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SIMPLIFYING MARX IN TELUGU

From Ashok Das

 

HYDERABAD: The innate difficulties of understanding Karl Marx's Das Kapital have spawned a number of guide books and expositions in Indian languages. But few of these books could claim to have generated such  extreme sentiments as Ranganayakamma's recently published 4 volume Telugu work titled "Marx Capital Parichayam".

While literary circles consider the work as the simplest exposition of Capital and would bring more people closer to understanding Marx, the left parties such as CPI, CPM and various Naxalite groups have chosen to ignore her work. However, the book has a number of genuine admirers in these parties. The prevailing sentiment among the left intellectuals was aptly described by late K.P. Satyanarayana, the Marxist historian. "We are living in the dark age of communist movement. It is evident from the way Ranganyakamma's book was ignored," he had announced in a public meeting soon after the first part of the five-volume book was released to a total media blockout in 1978.

A section in both Communist parties feel that the need of the book was never more pronounced as at present. The Communist movement in the State is in crossroads. Not only the inner conflict among various groups and sub-groups have subverted the cause, the mass mobilization at grassroot level has virtually come to a standstill. Similarly a new generation is coming up, who believed in soft options.

There is, of course, another Telugu translation of Kapital but that is only an abridged edition. What makes Ranganayakamma's book distinctly separate is its sheer readability. She says her book is aimed at an average literate person. To achieve this feat, she has taken 13 years to read and interpret Marx. She has not only given elaborate footnotes but also many simple indigenous examples to illustrate the points made by Marx.

TRAIL BLAZER: The non-acceptance of Ranganayakamma by the Communist parties as well as the establishment writers is apparently because she is an iconoclast. Both as  a person and a writer, she is shockingly unconventional. Born into a typical middleclass conservative family and married to a stranger at the age of 20, she annuled her marriage after twelve years and three children and came to stay at Hyderabad with Mr. Gandhi, a professor friend, nine years her junior, without any legal or formal marriage. During her early years, she courted a Naxalite group. In a predominantly Hindu society, where Ramayana is worshipped in every household, she wrote a treatise "Ramayana Vishavruksham" (Ramayana, the poisonous tree) showing Lord Rama as a hypocritic. Similarly in the cut-throat publishing, she is her own publisher.

But Ranganayakamma's is, no doubt, a career of superb achievements. She is one of the front ranking Telugu novelists with 12 novels and 8 short stories collections. Her three part novel "Janaki Vimukti", dealing with women emancipation, is a watershed in Telugu literature. Similarly for a woman with little formal education (she is a matriculate), she acquired considerable scholarship so as to correct some of the distortions in the interpretation of Marxian theories made by international scholars. Mr. Charles Bettelheim, the Paris-based director of the Centre for Study of Modes of Industrialization in a letter to Ranganayakamma acknowledged that her interpretation of "On Authority" by Engels was correct, where he erred.

Ranganayakamma (47), who was influenced by the revolutionary writer Chalam, began studying Marx seriously from 1973. Initially, it was immensely difficult. The progress was very slow. She could cover only a few lines a day. Things became easy as she started taking elaborate note. The interface with Marxism, which made her aware of the social basis of male domination of women, coincided with her own assertion of freedom.

Five years later, she published "Sarukulu Dabbulu" sold well, creating a phenomenon itself. Whereas, normally, the first print order of such books take years to be sold, 2000 copies were sold out in a year. People from far and near wrote her letters of appreciation. There were demands for more copies. But she decided against a second print till she had completed all the volumes. She felt that the continuity would be lost unless all the volumes were released simultaneously.

Prior to publishing the book, Ranganayakamma had approached her favourite Naxalite group with the script. But they rejected her offer and instead pointed in future to do the translation. That was the end of her association with the group and she went ahead with the publication.

Although Das Kapital is three volumes, she had decided to issue it in five volumes. The last volume is in the printing stage and would be released in March 1987.

(The Hindusthan Times, dt. 15-2-1987)

 

 

HiHHHHHH  ON YOUR MARX, GET SET, READ

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From Ashok Das

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Vijayawada, May 27: For the never-say-die Marxists, there is good news. For the first time since the collapse of Soviet Union and the decline of Communist movement worldwide, there is a perceptible increase in the study of Karl Marx's writings in parts of Andhra Pradesh.

