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State, Media, Culture & Other Superstructures

The Struggle for Hegemony

State, Media, Culture & Other


The Struggle for Hegemony

Assistant Professor (Journalism)
Kalindi College, University of Delhi


First Edition: May 2015

ISBN: 978-93-83669-17-2
Publisher: Samagra Publications,
26-A/2, Chandra Vihar, Mandawali, Fazalpur, Delhi - 92
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Cover: Pictures courtesy IPTA, JANAM, Asmita, The Hindu,
PSI India, Prajanatya Mandali,, Sehmat,

I was searching for a material on the base and
superstructure cultural theory of Marxism as a part of literary
criticism and this book is a product of that. I am neither an
expert of culture nor that of Marxism and I do not claim that
the views expressed in the book are my own original views. I
have only collected them for an analysis. I am thankful and
indebted to those journals on whom I have relied for
information and quotations, especially Social Scientist and Naya
Path as well as the books, especially those of Leftword and
Peoples Publishing House. I sincerely thank my father Mr.
Thakur Dass who helped me in my search of material for this
book without which it would have been a very difficult task
for me. I also thank the publisher who has agreed to undertake
the task of publishing the same. I hope the readers will find it
Any suggestions for improvement are most













































ulture is a much complex term. It not only includes the

fine arts such as painting, drawing, music, dance etc., but
also includes literature, drama, media, science and technology,
knowledge, architecture, religion, philosophy, foods and
clothes etc., everything that is valuable and has been achieved
by mankind through ages. All have their origin in the
activities of man and nature, acting on each other. Man by his
activities transformed nature to suit to his needs. His existence
depends on either whatever is available to him in nature or
whatever he has produced by acting on nature. Therefore, the
process through which he produces his livelihood and which
sustains him is basic to him and the rest of the other things are
the results of this process and his relationship to his fellow
men, and are called as superstructures. Relationship of base
and superstructure in Marxist theory has been much discussed
and debated by various writers. Here, we will first discuss
Marxs conception of it, its dimensions in various fields i.e.
philosophy, religion, culture, etc., and move on to Gramsci
and Raymond Williams analysis of it and their new concepts
regarding hegemony and the material conditions determining
the consciousness explaining the things more clearly rather
than the concepts of base and superstructure and the
clarifications of Engels to the questions raised in his time and
will try to understand that the concepts expressed by Gramsci
and Raymond Williams etc., are not new and we find them in
the writings of Marx and Engels but Marxism is not a static
but a living and evolving concept and these writers have not
denied or contradicted what has been laid down by the
founders of Marxism but further elaborated these concepts in
the more developed and modern situations. We will also try to
understand the workings of the hegemony in the field of
culture, media, literature and theatre both by the ruling classes

The Struggle For Hegemony

and the emerging classes and how they have evolved in our
country and what are their effects.

Base and Superstructure

ase, in Marxist theory, means the economic structure

which is essential for an individuals life and society to
exist, for life involves before everything else eating and
drinking, clothing, housing and various other things. The first
act, therefore, is the production of the means to satisfy these
needs, the production of material life itself and men enter into
relations of production and the sum total of all these
constitutes the economic structure of society. Marx explains
this in the following words:
In the social production of their life, men enter into
definite relations that are indispensable and independent of
their will, relations of production which correspond to a
definite stage of development of their material productive
forces. The sum total of these relations of production
constitutes the economic structure of society... (Marx, Preface
And Introduction to a contribution to the Critique of Political
Economy, 1976)
The economic structure is the real foundation on which
arises a legal and political superstructure (Marx, Preface
And Introduction to a contribution to the Critique of Political
Economy, 1976) According to Marx and Engels we should
understand history from the expanding process of production,
starting from the production of life itself, comprehending the
forms of intercourse connected with and created by this mode
of production, i.e., civil society in its various stages. It forms
the basis of all history; gives rise to the state, and all other
superstructures as its products:
theoretical products and forms of consciousness,
religion, philosophy, morality, etc. arise from it, and tracing
the process of their formation from that basis; thus the whole
thing can, of course, be depicted in its totality (and therefore,

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too, the reciprocal action of these various sides on one

another). It has not, like the idealist view of history, to look for
a category in every period, but remains constantly on the real
ground of history; it does not explain practices from the idea
but explains the formation of ideas from material practice.
(Marx-Engels, 1976)

J.V. Stalin
J.V.Stalin in his article Concerning Marxism in
Linguistics explains the base and superstructure relationship
in the following words:
The base is the economic structure of society in at the
given stage of its development. The superstructure is the
political, legal, religious, artistic, philosophical views of
society and the political, legal and other institutions
corresponding to them.
Every base has its own corresponding superstructure.
The base of the feudal system has its superstructure, its
political, legal and other views, and the corresponding
institutions; the capitalist base has its own superstructure, so
has the socialist base. If the base changes or is eliminated,
then, following this, its superstructure changes or is
eliminated; if a new base arises, then, following this, a
superstructure arises corresponding to it. (J.V.Stalin, 1976)
The superstructure is not only the product of the base,
but having come into existence, it also assists the base to shape
and consolidate itself, and to eliminate the old base. It passes
from a position of active defence of its base to adopt an equal
attitude to all classes, and it loses its virtue and ceases to be a
superstructure. Stalin explains this in the following words:
Further, the superstructure is a product of the base, but
this by no means implies that it merely reflects the base, that it
is passive, neutral, indifferent to the fate of its base, to the fate

Base and Superstructure

of the classes, to the character of the system. On the contrary,

having come into being, it becomes an exceedingly active
force, actively assisting its base to take shape and consolidate
itself, and doing its utmost to help the new system finish off
and eliminate the old base and the old classes.
It cannot be otherwise. The superstructure is created by
the base precisely in order to serve it, to actively fight for the
elimination of the old, moribund base together with its old
superstructure. The superstructure has only to renounce this
role of auxiliary, it has only to pass from a position of active
defence of its base to one of indifference towards it, to adopt
an equal attitude to all classes, and it loses its virtue and ceases
to be a superstructure. (J.V.Stalin, 1976)
The superstructure is the product of one epoch and is
short-lived. Stalin states:
the superstructure is the product of one epoch, the
epoch in which the given economic base exists and operates.
The superstructure is therefore short-lived; it is eliminated and
disappears with the elimination and disappearance of the
given base. (J.V.Stalin, 1976)
The superstructure is only indirectly connected with
production through the economy, through the base. Therefore,
it reflects the changes in the level of development of
productive forces not immediately and not directly, but only
after changes in the base. Stalin states:
The superstructure is not directly connected with
production, with mans productive activity. It is connected
with production only indirectly, through the economy,
through the base. The superstructure therefore reflects
changes in the level of development of the productive forces
not immediately and not directly, but only after changes in the
base, through the prism of the changes wrought in the base by

The Struggle For Hegemony

the changes in production. This means that the sphere of

action of the superstructure is narrow and restricted.

After the conditions of 1917-1921 in which the Russian
revolution had materialized were over, revolutions in the west
had failed or the capitalism had managed to survive the
economic crisis and stabilised itself. Gramsci was gripped with
this question. Marxists had a general understanding of the
inevitability of the crisis of capitalism and revolutionary
political transformation but lacked a concrete and detailed
analysis of the conditions. There was no adequate Marxist
theory of the state or of what Gramsci called the sphere of the
complex superstructures: political, legal, cultural. (Gramsci,
The Gramsci Reader Selected Writings 1916-1935, 2000) He
went on to have such an analysis and for that he studied the
Theses on Feuerbach and Marx and Engels historical classics
(The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, The Civil War in
France, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany). He also
studied Italian idealist philosopher Bendetto Croce for his
insight into the ethico-political sphere; the ideological, moral
and cultural elements which bond the society together. He
went back to the passage on structure (base) and
superstructure in Marxs 1859 Preface to a Contribution to the
Critique of Political Economy and read it in a strongly antieconomist way. He finds that the passage says that changing
socio-economic circumstances do not themselves produce
political changes. They only set the conditions in which such
changes can take place. What is crucial, in bringing about
these changes, are the relations of forces obtaining at the
political level, the degree of political organization and
combatively of the opposing forces, the strength of the
political alliances which they manage to bind together and
their level of political consciousness, of preparation of the
struggle on the ideological terrain. (Gramsci, The Gramsci
Reader Selected Writings 1916-1935, 2000)

Base and Superstructure

In Gramscis view every fluctuation of politics and

ideology should not be understood as an immediate
expression of the structure. That would be primitive
infantilism. An analysis of The Eighteenth Brumaire, the
writings on the eastern question, and other writings
(Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany, The Civil War in
France etc.) allows one better to establish the Marxist
methodology. Here one would see precautions exercised by
Marx which could have no place in his general works. Here
are a few examples:
There is the difficulty in identifying at
any given time statically (like an instantaneous
photographic image) the structure. Politics in fact is at
any given time the reflection of the tendencies of
development in structure, but it is not necessarily the
case that these tendencies must be realized. A
structural phase can be concretely studied and
analyzed only after it has gone through its whole
process of development, and not during the process
itself, except hypothetically and with the explicit
proviso that one is dealing with hypotheses.
(Gramsci, The Gramsci Reader Selected Writings 19161935, 2000)
The ruling class leaders might have
committed some errors in a political act which the
historic development through Parliamentary and
governmental crisis then corrects and goes beyond.
It should be kept in mind that many
political acts are due to the necessities of keeping the
organization together.
In the part two of Structure and Superstructure on page
192 of Gramsci Reader we find that the preposition contained
in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political
Economy that men acquire consciousness of structural conflicts
on the level of ideologies should be considered as affirmation

The Struggle For Hegemony

of epistemological and not simply psychological and moral

value. It means that the theoretical-practical principle of
hegemony has also epistemological significance. It is here
that Lenins greatest contribution to the philosophy of praxis
lies. Lenin advanced philosophy as philosophy in so far as he
advanced political doctrine and practice. The realization of a
hegemonic apparatus, in so far as it creates a new ideological
terrain, determines a reform of consciousness and method of
knowledge: it is a fact of knowledge, a philosophical fact.
In part 3 of Structure and Superstructure on page 192193 of Gramsci Reader Gramsci states:
Structures and Superstructures form a historic bloc.
That is to say the complex, contradictory and discordant
ensemble of the superstructures is the reflection of the
ensemble of the social relations of production. From this, one
can conclude: that only a totalitarian system of ideologies
gives a rational reflection of the contradiction of the structure
and represents the existence of the objective conditions for the
revolutionizing of praxis. If a social group is formed which is
one hundred per cent homogeneous on the level of ideology,
this means that the premises exist one hundred per cent for
this revolutionizing: that is that the rational is actively and
actually real. This reasoning is based on the necessary
reciprocity between structure and superstructures, a
reciprocity which is nothing other than the real dialectical
On page 193 of Gramsci Reader in part 4 The Concept of
Historical Bloc Gramsci criticizes Croce for his views that the
philosophy of praxis detaches the structure from
superstructures. In Gramscis opinion the philosophy of praxis
conceives their development as intimately connected and
necessarily interrelated and reciprocal. And he goes on to ask
the question: Does not the statement in the Theses on
Feuerbach about the educator who must be educated posit a

Base and Superstructure

necessary relation of active reaction by man upon the

structure, affirming the unity of the process of reality?

Althusser insists on the revolutionary character of the Marxist
conception of the social whole which is distinct from the
Hegelian totality. He says Marx conceived the structure of
every society as constituted by levels or instances
articulated by a specific determination: the infrastructure, or
economic base (the unity of the productive forces and the
relations of production) and the superstructure, which itself
contains two levels or instances: the politico-legal (law and
the state) and ideology (the different ideologies, religious,
ethical, legal, political). According to him in Marxist tradition
there are two determining points: (1) the relative autonomy of
superstructure; (2) the reciprocal action of superstructure on

Engels Clarification
For later Marxists, including Gramsci, superstructure as well
has come to be no less importance. In The Preface to the
Communist Manifesto Engels summarizing the content says:
economic production and the structure of society of every
historical epoch necessarily arising there from constitute the
foundation for the political and intellectual history of that
epoch (Engels, Marx- Engels: Selected Letters, 1977)
Such laying more stress on the economic side than is due to it,
as above, led to some misconceptions among the younger
Marxists. Engels clarifies the position in the following words:
Marx and I are ourselves partly to blame for the fact that
younger people sometimes lay more stress on the economic
side than is due to it. We had to emphasize the main principle,


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vis--vis our adversaries, who denied it, and we had not

always the time, the place or opportunity to give their due to
other factors involved in the interaction. (Engels, MarxEngels: Selected Letters, 1977)
In the same letter he explains the relation of the superstructure
to the base in the following words:
The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements
of the superstructure political forms of the class struggle and
its results, such as constitutions established by the victorious
class after a successful battle, etc, juridical forms, and
especially the reflections of all these real struggles in the brains
of the participants, political, legal, philosophical theories,
religious views and their further development into systems of
dogmas also exercise their influence upon the course of the
historical struggles and in many cases determine their form in
particular. There is an interaction of all these elements in
which, amid all the endless host of accidents (that is, of things
and events whose inner interconnection is remote or so
impossible of proof that we can regard it as non-existent and
neglect it), the economic movement is finally bound to assert
itself. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of
history would be easier than the solution of a simple equation
of the first degree.
Further, in his letter to W. Borgius, on January 25, 1894, Engels
Political, legal, philosophical, religious, literary, artistic, etc.
development is based on economic development. But all these
react upon one another and also upon the economic basis. One
must think that the economic situation is cause, and solely

Base and Superstructure


active, whereas everything else is only passive effect. On the

contrary, interaction takes place on the basis of economic
necessity, which ultimately always asserts itself. The state, for
instance, exercises an influence by protective tariffs, free trade,
good or bad fiscal system; and even the extreme debility and
impotence of the German philistine, arising from the wretched
economic condition of Germany from 1648 to 1830 and
expressing themselves at first in pietism, then in
sentimentality and cringing servility to princes and nobles,
were not without economic effect. That was one of the greatest
obstacles to recovery and was not shaken until the
revolutionary and Nepoleonic wars made the chronic misery
an acute one. The economic situation therefore does not
produce an automatic effect as people try here and there
conveniently to imagine, but men make their history
themselves, they do so however in a given environment,
which conditions them, and on the basis of actual, already
existing relations, among which the economic relations
however much they may be influenced by other, political and
ideological, relations are still ultimately the decisive ones,
forming the keynote which alone leads to understanding.


n the primitive stage there was no state; only rudimentary

forms of collective social life such as gram sabhas, tribal
panchayats, etc, were there. There were no kings and other
instruments of oppression. Under slavery state has emerged as
an instrument to suppress the slaves. According to Engels
state is a product of society at a certain stage of development;
it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an
insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into
irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel. But
in order that these antagonisms, classes with conflicting
economic interests, might not consume themselves and society
in fruitless struggle, it became necessary to have a power,
seemingly standing above society, that would alleviate the
conflict and keep it within the bounds of order, and this
power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it, and
alienating itself more and more from it, is the state. (The
Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Pp. 17778, sixth edition)
State has two distinguishing features: firstly, it divides
its subjects according to territories; and secondly, a public
power is established. Public power consists not merely of
armed men but also of material adjuncts, prisons and
institutions of coercion of all kinds. In order to maintain this
public power taxes become necessary. Officials are
empowered by laws to collect taxes. State of dominant classes
holds down the oppressed classes. Engels states:
the state of antiquity was above all the state of the
slave owners for the purpose of holding down the slaves, as
the feudal state was the organ of the nobility for holding down
the peasant serfs and bondsmen, and the modern
representative state is an instrument of exploitation of wage
labour by capital. (Engels F. , 2009)



But by way of exception there are periods in which the

warring classes hold each other in balance and the state
acquires a certain degree of independence. In the German
Empire of Bismarck capitalists and workers are balanced
against each other. Engels further states:
We are now rapidly approaching a stage in the
development of production at which the existence of these
classes not only will have ceased to be a necessity, but will
become a positive hindrance to production. They will fall as
inevitably as they arose at an earlier stage. Along with them
the state will inevitably fall. (Engels F. , 2009)
According to Althusser state has two kinds of
Ideological apparatuses, like religion,
education, family, parties, mass media, culture,
philosophy etc., which are in the private domain.
Dominating or coercive apparatuses,
like government, army, police, law, judiciary, prisons,

Gramscis Views on State from His Prison Notebooks

Gramsci thinks there is confusion between a class state
and a regulated society. A class state cannot be a regulated
society. It is peculiar to middle classes and petty intellectuals.
They would be glad to have any regulation that would
prevent sharp struggles and upheavals. The most reasonable
thing about the ethical, cultural state is that it should raise the
cultural and moral level of the great mass of the people
corresponding to the needs of the ruling classes. The school as
positive educative function and court as repressive and
negative function are the most important state activities. A
multiple of private initiatives and activities tend to the same
end. They form the apparatus of the political and cultural
hegemony of the ruling classes. If development of bourgeoisie


The Struggle For Hegemony

could be limitless so that its ethicity or universality could be

asserted, all mankind would be bourgeois. But it is a reality
that the group which poses the end of the state and its own
end as the target can create an ethical state.
The bourgeoisie class had brought revolution into the
conception of law and hence into the function of the state. This
specially consists in the will to conform (hence ethicity of the
law and of the state). The previous ruling classes did not
construct an organic passage into their own to enlarge their
class sphere technically and ideologically: their conception
was that of a closed caste. The bourgeois class poses itself as
an organism in continuous movement, capable of absorbing
the entire society, assimilating it to its own cultural and
economic level. The entire function of the State has been
transformed; the State has become an educator, etc. (p.529)
How this process comes to a halt, and the conception of the
State as pure force is returned to? The bourgeois class is
saturated: it not only does not expandit starts to
disintegrate; it not only does not assimilate new elements, it
loses part of itself (or at least its losses are enormously more
numerous than its assimilations). A class claiming to be
capable of assimilating the whole of society, and which was at
the same time really able to express such a process, would
perfect this conception of the State and of law, so as to
conceive the end of the State and of lawrendered useless
since they will have exhausted their function and will have
been absorbed by civil society. [1931-32]
Halevy thinks state is the representative apparatus and
discovers that most important events of French history from
1870 until the present day have not been due to initiatives by
political organisms deriving from universal suffrage, but to
those either of private organisms (capitalist firms, General
Staffs, etc.) or of great civil servants unknown to the country at
large, etc. But what does that signify if not that by State
should be understood not only the apparatus of government,



but also the private apparatus of hegemony or civil

society? It should be noted how from this critique of the State
which does not intervene, which trails behind events, etc.,
there is born the dictatorial ideological current of the Right,
with its reinforcement of the executive, etc. (p. 530 )
Curzio Malaparte seems to assert the equivalence of the
formula: Everything within the state, nothing outside the
state, nothing against the state. His proposition is that
where there is freedom, there is no state. In his proposition
freedom cannot be taken in the ordinary meaning of political
freedom, freedom of press, etc. but as counterpoised to
necessity. It is related to Engels proposition on the passage
from the rule of necessity to the rule of freedom. Gramsci
thinks Malaparte did not have the faintest whiff of the
significance of the proposition.
In the polemics on the functions of the state state as a
policeman means its functions are limited to the safeguarding
public order and of respect for law. The fact is glossed over
that in this form of regime (which has never existed except on
paper) hegemony over its historical development belongs to
private forces, to civil society which is state too, indeed is
state itself.
The opposite of the state as policeman should be
ethical state or interventionist state. The concept of ethical
state is of philosophical and intellectual origin. It refers to the
autonomous, educative and moral activity of the secular state.
The concept of Interventionist State is of economic origin,
and is connected on the one hand with tendencies supporting
protection and economic nationalism, and on the other with
the attempt to force a particular State personnel, of
landowning and feudal origin, to take on the protection of
the working classes against the excesses of capitalism (policy
of Bismarck and of Disraeli). (p.531)


The Struggle For Hegemony

These diverse tendencies combine in various ways.

Naturally liberals (economists) are for the
state as
policeman, and leave the historical initiative to civil society
and the various forces which spring up therewithin the
state as guardian of fair play and of the rule of the game.
Intellectuals draw very significant distinctions as to when they
are liberals and when they are interventionists (they may be
liberals in the economic field and interventionists in the
cultural field, etc).
We tend to identify state and government as a
representation of the economic-corporate form. In other words
there is confusion between civil society and political society.
For general notion state includes elements which need to be
referred back to the notion of civil society (in the sense that
one might say that state = political society + civil society, in
other words hegemony protected by the armour of coercion).
It is possible to imagine the coercive element of the State
withering away by degrees, as ever-more conspicuous
elements of regulated society (or ethical State or civil society)
make their appearance. (p.532)
If it is true that no type of State can avoid passing through
a phase of economic-corporate primitivism, it may be deduced
that the content of the political hegemony of the new social
group which has founded the new type of State must be
predominantly of an economic order: what is involved is the
reorganisation of the structure and the real relations between
men on the one hand and the world of the economy or of
production on the other. The superstructural elements will
inevitably be few in number, and have a character of foresight
and of struggle, but as yet few planned elements. Cultural
policy will above all be negative, a critique of the past; it will be
aimed at erasing from the memory and at destroying. The lines
of construction will as yet be broad lines, sketches, which
might (and should) be changed at all times, so as to be
consistent with the new structure as it is formed. This precisely



did not happen in the period of the mediaeval communes; for

culture, which remained a function of the Church, was precisely
anti-economic in character (i.e. against the nascent capitalist
economy); it was not directed towards giving hegemony to the
new class, but rather to preventing the latter from acquiring it.
Hence Humanism and the Renaissance were reactionary,
because they signalled the defeat of the new class, the negation
of the economic world which was proper to it, etc. (p. 534).
Conditions in a State before and after a war: it is obvious
that, in an alliance, what counts are the conditions in which a
State finds itself at the moment of peace. Therefore it may
happen that whoever has exercised hegemony during the war
ends up by losing it as a result of the enfeeblement suffered in
the course of the struggle, and is forced to see a subordinate
who has been more skilful or luckier become hegemonic. This
occurs in world wars when the geographic situation compels
a State to throw all its resources into the crucible: it wins
through its alliances, but victory finds it prostrate, etc. This is
why in the concept of great power it is necessary to take
many elements into account, and especially those which are
permanenti.e. especially economic and financial potential
and population.

