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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts – Part 17

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts – Part 17

Continued from Part 16

Western Women in leftist and national movements (3)

Evelyn Leonora Trent (1892-1970)

Evelyn  Trent  Roy

Evelyn Leonora Trent (1892-1970) consistently described as bright, young and attractive, and as ‘a very competent and dedicated person’; was born in Salt Lake City, Utah as the youngest of the eighth children of the English-born mining engineers Lemartine Charles Trent of California and Mary DeLome McLeod of Florida. Evelyn attended High School in Auburn, California. Later, she joined Girls’ Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles in 1908 and completed the course in 1911.

Then, in 1912, she joined Stanford University, California. Her brother Edwin Walter was already in that university. Stanford was a prestigious university, though conservative in certain respects. When Evelyn was studying, women in USA did not have the right to vote.

Evelyn Trent was very active in Stanford University between 1912 and 1915. She belonged to Alpha Phi Sorority (a sisterhood of outstanding women supporting one another in lifelong achievement). David Jordan Starr was the Chancellor of the University. He was a scientist and a peace lover. Evelyn, a brilliant student, was among his favourite students. Evelyn and her close friend Ethel Rae Dugan, an Irish-American, were friendly with Jessie Louise Knight, the wife of David Jordan Starr.

Evelyn was in women’s athletic association as one of the directors. She was also in fencing sport and tennis club. She was the associate editor of Quad, Stanford University annual, during 1914 and 1915. Evelyn took English as her main subject ; and philosophy and French as her optional. During her second year, Evelyn acted as Ethel, the Duchess of Carbondale, in a three act Comedy “On the Quiet” by Augustus Thomas. Her histrionic ability made a deep impression on the viewers ; and , her performance was rated as very high.  

Evelyn discussed Tagore with  the Bengalis in the University .  While continuing her studies, Evelyn also taught poor children an hour a-day. Evelyn wondered that while millions of dollars were poured on munitions and war, why  very little was done to help needy children in desperate conditions; and wrote about her thoughts to her mother and also in the University magazine. 

Evelyn completed her graduation and started applying for jobs in the early part of 1916. She wanted to earn through her writings; and, wished to bring focus on problems of unemployment, poverty and other economic issues.

It June 1916, Narendranath Bhattacharya disguised as Rev. C. A. Martin , a Roman Catholic priest on his way to France for pursuing further theological studies in the University of Notre Dame, came to the campus of the Stanford University to meet Dhangopal Mukherjee  ( younger brother of the revolutionary Jadugopal Mukherjee  and  a contact for Bengali revolutionaries). It was on the campus of the Stanford University, at the suggestion of Dhangopal Mukherjee, that Narendranath Bhattacharya took on the name Manabendra Nath Roy (M N Roy) . And, that name stuck to him for the rest of his life.

During those days, Dhangopal Mukherjee and Ethel Rae Dugan (Evelyn Trent’s friend) were in love and were dating.  Roy met the young and attractive Evelyn Trent at Dhan Gopal’s residence in the University Campus, Ramona,  Palo Alto. Ethel was also present. Soon thereafter Roy and Evelyn started dating, and fell in love. At that time, Roy was about twenty-nine and Evelyn was about twenty-four years young.

During the early part of 1916, Evelyn who had just completed her graduation started applying for jobs. After meeting Roy in Palo Alto, Evelyn changed her plans, stopped applying for jobs. Instead, she planned to go to Europe along with Roy.

M.N. Roy, then, was in touch with Germans; but, he could neither get the promised money nor arms from the Germans. At one stage, M.N. Roy planned to go to Germany in U-53 submarine. Evelyn wanted to join him. Evelyn’s parents were shocked, and were  totally against their young, innocent and bright daughter getting mixed up with an unknown Hindu fugitive. Evelyn’s involvement with Roy seemed to them a terribly bad idea  ; too dangerous and scary. Evelyn’s parents were horrified at the thought  of their daughter running away with a stranger on German submarine.  It was also too risky and totally improper. Hence, Roy and Evelyn dropped the plan.

Evelyn, then, applied for a passport to visit European countries. Those were the days of the First World War and the American Government was not willing to issue passports to its citizens. Evelyn requested David Jordan Starr, her teacher and the Chancellor of the Stanford University, for a recommendation letter to the State Department. He sent her that letter, as requested. Even before receiving that letter, Evelyn had applied for the passport. She thanked David Jordan Starr for his letter and said that she would keep his letter as a memento.

Roy rented a house, near to the University campus, on the Ramona street, to be in touch with Dhangopal.  Roy stayed in 245 Ramona Street, Palo Alto for about six months. But, the police by then had began to suspect that Roy might be that elusive ‘Brahmin Revolutionary and Dangerous German Spy’ they were looking for . Following that alarm bell, Roy and Evelyn Trent together hurriedly moved to New York.

Roy and Evelyn were without money and a regular place to stay. For fear of police surveillance , they had to change their accommodation frequently. Initially they stayed in 2117 Daly Avenue in New York; then moved to 239 E 19th St; and later rented an apartment in 19th West 44th St. in New York. And, sometimes they had to stay apart to avoid police-attention. Since Roy did not have a permanent address, he gave a Ceylon restaurant (672, 8th Ave) as his ‘care of address ‘ to receive his mail.

At that time, Walter Edwin, Evelyn’s brother was also in New York; but was reluctant to help his wayward sister. Hence, Evelyn was forced to go in for odd jobs; and, she was , for a while , employed by American Society in 131 E. 23rd St.  By about that time, Roy met Lala Lajpat Rai, the legendary Indian freedom fighter and revolutionary; and attended some of his meetings. Lajpat Rai was impressed with the Roys; and employed Evelyn for a couple of months as his Secretary and also paid her some amount as a token help.

It is not clear when exactly during 1917 that Roy and Evelyn got married. But, in any case, Evelyn‘s parents and her brother were against her relation with Roy. The Hindu groups in New York too despised Roy for having married a foreigner and a non-Hindu. Life in New York had become very difficult because of lack of money, bad relations with Indian nationalists and constant scrutiny and survey by American and British Intelligence agencies. And, at the end, they had to seek shelter in the residence of Lala Lajpath Rai.

Lajpath Rai later wrote that Roy and Evelyn, in particular, had to face much hostility and humiliation both from Hindu nationalists and Evelyn’s family. Lajpath Rai sympathized with their plight and allowed them to live in his house. He also helped them with $ 350, out which $50 was payment due  to Evelyn for some work she did for him , as secretary.

The British Intelligence and the American police were keeping a watch on Roy’s movements.  The net was closing in over the USA -Pro – German revolutionaries and also on the revolutionaries of Indian origin. They were systematically were rounded up.  Things came to a head when the British spies broke into Roy’s room while he was away and seized some letters and papers.  Roy, at that time, was on the Campus of the Columbia University to where he had gone after attending a meeting addressed by Lala Lajpath Rai.   On the next day , that is on 7 March 1917 , Roy was eventually arrested

Roy had to spend a few hours of the night (7 Mar 1917) before he was released in the early hours of the morning and asked to appear before the Grand Jury in the Town Hall, a few hours later. The Grand Jury indicted him for violating the immigration Laws of the USA and pending trial released him on bail on his personal surety.

Roy however had no intention of returning to the trial. Roy left the court determined not to return. He was desperate to escape attention and arrest. He knew that he would be taken to San Francisco and tried there as a conspirator. But, his worse fear was deportation to India for standing trial which would result in long imprisonment or death sentence for the many acts of terror he had committed in India until 1915.

It was then, prompted by Evelyn, that Roy seriously considered escaping to Mexico. They had heard from their socialist friends about Mexico; the social revolution brewing there; and establishment of socialism in one its parts – Yucatan. Mexico, to them, appeared as the Land of Promise.

Evelyn and Roy soon travelled by train from New York to San Francisco, a distance of about 3,300-miles. And, during 1917 the journey might have taken nearly a week’s time.  

Evelyn Trent then approached her teacher and friend, Dr. David Starr Jordan, President of the Stanford University, at Palo Alto, for help. Dr, Jordan was prepared to make it easy for Roys to find a refuge in the neighboring Mexico; and, he readily gave them a letter of introduction to the Governor of the  State of Yucatan , General Salvador Alvarado  , a powerful person in Mexican politics . That indeed was an immense, immeasurable help. Roy’s biographers wonder, there is no reason why Dr, Jordan , a President of an University,  would have anything to do with a dangerous Indian fugitive who had violated American laws and was still at large evading both British and American police , and helped him to escape , had  he  not been impressed with young Roy and his mission. But, it is very  likely that Dr. Jordan was primarily trying to rescue one of his favorite students and a family-friend from a bad situation that was getting worse.

Evelyn and Roy slipped into Mexico under their assumed names of Senorita and Senora Evelyn and Manuel Mendez, in the last week of March 1917.

Soon after securing a safe place at Cordoba 33 in Mexico City, Evelyn along with Roy took lessons in Spanish from Enrique Guardiola, a teacher of Spanish. And, in about two moths time they had learnt enough Spanish not only to write articles and pamphlets in Spanish but also to speak it fluently. They began to contribute articles to El Pueblo (The People), the almost the official daily of the Mexican Government. 

After Roy came into some big-money, thanks to the Germans, they moved into a more spacious house at Merida 186, Colonia Roma, Mexico City. It was Evelyn who was primarily responsible for an almost  total transformation in Roy as a person; bringing about remarkable changes in the personal life, the habits, the interests; and, the general outlook of Roy. The Mexican experience was for Roy a sort of liberation from pre-conceived notions of culture, nationalism etc. In Mexico for the first time he had a home of his own where a woman who adored him and shared his ideals, brought him new insights and experience of happiness. The period of about two and a half years (March 1917 – November 1919) that Roy and Evelyn lived in Mexico were perhaps the most wonderfully delightful  and magical years in their life.

While in Mexico, Evelyn skillfully managed his household, his social life and his political career. She also managed his finances and bank accounts, juggling with several aliases like–Martin, Roy, Allen, Trent etc.

Evelyn took up educational programmes for under-privileged children. And, when Roy formed ‘The Friends of India League ‘ , for propagation of India’s freedom ,  Evelyn became  its  Director. Evelyn in her letters to her mother, who at that time was in Washington D C , wrote about her desire to work for an Indian Revolutionary Party; and , wished that the wasted American millions should pour into India to build schools, factories and Universities.

Along with Roy, Evelyn got busily involved with the Socialist movement in Mexico. She contributed to El Heraldo de Mexico. From August, 25, 1919 to September 4, Roy organized the marathon session of the National Congress of the Socialist Party of Mexico. Roy and Evelyn chaired most of the sessions.

Evelyn was also one of the founder members of the Communist Party of Mexico (Partido Comunista Mexicano- PCM), the first recognized Communist Party formed outside Russia

When they decided to accept Lenin’s invitation to attend the Second Congress of the Communist International to be held in Moscow during spring of 1920, Evelyn and Roy left Mexico in November 1919 to Berlin on their way to Moscow.  They travelled under Mexican diplomatic passports provided by the President Carranza, in which their names were given as Senor and Senora Roberto Alleny Villa Garcia.

While in Berlin, on the way to Moscow, Evelyn came into contact an Indian group known as Berlin Committee fighting for India’s freedom with assistance from Germans. She also established links with August Thalheimer, the German Marxist activist and theoretician. Thalheimer was one her close friends; and kept in touch with him even during her later years.

Before leaving Berlin for Moscow, Roy along with Evelyn, drafted what he called as the Indian Communist Manifesto. The manifesto was signed by Roy, Abani Mukherjee and Evelyn Trent.

Evelyn and Roy along with Charles Philips (Frank Seaman) ,invited as official delegates of the Communist Party of Mexico , participated in the Second World Congress held at Moscow from 19 July 1920 to 7 August 1920, spread over fifteen sessions. Evelyn, while at Moscow, came into contact with various other Indian leftist and nationalist leaders such as, MPBT Acharya, Virendranath Chattopadyaya and also with Agnes Smedley, who was indeed the  driving force of their delegation .

They attended a rally in Petrograd. Evelyn was reporting her views and experiences to her mother through letters and personal messages. She was all praise for the social conditions in the Soviet Union.

Thereafter, Evelyn accompanied Roy on his mission in Tashkent during 1920-21; and managed his affairs in setting up a Military School in Tashkent.

Evelyn was one among the seven signatories to the document establishing the Communist Party of India (CPI)  at Tashkent on 17 October 1920. Thus , Evelyn Trent was one of  the founder members of the Communist Party of Mexico as also among  the founder member of the Communist Party of India at Tashkent.

While she was in Moscow, Evelyn Trent taught in the Communist University of the Toilers of the East and in International Political School.  She collaborated with M.N. Roy in the organizational and intellectual development of the international communist   movement in the Soviet Union, Mexico, Europe and in India.

Evelyn wrote series of articles on their newly started journal The Vanguard of Indian Independence   (later re-named as Masses of India) attacking the Gandhian approach to the British, predicting that Gandhi would eventually compromise with the British. She published her writings under her assumed name Santi Devi. Her mature writings written with understanding and clear analysis influenced the course of events in Communism, in Indian national movements and on the Indian National Congress. Her articles on Gandhian politics and economics were regarded by many as ‘the best-argued critiques ever published in Communist literature’.  In 1923, she wrote for the Labour Monthly attacking the Indian Congress session at Gaya held in 1922. In the same year (1923) her article ‘Mahatma Gandhi: Revolutionary or Counter-revolutionary?’  was published in the Labour Monthly of September . Some of her articles were later reproduced in a book titled ‘One Year of Non-Cooperation from Ahmadabad to Gaya’.

Please Check Evelyn Trent-Roy Archive for writings of Evelyn Trent.

And, for writings of M N Roy, please click here.

After the not-so-happy Fifth Congress, Roy returned to France by August 1924 after about six months of stay in Switzerland. Evelyn stationed in France was editing and managing  the Journal The Vanguard. She was also guiding Comite’ Pro-Hindou a group headed by Henri Barbusse which did propaganda work in favour of Indian Independence.

And, in the following January (on 30 January 1925) Roy and Evelyn were arrested in Paris, due to to British pressure brought to bear upon the French Government. Evelyn was released and allowed to stay in France. Roy, however, was deported to Luxembourg.

In July 1925 the Roys attended a meeting of Indian and French Communist to plan for the Congress of the Oppressed Nationalities. Here they had strong disagreements about the British Communist Party over its interference in the affairs of the Indian Party.

It was around this time in 1925 or early 1926 that Roy and Evelyn decided to end their relationship. They were separated for ever. The exact dates and reasons for separation are not clear.

 **

Evelyn’s latter dated 13 March 1927 addressed to their mutual friend Henk Sneevliet (Jack Horner) makes a most poignant reading. The separation was very painful to her; she was totally distraught. She desperately tried to contact Ray and longed to be with him again. But, here letters and pleadings did not evoke any response from Roy. She wrote:

I blame my husband for nothing. He could not help what happened, any more than I could. I only wish he might have been more frank and open so that together we could have discussed everything and decided on a course to follow, instead of sending me off in ignorance of his real feelings and desires.

*

Had he wanted me to come back, I would have come, if only to be true to him and the work. It was very hard for me to believe or to realize that he did not want me or need me. That he wanted me to stay away. I only fully knew these seven months after I left him, and it was then that I went to get my divorce.

*

I received a divorce six months ago, as it appeared to me absolutely necessary to do so, before I could take up my life again in any direction. I hesitated a long time before taking this step – waited over six months and wrote many letters to R. offering to return and resume our former relationship.

It was only after receiving his categorical reply to remain in this country or go to China, but not to return there, that I decided upon what course to follow.

 Life appeared to me very difficult – almost impossible to resume in the old channels I had left nine years before.

She longed to go back to her parents and to her earlier environment. But again she was lonely and not accepted

My mother & father were glad to see me, but did not welcome my ideas, and part of my family refused to have anything at all to do with me. Most of my old friends from school and college also turned away from me. I found myself almost alone, except for a very few who remained loyal to the past, without in any way understanding or sympathizing with my viewpoint.

*

These are my people. I understand them, and it is in this environment I can grow and develop normally, as a human being. Above all, I was so weary of being hunted from place to place, from country to country, of having to hide and always to be surrounded by a terrible fog of suspicion and fear, and to have others suspect and fear me. All this had become intolerable.

*

I found myself alone. I had not the heart, even if I had possessed the strength, energy and enthusiasm, to begin all over again in the movement here.

*

All my work had been for India. Many stories were circulated about me – from external and internal sources. Had I attempted to be active I would have been deported at once. There was no possible way to prevent it for I had no rights here at all.

