Documents on Party Line

As we have seen, the CPI during 1929-34 refused even to try to unite with the Congress as a conditional and probably temporary mass ally against the main enemy, thus deviating from a basic tactical principle of Leninism. But the most peculiar feature of the Party line was that fire was concentrated against the relatively left elements within the Congress although the known rightists were not spared. The logic was that while essentially and at all critical junctures subscribing to Gandhian policies and decisions, they with their left phrases and gestures only served to arrest and reverse the process of popular disillusionment with the Congress, thus hindering a left polarisation in the freedom struggle under communist leadership. As the impotent role of Nehru and Bose at the crucial Karachi Congress revealed, this contained — in the ultimate analysis — an element of truth. But what is true in the ultimate analysis does not always deliver as an immediate slogan, for the masses have to be led up to it through intermediate stages in the development of their consciousness on the basis of their own direct experience. This was what the young communists either did not understand or lacked the perseverance to practice. They behaved as though what was obvious to them can be rendered obvious to the masses with a little reasoning and a sharp language. In real life, this happened only in the cases of few advanced elements; the rest was carried away by the Congress propaganda that communists were opposed to the foremost leaders of the national movement and therefore to the movement itself.

Can we identify an international source of this theoretical and political blunder? Yes, we can. Soon after the sixth congress, a further shift to the ‘left’ became quite clear in the Comintern press — both in respect of advanced capitalist countries and the colonies. A counter-productive line of only struggle and no unity was adopted, in the former case, against social-democrats for their conciliatory role vis-a-vis the main enemy, fascism; in the latter, against the “national reformists” for their compromises with imperialism. Within the national reformists, again, the ‘leff elements (who were sometimes regarded as representing petty bourgeois political groups — such as Wang Chang-Wei in China and J Nehru in India) were believed to be the most dangerous because they served to hide the real face of appeasement and subverted the workers’ and peasants’ movements by working on these fronts. A good number of authoritative articles by P Schubin, D Manuilsky, Lozovsky and others drove home the point again and again with particular reference to India. Then at the tenth plenum of ECCI held in July 1929 this policy was formally affirmed:

    “… At the present time a powerful revolutionary movement is developing in India. … The undisguised betrayal of the cause of national independence by the Indian bourgeoisie (the resolution passed by the Swarajist Indian National Congress in favour of Dominion Status), and their active support of the bloody suppression of the workers on strike, expose the counter-revolutionary character of the Indian bourgeoisie. This signifies that the independence of India, the improvement of the conditions of the working class, and the solution of the agrarian problem, can be achieved only by means of the revolutionary struggle of the workers and peasants led by the proletariat in the struggle against British imperialism, the Indian feudal rulers, and Indian national capital. …”[1]

This inclusion of national capital as a whole at par with imperialism and feudalism, among the targets of national democratic revolution in a colonial countries was clearly non-Marxist. And since the Congress leadership was correctly identified with the Indian capitalist class, it was only normal that the CPI, “a section of the CI”, would treat Gandhi, Nehru and Subhas almost at par with the British crown! But we are concerned not so much with the mistakes of the CI as with the evolution of the Party line in India during this period. We shall therefore discuss here only the more important Indian and international documents related specifically and directly to this.

One of the important communist documents to appear shortly after the Meerut arrests was OV Kuusinen’s “The Indian Revolution and Gandhi’s Manoeuvre”, published in Inprecor, 29 March, 1930 (pp 241-42). It begins with a more or less convincing criticism of Gandhi’s insistence on “absolute non-violence” and his “national reformist manoeuvre” (the 11-point ultimaUim to the Viceroy). For the CPI, the question is not violence or non-violence, but “victory or defeat” and against the mounting imperialist violence victory can be achieved only through a revolution. With this end in view, “the mass forces of workers and peasants” must be immediately organised and “all mass actions, all great collisions which are taking place” must be utilised in order to “extend and strengthen the revolutionary mass organisations in town and country”. The highly commendable “Girni Kamgar” experience must be emulated in other places and on all fronts. “Revolutionary workers’ demonstrations with independent class slogans” are to be organised. Workers should be sent to villages to organise campaigns for “non-payment of taxes and rents” and to form “peasant committees”. “The striking railways workers” should prepare for the “political general strike”. Generally speaking, the CPI’s basic attitude “can only be: determined fight against the National Congress. This does not exclude but presupposes the utilisation of even the sham fights of the Indian bourgeoisie, the utilisation of its narrowly restricted conflict with the British imperialism by the CP for the purpose of mobilising the broad toiling sections. …” (emphasis ours).

Note :

1. See The Communist International 1919-43 Documents, Vol. Ill op.clt p 45, Emphasis added.

In this popular presentation of the Sixth Congress line, we find the special class tasks of the communist party clearly formulated in the context of the high tide of mass movements that started in the spring of 1930. What was more important, the emphasised words sounded an warning against isolation from the national struggle — an warning that was not heeded, as we shall just see, in framing the most important document of the period : The Draft Platform of Action of the CPI.

