MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 09
The National and Colonial question
As mentioned earlier, the First World Congress of the newly found Communist International held in Moscow during March 1919 had deliberated on the National and Colonial issue. On the question of Imperial oppression in the colonies and their emancipation from slavery, the First Congress had given the guidelines, which, it is 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, for advancing the revolution Eastward.
The Communist International intent on world communism assigned considerable importance to the National and Colonial question. M N Roy, coming from Asia and India, was nominated as the Chairman of the Commission on The National and Colonial Question, under the guidance of Lenin.
Lenin had circulated his own draft-thesis on the National and Colonial Question; and had also marked a copy of his draft-thesis given to Roy with the remark ‘Com Roy . For criticism and suggestions – V I Lenin’.
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 separately; 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.
Each of the two – Lenin and Roy – approached the National question and the Colonial question through his own experiences, beliefs and perspective. The two came from totally different backgrounds. And, obviously, differences were bound to be there in the views of the two. But , what was more significant , indeed extraordinary , was that V I Lenin the Supreme leader of the USSR , the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet Union , who was at the zenith of his political career , was prepared to listen to and appreciate the views of a young novice from Asia who was just gingerly stepping into the Communist Party . Lenin was far more superior to Roy in experience, political and Party stature; and was an internationally acknowledged leader of a Great nation. Had Lenin, at his preliminary meetings with Roy, chosen to brush aside the views of a rookie who hitherto was unknown , the political career of M N Roy would have ended then and there.
It was Lenin’s open-minded attitude; his patience to keenly listen to a presentation; tolerance towards an opposing view; and, the intellectual honesty to objectively assess a given position and accept it even though it differed from his own, that secured Roy a position in the Communist Party.
Roy, in his Memoirs, remarked that his discussions with Lenin were the most significant and most valuable moments of his life. He had the honour and privilege of being treated as an equal by the greatest person of his time. ‘Had Lenin not listened to me ‘Roy said ‘I would never have been able to present my views before the International Congress’.
Lenin’s views on nationalism, colonialism etc were rooted in his beliefs and in the understanding he gained from the study of the works of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Georgi Plekhanov and other theoreticians , as also from his own experiences during the Bolshevik Revolution.
(a) Even before the Revolution, Lenin had insisted that Socialists must support the movement for autonomy for the national minorities oppressed by the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Lenin had included the ‘principle of self determination ‘in the program of the Bolshevik Party.
But, some Socialist and Communist members, belonging to those national minorities, had opposed Lenin with the argument that the separatist movement in their country was led by the nationalist bourgeois; and therefore it would not have the sympathy and support of the working class. That led to controversies within the Bolshevik Party. Leading members from Poland and Baltic regions continued to disagree with Lenin even after the Revolution. They argued that his principle of ‘self determination’ had deprived the Communists and the working class in those countries the benefit of the Revolution. That was because; the bourgeois had managed to seize the political and economic power.
Although the misgivings of those states proved right, Lenin insisted on following the doctrine of Marx and Engels which supported nationalist rebellion in Hungary and Poland. It would have been difficult even otherwise (from the ground realities) not to recognize their right of separation.
An after-effect of treating nationalism as revolutionary force was the acceptance of the principle of self determination for the subject nations. Soon after the success of the revolution; and after capturing power, Lenin put that principle into practice by recognizing the right of the minorities suppressed by Tsarist Imperialism to secede from the Soviet Republic. Following that, the Bolshevik Government recognized the right of Poland and Baltic states to secede from Russia after the revolution.
In his work The Right of Nations to Self-Determination Lenin wrote:
“The bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation has a general democratic content that is directed against oppression, and it is this content we unconditionally support. At the same time we strictly distinguish it from the tendency towards national exclusiveness; we fight against the tendency of the Polish bourgeois to oppress Jews, etc, etc.”
A corollary of the policy in Europe was applied to his thesis on the question of extending support to the liberation of the peoples subjugated by the colonial powers in Asia, Africa and the New World.
Lenin’s thesis on the National and Colonial Question, among other things, was meant to justify the old doctrinal ground.
