MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 08
At the Second Congress of the Communist International
By the time the Roys’ arrived in Moscow, in April 1920, the Soviets were in full control of the Union. Lenin was busy translating Marx into practice; and, bringing about radical changes in the Government and the Party policies and administrative practices. Now, the Soviet leaders began to think about expanding Communism beyond the borders of the Soviet Union. They set their minds on ‘World Revolution’.
As a part of ‘World Revolution’ agenda, the Soviet Government declared its firm resolve to support the idea of self-determination’ of every nation. It announced that Russia would stand by the aspirations of the oppressed people of the colonies who were fighting against imperial domination. This resolve became one of the central themes of the Soviet Government in 1920. India fighting against British rule was on top of its list. And, the policy for supporting the struggle of the oppressed people including those of India was to be set out clearly in the Second World Congress.
Even earlier to that; the First World Congress of the newly found Communist International held in Moscow during March 1919 had deliberated on the issue. On the question of Imperial oppression in the colonies and their emancipation from slavery, the First Congress had given the guidelines, which, it said, should be discussed and followed up in the Second Congress.
The guidelines clearly stated: “The Comintern considers its obligatory task to establish a permanent and a close bond between the struggle of the proletariat in the imperial countries and the national liberation movement of the oppressed peoples in the colonies and semi-colonies ; and, to support the struggle of the oppressed peoples to facilitate the final break-down of the imperialist world systems”.
The subject was again slated for discussion at the Second World Congress of the Communist International (Comintern) scheduled to be held during July-August 1920, because of the importance that Lenin attached to it.
Delegates from all the countries of Europe, from some Latin American, Asian and African countries were invited to the Second Congress. There were in all about 220 voting and non-voting (consultative) representatives of the Communist and revolutionary social political parties from around the world. It was the first and the biggest gathering of Communist, socialist and revolutionary groups operating in various countries. It had been regarded as “the first authentic international meeting of the new organization’s members and supporters”. The gathering was also significant for other reasons as well. V.I. Lenin , the Supreme Soviet leader, very actively participated in the celebrations of the Congress; clearing many documents detailing policy decisions chartering ways for reformations across the various states , countries and subjects.
The Second World Congress was also significant, because for the first time serious attention was brought upon the questions of to the national liberation movements of the colonies of Asia, Africa, and the Latin America.
Roy and Evelyn along with Charles Philips (Frank Seaman) were invited as official delegates of the Communist Party of Mexico. Abani Mukherjee (whom Roy called in his Memoir as –the embarrassing associate) and M.P.B.T. Acharya* (with consultative vote) were delegates from India. They were to be especially involved with the discussions pertaining to the question of extending support to non-communist revolutionary groups in the colonies fighting against imperialism.
M.P.B.T Acharya – Mandayam Prathivadi Bhayankara Tirumala Acharya (1887–1951) – was the son of M.P.B. Narasimha Aiyangar an orthodox Aiyangar from Mysore employed in the Madras Public Works Department, Madras. In his early years Tirumala was involved in the national moment having been inspired by his close relative M.C. Alasinga Perumal, an ardent follower of Swami Vivekananda.
After he got into trouble with British police, Acharya drifted through several countries and eventually found shelter in the India House in London, a ‘den’ for troublesome revolutionaries. Here he came close to V.D. Savarkar.
Further, Acharya, along with Lala Har Dayal, tried to mobilize a voluntary Corps of Indian prisoners of war held in Mesopotamia and in Europe. He then was charged under the Hindu-German Conspiracy case during World War I.
After his release from the jail, Acharya moved into Russia at the end of the War and became a Communist. He participated as one of India’s representatives during the Second World Congress, 1920. He was also one of the founding members of the Communist Party of India launched from Tashkent later in 1920. He presided over the function at which CPI was set up; while Roy was the Secretary. However, Acharya differed from MN Roy on several issues; and was also not comfortable with Roy’s attitude towards him. He also got disappointed with Communism; and left it, in 1920.