The above document (see Text VII-2) first appeared in Inprecor, 18 December 1930 and then distributed at the Karachi session of INC in March 1931. Given the shattered, leaderless state of the Party organisation, it can be safely assumed that it was drafted by leaders of some other party or parties conversant with the Indian situation. However, it was issued in the name of the CPI, which forwarded the Indian edition with an appeal to “all CPs of Europe, America and Africa” for reprinting the draft “in all working class papers” so as to mobilise criticisms and suggestions of all concerned before working out a final version.

So far as political line is concerned the main points of the document reads like this.

    1. British rule “is the basis of the backwardness, poverty and endless suffering of our people” and so its “violent destruction” becomes the very first task. But the Congress follows “a consistent policy of compromise with British imperialism at the expense of the people. …” The latter, however, “still harbour illusions about the National Congress”, the anti-people, bourgeois character of which must, therefore, be exposed by all possible means.

    2. Mounting a most ruthless political attack on the Congress (e.g., that Gandhi’s 11 points “represented the moderate programme of the chambers of commerce”) the document states that the Congress “and particularly its left wing have done and are doing all in their power to restrain the struggle of the masses within the framework of the British imperialist constitution and legislation.” In fact, “The most harmful and dangerous obstacle to the victory of the Indian revolution is the agitation carried on by the ‘left’ elements of the National Congress led by Nehru, Bose and Ginwala and others.” Therefore, “The exposure of the ‘left’ Congress leaders, who may again undertake to set up a new party or organisation like the former League of Independence in order once again to bamboozle the mass of workers, is the primary task of our party. Ruthless war on the ‘left’ national reformists is an essential condition if we are to isolate the latter from the workers and mass of the peasantry.”

    3. On the TU front, “all efforts must be made to expel and isolate reformists of all shades, from the open agents of British capitalism such as Joshi, Chamanlal, Giri, etc. to sham ‘left’ national reformists such as Bose, Ruikar, Ginwala and other agents of the Indian bourgeoisie, who constitute a reactionary bloc for joint struggle against the revolutionary wing of the trade union movement.”

    4. “While the national revolutionary groups are fighting for bourgeois rule and a bourgeois-democratic form of government, the CPI is fighting for the dictatorship of the working class and peasantry, a workers’ and peasants’ soviet government of India.

Compared to Kuusinen’s article published some eight months back, the further drift to the left is easily noticeable. The concept of at least utilising the Congress-led movements is withdrawn. The task of exposing the basic class character and compromising nature of the Congress is correctly placed, but no proper method of doing that is suggested. This omission, together with the absence of a rousing call to join the mainstream of freedom movement, led to a passive position of totally negative criticism against the admittedly still very poplar INC. Spearheading the attack against the relatively ‘left’ Congressmen — whatever logic the CPI might have for it — only alienated the left-minded people within and outside the Congress, for the CPI could produce no strong evidence to show that the former were betrayers to the nation. This grossly immature method of conducting political struggle against a powerful political contender had to prove counter-productive — and it did so — as far as winning over the masses was concerned. It elicited hardly any positive response when distributed at the Karachi Congress although disillusionment with the Congress leadership was spreading and the situation was quite favourable for a popular shift to the CPI.

The Platform, of course, has its plus points. The warm appeal of proletarian internationalism — so very rare today — comes as a source of inspiration. It presents a very comprehensive charter of immediate as well as long-term demands and issues — both for the people in general and for particular classes and sections. But all these are so badly mixed up that there is hardly an order of priority and this renders the documents rather ineffective as a platform of action. The basic nature of the Indian revolution is defined with scientific precision (“an agrarian revolution against British capitalism and landlordism”), but the soviet form of government is rather mechanically copied without due regard to the peculiarities of India.[2] Overall, the Draft Platform of Action actually pushed the CPI to a position of inaction in the foremost battle of the day — the general anti-imperialist upsurge — though it did not specifically ban communist participation in the national movement and though a good many communists individually took part in it out of natural patriotic instinct.

This does not, of course, mean that there was absolutely no struggles against the prevailing harmful tendency. For instance, the “Open Letter” of the CPs of China, Great Britain and Germany to the Indian communists quotes from a June 1930 document[3] of the Bombay organisation which says:

    “We came in Bombay to a position when we actually withdrew from the struggle and left its field entirely to the National Congress. We limited our role to a role of a small group who sit aside and issue once in a while … leaflets. The result was one which could have been expected, that in the minds of the workers there grew an opinion that we are doing nothing and that the Congress is the only organisation which is carrying on the fight against imperialism and therefore the workers began to follow the lead of the Congress. …”

In all likelihood there were others in the Party who sensed the harm being done by the sectarian policy. But such realisations at lower levels or scattered individual exceptions could not and did not change the Party line, the more so because there was not even a semblance of Party system or Party forums.