At first I thought it would be impossible for me to abandon my former life and work and just to live like this – it is still difficult – but it has been forced on me by a good many circumstances. I could not remain in the Indian work, that was sure even before my divorce. My position had become very difficult.

If I had ever been in India, or could ever go there, it might have been different, but always it had been pure theoretical abstraction to me. The only living link was my husband. When this link was broken, only the abstraction remained, and I was so tired of abstract theories. I had to come face to face with realities and to learn something about every day, practical living.

The result is, I have held aloof from everything, seen no one and done nothing but attempt to regain my mental and physical strength and to solve the first problem of all – to earn my living somehow or other.

*

The life after return from Europe had become very difficult for her, especially during the first 18 months after her return

I was in a state of complete mental and physical collapse. The very thought of politics sickened me. I could not concentrate my mind long enough to read a newspaper or book. I was restless, unhappy and frightfully disorientated. I belonged neither to my old life or the new one I had left it for. Then there was the personal heartache.

Besides all this, I had to meet the slanderous gossip and malicious tongues of various nationalist factions in this country, who very effectually poisoned the minds of all those liberal and semi-radical people I have turned to for help and friendship. They heard such frightful things against me that one and all turned away from me.

I was accused of being a spy, a renegade, a defalcator of funds, of having abandoned my husband and the movement after having bled them dry, etc. etc.

*

My activities abroad had been such as to render it very difficult for me to obtain work for which I was adapted by education and training. I had lost my citizenship and this fact closed a good many avenues of employment as well as made my position extremely uncertain.

**

Their separation was so complete that never thereafter did they meet or correspond. And, there is not a single word or reference to Evelyn in Roy’s Memoirs.

Evelyn was  keenly following Roy’s  Memoirs published as  serial in Radical Humanist Weekly from India during 1953-54  was curious to know what  Roy said of her. But, to her utter disappointment, there was not a word about her.

The separation was very painful to both. Roy’s party work in Europe suffered a great deal, because till then Evelyn had been managing and editing Vanguard/ Indian Masses; writing articles in Inprecor.  She was his secretary assistant and co-worker.

And, from 1925 onwards the name of Evelyn did not appear in any of the “documents of literature relating to Indian Communism” . Her  vanishing act was  complete as far as Indian leftist circles were concerned.

**

After her break from Roy, the British Intelligence lost track of Evelyn by 1927.  Evelyn moved back to  her parent’s home in Auburn , California in 1927.She was a columnist on International affairs  for San Francisco Chronicle specially on the events in  India, Afghanistan, China , Japan    and the Asian region. Later she moved to New York where she worked as a freelance journalist; she wrote on subjects related to Aviation for Herald Tribune flying all over America and Europe gathering material on commercial aviation.

She kept in touch with the minority Left groups in USA led by Jay Lovestone. In 1931 Evelyn wrote an article to their journal Revolutionary Age , touching on MN Roy’s arrest in India , giving details of his early history and describing  how  he had returned to India after along exile, daring to brave British imperialism face to face. She called upon “American liberal intellectuals, radicals and workers’ to protest Roy’s arrest.

In 1935 Evelyn moved back to California and wrote for Sacramento papers. In 1936 she married a writer Dewitt Jones. After his death in 1949 , she returned to live in her family house in Auburn California. In 1956 she worked for the Placer County Welfare Department. She retired in 1962. And Evelyn Leonora Trent-Jones died in 1970.

Evelyn possessed great love and empathy for human beings and spent her life writing about social injustices and the need for greater humanity and awareness. Her contributions and examples will live on forever in the work she has left behind, some of which are lodged in the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. 

***

Many researchers tried to talk to Evelyn to ascertain the reason for her separation from Roy; but, were not entirely successful.

Shibnarayan Ray, Roy’s biographer met Evelyn in 1957-58. She said that parting with Roy was friendly but  ‘sad on her part.. Quite sad’. She retained her admiration for Roy and interest in his work and writings. She cherished her life as revolutionary in Mexico, Moscow and Berlin. But, she preferred her communist past to be not made known’

On the question of Roy silence on her in his Memoirs , she defended Roy stating that the climate prevailing at that time (1950 early)  in USA was highly prejudiced against anything Left. And   ‘any mention of her communist past could have led to witch-hunting and caused her much harassment and trouble ‘.

 

Later, in 1970, several research scholars on political science interviewed Evelyn through   Robert  C. North, the political science professor in Stanford  University ;   but were not successful.  Evelyn preferred to remain anonymous and silent..

Dr Innaiah Narisetti, a Journalist from India, interviewed the son of Evelyn Trent`s sister, Diven Meredith in Los Angeles, during 1990s. He also corresponded with Evelyn’s nieces who sent Dr Innaiah some rare photos and some material about Evelyn. Dr Innaiah gathered some rare material about Evelyn Trent   from the Hoover Institute in Stanford University; the National Archives, Washington DC; and, The Institute of Social Sciences at Amsterdam. Please check his research work: Evelyn Tremt Alias Shanti Devi

***

Evelyn Trent Jones was an extraordinary woman who lived an amazing life. A successful journalist, she travelled worldwide on behalf of the early communist movement with her husband M.N. Roy. She played an important role in shaping the life and thought of M. N. Roy in the early stages. She also played a great role in the International politics and also in developing the Indian Communist movement.

Evelyn was not only politically and intellectually an important figure in the early history of Indian Communism; but was also one of its founding members. She had a special concern for India. Her mature writings written with understanding and clear analysis influenced the course of events in Communism, in Indian national movements and on the Indian National Congress.

It is rather sad, she is not remembered with love and gratitude in India and by the Communist Party; and , none celebrated her centenary in 1992.

EvelynTrentaliasShanthiDevi600

 

 Continued

In

The Next Part

Sources and References

  Evelyn Tremt Alias Shanti Devi by  Dr Innaiah Narisetti

The White Woman’s Other Burden: Western Women and South Asia During British Rule by Kumari Jayawardena

Age of Entanglement by Kris Manjapra

Many pages of the Wikipedia

Socialism of Jawaharlal Nehru by Rabindra Chandra Dutt

India & the United States: Politics of the Sixties by Kalyani Shankar

How Stalin’s daughter defected in India-

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-15936172

The Lives of Agnes Smedley by Ruth Price

http://www.sacu.org/smedley.html

The Pictures are from Internet

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2016 in M N Roy

 

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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts – Part 16

 

Continued from Part 15

Western Women in leftist and national movements (2)

The intertwining lives of what was called as the Left Quartet – M N Roy, Evelyn Trent, Virendranath Chattopadyaya and Agnes Smedley are rather very engaging. The lives of men and the lives of the women ran on almost parallel lines.

Roy and Chattopadyaya the best known pioneers of Indian communism were both born in 1980s to Bengali Brahmin middle class families. Both were exposed as school boys to the dynamic nationalism of Vivekananda, Nivedita and Aurobindo. They both were influenced by militant politics of Bengal and the early armed resistance. They were ardent nationalists, participated in the extreme–wing of the nationalist struggle and were involved with Germans in trying to promote revolutionary activities in India during the First World War. By the early 1920, they were operating on the same terrain and came into bitter conflict over which one was to be accepted as the leader of the Indian Communist party.

There are also interesting parallel developments in the stories of two American women. Both Evelyn Trent and Agnes Smedley were born in 1892 in the USA and were radicalized by labour, feminist and anti-imperial struggle of that period. Both were politically active in California during 1915-1916 and met briefly in New York before their dramatic confrontation in Moscow in 1921 as consorts of two Indian revolutionaries who were vying for the attention of Lenin and the Communist International. They both had stressful life in addition to the strain of living with Indian revolutionaries who were lionized because of their active association with Communist movement; but were forced to live as fugitives on the run to avoid arrest or deportation by American and European Governments.

The dedication of these two women to the cause of Indian Independence was remarkable. Yet, neither visited India.

But around 1925, both the sets of couples separated. The women never again got directly involved with Indian nationalism or Indian communist movement.

Agnes Smedley became an internationally known writer because of her subsequent links to Communist movement in China.

And Evelyn went into oblivion from mid-1920s and distanced herself from India, the Indian communist movement and the Indian national movement.

*

Although each pair lived and worked separately, they all converged in Moscow in 1920 during the Second World Congress of the Communist International. It was a turbulent time in India also, when events in India were gathering momentum, when Lala Lajpat Rai formed (1920) the All India Trade Union Congress; and when Gandhi’s first large Civil Disobedience campaign was attracting masses in unbelievably huge numbers. By about the same time, civil disobedience was marred by a stray incident of  violence. That led Gandhi to call off the massive protests, just at the point it could have grown into a full scale revolution. The events happening in India overshadowed the irksome relations between Roy and Chattopadyaya.

The period of 1921-22 was significant in the Communist movement and in the Indian national movement as well.  M N Roy and Virendranath Chattopadyaya met in Moscow in 1921, as delegates to the second Congress of the Communist International.

Interestingly, at Moscow, there were involved discussions both among the Bolsheviks and the Indian groups over the merits and de-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. And, that led to heated discussions and controversies

When the Roy and Virendranath 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 favour of a united front of all anti-imperial forces, whether Communist or not, to overthrow the British Rule.

Roy however was reluctant to lose the identity by joining with other Indian nationalists. He was concerned with building a viable Indian Communist Party to lead the anti-imperialist movement and to lend a Socialist direction to the Free India.

The groups aligned to Roy and to Chattopadyaya fought tooth and nail over the issue. They parted bitterly.

At Moscow, the idea advocated by Roy won the approval; and the Communist International permitted Roy and Evelyn for launching the Communist Party of India from Tashkent in 1921.

***

Viren (3)

Virendranath Chattopadyaya (1880-1941) , born in a Bengali family settled in  Hyderabad (Deccan) , was the eldest son (the second of eight children) of Dr. Aghorenath Chattopadhyaya (Chatterjee), a scientist-philosopher and educationist who was an ex-principal and professor of science at the Nizam College, Hyderabad, and his wife Barada Sundari Devi, a poetess and singer .  Their children Sarojini Naidu and Harindranath Chattopadhyay became well-known poets and eminent parliamentarians. Their daughter Mrinalini became a Nationalist activist and introduced Virendranath to many of her circle in Calcutta.

Virendranath went to Britain in 1901 for studies, but got involved with extreme Indian nationalists in London and with Irish revolutionaries. Fearing arrest, he escaped to France in 1910, where he worked with French Socialists and the Indian revolutionary Madam Bhikaji Cama. At the outbreak of the War he left for Germany.

viren chatto2

Virendranath (Chatto) was a smart polyglot (he knew English, German, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, Italian, Russian, Persian and several Indian languages including Telugu); and had a way with women.  He was a sort of Don Juan Casanova; made many a romantic conquest.  The women for some reason were fascinated by him. He had many marriages: an English woman (1910); Irish woman (1912-1914). From 1920-1928 he lived with Agnes Smedley; and in 1930 he married a Russian woman, Lydia Karunovskaya.

It was his involvement with Agnes Smedley that was most significant. It was during 1920 that Virendranath Chattopadhyaya met Smedley in Germany to where she had moved to escape the heat of pursuit from the American police because of her involvement with the Indians who had been indicted in the Hindu–German Conspiracy Trial. They lived together for the next several years in Germany, and other places, involved with various left-wing causes

Agnes Smedley lived with Virendranath Chattopadhyaya from 1921 to 1928. (He became a member of the Communist Party of Germany – KPD; but she was not).   In her autobiographical novel Daughter of Earth (1929) , Agnes wrote :

“The first person I met in Berlin was the Indian revolutionary leader Virendranath Chattopadhyaya. In New York I had often heard of him as one who had helped form an Indian Government-in-exile and build up a world-wide network of Indian revolutionary activity. In a very short time I had entered into a union with him. ”

 “ I married an artist, a revolutionary in a dozen different ways, a man of truly ‘fine frenzy’, nervous as a cat, always moving, never at rest… a thin man with much hair, a tongue like a razor and a brain like hell on fire.” ― Smedley’s letter, pg 230

Smedely described Virendranath the revolutionary :

‘ Virendranath was the epitome of the secret Indian revolutionary movement, and perhaps its most brilliant protagonist abroad. With a mind as sharp and as ruthless as a sober. He was thin and dark—to me he seemed like thunder, lightning and rain’. ‘His mind was modern, but his emotional roots were in Hinduism and Islam. Everyone understood and loved Viren, few understood me’.  

According to Sibnarayan Ray, Roy and Viren were rivals for Agnes: “Roy would have liked to work with her since he admired the latter’s intelligence and energy.

Chattopadyaya and Smedley broke up in 1928. Their life together had been turbulent mainly due to clashes over issues of class and cultural background. In the year that led to her break with Viren, Agnes began to speak critically of Indian society and the need for reformations. She was especially disturbed about the issue of birth control. “India produced droves of ‘weak slaves’ and the Indians as also those sympathetic to Indian cause would be in stronger position if they acknowledged ‘India’s case’. The change should come from within the Indian society. They do not have to need British government or Christian missionaries”.

“My alliance with Virendranath terminated early in 1928. To me he was not just an individual, but a political principle. For me , he embodied the tragedy of a whole race. Had he been born English or American, I thought, his ability would have placed him among the great leaders of his age. Despite all this, I could not take up life with him.

Agnes saw Viren for the last time in 1933 and remembered later:

“Hitler was threatening, and Viren had left Germany for the Soviet Union, where he was connected with the Academy of Science in Leningrad. Upon my arrival in Moscow he came to me. …For me, he embodied the tragedy of a whole race. Had he been born in England or America, I thought, his ability would have placed him among the great leaders of his age… He was at last growing old, his body thin and frail, his hair rapidly turning white. The desire to return to India obsessed him, but the British would trust him only if he were dust on a funeral pyre. What happened to him after that I do not know.

(From Agnes Smedley, China Correspondent, first published in 1943; pp.15-23)

During 1930s Virendranath Chattopadhyaya was working at the Indian Department of the Institute of Ethnography of the Academy of Science in Leningrad.

His last wife and colleague, Dr. Lydia Karunovskaya, the head of the Indonesian Department at that time, later said that Viren was arrested in 15 July 1937 during the Great Purge of Stalin.  It was much later revealed that Virendranath was one among the 187 marked for execution. The sentence was pronounced on 2 September 1937; and Virendranath Chattopadhyaya was executed on the same day.

In his Autobiography, decades later, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote of Virendranath Chattopadhyaya:

“An entirely different type of person was Virendranath Chattopadhyay, member of a famous family in India. Popularly known as Chatto he was a very able and a very delightful person. He was always hard up, his clothes were very much the worse for wear and often he found it difficult to raise the wherewithal for a meal. But his humour and light heartedness never left him. He had been some years senior to me during my educational days in England. He was at Oxford when I was at Harrow. Since those days he had not returned to India and sometimes a fit of homesickness came to him when he longed to be back. All his home-ties had long been severed and it is quite certain that if he came to India he would feel unhappy and out of joint. But in spite of the passage of time the home pull remains. No exile can escape the malady of his tribe, that consumption of the soul, as Mazzini called it… Of the few I met, the only persons who impressed me intellectually were Virendranath Chattopadhyay and M.N. Roy. Chatto was not, I believe, a regular communist, but he was communistically inclined.”

**

Young-Agnes-Smedley

Agnes Smedley (February 23, 1892 – May 6, 1950)

Agnes Smedley was born in Osgood, Missouri on Feb 23, 1892 as the second of five children. In 1901, when she was nine years of age, her family moved to Colorado. Smedley grew up under straitened circumstances. At an early age she began working after school to help support her family and she dropped out of school completely in 1907.  

At age of 16 she left home after her mother’s death and not willing to suffer her father’s cruelty to her and to her siblings. Later, she described herself as one who was a ‘poor white trash engaged in a brutalizing struggle to overcome their environment’.   And, over the next several years she studied and worked at a variety of jobs in the West and Southwest – from tobacco stripper, stenographer, waitress, book agent or ‘just plain starveling’- and went through a brief, unhappy marriage.  She then realized that ‘for women marriage meant nothing but imprisonment and humiliation’. After divorcing in 1916, she left the Southwest in her early twenties for New York City, where she worked and attended classes at Normal School. In March 1912 (when about twenty) Agnes was elected as the Editor-in-Chief of the School’s weekly magazine – The Normal Student.  While in New York, she became involved in politics and the birth-control movement.

lala lajpath rai2

Smedley, who worked for Indian nationalist leader Lala Lajpat Rai, in New York, soon became involved in his cause.  She took up a room near Lajpat Rai’s house, worked as his Secretary in the morning; attended classes at a New York University college; and, in the evening listened to Lajpat Rai on Indian History, culture and freedom movement. She treated Lajpat Rai as a ‘father figure’. She said ’ I loved him as I might have loved my father… I learnt more from him than I could have leaned from any other source’.  Lala Lajpat Rai introduced Agnes Smedley to radical ideas and to issues concerning India’s struggle for freedom and to other Indian nationalists

agnes-smedley-pic1 in sari

Agnes Smedley was also attracted by Russian revolution and to the struggle of the Ghadar Party of California. But, Lajpath Rai was alarmed when she got too radical and attempted to form a radical Indian National Party.  Her idea was to turn it into a sort of parallel Indian government, a radical body representing Indian interests abroad. She sent letters (signed by her as Bose) appealing to Trotsky and other Bolsheviks seeking support for Indian independence and for the revolutionary groups working for Indian cause in America and elsewhere.

