Sunday, February 23, 2014
Monday, February 3, 2014
THAT was November 1977. One of the worst natural disasters – a typhoon and a tidal wave swept across the coastal Andhra Pradesh and in Krishna district alone more than 10,000 people lost their lives. Even before the government could wake up and organise relief measures, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), led by Comrade P Sundarayya personally visited the affected areas and organised relief efforts. As a part of the relief that was mobilised, a team from West Bengal visited the areas and distributed essential materials and also organised medical camps. Along with them was Pete Seeger, not the man, but the song. It was the first time that the song 'We Shall Overcome' was heard in those regions, a song of hope in times of adversity.
We Shall Overcome – just three words – but what an impact they had and still continues to have. The song became an organising chant during the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. The song continues to inspire hundreds of thousands of students, many of whose congregations conclude with this song. Pete Seeger, who prefers to identify himself as one who had popularised the song, rather than as one who owns the song, termed the song as “It's the genius of simplicity. Any damn fool can get complicated”.
This song reflects his way of writing that resounds throughout his work to give them timelessness and endurance. As he himself states: “I swiped things here and there and wrote new verses”. We Shall Overcome was based on old gospel songs, primarily “I’ll Overcome,” a hymn that striking tobacco workers had sung on a picket line in South Carolina. A slower version, “We Will Overcome,” was collected from one of the workers, Lucille Simmons, by Zilphia Horton, the musical director of the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, which trained union organisers. The copyright for the song is not held by Pete Seeger but he shares it with all those from whom he had learned the song and he even humbly acknowledges, “At that time we didn’t know Lucille Simmons’s name”. He had established a Fund in the name of the song to which all the song’s royalties go, which in turn are used to provide grants to African-Americans organising in the Southern states of the US.
How unlike some of the modern day music composers, who copy deftly but without any acknowledgement, forget about remorse. A case in point is the famous anti-war Italian song, 'Bella Ciao' that was turned into a romantic song by our 'talented' music directors of our film industry.
Pete Seeger was never commercial and was never after stardom. He always wanted people to remember the song rather than the singer. Indeed Seeger always used to say with a lot of humility, “they are not my songs, they are old songs, I just happened to sing them”. That is the reason why, again, quite unlike the present day 'kings, queens and stars' of music who win legions of fans through careful 'packaging', Pete Seeger is remembered more in the songs that he sang. He carved out a space for himself in history, quietly with rarer set of qualities: nobility, generosity, humility and more importantly when things got rough, breathtaking courage.
Pete Seeger was one of the musicians (Paul Robeson was another such famous singer as was Charlie Chaplin, the famous actor) who was harassed during the McCarthy period. He was blacklisted for being a member of the Communist Party and was indicted for contempt of Congress. In 1955, he was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he testified, “I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature. I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this”. True to his character and just as he alone can do, he had offered to sing his songs before the Committee, an offer which was declined!
As a result of his attitude, the House of Representatives tried Seeger and six others for contempt. Seeger defended himself with the words: “Some of my ancestors were religious dissenters who came to America over three hundred years ago. Others were abolitionists in New England in the eighteen forties and fifties. I believe that by choosing my present course I do no dishonour to them, or to those who may come after me”. It was for this conviction in his views that he was found guilty and sentenced to 12 months in prison. He was removed from the TV and his songs were blacklisted from the radio. The organisers of his concerts were harassed, forcing some of them to cancel his shows. All these did not deter him, but in fact further steeled him. Right wing groups protested at his concert venues, to which he remarked in jest: “All those protests did was sell tickets and get me free publicity, the more they protested, the bigger the audiences became”.
Seeger never regretted even for once his political positions: “Historically, I believe I was correct in refusing to answer their questions. Down through the centuries, this trick has been tried by various establishments throughout the world. They force people to get involved in the kind of examination that has only one aim and that is to stamp out dissent. One of the things I'm most proud of about my country is the fact that we did lick McCarthyism back in the fifties. Many Americans knew their lives and their souls were being struggled for, and they fought for it. And I felt I should carry on. Through the sixties I still had to occasionally free picket lines and bomb threats. But I simply went ahead, doing my thing, throughout the whole period”.
