MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 12
Communism – India – Nationalism – (Continued)
Roy had much more trouble with the Fifth Congress ( held during June/July 1924) than he ever had at the previous Congresses
The Chairman of the Colonial Commission, Manuilsky took Roy to task for exaggerating at the Second Congress the strength of ‘social movements ‘in India against the national movement. He said that Roy had failed at ‘winning over the revolutionary movements for emancipation’ in India. Manuilsky‘s ire at Roy perhaps had its root in a note recorded by Stalin in 1923.
By about 1923, Stalin was getting impatient with Roy for there was hardly any progress on the Indian front. The secret Memo 647/5 of the Political Bureau of the Russian Communist Party, issued under the signatures of Stalin and the Bureau’s Deputy Secretary Ter-Avanesoff said: “the mistakes have been committed by the Communist International in its first efforts to promote a revolution in India. It has been longer, more uncertain and more expensive business than had been anticipated. It has been realized that Communism is completely unacceptable to Hindus in their present state of development, and independence is a condition which must precede it. Our propaganda agents did not realize this and did not report it, and continued to work on completely the wrong line”
The Fifth Congress thereafter appointed a now Colonial Commission (which included, among others, Roy, Manuilsky, Stalin and Katayama) to review the colonial question and prepare a detailed report. Roy, thus, was no longer the sole authority on Colonial question. In the three years that followed, Roy was progressively kept away from the India question.
After the not-so-happy Fifth Congress, Roy returned to France by August 1924 which was after about six months of stay in Switzerland. He was hoping that under the Government of Édouard Marie Herriot which had came to power in June 1924 he would find a safe refuge on the soil of France. Herriot was known to be sympathetic to socialists and local unions. But, the rest of the year continued to be distressful. With the Cawnpore Case being brought to trial his contacts with India almost dried up.
And, in the following January (on 30th January 1925) Roy and Evelyn were arrested in Paris, due 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. But he managed to escape from there; and reach Moscow by 21st March 1925 to attend the Fifth Plenum of the ECCI.
[A plenum, meaning a “full assembly,” is a meeting where the Party’s Central Committee deliberates and announces policy initiatives and key personnel appointments. It is usually held at least once a year.]
The Fifth Plenum (March-April 1925), in regard to India, persisted with two uncomfortable questions. One, what should be the attitude of the Comintern towards the Indian National Congress?; and, the second, what type of ‘direct contact’ should be maintained by the (Executive Committee of the Communist International) ECCI with Indian National Congress?
The Plenum was well aware of Roy’s position on both the questions. But, it was not convinced either with his stand or with the ‘progress’ he had made on the India front. After some discussion, the Fifth Plenum laid down its India-Policy;
“It is now necessary for the Communists to continue to work in the Indian National Congress and in the Left Wing of the Swarajya Party. All nationalist organizations should be formed into mass revolutionary party, an All-India anti-imperialist bloc. The slogan of the Peoples Party , having for the main points in its program : separation from the Empire; a democratic republic; universal suffrage; and , abolition of feudalism – slogans put forward and popularized by the Indian Communists – is correct.
The Indian Communists should direct their efforts towards securing leadership over the masses of the peasantry, to encourage organization and amalgamation of trade unions, and to take over the leadership of their struggles.”
The resolution of the Fifth Plenum continued to regard the bourgeois Indian National Congress as revolutionary; and, still wanted to work with Indian National Congress. That meant that Roy’s strategical formulations and his view of Indian National congress were rejected. The Plenum did, however, endorse formation of ‘mass revolutionary party’. But, it said, should be made up of ‘all nationalist’ organizations’. This rider imposed by the Plenum on the membership and coverage of labour organization ran counter to Roy’s proposal for the Workers and Peasants Party (WPP) . Roy had conceived WPP primarily as leftist trade union organizations of the Communists in India; and, it was to be a legal front for the illegal apparatus.
Another setback for Roy was that the Fifth Plenum stipulated that there should be very close contact between the sections of the Comintern in the Imperialist countries with the colonies of those countries’. That, effectively, meant that the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) will have a say and participate fully in the affairs of the Indian Communist Party. The CPGB would in effect be a sort of natural-guardian of the CPI providing advice, guidance and support.
