EPW Special Articles December 10, 2005
Naxalite Movement and Cultural Resistance
Experience of Janakiya Samskarika Vedi in Kerala (1980-82)
In the early 1980s, the Janakiya Samskarika Vedi saw itself as a cultural resistance movement involved in establishing its own cultural sphere of ideas and ethics as opposed to the earlier bourgeois ethos. However, its attempt to clearly separate the realms of the cultural and the political was opposed by adherents within the Vedi and also by other left groups that saw the "seizure" of power and establishment of a left wing hegemony as the overarching goal of the revolution.
However, attempts by the Vedi to assert its own autonomy were hindered by the fact that it had a symbiotic relationship with the radical left political parties. While opposing the dominance of those political parties, it also relied on the latter for support. This article traces the short history of the Vedi, its attempts to chart its own independent existence, autonomous from the "party line" and how it disintegrated in the weight of own contradictions.
Revolutions do not begin with the thunderclap of a seizure of power – that is their culmination. They start with attacks on the moral-political order and the traditional hierarchy of class statuses. They succeed when the power structure beset by its own irresolvable contradictions can no longer perform legitimately and effectively. It is often forgotten that the state has often in the past been rescued by the moral-political order than the class hierarchy (authority) that the people still accepted. – Franz Shurmann
Left cultural movements have hitherto played a crucial role in the advancement of radical politics. However, the relationship between the party and its cultural wing has not always tended to be smooth. Central to this conflict has been the debate over the relative primacy of culture or politics, and the question of autonomy of the former from the latter.
In this backdrop, this paper seeks to trace the history of Janakiya Samskarika Vedi in Kerala, which in the early 1980s, was engaged in what Gramsci would have called the “War of Position” and which privileged the ethical-cultural aspects of the conquest of power. In the process, an attempt would be made to bring out how its ideal of a “dialectical” relationship with the CPI (ML), a party led by the Bolshevik concept of capturing power – a “War of Movement”, in Gramscian terms – could not resolve the contradictions that manifested in the course of time, ultimately bringing the movement to a premature end.
Origins and Early Years
Prior to the withdrawal of Emergency in 1977, when democratic freedom was at a premium, revolutionary cultural activities did not take root in Kerala. After the Emergency, in a more democratic set-up, the situation changed somewhat. The Emergency had been an eye-opener for the various Naxalite groups in the sense that it made them realise that, in ordinary times, the Indian form of bourgeois democracy does offer some space, however limited, for protest. In the post-Emergency period, in contrast to their sectarian past, the Naxalite groups began to field various legal and semi-legal mass organisations which reflected their new orientation.
In Kerala, the Naxalites reorganised themselves into the Central Reorganisation Committee Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) [hereafter CRC CPI (ML)], and resumed the publication of the party organ Comrade which had been banned during the Emergency. More intellectuals were now prepared to side with revolutionary democracy, and Prerana the Malayalam magazine which later became the organ of the Janakiya Samskarika Vedi was started in 1977.
The stories of the excesses committed during the Emergency had turned popular mood against all forms of authoritarianism. In May 1977, while inaugurating a camp for radical cultural activists at Olarikkara, the noted dramatist N N Pillai declared that “there is only one solution, and that is revolution.”1 The statement reflected the mood of the times. The convention had issued a manifesto of revolutionary writers and artists which stressed the need for transforming the production relations of the capitalist system and its ideological and cultural meanings. The concluding paragraph of the manifesto read:
It is the responsibility of revolutionary artists and literary men to discern between progressive and decadent forces in history, to stand with the forces that make progress, to assess their growth, to assimilate them, and to be honest to one’s times. Only thus shall we be able to realise the idea of a militant cultural front and to fight by means of new artistic-literary creations the cultural domination of the ruling classes.2
The period witnessed the proliferation of small theatre groups, Wynadu Samskarika Vedi with its play “Padayani” and Ranachetana through a dramatic presentation of Gorky’s novel Mother achieving notable success. The stage was now set for bringing together organisationally the various revolutionary cultural groups active in different parts of the state. In August 1980, during a convention held with this objective at Antikkad, the Janakiya Samskarika Vedi (hereafter Vedi) came into being.
