor of Theekkathir, late comrade K Muthiah and the veteran leader of the communist movement N Sankariah guided the bringing out of  Semmalar.


From its birth, Semmalar is waging a tireless fight against imperialism, communalism, religious fundamentalism, casteism, untouchability, cultural policing and fight for Tamil language development, women’s rights, dalit rights etc., through numerous poems, short stories, essays, fictions, novels and dramas from the vast number of progressive writers in Tamilnadu and translations from various languages.


It is a history; the Semmalar is proud that a literary magazine gave birth to a writers’ association.


On November 1974, the writers of Semmalar met at Madurai in the presence of veteran leaders of CPI(M) M R Venkatraman, A Balasubramaniyam, A Nallasivan, N Sankaraiah and K Muthiah. The meeting discussed about the contemporary situation of Tamil literature and the condition of Tamil language and decided to create a new organisation to promote the progressive values of Tamil literature.


On this line, a state level organising conference of progressive writers was held at Madurai on July 12 -13, 1975. A new organisation-the only organised progressive writers movement in the field of Tamil Literature, Tamilnadu Progressive Writers Association was founded in this conference.


Today, after 35 years, this association has more than 200 units across the state and16 thousand of writers and artists as its members. Not only in the area of literature and other fine arts, the association established its roots in the film sector too.


From 1975 to 1977, the nation had experienced the cruelty of the emergency rule of Congress government. At that time, the press was crushed under the censor regime. Particularly, the mouthpiece of CPI (M) Tamilnadu committee, Theekkathir was attacked by the so called censorship. Semmalar also experienced same conditions; the writers were not able to write freely; the censor officers watched small stories, essays and each and every piece of writing.


Short story and novel formats matured during the early quarter of the 20th century and have progressed rapidly to catch up with leading ‘isms’ and formats of world literature. In 1970s-1980s heated discussions were on among the Tamil writers. The so called isms occupied the central place in these discussions. Some writers, who did not have any progressive values, vehemently opposed the progressive and democratic approach on literature; and they were advocating post modernism; existentialism; surrealism like ideologies.


But Semmalar opposed this from the beginning. It shouted with a clear voice; any piece of literature and art should reflect the real life of human being; every piece of writing should help to mould the civilisation of human being; and the creative arts should be realistic.


‘Post modern’ is the term used to suggest contemporary literature of the last half of the 20th century. Not only in the field of art and literature; but in the field of political economy also are certain concepts of ‘post modernism’ propagated by the foreign funded NGO sector and the capitalist media. They project the primacy of ‘identity’ – gender, ethnicity, caste, nationality – over class.


The ideological underpinnings, such as they are, of this trend are provided by what has come to be known as ‘post-modernism’.


Post modernism places all struggles on par, with class as just another social category jostling with gender, ethnicity, and nationality and so on for attention. Thus post modernism rules out the possibility of united action by various social sections on the basis of common objective interests; rather it talks of varying coalitions/alliances of forces, joining hands to one extent or other specific forms.


Against such types of capitalist interventions on politics of art and literature, the uncompromising fight of Semmalar is remarkable.


With these progressive values, Semmalar has produced so many poets and writers. If we try to list out, it is very huge. Particularly, K Muthiah, K Chinnappa Bharathi, D Selvaraj, Prof Arunan, Melanmai Ponnusamy, S Senthilnathan, Kandharvan, SU Samudram, Kashyaban, S Tamilselvan, Mythili Sivaraman, Rajam Krishnan, LR Lakshmi, J Sabitha and others, who are the pioneers of progressive movement of Tamil literature, are the products of Semmalar. Among them, SU Samudram and Melanmai Ponnusamy are the winners of Sakhitya Academy award.


Even today, Semmalar is serving as a training camp for young Tamil writers and inspiring more and more young progressive writers. For the 40 years, not only in the content, but technically also Semmalar is updating itself; now it is continuing its journey under the editorship of the senior leader of CPI(M) Tamilnadu and eminent writer S A Perumal with associate editor S Tamilselvan (general secretary of Tamilnadu Progressive Writers and Artists Association), and the editorial team consisting of Sakhitya Academy awardee Melanmai Ponnusamy, eminent novelist and critique Prof Arunan, associate editor of Theekkathir, Madhukur Ramalingam, veteran writer and critique T Varadharajan, and young writers Chola Nagarajan, S Venkatesan and Udhyashankar.


With this enthusiastic movement of class struggle in the field of Tamil Literature, Semmalar enters in its 41st year. On this occasion, a grand celebration was held at Madurai on May 12. CPI (M) Poilt Bureau member K Varadharajan and hundreds of writers, poets, readers attended. The pioneers of the magazine K Chinnappa Bharathi and T Varadharajan were honored by K Varadharajan.


When giving special address K Varadharajan said that in a society of class divisions, art and literature without class consciousness cannot exist and with this consciousness, Semmalar is successful in handling the enemies of working class in the field of art and literature.


A special number of the magazine was published on this occasion. CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat and the leaders of the Party Sitaram Yechury, N Sankariah, R Umanath, N Varadharajan, G Ramakrishnan, veteran writer K Rajanarayanan and veteran critique TK Sivasankaran gave their message of greetings.


It may be opt to conclude this report with the words of Prakash Karat’s message:


“In these 40 years, Semmalar has made tremendous contribution in the field of literature placing people’s interest firmly at the centre. At this juncture when corporate media are involved in paid news and mounting vicious attacks on the Left, the positive role of journals like Semmalar assumes greater significance.”