That would go to undermine Roy’s authority and influence in India.
Following the clearance from the Fifth Plenum , Percy E Glading , a reprehensive of the CPGB toured India during January – April 1925 , and reported back saying ‘ no Indian Communist groups existed at all’.
This really put Roy on the mat.
Evelyn, stationed in Paris and aided by a small group of Indians (GAK Gulani, Md. Sipassi and few others) , was engaged in publishing The Vanguard ( which changed its name to Masses of India on 1 January 1925) . Her efforts to secure from French Government reversal of Roy’s expulsion did not succeed.
After the Fifth Plenum, Roy, unable to return to France, slipped into Berlin, by the spring of 1925.
Now, too many overseas leftist groups were trying to direct the Indian communist movement – Roy from Berlin; the Colonial Committee of the CPGB from Britain; and Chattopadyaya and his associates from Europe. There was also group of twelve Indian leftist students mostly in London calling themselves the India Bureau; and , they got busy with the Indian affairs. Shapurji Saklatvala who had been elected to the British Parliament in 1922 was working with CPGB and the Indian Bureau. In addition, there was in France the Comite’ Pro-Hindou, a group headed by Henri Barbusse which did propaganda work in favor of Indian Independence. Evelyn Trent, who was in France, was guiding the activities of the Comite’ Pro-Hindou.
There were competitions within India and in Europe over gaining control of the India-cantered Communist movement in particular, as also the national movement.
With so many disjointed groups working at cross-purposes, confusion and conflict was bound to be there.
In order to clear the confusion resulting from multiplicity of Communist agencies , all of which interested in the Indian movement , the CPGB invited about twenty-five leading party workers active in Europe ( including Roy, Evelyn, Percy Glading , Clemens Dutta and others) for a meeting ( named as Oriental Conference) organized at Amsterdam on 11th and 12th July 1925. As expected, it turned out to be an ugly affair. Roy, who had previously complained about neglect of CPGB, now accused it of excessive and needless interference with Indian affairs of the Communist Party. Robinson of CPGB shot back saying that the Fifth Plenum had authorized CPGB to take control of the work conducted in India, a British colony; and participate fully in the Indian affairs. Roy challenged Robinson’s assertion and screamed it was ‘imperialism at its worst’
Roy also challenged Glading’s report to the CPGB which had said that ‘no Indian Communist groups existed at all’. Roy rejected Glading’s findings; and asserted that he had documentary evidence to prove the existence and working of the Indian Communist groups. If Glading could not spot them, while he was in India, it was because the Indian Communist groups were too well camouflaged; and also because groups were not sure whether they could trust Glading and reveal themselves to him.
A couple of months after the Oriental Conference, the conflict between Roy and CPGB was somewhat eased. Comintern’s Colonial Bureau issued a letter on 25th September 1925 outlining Roy’s role in the Indian movement. The Comintern’s letter did not lay down a clear line of authority. It said that CPGB should not work independently of Roy. But, at the same time, it directed that various Indian Communist groups operating from Europe should organize themselves as the Foreign Bureau of the Communist Party of India (CPI) , thus becoming a wing of the Indian organization, which again would be under CPGB.
The entire set of correspondence that took place between Comintern, the CPGP and Roy; as also the deliberations of the Oriental Conference were leaked to the British Intelligence. The copies of all such documents were presented by the prosecution before the Sessions Judge presiding over the Cawnpore Case. The judge while evaluating Roy’s role, observed:
‘Roy definitely wanted to keep the control or guidance of the communist activities in India in his own hands and was inclined to criticize the efforts of CPGB as based on insufficient understanding of the problems. This view seems to have been partially accepted by the Communist International. This conclusion is supported by available evidence’.
What was interesting was the stand taken by the defendants Cawnpore Bolshevik Conspiracy Case. They agreed: Yes, we are Communists and work for the establishment of a universal order. But, they strongly rejected prosecutions charge that they were working against India’s interests or against national freedom. They said, in the present stage in India, the movement for national freedom is a progressive force. We are ready, they declared, to work with anybody if it helps in pursuing genuine national revolutionary policy and national independence.