Later in 1922, he returned to Berlin to join the League against Imperialism; and thereafter he got involved with International Anarchist movement. He remained in Berlin till the early days of Hitler’s rise to power, and leaders of the Indian movement who visited Europe at various times, Including Nehru and Subhas Bose, are believed to have met with him. After the rise of Hitler and during the war years, Acharya was in exile, drifting through many countries.
He is said to have returned to India after the War; spent the last few years of his life in utter poverty in Bombay; and, died in 1951.]
Roy along with Evelyn reached Moscow by the end of April 1920. They were received by Borodin, their friend of Mexico days. Roy was thrilled and exited to be in Russia and in Moscow, in particular. In his Memoirs, employing religious terms, he calls his journey towards Moscow as ‘The Pilgrimage’; Moscow as ‘The Holy Land’; Angelica Balabanova as ‘The Matriarch of Bolshevism’; Lenin as ‘The High Priest of the New Faith’; and, himself as ‘awestruck worshipper’…
A few days after his arrival in Moscow, Roy, as instructed, met Angelica Balabanova who was, at that time, the First General Secretary of the Communist International. She was a Russian-Jewish-Italian communist and Social Democratic activist; and, belonged to the old Guard of the Bolshevik movement. She had been closely associated with Lenin for many years; and, served as his trusted Secretary during 1919-20. Later ; she served as Commissar of Foreign Affairs for Ukraine (1919–20); left Russia (December 1921) and expelled from Russian Communist Party (1924) following her open criticism of Bolshevism as it was practiced after Lenin’s death ; involved in various anti-communist and anti-fascist movements in Vienna (1922–26), Paris (1926–36), and New York (1936–46); returned to Italy (1946); participated in formation of the Italian Social Democratic Party (1947), and was a member of its Executive Committee. She died in 1965 at Rome at the age of 87.
In April 1920, Angelica Balabanova asked Roy to call on V I Lenin. He, then, met her in her office on the appointed day. Angelica Balabanova gave Roy a copy of the English translation of the draft-thesis written by Lenin on the national and colonial questions to be discussed at the Second Congress. She asked him to withdraw to a distant corner and read the document before meeting Ilyitch Lenin. Roy was asked to meet Lenin on the same day. Roy was thrilled and flattered to see a short note made by Lenin, in his hand, in the left hand top corner of the document, reading ‘Com Roy .For criticism and suggestions. V I Lenin’
Roy at last walked into Lenin’s office after passing through labyrinth of security and secretarial staff. Roy wrote: I was in the presence of Lenin. Nearly a head shorter, he tilted his red goatee almost to a horizontal position to look at my face quizzically. I was embarrassed, did not know what to say. He helped me out with banter: “You are so young! I expected a grey-bearded wise man from the East.” The ice of initial nervousness broken, I found words to protest against the disparagement of my seven and twenty years. (But, in 1920, Roy, born in 1887, was, in fact, thirty-three years old)
Lenin then asked Roy to read the paper that Balabanova had given him; and come prepared, a few days later, with his views and comments. Then, Roy reports, Lenin remarked that the document just given to him was destined to be a landmark in the history of revolutionary movement.
[ In his Memoirs, Roy writes , in great detail, nostalgically about his first meeting with Lenin :
The entrance to the office of the President of the Council of People’s Commissars was guarded by an army of secretaries headed by an oldish woman. Unassuming in behavior, plain in looks and rather shabbily attired, she was evidently efficient with her unobtrusive authority. Pin-drop silence reigned in the large room occupied by Lenin’s personal Secretariat, which was composed of about a dozen people. The grey-haired chief moved silently from one desk to another whenever she wanted to speak to any of her subordinate colleagues. They all spoke in the lowest possible whisper. None but the chief was privileged to enter Lenin’s office. No ordinary person could occupy the position of great trust. The quiet and rather colorless Saint Peter of the Bolshevik heaven was a senior member of the party, a well known figure in Moscow, and respected by all.
The way to Lenin’s Secretariat lay through a well appointed ante-room which was always empty. No expectant visitor was ever kept waiting there. Lenin did not share the proverbial Russian disregard for time, which is a national characteristic the Bolsheviks had inherited.