Her correspondence with Bolsheviks and   radical groups was intercepted. She was arrested by the  U.S. Naval Intelligence Bureau in 1918 under the Espionage Act, not only on charges of aiding Germany (in the Hindu–German Conspiracy Trial), but also on the counts of disseminating information on birth control methods.  Agnes was described in the charges as ‘the the directing genius behind the plot’.  The arrest of Agnes Smedley was reported in New York Times of 19 March 1918. She was released on bail set at $10,000. Because of the Birth-control charges filed against Agnes, a campaign by Liberal women groups headed by Margret Sanger helped her release.

Again on 11 June 1918, a second indictment for violating the Espionage Act was filed against Agnes Smedley, in San Francisco, along with several Indian revolutionaries and American liberals. Since the Indian revolutionaries were said to be in league with Germans (who in 1918 were American enemies), all the defendants were charged as ‘German conspirators’; and were found guilty of conspiring to launch military expedition.

On 14 October 1918, Agnes Smedley made an appeal against her sentence; but, did not succeed. She was sent back to jail’; and, was released after eight months in prison.

During her prison-time, Agnes came in contact with an assortment of rebels:  uncompromising crusaders for birth control (Kitty Marian); liberals who opposed US intervention in Russian revolution (Mollie Stelmer); and some socialists.  That drew Agnes closer to the socialist ideas ; and, alienated her from American-establishment views.

Agnes Smedley became thoroughly disenchanted with the United States. Late in 1919, after serving out her time, she boarded a freighter bound for Europe, and finally reached Berlin, Germany. She lived in Germany   from 1919 to 1928. While in Berlin, she taught English at the University of Berlin, did graduate work in Asian studies there, wrote articles for several periodicals, and helped establish Germany’s first public birth-control clinic.

In Berlin, looking for the newspaper of the Indian exiles on whose behalf she had been imprisoned, she met the revolutionary leader Virendranath Chattopadhyaya in 1919. The two soon got caught up with each other. Smedley lived with Chattopadyaya for eight years, working along with him ,  studying Indian history and Chinese nationalism etc.

 During May 1921, She accompanied Virendranath Chattopadyaya to Moscow with a view to attend the Third World Congress of the Communist International – June 22-July 12, 1921. From May to September, they both were in Moscow.

While in Moscow, Viren and Agnes had interactions with M N Roy, who was already well established there. According to Sibnarayan Ray, Roy and Viren were rivals for Agnes.

In Berlin, Agnes Smedley and a group of progressive physicians with some financial aid from Margaret Sanger set up the first state birth-control clinic. But later, the German republican government took over the clinic and established several others which flourished until the Nazis came to power and women were ‘ordered back to the bedroom’. With Hitler threatening, Virendranath left Germany for the Academy of Sciences in Leningrad; and Agnes obtained a position with the Frankfurter Zeitung in 1928, as a special correspondent in China.

Smedley and Chattopadyaya broke up in 1928. Their life together had been turbulent due mainly to clashes over issues of class and cultural background. Though she admired Viren in many ways, she said ‘I could not take up life with him’. Her life had become very stressful. She took  psychoanalysis treatment in an attempt to combat depression; and, as a form of therapy, she began writing the autobiographical novel Daughter of Earth (1929).

Agnes Smedley, unlike Evelyn Trent, did not disappear; but remained  active till her last years. She was involved in the Communist movement in Germany and China ; and with Indian movement in 1920. She however never visited India. For her, India was a vision or a fascinating idea though she kept in touch with Nehru. She got more interested in China, reporting from there.

In 1928 Smedley went to China as special correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung. From her base in Shanghai she travelled widely reporting enthusiastically on the growing communist movement. She lived on and off in China from 1928 to 1941. In 1930, Agnes befriended the great writer Lu Xun whom she called ‘the man who became one of the most influential factors in my life during all my years in China’ . Together with other intellectuals in mid-1932 , the two formed the first ‘League of Civil Rights’ in China to urge democratic rights and an end to the torturing of political prisoners.

By September, 1937 Agnes was on her way to Suiyuan and Chahar provinces where the Red Army was fighting. Although in constant pain from back injury, she reported about the condition of the wounded, about the starvation and rampant disease; and appealed for medical aid for the absolute need for ‘travelling dispensaries and public health workers’. She soon became a sort of ‘wandering first aid worker’ herself, often treating soldiers from her stretcher when she could no longer sit or stand. While at the front , Agnes finished a new book ‘China Fights Back’ before leaving for Hanzhou in 1938.

[ In the meanwhile, when Agnes Smedley was in China, on 29 March 1929, the police in Meerut, India, arrested about thirty-five Indian communists on charges of ‘conspiracy to deprive the British King of the sovereignty ‘. Agnes Smedley was prosecuted in absentia. Many of the arrested had translated into Urdu and published the articles sent from Berlin by Agnes Smedley (but, the parties had never met). In one the articles she had predicted a war between Britain and Soviet Union. Another of her articles was  her moving tribute to Lala Lajpat Rai whom she loved as her’ father figure’. Lala had died at the hands of the British police during a protest march in Lahore. Agnes had written poignantly expressing her shock and remorse for the death of the departed leader. Her note was published in India during April 1929. The Meerut case dragged for three years, till 1933.]

agnes war correspondent in china

In mid-1938 Agnes became a special wartime correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. During her travels with the Red guerrillas left behind of the Red Army , she lectured and inspected hospitals and reported on the extent of American aid to the Japanese war machine. In ill health and unable to stay with the guerrillas,  Agnes decided to leave China and go back to the US.

Smedley returned to the United States in 1941 and continued to write and speak widely in support of radical causes and also on behalf of the Chinese communists. Her Battle Hymn of China (1943) is considered an excellent example of war journalism. Her speeches and sentiments, however, provoked an increasingly hostile response.

 During 1944, Agnes Smedley came under FBI surveillance and strict censorship; and she was branded as ‘a notorious communist expert on Far East ‘.  Her file recorded her as: ‘Agnes Smedley: native Born Communist’. Her mails were examined before delivery. After she received a mail from a German communist in Mexico on 22 October 1944, the surveillance was intensified; and, she came to be suspected as a Soviet agent.  In mid July of 1946, FBI put Agnes Smedley on its Special Security Watch list of suspected Soviet spies who were marked for ‘custodial detention’.

Agnes Smedley, sitting in coffee shop

American media, at the behest of FBI, talked about Agnes Smedley as Soviet spy. She retaliated by threatening legal action against the Government agency, and the media, whereupon the Secretary of Defense admitted that the charges against her by the FBI rested on no evidence. And, the investigations against Agnes Smedley were suspended in May 1947.

Agnes Smedley continued to write about the need for a new social order and a new foreign policy on the basis of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms – Freedom of Speech and Worship; and, Freedom from Want and Fear. The FBI again, noted in her writings and speeches shades and overtones of left-ideology; and , renewed surveillance against her.

In 1949 , General Douglas MacArthur released an army intelligence report that outrageously charged Agnes Smedley with being a ‘Soviet spy at large since 1930’. Agnes Smedley, however, continued her fight; confronting her adversaries with steely righteousness.

At a press conference and on Mutual Broadcasting System , Agnes Smedley flatly denied the charges made against her; and threw a challenge calling General MacArthur ‘a coward and a Cad’. She dared him to waive the immunity he enjoyed and be prepared to face a suit for libel.

On 15 February 1949, Col. George Eyster told New York Times:’ I believe, Miss Smedely should not have been mentioned by name until appropriate authorities had investigated her’.  On 18 February 1949, the Army apologized and retracted the charges made against Agnes Smedley. But, the surveillance against her continued.

The era of McCarthyism had become intolerable. Despite her public posture of defiance, Agnes was deeply distressed. Her health began to deteriorate. She could not sleep without drugs; and she developed heart troubles. Her friends too came under watch; and were harassed. To save them from further trouble, Agnes Smedley decided to move away from the conflict-zone.

agnes medley.jpg

In the fall of 1949, Agnes Smedley, in disgust, sought refuge in England, where she worked to complete The Great Road: The Life and Times of Chu Teh, a  biography of the Chinese communist military leader Zhu De.

She died in the UK after surgery for an ulcer , on May 6, 1950.

 During her last days , Agnes  longed to return to China, saying:  ‘As my heart and spirit have found no rest in any other land on earth except China, I wish my ashes to lie with the Chinese Revolutionary dead.’

Her wish was fulfilled a year after her death, when  her ashes were interred at the National Revolutionary Martyrs Memorial Park – the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery-  in Beijing in 1951.

agnes medley head stone2

Her book on Zhu De was published posthumously in 1956.

Agnes Smedley had a remarkable life. Agnes emerged from hard poverty to become a country school teacher, a writer; a participant in Margaret Sanger’s birth control movement; a self-appointed warrior for the poor; a socialist; a journalist; and, a freedom fighter. She was, for a major part of her life, on the battlefront of American politics, the Indian struggle for independence, and the Chinese Communist revolution. Agnes Smedley is regarded as of one of the most significant female political figures in recent American history. It is sad that due recognition and regard is not accorded to her and her work. 

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya (wife of Viren’s brother Harindranath Chattopadyaya) writing of Agnes Smedley, in 1986, said   :

“She strode forward into some of the stormiest earth shaking events of international history. She braved wars and shattering turmoil because of her single-minded devotion to the downtrodden, and the oppressed.”

ejbr83

***

Let’s talk of Evelyn Trent and Ellen Gottschalk the women intimately related to Roy’s life, in the succeeding  parts.

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Continued

In

 Next Part

Sources and References

The White Woman’s Other Burden: Western Women and South Asia During British Rule by Kumari Jayawardena

Age of Entanglement by Kris Manjapra

Many pages of the Wikipedia

Socialism of Jawaharlal Nehru by Rabindra Chandra Dutt

India & the United States: Politics of the Sixties by Kalyani Shankar

How Stalin’s daughter defected in India-

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-15936172

The Lives of Agnes Smedley by Ruth Price

http://www.sacu.org/smedley.html

Trials that Changed History: From Socrates to Saddam Hussein by M.S. Gill (Chapter 19- Agnes Smedley)

All pictures are from Internet 

 
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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 11

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 11

Continued from Part 10

 Communism – India – Nationalism

 

After his return from Tashkent, Roy was shifted to Berlin as it was thought that it would be easier for him to maintain contacts with India.

Berlin in those days was a sort of headquarters for many Indians living in Europe.  It was also the hub of Indian revolutionaries. There were diverse types of revolutionary groups operating from Berlin. The more active among those included the one led by Virendranath Chattopadyaya; and, the other was the one led by Barakatullah, the former foreign minister of Raja Mahendra Pratap’s provisional government that was set up in Kabul during 1915.  The two groups were opposed to Roy for various reasons. When Roy shifted to Berlin they made a common cause to attack Roy and to challenge Roy’s leadership of the Indian movement. But, by about early 1922, Chattopadyaya and Bharkatullah fell apart.

However, Roy still had to contend with the competition from Chattopadyaya, who perhaps was also receiving encouragement and financial support from Russia. Abani Mukherjee who was earlier with Roy moved over to Chattopadyaya along with S N Kar (who had recently arrived from USA). Bhupendranath Dutta however distanced himself from both Roy and Chattopadyaya.

**

Roy, while he was in Berlin, devoted much of his time to writing, editing, publishing books and journals. Here he was able to re-edit, complete and publish (in 1922) his India in Transition the work on which he had begun about two years ago.  In 1922, he also started publishing a bi-monthly paper titled The Vanguard of Indian Independence, organ of the émigré Communist Party of India, the stated   objective of which was to spread socialism in India. The paper was brought out regularly until 1928. During this period, the title of the paper was changed several times.  Roy and Ellen (under her pen name Santi Devi) wrote articles calling upon Indian masses and nationalist leaders to adopt more effective lines of struggle and to align with workers and peasants.  

With the assistance of seamen, Roy began to send the Comintern’s International Correspondence (Inprecor) and Vanguard to India. Vanguard was a success and influenced many in India and Moscow. And, that did not go un-noticed by the British agencies. It is said; some   Indian newspapers, in one way or the other, conveyed the substances of the articles appearing in Vanguard. Such Newspapers included: Ananda Bazar Patrika and Atma Sakti of Calcutta; the Independent of Allahabad; and, Nava Yuga of Guntur (then in Madras Presidency). And, in Punjab, Gulam Hussein, Shamshuddin Hassan and M A Khan brought out a journal in Urdu titled Inquilab (revolution) , which mostly reproduced Roy’s articles.

Roy, by 1922, had also setup contacts with the correspondents of pro-soviet newspapers such as The Socialist (Bombay) and Langal (Calcutta).

**

 

Roy was also trying to establish contacts with socialists and communists in India. Among the earliest of them was an erstwhile follower of Gandhi now turned Socialist named Sripad Amrit Dange who in 1921 published a pamphlet called Gandhi Vs Lenin. And, from August 1922, Dange also started publishing a fortnightly English magazine called The Socialist, perhaps influenced by Roy’s Vanguard. These two publications attracted the attention of Roy as also of the Comintern. In the later years, SA Dange grew into a prominent Communist leader in India.

The other members that Roy was able to contact and influence were: Muzzaffar Ahmad in Calcutta; Gulam Hussein in Lahore; and, Singaravelu Chettiar in the Madras region. Shaukat Ali who had graduated from the University of Toilers of the East at Moscow was already engaged in Party activities under instructions from Comintern.

By the autumn of 1922, Roy had been able to put in place groups in five major cities, which gave a foothold to communism in India. But, the groups were scattered; and their understanding of Marxism and world communist strategy was elementary; and were also not trained in Party work. Though the movement was amorphous, it showed signs of potential to grow.

Of the five groups the one in Bombay led by SA Dange was more active, because of Dange’s organizing ability and financial support from his patrons (including RB Lorvala, an industrialist of Bombay). Under the patronage of Dange and Lotvala, library and hostels were set up in Bombay for students of Marx and to those who ‘dedicated themselves to labour work’. In August 1922, Dange , with financial help from Lotvala,  started an English weekly The Socialist.

The British agencies in India were watching the activities of the groups.

**

Through his journals, Roy was also trying to appeal to groups and individuals, within the Indian National Congress, aligned to Socialism and its ideologies. And, he was also trying to influence the liberal Congress members. At the time of the 37th Annual session of the Congress held at Gaya during December 1922, The Vanguard acknowledged that the Congress was ‘the leader of the movement for national liberation’; and, appealed to the Congress to adopt a liberal economic program designed to raising the living standards of the poor workers and peasants.  The Vanguard pointed out that a political party cannot be relevant without a sound economic program. It is only by working for economic betterment of the masses, it said; the Congress could hope gain their support in the struggle for independence. It is only then, it emphasized, that Congress movement would become a truly nationwide mass movement.

 Roy kept harping on this theme in his subsequent writings also.

m-n-roy_6795214e

The Congress in the 1920’s was a collection of heterogeneous assorted splinter groups, though the central aim of the organization was to attain national independence. The general plan of Roy during 1922 was based on two elements (as outlined in The Advance Guard, a new name for the Vanguard): First, to form opposition groups or blocs, within the INC, of members who subscribed to Communist way of thinking. And this group should try to capture the party leadership. The other was to influence the congress members having liberal socialist views and draw them towards his ideas, and if possible into the Communist fold.

In his letter to SA Dange (2 November 1922), Roy outlined the strategy. It cautioned that the opposition blocs to be formed within the INC should be composed of respectable, law–abiding persons; and, such blocs should have a ‘non-offensive’ name without in any manner suggesting a link to Communists.  But, such a bloc should be controlled only by members dedicated to Communism and Socialism.

Roy also emphasised the need to have , in addition, an underground apparatus that would carry out ’illegal activities’ that would covertly support the ‘legal blocs’ within the INC.

