Resolution on People’s Progressive Culture and Modern Media

1. In India today, in the wake of a neoliberal policy regime, we witness the outright commercialisation of ‘culture’ and alienation of human beings projected as isolated ‘consumers’ rather than social and creative beings; and in tandem with this, we see the intensified and aggressive promotion of feudal, casteist, and patriarchal values in the name of ‘Indian culture.’ The capitalist market and modern corporations which create extreme alienation in human beings, themselves promote the most regressive social values in the name of ‘spiritual’ or ‘cultural’ solace for that alienation.

2. Political power inevitably seeks to promote a culture that can sustain its legitimacy – and such culture therefore tends to be relatively static and homogenised. People’s culture, in contrast, in its widest popular sense, draws its sustenance from the dynamic ideas and values corresponding to ever changing times. ‘Power’ therefore seeks to accommodate and tame culture, whereas ‘culture’ perpetually seeks to create new values of life and in that sense always strives for autonomy from ‘power’. Therefore the first and foremost challenge before people’s ‘culture’ is to maintain its autonomy vis-à-vis state power. The efforts of the ruling class – including the State as well as corporate capital – are to accommodate, appropriate and assimilate cultural forms and personalities through awards, privileges and other enticements. This is effectively a policy of carrot and stick: which recognizes and rewards creativity to a certain extent, while retaining the right to regulate, control and repress creative freedom if it poses enough of a challenge to state power.

3. The values promoted by the market and even the State as ‘Indian culture’ are as a rule marked by religious majoritarianism, casteism and patriarchy – it is a culture of exclusion of and discrimination against religious, ethnic, national, linguistic and ideological minorities, dalits and women. The fact that this discriminatory and exclusionist culture passes off as ‘Indian culture’ in the ‘common sense’ promoted by the ruling class, creates fertile ground for communal fascist forces. These forces masquerade as self-appointed custodians of ‘Indian culture’ in order to justify violence against women, dalits, and minorities.

4. Oganised attacks on freedom of expression and dissenting voices – both by communal fascist outfits and the by the State, often in tacit mutual collusion and cooperation – frequently pass themselves off as a defence of ‘Indian culture’ and ‘nationalism.’ Sedition charges against young cartoonist Aseem Trivedi as well as activists like Dr. Binayak Sen and Seema Azad, the arrest of Kabeer Kala Manch activistsbranded as ‘Maoists’, conviction of cultural activists such as Jeetan Marandi on the basis of fabricated charges, the censorship of the paintings of a young artist Anirudh Sainath Krishnamani at a Bangalore gallery, preventing of screening of documentaries on Kashmir in some campuses (such as Sanjay Kak’s Jashn-e-Azaadi) at the behest of Hindutva goons, and arrest of two young women for a Facebook post criticising the Shiv Sena-imposed bandh following Bal Thackeray’s death, are all recent instances of the ‘cultural terrorism’ of our times. We can also see competing fundamentalisms at work: forcing a painter of M.F. Husain’s stature to leave India and adopt citizenship of Qatar on the one hand, and refusing Taslima Nasreen an extension of her stay in India, on the other. In Kashmir recently, a rock band of young girls was forced to stop performing following death threats in the name of ‘Islamic’ culture.

5. In the context of such censorship and cultural terrorism against freedom of expression and the right to dissent, the revolutionary cultural movement has received wide acceptance and support for its call for a ‘Culture of Resistance’. Resisting assaults on freedom of expression and defying all attempts at accommodation, regulation and control of culture through awards, privileges and enticements, the people’s cultural movement and especially its platform in the Hindi-Urdu belt, the Jan Sanskriti Manch, have been forthright in launching creative initiatives and building protests against imperialist wars, state repression, draconian laws like the sedition law and AFSPA, sexual violence and moral policing, and cases like arrests of Binayak Sen, Seema Azad, Sheetal Sathe and Jiten Marandi, and the hanging of Afzal Guru.