Passing through the empty ante-room, I was escorted into the Secretariat. Engrossed in their respective preoccupation, the inmates took no notice of me. But St. Peter of the Bolshevik, heaven was always on the alert. She stood up, looked at the big clock on the wall, and silently came forward to take over the charge from the subordinate colleague who had escorted from the entrance of the palace. She conducted me towards a tall silver and gold door, pushed it open gently, just enough for one to pass, and with a motion of the head bade me enter. I stepped in, and the door silently closed behind me.
It was a vast rectangular room, with a row of tall windows giving on a spacious courtyard surrounded by other wings of the palace, The ceiling was so high as almost to touch the sky. The room was practically bare; only the floor was covered with a thick carpet. My attention was immediately attracted by the bald dome of a head stooping very low on the top of a big desk placed right in the middle of the room. I was nervous and walked towards the desk, not knowing what else to do. By silencing my footsteps, the thick carpet sympathized with my anxiety not to cause the least disturbance. It was quite a distance, from the door to the desk. Before I had covered hardly half of it, the owner of the remarkable head was on his feet and briskly came forward with the right hand extended. I was in the presence of Lenin.
Nearly a head shorter, he tilted his red goatee almost to a horizontal position to look at my face quizzically. I was embarrassed, did not know what to say. He helped me out with a banter: “You are so young! I expected a grey-bearded wise man from the East.” The ice of initial nervousness broken, I found words to protest against the disparagement of my seven and twenty years
Lenin laughed, obviously to put an awe-struck worshiper at ease. Though much too overwhelmed by the experience of a great event to observe details, I was struck by the impish look which often relieved the severity of the expression of a fanatic. It belied the widely held view that in Lenin’s personality the heart was choked in the iron grip of a hard head; that the great revolutionary was a willful machine without the least touch of humanness. The impish smile did not betray cynicism.
Lenin was the most unmitigated optimist. Not only was he convinced unshakably that Marxism was the final truth, but he believed equally firmly in its inevitable triumph. He combined the fervor of the prophet with the devotion of the evangelist. Otherwise, he could not advocate capture of power, single handed, as against the stubborn opposition of all his followers, when there appeared to be very little chance for the Bolsheviks to hold it longer than a few days or weeks. At that juncture, Lenin was guided more by faith than by reason; and it was faith not in the secular Providence of historical determinism, but in man’s unlimited capacity to make history. In the most crucial moment of his life and also of contemporary history, Lenin acted as a romanticist; and that one act of extraordinary audacity raised him to the pinnacle of greatness, and won for him a place amongst the immortals of human history.
Having helped me out of the initial embarrassment and nervousness, Lenin returned to his seat at the desk and asked me to take a chair across it. As he turned back to walk to his seat, I had good glance at the man. I had by then recovered my wits and poise. The height of the room accentuated the shortness of the man, so much so that he looked almost like a dwarf. His big head was quite appropriate to the deceptive picture. The picture was deceptive because Lenin was not a dwarf, being well above five feet. He was 5 ft. 4 inches, I believe. Another habit made him look shorter than he really was. He walked with a stoop, without turning the head either in the left or to the right; nor did he raise his eyes to see that was ahead. The posture suggested that he was engrossed in thought even when walking; and the quickness of his steps seemed to synchronize with the swift rhythm of his mind. He seemed to be always in a great hurry as if keenly conscious of the magnitude of his mission and the inadequacy of time at his disposal. One may wonder if he had a premonition of early death. He was so very impatient to get things done quickly that he restricted the freedom of the tongues of the members of the all-powerful Politbureau. In his time, it had only seven members. In its weekly meetings, none was allowed to speak more than twice, fifteen minutes for the first time and five for the second. Though he thought quickly, his speech was deliberate and sometimes even slow. Except when addressing the masses, he spoke like a teacher lecturing in the class room or an advocate arguing a case in the law court.
