Archive for the Books & Authors Category

Art in our Times

Posted in Alternative Media, Books & Authors, Communist Workers & Peasants Party, Comrades, Marxism, Pakistan, Poetry, Literature, Art on September 18, 2011 by daanishkhan

By Ammar Aziz

Art, in the “free world” we live in, has become the monopoly of the ruling classes which suits the basic nature of their exploitative system by doing both, generating profits and keeping the people in a state of confused contentment

An art exhibition was going on in a posh gallery of Lahore. Installation art was the medium and you could find strange ‘art objects’, hanging and placed, in all the dimensions of space. The gathering – filled with high class ‘intellectual socialites’ and art critics – was enough to represent a ‘positive image of Pakistan’. That positive yet so unrealistic image consisted of the postmodern works by many famous artists. While passing from one side of the gallery, I looked at an art piece. It was one and a half brick, placed on a tiny table with the artist’s name. I kept moving and found a blank canvas, hanging in the middle of a wall. A few art critics were trying to understand the “depth of white” from that blank canvas while others were satisfying their intellectual thirst by relating those bricks to the complications of “consciousness and unconsciousness”. At the end of the gallery, at one corner, a couple of multicolored electric wires were exhibited on the floor. I found that art piece the most interesting of all. I was still trying to figure out what that meant when all of a sudden a man – probably an electrician who was working there – came, grabbed the wires and went away!

Art in our times has lost everything – content – form – meaning and purpose.

It has become a possession of a minority that has not only commodified its very social nature but also has destroyed its aesthetic beauty. This approach, however, has been viewed as the ‘next big thing’ in the philosophical premises of art and being highly praised by the West. One wonders, what’s the reason of promoting a meaningless generation of art in the name of intellect or, more precisely, postmodernism? Why is there a rising trend of obscure and pretentious creations that create a wedge between the intellectuals and the masses? This chaos, known as art, shows the philosophical and ideological conflicts of the 2oth century and their tragic consequences after the end of the cold war. This emerging craze of strictly meaningless art has its roots back in the political interests of the Western Imperialism. The advocates of ‘free-market’ who talk about ‘artistic freedom’ negate the social relevance of art, by limiting it to merely subjective and usually nihilistic themes if not completely meaningless. What on earth is that artistic freedom that rejects the objective truth? The philosophy behind such art is as perplexing as the art itself. Chomsky while criticizing the postmodern theorists said, ““Now Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, Kristeva, even Foucault…write things that I also don’t understand but don’t hold: no one who says they do understand can explain it to me.”

The realism- phobia that started during the cold war era still exists in the capitalist West and its intellectual-allies throughout the world, including Pakistan. I remember how one of our ‘liberal’ art history teachers at NCA viciously declared social realism merely as a propaganda while romanticizing abstract expressionism as “the avant-garde” art form.

I feel it’s important here to discuss briefly the origin of this irrational fear of realism. In order to counter the ideologically strong, realistically significant and aesthetically appealing Socialist Realism of the Soviet Union, the CIA came up with a secret policy in the 1950s– known as ‘long leash’ – to promote that sheer nonsense known as abstract expressionism in order to prove the “intellectual freedom” of the US. Donald Jameson – a former CIA officer – conceded in an interview, “yes the agency saw Abstract Expressionism as an opportunity, and yes, it ran with it. It was recognised that Abstract Expressionism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was.”

The materialist analysis of history reveals that art has always been important to people, since its earliest beginnings from the dark caves of France to the present day. What’s the element that has kept those prehistoric cave paintings alive even after tens of thousands of years? Their ability of being understandable owing to their astonishing realism! This not only drives our attention to the fact that art’s initial beginnings were based on the representations of the actual world but also enforces the idea that art was meant for some social purposes. Do you think those prehistoric people would have gone that deeply, crawling into the inaccessible recesses of the dark caves to draw something for the sake of decoration? I highly doubt it. Such drawings were an important ritual among those hunter gatherer societies – a ritual they used to perform for the success of hunting animals for food! Thus, art started evolving as a social activity rather than an individual act.

