Ritwik Ghatak’s thesis
Subaltern Cinema is proud to present 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. Going through the thesis, it becomes vivid that the same situation persists even today. As a result, such a strong pen is relevant till this date.
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, “Joshi’s 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 Party’s 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 Party’s 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 Cromwell’s 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 adult’s business. Our dramas, our Regisseur’s 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 high standing ability.
To push our major creative works towards and among these common artists and to make them accept these works is no mean job. It can only be done in one way – with high artistic value and sincerity of content.
There is another point of contact from our point of view – a possible source of reserve forces, a potential sinking fund, so to speak: the Amateurs of the localities.
We have already said that from the overall Party point of view, these Amateurs are treated as a part of mass organization building problems. Generally, we cannot except any radical change in this approach.
But we must understand that we have to look at them from that perspective, and at the same time, from the standpoint of Culture. They are the breeding ground, the fountainhead, the source of new cadres. We must work among them to become more serious.
This is the point. Among them [Amateurs] there are sparks. In all probability, there are more sparks in them than are dreamt of by many of us. Those sparks, if developed, will last longer, fade slower and be brighter than many.
But they are rarely found in that illuminated state. We have to search for them. That is the main reason why they [Amateurs] should be drawn into the Federation. If we find one Sarat Chandra, one Nazrul, one Mukunda Das, our job is well done. And we will be well paid.
Because such artists from among the workers and peasants, if developed and not spoilt by glorification, will see the whole thing through and fight to the last.
From our standpoint, this is why we should work among the Amateurs, teach them and bring them into the Federation.
To guide the whole Federation in our direction, we must form a Central Forum from which we will be able to propagate our theories and practices of art.
Such a place, such a Forum, is an Academy of histrionic arts and conservatoire for music. In such an Academy, theory and practice of art forms may be encouraged to think. That is what is needed. If we succeed in making common artists and Amateurs consistently and logically think, our job is half done. Logical thinking gives birth to analysis of oneself and one’s art. That is bound to reveal the pattern and hence, bound to bring into sharp relief the historic task of the artists.
This [logical thinking] will help build the necessary atmosphere for a serious attitude that will guide them on to new pastures – and also make us conscious of the magnitude of our task. Such an academy, where eminent specialists can and must be mobilized for teaching, is the order of the day. This one organizational stroke will immensely help in building a Democratic Front. In such academies, we can inculcate Marxist thought in a much more interesting manner than is otherwise possible.
And the, and only then, can we derive the full benefit from the policy of keeping MODELS in practice. We must relentlessly pursue and strive to establish theory as the most important perspective of the Academy; we must strive to demonstrate practice through our group actions and creative achievements. This is the proper relation.
These are very hard tasks; but these are the tasks.
All these, when co-ordinated, weighed, checked, complemented by new thoughts, and constantly kept on the proper level by tireless vigilance, will see the building of a Democratic Front in Collective Arts – the most popular art forms. We have to come to grips with these problems, tackle them and will be solved.
In order to achieve this, we will have to regroup our forces. We have to think in terms of available human materials, and position our cadres in the most effective manner possible. Our Party artists have to organize these tasks and execute them.
There is no such occupation as an Art-organizer; it is a monstrous tautology. No such job exists. The nature of the task indicates that only artists can handle the job. Non-artistic Art-organizer will solve the problems to the exact extent that Eskimo hunting songs will rouse and guide Hottentots to revolutionary action! This is not a mass-organization where problems are of a general nature.
This way of thinking is shallow and a dangerously wrong approach to organization building.
All the tasks here are to be executed by the artists themselves, because Communist artists are the organizers.
We must regroup our forces, find slogans corresponding to the stage of development, put emphasis where it is necessary, allot tasks, and watch. Continually, systematically, thoroughly watch and account and control on all levels; these are the weapons to be used.
From the Party point of view this is the most important job in the Federation. The success of a Democratic Front depends upon this work.
This is a task of FACTIONS at all levels.
Such is the nature of our task concerning a Democratic Front and our hegemony in culture. This is our approach to the People.
For, the artist reaches out to the People, his public, through the platform where he is creatively employed.
Such is the problem of mass contact in our activities.