D.D. Kosambi on the Magadhan State

Prabhat Patnaik in his article Kosambi and the Frontiers
of Historical Materialism published in the book The many
careers of D.D.Kosambi, Critical Essays, edited by D.N. Jha,
Leftword, 2011 writes about the description of the Magadhan
State by D.D.Kosambi who says that the Magadhan State did
not come into existence from the ascending ruling classes but
the king and his subordinate functionaries constituted the
ruling class: The Arthashastra state, he writes, was not
characteristic of a society in which some new class had already
come into possession of real power before taking over the state


The Struggle For Hegemony

mechanism. It was of course a class state, but not of a

separately formed and independently existing ruling class; it
was a State in which the king and his subordinate State functionaries
themselves could be said to have constituted the ruling class. It was
not a prior class with pretensions to rule that brought about the
Magadhan State, but the State itself that ipso facto defined the
ruling class. State extended agriculture through clearing of
forests, had control over the mineral resources, especially iron
which was used to clear the forests. It extracted huge surplus
from the producers settled on crown lands which was used to
maintain a large army. In Kosambis own words:
Kautalyan state appears so fantastic today because it was the
main land clearing agency, by far the greatest landowner, the
principal owner of heavy industry, and even the greatest
producer of commodities. The ruling class was, if not created
virtually by and for the state, at least greatly augmented as
part of the administration: the higher and lower bureaucracies,
the enormous standing army of half a million men (by 300 BC)
with its officers of all castes and diverse origins; as important
as either, a second but hidden army of spies and secret agentsthese were the main supports of the new state. (Kosambi,


eligion appears far more detached from and independent

of the mode of production or the base, but on a deeper
observation we find it based on actual life, the living material
conditions. At a certain stage of development the chiefs and
the priests withdrew from manual labour forcing the
producers to surrender their surplus product in the form of
tribute. For a long time it was regarded as a contribution to the
common store. The chiefs and priests were the custodians of
these stores. The labourer not only surrendered his produce
but also his productive activity which constituted his essential
humanity. It reached its extreme point in slavery. A slave
alienates not only his labour but also his body. Both belong to
others. As a subject the slave confronts this objective reality
and expresses himself by denying the object and invents the
soul as an illusory antithesis of body. Human nature divides
against itself, one part being mortal and the other divine. The
soul is the ruler and master which is temporarily enslaved to
the body and in the life to come will be set free. Such an
inversion of reality lies at the root of religion:
Man is the world of man, the state and society. This
state, this society, produces religion, a reversed world
consciousness, because they are a reversed world. Religion is
the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic
compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritualistic, point
dhonneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn
completion, its universal ground for consolation and
justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human
essence; because the human essence has no true
reality.Religious distress is at the same time the expression
of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is
the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless
world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the
opium of the people.(Marx and Engels on Religion)


The Struggle For Hegemony

Marx and Engels further state: one passes from the

realm of God to the realm of Man (Ludwig Feurbach) as if
this realm of God had ever existed anywhere save in the
imagination, and the learned gentlemen, without being aware
of it were not constantly living in the realm of Man to which
they are now seeking the way; and as if the learned pastime
(for it is nothing more of explaining the mystery of this
theoretical bubble-blowing did not on the contrary lie in
demonstrating its origin in actual earthly relations. For these
Germans, it is simply a matter of resolving the readymade
nonsense they find into some other freak, i.e. of presupposing
that all this nonsense has a special sense which can be
discovered; while really it is only a question of explaining
these theoretical phrases from the actually existing relations.
The real, practical dissolution of these phrases, the removal of
these notions from the consciousness of men, will, as we have
already said, be affected by altered circumstances, not by
Theoretical deductions. For the mass of men, i.e., the
proletariat, these theoretical notions do not exist and hence do
not require to be dissolved, and if this mass ever had any
theoretical notions, e.g., religion, these have now long been
dissolved by circumstances. (Marx-Engels, 1976)
The Marxists have been denounced as being anti religious and many in the communist parties keep themselves
away from all religious functions which form much of the
cultural activities of a large majority of people and thus keep
away from the people themselves. I am not saying that they
should succumb to allying with any religious cult. They
should understand the religion and religious cultural activities
in their true context and try to correct the understanding of
people by being their part and by helping them to find their
solutions in their actual life activities. They should understand
that the origin of religion lies in the misery of people and
unable to understand the real causes they seek solution to
their plight in their belief in God and religion. That is why
Marx has called religion as the opium of people. The function



of opium is to provide temporary relief from pain due to some

kind of disease or ailing but opium cannot be a substitute of
medicine and Marxists are the people that have to provide that
medicine to people.
Marx and Engel did not have much time to analyze the
development of many religions but Engels in a piece on
history of early Christianity traces the development of two
major religions Christianity and Islam. He says:
The history of early Christianity has notable points of
resemblance with the modern working- class movement. Like
the later, Christianity was originally a movement of oppressed
people. It first appeared as the religion of slaves and
emancipated slaves, of poor people deprived of all rights, of
peoples subjugated or dispersed by Rome. Both Christianity
and workers socialism preach forthcoming salvation from
bondage and misery.He further adds:
Christianity places salvation in a life beyond, after
death, in heaven; socialism places it in this world, in a
transformation of society. Both are persecuted and baited,
their adherents are despised and the objects of exclusive laws,
the former as enemies of the human race, the latter as the
enemies of state, enemies of religion, the family, social order.
And in spite of all persecution, nay, even spurred on by it,
they forge victoriously, irresistibly ahead. Three hundred
years after its appearance, Christianity was the recognized
state religion in the Roman World Empire, and in barely 60
years socialism has won itself a position which makes its
victory absolutely certain.
He comments on Islam in a footnote:
A peculiar anti-thesis to this was the religious rising in
the Mohammedan world, particularly in Africa. Islam is a
religion adapted to Orientals, especially Arabs, that is, on the
one hand to townsmen engaged in trade and industries, on the


The Struggle For Hegemony

other to nomadic Bedouins. Therein lies, however, the embryo

of a periodically recurring collision. The townspeople grow
rich, luxurious and lax in observation of the law. The
Bedouins, poor and hence of strict morals, contemplate with
envy and covetousness these riches and pleasures. Then they
unite under a prophet. (Namboodiripad E.M.S , 2010)
Therefore, it should be understood that the struggle of people
is to gain salvation from their miseries. The only difference
being is that religion promises salvation in heaven while
Marxism struggles to obtain it in this life itself. The problem
for the Marxists is to take the religious people on board and
bring them into the common struggle for their emancipation.
For this they have to remain committed to their aim even more
determinedly than the priests themselves. They need not keep
themselves away from people performing religious functions,
by doing so they isolate themselves from people, but at the
same time they should not themselves perform those religious
functions and should place their alternatives before people as

Philosophical Superstructure

aterialistic philosophy according to Marx and Engels is

based on real life process, setting out from real, active
men and not as men say, imagine, or conceive:
In direct contrast to German philosophy which
descends from heaven to earth, here it is a matter of ascending
from earth to heaven. That is to say, not of setting out from
what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated,
thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in
the flesh; but setting out from real, active men, and on the
basis of their real life-process demonstrating the development
of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process. The
phantoms formed in the brains of men are also, necessarily,
sublimates of their material life-process, which is empirically
verifiable and bound to material premises. Morality, religion,
metaphysics, and all the rest of ideology as well as the forms
of consciousness corresponding to these, thus no longer retain
the semblance of independence. They have no history, no
development: but men developing their material production
and their actual world, also their thinking and the products of
their thinking. It is not consciousness that determines life, but
life that determines consciousness. (Marx-Engels, 1976)
In contrast to religious belief or faith, which refrains
from all questioning or doubts, philosophy finds them to be
their mainstay. There can be contrary views and philosophies
arising from different perceptions, like idealistic or
materialistic concepts. According to Marx the ideal world is
only a reflection of the real world: In Hegel, the life-process
of the human brain, that is, the process of thinking, which,
under the name of the Idea, he even transforms into an
independent subject, is the demiurge of the real world, and the
real world is only the external phenomenal form of the Idea,.
With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the


The Struggle For Hegemony

material world reflected by the human brain and transformed

into forms of thought. (Capital, Vol. I) For example, Hegel is
a dialectical idealist while Marx is a dialectical materialist. All
philosophy springs from lifes experience. Philosophy, like
politics, culture and literature, also acts on the base and tends
to change it. In Marxs words: philosophers have so far
merely interpreted this world but the point is to change it.
(Marx-Engels, 1976) In the field of philosophy, culture and
literature we see them acting on the base in order to retain it,
or change it and even to ultimately overthrow it that is why
some writers bear the brunt of the ire of the ruling
establishment, while some, who are with the establishment,
get rewarded.
Engels in his Dialectics of Nature, pp 238-9, Moscow, 1954,
traces the rise of idealistic outlook in the following words:
From tribes there developed nations and states. Law
and politics arose and with them the fantastic reflection of
human things in the human mind: religion. In the face of all
these creations, which appeared in the first place to be
products of the mind, and which seemed to dominate human
societies, the more modest productions of the working hand
retreated into the background, the more so since the mind that
planned the labour process already at a very early stage of the
development of society, was able to have this planned labour
carried out by other hands than its own. All merit for the swift
advance of civilization was ascribed to the mind, to the
development and activity of the brain. Men became
accustomed to explain their actions from their thoughts,
instead of from their needsand so there arose in the course
of time that idealistic outlook on the world which, especially
since the downfall of the ancient world, has dominated mens
Lenin concluding his masterpiece Materialism and
Empirio-criticism on philosophy elaborates the class role of
philosophical idealism: behind the epistemological

Philosophical Structure


scholasticism of empirio-criticism one must not fail to see the

struggle of parties in philosophy, a struggle which in the last
analysis reflects the tendencies and ideology of the
antagonistic classes in modern society. Recent philosophy is as
partisan as was philosophy two thousand years ago. The
contending parties are essentially materialism and idealism.
The latter is merely a subtle, refined form of fideism, which
stands fully armed, commands vast organizations and steadily
continues to exercise influence on the masses, turning the
slightest vacillation in philosophical thought to its own
Explaining Lenins views on this matter Debiprasad
Chattopadhyaya says:
Idealism, in its latest and highly disguised form in
which Lenin knows it, is empirio-criticism. Notwithstanding
all that is supposed to be so new about it, as idealism, it plays
the same objective class role as is played by idealism
throughout history. And that is rendering faithful service to
the fideists.
What does Lenin mean by all this?
Fideism is the cult of faith. Fideists are those that deny
knowledge in order to make room for faith. This, as Lenin
says, is the main tendency and the social function of
philosophical idealism.
But what has faith to do with society? From Lenins
point of view, the answer is quite clear. Among the
instruments needed to maintain a society based on class
antagonism and class exploitation, faith is always a highly
effective one. The exterior of this faith may change from time
to time and place to place. But whatever form it may assume
in different places and in different periods of history, one
thing about it remains the same. It is the assumption that
things are as they are because of factors other than the


The Struggle For Hegemony

palpably worldly ones. Instead of being the real features of the

real material world the world in which men actually live
and which is normally known and brought under progressive
human controlsuch factors are supposed to be beyond the
scope of possible human interference. The importance of such
an assumption for maintenance of class society is obvious. The
slave remains best reconciled to slavery and the serf to
serfdom in so far as they are made to submit to it. The
submission to such an assumption makes it impossibleand
even impiousto change the existing state of affairs, inclusive,
of course, of social iniquity and social injustice. Social iniquity
is therefore to be simply overlooked and not opposed. That is
the way of trying to make people accept it or take it for
granted. In various ways philosophical idealism renders
faithful service to such faith. And in this Lenin wants us to see
its objective class role. (Chattopadhyaya, What is Living and
What is Dead in Indian Philosophy, 1977)
In ancient India the division of society into the
oppressing and the oppressed sections involved the division
of intellectual and physical labour which led to the rise of
idealistic and materialistic trends in philosophy. Debiprasad
Chattopadhyaya states:
The philosophical view which arose to condemn and
reject life could only have been the result of the philosophical
pursuit turning away from life itself. As with the development
of slavery in ancient Greece, so also in the Upanishadic India,
the lofty contempt for the material world with its ever-shifting
phenomena was the result of the philosophical enquiry taking
free flight into the realm of pure reason, or pure knowledge
only when a section of the community, living on the surplus
produced by another, withdrew itself from the responsibilities
of direct manual labour, and therefore, from reality of the
material world, for the process of labour alone can exercise a
sense of objective coercion on conscious theory. Theory, in
other words, was divorced from practice and became pure

Philosophical Structure


theory, the things thought of became mere ideas and thus the
knower, the subject, sought to emancipate itself from the
inhibitions of the known or the object, and a look at the latter
as but products of ignorance or avidya. (Chattopadhyaya,
Indian Philosophy: A Popular Introduction, 1986)
The struggle between the two schools of philosophy was
so bitter and prolonged that the outcome was decided by what
Chattopadhyaya calls politics:
The spokesmen of Indian politics were above all our
law-givers whose writings are generally called the
Dharmasastra. What these lawmakers were basically concerned
with was of course the safety of a social structure which they
considered as the ideal one. Such a social structure generally
goes by the name Varnasrama, by which is meant a society in
which the conduct of everybody must be regulated by the
caste in which he or she is born as also by the stage of life
reached by everyone. Concretely however, it stood for the
norm of a society in which a minority of the population
consisting of nobles, priests and traderswere entitled to all
material privileges, though in varying degrees. The rest of the
people which could only mean the direct producers whose
surplus products alone could create the material benefits for
the dwijas, was dumped under the general category called
Sudras. And the lawmakers insisted that these direct producers
were entitled to have nothing more than was essential to keep
themselves alive. Their only duty was to serve the upper strata
of society, because the creator himself brought them into being
exclusively for this specific purpose. (Chattopadhyaya, In
Defence of Materialism in Ancient India, 1989)
This has serious implications for our country as Marx
The paramount power of the Moguls was broken by the
Mogul Viceroys. The power of the Viceroys was broken by the
Mahrattas. The power of the Mahrattas was broken by the


The Struggle For Hegemony

Afghans, and while all were struggling against all, the Briton
rushed in and was enabled to subdue all.
And this happened to a country which to quote Marx
again, has been the source of our (Europeans) languages, our
religion, the question arises why did our country with
brilliant antiquity fall to the degradation of pre British days?
The answer in the words of E.M.S. Namboodiripad lies in that
the defeat of the oppressed caste at the hands of the
Brahminic overlordship, of
materialism by idealism,
constituted the beginning of the fall of Indias civilization and
culture which in the end led to the loss of national
independence.(History, Society and Land Relations, Selected
Essays, Left Word, pp.39-40) Further, on page 40 of the same
he states, In Indiathe battle of the two philosophical
schools ended in the defeat of one (the materialists) and the
domination of the other. This battle, however, was an unequal
one, the full force of the socio-political establishment (the
regime of caste domination) being made use of in favour of the
idealist and against the materialist school. The victor and the
vanquished in our country were not two philosophies in the
abstract but two social classesthe dominant and oppressed
castesusing the two philosophies as weapons in their
arsenals. The victory of Shankara and his philosophy therefore
was the victory of the Brahmin and other dominant castes, the
defeat of the rest of Indian society. On page 41-42 he
concludes, the defeat of the materialists in this unequal battle
was the beginning of a millennium-long age of intellectual and
socio-political backwardness which culminated in the
establishment of British rule in our land. Here I am giving a
few verses from Shankaras Charpata Panjari and Dvadsha
Panjari which were written by him to popularize his views and
which have been translated and published by S. G. Sardesai in
his book Progress and Conservatism in Ancient India (Sardesai,
Day and night, morning and evening,

Philosophical Structure
Winter and spring time and go,
Thus time play with life,
Thus does life ebb away;
And yet you cling on the fragile thread of hope,
Oh foolish one, Oh deluded one,
Pray to Govind, pray to Govind;
When the hour of death arrives,
Nothing is going to save you.
While a man supports his family,
What loving care they bestow on him,
But his aged body is worn out,
Who cares for him? Not even his nearest kin,
(Repeat) Oh foolish one, Oh deluded one, etc.
Feeble has grown the old mans body,
Toothless his mouth and bald his head,
He limps on crutches,
And yet clings to fruitless hope;
(Repeat) Oh foolish one, Oh deluded one, etc.
When a child, you are lost in play,
When young in your beloveds arms,
When old, you brood on your sorrows,
And yet you do not remember the Para-Brahma,
(Repeat) Oh foolish one, Oh deluded one, etc.
Birth and death, lying in the mothers womb;
Endless the cycle goes on;
Hard to cross is the ocean of life (Samsara);
(Repeat) Oh foolish one, Oh deluded one, etc.
Who are you and who am I?
Whence have we come? Whither do we go?
Who is your mother? Who, your father?



The Struggle For Hegemony

Ponder over this and realize
All are phantoms and have no substance,
Give up the world as an empty dream,
(Repeat) Oh foolish one, Oh deluded one, etc.
Who is your wife? Who, your son?
Strange, indeed, is this mortal world;
Who is your own? To whom do you belong?
(Repeat Oh foolish one, Oh deluded one, etc.
Boast not of your youth, or friends, or wealth;
Swifter than eyes can wink, by Time
Each is stolen away,
Abjure the Maya of the world,
And join yourself to timeless Truth,
(Repeat) Oh foolish one, Oh deluded one, etc.

This conclusively proves that philosophies have

powerful impact on society and they can take us backward.
They become so powerful that they hold their sway for ages
and oppressing classes are the beneficiaries of it. In India caste
system has been built on an exploitative economic structure
which has endured though endogamous marriages. Though
caste as an economic structure is breaking down its ideology is
sought to be utilized for political purposes. Thus, the ruling
classes have a stake in them. The oppressed castes are pure old
working classes and have to be liberated from the stranglehold
of those who use them as a tool for their political purposes.
They have to be brought into the mainstream struggles against
all forms of exploitation and oppression and their dignity
restored. Here, the important thing to be noted is that the caste
ideology as a superstructure has endured through the ages
while in Stalins opinion superstructures are short-lived.