A state committee was constituted with Kaviyur Balan as state secretary and B Rajeevan, Civic Chandran, K S Sadasivan, amongst others, as members. Most of them had Naxalite leanings. The party’s ties with the Vedi becomes clear in the message of K Venu, state secretary of CRC CPI(ML), read out on this occasion.3
The leadership of the Vedi was familiar with the recent history of Marxist cultural movements where, in most cases, cultural activities had become a mere appendage to the political and economic imperatives of the party. It was thus keen to avoid potential pitfalls. “The cultural front”, it was made categorically clear, “was not meant to become the open face for propaganda work of a secret party.”4 The manifesto of the Vedi states that the view which always gives primacy to the base over the superstructure is non-Marxist and that the relationship between the two, and consequently between the party and the Vedi should be dialectical in nature.
Thus it was clarified that even though “cultural activists should have ideological affinity with that political organisation which upholds working class politics, this unity should not be at the cost of making cultural activities organisationally subjugated to it.”5 The separate domains of the party and the cultural front were clearly demarcated. As one article in Prerana, the Vedi mouthpiece put it, “the political front represents the vanguard for the political liberation of a people, the cultural front gives the lead to their spiritual emancipation.”6 The party was quite happy with this arrangement, as a reply its organ gave to a question on the relationship between the party and the Vedi suggests – “the party and the Vedi work in two different spheres. The party’s main task is to transform the economic base in the production relations, whereas the Vedi stands for transforming the superstructure.”7 However, as we shall see later, this ideal relationship between the two was difficult to achieve, especially during the latter stages of the movement.
Towards a ‘New Democratic Culture’
The manifesto of the Vedi had declared that the task of the revolutionary cultural activists was to create a “new democratic culture” in the country, allying with all the forces of the “new democratic revolution”. It foresaw struggles at different levels, important of which were against:
(i) The still prevalent feudal culture which tries to “take us back to the medieval ages with its emphasis on caste, religion and the promotion of a spiritual atmosphere which hinders the growth of scientific ideas”; (ii) the all pervasive “consumer culture which generates base instincts among people and directs them to a fantasy world far removed from their material existence”; (iii) “Modernism” (as it got expressed in Malayalam literature ) which “inactivates people and creates pessimism and alienation among them”; and (iv) “Revisionism” which endorses a mechanical culture, and while preventing man from realising his full potential and creativity, prepares the ground for the growth of “social fascism”.8
Thus, apart from the fight against the remnants of a feudal culture and a growing consumer capitalist ethos in the state, the Vedi accorded a high priority to the struggle against “modernism” and “revisionism”. “Modernism” in writing was thought to have originated as a kind of reaction against revisionist literature which could not break free of the shackles of bourgeois consumer culture and aesthetics. As an article in Prerana observed:
For the revisionists, human beings get satisfied with the acquisition of consumer goods…Those who see the accumulation of material goods as the sole basis for human emancipation are, in effect, trying to convert the working class into capitalists. Here, the mechanical culture of the revisionists capitulates to the consumer culture of capitalism.9
K Satchidanandan, a poet and an important figure in the Vedi in its heydays wrote that “as revisionism had accepted capitalist institutions and yardsticks while hoping to bring about a revolution through them, it followed the same capitalist market laws in its art as well.”10 In a detailed critique on the cultural policy of the established left, an editorial in the Prerana pointed out that:
The revisionists do not realise that even within culture there are elements of class struggle. That is why they commodify art and culture and sell them in the market; that is why they mechanically attach art and culture to their party politics, and fail time and again.11
Raymond Williams once described left cultural movements ideally as attempts “to defeat that system of meanings and values (which an unequal society has generated) through the most sustained skills of intellectual and educational work”. In its activities, the Vedi conforms to a similar view. It made use of various forms, one of which was the street play, ideally suited for an organisation of its kind as it incurred less expenses and could be staged even without prior notice to the administration.