[The Cawnpore Bolshevik Conspiracy Case of 1924 was against the newly recruited communists (apart from Roy), abhorred by the British Government. Some newly turned communists such as Muzaffar Ahamed, S A Dange, Shaukat Usmani, Nalini Gupta, Singaravelu Chettiar, Ghulam Hussain were charged with the crimes and conspiracy “to deprive the King Emperor of his sovereignty of British India, by complete separation of India from imperialistic Britain by a violent revolution.” But this case brought the communists in the lime light. The newspapers covered the matter exhaustively; and thus, for the first time the people of India could learn of the communist doctrine in fair details. The case was a sort of introduction of Communism to the Indian Public.
However, when the Case began in April 1924, only four defendants were in India (Gupta, Dange, Usman and Ahmad). And, Singaravelu Chettiar was certified to have been too ill to travel from Madras to Cawnpore; and was therefore excused. Hussain turned a British informer and was pardoned. In this case, M N Roy was charged in absentia. Rest all people were arrested and sent to jail for 4 years.
The Case –trial which commenced in April lasted till 20th May 1924. It again came up for appeal before the High Court. In a lengthy judgment handed down on 24 November 1924, the Presiding Judge described the theory of conspiracy as ‘absurd and unbelievable’ and that the schema had never been a threat to the security of the State. However, since the defendants had acted in ‘the most serious spirit, the appeal was denied and their conviction was upheld.]
By about the middle of 1925 an idea began to germinate among the Indian Communists that after all it was not illegal in India to advocate Communism; and, a Communist party could exist and function in India without engaging in activities which the Government would regard as treasonable.
Roy seemed interested in the idea of forming a Communist Party on Indian soil. As the idea gained strength, it was decided that the Communist Party of India should be launched from the venue of the Annual Session of the Indian National Congress scheduled to commence at Cawnpore from 25th December 1925. Most of the members involved in this effort belonged to the Roy group.
The organizers of the Cawnpore session of the INC however refused permission to conduct the Communist meeting within the pandal erected for holding the Congress Session. Therefore , in a tent erected close to the venue of the Congress session, the Communist Party of India was launched on 25th December 1925, with Singaravelu Chettiar as the Chairman. It was also resolved that headquarters of the newly formed Party would be at Bombay.
What was very interesting of the launch was the speech made by Maulana Hazrat Mohani, the convener of the meet. He emphasized that the newly formed Party would not have anything to do with the Communist International. He clarified: ‘Ours is a purely Indian organization. Our relations with similar parties of other countries will be only that of sympathy and mental affinity to all these in general and to the Third International in particular’.
Singaravelu Chettiar in his presidential speech did, in fact, went beyond Mohani’s assertion. He said, clearly: Indian Communism is not Bolshevism; for Bolshevism is a kind of Communism which the Russians have adopted in their country. We are not Russians; and we are not Bolsheviks. Bolshevism may not be needed in India… We are one with the world community; but not with Bolshevism.
[Even later in 1927, SA Dange after his release from prison issued statements saying that he was an ‘Indian Communist ‘and ‘not a ’Bolshevik’.]
Roy, when he read the speeches of Mohani and Chettiar, surely, was not amused. He called them ‘childish’. He wrote in the Masses of India : Nothing can be more ‘non-communistic’ than to say that the Indian working class will play its historic role in the struggle for national freedom and work out its own salvation independently of the International proletarian movement . Those who maintain and propagate this point of view are far from being Communists: they are veritable enemies of the Indian working class.
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. Their separation was so complete that never after met or corresponded. And, there is not a single word or reference to Evelyn in Roy’s Memoirs.
The British Intelligence was under the impression that after her separation from Roy, Evelyn moved back to USA. Neither her name nor her pseudonym (Santi Devi) appears in any of the documents, pamphlets or literature relating to communism after 1925.
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.
[We shall talk about Evelyn separately later in the series.]
During 1925-6 Roy’s influence over the Indian question sharply declined and the CPGB began taking control of the direction of Indian Communist affairs.
In regard to influencing the Indian National Congress, Roy’s plan had been to form a legal party within the Congress party comprising Communist groups. At the same time, he wanted to influence the liberal Congress members through his writings in the journal; and also to send messages to the INC.