With the division of labor and evolution of private property – that culminated in the division of mankind into classes, separating mental labor from manual labor and art from craft, the very basic character of art lost its social significance and became a commodity – a meaningless commodity whose nasty importance is based on its price like any other thing in a capitalist society. For example, Van Gogh, who died in extreme poverty, is amongst the most ‘valuable’ painters of the world whose paintings change hands at auctions for millions of dollars. If, somehow, his works go out of fashion tomorrw, these so-called art lovers would divest themselves just like the dealers get rid of the falling shares on the floor of the stock market. Thus, art, in the “free world” we live in, has become the monopoly of the ruling classes which suits the basic nature of their exploitative system in two ways: a) it generates profit b) it keeps people in a state of confused contentment. That minority always use and abuse the role of art and culture for their own gluttonous interests. In The German Ideology, Marx and Engles explain, “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force”.

Every sensible rational mind should understand that the cultural aspects of any society (superstructure) can not be fully understood when separated from the material economic conidtions of that society (base). Every society is shaped by the relations of production and exchange (economics) that form its base. History’s most liberating event – the October Revolution – when the working-class played the most important role in striving for a society free of exploitation, alienation and oppression – started an era of undying art that was the outcome of the very basic philosophy their revolution was based on: Dialectical Materialism which has an inseparable relation with realism. The opposing forces of proletarian revolution saw their art – that reflected their liberation and motivated them to struggle – as one of their biggest enemies. But the artists, all over the world, who emerged after the revolution, were able to base themselves on a very rich and progressive tradition of Social and Socialist realism. Progressive Writers Movement is the Pakistani chapter of that internationalist movement of art.

Consider a situation where entertainment no longer works as industries but only as activities necessary to human well-being. Art loses its exclusive and individual character under Socialism and becomes the ownership of all. It doesn’t only reflect the matter but plays its heroic role in changing that too. The masses, so long bound to submit in silence, find a new voice and witness a radical transition. An artist’s role is to fight for the economic emancipation of mankind to gain the lost soul of humanity. Art has played an important role since the birth of mankind and this role will not only conitnue but be greatly enhanced and gloroified when art would become a cause to beautify life. That would be “humanity’s leap from the realm of neceassity to the realm of freedom” in the words of Engles. Diego Rivera, the Mexican Communist Muralist painter, concluded the aims of revolutionary art at the end of his Manifesto, which is the need of our times:
“The independence of art for the Revolution”

Author is an independent film-maker, a political activist, and he also teaches film theory at NCA lahore.

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Maoism – A Critique From the Left

Posted in Books & Authors, Communist Movement, International Affairs, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2010 by Umer

Pragoti has had a number of contributors from the Left taking on the subject of Maoism and Maoist violence in India. Various articles such asthis or this have addressed the subject. One of the regular contributors to Pragoti, Prasenjit Bose, has now edited a volume of articles which critique the Maoists from the viewpoint of the organised Left in the country. The critique is organised on various lines – a theory/praxis critique by PMS Grewal and Nilotpal Basu and a comparative assessment of various extremist/Maoist movements across the world, particularly in Latin America by another Pragoti contributor Vijay Prashad. The book is rounded off with a telling ideological document that debated the viewpoints of the Naxalites before these left wing sectarians branched off from the CPI(M) in the late 1960s. The book is available for purchase here. With permission from Prasenjit Bose, we are carrying the introduction to the book (the first chapter) in this post.

Introduction — Prasenjit Bose

As the debate on leftwing extremist violence and the state’s offensive against it intensifies in India, opinion tends to get increasingly polarized. On the one side are those who consider the CPI (Maoist) as a destructive terrorist group, much like the Islamist Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or the separatist United Liberation Force of Asom (ULFA), which has to be crushed through the military might of the state. On the other side are those who see the Maoists as a revolutionary force, fighting for the cause of the exploited and the marginalized, and justify their violent acts as a necessary evil in order to bring about radical social transformation. Little effort is made, however, from either end to delve deeper into the question of leftwing extremism, in India or elsewhere, in order to understand its current activities in terms of its ideological basis, social roots and historical origins. 

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Ban the Burqa?

Posted in Books & Authors, Marxism with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2009 by Umer

The following article appeared in the New York Times and deals with one important debates that have erupted from the speech made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy where he stated that the Burqa is not welcome in Franch territory. While the statement made by Sarkozy may be drenched in racism, as many may argue, what should be the independent position of the Left over the issues of women’s veil? Is the Left doomed to decide its position based on the opposition of others (a position of reaction)? Or, can it have an independent and principled position of its own? How does the Left in Pakistan see the question of women’s veil?

The New York Times article discusses the issue of women’s veil from the point of view of a women’s identity as an individual. Another way of looking the issue of veil is by understanding it as an institution deeply linked with patriarchy, rather than merely as an individual choice (which may also be very important). What must also be questioned is the implication that the veil have have on the society at large.