More importantly, it had better scope than the conventional proscenium theatre to reach the masses. Apart from the dramatisation of famous novels like Gorky’s Mother and Howard Fast’s Spartacus, the Vedi took up local issues and contemporary injustices as its plays MLA, staged during the assembly elections, and Chasnala dealing with the miner’s tragedy amply illustrate.
As part of their critique of the established left in the state the Vedi activists, during this time made a critique of Thoppil Bhasi’s famous play Ningalenne Communistakki12 which was believed to have played an important role during the early phase of the communist movement in the state. Civic Chandran, for instance, wrote that in this play, the cruelty of landlord oppression is shown to be an individual aberration, and as a consequence, feudalism as a system goes unscathed.13
He also portrayed the drama as one where the last cry of feudalism is heard, whence the younger generation in feudal families along with some of their elder members go over to the winning side, i e, communism.14 In a later article, he was to trace the origins of the present day commercial theatre tradition in the state – “a little bit of revolution, a little bit of comedy, a little bit of love” – to Ningalenne Communistakki which had all these ingredients in ample measure to ensure a commercial success.15
Seen in this context, the play Nadugaddika staged by the Vedi in hundreds of places throughout the state constitutes a radical break from the past, not the least because a majority of whom were involved with it were adivasis themselves. Nadugaddika illustrates how the naxalite cultural activists, unlike their predecessors, were able to use the folk traditions and myths of a people to convey, from a working class perspective, the oppression they had been going through for generations. “Gaddika”, a tribal ritual of the Adiyars of Wynad, was used to exorcise evil spirits. Here, the “gaddikakaran” (exorcist) is none other than Varghese, the naxalite leader who was killed by the police in Wynad during the early phase of the movement in the state.
Nadugaddika ends with the tribals reclaiming the red flag from the landlords who had turned communists in 1957, following the party’s victory at the hustings. The ‘gaddikakaran’, at one stage, pointing to the flag, tells the landlord that “this is not meant for making your loin cloth.”16 The Left Front government which had returned to power in the state in 1980, expectedly, did not take kindly to the staging of this play, and CPI(M) attacks on Vedi activists on this account were not rare.17
Malayalam poetry acquired a new meaning during the Vedi days. In their poems, Kadamanitta Ramakrishnan, K G Sankara Pillai, Satchidanandan, Civic Chandran and others did not exhibit any metaphysical anxieties, led as they were, by a harsh political reality. In one of the earliest instances where Varghese, the Naxalite “martyr” finds a place in Malayalam literature, Civic Chandran wrote:
Radhakrishnan, the journalist, just back from the trip
To the hills of Brahmagiri and Narinirangi says
That his tribal guide cherishes warm memories
of a fighter he calls the ‘peruman’
He says that the summer forests of Wynad are waiting for
And the rock of Kumbarakuri is bleeding still,
that the corridors of the press club are still
haunted by a pair of eyes gouged out of their sockets.
Radhakrishnan, the journalist, upon the testimony of
Marachathan, his guide,
says for certain that the river Kabani will turn red again.18
To shake the readers out of a complacency bred by familiarity, these poets resorted to what has been called “linguistic shock”. Thus, in their poems, “soft melodies of birds”, for instance, are missing, and instead, we hear only “the roar of landslides and floods.”19 Kadamanitta’s poem ‘Avar Parayunnu’ and Attoor Ravi Varma’s ‘Cancer’ illustrate how these urban middle class poets used morbid symbols of decadence and carefully selected images of revulsion to critique the existing system.
The most famous poem of Kadamanitta in those days was ‘Kurathi’, which, significantly the CPI(M) found to be an ‘extremist’ poem.20 ‘Kurathi’, which narrates the saga of a marginalised tribe was widely used by the Vedi during its poetry evenings and “kavyayatras”. The Vedi also introduced the genre of political poetry represented by the likes of Mayakovsky and Neruda to a larger Malayalee audience. For this, apart from the pages of Prerana, it took recourse to a new form, “poster poetry”, i e, posters filled with the lines of these poets as well as those of communist legends like Mao and Che Geuvara.