**

CR Das 2

Among the eminent individuals in the Congress Party, Roy identified C R Das- Deshbandhu Chitta Ranjan Das (5 November 1870 – 16 June 1925) – as ‘most promising’. C R Das, a much respected leader from Bengal was in 1921 the President-elect of the Indian National Congress Party. He was known for his liberal, humanitarian views, sympathetic to the poor Indian masses.  He argued for economics upliftment of the masses and their greater participation in the national movement. And, shortly before the Ahmadabad Congress Session of 1921, the British Indian police arrested and imprisoned C R Das for his nationalistic activities (but, truly on suspicions of his links with leftists). The British Intelligence in Calcutta had tracked ‘Roy’s agents’ in Bengal supplying Roy’s newspaper articles to C R Das. And, some of C R Das’s speeches sounded similar to the line taken by The Vanguard and The Advanced Guard. He was released in July 1922.

The other Congressman Roy had in view was: Sampurnanand an influential Congress leader from United Provinces (UP) who had included in his ‘Memorandum on the Congress Program’ some ideas taken from Roy’s articles. But, Sampurnanand   was not a socialist and much less a communist. And, therefore, that channel did not eventually work out.

The other was Singaravelu Chettiar, a prominent Congress member from Madras. He considered himself a Communist; and was in contact with Roy. He did work to spread Roy’s ideas among other Congress members.

***

The 37th Annual Session of the Indian National Congress at Gaya which commenced on 26 December 1922 was considered a crucial session. Prior to the session there were widespread debates between the followers of Gandhi and the admirers of CR Das on the form that non-cooperation movement should take.  The debates had actually started in February 1921 and had gathered pace after Gandhi suddenly called off the non-cooperation campaign following the violent turn it took in Chauri Chaura.  The debate at Gaya Congress eventually focused on whether the Congress should participate in the ensuing elections to the Legislative Councils. Gandhi insisted that Congress should boycott elections, while CR Das urged Congress to participate in the elections.

Few weeks earlier to the Gaya session, CR Das had declared: “I do not want that sort of Swaraj which will be for the middle-classes alone. I want Swaraj for the masses, not for the classes. I don’t care for the bourgeoisie. How few are they? Swaraj must be for the masses, and must be won by the masses.” (Speech at the Dehra Dun, November 1st, 1922)

Please click here for the full text of the Presidential Address of Desabhandhu  C. R. Das at the thirty-seventh session of the Indian National Congress held at Gaya on 26th December 1922[

CR Das believed in non – violent and constitutional methods for the realisation of national independence. In the economic field, Das stressed the need of constructive work in villages. A champion of national education and vernacular medium, he felt that the masses should be properly educated to participate in the nationalist movement.

Prior to the Session, in the autumn of 1922, Roy in his Advance Guard had outlined his economic program for the Indian masses.  It included some of the following  ideas: 1) Abolition of landlordism 2) Reduction of land rent 3) State aid for modernization of agriculture 4) Abolition of indirect taxes 5) Nationalization of public utilities 6) Development of modern industries 7) Eight hour day, fixation of minimum wages by legislation 8) Free and compulsory education 9) Separation of State and religion .

Roy was keenly looking forward and waiting to see how his ideas planted in the blocs and in C R Das would emerge in the session. He viewed the Gaya Congress as a test of the acceptance or otherwise of his ideas by the Congress. He was almost sure that his program would be rejected. And, that would prove Congress was not really Red.

At the Gaya Congress, CR Das, just released after six months of imprisonment, was elected the President of the Indian National Congress. CR Das tried to give a new orientation to Indian politics. He supported elections to the Legislative Councils; but, suggested through his Council – Entry programme, i.e. ‘non-cooperation from within the Councils’; with the object of “ending or mending them. He however met with vehement opposition from the Mahatma and the no – changers. His motion on Council-entry was rejected by a two-thirds majority; and CR Das resigned from the presidency.

[Among the Communists who attended the Gaya Congress were SA Dange, Singaravelu Chettiar and Mani Lal Shah.]

Before that showdown with Gandhi and his followers, CR Das had warned Congress on the dangers of not accepting resolutions of Labour reforms. C R Das thundered: if the Congress fails to do its duty, you may expect to find organizations set up in the country by Labourers and Peasants, detached from you, disassociated with the cause of Swaraj, will eventually bring within the arena of peaceful revolution class struggles and the war of special interests.

If the object of the Congress be to avoid that disgraceful issue , let us take Labour and the Peasantry in hand, and let us organize them both from the point of view of their own interest and also from the point of the higher ideal and  special interests devoted to the  cause of Swaraj.’

[CR Das, clearly, was warning of the impending Communist insurgence and dangers of violence it would bring along.  His perception of Communism discouraged or even frightened him; and, prevented him from supporting Communist Party.]

The Gaya Congress approved the organization of Indian labor “with a view to improve and promote their well-being and secure them their just rights, and also to prevent the exploitation of Indian labor and Indian resources.” This resolution was passed unanimously; and, a Committee on Labor Organization was appointed “to assist the Executive Council of the All-India Trade Union Congress for the organization of Indian labor, both agricultural and industrial.”  A similar resolution had earlier been passed by the Congress two years ago at Nagpur, but nothing came of it.

CR  Das’s  repeated  insistence on the importance of attaining “Swaraj for the masses and not for the classes,” which raised such a clamor in the British and Indian Press, led to his being stigmatized as “Bolshevik.”

Later in 1923,  Roy in his “Open Letter to Mr. C.R. Das and His Followers” wrote :— “There are but two ways ahead: reversion to the Constitutional Democracy of the Liberals, or adoption of more revolutionary methods.—Either Mr. Das will soon have to abandon his original position in favour of the Responsive Co-operation of the Mahratta Rationalists, or he will have to part company with them in order to organise the third party inside the National Congress—the party of workers and peasants, which will infuse vigour into the national struggle by means of revolutionary mass action.” (Open Letter to Chittaranjan Das and His Followers, by M.N. Roy, Zurich, February 3rd, 1923)

[For more, please see the article written by Evelyn Roy at:

https://www.marxists.org/archive/roy-evelyn/articles/1923/gaya.htm]

Thereafter, on 9 January 1923, C R Das organised the Swarajya Party within the Congress in collaboration with Motilal Nehru and others. The Swarajya party gained tremendous success in Bengal and the central provinces and won majority seats in the legislative councils (1924). Through the efforts of the Swarajyists,   Maulana Azad was elected President of the Congress Special Session at Delhi, where the programme of Council – Entry was approved. The programme was later confirmed at the Cocanada (now Kakinada) Session in 1923.

 With the death of Chittaranjan Das in 1925, and with Motilal Nehru’s return to the Congress in the following year, the Swarajya party was greatly weakened. From 1935 onward, the Swarajya Party ceased to exist.

On the death of Deshabandhu on June 16th, 1925, Subhash Chandra Bose in ”The Indian Struggle” , while paying homage to the departed leader draws comparison of him with Gandhi ; and , mourns the loss a courageous leader :

Deshabandhu was nothing if not fearless. He was conscious of his exact role, namely that of a practical politician, and he was therefore never afraid of courting unpopularity. He was conscious of his exact role, namely that of a practical politician, and he was therefore never afraid of courting unpopularity.

In contrast with the Deshabandhu, the role of the Mahatma has not been a clear one. In many ways he is altogether an idealist and a visionary. In other respects, he is an astute politician. At times he is as obstinate as a fanatic; on other occasions he is liable to surrender like a child. The instinct, or the judgment, so necessary for political bargaining is lacking in him. When there is a real opportunity for a bargain, as in 1921, he is liable to stick out for small things and thereby upset all chances of a settlement Whenever he does go in for a bargain, as we shall see in 1931, he gives more than he takes. On the whole, he is no match in diplomacy for an astute British politician.

Today, as we look back on the year 1925, we cannot help feeling that if Providence had spared the Deshabandhu for a few years more, the history of India would probably have taken a different turn. In the affairs of nations, it often happens that the appearance or disappearance of a single personality often means a new chapter in history. Thus has been the influence of Lenin in Russia, of Mussolini in Italy and of Hitler in Germany in recent world-history.

And alas, in that stroke of bad luck we were deprived of Deshbondhu and given instead the much less lucid and strategic Gandhi…

**

The Gaya Congress was a clear failure for Roy.  His glorifying violence as the means for attaining independence and mass revolution had frightened the Congress leaders most of whom were respectable, well educated middle class gentlemen.  In March 1923, Roy wrote in The Inprecor:’ we sought to strengthen the hands of the Left Wing but only succeeded in frightening it’.

[Roy was also referring to the role of the WPP – Communist members placed within the Indian National Congress. Yes; the WPPs were able to carry out ideological propaganda which spread even to the members of the INC.   But, the problem was that WPP members placed within the INC overdid the role assigned to them by Roy. They began talking rather loudly criticising Gandhi and his non-violence policy.  Further, their talk about class struggle, armed violence etc was against the Gandhi and the Congress way of thinking. It also frightened many congressmen. Their priority was national independence, achieved through the Gandhian way. Though they did manage to arouse the thinking of some members of the INC, the WPP members were alienated from the majority.

That indiscretion of openly taking an anti-Gandhi stand undid the whole effort of placing the WPP- Communist members within the INC. It defeated the very purpose of gaining the goodwill of prominent socialist minded Congressmen like Nehru and Subash Bose. ]

Apart from the WPP, Roy did try to reach out to his former friends and co-revolutionaries of the Jugantar; and exhorted them to adopt social revolution as·· their goal, and to the Indian for an intensive Class struggle. The Jugantar group, after long discussions in a meeting presided over by Jadugopal ·Mukherjee decided that their prime aim was the liberation of the Mother Land; and would  seek aid and co-operation of all  classes in their fight against British imperialism ; and , not exclusively from the Communists. They also did not seem to be interested in ‘class-struggle’, as that would mean fragmentation among their support-forces. The decision was communicated to Roy, and that virtually marked the end of Roy’s association with his· erstwhile comrades

Thus, though Roy could popularize the ‘communist ideology in India, and could form communist groups, it cannot be said that his efforts really succeeded in utilizing the Indian situation and spreading it further.

***

Roy thought now was the time to change tactics and tracks. He reasoned that an open assault was better than covert manoeuvres. On February 15, 1923, the Advanced Gaurd again became The Vanguard, carrying the sub-title ‘Central Organ Communist Party of India’. The main aim of his plan now was not so much as to infiltrate the Congress, but to build a vibrant Communist Party – working within the Congress and without it – which would eventually capture the leadership of the entire national revolutionary movement.

Roy had earlier been talking about creating a mass party and blocs with ‘non-offensive’ names, to be operated and controlled covertly by the Communist party.  He now was intent on creating the Communist Party on Indian soil as a mass based political organization. But at the same time, he did emphasize the need to have the backup   of underground working apparatus.

According to a revised plan outlined in Roy’s Memorandum of 5 June 1923, a mass party which would be the public face; and, it would be called Workers and Peasants Party (WPP), while the illegal underground apparatus would be the clandestine Communist Party (CP). And, all members of the CP would automatically be the members of WPP.

But, a formal affiliation of the WPP to the Communist International would not be possible because, technically, the WPP would not be a true Communist Party. But, the Communist Party would however maintain fraternal relations with WPP. And, the new WPP would be allowed to send delegates to the Communist International forums.

The WPP, according to Roy’s scheme, should seek working relations (alliance) with bourgeois parties like Indian National Congress, using ‘every available opportunity for striking an agreement’ to pressurise those parties to adopt policies of ‘revolutionary significance’.

Learning from his Gaya experience, Roy cautioned that the WPP (Communists) should ‘leave out controversy of violence vs. non-violence’; because that would be the best tactical move that can be made without giving lie to the real Communist program.  But, at the same time he reiterated that ’emancipation of the exploited cannot be done by peaceful and non-violent means’.

[The above strategy which was said to have been conveyed by Roy to the Indian communists in his letter dated 30 December 1927* created a stir in India. The letter or the forgery of it leaked to the Indian Government was produced before the Central Legislative Assembly on 6 September 1928; and, it came to be called by the name ‘Assembly letter’. The letter, among other things,  also mentioned about the British Communists who had been covertly operating in India. In order to throw out such British, the Government introduced the Public Safety Bill of 1928. The Bill was opposed by the Congress and other sections of the Assembly, though none among them was a communist.  The Bill was not passed by the Assembly. But, the Viceroy in the special powers vested in him promulgated an ordinance of the Public Safety Act.

*The letter of 27 December 1927 clearly seemed to have  been a forgery, because by then , Roy had virtually been taken out of the India-region ; and the Communist Party in India had come under control of Communist Party of Great Britain  (CPGB).] 

***

But, in most of 1923 and 1924 the communist movement was crippled by series of arrests of all suspected of leftist illegal activities.

This period was distressful to Roy in many ways. Lenin, his mentor and protector, took seriously ill following an attempt on his life. In December 1922, Lenin suffered a second stroke that paralysed his right side. He then had to withdraw from all political activities. In March 1923, he suffered a third stroke; and, it ended his career. Lenin was mute and bed-ridden until his death but officially remained the leader of the Communist Party. Lenin died on 21 January 1924, aged 53, at his estate at Gorki settlement (later renamed Gorki Leninskiye).  Lenin’s exit from Comintern was a huge  setback to Roy.

And, that was also the difficult time for Roy in Germany. He learnt that   Germans were about to round up and expell all Communist party workers.  He also got the clue that he was abbot to be arrested. The German Government, had in fact, been acting under British pressure; and, it issued an order for Roy’s arrest.  But, Roy managed to flee from Germany before the arrest order could be executed; and escaped to Switzerland.  In September 1923, from thereon Roy went on a long tour of Europe visiting Marseilles, Paris, Genoa and Amsterdam searching for a safe location to set up headquarters and publish The Vanguard

After escaping from Germany and after his long tour, Roy chose Zurich, Switzerland to take shelter. In January 1924, Roy started publishing the Vanguard from Zurich. But, that lasted only for two months; and the last issue of Vanguard published from Zurich was that of 1 March 1924.

From Zurich , Roy addressed a letter (dated 20 February 1924)  to Ramsay Macdonald , the British Prime Minister , enquiring  if he could be granted amnesty  for his early terrorist activities committed in India;  and,  if he could be granted permission to return to India. Tle long letter ended with requet :

 “To give me the permission to return to India without becoming the object of persecution for alleged offences committed in the past. I should draw your attention to the fact that my political views have undergone a radical change since I left India in 1915.

What I solicit is an amnesty from the alleged charges made against me in the past. I suppose the declaration made by his Majesty the King-Emperor in 1919 concerning Indian political offenders can be applicable to me. When I return to India I will of course, be prepared to take the consequences of my action the future.

I will appreciate it very much if I am given the passport to come over to England, there to discuss with the India Office the question of my return to India.”

 

This was before the Cawnpore Case came up for trial in India on 27 February 1924. After he came to know of the Cawnpore Case in which he was one of the accused, Roy realized that all his chances of safe return to India had burnt out.

Roy then, after March 1924, promptly shifted the headquarters of Vanguard from Zurich to Annecy in France, from where Evelyn managed the paper.   The Vanguard was again shifted to Paris. Roy himself went back to Moscow. And, between March and June 1924 Roy went into exile in Europe. But, he appeared in Moscow to attend the Fifth Comintern Congress commencing from 17 June 1924.

At the Fifth Congress, Roy was elected as the full member of ECCI (Executive Committee of the Communist International) and a Candidate member of its Presidium.  By the end of 1926, Roy was elected as a member of all the four official policy making bodies of the Comintern – the presidium, the political secretariat, the executive committee and the world congress.  It was the highest position that Roy held in the Comintern.

The ECCI directed that the national liberation movement in India must be reorganized on a revolutionary basis; forming a national peoples’ party comprising the urban-petty-bourgeois, the poor intellectuals, the small clerks, the rebellious peasantry and the advanced workers. It should be an establishment of proletarian class party. The ECCI did not however specify whether the ‘national peoples’ party’ should be formed within the Indian National Congress or separate from it.

The ECCI directed that Indian Communist Party must bring trade union movement under its influence. It must reorganize it on a class basis and must purge it of all alien elements.