The late Mazhar-ul-Haq Khan, Professor at Peshawar University, wrote a throughly about patriachal institutions in Muslim societies in  his book ‘Pardah and Polygmy: Social pathology of Muslim Societies’ (1972). The fundamental thesis of Mazhar-ul-Haq’s book is that the two interlinked institutions of pardah (veil) and polygamy are the main factors behind the decadence and stagnation of the Muslim societies. Not only they are based on incorrect interpretations of Islam, argued Mazhar-ul-Haq, they inculcate a sense of inhibition, fear and loss of identity in the family structures suppressing the spirit initiative, creativity, adventure, and openness in both males and females from their childhood (all of which are necessary for collective and individual progress). Why is it that Muslim societies have failed to produced men and women of science for many years? The same can be said of other fields of study, though with some variance. While the rest of the world has progressed by leaps and bounds, why are the Muslim societies still trailing behind?

These questions require us to delve deeper in the issue rather than giving knee-jerk and reaction-bases answers.

—-

Ban the Burqa

By MONA ELTAHAWY
Published: July 2, 2009

NEW YORK — I am a Muslim, I am a feminist and I detest the full-body veil, known as a niqab or burqa. It erases women from society and has nothing to do with Islam but everything to do with the hatred for women at the heart of the extremist ideology that preaches it.

We must not sacrifice women at the altar of political correctness or in the name of fighting a growingly powerful right wing that Muslims face in countries where they live as a minority.

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Murder in a dungeon

Posted in Books & Authors, Communist Movement, International Affairs, Law, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2009 by Umer

Umer A. Chaudhry reviews a book containing graphic details about the Communist leader Hassan Nasir’s killing.

Book:

Hasan Nasir Ki Shahadat
Major Ishaq Mohammad
Xavier Publications, Multan
Rs. 500

The letters of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg moved the lyrical pen of Faiz Ahmed Faiz to write his monumental poem ‘hum jo tareek rahon mein mare gaye.’ The Rosenbergs were Marxists and victims of McCarthyism. A few hours before they were sent to the electric chair in 1953, they left an everlasting message of hope for their children: “Be comforted then that we were serene and understood with the deepest kind of understanding, that civilization had not as yet progressed to the point where life did not have to be lost for the sake of life; and that we were comforted in the sure knowledge that others would carry on after us.”

McCarthyism is widely documented as a dark chapter in the history of the U.S.A. It is considered synonymous with Communist witch-hunts, state-sponsored red bashing, illegal detentions of left-wing activists and the arbitrary use of state power to censor progressive political expression. McCarthyism was not merely an American experience. During the heyday of the Cold War, systematic repressive measures against Communism were introduced by almost all allies of the U.S.A. Pakistan was no exception, although there has been very little written on this subject, and there is no accessible documentation in this regard. Who were the victims of anti-Communist repression in Pakistan? How were these radical Socialists persecuted? What is their history? These unconventional questions are usually sidelined or silenced.

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Moosa Sai Marx Tak (From Moses to Marx)

Posted in Books & Authors, Marxism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2009 by Umer

Preface and Chapter 1

Moosa se Marx Tak is one the best known writings of the South Asian Marxist and public intellectual, Syed Sibte Hasan. Sibte Hasan remained steadfast in his commitment towards Marxism-Leninism through out his life and contributed enormously in the revolutionary struggle through his pen.  For many decades, Moosa se Marx Tak was the fundamental guiding texts for the activists and students of the Leftist politics of Pakistan. Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to present the preface and the first chapter of this authoritative text translated by Syed Ehtisham (with minor editorial changes) at the Red Diary:

Preface

Marx and Engels devised the term scientific socialism for their political thought, and idealistic socialism for ‘old fashioned’ socialism, which encompassed the reformist plans which European thinkers offered from time to time. The plans had not been inferred from the conditions on the ground, but were a reflection of their subjective aspirations. Scientific socialism, on the other hand, was derived from, and logical conclusion of existing objective conditions (maroozi hallat). Its principles of evolution had been derived from a deep study of the capitalist system.

Scientific socialism refers to a social system in which all means of production-land, minerals, factories, banks, trade-are collectively owned by the society, and the produce is distributed according to the qualitative worth of the work performed by physical and intellectual cadres.