Louis Kampf defined the tasks of radical culture as the attempts “to bring about a social revolution; to make institutions democratic; to make us free; to make life more beautiful and humane.”21 For the Vedi too, cultural activities did not remain confined to art and literature, but instead included whatever activities that revolutionised the consciousness of man. As an organisation, it was “committed to create an aggressive cultural consciousness against a system dehumanised from top to bottom.”22
To be more precise, it represented a social movement rather than being a cultural organisation of the conventional type. Its activities ranged from settling domestic discords to organising bonus strikes. In March 1981, the Vedi led an agitation in Kannur against public gambling, which allegedly, “got support from the local police and DYFI activists”.23 The movement led to the banning of gambling during exhibitions. In the process, however, Ramesan, a Vedi activist who had been in the forefront of the struggle was stabbed to death. The killing did not go unprotested, though. On March 23, some Vedi members entered the legislative assembly and after distributing pamphlets, shouted “down with gamblers both inside as well as outside the legislatures”.24
People’s Political Power
Alongside attempts to bring about a “new democratic culture”, the Vedi and the CRC CPI (ML) were engaged, during this time, in setting up what they termed parallel centres of “people’s political power”. Citing instances from the Russian and Chinese revolutionary experiences, and from India’s own santhal rebellion in the mid-19th century upto the Naxalbari uprising, they stressed the need for people’s political power to be established in the course of the revolutionary struggle.
It was argued that involving people with political power would lead to the growth of self-confidence amongst them, whereas in its absence in the post-revolutionary phase, political power could easily lapse into the hands of the party, or worse, “a new ruling class”.25 For the Naxalites, bourgeois courts were institutions meant for the protection of the interests of the propertied classes. They saw in the “people’s courts” and people’s trials which ran counter to the bourgeois system of justice, instruments for the establishment of people’s political power at the local level. They were seen as institutions whereby people could think and decide for themselves on matters affecting them instead of depending on outside agencies. According to the party leadership:
Today the people have begun to understand that people’s political power cannot be established by voting to determine who will oppress them every five years and that it can be brought into existence only by the people in each area seizing power locally to take decisions and implement them in all economic, political and social problems faced in their own locality.26
Attempts in this direction achieved a fair degree of success at Calicut, where in March 1981, the Vedi “tried” a corrupt doctor through a people’s court, an event which also brought to the forefront of social activism the question of medical ethics. The “trial” was well received by various sections with even a former chief justice forced to admit in public that “the people’s trial was the sign of a social revolution” and that it could be viewed as “the resistance of a people against injustice.”27 Not insignificantly, even the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), the youth wing of the CPI (M) was constrained, in the wake of the success of the doctor’s trial, to fill up the walls of the state with the graffiti “corrupt bureaucrats should be beaten up”.
The activities of the Vedi had won for the CRC CPI (ML) unprecedented popularity during this phase. At many places, the differences between the two were negligible, and where the party had only a marginal presence, the Vedi assumed the role of a mass front leading many a struggle. However, the contradictions between the two proved to be too fundamental, in the final analysis, for them to be united for long. The party leadership, increasingly wary over the way its “military line” was being sacrificed at the altar of “mass line”, reintroduced the former to the forefront of the struggle through the annihilation of Madathil Mathai, “a people’s enemy” at Kenichira in Wynad in May 1981.
In the aftermath of the Kenichira action, the movement had to face severe state repression. The government resorted to draconian laws even as the holding of “people’s trials” were banned, and Prerana threatened with confiscation.28 On July 9, 1981, T K Ramakrishnan, the home minister, declared in the state assembly that 191 cases had so far been registered against the “extremists” and that 930 arrests were made.29 The movement could not survive this “white terror”!
The Rift Within
More than the state repression, however, it was the irreconcilable differences between the Vedi and the party which brought the movement to an abrupt end. Here, it should be noted that the two did not constitute monolithic structures with no two opinions within them. For instance, there was a small but vociferous section within the party who opposed the “annihilation”, indicating a vigorous two-line struggle on this issue.30 Similarly, inside the Vedi, there were some people who toed the official party line. Thus, when we speak of a party or a Vedi line, it relates to the “dominant” line or the line that prevailed.
