Paying tribute to comrade Saroj Dutta on the occasion of his birth centenary, we published in the March 2014 number of Liberation his biographical sketch1, one of his best-known poems and the obituary written by comrade Charu Mazumdar soon after the martyrdom of comrade Dutta. In this issue we bring you an essay in tribute to the legacy of the revolutionary artist, journalist, political analyst and senior party leader.
“The last phase of Rolland’s life bears remarkable resemblance to the end of Saroj Dutta’s life”, wrote comrade Bela Dutta, his wife and herself a communist cadre, in the preface to the collected works of SD in Bengali (published by Pranati Prakashani, Kolkata, 1988). She quoted comrade Dutta from the translator’s note to Shilpir Nabajanma (meaning The Artist Reborn, Bengali translation, by Saroj Dutta, of Roma Rolland’s I Will Not Rest) – “…’Without a doubt, Rolland died in consequence of the torture he suffered at the Nazi concentration camp. This is why his death makes us more proud than aggrieved.’ In the spirit of the translator, we too, along with all our country people, feel proud of Sarojbabu.”
Indeed, this sense of dignified pride for comrade SD is fondly cherished by all left and progressive intellectuals, poets, artists and writers in and beyond Bengal till this day. In life as in death, he was and will remain a role model for the most precious qualities of a revolutionary intellectual: commitment to ideology, party and people; uncompromising antiestablishment fervour; eternal dynamism – the spirit of “I Will Not Rest” – and of course, absolute fearlessness and the series of ‘small’ sacrifices in everyday life leading to the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of revolution.
A committed communist since early youth (he became a formal member of the party only later) SD chose the field in which he could put his talents to best use: culture and publications. As noted in the biographical sketch published earlier, he served on the editorial boards of the Bengali party organ Swadhinata, the party-led literary magazine Parichay and later of Deshabrati. His comments, articles and poems published in these and other left periodicals since the 1930s through 1960s up to August 1971 were marked by intense revolutionary passion, sharp political sensitivity, deep sense of history and vast knowledge of Indian and international art and literature.
Ideological Struggle on the Cultural Front
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, he was busy conducting sharp ideological struggle in the field of art and literature. In a few cases his criticism sounded inordinately harsh and smacked of left sectarianism; e.g., his diatribe against noted left poet and analyst Samar Sen (SS). But the direction and essential purpose of his straightforward criticism – to defeat the attempt, made by a group of talented emerging writers, of presenting their portrayal of decadence, passive suffering, boredom, and horror of their class, the educated middle class of Bengal caught in a whirlpool of economic decline and ideological confusion, as revolutionary literature – was basically correct and necessary. Even SS recognised this in part after the death of SD.
SD’s best write-up on this theme probably was “The Role of Revisionists in Partisan Art and Literature in Bengal”, which was published in the Autumn 1965 number of Deshahitaishi. Here he summed up the coexistence and struggle between decadent and progressive/revolutionary trends in art and literature over the decades since mid-1930s in the perspective of major changes in international-national political situation and shifts in party line. Drawing attention to the liberal/right opportunist approaches that became dominant in left cultural circles at the time in the name of fighting ultra-left deviation, he formulated the main task on the cultural front in these words: