On the Cultural Front

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Ritwik Ghatak's thesis submitted to the Communist Party of India proposing the lines to be taken by the cultural wing of the party.

Transcript of On the Cultural Front

  • On The Cultural Front

    - Ritwik Ghatak

    An excerpt from the thesis submitted by noted Indian filmmaker Ritwik Kumar Ghatak to the

    Communist Party of India in 1954. It remained undiscovered till 1993. The thesis remained

    buried for many years, and was only discovered in old files in the Communist Party Office.

    Preamble to the thesis:

    We are witnessing a curious phenomenon today.

    We are witnessing an unprecedented expansion of progressive influence in the cultural sphere.

    Through their art, many common artists, from professional and other fields, are indicating that

    they are drawing closer to the people.

    Artists are taking up the cause of the people.

    What is curious in it ? It is a matter of rejoicing for us.

    But it is curious all the same. It is curious because no Communist artist is working among them,

    no Communist influence by example is guiding them today. In fact, our artists in those spheres

    are miserable figures and are glad, for all practical purposes, to remain so.

    This is curious.

    This is not curious, it seems monstrous when we think of our current smug complacency. We are

    hurrying and bustling and talking and running, and all the while we are actually sitting on the

    movement. We, the Communist artists.

    Not a single art-work of high value has come from us in the last four years. We are reviving our

    past work, rehearsing and giving it a new name, or else creating Amateur, third-rate work. And

    all the while, we remain talkers-in-chief.

    This is definitely monstrous.

    And the few truly creative artists among us are moving further away from the Party day by day.

    The facts are telling us so.

    If and when asked, we have stock answers. The most repeated among them are : There is a lack of any Party Lon on culture, or, The Party itself does not care, and even, The Party is happy about the way we are working, and sometimes, Joshis Golden Period should come back again for the sake of Culture.

  • Often, in reply, one receives the cold shoulder. Any uneasy question will immediately draw

    vague allusions to the condition of the Party, the Country, the Organization, and then, silence.

    Yet another answer given in reply to the query concerning high art-work, is given in the form of

    statistics, such as how many times the Partys works have been issued and how many cadres and groups of workers and employed.

    Have they no value ?

    This is the crux of the matter. Everything has value; but when one loses proportion, one

    substitute the value of one for the value of the other.

    It seems that we are doomed to remain where we are today. It is an injustice to solely blame

    ourselves, though to our minds, we have had too much justice and deserve some injustice for a

    change.

    Anyway, the Party must be criticized. It is, in fact, the nonchalant manner of the Party that has

    allowed these things to grow.

    The Party generally see the Cultural Front in two ways one, as a money earning machine (these are harsh words we know, but they just can not be helped), and, two as a mobilizer of

    meetings and conferences to keep the crowd (and not masses) engaged with whatever the artists

    can offer.

    Even when the Peace Council of similar body presents a slogan on Culture, the Party, through its

    Committees, calls on us to execute the routine.

    This is disheartening.

    More disheartening is, whenever anything concerning culture comes up, even serious comrades

    of the Party Committees become reticent and diffident:

    That is culture, comrades, and we know nothing of your problems. We have such and such jobs at hand, we have such and such engagements, and so-and-so is busy with those problems. We are

    overworked, we are fighting to cope with the sudden expansion of the Partys influence, with the building of mass organizations, and with the Democratic Front some other time, comrades.

    That other time never comes. At least it has not come in the last few years. Something or the

    other bobs up like the proverbial Cromwells head, and the attention of the Party becomes focused on it.

    This is extremely disheartening.

    It is sad, but truthful, to admit that if we want to get the attention of the party, we must show the

    benefit that will accrue to the Party as a whole, and to Culture. At present, the Party is more

    interested in taking things from Culture. It is very difficult to determine how much the Party

    cares for culture as the property of the people.

  • It is also sad, but truthful, to admit that all that we and other comrades are saying, demonstrates a

    singular lack of understanding of what is needed, what we are losing, and which way to go.

    Such is the condition today.

    It has to be unequivocally declared that the problem of culture is basically the problem of

    organization at the level of the Party, the Platform, and Art.

    It has to be unequivocally declared that the attitude of difference of the comrades, however

    sincere, is broadening the gulf between the Party and the culture workers.

    It has to unequivocally declared that what is needed from the Party is simply their undivided

    attention. The comrades themselves are able to solve the particular problems of art.

    It has to be unequivocally declared that the party is losing a lot from this attitude and is allowing

    potential danger to develop within Party.

    It has to be unequivocally declared that our lack of creation is not the result is a lack of a Party

    line on Culture, but due to a lack of an organized and serious effort on our part.

    It has to be unequivocally declared that we are not seeking a Golden Period, but a proper place in

    the body of the Party, and our share in Party rights and responsibilities.

    Today, all these have to be unequivocally declared and in clear-cut language, so that the Party

    can impose discipline on the Cultural Front, we can understand our tasks in building the

    Democratic Front, and people can be roused and enthused through our art-work.

    This task is the order of the day. This task has to be executed today.

    We propose, in this paper, to show that the problems [Party's lack of a cultural line] are of an

    organizational, not ideological nature. Organization is the key to the whole problem.

    We shall divide our discussions into three parts, all revolving around the central point of

    organization; we will then try to arrive at a conclusion. We shall take up special problems

    pertaining to our work and we hope to show that they can be solved.

    In our work, through our own art and platforms, we came into contact with the Party and the

    people. They present three sets of problems, though intricately interconnected. We have tried to

    remember this fact in our discussions.

    We hope that the Party will circulate this among the comrades. We are putting forth what needs

    to be stated, in the form that we think will best clarify our points.

    Such straightforwardness, we think, is the order of the day.

  • We know that just to express all that we hold dear and to present that expression to the masses,

    with quality, is our task as Communists. We also know that the moment we start to do this, the

    other side [Bourgeois culture] becomes immediately important, because we may lose balance

    and defeat our own purpose by becoming isolated. This is a problem of a two-pronged offensive.

    How should we proceed ?

    We must proceed by admitting that in relation to Bourgeois culture we are, indeed, in a very bad

    state. We have to take all this is good in that culture, which it contains in profusion. Then we

    have to reshape that culture to achieve our goals, and to harness it to our purpose. Then, we will

    come to logical conclusions that are inherent in Bourgeois culture and are crying for release. Our

    comrades should creatively work among these artists in order to learn their melody and speech and method of their utterances; that is, to learn their form, their mode of handling philosophic content.

    This form is of decisive importance today. To understand this form means learning the trade, in

    its variety of uses and approaches. It means studying the past with scrupulous care, and learning

    the experiments and achievements of the past. It means learning the whole process; from the

    inception of theme-content through stages of development, to the final art product. It means learning the other truths; these are the secrets if inspiration and intensity and sublimity of feeling.

    And finally, it means learning that this process is not simply 2 + 2 = 4; we cannot rigidly fix the

    phases of the process, because it is a creative process.

    Actually, we have so much to learn indeed !

    And in such manners, haste and sweeping measures are the worst possible things. Slogans will

    never do here; slow, methodical, tenacious work is what is necessary.

    From the beginning, and to the end, it is an adults business. Our dramas, our Regisseurs production services, our Composers songs, and other creative work should be continually pushed towards common artists. We must strive to make them accept such primary works so that

    they may understand and then respect our sincerity, honesty of purpose and artistic caliber. We

    do not mean the non-Party minority (who are else sympathizers), who are with us today and who

    are a more valuable possession; we mean real non-Party people and real artists specialists of hi