Last week when a socialist friend of mine asked me, “What role do writers play
in social change?’, I shared with him that I can answer that question from a
personal as well as a philosophical point of view.
As a writer I feel I am in search of my truth. When I discover something
significant, I try to share it with others in my creative writings. When I am
successful, my creations inspire my readers and help them get in touch with
their own truth.
I think other writers are also in search of their own truth and share it
in their writings. When poets are creating poems or fiction writers are writing
short stories, there is no way for them to know how their writings will affect
others and bring any social and political changes. The more gifted and talented
the writers, the more they are intuitively in touch with the dynamics of their
social environments. Some writers are fortunate that a large number of people
can identify and relate to their creations. There are some writers who become
representatives of their generation. In Urdu literature, poets like Meer Taqi
Meer, Asadullah Khan Ghalib and Faiz Ahmad Faiz and fiction writers like Saadat
Hassan Minto, Quratul ain Haider and Abdullah Hussain are such examples.
Similarly in English Literature poets like Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound and
fiction writers like Virginia Woolf and Franz Kafka became representatives of
The question arises that when Ghalib was creating his poems and Kafka
was writing his stories, were they consciously trying to bring social changes or
the social changes they inspired were unplanned and unpredictable. Kafka even
left two of his novels for his best friend, Max Boyd to burn but Boyd published
them posthumously because he felt that they were masterpieces.
In my opinion when writers consciously write to create social changes
then they become social activists. If their writings fulfill literary criteria
then they can be both, writers as well as social activists, as both roles are
not mutually exclusive, although difficult to balance.
I think the worlds of creative writers and social activists are quite
different. Creative writers, whether poets or novelists, playwrights or
essayists, need to isolate themselves from others, to nurture their creative
imagination. Many creative personalities are shy and introverted. They need
privacy and uninterrupted free time to complete their unfinished manuscripts.
They need to delve deeper in their unconscious mind to give birth to their
masterpieces. After writers create their poems, plays and stories they become
their own first readers. Many writers have a separate room in their home or a
corner in the local library, where they deliver their creations and those
isolated corners become their labor rooms. The writings of creative writers can
inspire social and political changes but many writers are not members of
political parties as they cherish their creative freedom and do not want to
follow the party line of those political parties. They want to write for the
whole community and humanity rather than just one political party whether of the
right or the left.
As compared to creative writers, social and political activists are
active members of social organizations and political parties and attend their
meetings and participate in the political process to change the laws and social
traditions. Such activists are usually extraverts and outgoing people who like
to interact with groups and engage in heated dialogues and passionate debates.
Many social and political activists have their favorite writers, poets and
philosophers who are a source of inspiration for them.
There were many social and political movements in history when poets,
philosophers and political activists worked together as a team to bring social
and political changes but their roles were well defined. It was like making a
film in which writers, actors and directors have their well defined roles. In
some cases a writer can also be an actor and a director but it is very rare as
each role demands a certain level of expertise and it is difficult, if not
impossible, for one person to be a versatile genius.
When we study different writers we realize that alongside creative
writers who create poems and plays, essays and novels, there are other writers
who write books about science and psychology, economics and political science,
sociology and anthropology. Some writers like Karl Marx dreamt of social and
political revolutions while there were others like Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud
and Albert Einstein who broadened our existential horizons and helped us
rationally understand life and universe around us. They brought inner
revolutions that gave birth to outer revolutions. When people develop social
consciousness then it is easier for them to bring social changes. Some writers
change social attitudes while others change social environments and
circumstances and in some mysterious way they are all connected.
When we study the social and political changes of the 20th
century, we realize that there were two distinct traditions that were inspired
by gifted writers. The first tradition was of those people who believed in armed
struggle. Revolutionaries like Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro were
inspired by the writings of Vladimir Lenin, Mao tse tung and Karl Marx who
believed that ends justify the means. They believed in creating peace by using
violent methods. The other tradition was of those people who believed in
bringing social and political changes by peaceful means and did not believe in
armed struggle. They were inspired by writers and reformers like Martin Luther
King Jr, Mohandas Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy. Such writers believed that the ends
did not justify the means. They were of the opinion that using violence to
create peace was a dangerous proposition, especially when religion joined hands
The more we study writers of different traditions, the more we realize
that they share their truth in their writings hoping that personal and
social truth will liberate humanity. They hope that truth will help human
beings to decrease human suffering and improve their quality of life. Over
the centuries writers have played a significant role in social change that
paved the way for human evolution. Fortunate are the communities and
cultures that have writers who are not only entertaining but also
enlightening, who are not only poetic but also philosophical, who have,
not only hindsight, but also insight and foresight and lead the caravan of
humanity. Such writers bring constructive social change and inspire us to
create a peaceful world together.