Samar Sen Gave Indian Revolutionary Journalism A New Dimension

Samar Sen

On 23rd August, we commemorated the 34th  death anniversary of Samar Sen, one of the most creative and dynamic persons in Indian history. His writings and poems had the subtle touch which geniuses possess traversing almost surreal regions. What was most pertinent is how he formulated the path he wished to take and how in each juncture, he confronted the forces of evil and oppression .The legacy of Samar Sen in the revolutionary world, will shimmer like an inextinguishable flame. He took art of revolutionary journalism to a higher dimension.

Few ever in Indian history dipped their pen to create such tremors in the camp of the opressive ruling classes or embarras the proponents of bourgeois ideology. as Samar Sen. In the days of repression on the Naxalite movement, Samar dipped his pen in the very backyard of the ruling Congress exposing how they were preventing a spark of liberation to shimmer. In the post-emergency days few ever exposed that the opressive social order remained intact even with the Janata govt.

Only a book could do justice to what lit the first revolutionary spark to crystallize the spiritual metamorphosis, to turn Samar Sen into a new man. Samar had evolved from a creative individualist into a marxist revolutionary, in the manner of Pablo Neruda.

Samar Sen proved more than almost every Indian that one did not have to be a part of an organisation, to serve the cause of emancipation of the people. No one better reflected how an independent intellectual, could be a sword in the flesh of the bourgeois enemy and mascot of Marxist Leninist ideology. I can’t forget the tribute paid by Rajani Desai,convenor of the All India Federation of Organisations for Democratic Rights in journal “In defence of Democratic Right’s after his passing away in 1987.She expressed great admiration for the manner ‘Frontier’ in contrast to the glossy pages of magazines ,portrayed social reality at the very core. In her view his death was a loss to the democratic rights movement

Samar Sen was one of the most open-minded Marxist intellectuals who never got swayed by the line of any particular group. Even if an admirer of Stalin or Mao, he was the least dogmatic, and never eulogized them like prophets. In the nature of his writings one could foresee his open mindedness to even be critical of the mistakes of Stalin and not blindly eulogise Mao’s China. Most bravely in the early 1970′ he braved a threat from revolutionary Saroj Dutta.I would have loved to read Samar’s own tribute and analysis of Mao Tse Tung, who died in his lifetime or even Charu Mazumdar.

What ignited the flame of metamorphosis in his life was his bitter resentment of the Bengali intelligentsia, which in his view had no links with the broad masses and completely divorced from them. It was his firm conviction that the intelligentsia should play an integral part in the lives of the common people, sharing their labour and distress.

The events of world war 2 period in Russia, China and India touched the core of Samar Sen’ soul and virtually made him shove his poetry down the grave, which he first was manifestation of bourgeois individualism. His heart burnt with the collaboration of leaders like Gandhi to profiteers and the spirit of the revolutionaries in Vietnam and Russia sparkled in his heart. I can’t forget a line in hi poem “I am a sheer frog in the well.”

It is difficult to accurately gauge how Samar Sen gauged De-Stalinised Soviet Russia under .Krushhev,when he lived in Moscow as a translator .He was deeply impressed by Soviet planning but I am curious whether he was critical of the ‘thaw’ initiated by Khrushchev and his denunciation of Stalin. In the late 1950s, he spent a few years in Moscow as part of a team engaged in the translation of Indian literature into Russian. Sen was particularly busy with the translation of Tagore’s works. While in the Soviet Union, he wrote periodic columns in the Economic Weekly of Mumbai and the Hindusthan Standard of Kolkata. He wrote about a range of things—not only politics and socialist planning but also about daily life in the Soviet Union. He wrote about the de-Stalinization campaign, Khrushchev’s speeches, the deification of the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the multiethnic cultural life in the Soviet capital, the reaction to the publication abroad of Dr Zhivago, the Cuban missile crisis. Sen was aware of the fact that he was in the Soviet Union as an employee of a Soviet publishing house. He was also sympathetic to the cause of building socialism. His despatches were never overtly critical. But ever so often, there was just a slight undertone of irony that gave away his scepticism. Take his report on a campaign flagged off by Khrushchev encouraging academics, writers and artists to engage in some productive manual labour. That way, the campaign insisted, the quality of intellectual work would also improve. Samar Sen added as comment: “Personally I am for the new scheme. In the Calcutta school I went to, polytechnical training was compulsory and for four years I laboured at carpentry, weaving and dyeing. The result has been most fortunate. I can sharpen my pencil with a blunt knife, thanks to my knowledge and practice of carpentry.”

