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Updated: April 3, 2014 20:20 IST

Marx for today

Meena T. Pillai
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Veendeduppukal: Marxisavum Aadhunikathavimarshanavum
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Veendeduppukal: Marxisavum Aadhunikathavimarshanavum

The Communist Manifesto happens to be one of the most selling books of all times, written with great clarity and simplicity so as to be accessible to the common reader. Despite this fact there are a huge number of books that attempt an exposition of Marxism and offer to read contemporary societies in the light of Marxist theories.

Sunil P. Elayidom’s Veendeduppukal: Marxisavum Aadhunikathavimarshanavum, one of the latest entries in this category, merits special attention though, for its specific focus on Kerala and a Marxian social commentary of life in this tiny state.

It is a brilliant critical interpretation and analysis of Marxian thought and its social vision while simultaneously offering a provocative yet organic critique of the political apathy and cultural disintegration of modern Kerala.

The book is divided into three sections. The first part deals with those premises that have remained in the margins of mainstream Marxian thought, especially the ones relating to modernity.

This offers a fascinating intellectual terrain, given the fact that Western Marxists have often failed to take stock of the ramifications of Marxist thought on non -Western societies that were once colonies. Elayidom takes this road less travelled by and focuses mostly on liberation discourses.

The chapter on Marxism and gender justice would especially be an eye opener for many, given the fact that feminism as it is understood in Kerala is believed to have no connections with Marxism whatsoever and is considered to be merely an offshoot of Western liberal humanist thought.

A section that seeks to address the myopia that is often so much a part of metropolitan theoristing, it includes the main focus areas of third-world Marxism like environment, science, culture, ethics and subaltern identity politics.

The best part of this book is its second section which seeks to analyse significant episodes in Kerala history through the lens of Marxism. A deliciously eclectic collection of essays which include highly intriguing and controversial ideas such as the renaissance in Kerala, the left and religious life, the cultural history of Onam, Mahatma Gandhi and the left, they are nevertheless yoked together by an ideological coherence and steadfastness which is unerring and bold. Elayidom takes us right into the heart of the contradictions that mark the Malayali and Kerala today.

More than half a century into the idea of a united Kerala, he wonders whether the progressive reformist ideals based on socio-economic justice that the left envisaged have not dissipated into a social crisis, the confrontation with which is extremely crucial to left ideology, as it should ideally engender a political self critique. Most of the essays here attempt to re-think, re-contextualize and re-invent Marxism in order to make it a useful tool for analyzing contemporary social life in Kerala. That it succeeds in developing a radical but nevertheless consistently relevant method of socio-cultural and economic analysis is proved beyond doubt.

The third section deals with important theorists such as Antonio Gramsci, Fredric Jameson, Eric Hobsbawm, D.D. Kosambi, and P. Govinda Pillai from Kerala, who not only embodied different schools of Marxist thought but also specifically sought to take Marxist theory into new domains of critical inquiry.

In an essay that evaluates the contributions of P Govinda Pillai to Marxism in Kerala, Elayidom, in an emotionally charged brief for a great thinker, speaks of how it was possible for PG to straddle the often contradictory worlds of classical Marxism and neo-Marxian thought. His contributions to the dissemination of the new discipline of Cultural Studies within academic circles in Kerala is also dealt with in great detail by the author in an essay that would prove highly informative to cultural theorists and researchers in Kerala.

The highlight of the book is its increasing uneasiness with Kerala’s middle class, its rather tenuous economic base, its appalling apathy for social equity, and its less than secular social contexts. While enjoying the lion’s share of the benefits of the social and political transformations ushered in by the renaissance in Kerala, the middle class does not seem to share its moral and ethical concerns. Highly individualistic, consumerist, ritual bound and patriarchal, the influence and clout of this class seem to have seeped into the social and political structures and institutions of the state.

The book is a lament of the apoliticisation this phenomenon has ushered in. It also tries to critically analyse the implications of what this means to the left politics in the state where people whose thought, philosophies and life style are steeped in capitalistic tendencies might form part of the left.

Thus it is not the decreasing left ideological orientation of the middle class but the ‘middle-classisation’ of the political left that Elayidom seems to be more concerned about. Succinct, pithy, engaging, one can probably call this book a critical masterpiece which offers insightful glimpses into the socio-cultural and economic bases of Malayali’s existence today.

Veendeduppukal: Marxisavum Aadhunikathavimarshanavum

Sunil P. Elayidom

Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishath

Rs. 375

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