6. Communitarian and identity-based solidarities of pre-capitalist origins are systematically invoked by the ruling classes to obfuscate class consciousness and fracture protest-based solidarities of the victims of feudal-capitalist exploitation. Commercialisation of culture has restricted the cultural choices of the masses to films, videos, TV serials, music albums and so on, which mostly promote the values of market economy, individualism, as well as violence, casteism and sexism. This tendency has made deep inroads into traditional religious and folk festivals too. Of late, corporate-sponsored literary festivals are being held with great fanfare. The autonomous and semi-autonomous government-aided cultural institutions that came up in the era of freedom struggle and those created during the early post-independence years are facing manifold crises and many of them have developed close links with corporate houses.

7. Crucial to the resurgence of people’s progressive culture are cultural performance teams and forms that can integrate with and establish close dialogue with the masses of people. Developing such teams is the key to making cultural work in the countryside and in urban areas a continuous practice, and to organise cultural resistance from the grassroots as bulwark against all forces of reaction. While we have a number of teams in states like Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, the full potential for more such teams is yet to be tapped. Possibilities of building functional cultural teams exist in several other states like Assam, Punjab, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Party organisations in these states must pay necessary attention in this regard.

8. Apart from songs – especially new songs reflecting the new agenda of today’s struggles such as the song ‘Gaon Chhodab Nahi’ written by cultural activists of Jharkhand which has virtually become the anthem of struggles against land acquisition and corporate plunder – street plays remain the other most powerful means of cultural communication. In the course of recent movements, such as the one against sexual violence, young students were seen performing street plays with great enthusiasm. This is a form we must make efforts to tap even more effectively, both as a means of involving new forces and reaching out to mass audiences. In the past few years, we have seen progressive theatre artists perform powerful solo theatre performances based on themes like Irom Sharmila’s life and struggle against AFSPA; and sexual violence and women’s autonomy, to reach out to very large sections of people very effectively. Along with closer interaction with such artists, revolutionary cultural organisers can also explore such forms.

9. It is important for left cultural activists to develop closer solidarity with the peoples’ struggles in their rich diversity. In this regard, the experience of the film group of Jan Sanskriti Manch (JSM) called ‘The Group’ has been quite encouraging. It acted as a platform for creating awareness and support for all such movements through a series of film festivals (a total of 30 till date), attracting many pro-people filmmakers, artists and poets, social activists, left intellectuals and social scientists to its initiatives. ‘The Group’ has also embarked upon documentary film-making and publications. Significantly enough, all the initiatives of The Group are running successfully without corporate or government sponsorship, entirely depending on people’s support, a feature which has distinguished all fields of activity of JSM. The revolutionary cultural movement should not only give moral support to mass movements, but must harness the mobilising potentials of art and culture to integrate with them.

10. Despite many obstacles there are many active left cultural platforms and individuals who practise progressive culture in diverse ways on a sustained basis. Platforms such as Jan Sanskriti Manch (JSM), Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA), Janwadi Lekhak Sangh (JLS), SAHMAT and several other organisations and individuals, as well as many magazines and journals published locally, regionally and nationally representing different shades of left opinion do articulate a general progressive and secular world-view. There have been successful efforts in uniting all such major organisations on specific issues of cultural and political import.

11. While uniting with all progressive cultural platforms and individuals, we must take the culture of protest/resistance as the mainstay of left cultural movement. During the recent movement against the heinous gang rape in Delhi, many artists and writers took to the streets at different places, with JSM playing the leading role in the Hindi-Urdu belt. ‘Hirawal’, the theatre wing of JSM, has organised several shows of its street play ‘Bekhauf Azadi’, based on the same incident, at different places in Delhi, Patna and other cities. The film group of JSM called ‘The Group’ has dedicated all its film festivals this year to the theme of ‘freedom without fear’ of women. Many independent artists as well as those belonging to diverse left groups organised cultural nights in solidarity with the movement not only in Delhi, but in other places too.

12. The revolutionary cultural movement must experiment with all cultural forms in order to build a new progressive consciousness and emancipatory aesthetics; enlarge its network to schools, academic institutions, workplaces and all institutions of social intercourse; devise policies and find ways to intervene in autonomous cultural institutions established by governments; intervene in all contemporary cultural discourses from a revolutionary left position; uphold and develop diverse progressive cultural creations in folk art traditions, popular languages and dialects threatened by the homogenising impulse of cultural globalisation; and initiate movements for popular science and cultural literacy, as also against caste discrimination, various manifestations of patriarchal culture, superstitions and social evils.

13. The pressing task of robust cultural resistance to revivalist tendencies promoted by the market, and stubborn and widespread feudal and patriarchal culture cannot be left to the ‘cultural organisation’ alone. Rather the party as a whole must undertake the task of combating, within communist party ranks, mass base, and wider society, cultural values and practices that are alien to revolutionary values, and building a powerful movement for progressive cultural values. The communist party must take the lead in building powerful social movements against caste discrimination and caste-based marriage, against crimes in the name of ‘honour’ and sexual violence, and in favour of women’s and people’s autonomy in all matters including the choice of partners, against all forms of discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexual orientation; against denial of property to daughters, against taking and giving dowry; against son preference and sex-selective abortion, and so on.

14. The turbulent times our country is now passing through gives us ample scope for putting into practice our cherished motto “culture of creation, culture of resistance, culture of the people!” Let us develop the cultural front in closer and more creative integration with the political tasks of the moment and move forward shoulder to shoulder with the fighting millions.

The Media as an Arena of Class Struggle

15. “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. …Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class … hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch.” These lines from The German Ideology written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels way back in 1845-46, bring out the essential hegemonic role of bourgeois media and “culture industry” in our age too. However, the exact manner in which today’s owners of “means of mental production” actually “regulate the production and distribution” of ideas is determined by the specific features of ownership, control and modus operandi of media establishments as well as by the general trends of the current neoliberal phase of capitalism.

16. Media, defined as human communications through designed channels which store, process and transmit information, data, views and knowledge, have assumed enormous importance in our economic, political and socio-cultural life in the in the era of ‘digital/virtual capitalism’ ushered in by the information technology revolution. The contribution of the “infotainment industry” as a whole to GDP and job creation has grown noticeably in recent decades all over the world, especially in the West but increasingly also in our country. Transforming sports into televised entertainment products has created new genres of sports such as T-20 cricket involving big money, scams and corruption of the game itself. Electronic media has also commoditised religion, superstitions, and quackery in a huge way with a large number of electronic channels dedicated solely to such pursuits.

17. The function of media apparatuses as a legitimising force of the rule of finance capital in shaping the “new world order” has become extremely important. The private corporate media were instrumental in the attempted coup to overthrow President Chavez in Venezuela in April 2002. The political manoeuvres of Berlusconi in Italy and Murdoch in the UK are well-known. For us, however, even more crucial is the significance of media as a site of major social conflicts, including those among ruling classes and between the rulers and the ruled, and therefore as a contested space for ideological-political hegemony.

18. All segments of media have experienced rapid corporate-driven growth in India over the last two decades. As of 2011, there were 146 million television households viewing a total of over 6232 channels, 82,000 newspapers with a readership of 181.91 million and approximately 132 million Indian internet users (taking into account multiple users for a single wire line connection). Our country is now the third largest TV market after USA and China but television penetration is still at approximately 60 percent of total households and 45% of total population, which means a lot of scope for further development. In 2011 the television, newspaper and magazine industries were estimated at Rs 329 billion, Rs 197 billion and Rs 13 billion respectively. Mobile Internet through smart phones, laptops and tablets has emerged as the latest and a fast growing segment of Internet use.

19. In our country as well as internationally, both the print and electronic media are increasingly coming under monopoly ownership and control. A major boost to the process comes from the ongoing privatisation of electromagnetic spectrum the world over, symptomatic of the corporate appropriation of the IT revolution. Western, predominantly US, conglomerates like Comcast/NBC Universal, Walt Disney and Time Warner have as their counterparts the likes of Star TV India, TV 18, NDTV, Sony, Zee Group etc. Other major players who dominate the electronic and print media are the Times of India Group, Hindustan Times Group, Indian Express Group, The Hindu Group, Anand Bazar Patrika Group, Malayala Manorama Group, Sahara Group, Sun Group, Bhaskar Group and Jagaran Group. Tatas, Goenkas, Birlas, Ambanis have invested heavily in media groups which act as the political arm of corporate power, propagating the virtues of further liberalisation of Indian economy – FDI in retail trade for example – and going soft on corporate crimes their patrons are accused of.