(b) Lenin drew upon his experience of Russian revolution. Lenin pointed out that the Bolsheviks had supported the liberal liberation movements against Tsarist rule. The bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation, he said, has a general content that is directed against oppression; and, it is this content that we support. The ‘nationalist bourgeoisie ‘opposed to Imperialism, could, therefore, initially, be regarded as ‘revolutionary’. Therefore, the Communists will now have to base themselves on the bourgeois nationalism which is awakening; and must be awakened . At this stage we are interested in building an anti-imperialist united front. The question when and what stage such ‘nationalist bourgeoisie ‘should be discarded would be decided, in each case, at a later time depending upon the situation.
(c) Lenin had developed a broader perceptive of revolutionary processes having lived and worked through its various stages. The broader picture that he envisioned was the social revolution in the West as also in the East. Lenin, in general, was in favour of a creative search for effective ways, forms and means of struggle for socialism taking along with it the national conditions. He thought that the principles of socialism , in particular situations, “ could be correctly modified, correctly adopted and applied to national and national-state distinctions”. In that wider process, he was not averse to utilizing nationalism in creating a broad based anti-imperialistic movement; and, later to take over the movement.
(d) Lenin advanced the idea of supporting the really revolutionary bourgeois – democratic (the term was later altered to: national-revolutionary) liberation forces in colonies, provided the organizational and ideological independence of Communist elements was safeguarded.
Lenin considered the rousing of the activity and initiative of the masses and the toilers , and leading them in their struggle to realize their most urgent demands as the vital task of the Communist elements in the colonial countries.
Lenin wanted the Communists of the oppressed countries to be in the vanguard of the struggle for national liberation.
He told them:
‘you will have to base yourselves on the bourgeois nationalism which is awakening and must awaken, among those peoples in and which has historical justification “.
Lenin thus formulated, for the first time, the idea of a united front of anti-imperialism.
(e) Lenin observed that the emphasis on the basic unity of struggle of the working class in different countries, however, does not mean disregarding their nation-specific characteristics. Lenin wrote :
‘All nations will arrive at socialism – this is inevitable; but, will do so in not exactly the same way , each will contribute something of its own to some form of democracy , to some variety of dictatorship of the proletariat , to the varying rate of social transformations in the different aspects of social life’.
(f) As regards the Indian situation in 1920, Lenin took into account its nation-specific characteristics. Lenin pointed out that the Indian National struggle was yet in its initial stage. He contented that non-communist nationalist organizations like the Indian National Congress could , at this the early stages of the movement , for the present, be considered as progressive revolutionary force, since no viable Communist party existed in India.
Lenin believed that development of real class-consciousness depends upon party organization, discipline and indoctrination. At the time of the Second Congress (1920) there was no Communist Party in India. Lenin, therefore, pointed out that it would take some time before Indian workers and peasants could be mobilized and organized effectively. Until then, the organizations such as Congress, Lenin said, deserved support. He said, the Indian Communists were duty bound to support such’ bourgeois liberation movements’ without any intent of merging with them. As he said, there could be ‘temporary relations’ or ‘unions’ with such ‘bourgeois –liberation movements’ without any intent of merging with them.
[“According to Alfred Rosmer who attended the Second Congress: ‘patiently Lenin replied to him (Roy) explaining that for a longer or shorter period the Indian Communist Party would be a small party with but few members. Initially, it would have limited resources and would not be capable of reaching out to a substantial number of peasants and workers. But, in the course of its development, it would become possible for it to mobilize large masses. The Indian Communist Party would then be able to forge and develop its organisation to the point where it would be in a position to attack the Indian bourgeoisie.” Communism in India by Overstreet and Windmiller. p. 32]
Lenin did not share Marx’s faith in the ‘spontaneous’ development of class-consciousness. He saw an essential difference between the proletariat and the socialist, meaning a class-conscious proletariat. (Spontaneity for Lenin, perhaps, meant merely a non-rational opposition to society, which might temporarily coincide with the interests of a class, but would, in the long run, oppose it.)
Lenin considered that the development of genuine class –consciousness depends upon the party organization, discipline and indoctrination. At the time of the Second World Congress (1920) there was no Communist Party in India; but there only a few scattered revolutionary groups. He opined that it would take some time before the Indian proletariat and peasantry could be mobilized.
