Red Books Day 2022 by Nitheesh Narayanan, Sudhanva Deshpande and Vijay Prashad
In 1999, Fidel Castro of Cuba travelled to Caracas, Venezuela, to deliver an important speech at the central university. The USSR had collapsed, Fidel said, and the 'extremely powerful empire', the United States and its global tentacles, mounted a 'ceaseless ideological battle with all their resources'. Structures of globalisation weakened the national projects of many states, whose agendas were increasingly set by the International Monetary Fund and by transnational corporations. We are a 'people armed with just ideas', Fidel said, 'endowed with a great political consciousness'. Today, we must mount a 'battle of ideas', fighting to defend humanity against brutality.
Twenty years after Fidel’s speech, at the initiative of LeftWord Books, Left publishers across India came up with the idea of holding a Red Books Day to champion our Left ideas, our ideas for all of humanity, against the suffocating ideas of austerity and war, the ideas of capitalism and imperialism. We felt that such a Day would allow us to go out into the public and proclaim our ideas, to stand boldly with Left authors, Left publishers, Left printers, and Left bookstores. Out of the process of building Red Books Day as a global project, we have formed the International Union of Left Publishers (IULP). The IULP now includes almost fifty publishers from Indonesia to Cuba.
Red Books Day’s ambition was not merely defensive: to stand with those who are being attacked for our beliefs; the purpose of Red Books Day in the battle of ideas is to expand our communities of readers and to inspire people to enter the contest to defend humanity against barbarism and extinction.
On 21 February 1848, Marx and Engels published the Communist Manifesto. The stirring text was written by these two young radicals on behalf of the Communist League. Not long after the publication of the text, a rebellion broke out across Europe that was later called the 'springtime of the peoples', but which was put down ruthlessly. The workers and peasants could not steer history in their direction because they were disarmed and did not have an organisation. The Manifesto called for such an organisation, the Communist League, but it was still weak, a small club that was detached from the workers and the peasants.
The Manifesto did not have an impact until the 1870s, when the workers’ and socialist movements grew inside Europe and adopted it as one of their key texts. It was translated into many languages and circulated widely. The book is written like a detonator, the sentences explosive, the ideas prophetic. The book – only 23 pages – is not a pamphlet of doom, although there are passages of great feeling about the catastrophes of capitalism. It is a pamphlet written of hope and action, of revolution by the vast majority of human society, the workers and the peasants, whom Marx gave the name ‘proletariat’. This is a text that deserves to read and re-read, to be elaborated and debated. It is prophetic in so many parts, but also inspirational in its tone.
The Indian Left publishers chose February 21 as Red Books Day to honour the publication of the Manifesto, but also for two other reasons: first, 21 February is also the United Nations’ International Mother Language Day, and second, Communist Party of India leader and LeftWord Books author Govind Pansare was assassinated on 20 February. The idea for the first Red Books Day – in 2020 – was to have people hold readings of the Manifesto in their own language, and to pledge to defend Left authors (such as Comrade Pansare), Left publishers, Left printers, and Left bookstores.
RED BOOKS DAY 2020 AND 2021
In 2020, more than 30,000 people from South Korea to Venezuela joined the public reading of the Manifesto in their own languages. The epicentre of Red Books Day was in the four Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana, where the bulk of the public readings took place. Without question, Bharati Puthakalayam and the Tamil Nadu state secretariat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) created the greatest number of events, from a morning reading of the Manifesto under the labour statue on Chennai’s Marina to evening readings at union halls. Peasant organisations affiliated with the Communist Party of Nepal held readings in rural areas, while the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in Brazil held readings in the occupied settlements; in Havana, study circles met to read the Manifesto, while in South Africa it was read for the first time in Sesotho. Left publishing house from Expressão Popular (Brazil) to Batalla de Ideas (Argentina) to Inkani Books (South Africa) joined the effort.
Many people reported that this was the first time that they opened a book by Marx and that they were enthused to read the captivating prose; this has drawn them to start study circles of Marxist literature.
Due to the pandemic, Red Books Day 2021 was held largely online. Enthusiasm for Red Books Day remained high. The publishing house Založba (Slovenia) released a film Dan rdečih knjig #RedBooksDay2021 that included its writers reading from the Manifesto, while the Yordam Kitap (Turkey) asked its authors to read from the Manifesto in Turkish (as well as organised a talk with Ertuğrul Kürkçü, leader of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) on the Manifesto. Small gatherings – appropriately distanced – took place in Kerala, where the Manifesto was read in Malayalam and English, as well as in Brazil, where militants of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) organised readings of the Manifesto in the camps.
RED BOOKS DAY 2022
Not one corner of India was without Red Books Day events, from readings in Assam to public events in Karnataka to book discussions in Tamil Nadu.
The highlight of Red Books Day 2022 was that half a million people in Kerala read the books of EMS Namboodiripad in 35,000 meetings across the state. Various colleges in Perinthalmanna (Malappuram) held a three-day-long book festival called 'Battle of Literature in the Era of the Ban', while the Purogamana Kala Sahithya Sangham (Association of Progressive Art and Literature) held programmes across Kerala.
At the Vijayawada Book Festival, the publishing house Prajasakti erected a popular Communist Manifesto book stall, while in villages in Maharashtra, night classes were held that reminded people of the early days of the peasant movement. CPI(M) leaders gave talks at many of these events.
Readings were held in Indonesia and Turkey, Brazil and Venezuela. Films were screened, music was sung. Social media buzzed with the hashtags of Red Books Day in multiple languages (#RedBooksDay, #DiadosLivrosVermelhos2022). The South African shack dwellers movement – Abahlali baseMjondolo held a talent show for Red Books Day at the eKhenana occupation site. 'The price for land and autonomy is always paid in blood. But struggle is not only shared suffering. It is also shared joy', declared the organisation.
At dawn on Red Books Day, neo-fascist RSS workers entered the home of Comrade Punnol Haridas in Thalassery (Kannur, Kerala) and hacked him to death. Comrade Haridas, a fisherman, was a CPI(M) activist. 'I was supposed to write on my favourite red book today', wrote V Sivadasan, a member of parliament and CPI(M) leader. 'But I ended up writing about my comrade who was hacked to death by RSS terrorists'. On the one side are books and the urge to expand the boundaries of humanity, of the Red Books and of the culture of the Left; on the other side, is violence and bloodshed, the ghastly side of barbarism. Red Books Day affirms the culture of the future, the culture of humans.
Originally published in Peoples Democracy on 27 February 2022.