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Bengal Marxism (Early Discourses and Debates)

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Item Code: NAS249
Author: Anuradha Roy
Publisher: SAMYA
Language: ENGLISH
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9789381345023
Pages: 226
Other Details 8.50 X 5.50 inch
Weight 360 gm
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About the Book

Everywhere, as the author states, ‘capitalism is triumphant and Marxism seems irrelevant’. Yet, not that long ago, many had thought that capitalism would collapse owing to its own inherent contradictions and be replaced by a just and egalitarian world order following the ideals of Marxism. Anuradha Roy looks at Bengal which was run by Marxists for thirty-four years, where their cultural dominance seemed all-encompassing, and studies the eventual failure of Bengal Marxism to offer insight on Marxism's collapse worldwide.

This book is on Marxian thought rather than a history of the Marxist movement in Bengal. Divided into six chapters, Chapter 1 reflects on Marxism generally, and probes its theoretical and historical problems. Chapters 2 and 3, discuss discourses and debates on Marxist theory in Bengal from about the time of Bolshevik Revolution till Indian Independence, a period which marks the earliest phase of Bengal Marxism, projecting the different shades of Bengal Marxism, also including oppositional views. Arts and aesthetics, discussed in chapters 4-6, became very important for Marxists from about the mid-1930s. Many debates took place among intellectuals who professed different degrees of faith in Marxism. In Bengal, the Marxists believed that the revolution would take place in the realm of culture, narrowly defined, which suited their middle-class elitist world, creating an unbridgeable distance from the masses.

Many of the sources used for these intense, acerbic debates, in the realms of both ideology and aesthetics, have been taken from well-known Bengali journals of the time, not hitherto known to non-Bengali speakers. Roy points to the paradox that it was the non- Marxist intellectuals rather than the 'Marxists' who did justice to Marxism by acknowledging its possibilities and questioning its inadequacies. In her conclusion, the author suggests new ways of looking at Marxism; many people have reinvented it as a modifier to disciplines like history, sociology and political science, often combining Marxism with postmodernism. But the question remains: are they not getting further and further away from their once-cherished goal of changing society? Roy advocates going beyond Marxism to achieve the Marxist goal. At the same time she argues that if we think of Marxism as a tradition, not as a doctrine offering an all-embracing explanation of the past and the present and capable of predicting the future, we shall derive much valuable inspiration from it.

About the Author

Anuradha Roy is Professor, Department of History, Jadavpur University. Focusing her research on intellectual and cultural history, particularly the life of the Bengali bhadralok and bhadramahila (men and women of the educated upper middle classes), she is also interested in Gandhian social activism in Bengal.


Following the ignoble end of the thirty-four-year-old Marxist- led government as a result of the State Assembly elections of 2011, Marxism stands utterly discredited in Bengal today as never before. Everywhere in the world, indeed, capitalism is triumphant and Marxism seems irrelevant. However, there was a time when a great many thinking people all over the world thought that capitalism would collapse soon due to its own inherent contradictions and that a future in line with the Marxist scheme was immanent. They also regarded Marxism as an antidote to significant evils like imperialism and fascism. At that time, Marxism drew a picture of a just and egalitarian world in many a mind. I propose to look back on that animated and optimistic past of Marxism with reference to Bengal in order to understand the problems at its very roots that may have been responsible for the huge gap between its promise and practice, and for its eventual failure in Bengal and everywhere. This book is, however, not so much a history of the Marxist movement in Bengal, that is, organizations, personalities, events, and so on, as that of Marxian thought.

Chapter 1 ‘Marxism and Its Bengali Ideologues’ reflects on Marxism generally, and probes its theoretical and historical problems, placing its early Bengali ideologues in this context. This provides the background to all the subsequent chapters on Bengal Marxism in its ideological and aesthetic aspects. Needless to say, an ideology and related aesthetics have to be studied through the discourses and debates they generate, and there was no dearth of these as far as Bengal Marxism was concerned.

Chapter 2 ‘Ideological Discourses: Responding to History and Reflecting on Theory’ discusses writings on the Marxist theory in Bengal from about the time of the Bolshevik Revolution till Indian Independence, a period which marks the earliest phase of Bengal Marxism. Along with Chapter 3 ‘Some Fundamental Questions Emerging from Theoretical Discourses’, the two chapters are largely drawn upon a review article I wrote a few years back in the Bengali little magazine Parikatha. It was based on Bangalir Samyabad Charcha, a very important documentation related to writings on communism during the period 1917-1947, compiled by Sipra Sarkar and Anamitra Das (1998).' The book admirably records Bengal Marxism in its different shades within the above time frame, also including oppositional views.

Arts and aesthetics became very important for Bengali Marxists from about the mid-1930s. Chapters 4, 5 and 6 of the book, respectively titled "The Development of an Exacting Aesthetic System’, ‘Major Issues of the Aesthetic Debate’ and ‘An Alternative Search for Revolutionary Dynamics in Arts’, deal with this. In the aesthetic field, many debates took place among Bengali intellectuals who professed different degrees of faith in Marxism and who were also more or less close to the Communist Party of India (CPI). There were both theoreticians and creative writers among them. All were apparently loyal to - the official aesthetic line. However, they comprised ‘hard-liners’ and ‘soft-liners’, which generated the debates. The time frame of these chapters on aesthetics extends beyond Independence. Indeed, aesthetic debates among the Marxists proliferated after the end of the Second World War, particularly after Independence, when they were charged by the vision of a not- too-far-off revolution and thought that monitoring creative activities was their most important task in facilitating it. I must add that the aesthetic debates scrutinized in this chapter were literary debates. The same concerns and issues led to debates also in the fields of music, theatre and pictorial art, which, however, are not under the purview of the book.

While Chapters 2 and 3 were originally written as a book review in 2003, Chapters 4, 5 and 6 draw on my Ph.D. dissertation, ‘The Leftist Cultural Movement in Bengal (1936-52)’ written in the 1980s. I have made revisions in all the chapters, in the light of further thoughts, new scholarship and the altered state of Bengal and the world at large. The last section of Chapter 6 is a recent addition. The structures of the original essays, however, hang heavily on my venture. A review article and a chapter of a doctoral thesis have to be very different in their tenor. My own view of Bengal communism has also changed over the years: from a critical and yet hopeful attitude it has gradually become despondent and even resentful. The gradual roll-back of my socialistic hopes perhaps shows in the different parts of the book written at different points of time: Chapter 1, the last section of Chapter 6 and the ‘Conclusion’ written recently; Chapters 2 and 3 a few years ago and Chapters 4, 5 and 6 (mostly) a quarter of a century back and since revised. I hope together they would give some idea about the totality of the Marxian thought during the period under discussion. Is it an anachronistic exercise then to write a book on the ideology of Marxism at this post-Marxist and even post- ideological moment? I think not. Perhaps at long last, with the fall of the last and most formidable bastion of Marxism in this country, at least some people are now ready to interrogate Marxism at a fundamental level, hence, likely to take interest in this book. I do think that the present order of the world is highly cruel and immoral, and needs to be changed. An alternative order calls for an alternative ideological exercise, which may be guided by a discussion on the strength and failure of Marxism as we have experienced it so far. Marxism was after all one of the boldest attempts in human history to change the world for the better, though it had many flaws, was very incomplete, and in practice, became a weapon in the hands of some self-aggrandizing people.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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