Political Superstructure

ramsci tells us that in Hegels doctrine, which he derives

from French Revolution, political parties and associations
serve in constitutionalism-- the government with consent of
people as it is exorcised in elections is organized and is not
generic to it. State has and request consent. It educates this
consent through political associations. They are left to the
initiatives of ruling classes. Hegel theorized parliamentary
state with political organisations. But it was vague and
limited. It offered a corporative kind of organizationpolitics
grafted directly on to the economy. Marxs experience was
superior to that of Hegel in this regard. His concept of
organization has the following elements: craft organization,
Jacobin clubs, secret conspiracies by small groups and
journalistic organizations. French revolution offered two
prominent types. Clubs were loose organizations of popular
assembly type, centralized around individual figures. Each
had its own news paper by which they kept their followers
informed. The secret conspiracies which had spread in Italy
prior to 1848 might have developed in France after Thermidor
among the second rank followers of Jacobinism. In Nepoleonic
period police was very vigilant but from 1815 to 1830 under
the restoration of the popular political camp was to occur. In
the glorious days of 1830 these political formations came to the
surface. Until 1848 this process of differentiation became
Political superstructure, I think, is the most important
aspect of it, as it leads to the formation of parties representing
diverse interests of the contending social groups of people.
The relations of production divide the society into different
social group having different and conflicting interests giving
rise to different political groups. Through these political
groups ruling classes come to power by taking consent of the


The Struggle For Hegemony

people; and the opposition parties fight against the ruling

establishment. Both act as agents of change.
India was plundered by the British for two centuries. It
was made the source of producing raw material to the
industries in Britain. It was tied to the oldest modes of
production for too long a period running for centuries. It
became an appendage to the British to produce the primary
goods and raw materials and the society based on such a
production process was tied to the feudal and tribal relations.
People were grounded under the oppressive Zamindari system
of revenue collection and caste professions continued for
centuries tying the society and the people to the oppressive
and discriminatory system. The rulers did not disturb this
system which not only divided the work but also divided the
workers into castes which continued with their tribal
traditions and relations. The reason of continuing with this
oppressive system is that the divided people are easier to rule
because they offer the least resistance. This is also the reason
of India falling prey to the foreign invaders and being
enslaved for centuries. The marriages were within their own
castes and this tribal practice still continues.
India got independence in 1947 because the British were
weakened in the second world war and were unable to hold
on to power which was being resisted by the Indian people
organized under the enlightened leaders who were educated
in the industrialized countries and had gained knowledge of
Indias exploitation by the British and the later could not have
kept themselves in power for too long. They handed over
power to the bourgeois representatives who were supposed to
give smashing blows to the feudal structure of society. They
carried out their agenda partially by abolishing the princely
states and the Zamindari system but by giving these princes
and Zamindars a part in the new political establishment. The
new rulers allied with the old feudal system of society and left
the society to develop on its own. Thus, the old feudal society

Political Superstructure


with its exploitative systems of production and castes

including their tribal practices persists and this also gives rise
to their political formations based on the castes and
In India after the first war of independence in 1857, in
which Hindus and Muslims fought together against the British
handing over the reins of power to Bahadurshah Zafar and
finally lost it, there were socio-economic changes which led to
the rise of a bourgeois class and formation of Indian National
Congress and Indian Muslim League as political parties.
Development of industry led to the rise of working class and
formation of Communist Party in 1920s. The formation of
Hindu Mahasabha and RSS led to the rise of Jan Sangh. JP
movement led to the formation of Janata Party which later on
split into several groups, Bhartiya Janata Party being one of
them. The fight against caste oppression and reservation
movement gave rise to caste based parties. Thus, caste and
communal issues have come to play a big role in Indian
politics. Several mega corruption scandals involving a nexus
between the corporates and the ruling class politicians made
the Congress Party unpopular among the Indian masses. The
BJP under Naredra Modi became the new face of the Indian
capitalists. The anti-corruption campaign of Anna Hazare
gave birth to the Aam Aadmi Party. Thus, the socio-economic
churning is leading to the formation of political parties and
groups which serve the interest of the emerging classes. In an
article The Politics of Hate published in Frontline, dated
February 12, 1999 Aijaz Ahmad states:
One can say that since the advent of mass politics in
India during roughly the 1920s, there have been essentially
three alternative visions that have competed for dominance
There is of course the vision represented by the
Communist and the pro-Communist Left, which has been
committed to creating a modern, civil, secular, democratic


The Struggle For Hegemony

culture and which has held that such a culture cannot come
into being, in the specific conditions prevailing in India,
without also building a genuinely socialist society: socialist in
a sense far more radical than the Nehruvian. Second, and far
stronger, has been what one might call the vision of national
independence together with social reform, industrial
capitalism, and a political democracy in short, a modern
bourgeois order. Finally, there has been the conservative,
caste-based elitism which came eventually to be monopolized
by the RSS, with considerable fuel from the Hindu
Mahasabha, which had itself come into being in opposition to
both the Communist and the bourgeois- nationalist
If the Communist movement was inspired by Marxism,
Hindu extremism was undoubtedly inspired by Fascism, as the
direct links between Italian Fascists and such leaders of this
extremism as B. S. Moonje and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee
would testify. The conflict between the two visions was
inevitable because they represented radically opposed visions,
both on the national and the international scales. Within the
country, though, the third vision, that of capitalist democracy in
the framework of an independent polity, was by far the
dominant one. So, whether a culture of civic virtue or a culture
of hate and cruelty shall prevail in our country has depended,
in general, on the actual balance of forces among the competing
visions, we could also describe as vision associated with the
Left, the Centre, and the Right respectively.

Hegemony Though the Medium of


ducation has a big role in moulding and shaping the

thoughts of people. It was denied to a large majority of
people in India for thousands of years which means that not
only were they robbed of their surplus value but also were
deprived of the knowledge that they are being robbed. And
moreover they were told the miserable conditions in which
they were living were the result of their doings in their former
lives and they will get the fruits of their good works in their
next life. This was made a part of dharma which has to be
followed in their daily lives. British used education as a tool to
the requirement of their administration and their schools
produced clerks to serve the administration. E.M.S.
Namboodiripad in his article on The Rig VedaHoly Book or
Work of Literature writes:
Rig Veda for us was a holy book which cannot be
learned by any non-Brahminnot even by Brahmin women.
The boys and elderly men in the community however were
not only to learn it by heart but use it for various rituals,
including the daily surya namaskar. Although I underwent this
exercise for six years, I did not understand the meaning of the
great work.
At 87 years today, I do not remember a word of what I
learnt to recite in my boyhood. Many of my elders were
proficient in the recitation of Rig Veda without understanding
a word of what it means. Rig Veda for us was a holy book
whose words have the power of influencing personal and
family life. (Namboodiripad E.M.S. , 2010)
From the above it can be understood that not only
people were denied education but those who have access to it


The Struggle For Hegemony

did not understand a word of a very great work of literature of

the ancient India. To what extent has the status of education
and society been brought to by the Brahaminical dominance is
there for all to see?
Today in India Vidya Bharati runs more than 20
thousand schools called Shishu Mandirs, Bal Mandirs, and
Balika Mandirs in which more than 50 lakh students are
enrolled and more than one lakh teachers and staff are
working. They presented a paper on educational policies at
the state Education Ministers conference on October 22, 1998
which contained the following recommendations:
The curriculum from the primary to the highest
level, even the vocational courses, should incorporate the
essentials of Indian culture. This should form 10 to 25
percent of the syllabus.
Although no differentiation would be made in
the curriculum for boys and girls at the primary stage, at
the later stages the curriculum for girls should include
training in home keeping.
A comprehensive programme for mother
tongue as a medium of instruction at all stages of
education should be launched.
In view of its contribution to cultural unity and
ancient wisdom, Sanskrit may be made a compulsory
subject from class 3 to class 10.
Moral and spiritual education should be
introduced at all stages in all schools and the universities
for inclusion of national character and desirable social and
national values.
Saraswati Vandana and Vande Mataram should
be made compulsory in all schools.
Curriculum should be enriched through its
Sanskrit universities should be established in
four zones of the country. Already the budget for this has

Hegemony Through the Medium of Education


been sanctioned; while many other branches of study are

starved for funds.
A course on Indian in all higher education
programmes, especially vocational courses should be
Upanishads and the Vedas should find due
place in the curriculum from primary to the higher level
Praful Bidwai mentions the main ideas of the discussion
papers of the principal institutions which set the agenda of
Bharatiya culture by what truths, and values should be
taught in our schools in his article Prejudice As Education
published in Frontline, dated December 24, 1999:
The Aryans were Indias original inhabitants;
they never displaced or colonized Dravidians or
indigenous tribal people and forest-dwellers.
According to the Ramayana legend, Sri Lanka
was an opulent city. It had excellent houses, decorated
with wonderfuljewels, golden archways, pearls,
diamonds, gems, silver, etc. but it was not cultured. In
refreshing contrast, Ayodhya was both civilized and
cultured. People were learned, free from greed, truthful
and with no proclivity towards stealing or pettymindedness.
There was no contradiction between Hinduism,
on the one hand, and Buddhism or Jainism, on the otherdespite rich evidence on the hounding the banishment of
these faiths and their followers. Hinduism merely
absorbed Buddhism.
Indians are a race. More, they have a
mission as a race. This race must understand the destiny
it has to shape, the place it has to occupy in the march of
Hindu and Muslim periods clearly mark the
relevant watersheds in Indian history.


The Struggle For Hegemony

It is a fundamental postulate of Hindu thought
that every way of life has its own contribution to make
But the ultimate reality is defined by Krishna alone. He
proclaims a doctrine which is fundamental to all Hindu
thought Owing to this approach we are reinterpreting
our own doctrines and doing readjustments (sic). For
example, we have absorbed Buddhism
Our concept of the joint family is a unique
contribution in the history of mankind. Generation after
generation we have developed it. The break-up of some
of the oppressive structures of the joint family is thus not
progressive, but a setback!
India, irrespective of who ruled, it, has never
tried to dominate or subjugate other people, cultures or
land never mind our marauding kings, brutal rajahs or
the fact that whole ministries were once assigned by
Hindu kings to the specific task of destroying and
looting temples!
Bharatiya culture is the only culture which has
understood the life problems (sic) in their totality and has
made a continuous effort to solve them. In the history of
the world, it is the only effort to see the science,
philosophy, religion, psychology and social life in an
integrated from. (sic)
10. Spirituality is the core of our culture. We have
tried to see the reality or truth hidden in the material
world. This is the theme of Bhartiya life work. It is the
backbone of her existence, the foundation of her being
the spiritualisation of the human race (sic).
11. The spirit of Bharat and Bhartiyata is
Dharma. This is the ultimate source of all values of human
society. In the Vedic period, there existed no state, no
kind, and no penalty and no criminal, all protected one
another by virtue of Dharma. The best description of
Dharma is naturally to be found in the Manusmirti, which
gives ten characteristics which are related to human

Hegemony Through the Medium of Education


12. Naturally, Bharat excelled in every branch of

Science mathematics, Astronomy, Chemistry, Sculpture.
Pharmacology, etc. Our sages realized reality lying in
every sphere of life. Naturally, all of them, from Charka to
Bhaskaracharya, were Hindus. Also in each and every
field of art, architecture, sculpture, painting, dance, drama
and music, we were the leader. Our temples may
perhaps be said to be infinitely superior to the cumulative
achievements of our artists. (sic)
13. When the central idea driving and inspiring
the way of life ceases to exist, a culture dies along with its
adherents. The cultures of Greece, Rome and Egypt died
the day the representatives of those lands failed to find
fulfilment in living up to its values. So it is our duty to
preserve our ancient heritage...
14. We firmly believe in the Pedantic concept that
each soul is potentially divine. We have to reach the
concept of I am god The basic task of education today
is to inculcate this knowledge.
This is an agenda for dominance of the majority
community which seeks to divide the Indian polity on
communal lines which has wider impact on the Indian masses.
The Hindu in its editorial History as mythology? dated April,
22, 2015 writes: Its (current BJP governments) current efforts
highlight the dangers of which many historians have warned:
the replacement of history as social science, by history as
fantasy and myth.


edia forms an important part of this superstructure. It

shows itself to be free and autonomous but is not so free
and autonomous as it claims to be. Commercial media
organizations cater to the needs of advertisers and produce
audience maximizing products, Corporate media is probusiness, and supports the ideas, movements and activities
which are business friendly. Some writers, like Noam
Chomskys comments on the ownership of media
establishments and their role in controlling the contents are
worth mentioning:
Does ownership always determine content?
In some far-reaching sense it does, because if content
ever goes beyond the bounds owners will tolerate, theyll
surely move in to limit it. But theres a fair amount of
Investors dont go down to the television studio and
make sure that the local talk show host or reporter is doing
what they want. There are subtler, more complex mechanisms
that make it fairly certain that the people on the air will do
what the owners and investors want. Theres a whole, long,
filtering process that makes sure that people only rise through
the system to become managers, editors, etc., if theyve
internalized the values of the owners. (Chomsky, 1996)
Sashi Kumar, Chairman, Asian College of Journalism,
Chennai in his paper The Exercise of Hegemony in
Contemporary Culture and Media, and the Need for a
Counter-hegemony Initiative presented at a seminar
organized by Sahmat on the Progressive Cultural Movement
in India, 13-15 October 2011, which has been published in
Social Scientist, Vol. 39, Nov.-Dec. 2011, describes how
capitalism at its different stages dominates the cultural sphere.
He gives reference of Frederic Jamesons Cultural Logic of Late



Capitalism which captures the three phases of capitalism with

their respective cultural tempers: market capitalism with its
cultural logic of realism; monopoly capitalism with its expression
of modernism; and multinational capitalism with its realm of
postmodernism. He also refers to a scholar Vivian Sobchak who
identifies these three phases of capitalism with the three
phases of cultural moods i.e. the photographic, the cinematic,
and the electronic, dominating the respective phases. He says
that the transition to the digital phase of technology marks the
essential dynamics of the information revolution which has
succeeded or superseded the industrial revolution. He talks of
the media scholars, like Regis Debray who says that the
mediological sensibility is not given to going to the bottom of
things, keeping instead to face, surface and interfaces. He
compares Fordism of the industrial revolution to Murdochism
of the information revolution:
If Fordism typifies the industrial revolution at its
height, its counterpart in the information revolution is
Murdochism. Both systems ply standardization and
homogenization. Ford intruded into the family, home and
even the body of workers to ensure that they were physically
and mentally fit to give of their best. Their sexual lives were
monitored, their alcohol intake reined in prohibition, and their
morality was under constant scrutiny. In this regard he
quotes Gramsci from his Prison Notebooks:
American industrialists are concerned to maintain the
continuity of the physical and muscular nervous efficiency of
the worker. It is in their interest to have a stable, skilled labour
force, a permanently well adjusted complex, because the
human complex ( the collective worker ) of an enterprise is
also a machine which cannot , without considerable loss, be
taken to pieces too often and renewed with single new parts.
He again quotes Gramsci who forecasts both the
surveillance state and the intrusive information age:


The Struggle For Hegemony

The attempts made by Ford with the aid of a body of

inspectors to intervene in the private lives of his employees
and to control how they spend their wages and how they lived
is an indication of these tendencies these tendencies are yet
private, but they could become, at a certain point, State
He explains this intrusion of media into the private life
of the people in the following words:
the citizen, even in liberal democracies has been
deconstructed, classified and archived in data-bases which
serve both the profit drive of the market and the security
alarmism of the State. They are, moreover, insinuated into the
practice of contemporary media and pop culture. The genre of
Reality TV which is a rage today is, for the most part a
showcasing, for the entertainment and vicarious participation
of the general viewers of television, of the private phobias,
maladjustments or mis-matches in the relationships between
members of a group or a family. All that happens behind
closed doors and would normally be considered private is
displayed under the intense, unrelenting scrutiny of cameras
for all the public to behold. This is a modern spectacle, a
psychological thriller equivalent of the lion and the gladiator
in the stadium. Pulp psychology rules the roost. The candid
cameraboth its jocular and sting varietydoes not respect
any limits of privacy.
He explains how hegemonic intent is exercised through
cinema and gives an example of the Hollywood blockbuster
Independence Day, of 1996, in which the human kind is
threatened by an alien invasion. The US President who
happens to be a fighter pilot leads the counter-offensive. The
US President declares that henceforth the 4th July would be
celebrated not as an American independence day but as world
independence day. The implicit hegemonic intent becomes all
too clear. Aida Hozic, scholar of media and cultural studies,
calls it neo-Gramscian. It is persuasive rather than coercive.



The hegemon presents its own interests as universal and

objective and thereby create(s) willing followers of its own
George Lucas and Steven Spielberg turned to low
budget animation films. Lucas made Star Wars and ILM
(Industrial Lights and Magic) and Spielberg made ET and
SKG. This digital technology driven cinema has now become a
cultural assertion of the US military-industrial complex.
Sashi Kumar in his study of internet finds that the
promise of an open public sphere is slowly being taken over
by giant monopolies:
In a very recent joint study (The Internets unholy
marriage to capitalism), John Bellamy Foster and Robert
McChesney take stock of the role and implications of the
internet twenty years after it was made available to the public.
Their findings, alarmingly, is that what once held the promise
of an open public sphere is slowly being taken over by giant
monopolies. In fact digital capitalism, it turns out, is more
vicious than other forms of capitalism because it creates
greater and more acute market concentration. Google, for
instance, already controls 70 per cent of the search engine
market and its share continues to grow. Microsoft, Intel, eBay,
Amazon, Facebook and Cisco are the other very big players
who have monopoly clout. The wifi chipset market is a
duopoly which controls 80 per cent of the market. Apple,
through iTunes, has 87 per cent of the market share in digital
music downloads and some 70 per cent of the MP3 player
The big players create the most visible and repeat-hit
hot properties on the net, and erect barriers to prevent others
eroding their business concentration. What they have
redeemed and fenced off and developed is where consumers
aggregate and transect business the most the rest of the net
seems relative terra incognita. Michael Wolff of Wired magazine


The Struggle For Hegemony

shows how the concentration grows and accretes, and does

not disburse or diffuse over the so-called long tail that Chris
Anderson (the founder of Wired) enthused about: the top ten
websites accounted for 31 per cent of US page views in 2001,
40 per cent in 2006 and close to 75 per cent in 2010.
This array of organized monopolistic power is pitted
against the liberating power and potential of internet as a
space that enables and empowers peer-to- peer activities, the
open source movement, a user-driven knowledge domain like
Wikipedia or browser like Mozilla Firefox, or a site with a nose
for anything under wraps like WikiLeaks which took the
world by storm, or the viral power of social sites for mass
mobilization. This is the paradox of the internet.
This paradox of the net, Foster and McChesney
interestingly point out, is akin to the Lauderdale Paradox in
economics which deals with the conflict of interest between
public wealth and private richespublic wealth understood
as all that man desires as useful or delightful for him, and
private riches as all that man desires as useful or delightful
for him which exists in a degree of scarcity. Thus, it is scarcity
that makes the difference and helps make private riches out of
public wealth.
Summing up Sashi Kumars paper in his report on the
Sahamat seminar on the Legacy and Relevance of the
Progressive Cultural Movement published in the same issue
of Social Scientist Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashad writes:
The historical shift from classical capitalism to
monopoly to finance capital entails a parallel shift in the media
culture confluence, realism to modernism to post-modernism
being grounded on the technological move from the
photographic to the cinematic to the electronic. One
characteristic of this rapid shift has been a tendency towards
flatism, the world of representation shunning depths and
contours, and directing all gazes to surfaces and spectacles.



The synchronic organization of texts yields place to the nonlinear. Consequently, attention becomes habitually flitting and
homogenized, parallel to the miscellaneous flow, or rather, the
torrent, of images and sounds. The texts become self-reflective,
minimizing their referential function, so that nothing outside
the closed sensorium of texts disrupts the cosy feel-good
quiescence of the great consuming public. But the hidden
agenda of finance capital and the conniving State apparatus
make this sensorium a part of the surveillance ever-tightening
its grip over the people, denying the space to social desire,
stifling access to inter communication. The working of the
internet shows up the trend. The job of disruption and
resistance falls therefore to the vanguard of the people who
work in the interstices of the system to subvert its ends, and to
those who physically come out to be together and tear asunder
the magic web of media. The recent upheavals in the Arab
world and elsewhere demonstrate the power of the radical
tradition which seeks both to understand the world and
change it. Exposed U.S

The leak of classified documents by WikiLeaks might be the
largest leak of military secrets since 1971 when Pentagon
Papers on Vietnam got leaked but people already knew many
of these things. The strategy of Pakistan and the US towards
India and Iraq has been known for years but these documents
have provided verification to those things. Out of these we are
more concerned by the Afghan War Logs as it directly impacts
our relations with our neighbouring countries.
WikiLeaks, which calls itself an uncensorable system
for untraceable mass document leaking, has released over
92,000 classified military documents. The documents revealed
that Indian road construction teams and consulates in
Afghanistan came under attack more than two dozen times
after the ISI paid huge amount $15,000 to 30,000 to the


The Struggle For Hegemony

Taliban and the Haqqani network to specifically attack

Indians. There have been smaller attacks and failed attempts
to disrupt Indian developmental efforts in Afghanistan. Most
of these events went unreported because there has been no
casualty or security personnels received only minor injuries.
Indian consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad have also been
attacked repeatedly but none of the staff got injured.
Similarly the papers show that the Pakistan army and ISI
have been supporting terrorist organisations throughout the
period 2004-09. The reports also claim that insurgents were
plotting to poison beer supplies for American forces. Pakistan
receives more than $1 billion a year from the US for its help in
fighting the militants and this comes as a blot on its claims.
The documents clearly prove that Pakistan is interested
in promoting conflicts against India and Afghanistan. It also
contains the accounts of American anger at Pakistans
unwillingness to confront insurgents who launched attacks
near Pakistani border posts. After the leak Pakistan moved on
expected lines. It denied all these accusations as it did in the
case of Mumbai terror attacks. Pakistans ambassador to the
United States Husain Haqqani said: The documents
circulated by WikiLeaks do not reflect the current on-ground
The strategy of Pakistan has been known to India for a
very long time. Hence it would be foolish to expect that
Pakistan would ever agree on settlement of any issue except
on its own terms. From diplomatic and security point of view
peace in the Asian region is very important and necessary
for India. Any kind of trouble in our neighbouring countries is
not good for India as it has a direct effect on our foreign
policy, security, social and cultural relations.
The moves of the US can also be well understood. It
wants to extend its influence in the region to counter China.
Any accord between India and Pakistan will not suit the US



interests as it would lower the chances for them having a

strong hold in Asia. On the other hand Pakistan is taking help
from both the US and China.
Increasing influence of India in Afghanistan is a threat to
both America and Pakistan. From strategic point of view
Afghanistan is important for Pakistan because if India gets
dominance in Afghanistan, Pakistan would be wedged
between the two. As far as America is concerned it wants to
make a strong NATO base in the subcontinent. Its like a game
where everyone wants to have an edge over the other.
From eyehole coverage of the US military shooting
civilians to Afghan war Diaries and much more, WikiLeaks,
according to the website is a multi-jurisdictional public
service designed to protect whistleblowers, journalists and
activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the
public. Since July 2007, we have worked across the globe to
obtain, publish and defend such materials, and, also, to fight
in the legal and political spheres for the broader principles on
which our work is based: the integrity of our common
historical record and the rights of all peoples to create new
WikiLeaks which upholds the banner of freedom of
information is emerging as a powerful tool. Probably this is
the reason why U.S. Intelligence planned to destroy
WikiLeaks. (Mamta, 2010)

Paid News
In 2003, Bennet, Coleman & Co. Ltd (BCCL) started a
paid content service called Medianet. It sent journalists to
cover product launches or celebrity-related events for a fee. It
was opposed by its competitors saying that it was a violation
of the media ethics but BCCL management argued that it was
acceptable as it appeared as advertorials in the city specific
colour supplements. It institutionalized the paid news in


The Struggle For Hegemony

which the newspapers were paid for positive coverage and the
readers thought that the news was covered by an independent
journalist. It became a wide-spread practice before the run-up
to the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Rates or packages were
given on plain paper for the publication of editorial content
praising a particular person. The record such financial
transaction was not kept so that it became difficult to unearth
it. P. Sainath wrote a series of articles on it but it was denied
by the newspapers. But the Chief Minister of Maharashtra,
Ashok Chavan could not explain how the same articles
praising him appeared in different and competing
newspapers. The matter went to the Press Council of India. A
report was prepared but a watered down version, under the
influence of publishers lobby, was presented to the
Government. The situation became comical when the full 71
page report was leaked and was available on a number of
websites. Another worrying trend in the media is that private
treaties are struck in which advertising space is given to
corporate fore equity shares. This was also initiated by BCCL.