20161107143908

Continued

In

Next Part

 

 Sources and References

 Communism in India by Marshall Windmiller

Political Philosophy of Rammanohar Lohia: Alternative Development Perceptions  by K. Gopinath Pillai

Communist and Socialist Movement in India: A Critical Account by Chandrika Singh

Communism and Nationalism in India: A Study in Inter-relationship, 1919-1947

by Shashi Bairathi

The Indian revolutionaries and the Bolsheviks – their early contacts, 1918-1922 by Arun Coomer Bose Top of Form

In Search of Revolution: International Communist Parties in the “Third Period”

 Edited by Matthew Worley

Political Philosophy of M.N. Roy

In Search of Revolution: International Communist Parties in the Third Period

 by Matthew Worley

Peasants in India’s Non-Violent Revolution: Practice and Theory by Mridula Mukherjee Top of Form

 
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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 10

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 10

Continued from Part 09

 

Tashkent mishap

 After the Second World Congress of the Communist International, the revolution was to advance eastward; and, yet its heart was in Europe. Chicherian, the Soviet Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, told Roy that ‘the revolution must spread eastwards; a second front of the world revolution must be opened in Asia’. He assured Roy that the Soviets are prepared to promote and support his struggle, in every way, against the colonial oppressors. He also informed him that great deal of preparatory work had already been done by the Soviet embassy at Kabul.

Soviet Turkistan and Afghanistan in 1922

Afghanistan, strategically situated along many trade and migration routes, and sitting at the the southern edge of the Russian empire and poised adjoining the North West Frontiers of India, has been , throughout the history ,  regarded as the gateway to India from the West. Over the centuries, all imperial powers have tried to take control of this Central Asian region to gain access to India. 

By the time of 1920 , at which time Roy was in Russia, two Afghan wars had already been fought during the 19th Century ( 1839-42; and 1878-80) in which the British in India had fought to extend their control over Afghanistan to oppose Russian influence there.

Afghanistan had, thus, been the main prize in the Great game played between the British Empire and the Tsarist Russia, since Afghanistan bridged the Central Asia with British India. Afghanistan and the North West Frontiers of India had been the customary battle ground between the two Imperial powers.

In 1907, confronted with the common enemy, the Germany, the imperial powers of Russia and Britain suspended their squabbling and entered into an Anglo-Russian Entente, settling their rivalry in Central Asia and in Persia. And, Afghan region was placed within the British sphere of influence.

But, after the war and with the success of   the October revolution, the equations between the British and the new Communist Government in Russia were disturbed. And, the terms of relation between British Empire and the Bolshevik were altered.

And, in the meanwhile, the new Emir Amanullah Khan (1919-29) of Afghanistan who took power in Feb-Mar 1919 began to favor the reformist minded young Afghan movement. Within about two months of his becoming the Emir, Amanullah Khan , adopting a turbulent attitude,  denounced the existing  treaties with the British ; opened negotiations with  Soviet Russia; and , called upon the Muslim in India to wage ‘holy war’ (Jihad) against the British rule.

Following a three week conflict, called Anglo-Afghan war, Amanullah Khan pleaded for peace with British. He entered into a peace agreement (Treaty of Rawalpindi – August 1919) with British acknowledging the British authority over the tribal belt of NWF Province. British let Amanullah Khan rule Afghanistan; but cut all types of subsidies. The treaty was later amended in 1921.

Before signing the final document with the British, the Afghans had concluded a treaty of friendship with the new Bolshevik regime in the Soviet Union. Afghanistan thereby became one of the first states to recognize the Soviet government and a “special relationship” evolved between the two governments. 

(That lasted until December 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan; and that proved to be the death knell of USSR. And, that also gave birth to the dreaded terrorist organization, the Taliban.)

***

Although the British had won the Afghan War of 1919, its British Indian army was exhausted from the heavy demands of World War I; and, British relations with the local tribal troops had also collapsed. Six to seven hundred of the erstwhile Khyber Rifles chose to move away from British and turn into soldiers of fortune.

With so many foot-loose discharged solders wandering around the troubled areas, the Soviets saw a window of opportunity to recruit such restless elements with a view to gaining control over the tribal regions of Central Asia.

Further, according to their calculations, an independent Afghanistan and an independent Persia had diminished the British influence in the area; and this crack in the wall was indeed an opening for a possible anti-British nationalist movement. That alluring prospect attracted Bolsheviks to Kabul, again.

After the conclusion of the Second World Congress of the Communist International, at the suggestion of Borodin, it appears, there was a move to appoint Roy as the Ambassador of USSR in Afghanistan. That was intended to give Roy a credible tactical lever and immunity from British police to carry out his revolutionary ventures against the British rule in India, from across the borders of India.

The  grandiose plan of the ECCI ( Executive Committee of the Communist International) ; and its Central Asiatic Bureau (CAB)  was to support Amanullah  and to raise an army of Indian liberation soldiers  in Afghanistan.  It was hoped, the discharged Khyber Rifle troops and the recruits from the Muslims in India   and the anti-British Pathan tribes would join the fight against the British in India. Roy estimated that the British Indian Army exhausted after the long and strenuous War would have no zeal or strength to withstand the attack by his rebel Liberation Army. And, it was fondly hoped that the rebel army would occupy territories of Northern India and set up a government there. The newly formed government would support Indian liberation movement. As the ECCI saw it, M N Roy would be the central figure of that grandiose scheme.

Roy again began seeing visions of carrying arms into India to fight the British rule; but, this time thorough the North West instead of the North East corner of India.

However, the proposal to send Roy as the Ambassador of USSR in Afghanistan did not materialize because of the sudden change in the political situation in Afghanistan.  Emir Amanullah of Afghanistan who was till then entertaining anti-British notions suddenly turned pro-British. As a result, the splinter groups of Indian revolutionaries who had sought refuge in Afghanistan were asked to stop their ant-British activities and leave the country.

Though the Afghanistan plan fell through, the Soviet Foreign office had not dropped the idea of using Roy for rising rebellion in the East. Roy was co-opted into a small bureau of five members called Mali Bureau set up by the ECCI ( Executive Committee of the Communist International) ; and , Roy was asked to get involved with the activities of its Central Asiatic Bureau (CAB) charged with the responsibility of for forming policies for the liberation of the oppressed people of the East. Roy was informed that two prominent Russian members of (CAB) – Sokolnikov and Safarov – were already stationed in Turkestan; and that Roy should take over as the Chief of the military operations to be launched from Tashkent.

According to the geophysics of the Soviet Foreign office, a blow struck at British in India would inflict a serious setback to British power in Asia; and inspire anti-imperialist revolts from Syria to China in the East. And, that would set the East ablaze.

***

In the mean time, the Khilafat movement, a Pan–Islamic political protest campaign launched by the Muslims in British India broke out. The attacks on Turkey by Italian (1911) and Balkan (1912-13) forces as also the defeat of Turkey in World War I had caused severe unrest in Turkey. That was worsened by the Treaty of Sevres which not only detached all non-Turkish regions from the empire but also gave parts of the Turkish homeland to Greece and other non-Muslim powers. This was viewed by the Muslims as an attack on Caliph the Sultan of Turkey who was also the religious head of worldwide Muslim community; and as an attack on Islam itself.

In a meeting held in Switzerland, the Pan-Islamic Khilafat leaders declared that England was the only serious common enemy of Islam and Bolsheviks. And, therefore the union between the two was inevitable.

In India, a campaign in defense of the Caliph was launched, led by the brothers Shaukat and Muhammad Alī and by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. The leaders joined forces with Mahatma Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement for Indian freedom, in return for his support of the Khilafat movement.

 [The movement ended in disaster. Gandhi unilaterally suspended the CD movement after the Chauri Chaura incident; and, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the new leader of Turkey, abolished the Khilafat as he thought it to be outdated and superstitious. Indian Muslims were doubly disappointed and the history of Hindu-Muslim partnership in fighting for India’s independence was never the same again. The Muslim disillusionment with Congress also sowed the seeds of partition and creation of Pakistan.

Alistair Phillip, who worked at British Army (2005-2010) writes:

“Many believe the Khilafat Movement (1919), a protest by Indian Muslims against Turkey’s abolition of the Caliph, religious leader of the Arab world, to be the first step towards India’s Partition. Gandhi spearheaded this movement but failed to realize that the Pan-Islamic idea cut at the very root of Indian nationality. What did the movement achieve?

“First, Muslim fanaticism secured a position of prestige in Indian politics; thereafter their religious loyalty took precedence over national loyalty.

Two, the Muslim population hitherto divided among various groups and political pulls now became a solid force.

Three, a new fanatic leadership riding on the crest of the Khilafat wave came to wield the reigns of the Muslim leadership.“‘

All those who wish to know the underlying thoughts behind Partition should read Dr B R Ambedkar’s book Thoughts on Pakistan back to back. .The blame lies with all sides ]

Many young Indian Muslims under the influence of Pan–Islamic had come to believe that it was their religious duty to refuse to live under the rule of an infidel who did not protect their religious rights ; and,  they should go on Hijrat (emigrate) and launch a Jihad ( holy war ) against the infidel rulers. These Mujahirs (emigrants) had also participated in the ‘Provisional Government of India ‘set up in Kabul during 1915 by the revolutionary adventurer Raja Mahindra Pratap, Muhammad Ali, Rahamat Ali Zakaria .

**

A faint echo of the Khilafat movement reached Moscow to encourage the view that Pan–Islamic movement was a revolutionary force and as such should be welcomed and supported as an alley of the proletarian world revolution.

For Roy, the Tashkent Bureau of Comintern offered an opportunity to realize his fond dream of raising a liberation army to march against the British.

Roy in his Mexico days wrote how he had ‘learned to attach greater importance to intelligent understanding of the idea of revolution’ the propagation of which was’ more important than the arms’. But, now, he again went back to the assertion that: ‘India will never be able to free herself from English rule by the goodwill of those same rulers. The only method id bloody revolution, however desperate this appears in the present circumstances.

 In the Central Asiatic Bureau (CAB)  at  Moscow Roy  advocated a plan for organizing a liberation army on Soviet Turkistan and march with it against the British in India to free the country , using at the same time the support of the militant tribes of the North West Indian frontier .

Roy expected to raise a nucleus of Indian Liberation Army at Tashkent by imparting military training to Muslim Muhajirs who left India because of the British stand against the Caliphate of Turkey. This force was to be further strengthened by drawing recruits from the tribes of North West frontier regions of India. The army was then to march into India to occupy some Indian territory and set up Soviet Republic.  The new Soviet Republic was to give a call to launch a revolution and also a socio-economic program to attract the Indian masses. Roy had estimated that the British power in India, after the War, would have grown weak and it would not be able to withstand attack from North West.

Lenin, surprisingly, allowed Roy to pursue his plan of leading a military expedition through Afghanistan to liberate India from the colonial British rule. Perhaps, Lenin meant to combine Roy’s plan to strengthen Pan-Islamic rebellion against British with his own strategies. Lenin, however, advised Roy to wait for Stalin’s opinion. But, Roy could meet Stalin only by about the summer of 1921, by which time it had all come to an end.

[ When Roy first met Stalin, the latter was a sick person , about to undergo a major surgery. As Roy walked into the presence of Stalin , he was accosted by a sharp question, almost rebuking him. Roy writes :

“So, you do not see the revolutionary significance of Pan-Islamism?” I was staggered by the directness of the question. On my protesting that I had not come to discuss politics with a dangerously sick man who was to undergo a major surgical operation the next day, he laughed and reverted to the point. I inquired how he knew of my opinion about Pan-Islamism. “From Ilyitch” (amongst his close associates, Lenin was so referred to). 

 In the first meeting with Stalin, I avoided joining issues. My object was to get a first hand measure of the man.

After fifteen or twenty minutes, the general exchange of views was interrupted by a secretary who entered the room to deliver a message from the Chief Surgeon of the Kremlin Hospital. 

Borodin made a sign: we must go, Comrade Stalin required rest. The latter sat up to shake hands and with the peculiar Stalin grin said: “We must meet again as soon as this operation business is over.”]

***

In the late 1920, Roy was despatched to Tashkent to organize the Indian Revolutionary Army. With him, he took two trains each with twenty-seven wagons loaded with weapons, ammunition and military supplies; ten wagons of dismantled airplanes; and, a supply of gold coins, British Pound and Indian Rupees. He also brought with him the staff for a military training School.

With such elaborate plan and preparations, Roy reached Tashkent in Turkistan, in Oct 1920; and immediately plunged into work.

***

But, in Tashkent, Roy had to contend with numerous practical difficulties in organizing a Communist movement in the East. It was not as easy as he had been talking very eloquently all along of establishing proletarian supremacy over national struggles.

He failed to recruit sizable number of Khilafat emigrants in Tashkent for receiving military training and ideological indoctrination. He had also to contend with competition from Abdur Rab who was also recruiting Indians for his own revolutionary group located in Soviet Turkistan. Later M P B T Acharya also reached Tashkent and joined Abdur Rab.

The young Muslims that Roy could recruit included a group of 15 college students from Lahore. They were zealots, mujahedeen, members of the Pan-Islamic Khilafat movement in India who regarded the preservation of the Ottoman Empire and the temporal authority and spiritual leadership of the sultan to be essential to the unity and welfare of all Muslims. In the summer of 1920, 18,000 of them had left India for Afghanistan, some of whom intended to travel to Turkey to join the army of Mustafa Kemal Pasha, organizer of the Turkish Nationalist Party. On their way some fifty of them were captured by Turkmen tribesmen in Afghanistan and then liberated by the Red Army. They were then taken to Tashkent. Many among them amused at being designated “representatives of the Indian revolution,” resisted political education; and drifted away.  Only a small number of  Muhajirs who were attracted by the staunch anti-Imperialism of the Bolshevik government as also by the idea of ending exploitation of the masses, became enthusiastic Communists and played an active role in the Communist activities , especially in maintaining links with Punjab Communists. Of these, the most important was Shaukat Usmani, who was to become a leading figure in the Indian Communist Party.

Another group of young Muslims that Roy could recruit were Muhajirs inspired by the Khilafat movement who left India to join the Hijrat Movement. They left India with the object of going to Turkey through Soviet Russia; but were ill-treated by Muslim Turkmen counter revolutionaries. Some of the Indian Mujahirs (emigrants) then joined Communists and fought the counter revolutionary Turkmen. They reached Tashkent in late 1920; and joined M N Roy’s Military school at Tashkent and later went with him to Moscow.

 Roy was not successful in smuggling arms and ammunitions to the Indian rebel groups and Mujahedeen in India , because the new regime in Afghanistan was no longer co-operating with Moscow ; and also because the North West Frontier regions were heavily patrolled by the Indian Army.

Roy also did not succeed in recruiting the religious minded Indian Mujahedeen.  This had a sobering effect on Roy; and, it led him to reconsider his ideas about the dichotomy of the national and class movement.

**

Although Roy was not successful in his mission of raising a Liberation Army to attack British rule in India by crossing over the North-West frontier, he was able to influence some Indian Muhajirs to become communists.

As instructed by the Comintern and the Turkestan Bureau of Comintern, Roy then went about the task of establishing the Communist Party of India. Eventually, on 17 October 1920, at Tashkent in a meeting convened by M N Roy and presided over by MPBT Acharya, the communist Party of India (CPI) was launched.

Besides M. N. Roy who was the Convening Secretary, six others who  took part in the foundation of the CPI and signed the document were:  were : Mrs. Evelyn Trent (Roy’s wife); Abani Mukherji;  Rosa Fitingov (Abani’s Russian wife), Mohammed Ali (Ahamad Hasan), Mohammed Shafiq Siddiqui and M.P.B.T Acharya . Abdur Rab did not join the Party.

The minutes of the meeting read:

 “It adopted a resolution establishing the condition of three months’ probation period (as candidate member) for those persons who wished to join the party. Comrade Shafiq is elected as secretary. The Indian Communist Party adopts principles proclaimed by the Third International and undertakes to work out a program suited to the conditions in India.”

It was signed by MPBT Acharya as Chairman and M N Roy as Secretary.

On 15 December 1920, three candidate members who had completed a probation period of three months were accorded full membership of the party. The same meeting also elected a three-member Executive Committee with Roy, Shafiq and Acharya. The party was registered in Turkestan and recognized by the Comintern as a group with a consultative vote during the Third Congress of the International in 1921.

The letter dated December 20, 1920 addressed to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Turkestan, said: “It is hereby testified that the Communist Party of India has been organized here in accordance with the participles of the Third International. The Indian Communist Party is working under the political guidance of the Turkestan Bureau of Comintern.”

Though the CPI was launched successfully, it was not a smooth sailing. Virendranath Chattopadyaya objected to Roy setting up CPI in Tashkent and demanded its dissolution of ‘Roy’s ‘party’. In the meanwhile, the smouldering mutual hatred between Roy and Acharya flared up. Acharya denounced Roy’s leadership and demanded his expulsion for the Party.