Originally as a writer Samar Sen flashed on the scene in the Journal ‘Now’ on October 9th, 1964.Samar Sen reflected a need for an articulate, independent analysis, which was absent in the Social media. He wrote “This Weekly (Now) will not be committed to any party or dogma. Our commitment will be to certain principles, proclaimed in the Constitution and often in public speaking, but not always practised. and  Socialism? It is still a far cry. For most people life is a harsh cold war with shooting prices and misery is still amongst the most AND widest communally spread. In the year of 1964 he protested in ‘Hindustan Standard’ against anti-Muslim tirade and had to leave ‘Now’ after protest with Humayun Kabir.

What was most admirable that Samar Sen admitted his major flaw in not overcoming the barrier of middle class prejudices. This was a sparkling honesty that followed a trail till the end of his life. His life illustrated the inner or spiritual essence of a Marxist revolutionary.

Some even in his lifetime branded him as an enemy of the revolution or a CIA agent, but with the calmness of stream water, Samar Sen remained unpeturbed.Still he was most hurt by revolutionary Saroj Daata branding him a pseudo-revolutionary, which continuously embedded his mind.

The founding of Journal ‘Frontier’ in 1968 on April 14th , marked a new epoch in the history of progressive or revolutionary democratic journalism in India and worldwide. Few  journals ever gave an opportunity or a venture to such a wide spectrum of writers within the revolutionary left camp to dip their ink. Perhaps never in the history of the world was such a vast platform created for such a wide range of Marxist –Leninist groups or intellectuals to express their views. The pages of Frontier at the very backbone exposed the brutalities of the terror unleashed on the Naxalite movement as well as the opressive social order that sowed the seeds of the uprising. Frontier also faced the wrath of the criticism of the ultra-left trend within the Naxalite movement .Thus at times he was virtually trapped in a crossfire. Some quarters felt Samar was harshly critical of the Charu Mazumdar line, but in essence he was critical of the trend of ‘annihilation of class enemies.’ and violating the ‘massline.’

‘’Frontier’ also printed reports of the mass line movement in Punjab in the Moga Sangram rally of October 26th 1974, representing the Nagi Redy line by the Punjab Co-ordination Commitee.The pages of Frontier, were a platform for every stream in the Communist revolutionary camp to voice it views.

No journal also in such a balanced manner defended the achievements of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China and the positivity of Marxist-Leninist ideology. Most illustratively it portrayed the great achievements of the Vietnamese in overpowering America. I don’t have words for ho w consistently it defended Socialist China, publishing writings of Wiliam Hinton,Joan Robinson,Felix Greene etc.

Some writers are amazed that Samar Sen was not a victims of the fascist attacks of the 1970’s.In the manner of a boulder weathering a thunderstorm Frontier withstood the fascist repression of the the early 1970’s .After emergency it was unequivocal in exposing ho win essence the Janata party was no different.

No journal could be such a historical source of research material as ‘Frontier’. on the days of the Naxalite movement.’Frontier’ anthology is a must read for cadres. The publication of ‘Frontier’ knit or wove a cohesive force of intellectuals to challenge the opressive social order. No journal dispensed as much justice to the movements led by Marxist Leninist forces as Frontier.

In the 1980’s Frontier continued where it left of in the 1970’s with its pages launching a crusade against the proto-fascist developments of the Congress govt led by Indira Gandhi and the Hindu saffron terror of the RSS or Bharatiya Janata party. Tooth and nail it condemned attacks on democratic rights and at an unmatched frequency carried reports of civil liberties organisations. At the very base it exposed the fulcrum of Hindutva fascism as an integral part of the Indian social order and promoted worldwide propaganda challenging it.

