Leftist writers: ‘The left’ is a broad term that describes a set of politics and ideologies that advocate egalitarianism or state control of the major institutions of political and economic life (Editors of Encyclopedia, 2020). Historically, the divide between left and right can be traced back to the seating arrangements French National Assembly during the French Revolution; the right was on the side of the king, while the left for the people (Bienfait & Van Beek). This historical context is pertinent as it highlights not only that egalitarianism (ie. focusing on the interests of the working class) is a key factor of the left. But also that revolution or questioning traditional social order is central to leftist ideology. Hence, the intervention of the current capitalist system through means such as Socialism or Communism is decisive in differentiation leftism from liberalism (Broich, 2021).
Note: not all the writers mentioned are self-proclaimed leftists, instead their work has leftists characteristics
10 Leftist writers in India
1. Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya was a prolific philosopher- referred to as the philosopher of secularism and self-proclaimed Marxist (Pande, 2018). Like a true Marxist, he looked upon the creation of knowledge as a weapon of the struggle for a better life for the masses (LeftWord). His debut work Lokayata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism, published in the late 1950s’, covered the theory of historical materialism (ie. historical change happens as a result of the forces of production)in reference to acquiring economic power within the context of the Indian caste system. His belief in Lokayate or Indian materialism is pertinent as it exists in direct contradiction with the authority of religion, specifically the authority of Hinduism and the Vedas (Editors of Encyclopedia, 2018).
Some of D. Chattapadhyaya’s work include: Lokayata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism, Science and Philosophy in Ancient India, History of Science and Technology in Ancient India, What is Living and What is Dead in Indian Philosophy.
2. Damodar Dharmananda Kosambi was amongst many other things a Marxist Historian and a very prominent one so much so that he is referred to as the patriarch of the Marxist school of Indian histography. Histography in reference to marxism can be interchangeably understood as historical materialism- historical change to society can be understood as a result of the forces of production. Stating the idea that all major societies passed through the same succession of modes of production, rejecting the notion that India ever knew slavery in the classical sense, and arguing that caste was India’s historically specific form of bondage so that India had a caste-based Asiatic mode for much of its history (Banaji).
Some of D.D. Kosambi’s work includes: The culture and civilisation of ancient India in historical outline, Combined Methods in Indology and Other Writings, Myth and Reality: Studies in the Formation of Indian Culture
3. Ranganayakamma is a notable Telugu Marxist, more specifically a Marxist feminist. As a strong advocate for gender equality- understanding gender exploitation as a result of the modes of production. Marx Capital parichayam is one of her key contributions, wherein she translates Marx’s analysis of capitalist dynamic, for the wider Telugu audience, she also has English volumes which does the same. Thus making theory more accessible to less educated labourers and workers by avoiding any intellectualism (Vasudevan, 2001).
Some of Ranganayakamma work includes: Capital Parichayam, Soviet Russia lo Em Jarigindi, Communist party Ela undakudadu, Chinalo Em Jarugutundi.
Read More about Ranganayakamma
4. Aijaz Ahmad is one of contemporary India’s most popular Marxist philosopher and literary theorist. His written work largely focuses on Marxist theory, with attention to South Asia and colonialism (LeftWord). While most of his interviews pertain more to present-day political commentary on Hindutva communalism, fascism, secularism and possibilities for the Left in the Indian context.
Some of A. Ahmad’s work includes: In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures, Lineages of the Present: Ideological and Political Genealogies of Contemporary South Asia
5. Arundhati Roy is well known for her contributions to the world of literary fiction, Her debut novel- The God of Small Things, offers a caste analysis through a Marxist lens (Karraker & Ahmad). While fiction can be an interesting and valid lens to explain a leftist theory, she is also the writer of a number of non-fiction literature as well. These focus on both theory and current Indian events. In addition to her written work, Roy is also a zestful political, humanitarian, and environmental activist, as of 2020, Roy along with other prominent names such as Noam Chomsky, issued a joint statement stating they’re with political activist Umar Khalid, who they believe has been falsely implicated for his participation in the CAA and NRC protest under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (Jain, 2020). Activism is inherently tied to a leftist theory, according to Marx: exhortation for theorists to not simply interpret the world but to change it, is the process of praxis (Cowley).
Some of Roy’s work include: The God Of Small Things, Capitalism: A Ghost Story, My Seditious Heart, Walking With the Comrades, Kashmir: The Case for Freedom
6. Mythily Sivaraman was a veteran and leading member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Tamil Nadu (CPIM, 2021). her work both within the party and outside it focused largely on women, Dalit, and labour right, founder of the All India Democratic Women’s Association and Centre of Indian Trade Unions (J, 2021). As a writer, she has co-founded the socialist journal Radical Review which discusses contemporary socio-political issues.