According to the minutes of this meeting of the Turkestan Bureau, Central Committee, Russian Communist Party and Bureau, Communist Party of India, dated December 31, 1920:

“The conflict took place between members of the Indian Revolutionary Committee, Comrades Roy and Acharya, on grounds of disagreement of question of methods of work among the Indian émigrés in Tashkent. Comrade Roy proposes to leave with the Revolutionary Committee the charge of the work outside the country (USSR) and entrust the work among émigrés inside the country to the Turk Bureau of the Comintern. In this way, Comrade Acharya, remaining in the revolutionary committee (Indian), has to conduct wide underground work and the question dividing the members of Revolutionary Committee, therefore, ceases to exist at the moment. Comrade Roy is ready to abide by the decisions which would be taken in the present meeting, and suggests that Comrade Acharya continue to stay in the Revolutionary Committee.

Comrade Acharya considers it necessary to remove Comrade Roy from the work in the Bureau of the Comintern and the Indian Revolutionary Committee as he has lost popularity among the Indians”.

Following their dispute, Roy and Acharya were asked by the Turk-Bureau of the Central Committee and the Communist Party of Turkistan, on 31 Dec 1920, to go to Moscow and resolve their disputes there.

Because of the internecine squabbling between rival groups, the CPI at Tashkent could not function effectively. And, it was considered more prudent to form a Communist Party on the Indian soil.

***

The formation of the CPI was followed by the establishment of an Indian Military Training School in Tashkent.

The Indian Military Training School at Tashkent in October 1920 lasted only a few months before it was disbanded in May 1921 along with the Central Asian Bureau of the Comintern.  Following Roy’s departure from Tashkent and the winding up of the military school, its Indian trainees were sent to Moscow to study at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East.  The task of directing revolutionary activities in Central Asia was transferred to the newly formed Eastern Commission of the ECCI in Moscow.

The Communist University of the Toilers of the East, known in Russian as Kommunisti Cheskii Universitet Trudiashchikhsia Vostoka (KUTV) was established on 21 April 1921 following a decree of the All Russian Central Executive Committee. The decree stipulated that the KUTV was to be located In Moscow and was to be under the jurisdiction of the Peoples Commissariat of Nationalities which was instructed with the organization and direction of the project. Speaking on the fourth anniversary of the Communist University, Stalin explained the purpose of the University as:

“There are two lines of activity at the University: one, the purpose of which is to train cadres competent to attend to the needs of the Soviet Republics of the East , and the other, the purpose of which to train cadres competent to attend to the revolutionary needs of the toiling masses of the colonies and dependent countries; hence , the two kinds of tasks that confront the University of Toilers of the East’.

tan-malaka-and-bolshevik

It played an important role in the ideological and political education for the Indian émigrés transferred from the Military School in Tashkent.  Many of them maintained contacts with Communist groups in India, helping them with money and materials. Of the about least twenty-one young Muhajir students at KUTV, ten tried to return to India with the object of forming a communist movement. On their way to India, they were arrested and tried in the Peshawar Conspiracy Case and convicted to various terms of rigorous imprisonment.

Some Muslim Indian revolutionaries trained in the Military School at Tashkent and in   KUTV in Moscow did manage to slip into India by late 1922. The Government of India tightened censorship and increased surveillance over such émigré. Shaukat Usmani who was acting as a courier between Roy in Europe and communists in India; and, secretly circulating in India Roy’s newspapers and other writings was arrested. The British Government at Delhi instructed the Provincial Governments that “prompt and definite steps must be taken to counter M. N. Roy’s organization and propaganda and to terminate the activities of his principal followers.” Nine of Roy’s followers were tried in the Peshawar conspiracy case in 1923. The next year, in the Cawnpore Bolshevik conspiracy case, additional members of the Indian Communist Party, including Usmani, were convicted of conspiracy to organize a revolution to overthrow British rule in India. A court of appeal found the notion of a conspiracy ‘absurd and unbelievable’; and, ’ in effect the scheme had never been a serious threat to the  security of the state’ . Since the defendants had, however, acted, ‘in the most serious spirit ‘ their appeal was denied and  the convictions were upheld.

With the trial and conviction of the cadres of the Indian Communist Party, the British effectively suppressed the little that had remained of the small, irresolute, and disorganized followers of Roy. The leadership of the Communist Party of India was effectively compromised, at least temporarily, and potential followers were discouraged and threatened. Within about two years from the formation of CPI at Tashkent, the Indian Communist Party was reduced to twenty members; and,  the Bolshevik revolutionary initiative to rope in  the Muslims of southwest Asia and India  had  evaporated and ended for all practical purposes.

 

Manabendra Nath Ray

By about April 1921, Roy was instructed by Kremlin to close down the military school in Tashkent; to wind up his revolutionary activities; and, to return to Moscow. And, NKVD the secret Agency as also the law enforcement agency that executed the orders of Soviet Supreme, directed diplomatic personnel in Afghanistan to have nothing to do with revolutionary elements, and ordered embassy officers in Persia to cease temporarily all political activities and their work with secret agents.

The Tashkent mis-adventure was wound up pretty quickly and tamely. Roy’s dreams of raising a revolutionary army and to march into India confronting the British in battles and liberating India had all come to naught. Even his military training school was shut down. The only thing that entered into record books was the founding of the Communist Party of India in Tashkent. And, that riddled with controversies and acrimony was not a happy experience, either. After the founding of Communist Party in India, the bureau at Tashkent became a mere a foreign-outpost. It never had any significance.

The failure of the Tashkent venture had a chastening effect on Roy. It sobered his exuberance. It also moderated his views about the national and revolutionary movement in India.

***

In May 1921, Roy was summoned to appear before a Commission formed under the Chairmanship of Sebald Justinus Rutgers, the Dutch Marxist theoretician and journalist. Among the members of the Commission were Borodin and August Thalheimer, who were close friends of Roy. And, Roy also had known Rutgers when both attended the congress arranged by the Comintern Bureau at Amsterdam during February 1920. The Commission was formed to look into the allegations made against the behavior of Roy, while in Tashkent, by his Party colleges.

The complainants included Virendranath Chattopadyaya, Bhupendranath Dutta, Birendranath Dasgupta, P S Khankoje, GAK Luhani and Nalini Gupta. Abdur Rahman, Agnes Smedly and MPBT Acharya also joined them.

The Commission advised both the parties to resolve their differences amicably. But, the meet turned ugly, with shouting, swearing and hurling abuses at each other.  There is no clear report on the discussions that went on before the Commission.  There are in fact three versions of the meet: one by Roy as narrated in his Memoirs; the second by Dutta in his book, Aparakashit Rajanitik Ithihas (un-published political history) ; and the third , in the speech delivered by Virendranath  Chattopadyaya  during 1934.

 

The argument of Dutta and his group was that the various classes engaged in the struggle should work together for bringing about political revolution against foreign rule. Dutta was not averse to Communists. He in fact said that Communist must be a part of the national struggle; Communist party should be organized from the base level to establish socialism; and should cause revolution. When Borodin questioned Dutta: in what way you differ from Roy, Dutta replied ‘’ Roy does not want to co-operate with nationalists for building revolutionary movements in India. From where else will you get people except from nationalists?’

The dispute was between two groups of Indians; the Communist Party set up at Tashkent was also not working; and, the cause of the dispute appeared to be mainly mutual dislike. The issue was allowed to lapse; and was buried.

I think, the dispute between the two groups could have been easily resolved, but for the subjective issues. Had not Roy dogmatically stuck to his stand of rejecting nationalism, the Communists in India , at least during the first phase of the mass struggle for national liberation in the post-war period , perhaps, had a better chance of working along with the national , revolutionary liberation movements. That was unfortunate because following the success of the October revolution there was tremendous goodwill and sympathy for Indian liberation struggle.  And, there was also an objective basis for cooperation of the nationalists and communists. Had the two groups come together, the International Communist movement could, perhaps, have established working relationship with the Indian nationalists in the freedom struggle.

 

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What was more interesting than the seven month long sordid episode which eventually failed  and through out which Roy fumed, puffed and sweated in Tashkent, was the tactical drama that was being played between the premier diplomats in Kremlin and London.  Roy, at that time, was unaware of any of those schemes and maneuvers.

The Bolsheviks inherited both the assets and liabilities of the Tsarist Empire. As geophysical assets, it received vast territories embracing the heart land of the Euro-Asian continent. But, it also took over a rapidly growing polyglot population, their poverty and an underdeveloped economy with almost no technology. But the Bolshevik Government did not inherit the relations and influences that its predecessors had built over the years with major European powers like France and Germany. The Bolshevik country was essentially a poor, underdeveloped agrarian economy and alone in the modern diplomatic world of the affluent West, none of which was particularly sympathetic to the international communist movement. It badly needed to get out that rut, develop into an industrial power, to secure recognition from foreign powers, and to wield a clout in international diplomacy. The Bolsheviks realized that the key to enter into that hallowed world of the rich and powerful was Britain which then was the most advanced industrial power having a global reach.

The other major concern of the Soviet leadership was to expand and build an international Communist movement and aligning it with mass-based working class organizations in Europe and nationalist movements in Asia. There was also the question of the survival of the socialist republics inherited from the former Russian Empire and insulate them from foreign influences and interventions.

The problem of its own survival within the capital encirclement also became one of the main concerns of the Communists.

To these ends, the Soviet leadership sought to obtain the technology of the advanced industrial countries, to construct protective zones on the frontiers of the USSR made up of stable states independent of the great powers; and, to find a secure position for Soviet Russia within the capitalist world order.

During 1920-21, the Communists changed the orientation of the Soviet foreign policy. In the preceding years the communist leaders were excessively harping on world revolution. But by 1920 that exuberance gave way to realistic appraisal of the ground-realities, as it dawned on them that revolution would take much more work and a longer time than they anticipated.

In order to overcome famine and internal strife and confusions, as also to build its defenses it needed some breathing space and aid from capitalist countries. It became necessary for Bolsheviks to build bridges across the gulf that separated them from the West. The most effective way of linking up with the West was trade, which would be mutually beneficial.

he Because of the need for foreign trade, a revised diplomatic approach was required. Gone was the drive to instigate world revolution ; its own survival and viability now became the priority. Lenin eagerly  looked forward to the  possibilities  for  forging peaceful coexistence and good relations with foreign powers, coupled with an expansion in trade.

Communists badly needed to a period of peaceful co-existence to build their strengths.

Lenin in his speech on 23 November 1920 said : our task is to maintain the existence of our isolated socialist republic, which is so much weaker than the capitalist enemies who surround it; to remove the opportunity for enemies to create an alliance among themselves for a struggle against us.

In the same speech Lenin also said that it was essential to re-establish trade relations though a temporary one, to re-build and to gain a breathing space (peredyshka). The breathing space, as he explained, was a sort of strategic retreat.

The aims of Soviet diplomacy in the 1920s were , thus, to secure recognition from foreign powers, in order to emerge on the diplomatic scene as a fully accepted and functioning state equal to the world’s great powers, and to allow the Soviet Union the opportunity to develop economically by opening and maintaining channels for international trade. The extent to which Soviet diplomacy had to change and compromise its revolutionary aspects was central to the realignment of Soviet diplomacy during the 1920s.

***

It appears that the entire Tashkent expedition was played out to provoke, arm-twist and manipulate Britain to come to the negotiating table ; and to bargain to secure its aid for developing Russia’s infrastructure and industrial base; and also to rehabilitate its sagging economy, to work out a pattern of close political co-operation. And that would secure for the Government born out of the October Revolution much needed stability, security, and technology; as also the  conventional commercial and diplomatic relations with the governments of the capitalist states of Europe and with the authoritarian modern nations of Asia.

The British agencies were closely following the developments at the Second International Congress held in Moscow during July-August 1920.  Its listening post in Copenhagen reported about the particular attention  given to  causing revolutions in Asia ; and said  that ‘ a general revolt in the East next autumn was being planned in order to hurry up the World Revolution, for which the chiefs of Soviet  Russia   have great hopes’.

With heightening of the Soviet activities in Afghanistan and with its intense efforts to recruit Muslim rebels to build a revolutionary army to launch an assault on India, the British were very highly annoyed. Lord Curzon who then was the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1919–1924)  was outraged and sent a strong protest to Moscow, vehemently objecting to the present aim and policy of Russia in Asia to encourage and build up hostility and anti-British propaganda in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It objected to Russian attempts to build centers of propaganda, a school at Tashkent and a powerful Muslim movement. All of which, Curzon pointed out, was clearly directed against British interests; and was intent on destroying the colonial base in the region, particularly in India. The Note concluded warning the Soviet Government of the serious consequences it will have to face because of its  policy in Asia, to form a “powerful united Muslim movement to deal  blow against the colonial base on which the Empire rests.

The Soviet Government offered to discuss the charges made against it, provided Britain was open to negotiate a trade deal with USSR. Lord Curzon who was earlier the Viceroy of India was fuming at Russian attempts to threaten British Empire in Asia. He was therefore reluctant to talk trade with the Bolsheviks. But David Lloyd the British Prime Minister and Winston Churchill persuaded him to take a positive look at the trade proposal and negotiate a deal with Russia , after prescribing stringent conditions safeguarding British interests in Asia.

Lloyd and Churchill advised Curzon that Britain which had just scrapped through the War was facing an unprecedented economic crisis: its industrial production was at its lowest; unemployment rates were soaring; its pre-war trade partners were in a similar rut; and, trade and economy  was  going down. They pointed out that the only industrial units working fulltime were the textile mills in Yorkshire; and, these were fulfilling Russian orders. And, if the proposal of trade negations does not go through it is very likely that the Russians might cancel their contract orders. Further, since trade agreement with Britain was vital to Russia, it surely would abide by conditions to be imposed in the trade agreement. Lloyd George, in short, advised that the way to alleviate postwar unemployment in England was through the restoration of prewar world trade patterns. Since Russia’s trade with Britain would be mutually beneficial, Lord Curzon was advised to carry on the negations and finalize the agreement.

At the same time, Curzon was preoccupied with the Russian threat to the British Empire in Asia, and he and Churchill would agree to a trade treaty only as a way of ending revolutionary activity there.  The two, therefore, would agree to a trade agreement only in case it  ensured  a counterrevolutionary strategy combining both’ détente and intransigence’ and promoting both foreign trade and imperial security.

After a series of long and protracted negotiations, the Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement was finally signed in London on 16 March 1921. It was signed by Sir Robert Horne, Chancellor of Exchequer and Leonard Krasin, Peoples Commissar of Foreign Trade.

The significant paragraph from the preamble to the Trade agreement read:

‘That each party refrains from hostile action or undertakings against the other and from conducting outside of its own borders any official propaganda direct or indirect against the institutions of the British Empire or the Russian Soviet Republic respectively, and more particularly that the Russian Soviet Government refrains from any attempt by military or diplomatic or any other form of action or propaganda to encourage any of the peoples of Asia in any form of hostile action against British interests or the British Empire, especially in India and in the Independent State of Afghanistan. The British Government gives a similar particular undertaking to the Russian Soviet Government in respect of the countries which formed part of the former Russian Empire and which have now become independent.

 [Trade Agreement between His Britannic Majesty’s Government and the Government of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic, Parliamentary Paper, 1921, cmd. 1207, pp.2-3]

David Lloyd the British Prime minister justified trade relations with Communist Russia calling it as ‘fighting the anarchy with abundance’. He said: Russia is necessary for recovery of Europe. Russia cannot be restored to sanity by force, as events have proved. Commerce has sobering effect as well as beneficial effects. The way to help Russia and Europe and Britain is by trade – that is to fight anarchy, wherever it appears, with abundance.

 The Soviets  in their turn justified the Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement  by describing it as : “ not an ordinary trade treaty with the mere object of regulating commercial operations between two countries; it was an agreement of politico-commercial character: it gave the RSFSR de-facto  recognition by the most powerful capitalist power in Europe.”

The Soviets on their part  promptly asked M N Roy to stop forthwith all rebellious activities harmful to British;  disband  all  efforts to recruit Muslim mercenaries; shut down his military School in Tashkent; and, return to Moscow immediately. And, the NKVD directed diplomatic personnel in Afghanistan to have nothing to do with revolutionary elements, and ordered embassy officers in Persia to cease temporarily all political activities and work with secret agents.

After the conclusion of the Anglo-Afghan Treaty on 22 November 1921, the Russian consulates at Kandahar, Ghazni and Jalalabad were also closed down.

Most amazingly, in a note dated 27 September 1921 addressed to the British Government, the Soviet Government completely disassociated itself with the Tashkent mis-adventure. It said that a mischievous body posing itself Third International , made attempts to finance the propaganda school for training; and for equipping of sixty-two oriental students ; and,  then for dispatching them to India  to fight the British.

