Dr Rama Manohara Lohia`s birth centenary celebrations last year went without much ado. The reasons are not many though. But for a seminar here or a symposium there Dr Lohia did not hog the head lines what with the media being always preoccupied with only the sensational or as it believes is what the reading public needs. But there are larger issues involved here. As a philosophy or an ideology or as a practising principle, does socialism have anything in sync with the contemporary world?
Revisiting Dr Lohia’s ideas in the back drop of the whole phenomenon called Socialism would plausibly help understand why this concept once so assiduously practised in the larger part of the 20th century and even before has suddenly come a cropper though in some areas of the world like China and in a few Latin American nations such as Uruguay, political governances are still engaged in societal and community participation even as Democracies selectively in quite a few parts of the world have tried to achieve socialism as also in India. But these governances ironically are very eager to dismantling socialist structures by trying to make their nations an integral part of a global world order. And indeed this order knitting and tatting different entities of globe into an amorphous unitary network is the deciding orbit which has been trying to deconstruct socialistic patterns of mundane existence. And our every day exposure to the politics of hegemony shows how we are treated to obliterating plural and multicultural tendencies of life. This in itself is a subtle prevarication of a social dynamics that is antithetical to the vortex of a global myth which tries to conceive and create notions of the world as being primary to a uniform global mystification and mythification.
Still we can dredge out metaphors from socialism and from those who had practised it for a meaningful dialogue in spheres of public discourses and literary and cultural narratives. For, there had always been a negotiated denouement between an endangered social ethos on the one hand and discourses, literary or otherwise trying to retrieve it on the other which provides for determining spaces where an ideology draws upon discursive texts for metaphors and valorises them for a destined purpose even as it transports its own to narratives of literature and culture augmenting a two way phenomenon. Though complementary this would always seem, it had at the same time been beset with dialectical detours which often times had contributed to the twin facets of precept and practice of socialism being seen in contrary positions. Of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’!
Lenin had once remarked, ‘Tolstoy is the mirror of Russian revolution’ there by acknowledging, the practical base of the revolution was being founded on the metaphors of art and culture. So discursive this process had been that socialistic patterns of movements had very richly drawn upon narratives of culture and civilisation. Dostoevsky, Pushkin and a host of literary artists had in one way or another contributed to the revolution of 1917. Not that it was a conscious effort, in fact, little would they have known about a prospective movement which would in the 20th century phenomenally alter patterns of societal existence not just in
Even long after the French revolution, its ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity were constant sources of many a poetic genius like Wordsworth who wouldn’t have been read today just for their poetic idiom, but for disseminating a labyrinth of kaleidoscopic virtues struggled out of the revolution. The social patterns of life eked out of it had a paradigmatic correspondence with poetic discourses that had mapped the terrain of struggles fought thereafter including
During the modernist movement of art and culture, the equations between artefacts and contemporary struggles, more pronouncedly in the 1950’s and onwards, were almost overlapping. It’s at this juncture that discourses of art and culture began to draw texts simultaneously from public spaces to conceptualise an ideological and political base even as they gave those spaces their metaphorical texts to form a paradigm of struggles. Indian freedom movement had inspired generations of writers who with their poems and many other literary and non-literary endeavours had embedded in their texts seeds of the struggle. Tagore was one of the most inspirational who in his Geethanjali had talked with a fervent zeal of the itinerant need to break the shackles of both the mind and body which he thought were fettered to subjugation of just not the outside forces, but of those interior as well.
Though history tells us, violence was the bi-product of many a revolution alongside the resurgent virtues, India’s fight for freedom at least under Gandhi was able to relinquish the violent `episteme` of earlier struggles even as non-violence per se wasn`t an absolute vice for Gandhi either. He would conduct severe tests on himself to free his `self` of the fetters of ego and enmity. In fact he had subordinated his `self’ to the twin operative modes of Truth and Non-violence. Which were the same in any context of time and space. And if different, he would aspire for Truth even withstanding violence. But they were never ever two poles of his political entity. The truth of Non-violence was to fill the public space and the non-violence of Truth, the private domain. His was an endless narrative of both. And again, Gandhi was the sole custodian of the `soul force`, an epithet he himself had phrased and executed. And in which he was able to integrate even in the most difficult of circumstances the metaphors of Truth and Non-violence that he drew copiously from Puranas and from his understanding of public relations.
Gandhi would retrieve disparate images from Ramayan and Mahabharat to assist his `soul force` and search forbearingly for Truth in private and public spaces. Ram was an embodiment of truth and sagacity in whom he chose to conceptualise a benign and benevolent statehood. Seetha, a virtuoso of great character was for Gandhi a self-tolerant `soul force` herself from whom he learnt to persevere. Likewise Lord Krishn`s teachings of the Geetha Gandhi re-told himself umpteen times had much to offer when in great adversity involving a conflict of the soul, mind and body and also during his transactions with the `other`. He felt, his spirits were kept embellished by his going back to myths which propelled the rare contours of an impregnable `soul force`. His discourses were incomplete unless he had consulted those scripts for a better reflection of himself. Those texts had more than obliged him authenticating or legitimising his ‘soul force’. And if they didn’t, Gandhi knew, he was in a quandary. And then he would seek for the ordeals to self-correct.