Great moral support was given by ‘Frontier’ to the movement of the Mazdoor Kisan Sangrami Samiti in Jehanabad and surrounding areas in Bihar ,Detailed coverage was given to the land movements in Jehanabad,Gaya ,Aurangabad ,Daltangonj ,as well as the killing of Krishna Singh and the Arwal massacre .In 1987 in Dalechauk-Baghaura in Aurangbada when the Maoist Communist Center launched a counter attack against the Rajputs,it flashed many a page with supportive and critical views. However morally ‘Frontier’ defended how it was a  revolutionary retaliatory action to the brutal killing of lower castes.

Most consistently it gave a voice to intellectuals supporting the C.P.I.(M.L) Peoples War group and the reports of mass organisations like Andhra Pradesh Radical Students Union,Rytu Coolie Sangham,Virasam etc.However it also voiced the views of writers supporting trends of Chandra Pulla Reddy or T.Nagi Reddy.Great moral support was also given to C.P.I.(M.L)Party Unity with regular publication of reports and statements.

It published many a report of the struggles and martyrs in the Khalistani error ,with reports of the struggles of the Revolutionary Centre, Punjab and the ‘Front against Repression and Communalism.”‘Frontier’ also played the role of a pivot in defending the civil liberties and democratic rights movement in Andhra Pradesh ,igniting a spark at it’ s optimum to condemn the assassination of activists like Ramanadham or Laxma Reddy.In 1987 a report was published by Chaman Lal of the conference of the Association for Democratic Rights ,Punjab.

In the early stages ‘Frontier’ detected how Perestroika’ inducted by Gorbachev was another variety of revisionism. The journal also gave a lot of space to writers who were critical of Gandhian non-violence .

In the view of some ”Frontier’ Weekly after Samar Sen,was completely different from that of what was brought out after his death. by Timir Basu. In their view it lacked  the same level of democratic revolutionary consistency. This included the likes of  late Suniti Kumar Ghosh ,Rajani Desai and late Dipankar Chakraborty.I can’t forget the esteem in which they all held Samar babu.

Frontier, after Samar’s death, became too permeated with a liberalist tendency, wavering towards bourgeois -democratic,Neo- Trotskyite or new left ideas. Debatably ‘Frontier’ lost  a lot of its revolutionary Democratic or Leninist cutting edge which was so prevalent in the days of  Samar Sen. I feel there is some credibility in this argument but perhaps we must respect the changing times in post-globalist period. Perhaps ‘Frontier’ has invited too much space for criticism of Marxism-Leninism, been too harsh on Maoist China classifying it as nationalist from 1969 itself and also given a pro Gandhian or pro-Ambedkarist dose to its journal. The frequency of articles admiring Gandhi distorts his partisan support of the opressor classes during British rule. Personally I think it has over encouraged intellectuals who launched a tirade against ex-Socialist Societies or post-modernist ideas.

Still I complement ‘Frontier’ for still promoting the revolutionary democratic stances of intellectuals like Arundhati Roy,Gautam Navlakha, late Jan Myrdal, Bernard De ;Mello ,Venugopal Rao or Amit Bhattacharya.I can’t forge the moral support it gave me to write my reports on Punjab and analysis of Maoism,Naxalbari , and Nagi Reddy trend and movements. It still boldly dips its ink in exposing the Hindu Saffron or Brahmanical fascism. I have to pay it a great complement for being so co operative to my work or views. Still I feel ‘Frontier’ of Samar Sen would have played a far more role in curtaining the anti-communist tide after fall of Soviet Union in 1991 and the propaganda backing globalization and liberalization from 1991.It’ s pages would far more poignantly illustrated or exposed the lies of the bourgeoisie.

