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Sunday, December 6, 1998
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Adapting the Manifesto to modern life

"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. "Free man and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild master and journeyman, in a word oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large or in the common ruin of the contending classes."

By O.P. Sabherwal

THIS passage appears in the Communist Manifesto written 150 years ago by the great thinker and path-finder, Karl Marx, and his companion Friedrich Engels. When the Manifesto was published in 1848, it set Europe aflame and gripped the intelligentsia and the working class of the emerging industrial societies of England, France and Germany. The Manifesto provides a blend of the Marxian view of philosophy, his-tory, economics and politics. It thus became the precursor of a new thought process and a new political platform.

As with great occurrences in his-tory, the Manifesto had a small beginning. In 1847, the Communist League, at first a German and later an international workingmen’s association — inevitably secret in the conditions then prevailing in Europe — commissioned Marx and Engels with preparing a theoretical and programmatic platform for their first international congress to be held the following year.

The document appeared in 1848 titled, Manifesto of the Communist Party, in German, and later in English and French. But soon the message of the Manifesto spread like wild fire. It was published and republished in innumerable editions and languages — Spanish, Italian, Flemish, Russian, all Scandinavian languages, and in most countries and all continents of the world, as one of most widely published writing over a hundred years since its first appearance.

The world has changed beyond recognition. New events have overtaken all walks of life like a tidal wave. What is the relevance of the Manifesto today?

During the lifetime of Marx and Engels itself, 24 years after the Manifesto appeared, in 1872, the strides in industry and the polity at large were manifest, which the authors noted, and added: "However much the state of things may have altered during the last 25 years, the general principles laid down in this Manifesto are, on the whole, as correct today as ever. Here and there some detail might be improved.... (But) the practical application of the principles will depend, as the Manifesto itself states, everywhere and at all times, on the historical conditions for the time being existing, and for that reason no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed... But then, the Manifesto has become a historical document which we have no longer any right to alter.

The ‘gigantic strides of modern industry’ which Marx and Engels noted in the 1872 German edition quoted above, have during the succeeding 125 years become still more gigantic. And technology ("the means of production") which Marx considered the core of economics, politics and society at large, is the buzz word in the world of today. The genius of Marx — were he alive today — would have provided a socio-political platform matching the revolutionary transformations in economics and global politics. The Manifesto would have been different in many respects.

Engels himself has in one of his last writing in the preface to the 1888 English edition defined in very clear terms these general principles — or the "nucleus" of the Manifesto as he calls it.

"The Manifesto being our joint production, I consider myself bound to state that the fundamental proposition which forms its nucleus, belongs to Marx. That proposition is that in every historical epoch the prevailing mode of economic production and exchange and the social organisation necessarily following from it form the basis upon which (is) built up, and from which alone can be explained, the political and intellectual history of that epoch."

If the Marxian view, as elucidated by Engels, has relevance today, the ingress is that technology is the focal point in the economic edifice of the modern world and therefore the core of its political and societal edifice. Developing nations need rapid advance of their "means of production" and their productive structure, of science and technology as the basic requisite for hastening their industrial and productive capacities.

The "class struggle" in developing societies has to be conditioned by this cardinal requirement, even if this means partially accepting and adapting — the competitive and productive spirit of captalism.

The "scientific socialism" of which Marx and Engels spoke, as distinct from utopian and purely humanitarian socialism, does not consider capitalism to be a retrogressive system in society’s evolution. Despite its grotesque features, capitalism is its most advanced achievement upto the point where socialism takes over. Some values of capitalism have to be retained and further developed by socialism which necessarily has to be a step ahead, and not backward of capitalism. This has to be so in respect of economics, political democracy, scientific advance and culture. The world does not need a "backward" edition of socialism.

These facets are being examined and re-evaluated by the "reformed communists" of Europe who have joined the social-democrats in the ongoing left-ward swing. The Chinese communists too are, no doubt, seeking to evaluate afresh the application of the Marxian view of socialism to developing nations. From this springs their version of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’. Not a victory of capitalism in China, (as some overzealous folks say) but the first steps towards socialism.