Accordingly, the CPI sent a manifesto to the Gauhati session of the INC in December 1926. Its objective was to influence the left wing in the Congress and induce the Congress leadership to adopt more radical programs. The manifesto included demands of peasants and workers, such as agrarian reforms to abolish landlord-system, abolish indebtedness, reduce exorbitant rents etc. It also urged to enact labour laws to end exploitation of labour and to ensure a minimum wages and eight-hour day work, the right to strike and to form unions. The Manifesto concluded by cautioning the Indian National Congress that it could save itself and find the road to national freedom only by forming a ‘people’s Party’.
CPI knew very well that the Congress would not be able to take decision on these issues.
Nehru the Socialist-thinking leader came to prominence by 1927. During 1926-27, he travelled widely in Europe. At Brussels, he had attended the Congress of Oppressed Nationalities and had actively participated in the ‘League Against Imperialism’ (LAI). Nehru also agreed to serve on the Executive Committee of the newly formed League Against Imperialism; and continued in that position until end of January 1930.
In November 1927, Nehru with his father, visited Moscow to attend the Tenth Anniversary Celebration of the Bolshevik movement. He was properly impressed with the progress made by Russia under the Soviets.
During this period, the younger elements within Congress began to veer around new ideas and the socialist ideas of Nehru which induced a new tone in the Congress way of expressing or terming its programs.
The Congress left wing made its first collective move in Madras session of INC in 1927. Nehru proposed radical resolutions. And, surprisingly they were accepted and passed by the Congress session.
The left wing within Congress differed from Gandhi on the question of Swaraj –complete freedom. They demanded the leadership to define their conception of Swaraj. Swaraj they insisted should be complete freedom and not mere dominion status.
It was in this context that the Independence for India League (ILL) was formed by the radical Nationalists led by Nehru, Bose and others. The basic objective if the IIL was to step up the demand for full-independence. It also asked for several social and labour reforms. It also said : the League aims at a socialistic , democratic state in which every person has the fullest opportunities of development and the state controls the means of production and distribution.’
By about 1928, a wave of socialist/ leftist ideas was circling around the youth in Congress. It provided a platform for young radicals, youth leagues and student organizations to express their ideas of socialism.
In the Congress session of 1928, an amendment was moved by the Congress-left in favour of complete independence, while Gandhi presented a resolution seeking Dominion Status. The amendment was introduced by Bose and supported by Nehru. The amendment secured 973 votes as against 1350 votes in favour of Gandhi‘s resolution.
Encouraged by the numbers it could muster in the 1928 session, the left wing tried to present the issue again next year in the session at Lahore. Gandhi avoided confrontation by nominating Nehru as the Congress president and accepting the demand for complete independence. At the same time, a resolution moved by Subash Bose, on behalf of the Left , calling for setting up a parallel government was rejected.
After the Lahore session, Nehru did not effectively come back to the fold of the Congress-left- wing.
By 1927, the Communist Party of India had almost come under the control of the CPGB; and its activities were directed by Philip Spratt (1902-1971), a young communist who joined the Party in Britain during his student days at Downing Collage, Cambridge. He had worked for some time in Labour Research Department. His credentials and background were unknown to the Police in India. He came to India under the guise of a Bookseller.
One of his major aims was to place communists in positions of leadership within the Congress organization. He listed the principal tasks of the new Party as: (1) obtaining representation in the National Congress Committees; (2) getting program accepted and our delegates elected by the TUC ; ( 3) and, support for textile paper. Spratt also aimed to build a united front comprising the National Congress Committee, the Swaraj Party, Trade Unions and WPP.
The increased activity among the Indian Communists during 1927 was largely due to the efforts of Philip Spratt. He brought new energy to trade union and Party work. He was able to secure funds from Europe for Party work in India. In September 1927, Spratt was joined by another member of the CPGB, Benjamin F Bradley , an engineer by training. He posed himself in India as a technical consultant to Textile companies. Now, Spratt and Bradley became the de-facto leaders of the Indian Communist Party. Under their leadership the Communist movement gathered momentum.