Till his end, Seeger remained firm in his convictions. Calling himself socialist and communist, but with a 'small c', he said: “still a socialist, just as bombs still come down and kill innocent women and children”. His banjo used to sport the message: “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender”.
It is with this courage that he led the artists in the protests against the Vietnam war. Two of his famous songs, 'Where Have all the Flowers Gone', and the 'Waist Deep in the Big Muddy, and the Big Fool said to Push on', expressed the popular anguish and protest against the war. In 1974, he was the first to record Estadio Chile, the last song written by Victor Jara, another revolutionary singer and poet who was publicly executed by the dictatorial regime in Chile, which came to power after overthrowing the Communist government of Salvador Allende.
Seeger continued singing till his very last and was publicly seen singing as late as during the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011. He championed the interests of the working class, poor and downtrodden sections of the society. He was out and out against the corporates. He led a protracted struggle against the environmental contamination of the Hudson river. Four decades of relentless and dogged struggle forced the General Electrics, responsible for the pollution, to come down and pay half a billion dollars for the cleaning of the river system. This is again an indicator for Pete Seeger, the person he is!
Over the years, Pete Seeger was conferred with many awards and even the government was forced to recognise the volumes of work he had done, particularly for the revival of folk tradition. He was conferred with a National Medal of Arts, the highest US honour for an artist by the then President Bill Clinton. Pete Seeger accepted the award, but without losing the irony: “The whole situation is hilarious, I've usually come down to Washington to picket the White House and now I'm coming to get a medal”! He was awarded a Grammy for lifetime achievement as well for his contributions and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Song Writers Hall of Fame. Similarly, he received the Order of Félix Varela, Cuba’s highest cultural award, for his “humanistic and artistic work in defence of the environment and against racism”.
All these did not in any way tone down the peoples' artist in Seeger. Throughout his life, his principles never wavered and his optimism never faltered. He wanted the people to come out of their ‘Little Boxes’ of indoctrination and challenge the system. “Every establishment in the world needs a good opposition, in order to be healthy”. And he tried his best to maintain the health of the world.
For Pete Seeger song is a weapon, a tool to better the society. He used to say: “My job, is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet. The key to the future of the world, is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known”. As the reviewer in New York Times wrote, “For him, folk music and a sense of community were inseparable, and where he saw a community, he saw the possibility of political action”.
“The real revolution will come when people realise the danger we're in”.
Our real tribute to him can only be through making people realise the danger we are in.
IN another shocking scam, millions of primary teacher aspirants were deceived in West Bengal when it was exposed that most of the ‘successful’ candidates were recommended by ruling party leaders. In fact, candidates were recruited like party volunteers with all norms and decency abandoned.
THE brutal gang-rape of a tribal girl in Lavpur in Birbhum district has exposed not only the deterioration of law and order in the state, but also how the rural Bengal has come under savage rule of Trinamool Congress.
The incident took place on January 21, in Subalpur village. It is a shocking incident where a kangaroo court was summoned to decide on the fate of the girl who had an affair with a boy of another community. The so-called ‘arbitration court’ asked for a hefty fine for the ‘crime’. As the family of the girl declared their inability to pay the ransom, an ‘order’ was passed to rape the girl. Some 12 to 13 people raped the girl in the village itself. The medical test also proved that the girl was indeed gang-raped.
As the details began to come to light, it was proved that the signatories to the order of the ‘fine’ included local Trinamool panchayat member, a non-tribal. Two other TMC leaders were also involved in the crime, both of whom were non-tribal. Ajoy Mondal, the panchayat member feigned ignorance until his signatures were exposed in the media. Another TMC leader, Debraj Mondal reportedly used his video to shoot the crime. It was not an “adivasi practice” at all, but the handiwork of a gang of criminals, using the fake and unjust ‘arbitration’.
In a typically Mamata-administration’s way of handling atrocities against the women, the police did not seek the remand of 13 accused even after arresting them. In the process, very important medical tests of the culprits and other necessary details were skipped. With huge condemnation of the act, the chief minister ordered the transfer of the district police superintendent and police was forced to appeal to court again to take the accused into their remand. Meanwhile, in a suo moto action, the Supreme Court has ordered the Birbhum district judge to conduct an enquiry of his own and submit report to the apex court.