In India, however, the Left is untouched by the tidal changes of recent decades. The Indian communists have learnt few lessons from the manner and basic reasons for collapse of the edifice in the Soviet Union. They are also afraid of bringing about major transformations in their theoretical understanding of the world of today and the vision for India’s advance in industrial development, in short what might be termed the Indian road to socialism.

Despite sacrifices made by the communists as patriots and builders of the working class movement in India, they have been faltering when placed in the role of national leadership.

The reason is not far to seek. The Indian communists consider economics, technology and science, to be secondary matters, thus placing Marx’s thoughts upside down.

If the Indian communists could bring about correctives, and work out the blueprint of India’s econo-mic advance and actual programmatic schedule, things would be different for them. And for the country. This of course is no simple task. Perhaps it has to be done "in collusion with the bourgeoisie" and the "bourgeois intelligentsia and economists". So what?Back

Fashioning idols of desire

By Sunanda Singh

TILL recently, Hindi cinema was the only source to draw upon in determining fashion trends in India. The fashion industry was in its infancy then. And no matter how bizarre and outlandish the clothes were, everybody wanted to look a film star.

People have got wise now. With the setting up of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in 1986 and the consequent rise in fashion consciousness, Indians are increasingly being influenced by what is paraded on the ramps or displayed in boutiques.

What is more, film costume designers are finding themselves out of work as trained NIFT graduates are taking over the scene. Even otherwise, veterans like Tarun Tahiliani, Sandeep Khosla and Abu Jani have become personal designers of a large number of film stars.

"Films are providing a major boost to the fashion industry," observed Shirin Nagpal, the designer of Antheen. "Both film stars and their fans have become discriminating in their tastes. We are witnessing a good deal of refinement in present-day filmi styles."

A case in point is the straggly long hairstyle Sanjay Dutt sported till recently. This extended ape cut looked real macho until he realised he was getting thin on the top and nobody cared for it anyway. So Dutt is now seen in a normal crew cut, which has actually become a hit with his fans.

Similarly, Aamir Khan’s sailor cap for Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin had quite a few roadside Romeos wearing it five years ago. But there were no takers for his "bejewelled hand" of silver rings from Ghulam this year, even though the film was a major box-office success.

Then there was the film Silsila, which may have been a flop, but the cholis designer Leena Daru created for Rekha turned into hits. The mandarin collar, cap sleeved demure blouse gave Rekha’s character that touch of modesty for the fashion-conscious to set a new trend.

Leena Daru scored a winner again when she created the Chandni look for Sridevi later. Every street corner sold the salwar-kameez and dupatta that gave the heroine a refreshingly understated look, rarely seen on the Indian screen. In contrast, when it come to glamour, Xerxes Bhathena holds the credit for giving Indian actresses a touch of western sophistication. His slinky black shimmering gown for Parveen Babi in Namak Halal was a showstopper. Even cabaret artistes have started wearing it now!

Another designer, Neeta Lulla is known to not only give an image change to a star, but also a trend to follow. When she gave Juhi Chawla a new modern profile, it was the new off-shoulder cholis that made the actress glamorous.

Similarly, Madhuri Dixit set trends with a purple sari and choli designed by Anna Singh for Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. Tailors are still still raking in their millions as they copy the set for hundred of star-struck fans. For Dil To Pagal Hai, Madhuri’s see-through midriff kameez by Manish Malhotra had many nubile babes revealing their belly buttons. It has become the most decisive fashion statement of recent times, which other designers have taken on.

But the most amazing image change for an actress and creating a trend was Malhotra’s creations for Urmila Matondkar, from Rangeela to Daud. The sexy naughty mini-skirts and skimpy tops turned into hot favourites for collegians.

Malhotra also handled the makeover of Karishma Kapoor in Raja Hindustani. Gone were the curls, the thick eyebrows and the light eyes. In their place were sleek tresses, dark eyes and well-shaped brows that gave the starlet a new confidence in her screen performance.

Karishma’s look is now very much in demand where hair and eyes need to be toned down to create an elegant image. More than anything else, she is seen as a classic example of a typical Indian woman with westernised sophistication. —MFBack

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