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Creative Literature Remains,
Propaganda Literature Goes
|by Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee|
There are some so called progressive writers who write all their life about some party dreams and visions and yet they are not writers at all. Most of them are just propagandists. They write in party organs like Ganashakti, Jago Bangla and Kalantar which are party papers for propaganda. They call these writers progressive and all others in the world commercial. But very few readers read them.
Gorky was not a communist. But even Lenin also admired his progressive outlook and his Mother is a classic novel of progressive ideas promoting Revolution. In West Bengal writing in Desh is not the criterion for creativity. But all talented and creative persons have written in Desh. The anti-Desh atiitude of some people was very strong in the sixties when even Tagore is also regarded as bourgeois by the Communists such as P.C. Joshi and M.N. Roy.
Except Sukanta Bhattacharya very few writers among the communists have creativity in them. They write for doing propaganda and most of them are copy and paste writers. Some directly plagiarise from other literature without even changing a word. Translate and publish - is their motto. The extreme Leftists avoided Desh and other such good literary journals magazines.
Mahasweta Devi for example started her career by writing in Desh. She expressed satisfaction for the remuneration that she got for her story Baanshiwala and Mandar. Baanshiwala was published in 1967. But later she joined the Communist party and subscribed to the propagandist literature. May be good as literature, but the propaganda is the main motif in her Hazar Churasir Maan (The Mother of 1084), Aranyer Adhikar (The Right to Forest), Chotti Munda Aar Taar Teer (Chotti Munda and his Arrow), Master Saab (The School Teacher). All are not Mahasweta Devi and all are not able to transmute propaganda into literature.
Mahasweta’s husband was Bijon Bhattacharya who was a communist who is famous for his drama "Navanna". It was a turning point in the history of the cultural movement of Bengal. The play, directed by Shambhu Mitra, depicted in four acts the grim tragedy of the Bengal peasantry during the 1943 famine. The famous savant, Professor D.P. Mukherjee of Lucknow University, aptly summed it up by saying that he had only "imagined the presence of social realism in art", but after seeing "Navanna" in the People's Theatre he was full of hope for the future. This hope sprang from Karl Marx's famous observation that an idea becomes a material force when it grips the masses. It did not however mean that all communists are as successful as Bijon Bhattacharya who also wrote the story for the famous Hindi film, Nagin.
Nothing succeeds like success. Bernard Shaw all throughout his dramatic career was a propagandist. He gave wide publicity to his messages. But the Shavian dramas never lost their aesthetic appeal. They made tremendous impact on the audience and also had their artistic neatness and value.It is Shaw who however told that “for art for art’s sake I would not face the toil of writing a single line alone”.
Rather than strictly defending or denouncing propagandistic elements of art, Burke as always seemed inclined to break through antithetical opposites with a third option. He believed that art could be ‘a leaning tool’ that could “effect change in the attitudes of the masses”. In a sense Burke might say that all art contains an element of propaganda.
In 1933, aesthete Allen Tate wrote a scathing article condemning artists who abandon the universal order to pursue political aims and Tate singled out Burke as a prime example. Milton's poetry and his political prose set side by side as the supreme examples. Voltaire, Hugo, Heine, Swift, Shelly, Byron, Tolstoy, Ibsen - had carried the taint of propaganda. But they were all great artists and writers. The tragedy of the American Negro ended with "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and yet this novel is as great work of art.
Propaganda plays with the emotions of others as it encourages motivation and pride. In that sense the poems of Wilfred Owen are all propaganda as they tell about the evils of war. Hannah More made an important contribution to the developing art of propaganda in the period 1788-99. She first learned the techniques of the propaganda of agitation from her involvement in the movement for the abolition of the slave trade, though she devoted most of the 1790s to the propaganda of integration. In a large number of popular tracts she used fictional narratives to urge the poor to deference and the rising middle class to contentment. As an independent woman writer, much of her work was directed to the female sex, but her desire to see women play a more constructive role in society came to conflict with her fear of revolutionary ideas.
Consciously aware of the techniques of propaganda, she saw these being used in radical literature, especially in German Romantic drama and in the works of Mary Wollstonecraft. One of the major purposes of her Strictures on Female Education (1799) was to alert British women to the serious social and political dangers inherent in those forms of radical propaganda.
In Bengali literature too there is a great divide . The communists like M.N. Roy called Tagore a bourgeois poet. There was no respect for his poetry simply on the ground that it is not progressive. Some of the writers used to attack Desh as Bajari or commercial literature. But even a great ultra-Left writer like Mahasweta Devi wrote for Desh at least two stories. The communists denounced Desh in that period saying that Desh is publishing novels on puja issues. Their writings have no ideological issues forgetting that Desh is not published by a party or a party supporting publishing house. It is independent and in those days of IPTA and the communist prevalence, some space was needed for digesting the theories propagated by the propagandists. Samaresh Bose, Samaresh Majumder, Shakti Chattopadhyay and many other powerful writers contributed to Desh.
Keeping Desh at home was a symbol of culture for many Bengali readers. I have travelled Assam even during the Bangal khedao movement and during the Ahomiya movement. I have stayed in Assamese houses and in many I have seen preserved Desh as the only magazine for their reading. At one time Anandabazar was accepted all Bengali houses. Then the three and half a decades of Left regime changed the attitude of the people. Today Desh is not the only Bengali magazine of standard Bengali literature. The Communist magazine Nandan has come up to vie with it although it contains mostly propaganda literature chiefly of second rate writers who lack originality and who did not after all their efforts get chance to write in Desh and Ananda Bazar Patrika.
The communists and the ultra left denounced the Desh magazine for strange reasons. One is that there is no propaganda in Desh. This is not acceptable. It is no more a matter of debate that Desh is a coveted place for many famous writers. When the Left Front was in power, magazines like Nandan and People’s Democracy were purchased by people under a whip. But now the sale has fallen. All efforts of selling Nandan are now in vain. This shows that people like literature more than propaganda. Propaganda is for some time, while literature is for all ages.
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U Atreya Sarma
07/03/2015 12:22 PM