Some of M. Sivaraman’s written work includes: Haunted by Fire: Essays on Caste, Class, Exploitation and Emancipation, Fragments of a Life: A Family Archive
7. Subhash Mukhopadhyay was an acclaimed poet, whose poetry was addressed through his experience as a political activist as a communist party worker (2016). His poetry ushered in a new era of Bengali poetry- one that did not wish to romanticise the stark reality of World War II-era India (Banerjee, 1992). His poetry has a direct voice and radical revolution is a common theme- hurry up, walk fast brother, revolution is on its way (Dey, 2020).
Some of S. Mukhopadhyay work includes: Padatik (poetry collection), The Cape, E Bhai, Hungras
8. Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian and self-proclaimed Marxist intellectual. He is currently the chief editor of LeftWord Books- a Delhi-based publishing house with a focus on leftist and Marxist theory in India and South Asia, he is also the executive director of the Tricontinental: for Social Research (LeftWord). His written work focuses more specifically on Communist history and, contemporary imperialism (Govan, 2018). However his work is contemporary in nature, Prashad uses history as a tool to understand the manner in which the means of production effect today’s socio-political climate.
Some of V. Prashad’s work includes: No Free Left: The Future of Indian Communism, The Poorer Nation: A Possible History of the Global South, Washington Bullets, Liberate the Colonies! Communism and Colonial Freedom
9. Sitaram Yechury is the current general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), in addition to his political life he is also a writer. From an economic point of view, Sitaram is anti capitalist and looks to Fundamental Marxist theory as the solution to India’s current economic slowdown, stating “There is a solution for the current economic slowdown of the world in the manifesto. But, the capitalist doesn’t agree to it as the manifesto opposes the exploitation of poverty and resources. The governments across the world are making efforts to divert the attention of people from their wrongdoings, especially pro-capitalists activities”(NewIndianXpress, 2020).
Some of S. Yechury’s work includes: Modi Government – New Surge of Communalism, Secularism versus Communism. Strengthening Idealogigal struggles, Left Hand Drive: Concrete Analysis of Concrete Conditions
10. Prabhat Patnaik is a Marxist economist, he is a professor, author and political writer. In his work, he often critics capitalism, neoliberalism, imperialism, and Hindutva nationalism. In this sense, his writing relies less on communicating theory and more on socio-political and economic analysis and commentary.
Some of P. Patanik’s work includes: Whatever Happened to Imperialism and Other Essays, Time, Inflation and Growth, Economics and Egalitarianism, Re-envisioning Socialism, The Value of Money
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- Jain, A. (2020, September 25). Arundhati Roy, Noam Chomsky Among 200 Personalities calling for Umar Khalid’s release. Retrieved June 01, 2021, from https://www.huffpost.com/archive/in/entry/arundhati-roy-noam-chomsky-umar-khalid_in_5f6d7d07c5b64deddeeb9a2f
- Cowley, N. (n.d.). What is Praxis? Discussed in relation to Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and Sartre. What Is Praxis? Discussed in Relation to Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and Sartre, 4.
- CPIM. (2021, May 30). Condolences: Mythily shivaraman. Retrieved June 01, 2021, from https://cpim.org/pressbriefs/condolences-mythily-shivaraman
- J, S. (2021). CPM leader Mythily SIVARAMAN dies in CHENNAI: Chennai news – times of India. Retrieved June 01, 2021, from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/cpm-leader-mythily-sivaraman-dies-in-chennai/articleshow/83088375.cms
- Subhas Mukhopadhyay, 1919-. (2016). Retrieved June 01, 2021, from https://www.loc.gov/acq/ovop/delhi/salrp/subhasmukhopadhyay.html
- Banerjee, S. (1992). Poetry born of struggle. Retrieved June 01, 2021, from https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/poetry-born-of-struggle-30012
- Dey, S. (2020). Ode to PADATIK poet Subhash MUKHOPADHYAY on his birth anniversary. Retrieved June 01, 2021, from https://www.getbengal.com/details/ode-to-padatik-poet-subhash-mukhopadhyay
- LeftWord. (n.d.). ABOUT US. Retrieved 2021, from https://mayday.leftword.com/about-us
- Govan, D. (2018). ‘Doubt everything’: An interview on the state of Marxist history with Vijay Prashad and Ewan Gibbs, Part I. Retrieved June 01, 2021, from https://toynbeeprize.org/posts/vijay-prashad-and-ewan-gibbs-i/
- NewIndianXpress. (2020, January 20). Marx has answers to current economic CRISIS: Sitaram Yechury. Retrieved June 07, 2021, from https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil-nadu/2020/jan/21