The tactics of the left elements grouping within Congress and the Swaraj Party in 1926, which was ‘to carry on a battle of clarification within the existing movement and organizations’ were working well. The Communists had infiltrated into INC, WPPs and the Trade Unions affiliated to Congress. It is said; of the WPP within Congress as many as sixteen were communists. And, Nehru*, had moved closer to the Communist position, successfully encouraging the Indian National Congress to affiliate to the LAI (League Against Imperialism) . Bradley became the vice president of the Railway workers Union, the Great Indian Peninsular (GIP) which took sympathetic actions during the textile.
[*Nehru’s view of socialist views was , perhaps, based on individualism. Nehru did not criticize Communism. But, he often made it clear that he accepted the Communist ideology of the society but not its methods or its political philosophy. Nehru also sharply disagreed with Communists’ evaluation of Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. He regarded the Congress as a truly democratic-revolutionary force. He was keen on influencing the Congress with his socialistic ideas; and, he did not think of cutting himself off from Congress. The Communists labelled Nehru as a ’timid reformer’.
But, when you take a historical perspective of Communist development, you find that over the years it has changed vastly. The dogmas of violent armed revolutions and dictatorship are no longer valid. The Socialist content of Nehru’s views had also not made room for such dogmas.]
With Spratt and Bradley taking over CPI, it meant Roy was effectively removed from the Indian scene. And, by about this time, his work area was shifted to China. His absence from Europe gave the CPGB a free hand in the Indian affairs.
The question of affiliation of the CPI with Comintern came up at a meeting held in Bombay on 31st May 1927; and, it was resolved: ‘The CPI looks up to the CPs of the world as well as the International for lead and guidance in the work undertaken by the party in this country’. Even at this stage there was no clear resolve to seek affiliation with Comintern. The reason for that was more likely that the communists in Bombay were anxious to avoid persecution by the police. And , Dange , around this time , on release from jail said he was an ‘Indian communist’ and not a ‘Bolshevik’.
Roy, of course, in his The Masses of India (July 1927) called the whole thing as absurd; and rebuked the Indian communists.
After the Communist Party was formed in 1925, the left wing groups which had been formed in Madras, Bengal and Bombay soon got converted into Workers and Peasants Party (WPP).
The formation of the WPP in 1928 was made possible by the co-operation of the left wing Congressmen in the Indian National Congress. The conversion of the Labour Swaraj Party of the INC in Bengal into WPP in 1928 reflected the co-operation between the emerging left wing and the Communists. This was followed by changeover of the Congress Labour Party in Bombay into WPP in 1928 and formation of WPP in UP (Meerut) , Punjab and other centres. By 1928, all these groups were brought together as an All Indian party; and , new out posts were set up in other parts of India. They began to function as left-wing within the Indian National Congress, especially in Bombay, with encouragement from Nehru. Bombay group , by the end of 1928, grew into prominence as the centre of the Communist Trade Union movement.
By about April 1928, penetration of the communists in the Congress controlled trade unions had almost been complete. They , as WPP , had not only secured a voice in airing the views of the movement but had also gained full hold of the workers in Bombay and Bengal.
During the Madras session of the Indian National Congress in 1928, the Communists within the Congress held a separate meeting to consolidate the WPPs and take control over their working. But Roy who since the Gaya Congress -1927- had been, talking about formation of WPPs, rued that the WPP was now been ‘too openly’ being identified with Communists. ‘It is publicly known’ he remarked ‘ that practically all the members of the CC of CPI are leaders of WPP’. He said ‘the cat has been needlessly left out of the bag by publishing the list of CC members.’
At the AITUC session held at Jharia in 1928, the WPPs attempting to capture AITUC set up a communist candidate D B Kulkarni (a Railway worker from Bombay) against Jawaharlal Nehru, the Congress Secretary. Nehru was elected with a narrow margin. But at the same time, at Jharia, the AITUC got affiliated to the League Against Imperialism (LAI) with which Nehru was also associated.