[Soviet Russia and the West, 1920-1927: A Documentary Survey by Xenia Joukoff Eudin, Harold Henry Fisher; Page 186]

Thus, despite the deliberations of the Second Comintern Congress, the rhetoric of Baku, and the plans made in the Small Bureau of the ECCI, the Bolshevik Government willingly bargained away support for revolutionary insurrection in Persia and India once it  realized that  support for revolutionary activity in Central and southwest Asia was a strategic liability rather than an asset. It had also realized by then the prospects for proletarian revolution in Europe faded and anti-Communist regimes were consolidated there. It had also by then come to realize the folly and futility of supporting Muslim national and rebellious groups.  In order to avoid such pitfalls and to establish and maintain normal relations with the leading nation of the capitalist world, the Soviets strategically  gave up, at least temporarily, supporting revolutionary groups. 

A  fallout of the Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement was that other European countries anxious not to miss out,  not to be excluded from any trade agreements, lest they be left behind by other European powers, hurriedly entered into trade agreements with Soviet Russia. Western transportation experts came to Russia to help increase the efficiency of the old and overburdened railway system. And, the Western diplomats, expressing the new feeling of solidarity between their governments and Soviet Russia, co-operated with Russian efforts.

 But, the western diplomats , however, did not spot the link between trade and diplomacy in quite the same way as the Soviets did.

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In the months between Roy’s withdrawal from Tashkent and the Cawnpore Bolshevik conspiracy trial, Soviet foreign relations developed in other directions. In October 1921 the NKVD undertook a major initiative aimed at concluding a comprehensive postwar settlement of outstanding problems affecting Soviet relations with the victors of the World War – England and USA.

In April 1922 the Rapallo Agreement was signed, sealing the Soviet-German “special relationship” that would be the lodestar of Soviet diplomacy in the years to follow. It re-established normal relations between the Soviet Union and Germany. The two agreed to cancel all financial claims against each other, and the treaty strengthened their economic and military ties. This was the first agreement concluded by Germany as an independent agent since World War I; and, that angered its Western Allies.

As Jacobson said: Lenin brought Soviet Russia  into world politics in 1921 with a foreign policy conception composed largely of those of his pre-1917 ideas about the development of the early twentieth-century global political economy.

[For a more detailed analysis please see the lucid and interesting exposition by   Jon Jacobson in his When the Soviet Union Entered World PoliticsYou may click  the  Introduction ; and then  go down , to read the  paragraph  commencing with the lines : I argue that foreign relations were central to the political imagination of the Bolsheviks and to their actual political behavior from the day they came to power.

Please also read the Chapter : Conclusion , for more]

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 Continued

In

Next Part

 

Sources and References

When the Soviet Union Entered World Politics

When the Soviet Union Entered World Politics  by Jon Jacobson

 Soviet Russia and the West, 1920-1927: A Documentary Survey  by Xenia Joukoff Eudin, Harold Henry Fisher

Communism and Nationalism in India: A Study in Inter-relationship, 1919-1947  by Shashi Bairat

Peasants in India’s Non-Violent Revolution: Practice and Theory by Mridula Mukherjee

In Search of Revolution: International Communist Parties in the “Third Periodedited by Matthew Worley

The Indian revolutionaries and the Bolsheviks – their early contacts, 1918-1922 by Arun Coomer Bose Top of Form

 
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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 09

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 09

Continued from Part 08

 The National and Colonial question

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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 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’.

 

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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.

MN Roy Moscow

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 the 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 the 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 of the Right-ring 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.

He said:

“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.

 

red-flag

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 counterrevolution 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.

india-russia

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.

India-Vs-China

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.

Facing-the-Future

images

Continued

In

Next Part

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

https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/2nd-congress/ch04.htm

Fifth Session -July 28

https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/2nd-congress/ch05.htm

3.Minutes of the Congress

https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/2nd-congress/

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/jul/x03.htm

  1. Communism and Nationalism in India: A Study in Inter-relationship, 1919-1947

By Shashi Bairathi

 5. Communism in India by Overstreet and Windmiller

 
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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 08

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 08

Continued From Part 07

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 foe  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.

[

MPBT Acharya

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.

balabanova

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.]

orchids

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; 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.

***

Kustodiev_-_Congress_of_Comintern

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).

grigory zinoviev

[*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, refereeing 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.

roy with lenin and gorky

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

https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/2nd-congress/

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:

https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/2nd-congress/ch04.htm

https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/2nd-congress/ch05.htm

2nd World Congress of the Comintern

 

Continued

In

Next Part

 

 

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

https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/2nd-congress/ch04.htm

Fifth Session -July 28

https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/2nd-congress/ch05.htm

3.Minutes of the Congress

https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/2nd-congress/

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/jul/x03.htm

  1. Communism and Nationalism in India: A Study in Inter-relationship, 1919-1947

By Shashi Bairathi

  1. The Roy-Lenin Debate on Colonial Policy: a New Interpretation

John P. Haithcox; The Journal of Asian Studies; Vol. 23, No. 1 (Nov., 1963), pp. 93-101

  1. 6. In Search of Revolution: International Communist Parties in the “Third Period

 edited by Matthew Worley

  1. Peasants in India’s Non-Violent Revolution: Practice and Theory

 By Mridula Mukherjee

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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 07

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 07

Continued from Part 06

In Berlin on the way to Moscow

In November 1919, after a stay of about two and a half years in Mexico, Roy and Evelyn departed from the port of Veracruz, Mexico’s oldest and largest port on the Gulf of Mexico, on their way to Russia. They travelled under the Mexican diplomatic passports, in which their names were given as Senor and Senora Roberto Alleny Villa Garcia.

It had been decided that, for reasons of their safety, the Roys’ would not travel directly to Moscow; but would reach Moscow via Cuba, Spain, and Germany. These precautions were necessary to escape the attention of the British Secret Service.It was also decided that they  would spend more time in Berlin to gain good  experience of the Communist movement in Germany. According to the plan, Borodin along with Charles Phillips had left for Europe prior to Roys’ departure from Mexico.

After brief halt in Cuba and in Spain, Roy and Evelyn reached Berlin, via Milan and Zurich, by the end of December 1919.  The Mexico’s representatives in Europe had been instructed to render any type of assistance that Roy and Evelyn might need.

[Roy, in fact, had initially started for Berlin from Japan about four years ago, in search of funds and arms to fight the British rule. But, by the time of his actual visit to Berlin in 1919 many changes had taken place in his life, in his views and in his objectives. This time, he no longer was seeking money or arms; he was also not intent on raising a rebellion in India. He now was gripped by a new faith that believed in mass movement and social revolution. And yet, the urgent need to overthrow Imperial regimes in the colonies remained the driving force.]

On their way to Moscow, Roys’ stopped at Berlin for about four months (from end of November 1919 to April 1920; eventually reaching Moscow in end of April or early May 1920). Their wait at Berlin was perhaps necessary because of the disturbed conditions that then prevailed in post-war Europe. Further, the travel to Russia, in particular, across various borders was beset with difficulties, uncertainties and risks.

Another reason for Roy’s prolonged stay at Berlin was to meet the Indian revolutionary groups operating from Germany; and, more importantly, to meet the leaders of the German Communist movement.

**

As regards the Indian revolutionaries operating from Germany, they had been actively involved in liaisoning with the Kaiser’s Government , even as early as in 1913, for gaining German support – in terms of funds and arms- for carrying out armed rebellion in India against the British rule. Their aim was to throw out the British from the Indian soil by waging relentless series of guerilla wars. During 1913-14, when the War had broken out, the Indians, mainly the students, resident in Germany, formed themselves into an organization called The Berlin Committee with the objective of promoting the cause of Indian Independence. The Committee included famous persons such as Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (alias Chatto, brother of Sarojini Naidu), Chempakaraman Pillai and Abinash Bhattacharya. Lala Har Dayal, who by then had fled to Germany after orders for his arrest in the United States, also lent his support to the Committee.

The Berlin Committee persuaded the Kaiser Government to help them in the common cause of defeating the British. They had even succeeded in obtaining assurance from the Kaiser’s Government to fund and to supply arms to carry out the revolutionary movement in India against the British Rule.  In 1914, German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg approved and sanctioned German support to Indian revolutionary groups.  Max von Oppenheim was appointed the head of the German effort. He was an archaeologist as well as the head of the newly formed Intelligence Bureau for the east. 

The Berlin Committee, on its part, established contacts with Indian revolutionaries headed by Bagha Jatin ; the Ghadar movement in USA; as also with several armament and explosives factories in German-friendly countries. Later, this Berlin-Indian Committee played an active part in the Hindu-German Conspiracy in USA.

During the course of the War, in 1915, The Berlin Committee was re-named as the Indian Independence Committee (Das Indische Unabhängigkeitskomitee).

The Committee itself was the brainchild of the  Nachrichtenstelle für den Orient  and its director, the Orientalist Max Freiherr von Oppenheim, who tended to refer to the IIC as ‘Meine Inder’ (‘my Indians’).  The Indians on the Committee were expected to assist with propaganda material to induce desertions and surrenders among British Indian troops in Europe; among the Indian prisoners of war in German prison camps to volunteer for a military expedition to free India from foreign rule.

 The ‘plot’ was highlighted and sensationalized in the press during the famous San Francisco Conspiracy Case of 1917-18, when the United States joined the war and proceeded to take action against Indians and their sympathizers operating from within the USA

*

The Germans did try to support the Indian rebels in USA , but were unsuccessful , mainly because their correspondence with the Military Attaché of the German Consulate in USA (Wilhelm Von Brincken ) were intercepted . Please see a Press Report concerning the letter of 04 November 1916 by Von Brincken, which was produced as prosecution  evidence in the Hindu German Conspiracy.

item-fighting-germany-spies-001

Towards the end of the war, a group had moved with Viren Chattopadhyay to Sweden, where a strategic branch office of Indian nationalists had been set up, and from where Chatto and his colleagues had begun communicating with the Bolsheviks in the run-up to the October Revolution. Many of them moved back to Germany in the early years of the Weimar Republic

After the war and the defeat of Germany, the Berlin Committee members were reduced to a bunch of disillusioned, disappointed broken men constantly quarreling among themselves out of sheer desperation. They could not see a way out their predicament. Their plans for future had nowhere to go. The Committee was formally disbanded in November 1918, with each member pursuing his own way. And, some were getting attracted towards the nascent Bolshevik movement of Russia and to the ideology of Communism.

**

By the time Roy reached Berlin (say, end of December 1919), the Committee, formally, was no longer in existence. However, there were some Indians in Berlin who were looking for a forum and opportunities to work together. But, these persons were, generally, independent and not subscribing to a common view or an agenda. And, nothing much came of their restlessness. Some of such prominent Indians in Berlin during those times included: Tarachand Roy, Benoy kumar Sarkar, Abdur Rahman, Chamapakraman Pillai, Dr. J. C. Dasgupta, Satish Chandra Roy, Hardayal, Debendra Bose, K. K. Naik, V. Joshi, B. N. Dasgupta, J. N. Lahiri, Heramaba Lal Gupta, Dhirendranath Sarkar, A. S. Siddiqui, Abdus Sattar Khairi, Bhupendranth Datta ( brother of Narendranath Datta – Swami Vivekananda ) and Soumyendranath Tagore, the poet Rabindranath’s nephew, and an unorthodox socialist who travelled in and out of Berlin until 1933

.

During his stay in Berlin, Roy did meet some the members of the disbanded Berlin Committee; but was disappointed.

At the same time, Roy was trying to develop personal contacts with eminent socialist and communists leaders of Germany. They were figures like Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, Rudolf Hilferding, Wilhelm Pieck and August Thalheimer. He also befriended H.J. Sneevliet in Holland.

[In 1918, as the War was drawing to a close, the common people of Germany were exhausted by the deaths and devastation brought upon them. Apart from destroyed houses, they had to contend with the problem of acute shortage of food, fuel and also unreasonably high price of daily commodities.  When the defeat of Germany was in sight, the social and political convulsions began to churn. In October 1918, workers, sailors and soldiers of the Baltic ports began to set up the Bolshevik-style councils; and, soon red flags fluttered atop the ports and factories. It also spread to major German cities. To stimulate the unrest that was gathering pace, the Soviet embassy in Berlin provided weapons to the insurgents. In November, Emperor Wilhelm II abdicated after he lost the support of his troops. The German parliament declared creation of the Social Democratic Party.

In December 1918, the radical elements within the German Socialists and the workers’ union founded the Communist Party of Germany- Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (KPD) under the leadership of   Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. After the assassination of these two leaders, August Thalheimer and others came to the forefront.]

 Roy came close to August Thalheimer*, the German Marxist activist and theoretician. He started attending the secret meetings of the German Communists discussing current problems of the revolution. Roy, later wrote: I was immensely benefitted by the discussions; and, before long, I could participate in the discussions. They all treated me with kindness, affection and respect.

[*August Thalheimer (March 18, 1884 to September 19, 1948) was a German Marxist, activist and theoretician.

thalheimer

Thalheimer was a member of the German Social Democratic Party prior to the First World War. He edited Volksfreund, one of the party newspapers, and from 1916 worked on Spartakusbriefe, the official paper of the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD). Thalheimer became a founder member of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), where he was recognized as the party’s main theorist. (Thalheimer, it is said, was a learned Sanskrit scholar, an authority on Panini’s Grammar)

During the Stalinist years, the Communist Party of Germany – KPD criticised the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. He was expelled from the KPD. Then, in 1928, he along with Brandler formed the Communist Party Opposition (KPO). However, facing threat from Stalinist forces, Thalheimer went into exile in Paris from 1932. At the start of 1935 Thalheimer began writing a regular column on international news for Workers Age, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the USA (Opposition). Thalheimer went to Barcelona, Spain in 1936; and became involved in the local politics of the Marxist Workers’ Party of Spain.  In July 1937, six members of the KPO in Barcelona were arrested by the Stalinists. He soon returned to France again to work with the KPO in exile. He started writing articles criticizing the German Fascists and the Russian Communist Dictators, alike; A very hazardous occupation, indeed.

In 1940, after the outbreak of the War and as the German forces swiftly occupied France, Thalheimer fled to Cuba. He died in Havana on 19 September 1948.]

*

As regards Rosa Luxemburg the Marxist theorist, philosopher, economist and revolutionary socialist, by the time Roy reached Berlin (say, end of December 1919), Rosa Luxemburg was no longer alive; she and Liebknecht had been murdered on January 15, 1919, by members of the Free Corps (Freikorps), a loose band of conservative paramilitary groups. But her writings influenced Roy greatly.

Rosa luxemburgh

Roy found in the life and writings Rosa Luxemburg, the convergence of two streams of ideologies:  Freedom and Democracy on one side; and Revolutionary Order on the other. Throughout his active life, Roy was intensely committed to dismissal of British rule in India and ushering in new political, social, economic and moral order in Indian society. As regards the moral aspect, Roy came to believe that moral motive, independent of other motives for a social revolution (freedom, fraternity and order) was essential to build a strong and durable order as it ensures honesty and transparency in working of the system. On that point , Roy was closer to Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg than to Marx or Engels ( who had said: We reject every attempt to impose on us any moral dogma).

Rosa Luxemburg, in her book Accumulation of Capital, had written that the imperialist capitalist system survived and thrived on external markets of colonial countries. Roy maintained that argument in Second Congress as also in his later theses.

Benjamin Zachariah, a noted research scholar, in his paper Rosa Luxemburg on the National Question writes: It is an irony of history that Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919), who thought of nationalism as narrow-minded and backward-looking, should today be remembered so often as a Polish-Jewish woman, thus reducing her to a set of identitarian particularisms. 

**

Berlin of the 1920s  was the hub of international subversive activities, where Egyptian and Indian organisations could coordinate their activities, assist each other in their anti-imperialist activities, and collectively appeal to the principles of German sovereignty and international political asylum rights.  Berlin was also the center where the rebel communist party of Germany began to form with networks across rest of Europe.

Roy, in particular, mentions about the secret meeting of the German Communist party, held in March 1920, which he attended.  The meeting which lasted almost throughout the night discussed the strategy for the general political strike which was to be declared the next day. This was the famous right wing revolt  Kapp Putsch also known as the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch  wherein the German Army staged a Coup d’état

[It was March 1920. It had only been eighteen months since Germany’s defeat in the Great War and the subsequent signing of the humiliating Treaty of Versailles in which the politicians of Weimar Germany had agreed to pay massive reparations and accept Germany’s guilt for the conflict that had engulfed Europe. It was within this chaos that the ill-fated Kapp Putsch took place.

Friedrich Ebert (1871 -1925) , a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the first President of Germany from 1919 , was also unwilling to abide by the humiliating conditions of the Versailles treaty. But, he hardly had any other option.