The Vedi leadership was quick to denounce the annihilation and dissociate itself from it. Satchidanandan saw elements of fascism in the action, and in a letter to a popular weekly, expressed the view that the annihilation did not “suit the civilised political sensibility of Kerala” and that it “nauseated a big section of the populace”.31 In the days following the annihilation, when the schism between the two widened, their acrimony became public, the Vedi accusing the party of trying to capture the organisation through a fraction, while the latter blamed the former for going public with these differences violating all organisational principles and thereby exhibiting “anarchist” tendencies.
When, in the next few months, the party continued to uphold the annihilation, some members including its state secretary Kaviyur Balan resigned from the Vedi. It was also stated through the press that Nadugaddika which had played a pivotal role in the movement would not be staged hereafter under the party’s banner.32
The break did not occur overnight. The ideological differences between the Vedi and the party had a long history. For instance, on the question of base/superstructure, the party held on to Stalinist orthodoxy which accorded primacy to a self-contained economic sphere, with a secondary, passively reflexive superstructure. The Vedi, on the other hand, tried to strike a balance between this “vulgar” Marxist position and the opposite idealist view that art/literature is an isolated sphere determined by its own laws.33 Connected to this debate was the question of the relative importance of politics and culture within the realm of the superstructure.
In one instance, countering the party line according to which changes in the base get reflected first in politics, the latter being the concentrated expression of these changes, Satchidanadan argued for the simultaneity of expression of changing production relations in all areas of social life.34 The inherent tension that persisted throughout the tenure of Vedi between the cultural and political activists finds expression in an anguished piece written by one of the former in Prerana:
Is the cultural activist inferior by birth. Is not the political activist viewing his cultural counterpart as Gulliver would a Liliput. Is it justified that somebody who has learnt the party programme by heart and who has fortuitously achieved some success in one or two struggles should get more recognition than the cultural activist.35
The differences in perception between the Vedi and the party could be seen in the way the two viewed the cultural revolution in China. The Vedi, influenced as it was by Mao’s assertion that during the socialist phase, emphasis should be laid on the struggle at the superstructural level, characterised it as a revolution in the cultural sphere.36
For the party, however, the cultural revolution, though it had other dimensions as well, was essentially a resistance by the socialist forces under Mao against revisionism in the international communist movement as well as against the resurgent bourgeoisie which had entered the Chinese Communist Party. It was, in fact, a continuation of the class struggle within a socialist society.37
In the realm of culture, the movement had given a blow to the bourgeois belief that arts and the sciences are the monopoly of a few intellectuals, and instead reiterated that it was the working classes who alone are the creators of culture. This lesson, according to the party leadership, was lost on a section of the Vedi who continued to be influenced by bourgeois thinking. It attacked the Prerana editorial board for making the periodical one that was laced with “dry philosophical terms understood by only a handful of middle class intellectuals” and for “not going to the masses”.38
Though the Vedi as a whole had been opposed to the bourgeois system per se, there were sections within it who were not “Marxist” in the true sense of the term. Rather, by their own admission, they had come to the movement carrying the burden of an existentialist and anarchist past.39 Others were influenced by the New Left, which, for the party leadership, constituted an attack on Marxism from within. The party saw as one example of the “anti-Marxism” in the New Left ideology, Wilhelm Reich’s prescription of a sexual revolution to precede a social revolution.40
A Vedi member, clearly under Reich’s influence, in a rejoinder to the Vedi manifesto, had lamented that the party in its rigorous attempts at class war, ignored the sexual needs of its activists.41
The ideas of Lukacs too had attained wide currency within Marxist circles in Kerala during this time. In his History and Class Consciousness, Lukacs had reduced Marxism to sheer methodology. For him, thus, one could forego the basic assumptions of Marx and still claim to be a Marxist, provided he did not relinquish historical materialism.42 Obviously, under his influence, Subramanyadas, a young party/Vedi activist, in a series of articles, questioned the party’s position vis-a-vis, the formation and polarisation of classes in Kerala society, resulting in his getting censured by an offended party leadership.43 In distress, Subramanyadas committed suicide. The revolution had, as its wont, devoured one of its own.