Gandhi`s revisiting scripts quite often was only to negotiate a better space for his worldly deeds. At the same time, never did he take refuge in those un-prescriptive texts alone for an antidote in political and social spaces. Nor would Gandhi want his socialism to operate sans an adequate rejuvenating and recouping apparatus to lift his sagging morale. ‘Fasting’, he chose to undergo often times was to release himself of an indictment of the stasis born out of his wrong moral adjudication.
He was very pragmatic in his dealings with society and culture. He would shape his economic perspectives on Ruskin’s ‘Unto This Last’. Which told him of the unassailable truth that only the economic or physical thrift would mean moral degradation. In this he differed almost willingly from the Marxian dialectic which held economic uplift as an inevitable footing for moral and social gradation. Like Jesus, he refused to take recourse in and subject his spirit to an all pervading material promiscuity. He could form his socialistic perspectives with an astounding array of narratives drawn from variegated texts out of which he had devised his own, more nuanced and convoluted than the texts he had negotiated with. Though, many a time, the politics of truth had overwhelmed that of the state, resulting in many misconceptions among his followers and critics alike. Such was the polemics of Gandhi’s politics and philosophy that he was able to transmute the hegemonical colonial rule into a self-introspecting and self-governing Indian consciousness that has sustained
When Gandhi was shot at and killed, he invoked Ram, ironically the God his assassin too had held dear to his heart and in that final moment as always Ram belonged to him, and he, to Ram’, but not to the assassin. It was the assassin’s nemesis that Ram could never have belonged anywhere near him.
Gandhi had lived not as much by the drift of precept from practice as by being able to overwhelm it in the consistent struggle to complement the ‘self’ with the ‘other’ and the‘ faith’ with ‘fulfilment’ though at times he manifested in himself an acute wonder at the overriding metaphysics of ‘nature’ above a diligently held narrative of culture! He could delicately balance both never allowing himself to think one ahead of the other.
He would revere equally ardently all other religious texts, Koran and Bible to name only two, to streamline his discursive and socialistic paradigm. He knew, no religion could preach hatred and rancour whatever the provocation and none could ever prescribe divisive tendencies. The kind of oneness he sought from religious texts was of this nature that the contemporary world seems oblivious of! Never feeling enervated of trying to convince his adversaries, Gandhi would ever plead with them that
If we have crisis today in our polity and political maturity, it’s because we have deviated from his all encompassing vision of realising an
But experiments and readjustments with Gandhian model, particularly in the areas of society and polity continued despite Gandhi being reduced to a metaphor in actual life and as much in Art where he had offered himself as a convenient tool for representation in literary and cultural discourses. Gandhian denouement was almost a prescriptive endeavour in films, fiction and theatre as also in many other similarly nuanced narratives where the selective and optional lore of Gandhi was placed vis-à-vis an un-impregnable west, fruits of which by now had ceased to be thorny, but too fleshy and seductive to be cast aside.
Marx had talked of village idiocy which he thought was a hindrance to development rather unwittingly and called all the Asiatic societies ‘idiotic’. Gandhi was benignly opposite and ‘village’ in whatever way it existed was very sacred and a free
Dr. Lohia returned to this concept after Nehru had conclusively upstaged it. Thoroughly read in literature, philosophy and aesthetics, Dr Lohia migrated to the cultural and political spaces these texts had concomitantly offered. He wrote extensively marking these spaces and unmarking those of left over legacy of the British colonialism.
This seeming paradox between private and public spaces in discourses and narratives alike has been in itself an endearing metaphor with writers world over to explore. Gandhi was the lone political figure who by his sole subjective mores could devise metaphors that would address both the noble and what he thought were the ignoble aspects of life on equal footing relinquishing all paradoxical positions. But after Gandhi, the dialectics became more complex. Once the movements had ebbed to oblivion, most of the writers took refuge in the quiet ambience of their texts sans the overriding ‘texts’ of those movements which had shaped their ideological positions. Literary discourses lost the historicity of their texts and histories, their dialogue with texts of literature and culture!
Societal narratives of culture and civilisation started hibernating inside dominant texts of modernity which were so formidable that the new literary and cultural ‘oeuvre’ began to prescribe itself rather peevishly a space to detect the crisis in the individual delineated outside the social orbit. It was the crisis of confidence in being rootless and impoverished, a state nothing less than pathological and a feeling in no way commensurate with the sociological texts of ordinary world. This world was now to be explored.