(e) As regards Gandhi, Lenin believed that Gandhi as the inspirer and leader of a mass movement, could be regarded a revolutionary. It is said, Lenin, at one stage, remarked: a good nationalist is better than a bad communist.
Roy’s approach to the National and Colonial Question was based upon his understanding of the Marx’s point of view; and his own perspective of the Indian situation mainly centered on his impressions of the Indian National Congress.
But the problem was that Roy, at the age of 28, had left India in 1915, just at the time when Gandhi returned to India after twenty-one years in South Africa. During his early years, Roy was busily engaged in insurgency; and, for most of his active years in India, he was a fugitive. He was not in any manner associated or involved with political process. His views on Indian National Congress, in 1921-22, were tinted with the impressions he had gained, while in India, as a rebellious youth. It was also clouded by the indoctrination he received from Borodin during 1919. Borodin during his brief stay in Mexico had worked hard to liberate Roy from notions of Nationalism.
(a) In order to overthrow foreign capitalism, according to Roy, it might perhaps be profitable to make use of the co-operations of the bourgeois national revolutionary elements – but that should only be in the initial stages and with circumspection. The foremost task, according to Roy, was to form Communist Parties which would organize peasants and workers and lead them to the revolution ‘from below’ and to establish Soviets.
[Lenin allowed ‘temporary relations’ and even unions with nationalist movements. Roy spoke of only co-operation with such movements.]
(b) In regard to supporting the colonial national liberation movement, Roy said, ‘Communist Parties should be organized, on a priority basis, with the purpose of revolutionizing the social character of the national anti-colonial movement and bring it under the control of organized workers and peasants’.
Roy also pointed out to the danger of the bourgeois compromising with the Imperialists. He feared that the bourgeois democratic might sway towards Imperialist master for reasons of safety, money or other benefits or political concessions. He insisted that the working class should be prepared to take over the leadership at such crisis, guiding and determining the struggle for national liberation and transforming it into a revolutionary mass movement.
(c) Roy therefore argued, the Communists should avoid any alliance with the nationalist leaders who were bound to desert the party to join the imperialist camps in a revolutionary situation. He pleaded that Comintern should instead support only the ‘the institutions and development of the Communist movement’ and the ‘organization of the broad based popular masses for the class interest of the latter’.
(d) Roy was less trustful of the national bourgeois than Lenin was. He laid more stress on developing Communist Parties in less-developed areas than on supporting the existing nationalist movements
(e) Roy extended his theory, conviction and fears to the Indian national movement. As regards the Indian situation, in his analysis of the class forces in India, Roy greatly exaggerated both numerical and ideological strength of the Indian proletariat. Estimating that India possessed five million workers and an additional thirty-five million land-less labourers and peasants , he reported to the Comintern ( although the Indian nationalist movement rested mainly on the middle class) the drown trodden Indian masses would shortly blaze their own revolutionary trail.
Roy claimed that ‘the real strength of the liberation movement is no longer confined to the narrow circle of bourgeois –democratic nationalists.
Obviously , at that stage , Roy had neither grasped nor understood the necessity of the ‘proletariat’ to unite with the ‘national bourgeoisie’ in their common revolutionary struggle against Imperialism for achieving the Indian Independence. And, while millions were marching along Gandhi in a national upsurge, Roy wrote ‘the nationalist movement in India has failed to appeal to the masses’. He again misread the situation asserting that ‘the masses are pushed on to the revolutionary ranks not so much by national enthusiasm, as by the … struggle for economic emancipation’.
Those misinformed statements were compounded with Roy’s exuberant estimate of the Indian proletariat’s revolutionary capacity to fight, singly, for Indian independence.
[The Nationalism, in the West, had a different connotation, than that in India.
After fighting two World Wars, Europe became weary of the sentiments and notions of nationalism. The intellectuals as also the common people came to view nationalism as the scourge of international relations; and, took up cudgels against the real and imagined excesses of nationalism. And, therefore, the very concept of nationalism came in for much criticism. Lenin’s view of Nationalism has to be viewed in the European context.
And, yet, Lenin supported nationalist rebellion in Hungary and Poland. Similarly, he did recognize India’s nationalism as a form of revolutionary force that deserved support. That was the genius of Lenin.