At 24, Subramanyadas had been one of the most outstanding individuals in a movement which had attracted the cream of Malayalee intelligentsia. The tragic irony was that a while earlier, he had been fighting on the side of the party against the “bourgeois liberal” trends within the Vedi. From there, it did not take him too long to jump to the other extreme, a trend that was symptomatic of the petty-bourgeois predilections that informed the movement.
Gramsci had discounted the possibility of a Bolshevik type revolution in the west. Here, unlike in pre-revolution Russia, there was a civil society which involved the “thick web of interpersonal relationships and represents the social surface over which is extended the cultural hegemony of the ruling elites.”44 It is here that the dominant class creates, through its diffusion of values, myths, beliefs and ideals, its hegemony.
According to Gramsci, a subordinate class should be able to elaborate its own ideological system, one competitive with the dominant system of beliefs and values. “In the west,” he says, “a social group can or rather must be in control even before it acquires governing power.”45 The key word in Gramsci, thus, is hegemony as when he says that the struggle between the classes for domination is in essence a “struggle between two hegemonies”.46
However, it is not only in the west that the state rules with the consent of the people. As Eric Hobsbawm observed, “the struggle for hegemony before as well as during the transition of power is not merely an aspect of the western countries but of all revolutionary strategy.”47
In Kerala, where, following lower caste and communist movements in the earlier decades, there was a vibrant civil society, the struggle for hegemony resorted to by the Vedi looked appropriate. Such a struggle was facilitated by the fact that the party to which it was aligned had, during this time, adopted an approach marked by “a strong fight against terrorism and utmost confidence in the masses.”48 However, ideological differences between the two did not allow this state of affairs to continue for long.
In the contest over strategies, “massline” was to become sidelined, and the proponents of the “military line” would have the final say, as reflected in the “annihilation” at Kenichira. The consequence, however, was that the Vedi disintegrated, and the party, badly bruised by severe state repression, had to start once again from the scratch. By then, postmodernist moods had set in Kerala. Those like Civic Chandran, the last secretary of the Vedi, broke away from the movement citing irreconcilable differences with Marxism, to take up social activism of a new kind. The era of new social movements had begun in Kerala. As for the Vedi, though officially not disbsanded, it never became active again. An experiment, in spite of its initial success, had failed.
[I am grateful to K N Panikkar and Urmita Ray for their comments on an earlier draft of this essay.]
1 Civic Chandran, interview to Sukrutham, Vol 2, No 3, June 1995, p 8.
2 Cited in Omji George, The Janakiya Samskarika Vedi’ in Kerala, Negations, No 12, October-December 1984, p 11.
3 ‘Samskarika Pravararthakarkku K Venuvinte Sandesam’, Prerana, September-October 1980, Nos 30-31.
4 Kapada Pracharanangalum Yadharthyangalum: Janakiya Samskarika Vedi, Entu, Entinu? (leaflet), p 3.
6 ‘Janakiya Samskarika Vediyile Aashaya Samarathinte Pradhanyam’ unsigned article, Prerana, Vol 3, No 14, October 16-31, 1981, p 4.
7 Comrade, Vol 7, Nos 26-27, May 17, 1981, p 6.
8 Janakiya Samskarika Vedi: Naya Prakyapana Rekha, pp 5-6.
9 ‘Thiruthalvadavum Viplavasamskaravum’, unsigned article, Prerana, No 8, July 1980, p 3.
10 Satchidanandan, ‘Kavita Manushyan, Viplavam’ (Introduction), in Pudhupiravi (collection of poems), Trichur, 1980, p 11.
11 ‘Thiruthalvadavum Viplavasamskaravum’, unsigned article, Prerana, No 28, July 1980, p 4. The rather mechanical approach the “established left” in the state took towards culture is proven by a “model poem” it sent to one of the poets associated with its cultural organisation, to emulate. Attoor Ravi Varma, interview to Prerana, Vol 2, No 6, February 15-28, 1985, p 17. Later on, Attoor was to shift his allegiance to the Marxist-Leninist movement in the state which consciously tried to be different in this regard. In his message to the first convention of the Vedi, K Venu, the party leader, assured the cultural activists that “the party will never prescribe what type of artistic creations” they should produce. ‘Samskarika Pravarthakarkku K Venuvinte Sandesam’, Prerana, Nos 30-31, September-October 1980, pp 39-40.