Net Neutrality
Fair and balanced flow of information is very important for all
the people. Any kind of manipulation can be harmful. During
the late 1970s and early 1980s demand for a fair and balanced
flow of international news came up as the transnational news
agencies had a control over the collection and distribution of
news. News agencies like Reuters, Associated Press, Agence
France Press, etc were often criticized for the lack of fairness
and balance. The proposals for a New World Information and
Communication Order (NWICO) stirred up a controversy in
the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization (UNESCO). Today the issue of net neutrality has
stirred the debates in media across the world.
Net Neutrality means that all the Internet data pack should be
treated equally, that there should be no fast or slow lanes for



Internet. Shruti Dhapola in the article Net Neutrality Debate

in India writes, in a country like India, Net Neutrality has
vast implications, especially for start-ups, many of whom are
dependent on the medium for the success of their business. A
neutral Internet means a level playing field. (Dhapola, 2015)
The debate started when few companies like Airtel and
Facebook announced to provide free access to certain apps
and services, with cost of this data traffic being borne by the
partner. Airtel has announced the launching of its platform
called Airtel Zero. Owners of various various applications
and websites have to pay money to Airtel and register their
applications and websites on this platform. Airtel will provide
higher bandwidth for those websites and applications. Internet
users can use these applications and websites for free without
any data charges. At the sametime they cannot use
applications and websites which are not registered on Airtel
Zero or, the unregistered applications and websites may not
be downloading fast. This is denial of Net Neutrality. If
Flipkart signs up as an Airtel Zero partner, you will not be
charged for data you use while accessing Flipkart, and Airtel
will bill Flipkart for that session. While that may sound great
on paper, experts say that in the long term it's against
consumer interests, because consumers are more likely to use
free services. They say smaller companies, who cannot afford
to subsidise consumer access to their websites and services,
are likely to lose out, stifling innovation in the country, which
means fewer options for consumers in the long run. (What Is
Net Neutrality? Here's a Simple Explanation, 2015)
TRAI, in its consultation paper, has also discussed the
negative impact it could have if India overlooked the
principle. The paper says, A policy decision to outright
depart from NN (Net Neutrality) raises various antitrust
and public interest issues. There are concerns that TSPs will
discriminate against certain types of content and political
opinions. Such practices may hurt consumers and diminish


The Struggle For Hegemony

innovation in complementary sectors such as computer

applications and content dissemination. Discriminatory
pricing proposals, if implemented, could raise a variety of
significant anti-competitive concerns. (Dhapola, 2015)
Pranav Dixit in the report, Battle for open internet: Will you
have to pay for WhatsApp, YouTube? in Hindustan Times
explains that if net neutrality is not there you can say
goodbye to paying a flat fee for using a certain amount of data
each month and accessing whatever you want. Your Internet
will be sliced up into "packs" - Rs 50 extra for a YouTube pack,
for instance, Rs 30 for a WhatsApp pack, Rs 20 to access
Google search, and on and on it goes. Your operator might
also decide to charge a service like YouTube if it wishes to
reach you. If YouTube - or any other service - doesn't pay up,
it risks being slowed down. Operators can also use this tactic
to strategically push their own services over the competition.
Airtel, for example, owns a music-streaming app called Wynk,
which it might provide full access to its own network while
throttling competitors like Gaana or Saavn. (Dixit, 2015)
In India or even in US telcos revenues and growth are quite
healthy. In US, broadband business is providing them a gross
profit margin in the range of 90 per cent. In India telcos
revenues have grown by 100 per cent in 2014. The big internet
monopolies have emerged and this has opened the
possibilities of forming cartels between them and telcos. It
helps the telcos to offer their subscriber base to internet
monopolies while in turn the internet companies sell their
users to advertisers. This is a win-win situation for both.
Telcos also remove the biggest opponents of net neutrality at
one stroke. This way they can go back to their dream of
controlled toll roads for all internet services.

Williams on Marxist Theory of Culture

aymond Williams in his essay Base and Superstructure in

Marxist Cultural Theory prioritizes the notion of social
being determines consciousness over that of base and
superstructure for it suggests a definite and fixed spatial
relationship and constitutes, at least in certain hands a very
specialized and at times unacceptable version of the other
proposition. He finds that in Marx himself and in later
writings of Engels, and the subsequent Marxist tradition,
qualifications have been made about the determined character
of certain superstructural activities. The first qualification is
delays in time and with certain indirect or relatively distant
relationships. He says, the simplest notion of a
superstructure, which is still by no means entirely abandoned,
had been the reflection, the imitation or the reproduction of
the reality of the base in the superstructure in a more or less
direct way. This is I think a misreading of Marx who says,
Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc., that is
real, active men, as they are conditioned by definite
development of their productive forces and of the intercourse
corresponding to these, upto its farthest forms. (Marx-Engels,
1976) (emphasis added) Marx assigns supreme dignity to men,
active men who have the power to transform the existing
world in their favour. Superstructures cannot be mere
photographic reflection of the existing reality in the minds of
men who have the power to reprocess and recreate the things
suitable to their needs. Contradictions which have been
thrown by the class society produce two divergent thoughts
and philosophies the one of the ruling classes and another of
the ruled. Marx says, Philosophers have interpreted this
world, the point is to change it. The communists have been
fighting against the exploitative economic base and the
superstructures while the ruling classes resist any such
attempts. Idealists renounce this world which changes every


The Struggle For Hegemony

moment and talk of soul which is imperishable; they tell the

toilers that they will get the fruits of their labour in their next
birth and expropriate the surplus value created by the
workers. This is pure deception and perverted philosophy. It
is a perverted culture. Williams mentions that in many real
cultural activities this relationship cannot be found, the
notion of delays in time has been introduced, for example
philosophy is situated at a greater distance from the primary
activities. The question arises why is it so? The materialist
philosophy is a reflection of reality as it exists while the
idealist philosophy is only a notion or an assumption which is
a distortion in favour of one group of people and could be far
more damaging to the whole society as can be seen from the
victory of the idealist philosophy of Adi Shankara in the
Indian context which I have mentioned elsewhere in this book.
What really is true is that some aspects of culture such as
language, sports, etc. are not parts of superstructure. Some
other aspects of culture such as painting, music, dance,
theatre, cinema, literature, etc. can be the distant forms of
reality, the products of creative minds of men, if not the
farthest forms of the intercourse as Marx has mentioned.
When Engels says that state will wither away it means that if a
powerful superstructure like state will wither away why not
the weaker ones. Take the case of dance. Can we find the class
contradictions so easily? If we take the case of a book of
literature, we may find it in favour of one class or the other. It
may act as a superstructure in the field of literature which is a
most important part of our culture. So far as the delays in time
is concerned yes ruling class ideologies take a long time to die
even when the structure on which it was based is no longer
there. The caste economic structure has almost withered away
for some castes but the ideology of caste still persists though
there is a thaw in it. Then there was the notion of mediation
and later in 20th c. the notion of homologous structure, in
which there is an essential homology or correspondence of
structures, which can be discovered by analysis. He talks of a
social totality associated with Lukacs. The totality of social

Williams on Marxist Theory of Culture


practices was opposed to this layered notion of a base and a

consequent superstructure. This totality of social practices is
incompatible with the notion of social being determining
consciousness, but it does not understand this process in terms
of base and superstructure. Now the language of totality has
become common, and it is induced in many ways more
acceptable than the notion of base and superstructure. There
are large number of social practices which form a concrete
whole, and we give each practice a specific recognition, we
may be talking of reality but we would be withdrawing from
the claim that there is any process determination. If the
notion of totality includes a complex whole of such practices,
it would be devoid of any Marxist content. A society has a
complex whole of such practices and also has a specific
structure related to certain social intentions. The models of
totality or of a complex whole exclude such intentions and the
class character of society. Williams finds difficulty with such
kind of notion and says, Indeed I think that we can properly
use the notion of totality only when we combine it with that
other crucial concept of hegemony.
Williams finds Gramscis contribution to the conception
of hegemony very important. It supposes something truly
total; not merely secondary or superstructural, like the weak
sense of ideology, but which is lived at such a depth, which
saturates the society to such an extent, and as Gramsci puts it,
even constitutes the limit of common sense for most people
under its sway, that it corresponds to the social experience
very much more clearly than any notions derived from the
formula of base and superstructure. In his opinion if ideology
were an abstract imposed notion and the social, political and
cultural ideas could be manipulated by some kind of training
then society would be much easier to change. The notion of
hegemony as deeply saturating the consciousness of society
seems to be fundamental. The concept of hegemony too is
being dragged back to as relatively simple, uniform and static
notion. We have to give an account of it which includes an


The Struggle For Hegemony

element of change. He proposes a model which allows for a

kind of variation and contradiction, its sets of alternatives and
its processes of change.
Williams finds Marxist cultural analysis very much at
home in epochal questions than the historical questions. We
have large distinguishing features of different epochs of
society i.e. feudal, or bourgeois society. Analysis of historical
questions of each phase of society requires greater precision.
Williams tries to work out a theoretical model. In any
society, in any particular period there is a central system of
practices, meanings and values, which we can call dominant
and effective. They are not merely abstract but which are
organized and lived. Hegemony is at the level of whole body
of practices and expectations; our assignments of energy, our
ordinary understanding of the nature of man and of his
world. It is a sense of the reality of the most of the people in
society, a sense of the absolute because it is experienced reality
beyond which it is very difficult to move. We can understand
an effective and dominant culture if we understand the
process on which it moves: the process of incorporation. It has
a great social significance and considerable economic
significance as well. The educational institutions are the
transmission agencies of our dominant culture. This is a major
economic and cultural activity as well. At philosophical,
theoretical level and at the level of history of various practices
there is a process which Williams calls the selective tradition.
Within the dominant culture it is passed off as the tradition,
the significant past. From the past and the present certain
meanings and practices are chosen for emphasis and certain
others are neglected and excluded. Some of these meanings
and practices are reinterpreted, diluted, or put into forms
which support or at least do not contradict other elements
within the effective dominant culture. If a certain ideology is
imposed, or if some isolable meanings and practices of the
ruling class are imposed on others it would be much easier to

Williams on Marxist Theory of Culture


overthrow. But we in India have a history where the idealist

philosophy preached by Adi Sankara defeated the materialist
philosophy in such a disastrous way that it lasted for centuries
together. Adi Sankara brought the study of science into such
disrepute that not even a student of primary classes would
believe him. Sankara taught the unreality of the material
world. He is unsparing in his strictures on Kanad and his
system. The pioneering historian of Indian science, P. C. Ray
quotes Adi Sankara: It thus appears that the atomic doctrine
is supported by very weak arguments only, is opposed to
those scriptural passages which declare the Lord to be the
general cause and is not accepted by any of the authorities
taking their stand on scriptures, such as Manu and others.
Hence it is to be altogether disregarded by high-minded men
who have a regard for their own spiritual welfare.
(Chattopadhyaya, In Defence of Materialism in Ancient India,
1989) Further, I quote E. M. S. Namboodiripad on the
consequence of the defeat of materialists at the hands of
idealist philosopher Adi Sankara, the defeat of the
materialists in this unequal battle was the beginning of a
millennium-long age of intellectual and socio-political
backwardness which culminated in the establishment of
British rule in our land. (Namboodiripad E.M.S. , History,
Society and Land Relations, 2010)
This process reaches its depths, selecting, and organizing
and interpreting our experience and also continuously
remaining active and adjusting. It is not just the past, the dry
husk of ideologyis more substantial and more flexible than
any abstract ideology. We have to recognize the alternative
meanings and values, the alternative opinions and attitudes,
even some alternative sense of the world, which can be
accommodated and tolerated within a particular effective and
dominant culture. In the practice of politics there are certain
incorporated modes of real oppositions that are felt and
fought. The internal conflicts and variations do not go beyond


The Struggle For Hegemony

the limits of the central and dominant definitions. This is true

of the practice of parliamentary politics.
We have to think of those practices, experiences,
meanings, values which are not part of the dominant culture.
In Williams opinion these can be expressed in two ways.
There are alternative and oppositional forms to the dominant
culture which have a degree of historical variation.
Williams, then, talks of residual and emergent forms of
alternative and oppositional culture. The residual are not the
parts of the dominant culture but nevertheless they are lived
and practiced on the basis of residue cultural as well as
socialof some previous social formation. That is why we
find certain religious values getting a place in the dominant
culture. If the residue is from some major area of the past it
has to be incorporated if the effective dominant culture has to
make any sense in that area.
Emergent culture means new meaning; new values, new
practices, new significances and experiences are being
continuously created. There is an attempt to incorporate them.
There is a temporal relation between dominant culture on the
one hand and residual and emergent cultures. For precise
analysis we can make distinctions between residual
incorporated and residual non-incorporated, and between
emergent incorporated and the emergent non-incorporated
cultures. It is important how a particular society incorporates
wide range of human practices and experiences. In the earlier
phase of bourgeois society, for example, there were areas of
experience which it was willing to dispense with, which it was
prepared to assign to private or artistic life which it thought
no business of society or state. This went along the line of
political tolerance. In the society that has emerged after the
last war progressively a kind of tolerance has developed due
to the social character of labour, social character of
communications, and the social character of decision and it
has further extended into certain hitherto resigned areas of

Williams on Marxist Theory of Culture


experience and practice and meaning. There is a thin line

between the alternative and oppositional solutions. There may
be individuals who might like to live differently but there can
be groups of people who want to change the society. These
groups can be seen by the dominant culture as a challenge to
For the Marxist theory of culture it is essential to give an
adequate explanation of the sources of those experiences and
meanings. We can understand the residual experiences and
practices from the earlier social formations by applying our
historical approach. But our hardest task is to understand the
emerging practices and meanings.
We have the central body of Marxist theory as a source.
The new class which came into formation gains consciousness.
Williams says that this formation complicates any simple
model of base and superstructure. But he does not explain it
clearly how it does so. He also says that it also complicates
some of the ordinary version of hegemony. The emergence of
a new class becomes one central source of new practice. But
here I think Williams is talking of emergence of only one new
class, i.e. the working class while it is the emergence of two
classes simultaneously. He talks of certain other kinds of
sources and in cultural practice some of these are very
important. He is correct when he says that no mode of
production, and therefore no dominant society or order of
society, and therefore no dominant culture, in reality exhausts
human practice, human energy, human intention. In fact
every mode of production is the result of human labour. The
dominant culture selects certain human practices and excludes
a full range of practices. The difficulties of human practice
outside or against the dominant mode are real. Williams talks
about the dominant class reaching out to those human
practices where the interest and the stake of the dominant
class lies while others are neglected. He finds differences


The Struggle For Hegemony

between the practices of a capitalist state and those of a

socialist state.
In relation to the full range of human practice at any
given time, the dominant mode is a conscious selection and
organization. They can include alternative perception of others
or new perceptions of material and media, in arts and science,
and within certain limits these new perceptions can be
practiced. The relations between the two kinds of sources
the class and the excluded human areaare not necessarily
contradictory. They can be very close. But culturally and as a
matter of theory these areas can be seen as distinct.
Williams says that there is no relation between literature
and society in an abstract way. The literature is there from the
beginning as a practice in society. There are various practices
in a fully formed society. We cannot know a society until we
analyse those practices. We cannot separate literature and art
from other kinds of social practice. They can have their own
specific features as practices, but they cannot be separated
from the general social process. Literature cannot be restricted
to operating in any one of the sectors. We may persuade
ourselves that literature can operate in the emerging culture
and it can represent new feelings and new meanings. But we
are bound to recognize that the act of writing, the practices of
discourse in writing and speech, the making of novel and
poems and plays and theories, all this activity takes place in all
areas of the culture.
Williams thinks that literature appears not only in the
emergent sector. In fact much of the English literature of the
last half century has been of a residual kind. Some of its
fundamental meanings and values belonged to the cultural
achievements of long-past stages of society. In many minds
literature and the past acquire a certain identity. Then, it is
said that now there is no literature: all that glory is over. Yet,
most writing is a form of contribution to the effective
dominant culture. Literature, because of its specific qualities, is

Williams on Marxist Theory of Culture


able to enact and perform certain meanings and values. To

literature we must add visual arts, music as well as arts of film
and broadcasting. But it must be clear that we are looking for
the relations between literature and society. We cannot
separate one practice from a body of other practices. When we
have identified a particular practice we cannot give it a
uniform, static and ahistorical relation to some abstract social
formation. The arts of writing and the arts of creation and
performance are parts of the cultural process. They contribute
to the effective dominant culture and are a central articulation
of it. They embody residual meanings and values though not
all but many of them are incorporated. They also express some
emergent practices and meanings, some of which may
eventually be incorporated as they reach the people and begin
to move them. Williams says that in the sixties the dominant
culture reached out to some of the emergent arts of
performance to transform them. In this process the dominant
culture itself changes, not in its central formation, but in many
of its articulated features. He says that in modern society it
must always change in this way, if it is to remain dominant, if
it is still to be felt as in real ways central in all our many
activities and interests.
This is a general analysis. What will be the implications
of this for the analysis of particular works of art? Most of our
discussion of the cultural theory is directed towards this
question: the discovery of a method, even methodology,
through which particular works of art can be understood and
described. Williams does not agree that this is the central use
of this theory but asks us to consider it for a moment. It is
striking that all forms of contemporary critical theory are
theories of consumption. It should be understood in a way that
it can be profitably or correctly be consumed. The earlier stage
of consumption theory was the theory of taste. From taste
you got the elevated notion of sensibility. The sensibility of
elevated or insightful works was held to be the essential
practice of reading and the critical activity was a function of


The Struggle For Hegemony

this sensibility. More developed theories came in the 1920s

with Rechards, and later in New Criticism, in which the effects
of consumption were studied directly. The language of the
work of art as object then became more overt. What effect or
impact it has on a person, as it was later to be put in a much
wider area of communication studies. The notion of the work
of art as object, as text, as an artefact, became central in all these
consumption theories. The practices of production were
overlooked or neglected because they were believed to be at
best secondary. If the questions are asked about a work of art
as an object, questions can be put about the components of its
production as well. The use of base and superstructure was in
line with this. Raymond Williams says the following in this
The components of a work of art were the real activities
of the base, and you could study the object to discover these
components. Sometimes you even studied the components
and then projected the object. But in any case the relationship
that was looked for was one between an object and its
components. But this was not only true of Marxist
suppositions of a base and a superstructure. It was true also of
various kinds of psychological theory, whether in the form of
archetypes, or the images of the collective unconscious, or the
myths and symbols which were seen as the components of
particular works of art. Or again there was biography, or
psycho-biography and its like, where the components were in
the mans life and the work of art was an object in which
components of this kind were discovered. Even in some of the
more rigorous forms of new criticism and of structuralist
criticism, this essential procedure of regarding the work as an
object which has to be reduced to its components, even if later
it may be reconstituted, came to persist.
Raymond Williams says that the true crisis of cultural
theory in our time is between the view of art as an object and
art as a practice. It is objected that art is an object. But various

Williams on Marxist Theory of Culture


works of art which have survived from the past such

sculptures, paintings, buildings, are objects. But the same
thinking is applied to works which have no such specific
material existence. There is no Hamlet, no Brother Karamazov,
no Wuthering Heights, in the sense that that there is a particular
great painting. There is no Fifth Symphony, there is no work in
the whole area of music and dance and performance which is
an object in any way comparable to those works in the visual
arts which have survived. But this habit of treating the works
of art as objects has persisted because this is a basic theoretical
presupposition. But in literature, especially in drama, in music
and in a very wide area of the performing arts, what we have
are not objects but notations. These notations have to be
interpreted in an active way, according to particular
conventions. The relationship between the making of a work
of art and the reception of it is always active, and subject to
conventions. This is radically different from the production
and consumption of an object. It is indeed an activity and a
practice. In some arts it may have the form of material object.
But it is still accessible only through active perception and
interpretation. Because of this, notations in the arts like drama,
literature and music are only a special case of wider truth.
This shows us that we have to break away from the
notion of isolating the object and then discovering its
components. Instead we have to discover the nature of a
practice and then its conditions. The two processes in part
may resemble each other but in many other cases they are
radically different. This distinction has a bearing on the
Marxist tradition of the relation between primary economic
and social practices, and cultural practices. If we suppose that
the cultural process produces a series of objects then we have
to discover their components. These components will be from
what we call the base. We shall isolate certain features which
we can recognize in component form. Or we shall ask what
processes of transformation or mediation they have gone
through before they arrived in this accessible state. Williams


The Struggle For Hegemony

says that we should not look for the components of the

product but for the conditions of its practice. When we look at
a work or a group of works we should first attend to the
reality of their practice and the conditions of the practice. WE
then ask essentially different questions. For example, how an
object is related to a genre, in orthodox criticism. We identify
the object by certain leading features. Then we assign it to a
larger category, the genre. Then we may find the components
of the genre in a particular social history. It is not that way of
proceeding that seems to be required. The recognition of the
relation of a collective mode and an individual project is the
recognition of related practices. Particular works are
individual projects. On analysis we find resemblances which
allow us to group them into collective modes. They are always
genres and within and across genres may exist as
resemblances. They may be the practice of a group in a period
rather than the practice of a phase in a genre. When we
discover the nature of a particular practice and the nature of
the relation between an individual project and the collective
mode, we find that we are analyzing the two forms of the
same process, both its active composition and its conditions of
composition, and in either direction this is a complex of
extending active relationships. This mean we dont have a
built-in procedure of the kind which is indicated by the fixed
character of an object. We have the principles of the relations
of the practice, within a discoverably intentional organization,
and we have the available hypotheses of dominant, residual
and emergent. But we are seeking the true practice which has
been alienated to an object and the true conditions of practice whether as literary conventions or as social relationships which have been alienated to components or to mere
background. As a general proposition this is only an emphasis,
but it seems to suggest at once the point of break and the point
of departure, in practical and theoretical work, within an
active and self-renewing Marxist cultural tradition.