Not only party cadres are eager to learn "for ourselves" what really Marx said to find out their moorings in the context of the failure of the Communist movement, Marxist study circles have sprung at Vijayawada, Guntur, Tenali, Kothagudem, Ongole and several parts of coastal Andhra and Telangana.

And most important of all, publishers of Left literature, struggling to keep the wolf from their doors for years are suddenly finding some buyers at their doorsteps. Telugu translation of sets of Marx's work have suddenly started selling once again, while there are hardly any buyers for works of other Communist leaders including Lenin or Mao.

Noted feminist writer Mrs. Ranganayakamma's four-volume (sic: IT IS A FIVE-VOLUME WORK) "Das Capital", (sic:IT IS 'MARX'S 'CAPITAL':AN INTRODUCTION) after having sluggish sale for last five years, have been completely sold out and her publisher is going for a fourth reprint soon.(sic: IT IS FOURTH REPRINT IN THE CASE OF FIRST VOLUME 'COMMODITIES AND MONEY' ; OTHER VOLUMES REPRINTED TWICE ONLY)

Similarly the Communist Party of India, which has virtually shelved its plan to bring out an official translation of "Das Capital", has decided to go ahead with the publication of the four-volume book, keeping in view the new realities. The book will be brought out by its own publishing firm, Visalandhra Book House later this year. "Our manager (publishing) was earlier not interested in publishing Marx's books. Now I feel, we should not have problem in selling the initial print order of 2,000 copies (price $ 8.00) in two years" said CPI state secretary Sudhakar Reddy.

Why this sudden interest in Karl Marx? "All these days we believed what our leaders used to tell us. The developments in the last few years have left us confused. And to add to it, each Communist party accuses the other of being revisionist. So we want to get to the root of it and find out what Marx really said, without being influenced by  others' interpretations" said Prasad, a CPM activist and owner of a small provision shop at Vijayawada. His spare time is used for reading and analysing "Das Capital" and "Communist Manifesto" along with like-minded friends.

There is an overall disappointment with the various Left parties, be it mainline political outfits like CPI and CPM or ultra Left groups like People's War Group and other Naxalites, who have eschewed electoral path. A number of activists this reporter talked to at Vijayawada, Guntur and Ongole felt that the leadership of these parties have failed to give direction and have rather reconciled to onslaught of market-oriented forces.

The most disillusioned lot are the students, and other Communist sympathisers such as Government employees, petty businessmen and self-employed people. They are in the forefront of the movement to rekindle interest in Marx and his words. The fall of Communist experiment worldwide has left a gnawing doubt in their minds as to whether the political system propounded by Marx is wrong. "Let us find ourselves" is the common refrain.

This search has driven people to float organisations like Jana Vignana Samiti as in Ongole. A group of young people, which includes few petty employees, a letterpress owner, and workers of a club, have come together to form the organisation to study "Das Capital". "Marxism has not failed. Its practice and the practitioners have failed" said Mr. Venugopal, convenor of the Samiti and a prominent activist of Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee.

What is noteworthy is that the new-found love for Marx is confined to mostly people in small towns or rural areas, who, despite the invasion of satellite television, still have retained reading habits. The concept of circulating libraries, a deeply entrenched institution in rural Andhra Pradesh, has contributed to the reading habit among the rural folk.

Interestingly, this new development coincides with a general down trend in fortunes of Communist parties. "Not many people are willing to join the cadre. Earlier, if a person joined the Communist Party, the entire family used to support him. That is gone. Now there is more careerism" said a senior CPM leader who did not like to be identified. Middle classes which were once the backbone of the Communist movement and made it a mighty force in Andhra Pradesh in the 60s, has shunned it. New cadres whatever little recruitment was there, came from trade unions only.

The movement seems to be catching on cutting across party and ideological considerations. A Naxalite group, Prajapantha is encouraging its activists and sympathisers to study Marxism and even bought 50 sets of Ranganayakamma's "Das Capital" and distributed it among its followers.

Of all three translations of 'Das Capital' available, Ranganayakamma's is most sought-after as she uses the colloquial language of the common man. She has revised the text three times so as to make it comprehensible by the barely literate in the rural areas. "The other translations, by Marxist ideologues, are pedantic stuff. It is difficult to read and understand them. She has unshackled the burden of language" said Mahesh, a Students Federation of India activist.

('THE HINDUSTHAN TIMES', P.1, dt. May 28, 1995)

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