12 Thoppil Bhasi, Ningalenne Communistakki, Ernakulam, 1956.
13 Civic Chandran, ‘Nadugaddika Teaminte Anubhavangalilude’, Prerana, No 28, July 1980, p 11.
15 Civic Chandran, ‘Ningalenne Communistakkiyil Ninnu Nadugaddikayilekkulla Dooram’, Introduction, K J Baby, Nadugaddika, Wynad, 1983, pp 14-15.
16 K J Baby, Nadugaddika…, p 64.
17 “Once, a day after a CPI (M) attack, Vedi artists and activists with bandages on, staged the play at the same place where they were attacked. Later under pressure from local people, CPI (M) attackers were made to apologise publicly. Mukunadan C Menon, ‘Kerala: People’s Cultural Forum’, Frontier, Vol 13, No 46, July 11, 1981, p 9.
18 Civic Chandran, ‘Kabani’ in Sumanta Banerjee (ed), Thema Book of Naxalite Poetry, Calcutta, 1987, p 10.
19 Satchidanandan, ‘Kavita, Manushyan…’, p 18.
20 Kadamanitta Ramakrishnan, ‘Kala Kalekku Vendiyo’ in Kala Kaumudi (weekly), No 883, August 15, 1992, p 27. Ironically, later, Kadamanitta was to head the Purogamana Kala Sahitya Sangham, the cultural front of the CPI (M).
21 Louis Kampf, ‘Towards a Radical Culture’ in Prescilla Long (ed), The New Left: Collection of Essays, Boston, 1969, p 423.
22 ‘Janakiya Samskarika Vediyile Aashaya Samarathinte Pradhanyam’, unsigned article, Prerana, Vol 3, No 14, October 16-31, 1981, p 3.
23 Mangalat Raghavan, ‘Kannur Kathu’, Mathrubhoomi, April 4, 1981
24 Mathrubhoomi, March 24, 1981.
25 ‘People’s Committees – Some New Experiences in Kerala’, Liberation, organ of the CRC CPI (ML), Vol 8, No 3, December 1982, p 55.
26 Gopan (pseudonym for K Venu, who was then underground), ‘The Question Posed by Kenichira – Which Side Are You On?’, Liberation, Organ of the CRC CPI (ML), July-September 1981, Vol 7, Nos 7-9, p 41.
27 Y B Indrachud, quoted in Malayala Manorama, July 10, 1981.
28 The government resorted to Section 17 (1) of the 1908 Criminal Law Amendment Act which the British had used to arrest Tilak on the charge of sedition as well as the Travancore-Cochin Public Safety Act which had been used in the 1940s against the communists.
29 Mathrubhoomi, July 10, 1981.
30 One state committee member who visited Wynad to prepare a report on the’ “Kenichira struggle” was so critical of the annihilation that the party organ refused to publish, forcing him to try elsewhere. In the report, he pointed out that the “annihilation line” of Charu Majumdar meant to release the initiative and class hatred of poor landless peasants looked out of place in an area like Kenichira where the feudal mode of production had given way to a capitalist type of farming. He also disputed the claim of the party that through the annihilation, “people’s will” in the area had been implemented. Instead, he found that those involved in the annihilation sought the support of only sympathisers for carrying it out, making him conclude that instead of the contradiction between the people and the “people’s enemy” getting resolved, only the one between the party and its enemy had been settled through the annihilation. P C Josey, “Kenichira Nalkiya Nishedathmakamaya Uttaram”, Red Guards, Vol 1, No 1, February 1981, p 10.
31 Satchidanandan, letter to Kala Kaumudi (weekly), No 305, June 28, 1981, p 31. Taking a dig at Charu Majumdar in this context, he argued that ‘Kenichira’ and its consequences had been due to the work of “an adventurist group lacking in originality and who considered the views of an activist with low intellectual prowess as infallible”.
