The Significance of Mao Zedong’s Talks at the Yennan Forum on Literature and Art for People’s Literature and Art
| Professor S. Sivasegaram |
In matters of art and literature, the first problem that a Marxist should resolve concerns purpose. To be more specific, it concerns the question,'for whom is our literature and art?' Lenin, in pre-revolutionary Russia, stated unambiguously that art should serve the millions and tens of millions of working people. In principle, all Marxist Leninists endorse this position. However, there have been differences of opinion about putting this principle into practice. Dogmatic interpretation of the Leninist position has been as harmful as bourgeois liberalism in resolving important issues.
Those who blindly extrapolate Soviet experience to revolutionary politics in their countries have their counterparts in literature and art. What is required of a Marxist, however, is to start from objective facts and not abstract notions. It was this quality that enabled Mao Zedong to make outstanding creative contributions to Marxist Leninist theory and practice. The concepts of people's war and mass line as advanced by him are central to making revolution as well as safeguarding it. Following inevitably from them is the concept of people's art, which needs to be developed further in terms of theory and practice.
His introductory and concluding addresses at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art in May 1942 clarified the Marxist position on literature and art in greater detail than by any Marxist thinker before. Mao also ranks among important modern poets of China and is known for his appreciation of classical and contemporary Chinese literature. The purpose of this essay is to examine the significance of Mao's views expressed at the Yenan Forum to the continued development of the concept of "people's art".
Mao's position on literature and art, while unambiguous, is neither rigid nor dogmatic. He has been consistent in his recognition of the importance of work on the cultural front and the need for political work to go hand in hand with it. There was no doubt in his mind on questions relating to the purpose of art. On the question of 'For whom?' he re-emphasised the position taken by Lenin, and went further to address specific issues that arose from what he saw as the purpose of art from a revolutionary Marxist perspective. The ideas that he gave expression to in Yenan were clear and, in keeping with his political views, placed great emphasis on class and class struggle and the identity of an artist and a work of art as products of class society.
His position on the nature of the relationship between the artist and those for whom the work of art is intended is an echo of the mass line that he advocated on the question of revolutionary struggle. Having clearly identified from a revolutionary Marxist position the class nature of literature and art, and their respective roles in the struggle for social change, he adopted the strategies for carrying forward the class struggle to struggles at the cultural front and in the arena of literature and art.
He deals with the problem in terms of class stand, attitude, audience and study, and the comments below by him would help us to understand his position on the various aspects of the problem.
"The problem of class stand. Our stand is that of the proletariat and the masses. For members of the Communist Party this means keeping to the stand of the Party, keeping to the Party spirit and Party policy"