International Gramsci Society Newsletter
Number 3 (March, 1994): 18-21 < prev | toc | next >  

Gramsci's Presence in India

Sobhanlal Dutta Gupta

To understand the exact nature of Gramsci's reception in India, it is necessary to keep in mind certain historical complexities underlying it. Gramsci remained virtually an unknown figure in India until the availability of Louis Marks (ed.), The Modern Prince and Other Writings (New York, 1957). Very soon, this book was reviewed (in Bengali) in Parichay, a well established left wing periodical, by Bhabani Sen, a very important political leader of the then undivided Communist Party of India (in India the Communist Party was split in 1964). However, the major atempt to introduce Gramsci to the Indian reader was made by Susobhan Sarkar, a distinguished marxist historian, in his article "Thought of Gramsci" in Mainstream (2 November 1968). Interestingly, till now the response of the mainstream political parties of the left towards Gramsci has been rather lukewarm, if not indifferent. The availability of Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York, 1971), the selection from the Letters from Prison (London, 1979), the two volumes of Selections from Political Writings--1910-1920 and 1921-1926--(New York, 1977 and 1978), Selections from Cultural Writings (London, 1985), and a new selection of Prison Letters by Hamish Henderson (London, 1988) throughout the 1970s and 1980s, however, evoked a very warm, serious and encouraging response on the part of the marxist intellectuals towards Gramsci. This was largely facilitated also by the publication and availability in India of the following commentaries on Gramsci: John Cammett, Antonio Gramsci and the Origins of Italian Communism (California, 1967); G. Fiori, Antonio Gramsci: Life of a Revolutionary (London, 1970); and A. Davidson, Antonio Gramsci: Towards an Intellectual Biography (London, 1977).

While the organised left parties in India formulated their political strategies primarily in terms on a Soviet or Chinese model, basically adhering to a rather mechanical or deterministic understanding of marxism, the intellectuals found in Gramsci an altogether fresh approach to marxism with its emphasis on consciousness, praxis and, above all, a framework for relating marxism to the history, society and culture of one's own country. Besides, there were also certain major political considerations underlying this appreciation of Gramsci in India--a process that began in the 1970s and matured in the 1980s and 1990s.

In the late sixties and seventies it was a feeling shared by the left that the collapse of India's rather fragile political order was almost imminent, faced as it was by a severe political [END PAGE 18] and economic crisis. By the late eighties, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is becoming, however, increasingly evident that the growing economic crisis will not necessarily lead to the breakdown of the political system. Moreover, the sharpening of the crisis is in a way contributing to the rapid growth of reactionary forces and failure of the left to break new grounds. All these factors, coupled with the growing commercialization of culture, the entry of big business and foreign multinationals in India's public life and their growing control over the consciousness of India's masses, have led to a serious heart- searching and Gramsci is becoming increasingly relevant in the context. The compulsions of an extremely complex historical situation necessitating a shift of forces away from base to superstructure, economy to culture, force to ideology have brought Gramsci closer to India'a marxist scholars and intellectuals who really long for socialism in the true, revolutionary sense of the term.

Significantly, under sustained pressure created by the marxist academicians, Gramsci's writings now constitute an inseparable component of the post-graduate and M.Phil. courses in sociology and political science in all the major Indian universities. The first doctoral thesis on Gramsci, written by Aditi Mishra, came out recently, under the title The Political Philosophy of Antonio Gramsci (New Delhi, 1991). During the last decade serious scholarly researches have been made by Indian social scientists to find out the relevance of Gramsci for India. In the field of history for instance, a school known as "Subaltern Studies" has emerged which draws its inspiration from Gramsci and aims at an understanding of what it calls "history from below."