The incident, coming only weeks after the gruesome murder of a rape victim in Madhyamgram, sparked a spontaneous protest in the state. AIDWA, DYFI, SFI, CITU and other organisations protested through road blockades and rallies throughout the state.
A Left Front delegation led by the leader of the opposition Surya Kanta Misra went to see the raped girl at the Siuri Hospital. Mishra talked with the victim and her mother and then met the hospital superintendent. The delegation also visited Subalpur village. Misra lamented that the Panchayat administration of West Bengal, for which the state was known to the researchers from all across the country and even overseas, for which the state was proud of, has now turned in to the ‘Khap’ Panchayat of the ruling Trinamool Congress. He said that there is no other instance of such brutality in the history of this state.
Left Front chairman and CPI(M) state secretary Biman Basu has condemned the incident and has demanded exemplary punishment for the miscreants. He said the security and honour of the women in the state has been trampled. It seems that the state was moving towards the medieval era. The All India Democratic Women’s Organisation has also condemned this brutal barbaric act. Besides demanding justice, they said there was not a single day in West Bengal without any incident of atrocity on women taking place. They have demanded security arrangement for the tribal woman and her family members.
THE Communist Party of India (Marxist) mourns the demise of Pete Seeger, a singer, folk-song collector and songwriter who spearheaded an American folk revival and spent a long career championing folk music, who died on January 27. He was a simple man, who prided in calling himself as a “communist with a small 'c'”.
Pete Seeger was born on May 3, 1919 and was 94 at his death. He performed and recorded for six decades, and was still an activist: as recently as October 2011, he marched in
as part of the Occupy Wall Street protests. New York City
Pete Seeger sang topical songs, children’s songs, humorous tunes and earnest anthems, always encouraging listeners to join in. His agenda paralleled the concerns of the American Left: He sang for the labour movement in the 1940s and 1950s, for civil rights marches and anti-Vietnam War rallies in the 1960s, and for environmental and anti-war causes in the 1970s and beyond. “We Shall Overcome,” which Seeger adapted, became a civil rights anthem.
During the McCarthy era Seeger’s political affiliations, including membership in the Communist Party in the 1940s, led to his being blacklisted and later indicted for contempt of Congress. Seeger was convicted in 1961 and sentenced to a year in prison, but the next year an appeals court dismissed the indictment as faulty. After the indictment, Seeger’s concerts were often picketed by the rightist groups, which he commented as had “brought lots of publicity to him”.
Pete Seeger continued singing with an eternal optimism about the future of the world and its people.
He mentored many young artists of those times, prominent among them being Bob Dylan. He was never after stardom and commercial benefits. He would always like to donate his earnings from the concerts to various labour, social and environmental causes that were dear to him.
His death is not only a loss to the world of arts and culture, but is a loss to the working class, the progressive and the anti-war movements. The CPI(M) pays its homage to Pete Seeger and offers its condolences to his family members in this hour of grief.
(January 28, 2014)
WE are observing the birth centenary year of Comrade M Basavapunnaiah which began on December 14, 2013. M Basavapunnaiah was one of the key leaders of the Communist Party. Like many leaders of his generation, MB made an all-sided contribution to the development of the Communist movement in the country. From being a student activist he directly joined the Communist Party in 1934 unlike many of his contemporaries who came to the Communist Party after being in the Congress and the Congress Socialist Party.
MB played an important role in the development of the Communist movement in Andhra Pradesh and was part of the leadership of the Telangana peasants’ armed struggle. Subsequently, he made a major contribution in the inner party struggle which led to the foundation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He had a unique role in shaping the ideological viewpoint of the CPI(M). This is the aspect which will be focused in this article.
The Indian Communist movement which had its beginnings in the 1920s worked within the framework of the guidance provided by the Comintern and later the CPSU. Thus it heavily relied on the Soviet Marxist apparatus for its ideological sustenance. While this was natural in the earlier period of the party, it also became the main source for a mechanical application of Marxist understanding to Indian conditions at times and later provided sustenance for the revisionist theory and practice which crept into the Communist Party.