Autonomy of Cultural Superstructures

n Marxist tradition the role of economic structure of society

has been excessively emphasized but in the mid-twentieth
century we see a shift. The writers, including Gramsci, find
superstructures relatively autonomous. Georg Lukcs in his
essay Changing Functions of Historical Materialism
mentions, the different aspects of the social structure can and
must become independent of each other. He further says, at
the end the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth
centuries, classical economics in England and classical
philosophy in Germany show that these partial systems, these
aspects of the structure and evolution of bourgeois society,
have gained a consciousness of their autonomy. Economics,
laws and the state appear here as closed systems which control
the whole of society by virtue of the perfection of their own
power and by their own built-in laws. But these independent,
hermetic and autonomous systems were really aspects of a
comprehensive whole and this apparent independence could
be transcended. This semblance of independence is the
expression of the objective social structure of capitalist
society. To annul it and to transcend it means you have to
transcend the capitalist society in thought. You have to
accelerate the power of thought. However, this annulled
independence is preserved within the rightly understood
totality. That is to say, he mentions, the right understanding
of their lack of autonomy, their dependence on the economic
structure of the whole society entails the knowledge that this
semblance of independence, of cohesion and autonomy is a
necessary part of the way in which they manifest themselves
in capitalist society. Marx analyzing the societies based on
landed property and capital finds the natural relations
paramount in societies where landed property is dominant
and social, historically created element prevailing in societies
where capital predominates: In all forms of society where


The Struggle For Hegemony

landed property predominates, the natural relation is

paramount. In those where capital is predominant the social,
historically created element prevails.Engels in his letter to
Marx further elaborates on this: It just proves that at this
stage (the pre-capitalist stage) the mode of production is less
decisive than the degree to which the old blood bonds and the
old mutual community of the sexes in the tribe have been
dissolved.(Briefwechsel IV, 1882) Marx finds the literature of
ancient Greece still giving us pleasure: The difficulty we are
confronted with is not, however, that of understanding how
Greek art and epic poetry are associated with certain forms of
social development. The difficulty is that they still give us
aesthetic pleasure and are in certain respects regarded as a
standard and unattainable ideal. (Marx, Critique of Political
Economy) This in my view is a reference to the autonomy of
art and culture which arose at a particular stage of
development but which dont remain confined to their times
and to a particular class, and rise to become a part of our
cultural heritage. Similarly, our Indian epics, Mahabharata and
Ramayana, dont belong only to their times when they were
written, but to the people of our times as well; they transcend
the classes and the stages of economic and social development
and are autonomous. Similar is the case with our various
dance forms. They belong to all times and all groups of people
who take delight in performing and watching them. They
form part of our autonomous culture. Take various religious
festivals and customs, all of them are autonomous cultural
activities. They dont act as superstructures.

Indian Reform Movements and

Revivalist Culture

he reform movements of the late 19th century were

markedly revivalist in character. They were based among
the beneficiaries of the traditional systems of castes and
property who had a vested interest in propagating a romantic
notion of the cultures of the upper castes to which they
themselves belonged and which now presented as the very
essence of being Indian and Hindu. Aijaz Ahmad in his
article The politics of Hate in Frontline, dated February 12,
1999 states:
Precisely at the time, during the closing years of the
nineteenth century and the opening ones of the twentieth,
when representatives of Indian economic nationalism were
formulating analytical procedures for explaining colonial
exploitations, some of the most influential figures in the
literary and cultural fields were deeply attracted by a cultural
nationalism that was distinctly revivalist in character and
religiously exclusivist by implication. Neither Bankim
Chandra Chatterjee nor Aurobindo, neither the Swadeshi
Movement in Bengal nor the Shivaji cult propagated in
Maharashtra by such icons of Indian nationalism as Bal
Gangadhar Tilak himself, were quite untainted by that kind of
revivalist fervour. Indeed, so powerful was the revivalist
culture of the upper castes that when anti-Brahminical
movements surfaced in Maharashtra, whether under Jyotiba
Phule or B. R. Ambedkar, it was the extremity of the backlash
of the upper castes in that region that gave us the RSS in the
first place.
This is not to say that either Tilak or Aurobindo would
be quite approving of what the Hindutva of our own day is
and does. And yet there is enough there for a common sense
to prevail today among sections of the urban upper castes and


The Struggle For Hegemony

middle class, in various parts in India, especially the northern

and the western, to be persuaded that the social vision and the
cultural idiom of this modern-day Hindutva is descended from
that general ambience of our renaissance and awakening.
Indeed the potential of that of revivalism were so
pernicious that Rabindranath Tagore was to warn at length,
already in the second decade of this century, that there was
only a short step from revivalist zealotry to communal frenzy.
In two of his great novels, Gora and Home and the World,
whatever other shortcomings those novels might also have,
Tagore was to portray with great sensitivity and acumen how
revivalist politics and communal closures may be particularly
tempting to the socially insecure and the upwardly mobile.

Formation of Progressive Writers


n the 1930s the economic crisis has engulfed the world and
Hitler captured power in Germany and persecuted and
drove out many writers and scientists out of the country. He
even had set his ministers to implicate the leaders of trade
unions and also the leader of the Bulgarian communist party
Dimitrov who was exiled from his country and was living in
Germany, in a case of setting fire to the German Parliament
building which they had themselves done to lay blame on the
communists. Dimitrov not only defended himself and other
communist leaders but also turned the tables on the fascist
government itself by exposing their designs. It was the period
when the reactionary crowds surrounded the French
parliament building and the cabinet submitted its resignation
in fear and a more reactionary cabinet was formed. The French
working class responded immediately and they went on a
general strike. In Italy fascism has captured power. Both
Germany and Italy had their eyes set on Austria. A dictator
Dollfuss captured power in Austria and with this fascist
designs were fulfilled. The Austrian workers fought an
unequal war against the dictator but were defeated by the
superior forces of the government. These were the
circumstances in which a World Conference of Writers for the
Defence of culture or International Conference of Writers for
the Defence of Culture took place in Parish in July 1935 in
which top writers from all over the world participated. It was
the period when writers fronts against fascism started
working in many countries. These were the circumstances
which stirred the minds of some Indian writers living in
London to draft the manifesto of Progressive Writers
Association. Mulk Raj Anand, Dr. Jyoti Ghosh and Sajjad
Zaheer were prominent among them. A meeting was called in


The Struggle For Hegemony

which forty to fifty writers participated and Mulk Raj Anand

and Sajjad Zaheer were elected as its first president and
secretary respectively. Munshi Premchand was keenly
following these developments and he published the summary
of the manifesto of Progressive Writers Association which
was formed in London, in January 1936 in Hans. Subsequently,
the English version of the manifesto was published in the
February 1936 issue of Londons Left Review. The text of the
manifesto was as follows:
Radical changes are taking place in Indian society. The
spirit of reaction, however, though moribund and doomed to
decay, is operative and is making desperate efforts to prolong
itself. Indian literature, since the breakdown of classical
culture, has had the fatal tendency to escape from actual life. It
has tried to find a refuge from reality in baseless spiritualism
and ideality. The result is that it has become anaemic in body
and mind and had adopted a rigid formalism and a banal and
perverse ideology.
It is the duty of Indian writers to give expression to the
changes taking place in Indian life and to assist spirit of
progress in the country by introducing scientific rationalism in
literature. They should undertake to develop an attitude of
literary criticism, which will discourage the general
reactionary and revisionist tendencies on questions like
family, religion, sex, war and society. They should combat
literary trends reflecting communalism, racial antagonism,
and exploitation of man by man.
It is the object of our Association to rescue literature
and other arts from the conservative classes in whose hands
have been degenerating so long, to bring arts into the closest
touch with the people and to make them the vital organs
which will register the actualities of life, as well as lead us to
the future we envisage.

Formation of Progressive Writers Association


While claiming to be the inheritors of the best traditions

of Indian civilization, we shall criticize, in all its aspects, the
spirit of reaction in our country, and we shall foster through
interpretative and creative work (with both Indian and foreign
resources ) everything that will lead our country to the new
life for which it is striving. We believe that the new literature
of India must deal with the basic problems of our existence
todaythe problems of hunger and poverty, social
backwardness and political subjection. All that arouses in us
the critical spirit, which examines institutions and customs in
the light of reason, which helps us to act, to organize
ourselves, to transform, we accept as progressive. (Pradhan,
This was a historic and path breaking event. PWA
General Secretary Sajjad Zaheer tells about those things in the
following words:
Just remember the two years preceding 1935. The
political effect of the economic crisis that engulfed the world
took in Germany the shape of the dictatorship of Hitler and his
Nazi party. In London and Parish, we daily came across the
miserable refugees who had escaped or were exiled from
Germany. Everywhere one could hear the painful stories of
fascist repressionThe painful darkness which, spreading
from the bright world of arts and learning that was Germany,
was throwing its fearful shades on Europeall these had
shattered the inner tranquillity of our hearts and minds. One
power could stem the tide of this modern barbarismthe
organized power of the factory workers, the power that
emerges from the working together, through co-operation,
through ceaseless struggle against repression and exploitation
of capitalists. The experience of the continuous class struggle
creates on this class a revolutionary class consciousness
enabling it to frustrate the attempts of capitalism to put the
clock back and to become the creators of a new civilization.
(Pradhan, 1982)


The Struggle For Hegemony

In the literature of early 1930s in India peasants and

workers were not the subject matter for the writers. Mostly the
romantic love stories and revivalist nationalism were their
pursuits but young writers had their responsibility to
distinguish between Hindu revivalist nationalism and
democratic nationalism. Publishing houses and writers
organizations were in the grip of the worshipers of the past,
traditionalists, courtiers, Hindu revivalists. Therefore, the
writers who had new, pro-people and anti-imperialist
thinking, had the aspiration of forming a new organization of
writers which could defend their democratic rights. This was
the period when magazines and newspapers were under
attack. Jagaran and Hans were asked to submit sureties in 1932.
Aaj was closed. During 1930-1934 publication of
approximately 348 newspapers was shut down under the
rebellion against the state act. Publication and distribution of
the books of Maxim Gorky, Marx, Engels and Lenin were
banned. Rabindra Nath Tagores Letter from Russia was also
banned. In such a situation writers had to think of forming
their organization to defend their right to expression.
Premchand wanted that writers organization should be
formed for two reasons: 1. To defend the right to expression; 2.
To open co-operative publishing institutions. Ramchandra
Tandon wanted an organization of writers to defend the
writers against the exploitation by publishers. Due to these
disputes this turned into failure.
The freedom struggle against British imperialism, the
fight against the suppression of the democratic rights of
writers and the problem of freedom of expression, the
problem of the unity of all Indian languages and their writers,
the aim of forming an organization of writers of all Indian
languages were the questions which were agitating the minds
of all intellectuals, writers, journalists and leaders. In April
1935 a meeting of writers was held in Indore. Kanaiyalal
Maniklal Munshi wrote to Premchand that in Indore literary
conclave a decision has been taken to call an inter-provincial

Formation of Progressive Writers Association


council with the efforts of Jaynendra Kumar and cooperation

of Gandhiji and people wanted Hans to be made its
mouthpiece. Premchand welcomed the decision and from 1935
Hans was published as the organ of Indian Literary Council.
In 1936, a World Conference for Peace was held in
Brussels for which a declaration was sent which was signed by
Jawaharlal Nehru, Premchand, Rabindranath Tagore, and
others. In that declaration British imperialism was condemned
for its repression on the writers and journalists and any kind
of Indian contribution to the imperialist war was vehemently
In 1936, a conference of Indian Literary Council was held
in Nagpur in which a paper signed by Premchand, Narendra
Dev, Abdul Haq, Pt. Nehru and Akhtar Hussain Raypuri was
distributed in which an appeal was made to turn the literary
activities into progressive direction. (Avasthi, 2012)
In the same year, in India three most important events
took place in Lucknow. Congress held its conference in which
Pt. Nehru was elected its President. Secondly, Progressive
Writers Association was formed in its conference in which
Premchand was elected its President. And thirdly, All India
Kisan Sabha was also formed and Prof. N.G. Ranga and
Swami Sahjanand Saraswati were elected its President and
General Secretary respectively. It was a tilt towards pro-poor
and pro-peasant ideology and against repressive policies of
British imperialism. PWA founding conference had the
blessings of Rabindranath Tagore and Sarojini Naidu; and
Munshi Premchand presided over the conference. Delivering
his presidential address Premchand said:
Hitherto we had been content to discuss language and
its problems, the existing critical literature of Urdu and Hindi
has dealt with the construction and the structure of the
language alone. This was doubtless an important and
necessary work and the pioneers of our literature have


The Struggle For Hegemony

supplied this preliminary need and performed their task

admirable. But language is a means, not an end; a stage, not
the journeys end. Its purpose is to mould our thoughts and
emotions and to give them the right direction. We have now to
concern ourselves with the meaning of things and to find the
means of fulfilling the purpose for which the language is
constructed. This is the main purpose of this conference.
He says literature has to be realistic, true to life, an
expression of our experiences and a criticism of life:
Literature properly so - called is not only realistic, true
to life, but is also an expression of our experiences and of the
life that surrounds us. It employs easy and refined language
which alike affects our intellect and our sentiments. Literature
assumes these qualities only when it deals with the realities
and experiences of life. Fairy tales and romantic stories of
princely lovers may have impressed us in olden days, but they
mean very little to us today. Unless literature deals with
reality it has no appeal for us.
Literature can best be defined as a criticism of life. The
literature of our immediate past has nothing to do with
actuality; our writers were living in a world of dreams and
were writing things like Fasnai Ajaib or Chandra Kanta tales
only for entertainment, or to satisfy our sense of wonder. Life
and literature were considered to be two different things
which bore no relation to each other. Literature reflects the
age. In the past days of decadence the main function of
literature was to entertain the parasitic class. In this literature
the dominant notes were either sex or mysticism, pessimism
or fatalism. It was devoid of vigour, originality, and even the
power of observation.
But our literary taste is undergoing a rapid
transformation. It is coming more and more to grips with the
realities of life; it interests itself with society or man as a social

Formation of Progressive Writers Association


unit. It is not satisfied now with the singing of frustrated love;

or with writing to satisfy only our sense of wonder; it concerns
itself with the problems of our life; and such themes as have a
social value. The literature which does not arouse in us a
critical spirit, or satisfy our spiritual and intellectual needs,
which is not force giving and dynamic, which does not
awaken our sense of beauty, which does not make us face the
grim realities of life in a spirit of determination, has no use for
us today. It cannot even be termed as literature. (Premchand)
He says that earlier it was religion that had taken upon
itself the task of striving after mans spiritual and moral
guidance using fear and cajolery, reward and retribution as
chief instrument in this work but today literature has
undertaken a new task and it becomes the duty of a writer to
help the downtrodden, oppressed and exploited and to
advocate their cause:
In the past, religion had taken upon itself the task of
striving after mans spiritual and moral guidance; it used fear
and cajolery, reward and retribution as its chief instruments in
this work. Today, however, literature has undertaken a new
task, and its instrument is our sense of beauty; it tries to
achieve its aim by rousing this sense of beauty in us. The more
a writer develops a sense through the observation of nature,
the effective will his writing become. All that is ugly or
detestable, all that is inhuman, becomes intolerable to such a
writer. He becomes the standard bearer of humanity, of moral
uprightness, of nobility. It becomes his duty to help all those
who are downtrodden, oppressed, and exploitedindividuals
or groupsand to advocate their cause. And his judge is
society itselfit is before society that he brings his plaint. He
knows that the more realistic his story is, the more full of
expression and movement his picture, the more intimate his
observation of human nature, human psychology, the greater
the effect he will produce. It is not even enough that from a
psychological point of view, his characters resemble human


The Struggle For Hegemony

beings; we must further be satisfied that they are real human

beings of bones and flesh. We do not believe in an imaginary
man; his acts and his thoughts do not impress us.
Premchand in this presidential address also explains the
ideal of writers. He says that brotherhood and equality, from
dawn of human culture and civilization have been the golden
dream of idealists but they did not succeed. Even Buddha,
Christ, Mohamed, all the prophets, tried without success. He
says that there is a saying amongst us that to try that which
has already been tried is a sign of stupiditywe shall fail
again if we attempt to attain our goal with the help of religion
or ethics. Then he asks the question whether we should give
up this ideal and tells us that the history of human society is
the history of the struggle for the fulfilment of this ideal and
our art will notice those things only when our artistic vision
takes the entire universe within its purview; when the entire
humanity will form its subject matter; then it will no longer be
tied to the apron strings of a particular class. He goes on to
says that we shall no longer tolerate a social system under
which a single individual can tyrannise over thousands of
human beings; then our self respecting humanity will raise the
standard of revolt against capitalism, militarism and
imperialism; and we shall not sit quite and inane after doing a
little bit of creative work on pieces of paper, but we shall
actively participate in building that new order which is not
opposed to beauty, good taste and self respect. He says that
the ideal which they want to put for literature is not that of
subjectivism or individualism, for literature does not see the
individual as something apart from society, but considers him
as a social unit; because his existence is dependent on society
as a whole.
In the Second Conference of PWA the following aims
and objectives were added:

Formation of Progressive Writers Association


To establish organizations of writers to
correspond to the various linguistic zones of India; to
coordinate these organizations by holding conferences and
by publishing literature; to establish a close connection
between the central and local organizations and to
cooperate with those literary organizations whose aims do
not conflict with the basic aims of the Association;
To form branches of the Association in all the
important towns of India;
To produce and to translate literatures of a
progressive nature, to fight cultural reaction, and in this
way to further the cause of Indias freedom and social
To protect the interests of progressive authors;
To fight for the right of free expression of
thought and opinion. (Pradhan, 1982)
The clouds of fascism and war were gathering over the
world. In such circumstances the Second Conference of the
International Writers Association was taking place in London
(19-23 June, 1936), a Manifesto signed by Rabindranath Tagore
, Premchand, Jawaharlal Nehru, Nandlal Bose and others from
PWA declared the following:
Today the spectre of a world war haunts the world.
Fascist dictatorship has revealed its militant essence by its
offer of guns instead of butter and the lust of empirebuilding
in place of cultural opportunities. The methods resorted to by
Italy for the subjugation of Abyssinia have rudely shocked all
those who cherish a faith in reason and civilisation. Rivalry
and contradiction among big imperialist powers, deliberate
provocation of crude national chauvinistic sentiments, high
speed rearmamentsthese are but portents of the critical
situation in which we are placed today. On our own and on
behalf of our countrymen we take this opportunity to declare
with one voice with the people of our countries that we detest
war and want to abjure it and that we have no interest in war.