Communism is the next stage of scientific socialism, under which means of production and the produce is so advanced that the measure of distribution is not worth, but need of the people.

Foes of socialism have tried to malign it by asserting that it does not allow any personal possessions. That is far from the truth. Socialism does not permit exploitation of labor for accumulation of wealth by individuals or groups, for example control over land, minerals, manufactories and finance. Private property is sacrosanct under the feudal and capitalist systems (and supported by all religions), where as the foundations of socialism lie in abolition of such private ownership and transferring it to social ownership.

Private ownership has created so many social evils that public ownership is being promoted even in capitalist societies (nationalization of essential services and welfare). Means of production were nationalized (in the post-WW II Europe) and Asian countries.

The other private ownership pertains to items of personal use, like clothes, utensils, home, books, bicycle, radio, etc. Under a capitalist system, people do not have adequate quantities of items of personal use (even in rich societies). A socialist society, on the other hand aims to provide people with sufficient quantity of items of personal use. There is no equivalence in people’s productive or inventive capacity, so the income of each and every one under a socialist system will not be the same.

Socialism does not repress individuality, in fact it encourages it. Only exploitation of labor for personal aggrandizement is proscribed.

Chapter 1: Early Communism

Europeans ‘discovered’ America, and traveled to India in the early 15th CE. They gained great material wealth, and gained important knowledge and information. The general public was entranced by the stories of travelers, and though they contained more half truths and outright lies than facts, the general public listened to them and developed great interest in exploration of the world unknown to them and the greed to acquire wealth.

This mind set induced Sir Thomas Moore to write his classic work “Utopia”, which relates experiences of a fictitious sailor, who happened to land in a far off island, where people lived in a communist society. The same instinct led the English novelist Daniel Defoe to pen “Robinson Crusoe”, and Swift to write “Gulliver’s Travels”.

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Book Review: Islamisation of Pakistani Social Studies Textbooks

Posted in Books & Authors, International Affairs, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2009 by Umer

by Yoginder Sikand

Name of the Book: Islamisation of Pakistani Social Studies Textbooks

Author: Yvette Claire Roser

Publisher: Rupa & Co

Price Rs. 195

Pages: 109

ISBN: 81-291-0221-8

Reviewed by: Yoginder Sikand

Contrary to what professional historians might claim, there is really nothing as an objective, unbiased and completely accurate writing of history. After all, not everything, even of significance, of what happened in the past can possibly be included in a text, and history book writers have to pick and choose from past events that they deem fit be recorded. The very process of picking and choosing from the past is determined, among other factors, by the subjective biases of the history writer as well as his or her own social and institutional location. Then, history writing is not simply about narrating the past but also involves a certain element of evaluating it. Here, again, this is strongly determined by the personal biases and preference of the individual historian.

The element of bias is greatly exacerbated when history textbooks are—as they are in almost every country today—commissioned by the state. The state wishes to mould its citizens in a particular way, to make them what it considers as ‘good’ and ‘law-abiding’ citizens, who have completely internalized the underlying logic and ideology of the state. The state, in its capacity of representative of a country’s ruling class, seeks to impose through state-sponsored history texts the hegemonic ideas of this class upon its citizenry. It is thus not surprising that such texts generally parrot the state-centric view of history that seeks to bestow legitimacy on the state and the country’s ruling class and ‘normalise’ their logic and world-view.

This incisive critique of state-sponsored social science textbooks in Pakistan highlights the convoluted politics of historiography and what this means for the production of a ‘social commonsense’ for a state’s citizenry. Although Roser does not say it in so many words, the current turbulent political scenario in Pakistan, in particular the rise of radical Islamist forces in the country, cannot be seen as inseparable from the narrow political agenda that the Pakistani state, ever since its formation, has consistently sought to pursue as is reflected in the social science textbooks that it has commissioned, and through which it has sought to impose its own ideology on its people.

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Soviet Books Online

Posted in Books & Authors, Communist Movement, Marxism on March 9, 2008 by Umer

A large number of Soviet books in English are now available online. Most
of the books are from Stalin period and some from Krushcev and Brezhnev
period for all of us to read and learn the changes.

There some books on Peoples Democracy, constitutions of some of the
Eastern European countries as well as Soviet attitude on Greek Question.

You can access them from:

http://www.directdemocracy4u.org/kitaplar/index.php
or
http://directdemocracy4u.org/library/F1.htm

Some works of Stalin are present at:

http://directdemocracy4u.org/ENG/stalinworks.php