A struggle developed within the Communist Party in the post-independence era on the question of the path of the Indian revolution and the strategy and tactics to be adopted. This struggle and praxis helped the “Left” communists to come out of the sterile framework which existed.
The CPI(M) was a product of this inner-party struggle. MB was part of the leading core which conducted this struggle. All the inner-party documents leading up to the split in the Party saw MB as a co-author along with leaders like P Sundarayya, Harkishan Singh Surjeet, B T Ranadive, P Ramamurthy and others. They set out the positions which constituted a rejection of the class collaborationist line advocated by a section of the leadership and which was supported by the CPSU.
In the early 1960s, differences between the CPSU and the CPC became sharp and bitter. The polemics between the two major parties stimulated the ideological debate in India too. It became intertwined with the struggle within the CPI about the programme and the strategy to be followed.
In the ideological battle to appraise Marxism-Leninism through the eyes of the Indian Communists engaged in building the communist party and to apply Marxist theory to the concrete conditions in India – this was a process, protracted and often torturous that the CPI(M) went through.
M Basavapunnaiah made a distinctive contribution to these inner-party debates and subsequently in the shaping of the ideological world view of the CPI(M).
The decade long inner-party struggle on the question of strategy culminated in the adoption of two programmes by the CPI(M) and the CPI in 1964 at their respective Congresses. The 7th Congress of the CPI(M) was held in Kolkata between October 31 to November 7, 1964. The draft Party Programme was introduced by MB. He explained that the essence of the Party Programme consisted of the analysis of the classes in Indian society, the stage of the revolution, the characterisation of the Indian State and the class alliance to be forged under the leadership of the working class for the people’s democratic revolution. In doing so, MB clarified the stand on the various issues which differed from that of the CPI. The Indian State is an instrument of the bourgeois-landlord alliance led by the big bourgeoisie; the leadership of the people’s democratic front had to be with the working class and could not be the joint leadership with the national bourgeoisie; the bourgeois-landlord State was increasingly collaborating with foreign finance capital and so on.
FIGHT AGAINST LEFT SECTARIANISM
Within three years of the formation of the CPI(M), the Party had to confront the challenge of the Left sectarian trend in the form of Naxalism. The main battlefield was Andhra Pradesh where a large number of leaders and cadres of the Party were influenced by the CPCs call for armed struggle during the Cultural Revolution. MB had to be in the thick of the struggle against this ultra-Left deviation. The Andhra Pradesh state plenum held before the Burdwan Plenum on Ideological issues in 1968 saw MB along with P Sundarayya taking up the fight in right earnest. MB intervened during the discussions in the Burdwan Plenum to counter the Left sectarian positions presented by a section of the Andhra leaders. The Resolution on Ideological Issues adopted in the Burdwan Plenum provided the bedrock for the Party’s ideological struggle against both right revisionism and left sectarianism.
MB increasingly took on the responsibility of conducting the struggle against the revisionist line of the CPSU and the Left sectarian positions of the CPC. MB would use his pen as a scalpel to cut through the revisionist theories of the CPSU – on the wrong understanding of social contradictions and the illusion spread by the concept of a peaceful competition between capitalism and socialism and the peaceful transition to socialism.
MB had strongly opposed many of the Left sectarian positions adopted by the CPC during the period of the Cultural Revolution. These included the “three worlds’ theory”, the characterisation of the Soviet Union as “social imperialist” and the Left adventurist call for armed struggle around the world irrespective of the conditions existing in different countries.
While taking on the wrong policies of CPSU and the CPC, MB was categorical about not taking anti-Soviet or anti-China positions. He maintained that both were socialist countries, though they suffer from deviations from Marxist-Leninist positions and the scientific approach to building socialism.
MB poured scorn on the concept of the non-capitalist path of development advocated by the CPSU for the newly independent countries like India which was adopted by the CPI too. At the same time he trenchantly exposed the sectarian and dogmatic understanding of the Naxalites about the nature of capitalist development in India. In the “Letter to the Andhra Comrades” which was adopted by the Polit Bureau after the Burdwan Plenum, MB said:
“The fundamental critique of the capitalist path from the Marxist-Leninist angle is being erroneously understood and interpreted as though no industrial development of any significance is possible or has taken place, that the development of capitalism and capitalist relations in any degree under the capitalist path is only the increasing dominance of foreign monopoly capital and the strengthening and further consolidation of feudal and semi-feudal land relations. Thus the strategical despising of the capitalist path is being mechanically and dogmatically projected into its tactics evaluation, refusing to take into account the development of capitalism and capitalist relations under the bourgeois-landlord government.”