I can’t express how much I miss Samar Sen today, with Hindutva or Brahmanical fascism at a helm and globalization transcending regions unscaled.His writings on the nature of fascism in India today, on why Communist movement has received such a setback internationally, on why the Naxalite movement is so splintered, the mode of production in globalization era and the path of revolution in India, evaluation of C.P.I.(Maoist) ,Role of B.R.Ambedkar,post-modernism would have been invaluable.

We dearly need to ressurect Samar Sen today with the forces of reaction at their strongest and lack of a team of coherent intellectuals to cut it’s tumours. I would love to visualize what ‘Frontier’ would have been today with Samar Sen in charge. I would have strongly backed Samar to leave no stone unturned in confronting the Trotskyite,Gandhian,Ambedkarist and New Left trends perpetrating the democratic movement.Neverthless he would be the first one to challenge dogmatism or mechanical approach, which still prevails. Few intellectuals gave as much space to spirit of dissent or debate within a Socialist camp as Samar. I am sure he would have been a vocal critique of the misdoings prevalent in the Naxalite or Maoist movement today. I would have dearly loved to have read an essay by Samar Sen on the 50th anniversary of Naxalbari and the Centenary of the Russian Revolution or even the Centenary of Chairman Mao. I presume it would have had a different touch from that of any writer.

It was truly remarkable how Samar Sen did not succumb to the lure or temptation of a lucrative career He earned only eighty repress a month, as his monthly salary. and travelled by a 2nd class monthly ticket. His lifestyle was simple, even austere. He earned a pittance, especially in his Frontier years, lived in a dank, ground-floor flat in south Kolkata, used public transport, the gentle, leisurely tram being his preferred mode of transport.

It is sad that Samar Sen never lived on to read the publication ‘Aspects of India’ s Economy’ by Research Unit for Political Economy ,which has done the most creditable and consistent work in exposing the anti-people nature of the economic policies and social fabric. I can’t visualise anyone admiring ‘Aspect’s more than Samar Sen, whose publishers themselves were his ardent admirers.Samar Sen was an ardent admirer of the All India Federation of Organisations for Democrat Rights, convened by Rajani Desai.

Perhaps intellectuals today have to re-create the work of Samar Sen in a form in accordance to the present reality. Today’s left intellectuals have a tendency of being too dogmatic or mechanical, and eclecticism is the order of the day within the revolutionary Democratic camp. His balanced writing style is a lesson for all cadres, who can often be swayed by emotionalism and romanticism. A kind of Samar Sen memorial school could be set up training democratic intellectuals who evaluated political events and write.

It is my deep regret today that the Communist Party Re-Organization Centre of India (Marxist-Leninist) or CPRCI(ML)which is the main protagonist of  ‘proletarian revolutionary mass line ‘ does not send it’s statements for publishing in ‘Frontier’ .I can’t forget how in the 1970’s statement and reports of the Unity Centre of Communist Revolutionaries led by T.Nagi Reddy/DV Rao were regularly published. Even a statement of Harbhajan Sohi in 1987 was published. In 1988 activists of the Centre of Communist Revolutionaries of India approached ‘Frontier ‘but still after 1987 no statement published of that stream.

On his birth centenary we missed enough tributes from the actual revolutionary rank, activists or leaders who knew him. I strongly feel they would have placed him in a more correct perspective or portray his contribution in better light, than those who did in the 2016 Autumn Number of Frontier, who were generally liberals. I would have loved to read about any of his encounters with Tarimela Nagi Reddy.In some ways I regret that he never vistd China in Mao’ s time or met him personally. It is personalities like Sanar Sen who sowed the seeds for intellectuals like Bernard De Mello to sprout or Professor Amit Bhattacharya.

Nevertheless I praise ‘Frontier’ for still sailing along when the tides are most unfavourable .In their own right they are doing commendable work even today.

Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist. Toured India, particularly Punjab .Written on Mass movements ,,Massline,Maoism on blogs like Democracy and Class Struggle and frontierweekly .An avid cricket lover too who has posted writings on blogs like Pakpassion Indian Cricket Fans and

[email protected]

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