The Indian nationalism, as compared to the European, was motivated by the anxiety to retain the identity of its homeland; and, to unite its people into one entity. That spirit of Nationalism was indeed essential to fight against the oppressive Imperialism, which would not allow India, willingly, its right for self-determination; and, nor be allowed to follow an independent path of development.
Thus, in the Indian context, it was the imperialism; and, its desire to dominate foreign creeds, nations or communities, and to occupy territories well beyond the “ancestral homeland”, that was the foremost threat, not only to the oppressed nations, but also to the world at large. Because of that menace of Imperialism, in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century’s, most nations were subsumed into a few empires.
In the colonial India, nationalism was an expression aspiring for national unity; and, the motivating force in India’s struggle for freedom. Thus, the naïve criticism of Indian nationalism is misplaced.
But, at that stage of his career, MN Roy was entirely consumed by Marxist theories , rather mechanically; and, by his anxiety to build communist party in India. He deprecated the Indian national movement. It is surprising that Roy, who in his youth believed that there was nothing inherently violent about the desire of the people of the oppressed nations to fight for freedom and self-determination, did not quite grasp and appreciate the notion of Indian nationalism.]
[By about this time, Gandhi’s first large civil disobedience campaign had been attracting masses in India, erupting in violence. That led Gandhi to call off the massive protests. It was just at that point when the mass movement could have grown into a full scale revolution.
Interestingly, that led to discussions and controversies , at Moscow and in India, over the merits of non-violence over revolutionary uprising. It was also a period when Marxism was discussed in India along with the tactics of Gandhi and Lenin.
When Roy, Evelyn and other Indians such as Veerendranath Chattopadyaya met in Moscow in 1921, their main political differences began to sprout from their conflicting assessments of the Indian political scene .Chattopadyaya was in favor of a united front of all anti-imperial forces, whether Communist or not, to overthrow the British Rule. Roy vehemently insisted on discarding the nationalist forces.]
(f) Roy argued that the Nationalist bourgeois in India were not economically and culturally different from the feudal social order. And therefore the nationalists were ideologically reactionary; and their victory would not necessarily mean a bourgeois democratic revolution.
Roy argued that in countries such as India , which are characterized as the ‘rebel ‘ nationalist movements, the Comintern rather than supporting such movements should ‘ assist exclusively the institution and the development of the Communist movement’ and the indigenous Communist parties or groups , avoiding entanglement with such potentially reactionary boogies-nationalist leaders. He also counseled that Comintern should devote themselves exclusively to the organization of the broad popular masses into Communist Party , which should take over the class struggle.
Roy was making a distinction between two different types of boogies-democratic nationalist movements, with only one of which were alliance for the Communist practical.
Roy was not talking merely about the contradictions between nationalist and bourgeois –democratic movements but between different types of boogies-democratic movements.
Roy harped on the dichotomy of national and class movements, while Lenin took an integrated approach.
(g) Roy maintained that Gandhi was a cultural and religious revivalist; and he was bound to be a reactionary, however revolutionary he might appear politically.
In Roy’s view, the religious ideology preached by Gandhi appealed to the medieval mentality of masses. But, the same ideology discouraged the revolutionary urge of the masses. The quintessence of the situation, as he analyzed and understood it, was a potentially revolutionary movement restrained by reactionary ideology”.
He quoted back to Lenin, his own dictum: without revolutionary ideology there could be no revolution.
(h) Roy, during 1921-22, believed that organizations like Indian National Congress would eventually betray the revolution; and, Gandhism would collapse. Instead, he argued, the Indian peasantry and working class must be mobilized and brought under Communism. And, the liberation of India would be realized through the political movement of workers and peasants, ‘consciously organized on grounds of class-struggle’. He predicted that liberation from Imperialism would only come under Communist leadership. [This was despite the fact that the International Communist movement, by then, had not forged any credible link either with the Indian nationalists or with the Indian masses.]
[Thereafter, between 1920 and 1927, Roy wavered from time to time in his assessments of bourgeois-national’s relationships with the British and with the Indian masses.