Wolfgang Kapp, a right-wing journalist, appalled by the humiliation brought upon the German nation, persuaded General Luttwitz to stage rebellion against the Government of Elbert; throw him out;  and establish a right-wing autocratic government in its place. Kapp had also the support of Germany’s foremost military officer – General Erich Luderndorff. On 13 March 1920, Lüttwitz and Kapp marched into Berlin, at the head of a 6,000-strong group of Freikorps (demobilized or free soldiers), sporting swastika emblems on their helmets, determined to overthrow the government.

The Weimar president, Friedrich Ebert, called on his army to crush the Kapp Putsch, as it came to be known, but was told “troops don’t fire on troops”.  Without military support, Ebert and his government fled to Dresden in south Germany.

On the same day, Luttwitz seized Berlin and proclaimed that a new right of centre nationalist government was being established with Kapp as chancellor.

From Dresden, Friedrich Ebert gave a call to the German people to go on a general strike to paralyse the rebellion as also immobilize those supporting  Kapp and Luttwitz.  Responding to his call, the common people, along with the workers led by the Communist Party, joined the general strike. The civil service too sided with Ebert and refused to take orders from Kapp. Within about four days of general strike the whole of Germany was paralyzed. The immobile and helpless Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch was doomed and failed badly. Kapp and Luttwitz fled Berlin on March 17th. (But, those who fought for Kapp and Luttwitz later became supporters of the fledgling Nazi Party.)

With the failure of the rebellion, the Government of the Weimar president, Friedrich Ebert was saved. And, Friedrich Ebert returned to power and his regime was restored.]

Kapp-Putsch, Marinebrigade Erhardt in Berlin

Roy who was watching these developments was fascinated by the coming together of common people, the civil service and the workers; and , their triumph over the Army. There were some lessons to be learnt from the five days of the Kapp Putsch. It demonstrated the power of mass movement; and, of the general strike. It also showed that the Government’s means of dealing with uprisings of such nature are indeed very limited. In such stringent situations,  a Government cannot effectively enforce its authority, even in its own capital, unless  it has  the support of its people. At the same time, the support of the army could not be taken for granted.

**

The German Marxists led by August Thalheimer had a slightly different interpretation of Karl Marx’s doctrine and the also differed from the Russian Bolsheviks. Though they believed in the ultimate social revolution and liberation of the working classes, they preferred a gradual progress towards socialism that did not resort to violence or armed insurgency. Their method was to build a mass movement and steer the country towards socialism. Roy, as he said, was struck by the ‘humanness ‘of the German Socialists. However, Roy a new convert to Communism, could not, at that stage, see anything other than what he had learnt from Borodin in Mexico.  But  later in his life , Roy came to greatly appreciate the principle of ‘humanness’ and made it a corner stone of his philosophy.

**

Roy had long discussions with German Communist leaders to widen his knowledge about the theory and practice of Communism. It helped him to visualize and dream about the form and content of the future Communist movement in India.

Thereafter, Roy before leaving Berlin for Moscow wrote what he called as the Indian Communist Manifesto. The opening lines of the Manifesto were addressed to the Indian revolutionaries who were told that the time had come for them to  ‘  make a statement of their principles in order to interest the European and American proletariat in the struggle of Indian masses , which is rapidly becoming a fight for economic and social emancipation and abolishion of class rule’. It also blamed the bourgeois (largely the Indian middle class) striving for democracy and the failure of the nationalist movement.

“The nationalist movement in India has failed to appeal to the masses, because it strives for a bourgeois democracy and cannot say how the masses will be benefited by independent national existence. The emancipation of the working class lies in the social revolution and the foundation of a communist state. Therefore, the growing spirit of rebellion in the masses must be organised on the basis of class struggle in close cooperation with the world proletarian movements.”

Roy then suggested to the Indian nationals in Germany, most of whom were former members of the Berlin Committee, to join the proletarian forces with Russia in the forefront. However, the idea did not appeal to many, because it was not nationalistic and was not India-centered. Some of them (including Bhupendranath Dutta whom Roy knew from his Calcutta days) even suspected that Roy could be acting as an agent of the Bolsheviks planning to take control of the Indian revolutionary movement.

The draft Manifesto; its language and its strange terms were also out of their ken; and its stated objectives did not find favor with most  of the Ex-Committee members who were basically nationalists and who came from educated class in India.

Eventually there were only three signatories to that document : Roy himself; Evelyn Trent Roy who affixed her signature as Santi Devi , her newly acquired pseudonym; and, Abani Mukherjee (Abaninath Mukherji ) , an Ex-member of the Anushilan Samithi , who had just arrived from India through the Dutch –East –Indies (Indonesia) and Holland .

**

While in Berlin, Roy started on his book India in Transition , with Abani Mukherjee providing the statistical input. The Book was eventually published  from Berlin , in 1922 after he had spent about two years in Moscow. During the intervening period, Roy kept revising his Draft-Book.  As it progressed, the ideas gained from discussions with Lenin and other Communist leaders at the Second Congress of the Communist International in Russia during 1920 were brought into Book.

The Book argued that the rebellion of 1857 had failed to rid of feudalism in India. The India in Transition  gives a critical analysis of Indian society and a clear vision of the process of attuning Indian Independence. It remained a reference book for the communists on colonial and semi colonial questions. That was until the official change took place in the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International in 1929, by which time Roy had been expelled by the Comintern.

But, the more interesting part of the book is about the issues that figured in Roy’s discussions with Lenin on the role of Gandhi and the Indian National Congress in the Indian independence movement.  Each looked at Congress and Gandhi form his own perspective, guided by own his experience in the revolution. And, that was also the crucial point of difference between Lenin and Roy.

Gandhi retuned to India in 1915. And, by about 1920-21, the Indian independence movement and the Indian National Congress had come under the influence of Gandhi.

On the question of the Indian National Congress and Gandhi, Lenin formed his views drawing 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 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’. You will now have to base yourselves on the bourgeois nationalism which is awakening, and must awake. 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 at a later time depending upon the situation.

Lenin 1920

 Lenin had developed a broader perceptive of revolutionary processes having lived and worked through its various stages.  The broader picture that he envisioned was 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 utilising nationalism in creating a broad based anti-imperialistic movement; and, later to take over the movement.

[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. 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.]

Lenin contented that non-communist nationalist organizations like the Indian National Congress could , for the present,  be considered as revolutionary, since no viable Communist party existed in India. And, it would take some time before the 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 movements. 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.

M N Roy (1)

Roy, at the age of 28,   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 manner associated or involved with political process. His views on Indian National Congress, in 1921-22, were tinted with the impressions he 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 (1919) had worked hard to liberate Roy from notions of Nationalism. And, those lessons fructified in the An Indian Communist Manifesto which Roy drafted in Berlin, during 1920, en route from Mexico to Moscow for the Second Congress of the Comintern. Roy presented the same set of views at the Second Congress later in Moscow. In his Draft Manifesto, it was said: We want the world to know that nationalism is confined to the bourgeois, but the masses are awakening to the call of the social revolution.

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.

In his discussions with Lenin and in his book India in Transition , Roy took a very highly critical view of Indian National Congress and of Gandhi, in particular.

Roy criticized the Indian national movement under the Congress Party – the way it was preceding and its leadership. He was particularly unhappy with the lack of any theoretical foundation, socio-economic philosophy for the Indian national movement.

He said:  “There must be a socio-political philosophy behind any great movement. The much-needed ideological background of our struggle is not to be invented from the imagination of great men; it will be evolved out of the material forces making the birth, growth and success of such a struggle possible.

The Indian people are engaged in a social struggle of historic proportion and to a certain extent of unprecedented character. A modern political movement on such a huge scale involving a sweeping mass-action cannot go on forever with antiquated religious ideology.

It is highly essential to study the social conditions, actual as well as of the past, and to watch the evolution of the economic forces in order to ensure that  the people of India are progressing along a course common  to the entire human race.

The present situation in India is not unique in history. It is a stage of social development marked by a sudden and rapid introduction of modern means of production, resulting in a dislocation of the status quo, economic as well as territorial, of the population.

And yet; we have our peculiar problems to solve; there are peculiar obstacles to be overcome on our way. But the fact remains that we are involved in a great struggle which calls for profound understanding of the socio- economic forces making for the progress of the Indian people”.

He remarked: the Indian National Congress has landed in a political bankruptcy. Today it stands at the cross-roads. It must either adjust its socio-political convictions in accordance with the forces behind the great mass upheaval, or put itself straight on the tracks of constitutional democracy.  The latter will take it back under moderate leadership, which is convinced that the British connection is beneficial to the economic interests of that class of the people whose political representative they are. Caught in morass of such hopeless contradictions, the Congress cannot provide the ideological base for Indian national movement.

Therefore, one has to be cautious. The struggle of the Indian bourgeoisie is not against a government controlled by rich landed aristocracy with strong feudal traditions; it is against the highest form of capitalism in an extremely critical moment of its existence. Consequently, there is a great possibility of compromise in this struggle.

He cited the instance of the British policy of supporting Indian industry during the war-years, in its own interests. Unable, during the war, to sell its manufactured goods in the Indian markets, Britain reversed its traditional policy of keeping India industrially backward. It took the Indian bourgeois into confidence and let them a free field to develop. It went on to appoint an Indian Industrial Commission (1916) for promoting industries in India. By the end of the war, the Indian capitalist class had gathered enough clout to make demands on British Government. The needs of the industry gave a lever to manipulate the Indian capitalists and to split the revolutionary movement. There was thus an active connivance between the British imperialism and the Indian bourgeois.

 Roy then went on to assert that the over throw of the British rule will be achieved only by the joint action of the bourgeois and the masses.  But in the long run, he said, the separation of masses from bourgeois leadership was inevitable. That is because; the bourgeois nationalism would end in compromise with Imperial powers.

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.]

**

Roy who was then a Marxist contended that political independence does not equal total freedom, since full freedom involved economic rights and opportunities for the masses. Such full freedom, Roy argued, was far beyond mere political freedom which Gandhi was fighting for. He said ‘the political independence is not the end, but is the means for radical transformation of Indian society, demanding changes in the social structure and extinction of class domination by transfer of ownership of land to cultivator . And, it should be followed by a rapid growth of modern mechanized industry ‘. Roy conceived freedom and social change in terms of sweeping economic changes’.

Gandhi did recognize the importance of economic reforms, but, emphasized on the ‘moral aspects’ of freedom. He was talking of Swaraj which meant both ‘self-rule’ and ‘self-control’. Gandhi’s view of Swaraj rooted in Indian nationalist tradition prevailed in Congress. Gandhi was , in fact , following the dictum of Swami Vivekananda : ’ one may gain political and social independence , but if one is a slave to ones passions and desires , one cannot feel the pure joy of real freedom’( Complete Works , Vol.  5, p. 419).

[Interestingly, many years later in 1940 while launching his Radical Democratic Party (RDP) , Roy declared that  that the RPD must be  a party not of the ‘economic man ‘ but rather a party of ‘ moral men , moved by the ideal of human freedom. He went on to say: Any connection between RPD and any particular class is repudiated. The party’s alliance can only to the abiding values of humanity, since ethical values are greater than economic interests. Call this an idealistic deviation, if you please. I would plead guilty to the charge’. ]

 

**

In his newspaper Advance Guard ‘  he sent a programme to the Indian National Congress on the eve of the Gaya Congress held in the last week of December, 1922, which included some of the following  : ideas: 1) Abolition of landlordism 2) Reduction of land rent 3) State aid for modernization of agriculture 4) Abolition of indirect taxes 5) Nationalization of public utilities 6) Development of modern industries 7) Eight hour day, fixation of minimum wages by legislation 8) Free and compulsory education 9) Separation of State and religion

**

As regards Roy’s views on Gandhi ( as it did during 19210-22); for a short while, Roy was impressed by Gandhi and saw his non-violent path as the only path available to the Indian revolutionaries under conditions of colonialism. But Roy was disillusioned when Gandhi withdrew the mass movement.

But, at the same time  , he said : Gandhi’s criticism of modern civilization , that is capitalist society, is correct. But, the remedy he prescribes is not only wrong but impossible.

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 maintained that as a religious and cultural revivalist, Gandhi was bound to be a reactionary, socially, however different.

He quoted back to Lenin, his own dictum: without revolutionary ideology there could be no revolution.

[Evelyn Trent Roy writing under pen name Santi Devi, in her article titled The Debacle of Gandhism (November 1922) also said  :  Mr. Gandhi had become an unconscious agent of reaction in the face of a growing revolutionary situation. The few leaders of the Congress Party, who realized this and sought a way out, were rendered desperate, almost despairing at the dilemma. Mr. Gandhi had become a problem to his own movement…]

Then, 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.

He said: “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” .

***

Many years later, in 1936, when Roy attended the Faizpur session of the Congress, he criticized Gandhi and his inner circle for imposing their tactics from above on the rank and file. He pointed out that their organizational legacy is mostly “authoritarian dictatorial” high-command that resembles the inner coterie of the Comintern. He gave a call to halt the brahmin-baniya domination over Congress; and to usher in an agrarian social revolution.

Gandhi, of course, was not amused; and, advised Roy to stay out of Indian politics, and just “render mute service to cause of Indian freedom”.

**

There is an interesting footnote to Roy’s dream of Indian revolution and Indian independence.

Chief Justice P.B. Chakraborty of Calcutta High Court, who had also served as the acting Governor of West Bengal in India, during 1956, wrote a letter to Prof. Dr. R C Majumdar the author of A History of Bengal. It relates to a conversation that Justice Chakraborthy had with Lord Clement Attlee when the latter visited Calcutta during 1956. Lord Attlee was then staying as a guest in the official residence of the Governor of West Bengal (Justice P.B. Chakraborty).

  Justice Chakraborthy wrote:

“When I was the acting Governor, Lord Atlee, who had given us independence by withdrawing the British rule from India, spent two days in the Governor’s palace at Calcutta during his tour of India. At that time I had a prolonged discussion with him regarding the real factors that had led the British to quit India. My direct question to him was that since Gandhi’s “Quit India” movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such new compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave? In his reply Atlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji. Toward the end of our discussion I asked Atlee what was the extent of Gandhi’s influence upon the British decision to quit India. Hearing this question, Atlee’s lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word, “m-i-n-i-m-a-l!”

Please see 5. Attlee’s Personal View at : http://www.visionnetaji.org/?p=205]

It might be true that the Indian National Congress under the leadership of Gandhi played a leading role in the freedom struggle. But at the same time, it would be fair to acknowledge the contributions, struggles and sacrifices made by countless non-congress organizations, groups and individuals in their fight to secure National freedom.

Among such varied and diverse groups that fought for national independence, the more prominent were the right-wing Nationalist groups and the Left –wing Communists. Their activities intensified after the sudden suspension of non-cooperation movement by Gandhi in the wake of a stray incident at Chauri Chura in 1922. It caused deep resentment, disappointment, disillusionment and disgust among the Indian youth.  Some took to the Nationalist revolutionaries and lot others chose the Communist way.

Their revolutionary movements spread across the world – mainly in Europe, Far East and America.

In the following pages you would be amazed to see the intense and dedicated involvement of the International Communist Party and its organizations in Europe and Asia in their participation of India’s struggle for freedom. Apart from Indian-nationals, it is remarkable that a significant number of intelligent, bright and well meaning western men and women dedicated their lives to the cause of India’s freedom. They also made huge sacrifices; underwent persecution, withstood harsh treatment and endured long years of imprisonment just for a cause which they cherished as just and noble. They had no ambitions   whatsoever of personal gain. We all should remember them with deep sense of gratitude, reverence and love.

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By about April 1920, the Berlin Embassy of the USSR received a message from Angelica Balabanova, the First Secretary to the Communist International with instructions to arrange for Roy’s travel to Moscow, immediately.  

Accordingly, Roy along with Evelyn boarded a middle class passenger ship named The Soviet departing from the port Stettin (regarded as the port of Berlin was the capital of the Prussian province of Pomerania, now in Poland, on the Oder). After reaching Reval (now known as Tallinn) , in Estonian Republic, they travelled by train to reach Leningrad. From there they took another train to Moscow, the political capital of USSR. It was sometime at the end of April 1920.

pestel-ex-velikij_knyaz_aleksej

Continued

In

Next Part

 

 

Sources and References

Sources of Indian Tradition: Modern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh by Rachel Fell McDermott

Communism and Nationalism in India: A Study in Inter-relationship, 1919-1947 by Shashi Bairathi

M N Roy by V B Karnik

M N Roy -A Political Biography by Samaren Roy

All pictures are from Internet

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2016 in M N Roy

 

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