The Struggle For Hegemony

We are against the participation of India in any imperialist

war for we know that the future of civilization will be at stake
in the next war. (Pradhan, 1982)

Indian Peoples Theatre Association

And Its Legacy

ndian Peoples Theatre Association (IPTA) was formed in

1943. In Europe black shadows of fascism were looming
large and the Communist International has put forward the
line of popular peoples front and has called for a wider unity
of writers and artists against the fascist onslaught. Indian
cultural movement also followed the line of international
progressive cultural movement. But in the context of the
success of fascist forces attacks in Europe it had much wider
impact on us. The Progressive Writers Association which was
formed in 1936 has recognized the danger to our culture and
civilization which also emanated from the miseries heaped on
us by the colonial rule. Students Federation has formed an
adult education brigade in Hugli (Bengal) in 1938 for which
Shantimoy Guha has written a small play Muktir Abhiyan
(journey of freedom) and they went to villages. Later, the
other district units of Students Federation also followed the
same path. Shantimoy Guha reminisces that sometimes they
have to improvise a play on the demand of the people. During
their journey if they came to know that a peasant has died due
to famine or due to the atrocities committed by a landlord they
would weave a plot and divide it into scenes and would use
the suitable characters. At night they enacted the play after a
brief speech. In 1940 the communist party has opposed the
Japanese invasion and due this the ban on it was lifted and it
could work openly. CPIs organ Janyudh gave a call for one act
play competition. The condition of this was that it should fulfil
the aspirations of people and should contain the following
It should be enacted in the open places; should have the
minimum requirement of dresses or sets; should be something
like the Jatra; and the language should be simple and well


The Struggle For Hegemony

understood by uneducated people; it should be small which

could be enacted in one and a half hour. It turned out to be a
Shivdan Singh Chauhan was entrusted to present a
report on how to spread the consciousness among the 90 per
cent illiterate or the exploited people of the whole country by
using cultural activities as a tool. He presented this report
Peoples Theatre in India in 1939 which is published in his
book Sahitya Ki Samsyayen (Problems of Literature). In this
report he has advised for dividing it into two parts: one for
urban areas and another for rural areas. In rural areas stage
should be an open space and it should cater to the problems of
peasants and workers and their exploitation and should
present the funny and ironic picture of moneylender, landlord,
Patwari, court, police inspector, capitalist and colonial
administration. Songs and music should be used to make the
presentation pleasing. Popular forms such swang, etc. and
musical instruments such as mridang, pakhawaj, dhol, zhanj,
jamboora, manjira, turahi, khanjari etc. could be used.
But Student Federations cultural brigade enacted a play
Japan Ke Rukte Hobe (Japan has to be stopped) in six districts of
Bengal. Shantimoy Guha tells that it was very difficult and
was something like guerrilla activities. They had to travel even
10-11 miles on dusty and difficult paths singing revolutionary
In 1943, Bengal famine which was a man made tragedy,
has taken a toll of 5 million people and has stirred all
intellectuals, writers and artists. It started a movement which
was not actually nationalistic in character. Peasants, workers,
and middle class people, students and intellectuals all
participated in this movement. On 25th May, 1943 Prof. Hiren
Mukherjee delivering his presidential address to the
foundation conference of IPTA in Bombay said: I want you to
submit to the people all that is best within you, the thing that
has been kept hidden for so long, but which is returning back

Indian Peoples Theatre Association and Its Legacy


in its grand manner in its original shape. Writers and artists

come, come actors and dramatists, come you all, those who
work with hands and minds, come and dedicate yourself to
the formation of a new society based on freedom and social
justiceif we really want any object we should remember that
workers are like the salt of the soil and to align ourselves with
their fate is our greatest achievement. (Chandresh, 2012)
IPTA movement transformed into a peoples cultural
campaign and spread throughout the country, including
Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Andhra,
Maharashtra, Kerala. It brought radical transformation in
literature, arts, theatre, song, dance, social sciences, i.e. in all
the fields. It was a great renaissance movement and influenced
writers, poets, painters, song writers, musicians, journalists,
scientists, peasants, workers, youths and students. The name
of IPTA was suggested by famous scientist Homi Jahangir
Bhabha. In 1940s, all the well known persons have become
part of this cultural campaign.
IPTA produced great plays in different languages. It will
be significant to recall a few of them. Nabanna (New Crop) is
one of them which was written by Bijon Bhattacharya in 1944
in the background of 1943-44 Bengal famine and was jointly
directed by prominent director Shombhu Mitra and Bijon
Bhattacharya himself. This play changed the direction Bangla
plays and the stage. Bijon Bhattacharya has used the new
forms in the play. It also used the traditional forms
constructively. It not only presented the severity of famine but
also exposed the brutality and inhumanity of British
imperialism. Had there been any human sensitivity among the
rulers this gigantic tragedy could have been avoided. The
characters of the play remain alive in spite of hardships and
deprivation and return to the village with the determination
that they have the right to live. Nabanna becomes the symbol
of hope which is based on courage and determination. Zubeida
is another play which was written by K. A. Abbas and directed


The Struggle For Hegemony

by Balraj Sahni and was very successful. Balraj Sahni recounts

its success and spread and reach of IPTA in the following
following the success of Zubeida my colleagues in
IPTA came to agree with everything I proposed to do. I
insisted that different groups for different languages be
foundedsomething which IPTA had already accepted in
principle. It now set about giving the proposal a practical
shape. Before long, we had dramatic groups performing in
Marathi, Gujarati, English and even in Telugu. Besides these
various groups, IPTA also had an all-India dance troupe. After
the break-up of Uday Shankars troupe, almost all its leading
artistes had joined us. They were such renowned artists as
Ravi Shankar, Sachin Shankar, Shanti Bardhan, Abani Das
Gupta, Prem Dhavan, Dina Gandhi, Gul Bardhan, Bina Rai
and Ali Akbar Khan.
Our dramatic troupes too enjoyed the patronage of such
eminent litterateurs and artistes as Mama Warerkar,
Chandravadan Mehta, Gunwantri Achrya, Prithviraj Kapoor
and Durga Khote. These people were no mere advisers, but
wrote plays for us or acted in them
The IPTA movement had spread all over India and
leading writers and artistes from different states were now
coming in its fold. A unique bond of friendship and love was
being forged between artistes from different parts of India.
The artistes of todays generation would, I think, scarcely
believe that such a thing was possible. (Sahni, 2011)
Prithviraj Kapoors Prithvi Theatre was formed in 1944
which performed plays professionally travelling throughout
India. Prithviraj Kapoor was not only close to IPTA but also
accepted its importance.

Indian Peoples Theatre Association and Its Legacy


There were other plays including Paisa, Diwar, Aahuti,

Kalakar, Kisan which in some way or the other had the
influence of IPTA.
In Kerala Kerala Peoples Art Club was formed in 1950.
This group started with the play My True Son which was a
success. When this theatre group staged Thoppil Bhasi written
play You Made Me a Communist, it turned the direction of the
theatre and created a storm in the whole state. This play
played an important role in spreading the communist
ideology in Kerala. The play presented the situation in which
the new generation was passing through a phase of transition
while the old generation was sticking to the old views. This
theatre group had its reach among the peasants, workers,
middle class people and intellectuals.
In Andhra Region the IPTA (Praja Natyamandali)
became a peoples cultural movement. It used old folk forms,
wrote songs, composed music, scripted plays and skits. The
artists were from rural working classes. Burrakatha (bardic
recital) was the most popular folk form adopted by Praja
Natyamandali. It includes a story, music, rhythmic
movements of the body, make-up, and satirical remarks on
contemporary politics. Sunkara Satyanarayana, a poet wrote
popular scripts, like Kashtajivi (The Toiler), Alluri
Seetharamaraju, Veeresalingam, Bengal Famine and Tanya. Sheikh
Nasser was the most popular performer of Burrakatha and was
considered Burrakatha Pitamaha. Half a dozen dalams (squads)
were performing which included womens groups. The
Haikatha form was popularized by Kosuri Punnaiah, and the
Pittala Dora and Koya Dora forms by Koganti Gopalkrishnayya.
Telangana Praja Natyamandali was formed around 1945. They
organized district level training classes and prepared squads.
They prepared scripts for specific art forms of Telangana such
as Bairagulu, Gollasuddulu, Pittala Dora, Fakir, Koya, Chenchu,
Jantar Petti, Sodi and Burrakatha, with local themes. They also
received training from Praja Natyamandali of the Andhra


The Struggle For Hegemony

region. Maabhoomi (Our Land) written by Sunkara and

Vasireddy was staged in Telangana by Praja Natyamandali
artistes from Andhra. This play became so popular that in just
one year, 1947, it was staged around 1,000 times by 125
troupes and was watched by 2 million people, which,
according to K. A. Abbas, was a world record. (Ramakrishna,
2012) There are more than 1000 branches and 22 thousand
members of Praja Natyamandalies in Andhra Pradesh.
(Chandresh, 2012)
After independence, the changed situations had thrown
new challenges and to face them on cultural front became yet
another challenge. The IPTA was scattering. This crisis was in
the whole of the country. In Bengal especially group theatre
movement emerged as a form of resistance. In the same period
Utpal Dutts Little Theatre group became popular. Earlier he
was associated with IPTA but later he left it and formed his
own group. He wrote many plays dealing with national and
international issues. He performed plays on roads, in the
streets and on the stage. He experimented with the street
theatre and tried to make it a part of daily life. Angar, Kallol,
Teener Talvar, Ajey Vietnam, Barricade, Duhsapanernagari are
some important plays. Angar is a play on the miserable life of
the coal workers and the collusion of the mine owners and the
local administration. It became very popular and was
performed 1150 times including village of Bengal. Kallol was a
play on the naval rebellion which was lost in the smoke of
history. It was performed 850 times. After IPTA a nonprofessional committed theatre yet again came into being in an
entirely new form. Theatre Unity, Theatre Theatres,
Shatabdi, Living Theatre became active which carried
forward the peoples theatre movement started by the IPTA.
Shombhu Mitra was associated with IPTA but later he
formed his own troupe Bahurupi. The reasons of his leaving
IPTA can be his own and are debatable but what he learned in
IPTA also finds reflection in his plays performed under the

Indian Peoples Theatre Association and Its Legacy


banner of Bahurupi. Shombhu Mitra is known for his plays

like Char Adhyay (Tagores novel), Raktabeej, Aparajita, Raja
(Tagore), Putul Kaila, Dahchakra (Henry Ibsens A Dolls
House and An Enemy of the People) and Raja Oedipus. He
presents his plays in such a manner that they make us realize
that they belong to our times. The IPTA wanted to connect to
wider sections of the people but Shombhu Mitra was in search
for serious audience.
Bhisham Sahni remembers the stage performance of
IPTA in Rawalpindi in post- Bengal famine period in 1944:
It was in those days that a small group of actors and
actresses came from Calcutta and gave a performance in a
cantonment hall in Rawalpindi. They had been giving
performances in different towns earlier. I also went to see it. It
was very different from all that I had been seeing earlier.
That was my first introduction to the Indian Peoples
Theatre Association, popularly known as IPTA.
It was a street play, even though it had been performed
on the stage of a cinema hall. It told the story of the Bengal
sufferers; the performance was charged with intense emotion.
There were no properties worth the name on the stage, bare
cot on one side, a few tattered clothes hanging, a few pots and
pans. It was virtually a bare stage.
An old man, holding a dimly lighted hurricane lamp
entered from one side, exclaiming: Will you care to listen to
what is happening in Bengal?
Then followed a short play dealing with the plight of a
family during the famine days.
I do not remember the plot. But I sat glued to my seat
watching the performance, which lasted, I think, for an hour
or so. When the play ended, the actors and actresses stepped
down from the stage with their jholies spread out to collect


The Struggle For Hegemony

donations for the Bengal sufferers and went from one row of
seats to the others. I remember, when one of them came close
to where I sat, a young lady in the row ahead of mine took of f
her gold ear-rings and put them in the actors jholi.
It was a very moving experience, a strange, disturbing
experience. What I had seen had little to do with the kind of
drama with which I had been familiar earlier. That sense of
detachment with which you as a spectator watch a play on the
stage had given place to a sense of intense involvement.
(Sahni, 2011)
Bhisham Sahni reminiscing the days of IPTA again
IPTA was a dramatic movement of social commitment.
It aimed to present a graphic, vivid picture of social reality,
not from the angle of a detached observer but of a participant.
Art is created not in a spirit of neutrality but of a deep and
passionate involvement and that was the reason why the IPTA
made a profound impact on the development of theatre in
India during the forties. Those of us who witnessed or
participated in the activities of the IPTA cannot but remember
it with a sense of elation. Its branches were shooting up in
every linguistic reason. In Bengali, they would stage the Jatras
on contemporary themes, or shadow plays, or plays in the best
traditions of Bengali theatre; dance and song ensembles grew
up in many states; the Maharashtra branch would stage
Pawaras while the U.P. artists would present Nautankis. The
movement was reviving folk forms as also innovating new
forms. Besides, Western plays would be adopted and staged as
for instance, Gogols Inspector General, J. B. Priestleys They
Came to a City and Inspector Calls and many others. The IPTA
was unique in having brought the artist closer to social reality
as inspired him to participate in the struggle on the side of
progressive forces. Dramatic activity was no longer confined
to the elite or the professional theatre. (Sahni, 2011)

Indian Peoples Theatre Association and Its Legacy


It was not only theatre but films also that were produced
either directly by IPTA or by those artists who were connected
to it. The spirit in the making of films was the same as that of
the plays. Both had at the centre the problems of peasants and
workers or the poor people and their exploitation by
moneylenders and landlords as well as the British imperialists;
it was a fight for their rights and justice. In 1936 Achchut Kanya
was made to focus on the problems of the most downtrodden
sections of society with a modern perspective. Dharati Ke Lal
was a path breaking film produced in 1946 by IPTA and was
written and directed by K. A. Abbas. Its cast actors included
Shombhu Mitra, Balraj Sahni, Damayanti Sahni, Anwar Mirza,
Tripti Bhaduri, Hamid Butt and Zohra Sehgal. Music was
given by Ravi Shankar. Balraj Sahni writes how and in what
situations it was produced:
In the days of World War II the British Government
would sometimes grant well-known artistes and companies
licenses to make films.
Thanks to the enterprising spirit of Abbas and Sathe,
IPTA too got a license as a result of which we could produce
Dharti ke Lal. It was the first major experience for me in my
film career. The entire film was planned by Khwaja Ahmed
Abbas, all by himself. He was both its writer and its director.
He was assisted by three men who hailed from different parts
of IndiaShombhu Mitra from Bengal, Vasant Gupte from
Maharashtra and I from Bombay. The film was based on three
books which in those days had been acclaimed as classics. All
three had the Bengal famine as their central theme. They were
the two plays by Bijon Bhattacharya Zabaan Bandi and
Nabanna, and Krishan Chaneders lyrical novel Annadata.
It was IPTA that had planned the film Dharti ke Lal
and inevitably the Bengali group became the most powerful
group in IPTA. Who indeed could be better acquainted than
they with the hardships the famine-striken people of Bengal
had to endure? Our difficulty, however, was that none of them


The Struggle For Hegemony

could speak Hindi with even reasonable fluency; consequently

they could not convey to their colleagues what they wanted to
say. The discussions and the rehearsals preceding the actual
shooting often dragged on endlesslyAbbas would
sometimes walk out of the studio in a huff and we would run
after him to bring him back! Or it was the other way round.
Naturally these moods and tantrums of ours raised the cost of
the shooting. (Sahni, 2011)
The songs for this film were written by Urdu poet Sardar
Zafari, Vamik Jonpuri, Prem Dhavan and Hindi poet Nemi
Chand Jain who were connected to IPTA and Progressive
Writers Association. It was very difficult to make such a film
which laid the blame for the famine and the miserable plight
of Indians directly or indirectly on the British rule and it was
not possible to obtain permission for screening a film which
criticized the British rule. It was a realistic film which severely
criticized the landlords, capitalists and traders. But it nowhere
mentioned the name of British. The main message of the film
is to unite the people against the enemies of the people.
In the same year Chetan Anand who was closely
associated with IPTA, produced Neecha Nagar which was
shown at Cannes Film Festival in the same year and received
the best film award along with two other films. This is the first
ever Indian film to get an award in a film festival anywhere in
the world. Chetan Anand has to use the license obtained by
two brothers Rafeek Anwar and Rashid Anwar. This film is
based on Maxim Gorkis story Lower Depths. This is the
story of a small town, its municipality and its head who is the
representative of capitalist class. He wants to develop a new
colony to earn profit. The people of Neecha Nagar oppose this
move because they have nothing to gain from it but it is being
done at their cost. Sarkarji due to his class character presents
the false picture of development and the middle class shows
its wavering attitude. The film emphasizes the unity and
struggle of people to deal with such situation. Struggle does

Indian Peoples Theatre Association and Its Legacy


not mean mere processions and rallies but sacrifices as well.

The hospital in the film is also a symbol. Certainly the diseases
can be cured in the hospital. The film emphasizes that the
causes that give rise to the disease should be removed. If the
diseases are caused by the sewer drainage, its path should be
diverted. Any move by the capitalist class in favour of people
cannot be at the cost of its class interests. This should be
understood by the people. Middle class people easily get
deluded. The film lays emphasis not only on the role of middle
class but of women as well. In the end Sarkarji is defeated in
municipal elections and later dies. The film shows that some
reforms can be achieved through peoples pressures but
radical changes cannot be expected. V. Shantaram produced
Dr. Kotnis ki Amar Kahani with the help of IPTA actors.
These films show that mere entertainment should not be
the aim of cinema. It should also raise the real issues of the
people and this objective has very well been conveyed by the
artists connected to IPTA.
The sectarian influences were taking their toll on IPTA
and PWA but new writers and actors were still joining them
which can be seen from the participation in the Seventh All
India Conference of IPTA in which six hundred delegates
attend the conference and Bimal Roy was the head of the
reception committee and Uday Shankar inaugurated this
conference in which about ten thousand people were present.
(Marxist Cultural Movement in India, Vol. 2, p.156) IPTA was
scattering and with this the organized activities in the field of
cinema came to an end. The writers and actors were joining
cinema and the list of such persons is long: K. A. Abbas, V.P.
Sathe, Balraj Sahni, Ravi Shankar, Shombhu Mitra, Prem
Dhawan, Sardar Jafri, Sachin Dev Berman, Mohan Hehgal,
Sahir Ludhiyanvi, Kaifi Azmi, Majruh Sultanpuri, Shankar
Shelendra, Zohra Sehgal, Chetan Anand, Bhupen Hazarika,
Salil Chaudhury, Ismat Chughtai, Bimal Roy, Bijon
Bhattacharya, Ritvik Ghatak, Utpal Dutt, and several others


The Struggle For Hegemony

who still participated in the activities of IPTA till it did not

scatter completely.

Habib Tanvirs Contribution to Theatre

The name of Habib Tanvir is closely related to the idea
of folk theatre. He was closely related to IPTA and learned a
lot to connect to common people, especially the villagers.
When he started his career folk had not become a major
preoccupation in the contemporary theatre practice. He is
regarded as one of the pioneers of the interest in folk forms
and traditions of performance. Tanvir was born and brought
up in Raipur which was a small town surrounded by villagers.
There was daily and constant interaction between the
residents of the town and the village folk. As a child he had
several opportunities to visit villages where he listened to the
music and songs of the local people. He had a keen interest in
music and poetry which found major expression in Agra Bazar
written and produced by him in 1954. According to Javed
Malick, In Agra Bazar, two major phases that characterize
Tanvirs work in the theatre one, artistic and ideological
predilection for the plebeian, popular culture; and, two, a
penchant for employing music and poetry in plays not as
superfluous embellishment but, much like Brecht, as an
integral part of the action had their first and one of the finest
expression. (Malick, 2004-2005)
After this production he went to England to study
theatre at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and Bristol Old
Vic Theatre School. He travelled to Europe and saw several
productions by Bertolt Brecht which heavily influenced him.
Now he was convinced that no truly worthwhile theatre
that is, no socially meaningful and artistically interesting
theatre was possible unless one worked within ones own
cultural traditions and context. (Malick, 2004-2005) He began
his quest for an indigenous performance idiom. He started
working with some folk artists of Chhattisgarh and their

Indian Peoples Theatre Association and Its Legacy


traditional forms and techniques. After coming back from

Europe his first production, Mitti ki Gadi (a translation of
Shudrakas Mrichchakatikam), had six folk actors from
Chhhatisgarh. He also used the conventions and techniques of
the folk stage and thus gave the production clearly an Indian
form and style. The play is considered by many as one of the
best modern renderings of the ancient classic.
Through his initial failures of his plays he learnt that the
rural actors in their own setting, when they do nacha, were
fabulous. He identified two problems: mother tongue and
freedom of movement. He started using the method of
improvisations. He allowed the native folk actors to speak in
their native Chhattisgarhi dialect. He worked extensively with
rural performers in their native language and style of
performance. He allowed them to do their own traditional
pieces mostly in their own way, merely editing and touching
them up here and there to make more stage-worthy. During
this period he tried many things, from temple rituals to stock
skits and pandavani. (Malick, 2004-2005)
Mitti ki Gadi convinced Tanvir that the style and
techniques of the folk theatre are akin to the ones implied in
the dramaturgy of the Sanskrit playwrights. He believes that
the theatrical style of the latter can be accessed through folk
traditions. The imaginative flexibility and simplicity with
which the classical playwrights establish and shift the time
and place of action in a play, Tanvir argues, is found in
abundance in our folk performances. (Malick, 2004-2005)
Tanvir alongwith his wife Monica Misra, who herself
was a US trained theatre person, founded a Naya Theatre in
1959. The group produced number of modern and ancient
classics of India and Europe. Javed Malick writes, Tanvir has
a way of imbuing his work with a socio-political dimension.
He weaves into any material that he works with certain
elements (such as choric comments and sequences of action
which unmistakably point to the plays political import and


The Struggle For Hegemony

emphasize the harsh reality of the everyday life of the people.

