During the Countdown to the Second World War

From the early 1930s, a series of aggressions and interventions — by Italy in Ethiopia, by Italy and Germany in the Spanish Republic, by Japan in China, by Germany in Austria, then Czechoslovakia and finally Poland —, slowly but steadily pushed the world to a new great war. The responsibility lay not only with the fascist aggressors and the Japanese militarists, but also with other imperialist powers which had been pursuing a policy of shameless appeasement with an eye to egg nazi Germany on to aggression against the USSR. The specific events relating to the Second World War are too well known to be recounted here, and we go over to a brief discussion of CPI’s position on war and peace and the communist movement during the 4-5 months just before the world conflagration began in early September, 1939.

Anti-war mobilisation

The CPI for a long time past had been carrying on anti-war propaganda. For instance, an article on this topic in The Communist, April 1937 observed : “… active opposition to war preparations by the masses, and the mobilisation of the masses to fight for peace is the essence of our tactics. And for us, in India, this activity, this dynamic attitude towards the question of peace, is closely united with the building up of the Anti-Imperialist UF.” Also there was a regular flow of materials expressing international anti-imperialist solidarity, particularly with China (see Text VI-32 for a June 1930 appeal: “In Aid of China”; in the 7 August, 1938 issue of National Front we find a front-pager “For Peace and Freedom” high-lighting the “resolutions passed at the Peace And Empire Conference presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru and held on 15 and 16 July 1938 in London”). When the Congress sent a medical mission on China in 1938, Dr Ranen Sen (then a CCM of CPI) was selected along with Dr Kotnis and others, but had to be replaced by Dr Bijoy Bose when Sen was denied a passport because of his revolutionary credentials. The Indian communists drew great inspiration from the Chinese struggle, as evident from items like “Strenghten UF in India — Says Mao Tse Tung” (Text VI-35), “A page from the Auto-biography of Mao Tse Tung — As told to Edger Snow” (NewAge, March 1938) and so on. That the Party had a specific “Peace Policy for India” based on a concrete assessment of the war situation even in early 1938 is to be found in P Sundarayya’s article in National Front (Text VI-34). On 30 April, 1939 the National Front came out with a front-page joint statement by JP Narayan and PC Joshi: “May Day is People’s Day”, which highlighted the slogans of “All support to the USSR” and “Solidarity with Anti-Fascist Front”. In order to counter the government’s army recruitment campaign, the communists and socialists in 1938 raised the slogan “Na ekpai, na ek bhai” (not a pie, not a man for war). Starting from Punjab, the main catchment area for the British Indian army, the slogan was spread to other parts of the country.

The communist opposition to war and to India being dragged into it was generally shared by the majority of Congress leaders. There was a broad national consensus that unlike the First World War, there must be no unconditional support this time to the British war plans. At home, however, the Congress ministries were rapidly becoming more repressive and corrupted and the CPI’s endeavour to forge a fighting unity between the Congress and workers’ and peasants’ class organisation met with success only at lower levels. Conflict between the compromising right-wing and the left wing within the national movement was growing sharper. As the editorial in New Age, May 1939 (Text pointed out, “while disruption from the right continues to be the main danger for the national front as a whole, the greatest and the specific danger of the Period within the ranks of the Left, come from the disruptive, provocative tactics of the ultra-left sectarians.” Party members were therefore called upon to concentrate attack on the pseudo-revolutionary “alternative leadership theory” while at the same time guarding against “opportunist deviation in our own ranks.” The main political thrust was laid down in the following words :

    “The fight for the hegemony of the proletariat consists in its coming out as the builder of the united front … the working class and peasant organisations must constantly come forward to initiate new campaigns, new programmes, fresh scheme to organise the Congress in the new direction, as democratic units heading and developing the struggle of the people …”

The Left Consolidation Committee

A Left Conference was held in Calcutta in February 1939, where supporters of Bose (who commanded a great majority in the BPCC) and Roy assembled together with communists and socialists. United mass programmes against imperialism, for release of political prisoners and for democratic liberties were taken up. Well known communist intellectuals like Gopal Halder and Benoy Ghosh worked in the editorial staff of Forward Block, while Subhas contributed appreciative messages/articles to the National Front. Thus Bengal was already acting as the main bastion of the united Left when, after the formation of the Forward Bloc (FB, May 3), JP Narayan and PC Joshi issued a joint call for united activity by different left forces. Explaining the CPI position, the New Age in June 1939 urged for “a common plan of action by mutual agreement … in order that disruption may not develop in the Left camp itself, it is absolutely necessary that one section does not try to gain at the expense of another, that all agreements are voluntarily and strictly adhered to, that the Parties to Left unity may maintain their independence and integrity …” (see Text VII-19). Bose insisted that the FB itself be accepted as the broad platform for the united Left, which would then evolve a programme acceptable to all but would function on the basis of majority. Naturally the communists and socialists rejected this proposal for merger into a left nationalist party. After a brief stalemate, the Left Consolidation Committee (LCC) was formed in June as a confederative body uniting the CPI, CSP, FB, Royists and the Kisan Sabha and functioning on the basis of unanimity. The Committee included Bose, JP Narayan, PC Joshi, Roy, Swami Sahajanand (representing the Kisan Sabha), NG Ranga and others, with Bose as convenor.

This welcome step was, however, taken at too critical a juncture in national politics (which demanded bold and specific political action on the part of the united Left) and with-too little political understanding among the constituents (which made such united action immensely difficult). The result was that fissures developed in the LCC as soon as it took the first major political offensive against the compromising tendency in the National movement. The occasion was provided by two AICC resolutions passed in late June — one prohibiting Congressmen to offer satyagrahas without prior approval of the PCC concerned, while the other one made the Congress ministries independent of the PCCs. The LCC unanimously decided to observe July 9 as a day of national protest against these resolutions. The Congress president Rajendra Prasad threatened disciplinary action against any such step. The demonstrations did take place, but Roy backed Out at the eleventh hour. So did the four CSP leaders (Masani, Lohia, Mehta and Patwardhan) who resigned from the CSP executive in protest against the official line of uniting with the communists and working inside the LCC. These leaders and Roy was severly criticised by the CPI, but soon the CSP as a whole came out of the LCC. Bose was suspended from primary membership of the Congress for the July 9 demonstrations and BPCC, of which he was the president, was replaced by an ad-hoc body. The CPI disapproved of Bose’s headlong clash with the Congress high command and began to take a lukewarm attitude to the LCC. Towards the end of 1939 they abandoned it and the curtain came down on the first experimental institutionalisation of Left unity.

But the CPI had by itself already won recognition as the most advanced — small yet growing — contingent within the national mainstream. While expanding its base among workers and peasants and maintaining the ideological-organisational independence, it moved forward with a very broad political vision:

    “The major class division is between Imperialism on the one hand and the Indian people on the other, the greatest class struggle today is our national struggle, the main organ of our struggle is the National Congress.”

(General secretary PC Joshi in April 1939, see Text IV B-7)