Having resumed his seat, Lenin leaned forward on the desk and fixed his almond-shaped twinkling eyes on my face. The impish smile lit up his face, I felt completely at ease, as if I was accustomed to sitting by the desk, not in the presence of a great man, a powerful dictator, but in the pleasant company of an old friend. Indeed it might be that of a benevolent father smiling benignly on a son who has made good and promises to do better. The remembrance of Balabanova’s congratulation made me somewhat dizzy, but her motherly admonition was also fresh in my memory.
The little electric bulb gave the signal — Lenin sat back and remarked that the interview must end on Maria’s order.
The impish smile returned in his eyes. I got up to say good-bye, and found Lenin by my side. Taking me by the arm, he conducted me towards the door which opened to let in a man with a shock of black hair, a sensitive face and a little paunch. He was dressed in baggy trousers and a soft white shirt, its collar held together with a black silk string instead of a necktie. He was carrying a bulging leather portfolio under one arm. Lenin introduced me to the newcomer. It was Comrade Zinoviev, who took my hand in a limp grip. His was small and soft like a woman’s. He spoke a few words in a high pitched voice and desired me to see him soon.]
The Second World Congress of the Communist International was scheduled to commence about three months hence, in July 1920. In the meanwhile, several Commissions (that is, formal Committees or groups) were set up to examine the subjects that were to come up before the Sessions of World Congress. The subjects coming up before the World Congress were to be discussed in about fifteen Sessions. Each Committee was assigned a subject; and, it had to present its paper at the World Congress at the Session allotted to it. In preparation of its paper, each Committee had therefore to meet several times in order to discuss and finalize its thesis on the subject assigned to it for presentation at its allotted Session before the World Congress. Roy was nominated as the Chairman of the Commission on The national question and the colonial question, under the guidance of Lenin; and, its thesis was to be presented at the Wold Congress by V I Lenin. Roy, therefore, had additional responsibility.
On reading Lenin’s draft-thesis, Roy began to work on his own thesis on the national and colonial questions. In the sessions of the Commission on The National and Colonial question, the draft thesis submitted by Roy as also the draft thesis circulated by Lenin were thoroughly discussed.
In the process, Roy had several meetings with Lenin; and also had discussions with Lenin during the deliberations of the Commission on the subject of the communist line of approach in regard to India and other countries of the East.
Lenin also went through the draft thesis prepared by Roy ; and made several corrections to it in his hand.
Lenin asked the Commission to accept Roy’s revised thesis as a supplement to his own thesis; and, to present both the thesis before the Second World Congress for its consideration and approval.
Lenin reported the discussion in the Commission to a plenary Session of the Congress and recommended adoption of both the thesis. Regarding Roy’s thesis, Lenin said, it was ‘framed chiefly from the standpoint of the situation in India and other big Asian countries oppressed by British imperialism. Herein lies its great importance for us.’
[The discussion on the two thesis and the views held by Lenin and Roy on various issues is quite involved and lengthy. Therefore, it is posted separately in the subsequent part of this series. Please do read interesting part.]
The Second Congress of the Communist International was described as one of the great milestones in the history of the international working class. “It marked the crowning moment in the history of the Comintern as an international force. A significant aspect of the Second Congress was the participation of several Asian countries. That came about mainly at the initiative of Lenin. He was keen on bringing together of the workers and peasants of all countries; uniting the national liberation struggles in colonial and semi colonial countries; and expanding revolution worldwide.
In its discussions, the main principles of Communism; its economic and political analysis and its philosophical method, dialectical materialism, were all were discussed in detail.
The most important result of the Second Congress was that, despite all its problems and weaknesses, it set up a functioning centralised organisation. The relationship of the national organizations Communist parties to Communist international was clearly defined. Further, the revolutionary parties across the world were tacitly treated as sections of the World Party.
The Second World Congress of the Comintern was held in Petrograd and Moscow from 19 July 1920 to 7 August 1920, spread over fifteen sessions.
The Second Congress of the Communist International was inaugurated on 19 July 1920 at Petrograd*, the cradle of Bolshevik revolution and the cultural capital of Russia. It was also the city with which Lenin was intimately associated during the October Revolution.