The Congress session at Calcutta , in December 1928, marked an almost split among the leaders who wanted dominion and leaders who wanted complete Independence. Gandhi had proposed a resolution that called for the British to grant dominion status to India within two years. Bose and Nehru objected to the time given to the British. Gandhi brokered a further compromise by reducing the time given from two years to one. Jawaharlal Nehru voted for the new resolution, while Bose told his supporters that he would not oppose the resolution, and abstained from voting himself. The WPP members violently rejected even the ‘one year ultimatum’; stormed into the session; and occupied almost the whole of Congress pavilion. They demanded immediate independence.
Ultimately the Congress Session of 1928, at Calcutta , adopted Nehru (Motilal) Report which demanded: India must be given Dominion status within a year; the Governor General would be only the constitutional head; no separate electorate; and, citizenship and fundamental rights to be clearly enunciated.
[However, all such efforts and exercises were undone after the Communists in India were asked by Comintern, during the Third Period, to severe all connections with INC, just when they were proving useful to the Communist Party.
In What came to be known as the Third Period the Communist Party during 1927-28 , asked the Communist parties in various countries to move away from the bourgeoisie nationalistic organizations , disrupt the covert bodies and unions already formed; and, to start new Communist organizations.
In regard to India, all alliances with bourgeois including the Left-wing of Indian National Congress were shunned. It was pointed out that Left-wing of the Congress was more dangerous than the Right. The ECCI observed: for some time the workers and peasants of Indian have been showing an increased class-awareness interests. And, henceforth, conditions are such that the toiling masses can become an independent political force, under the leadership of the proletariat.
That meant the end of united front with revolutionary nationalists.
The policy of nurturing Indian National Congress-Left was dropped at the very moment when its leaders were expressing publicly their commitment to socialism and even Marxism. That directive, instead of advancing the communist cause threw the movement into despair, drove the movement underground, marginalized within their respective labour movements or shattered by internal disputes workers broken spirit. ]
The WPP met in Calcutta (21-24 December 1928) to adopt the ultra-left-policy directed by the Sixth Congress of the Comintern. It met again on 27-19 December 1928 as it was hesitant to adopt the Comintern directive in toto; and did not dissolve the WPP forthwith. At its next meeting in Bombay (17-19 March 1929) the CPI resolved to re-organize the party; but, decided to keep the question of dissolving WPP in abeyance. But, soon after the conclusion of the meeting, about 31 communist leaders and number of trade union leaders were rounded up and arrested. They were charged on 30th March 1929, with conspiracy to wage war against the King Emperor. The Congress, the Socialists and the Communists all joined in huge protest marches. Bipin Chandra Pal called upon the youth to ‘enlist themselves as active members of the labour movement; to close ranks and to present a united front’.
By then Roy’s influence on Communist movement in India had sharply declined. And, by about this time, his work area was shifted to China. His absence from Europe gave the CPGB a free hand in the Indian affairs.
AS Shashi Bairathi summarizes in his Communism and Nationalism in India: A Study in Inter-relationship, 1919-1947:
Historically speaking, the Communist movement in India grew out of the national environment. It was the result of the efforts of the Indian revolutionaries and nationalists who were groping their way towards a new ideology and form of struggle following disappointment over the withdrawal of the non-cooperation movement of Gandhi in 1922… The Comintern only brought together such disillusioned youth to form an All-India Centre…
To speak, therefore, of the Communist movement in India as a foreign conspiracy is to distort the historical facts. It would also be incorrect to harp on so-called antagonism between Communism and Nationalism. And yet, in India, the Communist movement could not forge a fusion or a co-operative relationship with the nationalist movement.
[While on the question of Communist movement in India, let me be a little more candid.
The Left-wing in India had a strange and chequered career. The pioneers and early members of the Communist Party in India all started as extreme right-wing militants and nationalists. In fact, the RSS, the right wing Hindu organization and those who took to Communist ideology both originated from revolutionary nationalist outfits like Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar of Bengal preaching and practicing violence. The RSS chose its own way during 1925.
But the Communist ideology took root in India much earlier by the end of the First World War and with the exhilaration of the success of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. The disappointment with Gandhi, his ways and his sudden withdrawal of mass agitation because of a stray incident of violence, all deeply disappointed the Youth. Strangely, most of those who took to Communism after disgust with Gandhian methods had their indoctrination while they were held in British prisons.