As regards the Congress his views too were later revised. After his arrival in India in 1930-31, Roy had the opportunity to witness things directly; and that led him to a new understanding. He saw that all the big trade unions were under the leadership of Left-oriented reformist Congressmen. The political consciousness of the peasantry was nothing but adoration of Gandhi, the Mahatma; and, no mass movement could be organized in opposition to Congress. At the same time, the Congress provided a platform for the oppressed and exploited classes , as also to the radically inclined petty bourgeois . But, the absence of an organized Left-wing provided an opportunity to the Right-ring to take over the leadership; although all classes and sub-classes were represented in the Congress. That again proved Lenin’s dictum right: ‘the revolutionary Party is where the masses are’. The Congress in 1930s was the rallying ground for the masses in India. The Indian National Congress , according to him in 1930s, was ‘ a coalition of the classes’ which meant that it was bound to be dominated by one class or the other]
(i) As regards the impact of the Asian and Indian revolutionary movements, Roy went back to his revolutionary mode; and, declared that the mass revolt movement in Asia, India in particular, was very crucial to the success of the revolutionary forces in the West.
“What I learned during several months of stay in Germany about the conditions in Europe and their immediate perspective fostered in me the feeling that the proletariat in the metropolitan countries would not succeed in their heroic endeavour to capture power unless imperialism was weakened by the revolt of their colonial peoples, particularly India”.
Roy asserted that the revolutionary movement in Europe depended on the course of revolution in Asia. He explained, the super-profit that the Imperialists earned from the colonies was the main stay of their capitalistic regime. Here , Roy was applying the lessons he learnt from Rosa Luxemburg’s book Accumulation of Capital, which said ‘the imperialist capitalist system survived and thrived on external markets of colonial countries’.
Accordingly , Roy argued : “Without control of vast markets and vast areas for exploitation in the colonies” .. “ the capitalist powers of Europe could not maintain their existence even for a short time”.
[In a way Roy also differed from Marx. The traditional Marxist thought held that the proletarian revolution would first in the industrialized metropolis of industrialized countries and then spread to the agrarian masses in the colonies. Roy’s program was that Communist organization should be built by mobilizing masses in the rural areas of the colonies from which the industrialized capitalism drew its strength.]
When we glance through the views of Roy and Lenin as outlined above, some distinctions stand out.
Roy was close to Marx’s position before 1848 when Marx had looked forward with a great zeal towards the European Revolution which erupted in 1848. But, he had overestimated the strength of the working class and their class consciousness to rise up spontaneously. Later, such exaggerated view was termed as the Maximum program.
Subsequently, Marx moderated his earlier position into what was called the Minimum program. It was meant to remove obstacles, in the way to eradicate capitalism, as a pre-requisite before launching full scale class warfare. It sought to bring it into open the social grievances and solidify class divisions; undermine religious and patriotic sentiments, beliefs in reforms and such other ideological blinkers; and create social unrest and total chaos.
The Maximum program was to follow on its heels. In these programs the bourgeois is initially strengthened and then overthrown.
John Patrick Haithcox in his very well written book Communism and Nationalism in India: M.N. Roy and Comintern Policy, 1920-1939, explains :
“In a sense, the conflict between Roy and Lenin over the question of supporting colonial nationalism can be viewed as the disagreement over the relative weight to be given to a maximum and minimum program in formation of colonial policy. At the time of the Second World Conference, Roy was young and impatient. Like Marx of 1848, he tended to underestimate the task of effectively mobilizing class unrest. Roy wanted to force the pace set by Lenin in order to liberate the masses at once and for all from the oppressive relationships , both foreign and domestic’’.
I think where Roy erred was in mechanically applying the Marxist idea of ‘ the hegemony of the proletariat in the bourgeois-democratic revolution’ to the Indian situation without entering into the heart of it. Lenin, I think , had a better understanding of the democratic ( national) and social stages in the unfolding of the revolution.
It would not be correct to say that Lenin compromised his approach to the question of nationalism. Lenin’s thesis on the National and Colonial Question reiterated the principle of self determination.
The only change that Lenin agreed to make in his thesis was to substitute the words ‘national revolutionary’ in place of ‘bourgeois democratic ‘movement.
Lenin in his draft thesis (point 11) said: The Communist International, must enter into a temporary alliance ( soulz) with the bourgeois democratic liberation of the colonial and the backward countries. It must not , however , amalgamate with it . It must retain its independent character of proletarian movement even though it might be in the embryonic stage.
