In her paper, ‘Impact of Russian Revolution on Contemporary Art, Literature and Theatre’, activist and faculty member of the University of Edinburgh, Dr Talat Ahmed, spoke of the factors that contributed to the making of the All India Progressive Writers Association and the subsequent movement of writers that played an integral role in the subcontinent’s anti-colonial politics.
Founded in 1936 by leftist literary stalwarts Dr Sajjad Zaheer and Ahmed Ali, the association had a great number of literary giants on the forefront such as the doyen of Urdu literature Munshi Premchand, Mulk Raj Anand, Ismat Chughtai, Saadat Hasan Manto, Rasheed Jahan, Mahmud-uz-Zafar, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Rabindranath Tagore, to name a few.
The discontent that culminated in the Progressive Writers’ Movement had started gathering pace after ‘Angarey’, a collection of nine short stories and a one-act play written by Jahan, Zafar, Sajjad Zaheer and Ahmed Ali, was published in 1932.
A critique on colonial government as well as backward practices of middle-class Muslims of India, the publication was banned in 1933 following the All India Muslim Conference held in Lucknow to condemn the writers and their publication.
Although rooted in local issues, the publication was transnational in nature as it analysed the issues through a Marxist lens. However, by then, the movement had gained active as well as passive support from a number of progressive writers. The struggle waged by the writers was of such intensity that it is till date regarded as one of the largest movements to have emanated in the subcontinent during colonial rule.
The works by these stalwarts are the embodiment of progressive literature produced in both pre- and post-partition subcontinent.
Conferences held on protection of cultural arts in 1934 in Paris and Spain and another in 1934 in Moscow, were cited by Dr Talat to define the level of influence the Russian revolution had on the creative arts.
Soviet writers on Pakistan
Researcher and former director of the Pakistan Study Centre at the University of Karachi, Dr Jaffer Ahmed, said people casually observe that Soviet Union was a regimented or a conservative state.
Acknowledging that, “A state by definition is a body that sets rules and regulations to be followed in a country,” Dr Ahmed stated that Russia had a lot going on at the literary and educational end.
Just as America formed foundations – such as the Roosevelt Foundation – that would carry out researches on colonised countries among other subjects, Russia had institutes. The USSR Academy of Medical Sciences among others was mentioned by the researcher as an example of research institutes.
Speaking of works published by Soviet social scientists on Pakistan, Dr Ahmed said while there was a plethora of books produced by American writers available on and in Pakistan, most of them focused on the country’s political history.
However, the book ‘History of Pakistan’ published in 1964 in Russia was the first that connected Pakistan’s politics to its economy. The book provided a completely different narrative and was subsequently banned in Pakistan.
Furthermore, he observed that American social scientists were welcomed by Pakistan with open arms, while Russian writers were not. “Herbert Friedmann, an American ornithologist, was literally based in Karachi,” said Dr Ahmed, adding, that the source of information Russian writers had were Pakistan’s official documents such as the budget or the economic survey.
Among other researchers to have presented papers during the second half of the day-long programme at Szabist were Sartaj Khan – ‘Inclination of Russian Revolutionaries Towards Capitalistic Development and War’ – and Dr Anwar Shaheen – ‘Dawn of Revolution and Women’.
The second session included research papers from member politburo of Greece’s Communist party Giorgos Marinos – ‘Bolshevik Revolution and Role of Communist Party’; renowned journalist Dr Tauseef Ahmed – ‘Impact of Russian Revolution on Journalism of Subcontinent’; women’s rights activist Mahnaz Rehman – ‘Bolshevik Revolution and Women’; Szabist Faculty of Social Sciences Dean Dr Riaz Shaikh – ‘Bolshevik Revolution and National Question’.