The CPI’s isolationist position was called in question for the first time in May 1932 by an Open Letter addressed to it by the Communist parties of China, Great Britain and Germany (Text VII-3).

Notes :

2. It is interesting to recall that the General Statement issued by 18 Meerut prisoners at about this time clearly stated that “the formation of Soviets is not the immediate task in India” but a long-term perspective. Also its (the Statement’s) portrayal of the Indian bourgeoisie was more dialectical, though not flawless (See Text VI-25). While accepting that the capitalist class in India was prone to compromises and in the long run even counter-revolutionary, the Meerut prisoners did not agree that it had completely gone over to imperialism.

3. Unfortunately we have not been able to trace the original document from which the “Open Letter” quotes. However, a clue is available from the following. According to Horace Williamson, Director of the intelligence Bureau from April 1931, the open letter was issued not arbitrarily or spontaneously, but in response to persistent requests from the leaders of CPI then in jail. He mentions a “memorandum” intercepted by the IB in early 1933, which referred to two reports sent by Meerut prisoners in 1931 and 1932 to the international authorities via visitors in India. From the memorandum, Williamson gathers that the two reports “contained a lengthy analysis of the causes of the Party’s downfall and instructions for reorganisation on an all-India basis” as well as a number of proposals “for the rehabilitation of the Party”. The CI was urged to issue an “open letter” to CPI pointing out its mistakes, particularly those of factionalism in the nominal Party centre at Bombay, mutual isolation of the existing Party groups etc. These recommendations we shall discuss under the next sub-heading; but the pertinent question that comes first is : are we to believe Williamson ? We could not trace the original copies of these documents, and we know that like all IB reports, Williamson’s book India and Communism contains ,so many distortions, slanders and lies. But in this particular case he does not appear to have a motive to concoct the memorandum or the reports. The whole thrust of British policy was to project the Indian communists as blind followers or agents of Moscow, always awaiting the latter’s instructions for mischief-making; so there is no reason why Williamson should concoct documents to project some sort of independent thinking on the part of Meerut prisoners. Besides, the details given by him (see pp 176-79 of his book, op. cit.) are rather convincing. Finally, it is known from other sources that comrades in Meerut jail did have many differences on political and organisational questions, so there is nothing abnormal about such reports from veteran leaders. Taking these factors into account, we tend to believe Williamson provisionally, i.e., till something definite is established on this question.

It is possible that the June 1930 document referred to in the “Open Letter” was also sent to the Cl by some Meerut prisoners belonging to the Bombay organisation.

The Open Letter did not question the ultra-left line and practice and even greeted the communist-sponsored 31 July split in AITUC as a positive development, but argued against the “… self-isolation of communists from the anti-imperialist mass struggle as a movement alleged to be purely a Congress movement”. It endorsed the “struggle against ‘left’ national reformism”, but pointed out:

    “… A distinction must be made between the bourgeois Congress leadership and those sections of the workers, peasants and revolutionary elements of the town petty bourgeoisie who, not understanding the treacherous character of the National Congress, followed it, correctly seeing in the domination of British imperialism the basis of their slavery.” And further:

    “if the existence of ‘United National Front’ illusions played its part in maintaining the influence of the National Congress, the self-isolation of the Communists objectively assisted the reformists and retarded the process of the breaking away of the workers from the bourgeois National Congress.” And therefore, “… It is necessary to participate in all mass demonstrations organised by the Congress, coming forward with our own communist slogans and agitations; support all the revolutionary student demonstrations, be at the forefront in the clashes with the police, protesting against all political arrests etc., constantly criticising the Congress leaders, especially the ‘left’ and calling on the masses for higher forms of struggle…”

Continuing in the same vein, the Open Letter also critised sectarianism in TU work and aloofness from workers’ daily struggles (for details see Part VI).

All these fine advice, however, were destined to be ineffective because the theoretical-political premise of isolationism, i.e., the basic position of the Draft Platform of Action of the CPI was not challenged but categorically endorsed (this was, again, quite natural as long as the post-Sixth-Congress sectarianism prevailed in the Comintern). For the same reason, i.e., in the absence of a correct tactical line, the other strong plea contained in the Open Letter — that for “an all-India illegal centralised CP” — did not help much either. A number of other valid points of criticism (e.g., against the neglect of struggle for workers’ economic interests and other everyday problems) also failed to cut much ice.

The main points of the three-party Open Letter were summed up and elaborated in an article published in the Communist International, February and March 1933. However, it took a crucial step ahead when it criticised the Indian communists for allowing the splits in AITUC.