He also effectively debunked the Naxalite characterisation of the bourgeoisie in India as a comprador one. He defended united front tactics with other democratic parties. He also condemned the Left sectarian stand of opposition to participation in parliament and the coalition governments which were formed in Kerala and West Bengal in 1967.
After taking over as Editor of People’s Democracy in 1978 MB regularly wrote on ideological questions in its columns.
AGAINST CULT OF PERSONALITY
After the CPC made a critical evaluation of the Left sectarian deviation that occurred during the Cultural Revolution period and the promotion of the cult of personality around Mao Zedong, MB wrote an important article on the “Struggle against the Cult of Personality”. He set out the Marxist position on the cult of the personality and how such a distortion had developed in the case of Stalin in Soviet Union and Mao Zedong in China. An important point made by him was regarding how the cult of personality damages inner-Party democracy and collective functioning. He stated that:
“It should never be forgotten that the struggle against the cult of personality is very closely linked with the struggle to safeguard inner Party democracy, to ensure collective leadership and practice criticism and self-criticism. Good resolutions by themselves are not enough, they should be implemented properly without allowing any dichotomy to develop between words and deeds. The idea that no leader is a “demigod” and an “infallible Marxist-Leninist” should be propagated constantly among the Party ranks and the people at large. And no Communist Party should ever resort to punitive measures to punish differences and dissent.”
ON THE NATIONAL QUESTION
During the discussion and formulation of the Party programme, it was decided that the issue of the national question in India would be reserved for a later discussion. In a multinational country like India, what is the role of the various linguistic nationalities? Will the right of nations to self-determination apply in India? The discussion and adoption of the Party’s stand on the national question took place in the 9th Congress of the Party held in Madurai in 1972. The “Note on the National Question” was discussed and adopted in the Congress. MB introduced the document in the Congress. It bore the stamp of his deep understanding of the Leninist stand on nationalities and the national question and how the conditions in pre-revolutionary Russia differed from India. While Tsarist Russia was a prison house of nationalities and subject to oppression by the Great White Russian nationality, India was a multinational country where there is no oppression by one or a group of nationalities over the others. Secondly, the ruling class in India, the bourgeois-landlord class, is a composite one drawn from various linguistic nationalities. It is these ruling classes which were exploiting the working classes of all the linguistic nationalities and subjecting them to a common class oppression. Therefore the call for separation or secession would weaken the fight against the Indian State and the class exploitation faced by the working people all over the country. The task of the working class party was to build the unity of the working class and peasantry of all the nationalities to fight the common class exploitation by the bourgeois-landlord classes.
MB also pointed out that during the anti-imperialist struggle, the calls for self-determination by any of the nationalities against British rule was valid. But with independence that stage of the general struggle against imperialism was over. The right of self-determination should not apply any more as in the pre-independence era.
MB had a polemical style which gave no quarter to opponents of Marxism or those who deviated from it. At the same time, MB was also aware that he and his colleagues could make mistakes while expounding on ideological issues. As he would say in his inimitable style: “These mistakes are made by us, not mistakes made at someone else’s bidding”. He meant thereby that one could learn from the mistakes one commits and rectify them. Unlike those who make mistakes under somebody’s influence.
The CPI(M) emerged from a protracted inner-Party struggle on ideological and programmatic issues. Later it had to stand its own ground against the wrong ideological positions adopted by the CPC and the CPSU. For this it had to rely on applying its own understanding of Marxism-Leninism to the Indian conditions. In this process, MB was the ideological warrior of the Party. He left his stamp on the ideological struggle with his deep knowledge of Marxism, his commitment to Marxism-Leninism and his relentless quest to apply Marxism-Leninism to fashion out the correct approach for the Indian revolution.
We must learn to build on this rich legacy left by him.