In the final draft, the first sentence of this point was altered to read:’ The Communist International must be ready to establish relationships (soglasheniia) and even alliance (soluzy) with the ‘national-revolutionary liberation’ movements of the colonies and backward countries.
The substitution of the term “national-revolutionary” for the term “bourgeois-democratic”, was done to emphasis the Marxist support only for genuinely revolutionary liberation movements. Lenin went on:
“In all the colonies and backward countries, not only should we build independent contingents of fighters, party organizations, not only should we launch immediate propaganda for the organization of peasants’ soviets and strive to adapt them to pre-capitalist conditions, but the Communist International should advance and theoretically substantiate the proposition that with the aid of the proletariat of the advanced countries, the backward countries can pass over to the Soviet system and, through definite stages of development, to communism, without going through the capitalist stage.” (The Report of the Commission on The National and Colonial Questions, 26th July 1920)
Lenin did not agree with several of Roy’s views, such as:
Lenin did not agree with Roy’s overestimated numbers and strength of the peasants and working class of India during 1920’s.
Lenin also differed from Roy’s views on the Indian National Congress and the role of Gandhi in the National movement. Lenin asserted that since there was no Communist party in existence in India, at that early stages of the national liberation movement, for the present, the Indian National Congress be considered as progressive revolutionary force and supported.
He also felt that Roy had gone too far in linking the destiny of the revolutionary west to mass movements in Asia.
Lenin went through the draft thesis submitted by Roy; made numerous changes, with his hand, before approving it (not mere verbal alterations as claimed by Roy).
Lenin asked the Commission to accept Roy’s thesis (as revised by him) as a supplement to his own thesis.
The Commission on the National and Colonial Question, under the guidance of Lenin, also went into analysis of the class structure in the colonies.
The discussions in the Commission brought out the class structure in colonies , broadly , as : (a) Imperialists , feudal rich, militarists; (b) national bourgeoisie; (c) petty bourgeoisie ; (d) rich peasants; (e) middle peasants ; and (f) poor peasants , proletariat.
The hopelessly ‘reactionary ‘within this classification were at (a) and their natural allies along with their followers such as the rich peasants and middle peasants. The national bourgeoisie as at (b) were perceived as opposed to imperialism, and therefore revolutionary at first – though for a short period. As regards the petty bourgeoisie as at (c) they remained essentially ‘wavering’. But in colonies like China the vast revolutionary masses would largely consist of poor peasantry; and , they could be counted to support the revolution ; the leadership of the movement would ,however, be with the proletariat.
Against this class analysis, the fundamental question was to what extent and for how long should Communist Party, as the vanguard of the proletariat, alley itself ‘from above’- with the anti imperialist and non- communist national and petty bourgeois; and how much of its energies and resources should be devoted to enhancing the power of the proletariat and peasantry from ‘below’.
While collaborating with the middle- class nationalists in the colonies, Communist leaders were expected to make every effort to arouse and organize the working masses and peasantry and move towards taking control of the existing revolutionary movements. Thus, Revolution, in short, must embody a judicious balance of tactics ‘from above’ and ‘from below’.
The problem again was to strike a balance between ‘ the revolution from above’ and ‘the revolution from below’.
On the question of at what point should the ‘revolution from above’ change to ‘revolution from below’ no specific guidelines were given. But, it was said, the change would depend on the situation and it would generally take into account three factors: (1) the class structure; (2) the stage of development of the nationalist movement; and, (3) the relative strengths of the bourgeois and proletariat forces within the country in question.
According to the first two conditions : The support for the bourgeois -nationalist movement would be inadvisable in case the bourgeois sub groups , deemed reactionary, capture the leadership or should the national bourgeois sensing victory over the imperialists begin to panic at the prospect of unleash of class struggle.
In either case the national movement would cease to be revolutionary and lapse into reformation.
As regards the third, it would be folly to be subordinate to the bourgeois should they take control of the movement and take leadership.
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.
“ There were rather lively debates on this question (National and Colonial question ) in the commission, not only in connection with the theses signed by me, but still more in connection with Comrade Roy’s theses, which he will defend here, and to which certain amendments were adopted unanimously.