At about the same time (early 1933) the Calcutta group or Calcutta Committee published a document entitled The Indian Revolution and Our Tasks (Text VII-4). It broadly accepted the points of criticism contained in the Open Letter and carried signs of some fresh thinking. The invective against the ‘left’ Congressmen continued; but its warm invitation to “dear terrorist friends” to join the communist movement which “is not … a thing imported from Russia” but is “adapted to the requirements of the Indian people and the process of evolution of Indian society” and its lucid and convincing presentation of the stages and tasks of Indian revolution indicated the start of a break with ;left’ phrasemongering.

Shortly afterwards, i.e., in July 1933 came the second open letter — this time from the CPC only (Text VII-5). On the TU front the letter said:

    “It seems to us that the absence of a Communist Party explains the fact that the process of separating out of the revolutionary wing of the proletariat in 1929-32 from national reformism took the form of splitting the trade unions. … Such a sectarian policy has only strengthened the position of the bourgeoisie and their agents. …” While carrying on consistent struggle against national-reformism including its various ‘left’ variants represented by Subhas Bose and Nehru on the one hand and Roy-Kandalkar and Co. on the other, it was therefore necessary to go in for “agreements with the national-reformists in the trade unions, … or even the unity of the Red and national reformist trade unions in places where the latter have the masses with them. …” Moreover, “it is necessary to begin serious work in the reformist trade unions and every kind of mass reformist organizations …”

But this was not all. In a very cautious and non-committal way, the UF approach intruded into the then forbidden realm of general tactical line as well. Drawing attention to the success of the tactic of UF with the national bourgeoisies in China, the Open Letter prescribed the following task in the Indian context : “… to call for united front of workers, peasants, students and urban poor, and to begin to form it in the struggle against the Constitution[4], appealing to the rank and file adherents of the Congress to support the struggle of workers and peasants …” (emphasis ours).

The fight against isolationism, which had to be slow and halfhearted because it took place within the confines of the Draft platform of Action, continued in 1934. A new Draft Political Thesis (or Theses) was drawn up by the newly-formed Provisional Central Committee (PCC) of CPI and published in the first issue of The Communist, organ of the PCC (January 1934), with an abridged version also appearing in the July 20 issue of lnprecor. While basically keeping within the theoretical bounds of the Draft Platform, it marked a notable advance in developing the Party line. The theses pointed out that the mistake of viewing the Indian bourgeoisie simply as an ally of imperialism, and the consequent underestimation of the influence of its political party (the INC) over the masses, had cost the CPI very dear. “It is a fact”, the theses frankly admitted, “that during the CD movement of 1930-31 the Communists did not realise the full significance of the movement and objectively isolated themselves from the struggle of the masses. …” It was therefore necessary, while relentlessly exposing the national reformists in general and their ‘left’ elements in particular, to utilise the Congress platform and other mass organisations in a planned way (See Text VII-6).

Originating from Bombay, however, the Draft Theses was not equally appreciated in all places. Thus when the Calcutta Committee brought out the first issue of its organ The Communist Bulletin in July 1934, it republished the older Draft Platform of 1930 and ignored the latest Party document, i.e., the Draft Theses. The very next month the same committee approvingly reprinted an Inprecor article by one V Basak,[5] but again not the Draft Theses.

Despite these regional disparities, a lively — though not at all systematically organised — discussion on tactical line was thus developing throughout the Party. The Indian communists were slowly over-coming the sectarian errors both on the basis of their own experience and with comradely help from other communist parties. The process would, however, come to fruition only in the coming year — after the 180° turn in the Comintern line at its Seventh World Congress.

Notes :

4. The reference is to the constitution embodied, first, in the Simon Commission Report of 1930, then in the “White Paper” issued by the British Government in 1933 and finally given the shape of the Government of India Act of 1935.

5. The article, entitled A Few Remarks on the Indian Communist Movement (Inprecor, June 1,1934, pp 345-49), observed : “in the course of mass actions (strikes, for example), it is permissible to raise the question of uniting some of our parallel TUs and the reformist TUs into joint TUs, under the condition that this unification shall take place from below, that the election to the management committee shall be made by the workers — delegates from the mills — and that the advanced workers shall have the right to bring forward before the workers their proposals and defend them.” The article also proposed that the CPI should, through its revolutionary trade unions, from joint action committees comprising delegates from peasant, youth etc. organisations and also — mark it — Congress rank and file and that such committees should take the initiative in developing a mass protest movement against the draft constitution and may be on other issues. In other words concrete steps were to be taken to acquire the leadership of the anti-imperialist movement and for this purpose the communist-sponsored anti-imperialist league should stop being “a replica of a Communist Party” and become “a broad mass organization”. The reprint of the article in the organ of the Calcutta Committee was accom­panied by an editorial note : “The article is a sort of self-criticism of our Party comrades in Bengal. I hope that it will help to correct our comrades as regards the defects pointed out in the article.”