For example, when Tanvir took up Mrichchakatikam for
staging, he not only sharpened the political theme already
present in the original, but also gave it a subtle plebeian bias
by foregrounding, as a prominent cognitive concern, the
vision of a just happy, and libratory social arrangement.
From the beginning of his career his objective was to
harness the elements of the folk traditions as a vehicle and
make them yield new, contemporary meanings and to
produce a theatre which has a touch of the soil about it. The
interaction between Tanvirs urban, modern consciousness
and the folk styles and forms is best exemplified by the songs
in his plays. Without this interaction Tanvirs outstanding
adaptations of A Midsummer Nights Dream (Kamdeo Ka
Sapna, Basant Ritu Ka Sapna) and The Good Woman of
Szechwan (Shaajapur ki Shantibai) would not be possible.
Tanvirs theatre offers an incisive blend of tradition and
modernity, folk creativity and skills on the one hand and
modern critical consciousness on the other. It is this rich as
well as enriching blend which makes his work so unique and
memorable. (Malick, 2004-2005)
In his article Upside-Down Midas, Sudhanva
Deshpande writes, The politics of his plays is somewhat hard
to categorize. If there is one theme that runs consistently
through all his creative output, from Agra Bazaar and even
earlier to the present, it is the celebration of the plebeian. The
culture, beliefs, practices, rituals of the Chhattishgarhi
peasants and tribals, their humour, their songs and their
stories, all this is what has given his theatre its incredible
vitality. His characters do not lack religiosity, but have a down
to earth commonsensical relationship with god. (Deshpande,

Revolutionary Songs: Legacy of IPTA

PTAs songs or songs of those who had been a part of IPTA

/ PWA, and later joined films were not only popular in the
period when they were written but they form a grand legacy
of IPTA /PWA and will always be remembered and still fill
the hearts of people with enthusiasm. Here are the names of
some great song writers and their some of the popular songs:

Prem Dhawan:

Jahan dal dal pe sone ki chidiya karti hai basera, vo

bharat desh hai mera
Mera rang de basanti chola
E mere pyare vatan, e mere bichade chaman, tujh pe dil
Seene mein sulagte hain armaan Aankho mein udaasi
chhaayi hai
Mil ke chalo mil ke chalo, yeh waqt ki awaaz hai mil ke
E vatan, e vatan hum ko teri kasam, teri rahon mein
jaan tak luta jayenge
Utha hai tufan zamana badal raha, jaga hai insaan
zamana badal raha
Uth mazdur ab hosh mein aa, lanat hai sarmayadari,
jisne duniya bhoko mari

Shankar Shailendra

Tu zinda hai to zindagi ki jeet mein yaqeen kar,

agar kahin hai swarg to utaar la zameen par, Tu zinda
Kranti ke liy uthe kadam, kranti ke liye jali mashal
Shaheedon le lo mera salam, shaheedon le lo mera


The Struggle For Hegemony

Desh humara, dharti apni, hum dharti ke lal, naya
sansar banayenge, naya insaan banayenge
Naya aadmi maang raha hai, jeene ka adhikar, dekho
jabde cheer maut ke gadhta hai sansar
Rajendra Raghuvanshi
Sukhi dharti ke anchal se, uthti aaj pukar

Sri Sri

The waves are rolling

The bells are tolling
The voice of another world is calling
Another another another world
Is rolling tolling calling on
Forward march
Oh onward forge
Ahead, ahead lets always surge.
Sahir Ludhiyanvi

E rehbare mulko kaum bata, aankhen to utha nazren to

mila, kuch hum bhi sune, hum ko bhi bata, ye kiska
lahu hai kaun mara
In kaali sadiyon ke sar se jab raat ka anchal dhalkega,
jab dukh ke badal pighalenge jab sukh ka sagar
chalkega, Jab anbar jhoom ke naachega, jab dharti
naghme gayegi, wo subah kabhi to aayegi
Tu hindu banega na musalman banega, insaan ki
aulaad hai insaan banega
Saathi haath badhana
Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai

Revolutionary Songs: Legacy of IPTA


Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko, mardon ne ise bazaar

Allah tero naam, ishwar tero naam
Thandi hawayen lehra ke ayen
Jinhen naaz hai hind pe wo kahan hain
Kabhi-kabhi mere dil mein khayal ata hai

Kaifi Azmi

E mahalon mein rahne wale mahalon se kabhi nikalte

ho, dekhe hain kabhi unke aansu thukra ke jinhen tum
chalte ho
Kar chale hum fida jaan o tan saathiyo

Disintegration of IPTA

his golden period of Marxist cultural movement after

floundering for some period shattered completely. There
are reasons and arguments for and against this cultural
debacle. Bhisham Sahni notes the changes:
after a few years of highly rewarding activity, the
IPTA had a severe setback in its functioning when the policy
of the Communist Party underwent a change, it adversely
affected the functioning of the IPTA also. It became narrow
and sectarian, and lost its broad base and grew weak. (Sahni,
Balraj Sahni recounts the causes of its failure:
Once any section of our people have accepted Marxism
as a philosophy of life, they will inevitably become as fanatic
as they used to be as believers in particular religion. Even as
Marxists, we continue to be intolerant of other political
systems. The slightest difference of opinion with others is
good enough reason for us to brand them as chicken-hearted,
bourgeois, reactionaries and what have you! And,
moreover, we now start worshiping our leaders, as we used to
do our prophets or avatars! We have even no qualms about
sacrificing truth in the interest of our party! A party colleague
becomes our friend and of course the man in the opposite
camp automatically becomes our enemy simple logic indeed!
Marxism, in fact, expects one to shed ones ego but we Indians
end up by becoming all the more egoistic.
I too was no exception. The moment I became a card holding member of the party, I began undergoing a mental
transformation. I took to evaluating art wholly in terms of
political expediency. I now looked upon IPTA as a mere tool
by which to further the interests of the party. In fact, I was
getting to be a petty dictator. Though every one of its

Disintegration of IPTA


members had accepted the socialistic goals the IPTA had set
itself and its national spirit, they certainly did not believe that
the theatre should remain a mere platform to propagate a
particular political creed.
P. C. Joshi blames the Left sectarianism for its failure:
The Central Troupe of the IPTA was just coming to its
own not only politically, professionally and organizationally,
but was also earning a reputation for attempting something
unique and distinctive in our cultural life. It is then, during the
end of 1947, that a sectarian offensive inspired by the
incorrigible left comrade Ranadive was put into operation
through the good-hearted but narrow-minded treasurer
Ghate. As the treasurer, he complained that too much of the
central funds were being wasted in cultural work by
subsidizing the IPTA troupe while its earnings were nominal.
This non-stop campaign unfortunately led to the closure
of the Andheri centre and the disbandment of the IPTA troupe
during mid-1947. It was the first glimpse of what Left
sectarianism was going to cost the party soon enough when
comrade Ranadive became the party leader after the Second
Congress of the party, early in 1948. Sectarianism with its
narrowness is the enemy of culture. We experienced long
before Maos cultural revolution. (Sahni, 2011)
EMS Namboodiripad, however, thinks that this was due
to the political differences:
international, under which the PWA was formed, however,
did not last long. The political unity which embraced
Communists and Socialists at one end, and the bulk of Left
Congressmen on the other, was broken in three years: the
electoral victory of Subhas Chandra Bose in the keenly
contested presidential election of the Congress (1939) turned
out to be the beginning of the split between the Communists


The Struggle For Hegemony

and Socialists, both of them with the Bose followers, the

extreme vacillation shown by Nehru and his followers which
landed them in the end to become the faithful followers of
Mahatma Gandhi, culminating in bitter battles that were
fought between the Communists and the rest of the antiCommunists after the launching of Quit India struggle.
This found reflection in the PWA, as was clear from the
Foreword written by the PWA General Secretary, Sajjad
Zaheer, to the collection of documents emanating from the
Fourth All India Conference of the PWA. He said: As in the
political field, so in literature and art, a deadlock seems to
have reached in our country. The Fourth All India Progressive
Writers Conference which met in Bombay in the fourth week
of May (1943) attempted to break this literary stalemate.
(Pradhan, 1982)
The hope of having broken the stalemate was, however,
wishful thinking. The great divide on the political front
(between the supporters and opponents of the Quit India
struggle) continued in the country, and reflected itself in the
field of art and literary writing. Many who had earlier played
a role or participated in the foundation of the PWA became
bitter enemies of that organization and everything it stood for.
Nor was this surprising. After all, the basis of unity at the time
of the formation of PWA was political-cum-cultural, not
merely cultural. When the shift took place in the political
situation internationally and nationally, the original unity
could not but be disrupted. (Namboodiripad E.M.S. , Half A
Century of Marxist Cultural Movement in India, 1986)
Prakash Karat, General Secretary, CPI(M) has written an
article on PC Joshi, which was printed in Lok Lehar, and
reproduced in Naya Path, Jan.- June, 2012. He says that it was
only in the leadership of PC Joshi that the slogan of national
democratic alliance Government was raised by a section of UP
State Committee of CPI in 1954. P C Joshis argument was that
difference should be made between pro-imperialist, pro-

Disintegration of IPTA


landlord forces and national bourgeois sections. He was

among the persons who presented an alternate draft
resolution in the fourth Party Congress held at Palghat in 1956,
which stated that an alternate, national unity Government can
be made. Then Karat says that in the garb of this national
democratic front this thinking of having an alliance with the
ruling class, also got reflected in the intellectual and cultural
fields, where the people who were recruited in the party by PC
Joshi, left the Communist Party after the national bourgeois
class has taken the reins of power. (Translated from Hindi

Janwadi Lekhak Sangh

hanchal Chauhan, General Secretary of Janwadi Lekhak

Sangh, in his article, Progressive Movement: The Heat of
Ideological Struggle published in Naya Path, Jan.-June, 2012
says that after independence a new alignment of classes had
taken place; the monopoly capitalism grasped the reins of
power and had alliance with landlord class as well as with
imperialism; it had a compromise safeguarding its interests
and even today such compromises are made daily before our
eyes. In such a situation the pre-independence united front
was to come to an end inevitably; this was the basic reason of
the disintegration of Progressive Writers Association. He
says that ruling party was facing a sever crisis which led it to
impose emergency curtailing every right of people and after
emergency on the occasion of Premchands centenary being
celebrated in New Delhi a need was felt to form a writers
organization and several writers gathered to discuss this issue
and finally Janwadi Lekhak Sangh was formed in 1982 in a
conference held in New Delhi. Thus the struggle to defend the
democratic rights of peasants and workers and the common
people continues to find its place in the field of literature.
Janwadi Lekhak Sangha has to take up the issues thrown up
by the policies of neo-liberalism, globalization, privatization
and corporatization and their effects on the people and also
has to fight against imperialism. Writers have to take up the
issues of dalits, tribals, and women and their literature
requires an expansion.

Jana Natya Manch

or those who had joined the CPI(M) it was no longer

possible to work in IPTA. Therefore, there was a need for
a new theatre group and it resulted in the formation of Jan
Natya Manch (JANAM ) in 1973. Its aim was the same as has
been annunciated by Shivdan Singh Chauhan that the aim of
art should not be to earn money and to provide entertainment
to the exploiting classes but to fulfil the spiritual needs of the
exploited people and to make them conscious of their present
and future tasks. Ritwik Ghatak had placed his own concepts
of IPTA. In his opinion our aim should be to remove the ill
effects of alien culture. We should fight against it. We should
educate the people and make them conscious so that we can
mobilize them behind the peoples organizations. Safdar
Hashmi also says that our aim is to provide to people an
alternative culture and Jan Natya Manch performs its street
plays among the people not to provide cheap and alternative
entertainment but to educate and rally them behind the
democratic movements and peoples democracy. (Hashmi,
Shivdan Singh Chauhan had suggested that theatre
should cater to the needs of the workers in the cities and
peasants in the villages and accordingly there should be two
kinds of theatre groups which we have already discussed
earlier in these pages. Jan Natya Manch being based in Delhi
has to look for the requirement in urban working class areas
and device such a form that does not require much of the stage
material because it has to perform theatre at a street corner or
in the working class colonies or in industrial areas. It has also
to choose subjects that concerned the workers and the
common men, like some kind of unity theatre which became
popular in England and used the news of living news papers
for subjects on which plays could be performed.


The Struggle For Hegemony

Jan Natya Manch chooses its subjects after consultation

among the members of its group and writes it collectively by
the members of the group and devices appropriate form
suitable to situations. In its initial days JANAM performed
stage plays such Bharat Bhagya Vidhata, Firangi Lot Aye and Ab
Raja Ki Bari Hai, etc. It did not confine itself to the stage
performances but took them to the people by making stage
there. Music, costume designing, set designing, work of
directing plays, all were done by the members of the group. It
continued till 1975. But when Emergency was declared it
stopped because it was not possible to go to the areas and set
the stage for performance; and the people wouldnt come
forward to invite for staging such plays. Ab Raja Ki Bari Hai
was last performed in 1977. This gave birth to a new kind of
theatre: street theatre. Machine was the first play of such kind
which was performed in 1978. Safdar says the tradition of this
kind of theatre doesnt go beyond 1917 when some agit-prop
plays were performed in the streets, markets and on factory
gates after the Russian Revolution. It emerged in many
countries during critical times such as during long march in
China, civil war in Spain, in Cuba after the Revolution, in
Vietnam during the war, in the World War-II in the trenches,
forests and fields. In England and America before the factory
gates and workers colonies as well such street plays were
performed. Safdar says that in India street play emerged in
IPTAs campaign to mobilize people against imperialism.
After independence it connected itself to those who were
fighting against the economic and social exploitation of
people. (Hashmi, 1989) Habib Tanvir in his article The Dream
of Safdar says this form is the invention of time. The form of
street play perhaps could not have emerged in the forties as it
was the demand of time to conduct political campaign in some
other way. It was our need that we address thousands of
workers from an improvised stage with speech, songs and the
skit. (Tanvir)

Jan Natya Manch


Machine was a very successful play and there was a

demand that more such plays should be performed and
JANAM continued to perform such plays for the next ten
years and also worked on the form and style. This was a new
initiative. According to Safdar if our city theatre were a big
cultural force, a live popular art form which could show the
struggles, hopes and aspirations of people, our street play also
could have remained like a propaganda instrument only and
would have worked to focus on central burning issues. But
because the main stream theatre is not in contact with wider
masses, a fully developed peoples theatre is required which
could be available to the people. The second reason is that
working continuously with this form the street theatre persons
came to know of its unlimited possibilities. (Hashmi, 1989)
Therefore, continuous work was done on the form of street
play as well. It is a city form. People dont have much time at
their disposal. Therefore, you should be able to present it in a
minimum possible time.
JANAM doesnt have professional theatre persons but
they work like professionals. JANAM has always tried to keep
relations with professional theatre persons. These relations are
not only at the level of discussions but also at the level of
work. They have workshops with many eminent theatre
persons like Habib Tanvir, M. K. Raina, G. P. Deshpande,
Kanhai Lal, Shavitri, Anuradha Kapur, Tripurari Sharma,
Kiran Sehgal, Bharat Sharma etc. This provided them an
occasion to learn many things related to theatre. This includes
discussions about Bharats Natyashastra, Brechts Epic theatre
along with script writing, dance, music, masque making, etc.
Working with these people they learned a lot about
theatre. They not only did workshops with Habib Tanvir but
also staged Mote Ram Ka Satyagraha and Hepatia with him.
Hepatia was written for JANAM with its interaction.
Satyashodhak was written for JANAM, and performed with the
interaction of G.P. Deshpande. They learned a lot from the


The Struggle For Hegemony

process of writing, directing, of this play and this process of

learning is also visible in other plays as well like Shambook
Badh and Aajadi Se Jeene Ki Dastak Di.
JANAM has done lot of experiments with the form of
street play. When the street theatre came into existence after
an experience of doing theatre for ten years different kinds of
stories, prosaic poetry, music, episodic structure, etc., were
used. Folk forms, especially in music, have been used, such as,
Aalah, Barahmansa, etc. When the form of the play has taken its
shape, new things are added to it so that it remains vivacious.
Attempts are made to make a visual effect. In Machine the
acting of players shows, not the structure of machine, not the
body theatre, but a thought. It shows separate elements of
machine which is the machine of capitalism and the machine
expresses its relations of production.
In their plays the actors make different formations.
Different kinds of properties are added to it. It is not costly but
rich in content and form. More elements are required to be
added to it so that the people watching it dont feel that they
are being shown something less and that the street play is
something different from the stage plays. Therefore, it requires
to be further enriched. It is simple but not simplistic. Its
objective is to convey the message by creating an element of
pleasure. It doesnt mean that it doesnt have the elements of
pleasure in it. Utpal Dutt talks about the magical things.
JANAM has provided a magical moment in May Day in the
form of pigeons, saying peace-peace, aman-aman, shanti. On the
squares and in the streets red flags fly and mention of Russian
revolution is made. This creates magical effect. In Sangharsh
Karenge Jeetenge the birth of a child and opening of a window
in Andhera Aftab Mangega create magic moments. In Gadha
Puran the crown of the king is bigger than his head and his
masque is upturned. These masques and puppets have been
used in Aartnad and Char Rang plays also, not merely to create
visual effects but they have a meaning.

Jan Natya Manch


JANAM has also done plays on stories such as

Premchands Satyagraha or Hinsa Paramo Dharamah, and on
Nagarjunas novel Varun Ke Bete. They say that they have
learned about possible history from G. P. Deshpande while
working for Satyashodhak.
JANAM has many things at the level of music. If we look
at the songs we find that they have used Brechtian form in
their plays. In Andhera Aftab Mangega when Badal gets beaten
a song erupts: Yahi hota hai meri jindagi main, yahi sach hai ise
mano na mano. This is a comment and they have learned it
from Brecht.
JANAM did a play on communal harmony Sab Mei Sahib
Bharpur Hai which was based on the life of Paltudas. It was a
very successful play. Ye Dil Mange More Guruji was a comment
on the situations in Gujarat after the communal carnage by
using the headlines and pictures of newspapers as well as
poems and satire against communalism. (A brief translation
from the article of Ashok Tiwari/Brijesh Sharma Jan Natya
Manch Ke Anubhav, published in Naya Path, Jan.-June, 2012)

Street Theatre Today

treet plays are an effective medium of creating social

awareness. From political parties to NGOs to educational
institutes, street theatre is being used by all to create
awareness among people and sensitize them on various issues.
According to the Filmmaker, Satish Rajwade, "Street theatre is
one of the most powerful and effective tools of social
awareness, and it is cost effective as well because you don't
need a lot of money to perform a street play. It is only one's
enthusiasm that matters." (Bhanage, 2013) In recent years a
variety of topics such as anti-corruption, women's safety,
blood donation, female foeticide, road safety among other
topics have been explored by street theatre groups. Atish
Patel, in the article, Indian street plays tackle topics from rape
to drinking, writes, Street theatre, an art form with its roots
in 1970s leftwing activism, has now evolved into a direct
marketing tool to take both civic and corporate messages to
poor audiences and is thriving in the streets and alleys of
India's slums, spreading messages from free schooling to
responsible drinking.
In the past few years various theatre groups have emerged.
Some of them were established long back but only now they
are getting recognition. Swatantrata Theatre group from Pune,
Lokadharmi Theatre from Cochin, Asmita Theatre from Delhi
and Nishant Natya Manch are some of the prominent names
working in different parts of the country. They stage their
plays in different areas of the country on various issues. Some
of these groups also upload the videos of their plays on
Youtube. The objective is to create awareness among people
on current problems that we are facing today in the society.
Various NGOs are also taking the help of street plays to
sensitize the general public on such issues. Chetan Sharma in
his article, Change, Awareness and Revolution writes, Its

Street Theatre Today


not much of a known fact but street play is more than social
change. Its a goofy, musical and closely audience interacting
form of acting in which, even Romeo and Juliet has been
performed. In this marketing crazy world, this art form now
becomes a way of promoting companies, their ideas and their
products leading to emergence of corporate street plays. Its a
new trend to advertise through street plays. Big players like
the UN, Goonj, CRY etc. prefer this form for propagating their
message to their target audience for its characteristic of being
an audience magnet and being closely connected to them.
(Sharma, 2014)
"Street theatre is people-friendly. The dynamic and mobile
nature of street theatre makes it possible to go to people where
theatre is not accessible: like streets, markets, slums, villages,
schools, office complexes, parks, residential areas. It is a free
show for everyone: paan wallah, officer, labourer, housewife or
student. Therefore, it never has a limited or 'repeat' audience.
With actors moving at the same level as the audience, there's
no hierarchy. The simple and direct performance gives it
power to reach people. There are no tickets as the aim is not to
make profits. Rather, the audience is asked for contributions,"
explains Prabha, a social activist from Buxar who has used the
humble 'nukkad natak' (street corner play) to raise awareness
among women on issues of income generation. (Krishner,
Today street theatre is a recognized form and numerous
workshops are conducted on it. Youngsters who want to make
their career in theatre and acting often join these theatre
Today street theatre is also being used by political parties
other than the Left for political campaigns. From highlighting
candidates to taking satirical digs at the opposition's policies
to generating voter awareness for the 2014 Lok Sabha
elections, ST has gone beyond street corners or nukkads and


The Struggle For Hegemony

gained momentum online. Theatre activists call this a positive

sign. (Street theatre is corrupted, just campaign tool, 2014)
In last few elections in Delhi and adjoining areas, street theatre
was used to create awareness among people on casting vote.
Arvind Gaur, director of Asmita, a leading Hindi theatre
outfit that does socio-political street-plays, stressed that these
are meant to engage the common man in healthy debates and
encourage him to participate in governance but should steer
clear of influencing opinions. (Street theatre is corrupted, just
campaign tool, 2014)

Conclusion: The Struggle Continues

hus, the founders of Marxism have explained that the

theory of the economic base and the superstructure should
not be vulgarized to mean that the superstructure has no role
in history. As a matter of fact the superstructures, represented
by the state, ideology, social institutions, media, culture, ways
of living and thinking of different groups of people, etc. play
very important role in history. Even the activities of
individuals, leaders, philosophers, etc., influence the
developments. In short, while the base is of decisive
importance in the fundamental direction of history, the
superstructures also can influence the direction of history in
specific ways in particular periods. We also find that these
superstructures are to some extent autonomous. Otherwise, it
would have been very difficult for the exploited and deprived
sections of people to organise resistance against the
exploitative order. We have seen that Indian people, the
working class, peasants, middle classes, all fought for freedom
against the British colonialism and their misrule, jointly using
all the political, cultural means at their disposal. It is in this
context that we should understand the formation of PWA and
IPTA and the role of the cultural movement which asserted its
hegemony over British colonialism resulting in the
independence of the country. It is sad that both PWA and
IPTA lost their vigour but they played their historic role.
The new situation arising from the independence threw
new challenges. The reins of power had passed from the
hands of British colonialists to the hands of Indian bourgeoise
which struck an alliance with the landlord class to rule the
country. Thus, the situation has completely changed. The
exploited classes - the workers, peasants, middle classes, dalits
and adivasis have to fight their new rulers. They have to
organise themselves both politically as well as culturally. This
trend of reorganising themselves in new situations and with


The Struggle For Hegemony

new challenges started in the 1950s, and culminated in the

sixties with the formation of new political parties of the
working class, and other mass organisations in the seventies.
JANAM came into existence in 1973 and Janwadi Lekhak
Sangh in 1982. And it seems the fight for the rights of the
working classes, peasants, agricultural workers, middle
classes, dalits, adivasis, students, youth and women is yet in its
preliminary stage. The road to victory is very long and
tortuous. All groups of people who stand and fight for these
sections of people have to come together on a joint platform to
fight the forces of capitalism and communalism, and struggle
for hegemony, both politically and culturally as they did in
pre-independence days.

