[Post by Jairus Banaji on Facebook]
A taste of Stalinism. The letter informing Ritwik Ghatak (1925–1976) of his expulsion from the Communist Party of India. That was in October 1955. Ghatak himself wrote: “In the middle of June of 1954, I suddenly came to know from some of my Cell comrades that a Party commission had been set up to investigate my conduct. I also learned…that twenty-three “charges” had been brought against me…” Like all campaigns of vilification, this one had a practical aim. It was part of a drive launched by the party’s hacks in IPTA to undermine Ghatak’s influence there. It was from IPTA comrades that Ghatak learned, “I am a Party Enemy, there is a commission against me, I am a Trotskyite (this is one of the 23 charges, they said), I am going to be expelled soon…”. “Throughout the body of IPTA my name has been dragged through the mud…”.
The background to this ridiculous campaign was a document that Ghatak had been working on throughout 1954, elaborating a devastating critique of the party’s conception of the ‘cultural front’. For Ghatak the key question here was ‘What is the place of Professionals in the Party?’ and a glimpse of the differences that separated his notion of ‘art-work’ (of the specialized activity of cultural workers) from that of the party can be got from his own argument ‘an artiste’s art-work is his Party work’. ‘An artiste’, Ghatak told the party, ‘serves his party and his people through his art; his task of physical mobilization is much less important. However much we glorify the latter, the former is a thousand times more powerful as a mobilizer’. One practical implication of this was that ‘We cannot unite with other artistes on the Party’s platform…Our platform here must be a separate, distinct platform’. For the CPI, however, as he noted, the ‘cultural front’ was simply a “money-earning machine” (!!) and a “mobilizer in meetings and conferences to keep the crowd (and not masses) engaged with whatever artistes can offer”. Needless to say, nothing has changed since the fifties except for the dramatic decline and near-collapse of the party in its divided avatar of two mutually hostile parties, both bereft of the imagination Ghatak pleaded for.
(All citations from: “On the Cultural Front: A Thesis Submitted by Ritwik Ghatak to the Communist Party of India in 1954”, Kolkata, 2006) Sanghita Sen