Kafka, Camus, Sartre and many belonging to this ‘genre’ drew heavily upon man’s pathology and delusion that had begun to set in though many years after the French revolution. Kafka would portray a situation where life was a nightmare and you would be a worm one fine day or be even arrested for whose fault you would never know. Sartre would redefine the individual space locating the existential ‘angst’ in a character whose private self was an affliction and his societal riposte, a malady. For Camus, it was a turmoil plaguing in being an ‘outsider’. Melville and Hemingway in American literature drew the individual farther, relocating him away from the terrestrial in the cosmos of yet another struggle of man against Nature. For all these writers, man was to be discovered in the cocoon of his own formation. The societal ‘text’ didn’t just exist.
The Kannada fictional world had produced very versatile writers who would deliberate upon societal changes before, during and after the colonialist interface. Kuvempu might see hopes of societal transformation in negotiating with changes brought about by colonial dispensation and the delusion of grandeur that followed. For Anantha murthy, the cultural space would always partake of the social and political though in the end, he might locate an ‘angst’ in the person being responsible for societal inaction. A socialist himself, Dr Murthy would draw metaphors from socialist struggles and create archetypes and the socialist movement spearheaded by Dr Lohia and others had drawn very richly upon those archetypes . This, one to one corresponding dynamism in the narratives of socialist struggles could have been only as much pronounced as in any point of recorded history!
Literary and other modes of discourses at the same time did expose inadequacies of socialism too. As in Devanur Mahadeva, again a Kannada writer who reverted to the self sustaining potential in an individual would have societal texts only at the back drop. Or Thejasvi who enriched the non-fictional Kannada space too alongside the fictional, would like to probe into the cosmic metaphysics with wondrous eyes and discourse upon how enigmatic the universe could be!
The aura of socialism had by now declined. As a consequence perhaps of the struggles for social space finding other ways of expression, its artistic representation too became very peripheral. Literary narratives, by way of retrieving the space it had for a long time hegemonised, began to choose self reflective and societally prevaricating tendencies while non-literary discourses had other areas of exploitation for constructing theoretical oeuvres that could or as it was believed they would explain new global phenomena as it were. Colonial metaphors began to be re-written as discursive narratives which also involved feminist issues which were now offering a new ‘genre’ away from the fictional mode. Thus, these new categories of expression replaced sociological texts in a complex labyrinth of contemporary word culture.
Not that there was an absolute moratorium on fictional representation of intrepid responses to truths of macabre injustice done in the out cry for a global order. Vaidhehi, another Kannada writer, unique in the use of cultural idiom peculiar to a regional community of people would continue to explore gender politics of discrimination in a narrative that throws up an indignant socialistic pursuit by itself. Not given to theorising gender issues, she would narrate in a fictional mould tales of women protagonists who are up, though in a humble way, against an exploitative politics of gender bias and humiliating recipe of disaster. But then, such faint voices would vaporise no sooner than they could be heard.
As recently as now Socialism per se has swapped its space and specificity with other discourses. Ecology, environment, farmers’ issues, economic liberalisation and its upbeat fundamentalist agenda and climate change have all replaced the socialistic repartee of expression and representation. Returning to the question placed in the beginning, it would be imperative to mean, the ambit of Socialism in the fast changing world has lost the preponderant position it had once enjoyed. Inadequacies of its agenda as also the internecine and repugnant myths about it permeated by a uniformed global order have failed to influence and inspire the trajectory of narratives which could stridently interrogate the interface achieved between globalisation and public discourses that seem to posit only the global route to progress and development whose societal concerns are only posturing, but not real!
The moot question muted by texts of globalisation still remains. Has societal orbit metamorphosed into a veritable global scape beyond seemingly retrievable resources of narratives that tend to interrogate a liberal global order? The rich becoming richer and the poor, poorer is still as phenomenal as ever. There is an urgent need to revitalise societal texts which in effectual discourse would at least honour the indomitable presence of the very mundane and ordinary anguishing inside the most insidious and powerful global ‘avatars’. Class structures have not withered away nor has the state as Marx had predicted they would. State, on the other hand continues to subvert and snarl, in a macabre practice of myths and falsehood, all the societal and cultural entities, being astigmatic about reviving how to connect in its discourse, class and community, colour and creed and in the Indian context, caste and its cataclysm which are sobriquets of any social existence.
All the palaver about socialism may have ended. Any social prognosis would still be able to authenticate not so much of the waning away of the state as of its colossal bombardment of the individual and societal space. Marx, Lenin, Gandhi, Dr Lohia and many other socialists had that prognosis and socialism, as an idea and practising tool was the sole repertoire of their struggle which the world today is oblivious of. The worlds they had inhabited and the ideas they had preached and practised are still the locus to perceptively differ from global texts of many a discourse in the present time. Socialism stays and it should.