The Naure and Purpose of Literature
Munshi Premchand
Presidential Address of Munshi Premchand, delivered at the First
All India Progressive Writers Conference, held at Lucknow on 10
April 1936. (Translated from Hindustani.)
This conference is a memorable occasion in the history of our
literature. Hitherto we had been content to discuss language
and its problems; the existing critical literature of Urdu and
Hindi has dealt with the construction and the structure of the
language alone. This was doubtless an important and
necessary work. And the pioneers of our literature have
supplied this preliminary need and performed their task
admirably. But language is a means, not an end; a stage, not
the journeys end. Its purpose is to mould our thoughts and
emotions, and to give them the right direction. We have now
to concern ourselves with the meaning of things, and to find
the means of fulfilling the purpose for which language has
been constructed. This is the main purpose of this conference.
Literature properly so-called is not only realistic, true to life,
but is also an expression of our experiences and of the life that
surrounds us. It employs easy and refined language which
alike affects our intellect and our sentiments. Literature
assumes these qualities only when it deals with the realities
and experiences of life. Fairy tales and romantic stories of
princely lovers may have impressed us in olden days, but they
mean very little to us today. Unless literature deals with
reality it has no appeal for us.


The Struggle For Hegemony

Literature can best be defined as a criticism of life. The

literature of our immediate past had nothing to do with
actuality; our writers were living in a world of dreams and
were writing things like Fasanai Ajaib or Chandra Kanta Tales
told only for entertainment, or to satisfy our sense of wonder.
Life and literature were considered to be two different things
which bore no relation to each other. Literature reflects the
age. In the past days of decadence the main function of
literature was to entertain the parasitic class. In this literature
the dominant notes were either sex or mysticism, pessimism
or fatalism. It was devoid of vigour, originality, and even the
power of observation.
But our literary taste is undergoing a rapid transformation. It
is coming more and more to grips with the realities of life; it
interests itself with society or man as a social unit. It is not
satisfied now with the singing of frustrated love; or with
writing to satisfy only our sense of wonder; it concerns itself
with the problems of our life; and such themes as have a social
value. The literature which does not arouse in us a critical
spirit, or satisfy our spiritual and intellectual needs, which is
not force-giving and dynamic, which does not awaken our
sense of beauty, which does not make us face the grim realities
of life in a spirit of determination, has no use for us today. It
cannot even be termed as literature.
In the past, religion had taken upon itself the task of striving
after mans spiritual and moral guidance; it used fear and
cajolery, reward and retribution as its chief instruments in this
work. Today, however, literature has undertaken a new task,
and its instrument is our inherent sense of beauty; it tries to
achieve its aim by arousing this sense of beauty in us. The
more a writer develops this sense through his observation of
nature, the more effective will his writing become. All that is
ugly or detestable, all that is inhuman, becomes intolerable to
such a writer. He becomes the standard bearer of humanity, of



moral uprightness, of nobility. It becomes his duty to help all

those who are downtrodden, oppressed and exploited individuals or groups and to advocate their cause. And his
judge is society itself it is before society that he brings his
plaint. He knows that the more realistic his story is, the more
full of expression and movement his picture, the more
intimate his observation of human nature, human psychology,
the greater the effect he will produce. It is not even enough
that from a psychological point of view, his characters
resemble human beings; we must further be satisfied that they
are real human beings of bones and flesh. We do not believe in
an imaginary man; his acts and his thoughts do not impress
The question may be asked, but what is beauty? Why does a
waterfall, the sunset, and other such natural scenes and
phenomena affect us? Because, there is a certain harmony of
colour or sound in them. We ourselves are created by a
harmony of elements, and our spirit always seeks the same
balance and harmony in everything else. It is the harmony
which creates beauty. Nature demands that this harmony
should exist everywhere, and, the more art keeps in touch
with nature and with reality, the better it will be.
In this sense, the name progressive writer is defective an
artist or a writer is by his very nature progressive. But perhaps
it is necessary to use this qualifying word because progress
has a different meaning for different people. For us
progressive is that which creates in us the power to act;
which makes us examine those subjective and objective causes
that have brought us to such a pass of sterility and
degeneration; and finally which helps us to overcome and
remove those causes, and become men once again. We have no
use today for those poetical fancies which overwhelm us with
their insistence on the ephemeral nature of this world and
whose only effect is to fill our hearts with despondency and
indifference. We must, resolutely, give up writing those love


The Struggle For Hegemony

romances with which our periodicals are flooded. We have no

time to waste over sentimental art. The only art which has
value for us today is that which is dynamic and leads to
According to us, subjective art is that which drags us down to
inaction and passivity; and such an art is good neither for the
individual nor for the society. I have no hesitation in saying
that I judge art from the point of view of its utility.
Undoubtedly, the aim of art is to satisfy our sense of beauty;
and it is the key to our spiritual happiness. But happiness itself
is a thing of utility. The same object from this point of view,
may stir in us feelings of joy or sorrow. But beauty like
everything else is not absolute; it too has relative value. The
same thing which gives happiness to one, causes pain to
another. A rich man sitting in his beautiful garden and
listening to the song of the birds thinks of paradise; to a poor
but intelligent human being who regards this pomp of wealth
as being tainted with the blood of workers, it is the most
hateful thing.
Brotherhood and equality, from the dawn of human culture
and civilization have been the golden dream of idealists.
Religious leaders have made repeated attempts to realize their
dream by creating religious, moral and spiritual sanctions. But
they have not succeeded. Buddha, Christ, Mohammed, all the
prophets, tried without any success. Today the distinction
between high and low, rich and poor, is manifesting itself with
a brutality which has never been surpassed before. There is a
saying amongst us that to try that which has already been
tried is a sign of stupidity we shall fail again if we attempt to
attain our goal with the help of religion or ethics.
Are we then to give up our ideals? If that were so, the human
race might as well perish. The ideal which we have cherished
since the dawn of civilization; for which man has made God
knows how many sacrifices; which gave birth to religion the
history of human society is a history of the struggle for the



fulfillment of this ideal we too have to place that ideal before

ourselves; we have to accept it as an unalterable reality and
then see the vulgar pride, ostentation and lack of sensibility in
the one, the strength of modesty, faith and endeavour in the
other. And our art will notice those things only when our
artistic vision takes the entire universe within its purview;
when the entire humanity will form its subject matter; then it
will no longer be tied to the apron strings of a particular class.
Then we shall no longer tolerate a social system under which a
single individual can tyrannise over thousands of human
beings; then our self-respecting humanity will raise the
standard of revolt against capitalism, militarism and
imperialism; and we shall not sit quiet and inane after doing a
little bit of creative work on pieces of paper, but we shall
actively participate in building that new order which is not
opposed to beauty, good taste and self-respect. The role of
literature is not simply to provide us with amusement, or
recreation; it does not follow, but is, on the contrary, a torchbearer to all the progressive movements in society.
We sometimes complain that literary men are not given an
honourable place in society, that is to say, in Indian society. In
other civilised countries, literary men are placed very high on
the ladder of social esteem. The highest placed people in the
land consider it an honour to meet and to know these men.
But, then, India is still in many ways living under medieval
conditions. If our writers have played the sycophant to the
rich to earn their livelihood by flattery, if they are unaware of
the dynamic forces working in modern society, if they choose
to shut themselves up in ivory towers, completely oblivious of
their surroundings, it is not surprising that they find
themselves as a class more and more discarded by society. It is
true that writers are born and not made, but we would not
forget the rigorous intellectual, moral, spiritual and emotional
discipline which Aristotle has prescribed for them. With us a
simple inclination to write is considered sufficient reason for a
man to take to the profession of writing. He need not equip


The Struggle For Hegemony

himself for it, he need to have no knowledge of politics,

economics or psychology; and still he will be a writer. This
should not be so, for it is a sign of stagnation.
The ideal which we want to put before literature today is not
that of subjectivism or individualism, for literature does not
see the individual as something apart from society, but
considers him as a social unit; because him is a mere cypher
and non-entity. It follows, therefore, that those of us who have
the good fortune to be educated and who have been endowed
with a trained intellect, have certain obligations towards
society. Just as we consider the capitalist to be an usurper and
an oppressor, because he lives on the labour of others, in the
same way we should strongly condemn the intellectual
capitalist, who, after having received the best education uses
it for his own private ends. It is the duty of our intellectuals to
serve society in every possible way. They should acquire not
only the art of writing well, but should also acquaint
themselves with the general condition of society. If we read
the reports of International Writers Conferences we find that
there is hardly a subject concerning life, literature, economic
problems, historical controversies, philosophy, which is not
discussed there. When we compare ourselves with these
people, we really feel ashamed of our ignorance. We must
therefore, raise the cultural level of our writers. I know it is
difficult under the present economic system, but let us at least
strive after this. If we do not reach the top of the mountain, we
shall at least raise ourselves from the surface of the earth to a
higher place. With love to guide our activities, and with
service of humanity as the outward manifestation of this love,
there is no difficulty which we cannot overcome. For those
who are after wealth and riches, there is no place in the temple
of love. If we place our services at the disposal of the masses of
this country, we shall have done our duty. The happiness
which we get from serving humanity will be our reward. We
stand or fall with society, and as true artists we should disdain
self advancement and cheap exhibitionism.



Such are the objectives which have led to the formation of the
Indian Progressive Writers Association. It wants literature to
bear the message of efforts and action. It is not concerned with
problems of language as such. With a correct ideology,
language will become simpler and better. So long as the
content of our writing is on the right lines, we need not worry
about the form. The literature which is patronised by the
privileged classes will adopt their forms of expression; the
literature which is of the masses will speak their language.
Our object is to create such an atmosphere in this country as
would help the growth of progressive literature. We want to
establish branches of our Association in all the literary centres
of India; we want to organise the creative literary life in those
centres, by reading papers, by discussions and by criticism. It
is in this way that our literary renaissance will take place. We
want a branch of the Association in every province and in
every linguistic zone, so that we can carry our message to all
parts of the country. For some time past, Indian writers have
been feeling the necessity for such an organisation. At various
places some steps have already been taken in this direction.
Our object is to help all such progressive tendencies in our
literary world. We writers suffer from one great defect, and
that is the absence of action in our lives. It is a bitter reality; we
cannot shut our eyes to it. Indeed, this absence of an active life
was considered to be a virtue by our writers, for it was agreed,
an active life was leads to intolerance and narrowmindedness. A puritan, enforcing his doctrine on others, is
certainly a greater nuisance than a libertine; the latter may
save himself, whereas there is no hope for an arrogant puritan.
So long as the object of literature was mere entertainment, so
long as it was a means of escape from life, when it demanded
a mere shedding of tears over life and its sorrows, an active
participation in the social struggles was not required from a
literary man. We, however, have a different conception of
literature and the duties of a writer. We shall consider only
that literature as progressive which is thoughtful, which
awakens in us the spirit of freedom and of beauty; which is


The Struggle For Hegemony

creative; which is luminous with the realities of life; which

moves us; which leads us to action and which does not set on
us as a narcotic; which does not produce in us a state of
intellectual somnolence for, if we continue to remain in that
state it can only mean that we are no longer alive.
(Courtesy: Social Scientist)

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A Midsummer Nights Dream ..... 90
Aam Aadmi Party ...................... 33
Abyssinia..................................... 75
Achchut Kanya ............................. 85
agit-prop.................................... 100
Agra Bazar .................................... 88
alternative and oppositional
culture ..................................... 56
Althusser ................................. 9, 13
ancient Greece ...................... 26, 64
Ancient India ................................ 28
anti -religious .............................. 20
anti-Brahminical movements ... 65
anti-Communists........................ 96
Arthashastra ................................. 17
Aryans ......................................... 37
Asmita ............................... 104, 106
Asmita Theatre ......................... 104
Aurobindo................................... 65
avatars .......................................... 94
avidya ........................................... 27

B. S. Moonje ................................ 34
Bahadurshah Zafar .................... 33
Bal Gangadhar Tilak .................. 65
Bal Mandirs................................. 36
Balika Mandirs ........................... 36
Balraj Sahni ............... 80, 85, 87, 94
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee ..... 65
Base and Superstructure ....... 3, 51
Bedouins...................................... 22
Bendetto Croce ............................. 6
Bharatiya culture ................... 37, 38

Bhartiya Janata Party ................. 33

Bhaskaracharya .......................... 39
Bijon Bhattacharya ......... 79, 85, 87
Bimal Roy .................................... 87
Bismarck ...................................... 13
bourgeois- nationalist movement
................................................. 34
bourgeois society............ 54, 56, 63
bourgeoisie class ........................ 14
Brahaminical dominance .......... 36
Brahminic overlordship ............ 28
Brecht ........................... 88, 101, 103
Briton ........................................... 28
Brother Karamazov ....................... 61
Buddhism .............................. 37, 38

Cannes Film Festival.................. 86
capitalists..................................... 13
Chandra Kanta tales..................... 72
character of communications.... 56
Charka ......................................... 39
Chetan Anand ...................... 86, 87
Christianity ................................. 21
classical capitalism ..................... 44
classical philosophy ................... 63
communication studies ............. 60
Communist ... 33, 34, 77, 81, 94, 97
communist parties ..................... 20
Congress Party ........................... 33
cultural state ............................... 13
Cultural Superstructures........... 63
cultural traditions ...................... 88
Culture........................................... 1


Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya .. 25,

Dharati Ke Lal .............................. 85
Dharmasastra ............................... 27
Dollfuss ....................................... 67
dominant culture 54, 55, 56, 57, 58
Dr. Kotnis ki Amar Kahani .......... 87
Dvadsha Panjari ........................... 28
dwijas ........................................... 27

George Lucas .............................. 43

George Lukcs............................ 63
German Empire.......................... 13
German philosophy................... 23
Germany .................. 6, 7, 63, 67, 69
gram sabhas .................................. 12
Gramsci .............. 1, 6, 13, 41, 53, 63
Greece .......................................... 39

E.M.S. Namboodiripad ............. 28
economic structure . 3, 4, 30, 52, 63
Egypt ........................................... 39
emergent ..........................56, 58, 62
Engels .......................................... 12
England .................... 63, 88, 99, 100
ethical .......................................... 13
ethico-political .............................. 6

Fasnai Ajaib.................................. 72
Feuerbach.................................... 6, 8
Feurbach ..................................... 20
fideists ......................................... 25
Fifth Symphony ............................ 61
flatism .......................................... 44
folk artists ................................... 88
Fordism ....................................... 41
freedom struggle........................ 70
French Revolution ..................... 31
French working class................. 67

Habib Tanvir ............... 88, 100, 101
Halevy ......................................... 14
Hamlet .......................................... 61
Hazare ......................................... 33
Hegel ..................................... 23, 31
Hindu Mahasabha ............... 33, 34
Hinduism .................................... 37
Hindutva ...................................... 65
Hollywood blockbuster ............ 42
homologous structure ............... 52
Humanism .................................. 17

Indian Literary Council............. 71
Indian Peoples Theatre
Association....................... 77, 83
Indian polity ............................... 39
Interventionist State .................. 15
IPTA .. 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84,
85, 86, 87, 88, 91, 94, 95, 99, 100,


The Struggle For Hegemony

J.V. Stalin ....................................... 4
Jacobinism ................................... 31
Jainism ......................................... 37
Jan Natya Manch........ 99, 100, 103
Jan Sangh..................................... 33
JANAM. 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 108
Janata Party ................................. 33
Janwadi Lekhak Sangh ...... 98, 108
Japan ............................................ 78
Jatra .............................................. 77

K. A. Abbas ............... 79, 82, 85, 87
Kanad .......................................... 55
Kautalyan state ........................... 18
Kerala Peoples Art Club........... 81
Kosambi....................................... 17

Lenin ............................ 8, 24, 25, 70
Lok Sabha .................................... 48
Lower Depths ............................. 86
Lucas ...................................... 43, 52

Maabhoomi ................................. 82
Magadhan State......................... 17
Mahabharata ................................. 64
Mahrattas .................................... 27
Malaparte .................................... 15
Manusmirti .................................. 38
market capitalism .......................... 41

Marx and Engels ........................ 20

Marxist....................................... 1, 9
Marxist cultural analysis ........... 54
Marxist cultural movement ...... 94
Marxist cultural tradition.......... 62
Marxist theory .................... 3, 6, 57
Marxist Theory of Culture ........ 51
Marxists ....................................... 22
mass politics................................ 33
Materialism and Empirio-criticism
................................................. 24
Media .................................. 1, iii, 40
Microsoft ..................................... 43
Mitti ki Gadi ................................. 89
modernism .............................. 41, 44
Mohammedan world ................. 21
Mozilla Firefox ........................... 44
multinational capitalism ............... 41
Murdochism ............................... 41

Nabanna ................................. 79, 85
nacha ............................................. 89
Naredra Modi ............................. 33
Nautankis ..................................... 84
Naya Theatre ................................ 89
Neecha Nagar ............................... 86
Nehruvian ................................... 34
Nepoleonic .................................. 31
Net Neutrality ...................... 48, 49
Nishant Natya Manch ............. 104

of Subhas Chandra Bose............ 95


Paid News................................... 47
panchayats .................................... 12
Pawaras ........................................ 84
Pedantic concept ........................ 39
Peoples Theatre in India ........... 78
Philosophical Superstructure ... 23
plebeian ................................. 88, 90
point dhonneur ............................ 19
political and cultural hegemony
................................................. 13
political campaign ................... 100
Political Superstructure............. 31
politics and ideology ................... 7
popular culture .......................... 88
Prabhat Patnaik .......................... 17
Praful Bidwai.............................. 37
Praja Natyamandali ................... 81
Press Council of India ............... 48
Prithvi Theatre ........................... 80
Progressive Cultural Movement
........................................... 40, 44
Progressive Writers' Association
.......................... 67, 71, 77, 86, 98
psychological theory ................. 60
publishers lobby......................... 48
puppets ..................................... 102

Quit India struggle .................... 96

Rabindranath Tagore .....66, 71, 75
Ramayana ............................. 37, 64
Ramayana legend ...................... 37

Raymond Williams ...........1, 51, 60

realm of God............................... 20
Rechards ..................................... 60
Religion ....................................... 19
Renaissance ................................ 17
residual ...................... 56, 57, 58, 62
revenue collection ...................... 32
Rig Veda...................................... 35
Roman World Empire ............... 21
Rome...................................... 21, 39
Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts
................................................. 88

salvation ...................................... 21
Saraswati Vandana ...................... 36
Sashi Kumar ......................... 40, 44
Satish Rajwade ......................... 104
sensorium ................................... 45
Shankara ............................... 28, 52
Shishu Mandirs .......................... 36
Shivaji cult .................................. 65
Shyama Prasad Mukherjee ....... 34
Social Scientist .................. v, 40, 44
spirit of Bharat............................ 38
Spirituality .................................. 38
State ............................................. 12
Steven Spielberg......................... 43
Street theatre......................104, 105
Structure and Superstructure . 7, 8
Sudras .......................................... 27
superstructural elements .......... 16
superstructure v, 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 30,
31, 40, 51, 53, 57, 60, 107
surya namaskar ............................ 35
Swadeshi Movement ................. 65
Swatantrata Theatre group ..... 104


The Struggle For Hegemony

Vedas ........................................... 37

Theoretical deductions .............. 20

Thermidor ................................... 31

Upanishadic India ...................... 26
Upanishads ................................. 37

V. Shantaram .............................. 87
Vande Mataram ............................ 36
Varnasrama .................................. 27

Wikileaks ..................................... 44
WikiLeaks ....................... 45, 46, 47
World Conference for Peace ..... 71
World War II............................... 85
Wuthering Heights ....................... 61

Zamindari system ........................ 32
Zubeida ................................... 79, 80