The question was posed as follows:
Are we to accept as correct the assertion that the capitalist stage of development of the national economy is inevitable for those backward nations which are now winning liberation and in which a movement along the road of progress is to be observed since the war? We replied in the negative. If the victorious revolutionary proletariat conducts systematic propaganda among them, and the Soviet governments come to their assistance with all the means at their disposal – in that event, it would be wrong to assume that the capitalist stage of development is inevitable for the backward peoples. In all the colonies and backward countries, not only should we build independent contingents of fighters, party organizations, not only should we launch immediate propaganda for the organization of peasants’ Soviets and strive to adapt them to pre-capitalist conditions, but the Communist International should advance and theoretically substantiate the proposition that with the aid of the proletariat of the advanced countries, the backward countries can pass over to the Soviet system and, through definite stages of development, to communism, without going through the capitalist stage.
What means are necessary for this cannot be indicated beforehand. Practical experience will suggest this. But it has been definitely established that the idea of Soviets is close to the hearts of the mass of working people even of the most remote nations, that these organizations, the Soviets, should be adapted to the conditions of the pre-capitalist social system, and that the communist parties should immediately begin work in this direction in all parts of the world.”
Referring to the distinction between different types of bourgeois–democratic movements and after commenting on that all nationalistic movements can only be bourgeois – democratic in nature, Lenin observed:
“ It was argued that if we speak about bourgeois–democratic movement all distinctions between reformist and revolutionary movements will be obliterated; whereas in the recent times, this distinction has been fully and clearly revealed in backward colonial countries’’
Lenin explained it further , by elaborating :
“Very often , even in the majority of cases perhaps, where the bourgeoisie of the oppressed countries does support the national movement, it simultaneously works in harmony with the imperialist bourgeoisie ; i.e, it joins the latter in fighting against all revolutionary movements and all revolutionary classes’.
In the National Colonial Commission this was proved irrefutably. And we came to the conclusion that the only correct thing was to take this distinction into consideration and nearly everywhere to substitute the term ‘national-revolutionary’ for the term ‘ bourgeois –democratic’ .
The meaning of this change is that we Communists should , and will, support bourgeois liberation movements in the colonial countries only when these movements are really revolutionary , when the representatives of these movements do not hinder us in training and organizing the peasants and the broad masses of the exploited in a revolutionary spirit”
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.’
After considerable debate, the Second Congress sought to resolve the argument by approving both the thesis – the main thesis by Lenin and the supplementary thesis by Roy.
This was Lenin’s first systematic guideline for promoting communist revolution in Asia. And, Roy played an important role in formulating Comintern policy on the national and colonial question in 1920.
Roy’s views on the revolutionary potential of the Indian masses and proletariat was moderated in the later years,. Yet; the Roy –Lenin debate has some significance. It marked the first significant attempt within the Comintern to formulate a policy which would successfully merge the revolutionary aspirations of the nationalist-anti-colonialism and communist anti-capitalism.
But, the question just did not go away. It kept coming back again and again starting from the Chinese question in 1927. And thereafter too, it repeatedly appeared during the cold war era.
Disagreements over the degree of support to be given to nationalistic leaders as opposed to indigenous communist parties continued to plague the Communist International.
The 1927 dispute between Stalin and Trotsky ; and between Roy and Borodin over the China policy brought out the harsh fact that the opposing views aired at the Second World Congress of 1920 had not been fully reconciled,
Stalin’s campaign against Trotsky and the Left opposition was followed by a struggle against Bukharin and Right Opposition.
There was bitter power struggle within the Communist International. The dispute between Stalin and Bukharin factions within the Party on domestic issues reflected on the International level over the attitudes to be adopted towards western countries and nationalists in dependent countries.
[The Comintern was rather selective in applying its principle of supporting self-determination and of the revolutionary movements in the oppressed countries in the East. For instance; the Soviet government during 1921 found it advantageous to withdraw assistance for revolution among the Muslims of Asia in order to achieve a trade agreement with England. Because, the Anglo-Soviet political conference and peace agreement— an agreement that would resettle the international relations of southwest Asia so as to account for Soviet interests there—would win for the new Soviet state a place of legitimacy among the great powers of Europe; and it would also help industrial development in Russia.