20. We oppose concentration of all forms of media in the hands of a few houses and cross-media holdings (where television, radio channels and newspapers in different languages have a common owner, who sometimes also owns the means of distribution such as a cable or internet network) because democracy is inconceivable in the absence of plurality and diversity of opinions. We therefore demand progressive legislation as well as appropriate rules to be framed for the purpose by statutory bodies responsible for regulating media in the country. At the same time we oppose the recent decision to allow up to 74 percent FDI in the broadcast sector.

21. Also rampant is the phenomenon of politicians owning and/or controlling electronic or print media companies. Since all forms of mainstream media rest upon advertising revenue (some newspapers allocating up to 80% of print space to advertising), the “advertorial route” to bribe and influence media is fairly common among politicians and corporations alike. Several Chief Ministers have been in the news in recent years for doling out large sums of public money in media management. As the Radia tapes controversy clearly showed, business- politics connections are sometimes forged through influential media personalities, giving rise to a veritable media-corporate-politician nexus. In a situation like this, it is only natural that corporate and political crimes and corruption often spill over to the media sector or translates into media abuse in multiple ways. To take one instance, the 1.86 thousand crore Coalgate scam exposed by the CAG of India involved such companies as DB corp. Ltd. which runs Dainik Bhaskar, Usha Martin Ltd. which owns Prabhat Khabar, and so on. However, no nexus is free from internal tussles, and at times mutual blackmailing and extortion are also reported, as in the recent case involving the Zee group and Jindals.

22. The preponderant corporate and political influence over print and electronic media naturally result in paid news, manipulated stories, distorted information and half-truths as well as suppression of important news items. In 2010, the Press Council released a report on the phenomenon of paid news, and in 2013 a Press Council team indicted the Bihar Government of muzzling and arm-twisting the press. The pro-saffron press played by no means a minor role in fomenting anti-Muslim and anti-Christian pogroms in Gujarat and Kandhamal (Odisha). With their coverage of anti-terror investigations and arrests, most of the dominant media act as partners of the police and investigative agencies in conducting a witch-hunt of large numbers of innocent Muslim and Kashmiri youth. Almost the entire corporate media routinely betray dominant class, caste and gender biases in reporting and news analysis. They also act as vehicles of national chauvinism, no longer against immediate neighbours alone but also against weaker nations. A small yet perhaps trendsetting instance of the latter was noticed in the jingoist/chauvinist outbursts in a section of the national press against the Maldivian government (some comments even suggested strong punitive measures against it) on its very reasonable cancellation of a contract with the Indian company GMR for construction of an airport in Malé. Such subservience to the politics of the ruling classes finds glaring expression also in subtle political propaganda against working class strikes and organised mass movements – especially those led by revolutionary forces – as well as in a conspiracy of silence, which blacks out even major popular campaigns even as anarcho-militarist activities are deliberately sensationalised.

23. Apart from political motives and biases, sheer commercial interests too lure a section of media into all kinds of unfair practices. The TRP-driven electronic media in particular betrays a tendency to make news sensational with high doses of detailed crime-reporting and violent scenes. There have been instances of media abuse where sensational stories are created from nowhere by the media. In July 2012 a couple of atrocious sexual attacks were engineered or utilised by TRP-crazy journalists/channels. In Guwahati, reporters of News Live channel in Assam video-graphed the molestation of a girl by a crowd rather than helping her; according to some accounts they actually incited the gruesome crime in search of sensational news. A few days later a TV journalist of a local channel in Mangalore arranged an attack on a birthday party by Hindu Jagaran Vedike to promote ratings of his channel. TV reporter Naveen Soorinje who covered the incident was falsely charged for abetting it and remains in prison; we demand his immediate release. We also plead for the Press Council of India to take suitable measures to promote media ethics and ensure that journalists behave more responsibly.

24. Like news channels, the General Entertainment Channels (GECs) of the rapidly expanding television networks contribute their share of cultural pollution in more ways than one. Probably the most pernicious is the manner in which serials in Hindi and various regional languages sell ‘new patriarchy’ in glossy packages in a neoliberal milieu, recycling the older versions of feudal values and customs by adapting them to newer imperatives of a market-society. The non-fiction serials cash upon the speculative desires and fantasies of a growing consumerist middle class, even as advertisement campaigns instil strong desires for buying things that might be useless or unaffordable, often on credit.