32 Mathrubhoomi, June 11, 1981.
33 Janakiya Samskarika Vedi: Naya Prakyapana Rekha, p 2.
34 Satchidanandan, Prerana, No 3, September 1978, p 27.
35 ‘Rithumenonu Snehapoorvam Prashantinte Kathu’, Prerana, Vol 3, No 7, April 1-15, 1981, p 7.
36 Mao, however, had categorically stated that politics constitutes the most important element in the superstructure. To quote him:
Literature and art are subordinated to politics, but in their turn, exert a great influence on politics…When we say that literature and art are subordinate to politics, we mean class politics. Mao-Tse Tung, Selected Works, Vol III, Peking, 1975, p 86.
37 In an article which underlines the Maoist position on the cultural revolution, K Venu writes of how “it was a life and death struggle between the new bourgeoisie and the working class to capture political power.” K Venu, ‘Samskarika Viplavam: Paraspara Virudhamaya Randu Veekshanangal’, Prerana, Vol 3, No 15, November 1-15, 1981, p 21.
38 K N Ramachandran, ‘Prerana, Samskarika Vedi Ippozhum Liberalisathinte Swadheenathil’, Prerana, No 52, May 1982, p 14.
39 For instance, A Soman, a prominent Vedi activist, in a letter to a friend wrote of his anarchic past before joining the movement. A Soman, Letter to Yakub, February 8, no year, Private Records of Mandakini Narayanan, Calicut University Archives. Similarly, Civic Chandran, in an interview, says how he and others in the Vedi were more inspired by existentialism and anarchism rather than Marx and Mao before joining the movement. Civic Chandran, interview in Sukrutham, Vol 2, No 3, June 1995, p 6. In an earlier article, under the guise of a “special political observer”, he had written: “the second phase of the Naxalite movement in Kerala was anything but politics…their thoughts were determined by existentialism and modern literature…spiritual discontent led them to the streets…Not having gone through the test of class struggles and mass movements, these middle class intellectuals might have been against the system, against power, but were not Marxists, not revolutionaries” unsigned article, ‘Naxalittukal Thirichuvarumo’, Vaakku, Vol 1, No 1, August 1984. In the aftermath of the Kenichira annihilation, during a human rights convention at Kozhikode, some Vedi leaders declared that even if “a real working class party” came to power, it would continue to resist injustice, Mathrubhoomi, May 28, 1981. An example of this non-Marxist, anarchist trait which runs through the writings of some of the Vedi members could be seen in an editorial on events in China which ended with the call “let us salute Chiang Ching and other comrades by conducting an uncompromising struggle against all centres of power”, Prerana, No 6, February 15-18, 1981.
40 Wilhelm Reich, Mass Psychology of Fascism, New York, 1964. An example of Reichian influence in literary criticism could be seen in Satchidanandan’s study of Sukumaran’s short stories during this time, Satchidanandan, ‘Sukumarante Prasakthi’ in Muhoorthangal, Kottayam, 1994, pp 193-228.
41 Chittaranjan, ‘Nayaprakyapanarekha: Oru Viyojanakurippu’, Prerana, Nos 54-55, July-August 1982, p 10.
42 George Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness, translated by Rodney Livingstone, London, 1971.
43 Subramanyadas, ‘Adhikara Vyavasthiyile Varghasamaram’, Uttaram, No 2, November 1982, pp 12-14. In this article, he argued that classical Marxism had become outdated to comprehend the complex reality of social life in Kerala, and expressed the view that political terminologies like “working class” and “class struggle” need to be reconsidered. See also his ‘Reethiye Kurichu Thanne’, Prerana, No 16, January 1-15, 1982, p 15.
44 Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, New York, 1971, p 245. 45 Ibid, p 235. 46 Ibid, p 236.
47 Eric J Hobsbawm, ‘Gramsci and Marxist Political Theory’ in Anne Showstack Sassoon (ed), Approaches to Gramsci, London, 1982, p 30.
48 K Venu quoted in Mukundan C Menon, ‘Kerala: People’s Cultural Forum…’ p 8.