Further, the Russians among the party leadership felt that to use Soviet Muslims to promote national self-determination in Islamic Asia, (even if it seriously dislocated the British Empire), would only encourage a Muslim desire for national self-determination within the re-conquered Russian Empire.
The Party leadership was also very hesitant about employing the considerable Muslim forces that had joined with the Red Army against the counter – revolution in Muslim countries.
Hostility toward all religion, including Islam, and a fear and distrust of independent and uncontrollable local revolutionary movements, were said to be the major reasons for USSR’s unwillingness to support revolution in Muslim countries.
Trotsky, a consistent ‘Westerner’, rejected the idea of military support for Asian revolution and urged the NKID to “continue in every way to emphasize through all available channels our readiness to come to an understanding with England with regard to the East.”
The Party theorists, mainly Trotsky, analyzed that, support for revolutionary activity in Central and Southwest Asia would become a strategic liability rather than an asset once the prospects for proletarian revolution in Europe faded and anti-Communist regimes were consolidated there.
For more, please check When the Soviet Union Entered World Politics by Jon Jacobson]
During the cold war period, the decisions reached by a Soviet or Chinese Communist leader depended, mainly, upon the relative strengths, potential strengths and popular support for nationalist movement in comparison with the local communist party. It also took into account at what point the nationalist leader will balk at Communist policies and pressures and move away to the other side.
Even in the case of the Governments of the revolutionary leaders like Nasser, Nkrumah and Sukarno , the problem that Soviets and the Chinese faced was not so much as to decide whether or whether not to support national revolutionary movements ; but , to agree upon priorities of initiatives and relative allocation of men , money, arms and other resources between the local communist parties and between the Governments in question.
By then, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of China were drifting apart, after the death of Stalin in 1953.The USSR was slowly shifting towards the policy of class collaboration instead of the policy of class war. The Chinese did not appreciate the shift.
The attitude of the Soviet and Chinese Communist parties towards the Indian Communist Party on the one hand and the Congress Government of India on the other was also within those parameters. . The divide between the Soviet and the Chinese position reflected in the fractions of the CPI.
The controversy over the question of the ‘role of the national bourgeois and national democratic revolution with in India, vis-à-vis the international communist movement’, cast its shadow over the Communist Party of India. The controversy had its roots in the debates that took place in the Second Comintern Congress (1920). It split the Communist party in India into two major groups; the right CPI (the so called ‘pro-Moscow’ party) and the left CPI (the so called ‘pro-Peking’ party) .
The division came into fore during the 1960’s when J L Nehru was India’s prime mister and particularly during the Sino-Indian war.
One fraction of the CPI party believed that as Congress under Nehru was trying to make partnership with Soviet, they might give temporary support to the Congress government.
But another fraction of the CPI didn’t believe that Congress was trying to follow Communism ; and it also believed that members of the Congress party were class-enemies, hence, it was of no use to support them.
The division between the two fractions of CPI widened during the Sino–Indian war. China also did not like Moscow’s attitude towards the conflict. A fraction of the CPI viewed the Sino-Indian war as a conflict between a capitalist state (India) and a communist state (China). And, ideologically, it had to support the Communist state keeping aside sentiments of nationalism. This section which supported Chinese got separated from the CPI and formed a new party called Communist Party of India (CPIM).
The other section of the CPI continued to believe in a strategic tie with the Government of India.
But such controversies in the present day are irrelevant. And, moreover the Left has rapidly lost ground; and with hardly any prospects of coming to power in any state, independently. Both the communist parties talk of coalition of the Left and democratic process. But they do not seem to have a credible concrete program. Further, both the factions are bogged down with lack of new leadership and plenty of internal squabbling.
After disillusionment with CPI–M, the search for ideologies to bring about changes shifted to other areas. In 1975 it was Jayaprakash Narayan; in 1989 it was VP Singh; and in 2012 it was around Anna Hazare. And now, it is BJP; and, it too, somehow, appears a distant prospect.
Sources and References
- 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
- Communism and Nationalism in India: A Study in Inter-relationship, 1919-1947
By Shashi Bairathi
5. Communism in India by Overstreet and Windmiller