The growing importance of Gramsci's ideas in India can be especially guaged from the fact that on the occasion of Gramsci's birth centenary and the fitieth anniversary of his death, a series of seminars, conferences, workshops and lecture programs were held in recent years. Some of these are mentioned below:

* a seminar on "Antonio Gramsci's Ideas" organized by the Association for the Study of Society and Change in Calcutta in 1982;

* a workshop on "Antonio Gramsci and South Asia" organized the Centre for Studies in Social Scienes, Calcutta in 1987;

* a seminar on "The Current Relevance of Antonio Gramsci" organized by the Council for Political Studies, Calcutta in 1988;

* a course of lecture programmes on "The Importance of Gramsci's Marxism" meant for workers engaged in different industries and farming, organized by Programme for Social Action (New Delhi) in Madurai, Bangalore and Kottayam between July and October 1989;

* a seminar on "The Relevance of Gramsci's Cultural Ideas and India Today" organized by the Joshi-Adhikari Institute of Social Studies, Calcutta in 1991; [END PAGE 19] * a "Gramsci Centenary Seminar" organized by the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi in 1993.

Besides, a number of special issues devoted to Gramsci were brought out by the following scholarly journals in social sciences at regular intervals: Indian Left Review, vol. I, no. 12, 1973; Economic and Political Weekly, vol. XXXIII, no. 5, 1988; Socialist Perspective, vol. XVI, no. 1-2, 1988; Society and Change, vol. VIII, nos. 3-4, 1991-92.

Furthermore, one can have an idea of how the Indian scholars have responded to Gramsci from the following list (which, however, is not exhaustive) of articles published in different journals during the last three decades:

Susobhan Sarkar, "Thought of Gramsci," Mainstream, 2 November 1968;

Sobhanlal Dutta Gupta, "Gramsci's Theory of Politics," Indian Left Review, vol. I, no.12, 1973;

Mohit Sen, "Leninism of Gramsci," Marxist Miscellany, no. 5, 1974;

Asok Sen, "The Frontiers of Prison Notebooks," Economic and Political Weekly, vol.XXXIII, no.5, 1988;

K. Saldanha, "Antonio Gramsci and the Analysis of Class Consciousness," ibid.;

Arun Kumar Patnaik, "Gramsci's Concept of Common Sense: Towards a Theory of Subaltern Consciousness in Hegemony Process," ibid;

Partha Chatterjee, "On Gramsci's Fundamental Mistake," ibid.;

Ajit Chaudhury, "From Hegemony to Counter-Hegemony: A Journey in a Non-Imaginary Real Space," ibid.;

Bholanath Bandyopadhyay, "Antonio Gramsci and Sociology," Socialist Perspective, vol.XVI, no.1-2, 1988;

Sunil Sen, "Thought of Gramsci: Agrarian Question, Revolutionary Strategy, and Contemporary Asia," ibid.;

Amal Kumar Mukhopadhyay, "Gramsci's Idealism," ibid.;

Sudipta Kaviraj, "A Critique of the Passive Revolution," Economic and Political Weekly, vol.XXXIII, no.45-47, 1988;

Arun Bose, "Antonio Gramsci and Dialectics," Society and Change, vol. VIII, no.3-4, 1991-92;

Kalyan Kumar Sanyal, "On Revolutions, Classical and Passive," ibid.

That Gramsci's ideas continue to have an evergrowing impact is especially evidenced by the fact that already an initiative has been taken by a group of scholars working in Calcutta (incidentally, Calcutta happens to be the traditional centre of radicalism in India) to introduce Gramsci to the popular masses by translating the writings of and about Gramsci in Bengali.The first step in this direction was taken with the publication of Ajit Ray, Antonio [END PAGE 20] Gramsci: Life and Ideas (Calcutta: Pearl Publishers, 1989). This has been followed by the publication of Sourin Bhattacharyya and Samik Bandyopadhyay (ed.), Antonio Gramsci: Selected Writings, vol.I (Calcutta: Pearl Publishers, 1993) containing, besides the editors' introduction and notes, selected pieces of Gramsci on "Intellectuals," "Education," "Philosophy," "Philosophy of Praxis," etc.; Sobhanlal Datta Gupta (ed.), Antonio Gramsci: Evaluations, vol.I (Calcutta: Pearl Publishers, 1993) containing, besides the editor's introduction, articles on Gramsci by Palmiro Togliatti, Christine Buci- Glucksmann, Alastair Davidson, and Giuseppe Vacca--it also contains a selected bibliography. The subsequent volumes of Selected Writings and Evaluations are now under preparation.   ^ return to top ^ < prev | toc | next >