The early Communists in India came from varied walks of life. They were a combination of diverse strands of approach, traditions and practices. While many came through the path of rebellion, terrorism and conspiracy, there were also intellectuals and theoreticians who could think and write with clarity.
The Russian Revolution made a deep impact on the youth of India during the early 1920s. The left-wing and Socialism became the idiom of the thinking of the youth. Obviously, the class-struggle, the problems of the workers and peasants became the centre of their program. The general attitude and mode of thinking was veered towards anti-imperialism, socialism and revolution.
The first birth of Communist Party of India took place outside of India in Tashkent, in what is now Uzbekistan, Central Asia, in October 1920. It had its re-birth on Indian soil in December 1925 at Cawnpore. It’s very unlikeliest founding President was Singaravelu Chettiar from deep South in the conservative Madras Presidency. Singaravelu Chettiar in his first Presidential address clearly said: “Indian Communism is not Bolshevism; for Bolshevism is a kind of Communism which the Russians have adopted in their country. We are not Russians; and we are not Bolsheviks. Bolshevism may not be needed in India… We are one with the world community; but not with Bolshevism”.
And yet, one of the major problems in the growth of the Communist party in India was too much external interference by Comintern (unlike in China) ,by the CP of Great Britain , by the Roy Groups and such others. Add to that was the question of alignment of communist groups in India to one or the other outside Agency ( to Russia or to China); and , birth of splinter groups or sects each trying to outsmart the other.
The other factor which seemed to have hurt a healthy growth of Communist Party in India was the lack of clear stand on the question of colonialism and nationalism. That question has continued to bother the Communist Party at the International level and at the national level since the Second World Congress held in 1920.
The inconsistency in the Comintern policies; its lack of clear stand on the question of colonialism and nationalism; it’s mixed approach to Indian National Congress and the Indian National movement; its sudden shift to ultra-left in 1927-28; reversal of that policy in 1934-35; and, shifting signals during the second world war, all these created much confusion within the Communist party in India. That disarray was exploited by the British, who played one against the other, and ultimately crushed all the groups along with their allied unions and organizations, ruthlessly.
A similar confused thinking was repeated when the question of nationalism again raised its hood in the wake of Chinese incursion into India during 1962. The Communists as a body politic showed itself in a poor light and split the in two (CPI and CPM). And later, a breakaway group within CPM calling itself as CPM- L (otherwise called Naxals) took to extreme violence. Each splinter group professing its own doctrine vied with the other, claiming it was the true heir to the Communist doctrine in its purest essence.
Thus, the Left wing parties could not unite. Apart from the Communists, the Left-oriented groups in India also failed to unite. The Congress Socialists and Jawaharlal Nehru generally abided by Gandhi’s leadership; Subash Bose who tried to make a synthesis of Socialism, Fascism and Nationalism was deserted by both the Socialists and Communists. And, similarly M N Roy who pioneered communist movement in India and who was intimately involved in building communist groups and guiding their policies and methods, was sidelined by communists, the socialists and the congress alike. Roy, in his isolation lost interest in traditional politics; and with the dawn of Independence, he turned into a political philosopher. The Left–wing was in total disarray during the Second World War, and hopelessly failed to influence the Indian politics.
Somehow, the Communists Parties in India could not comfortably handle the National Question. And, turn after turn it went the wrong way. The position of Communist Party in India was worsened by the incorrect turn taken by Kuusinen, Manuilsky, and Dmitrov. They overturned a correct understanding just when the United Front approach seemed to be doing fairly well.
CPM’s website also talks of the alien influences, distortions and deviations and also serious mistakes committed during the Communist History in India,
Perhaps the major tragedy of Communism in India was flittering away the great opportunity it had gained in West Bengal of bringing to practice the left-wing ideas. During the long tenure of its rule over the state, uninterruptedly stretched over twenty-five years, the Party working was marred by internal strife; and, sadly the Left Government failed to make any significant impact on the development of the State. During its rule, neither the industrial workers nor the peasants were benefitted; and sadly the Communist Party and the State of West Bengal steadily went down the drain.
The Communist Party in India however could build and control trade unions and Kisan Sabhas. But, now the Communist Party seems to be losing or has lost its influence on such bodies.]
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