25. However, even in the mainstream media there are contradictory pulls and pressures which create fissures and make spaces for ethical, committed and militant journalism and create opportunities for radical views and for critique of the powers that be. Despite corporatisation and subjugation of editorial teams to managerial authority, no amount of managerial strategies and political pressures can totally suppress the voluntary element, the consciousness of the people in charge of the news desks, newsrooms and live broadcast. So there always remains an area of subversion, of bold investigative journalism. Whether it was the Gujarat massacre or different scams, there always existed such spaces which were exploited by conscientious media persons who brought the truth into open, often at personal risk.

26. The role of the print and electronic media in coverage of movements such as the anti-corruption movement or the one erupting in the wake of the Delhi rape case was considerable. Such movements got a generally sympathetic coverage in the print media as well as in live telecasts and panel discussions. But barring a few honourable exceptions, the coverage generally sought to keep the focus confined narrowly to certain slogans (such as the Janlokpal in People’s Culture and Modern Media the case of corruption, and ‘death penalty’ in the case of the anti rape movement), limiting the possibility of highlighting corporate plunder or the various aspects of rape culture. To a large extent, the media coverage of such movements was governed by the effort to keep the whole upsurge confined to a temporary, single-issue movement unsoiled by ‘politics’. In the case of anti-rape legislation, the media largely played a very damaging role by falsely projecting a myth that the age of consent was being ‘lowered’, in order to build a climate of opinion in favour of the Government’s move to raise the age of consent.

27. Moreover, modern media can vastly enrich our knowledge and make us more equipped to respond to emerging situations almost instantaneously. The interactive social networks like Facebook and Twitter have been put to extensive use in exposing wrong-doers and major movements from Seattle to the Arab Spring and the Occupy have relied increasingly on them for rapid mobilisation of protesters. The Open Source Movement, Wikipedia and Wikileaks have made available to individuals and organisations considerable free space for political discourse and for developing a democratic people’s media. We still find ourselves at a primary stage in utilising such spaces through the party website, blogs created by mass organisations and individual comrades using their pages/accounts on social networks. While paying urgent attention to improve the quality of the party website, we must make concerted efforts to use the entire range of social media avenues in a more planned and purposeful manner.

28. Governments across the globe are doing everything they can to destroy the democratic potential and strike power of social networks and the internet generally. They are particularly worried that their excessive dependence on information networks have opened up a new field of subversion thanks to the “hactivists” i.e., social and political activists who use their hacking skills for anti-establishment and pro-people objectives, such as the US-based group Anonymous (one of the initiators of the Occupy Wall Street movement).

29. In our country the union and State governments are arbitrarily using Section 66A of the IT Act – the recent cases in West Bengal (where a university professor was beaten up and arrested for just forwarding a witty, innocuous cartoon) and Maharashtra (where two girls were arrested under this clause as well as section 505(2) of the IPC in Mumbai for posting and “liking” a perfectly reasonable comment after the death of Bal Thackeray) are telling – to curb freedom of expression. We support the popular demand of immediate scrapping of this authoritarian Section 66A and oppose every attempt to curb internet freedom. On the international plane, we condemn the US-led witch-hunt of fighters like Julian Assange, the leading light of Wikileaks, who have taken asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Wikileaks whistleblower Bradley Manning who is bravely exposing the war crimes and other misdeeds of the US state from the dock, and Aaron Swartz, a tireless campaigner for free access to information who apparently committed suicide under pressure of the US police.

30. In spite of the corporate-controlled character of the dominant media, greater intervention in this sphere is certainly possible and necessary. To make organised, systematic, and sustained efforts to intervene in all spheres of the media, it is necessary to build/activate the party’s media cells in the national and state capitals as well as other prospective centres. Improving the Party’s own network of organs and publications and systematic intervention in the dominant media must be seen as two sides of the Party’s integrated approach towards better utilisation of the modern media for effective communication and dissemination regarding the Party’s ideological-political positions and the whole gamut of struggles led by our comrades.