[* Before the First War, its name was Saint Petersburg. However , after the outbreak of the War its name was changed (On September 1, 1914) to Russian sounding Petrograd ( Peter’s city) , to remove the German words ‘Saint’ and ‘Burg’ , since by then Germany was Russia’s enemy. Its name was again changed On January 26, 1924; this time as Leningrad in honors of V I Lenin who just then had passed away. And in 1991, the city again became Saint Petersburg.]
The Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet Union (Premier of the Soviet Union) Grigory Yevseevich Zinoviev* presided over and inaugurated the Second Congress of the Communist International. Zinoviev (1883-1936) was a prominent member of the Bolshevik revolution; and was one of the seven members of the First Politburo founded in 1917 (Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky, Stalin, Sokolnikov and Bubnov).
[*During the Stalin regime, Zinoviev incurred the wrath of Stalin and was charged for conspiring with the western powers to assassinate Stalin and other Soviet leaders. He was tried in a public trial in what came to be known as Trial of the Sixteen, and executed a day after his conviction, in August 1936.]
After the opening festivities and cultural pageant in Petrograd on 19 July 1919, the business sessions of the Second Congress commenced at Moscow on 23 July 1920 and lasted till the Fifteenth Session, on 7 August 1920.
The report presented by the Commission on the National and Colonial question was discussed in detail in the Fourth session of the Second Congress of the Communist International, on 25 July 1920. And the discussion was carried forward to the Fifth session held on 28 July 1920.
Lenin made lengthy speeches in defence of his thesis as also that of Roy with certain amendments.
After considerable debate, the Second Congress approved both the thesis – the main thesis by Lenin and the supplementary thesis by Roy.
The final resolution of the Congress directed communists in colonial countries to support the “national-revolutionary” movement in each, without regard to the fact that non-communist and non-working class elements such as the bourgeoisie and the peasantry might be dominant. Particular attention was paid to formulating an alliance with the rural poor as a means of winning and holding power in a revolution.
Leon Trotsky, in the Fifteenth and the final Session, on 7 August 1920, in his address to the Congress, referring to the national and colonial question, said:
The national and colonial question was also discussed and it seems to me that the resolution passed unanimously on this question similarly signifies a great moral victory for us. You know that the Second International approached the question of so-called national policies, that in general a policy of patience was suggested and that in 1907 the majority spoke out in favor of socialists supporting the policy of so-called cultural nationalism. Towards ‘the peoples of the black and yellow races‘ the Second International adopted an attitude calculated to arouse the deepest mistrust in these peoples. The Communist International had to return to the traditions of the First International. It was its duty to say, and it did say, that it did not only want to be an International of the toilers of the white race but also an International of the toilers of the black and yellow races, an International of the toilers of the whole world.
I am convinced that the fraternal alliance that we have concluded in the Congress with the representatives of India, Korea, Turkey and a whole number of other countries will strike to the heart of international capital. This is the greatest conquest of the working class.
The Second Congress had thus opened a channel for advancing the revolution Eastward.
[In the Next Part: Please do read about the discussions on the thesis of Lenin and of Roy on the national and colonial question, and on various related issues .]
Please check the following link for the Minutes of the
Second Congress of the Communist International Petrograd, July 19 – August 7 1920
For the report on the Fourth session on 25 July 1920 on National and Colonial Question; and its continued discussion in in the Fifth Session on 28 July 1920 , please check the following links:
Sources and References
1.Communism and Nationalism in India: M.N. Roy and Comintern Policy, 1920-1939 by John Patrick Haithcox
2 .Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International
Fourth Session – July 25
Fifth Session -July 28
3.Minutes of the Congress
4.Communism and Nationalism in India: A Study in Inter-relationship, 1919-1947 by Shashi Bairathi
5.The Roy-Lenin Debate on Colonial Policy: a New Interpretation by John P. Haithcox; The Journal of Asian Studies; Vol. 23, No. 1 (Nov., 1963), pp. 93-101
6. In Search of Revolution: International Communist Parties in the “Third Period” edited by Matthew Worley
7.Peasants in India’s Non-Violent Revolution: Practice and Theory By Mridula Mukherjee
All images are from Internet