Evolution of Marxist-Leninist Thought on Revolution in the East

India was certainly not alone in awakening to a protracted anti-imperialist struggle. Other peoples in the colonies and semi-colonies — popularly described at the time as “the East”, much in the same way as we now use the generic term “third world” — were bestirring themselves and the founders of scientific socialism were closely observing these from their internationalist standpoint. Thus in 1853 Marx wrote that “the next uprising of the people of Europe … may depend more probably on what is now passing in the Celestial empire [the Taiping rebellion in China — Ed.] than on any other cause that exists …”. With great revolutionary optimism he added : “as the greater part of the regular commercial circle has already been run through by British trade, it may safely be argued that the Chinese revolution will throw the spark into the overloaded mine of the long-prepared general crisis, which, spreading abroad, will be closely followed by political revolutions in the Continent. …”[1]

Marx wrote these lines in his article “Revolution in China and in Europe”, published in the New York Daily Tribune. Similar views were expressed also by Engels in his “Persia and China”, an article he wrote in May 1857 for the same magazine, where he foresaw “the death struggle of the oldest empire in the world [meaning China — Ed.], and the opening day of a new era for all Asia.”[2]

The trend of analysis notable in these early writings took a clearer shape in 1867. In a letter to Engels, Marx expressly accorded priority to revolutionary action in a colony (Ireland) over the metropolitan country (England).

The “colonial question” used to be discussed in the Second international also. Lenin’s first important write-up on the question happens to be an article of November 1907, where he summed up the debates on this score in the Stuttgart Congress, which he had just attended. Next year he wrote the well-known article “Inflammable Material in World Politics”. Here he saw, in a series of recent developments (Japan’s victory over Tsarist Russia and the Russian revolution of 1905 and the revolutions in Persia and Turkey), the welcome signs of a forthcoming uprising of the oppressed people throughout the world. Then in his 1912 article “Democracy and Populism in China”, he referred to the example of Sun-Yat-Sen to draw attention to the revolutionary bourgeoisie of China, whose “main social support” was “the peasantry”, and differentiated it from the treacherous “liberal bourgeoisie” represented by men like Yuan Shi-Kai. Finally in “Backward Europe and Advanced Asia” (1913) he further developed and generalised the above ideas on a world scale.

During the First World War, Lenin wrote a series of articles liking the socialist revolution in the West with liberation movements in colonies and semi-colonies and stressing the latter’s importance for the success of the former. The question, however continued to be debated. Rosa Luxemburg, for example, declared in 1916 that in the “historic milieu of modern imperialism … wars of national self-defence are today no longer possible …” To this Lenin replied that “National wars against the imperialist powers are not only possible and probable; they are inevitable, progressive and revolutionary …” (See Lenin’s “The Junius Pamphlet”, Collected Works, Vol. 22, pp 305-19). Finally, in his great treatise Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1917), he presented a comprehensive historical analysis of the cardinal fact of our epoch. He showed that it was imperialist super-profits extracted from the colonies which enabled the Western bourgeoisie to bribe and corrupt important sections of the proletariat in their own countries into opportunism and social-chauvinism. The destruction of the colonial system thus became vital for successful socialist revolution in the West. That, however, was also the goal of the national liberation struggles, which thus constituted an integral part of the overall struggle of the world proletariat for its liberation. This holistic vision, as we shall see later, informed the general line of world communism in the decades to come. The Leninist line was briefly summed up by Stalin in his 1918 article entitled “Do not Forget the East”.

To take note of the continuity and development of these ideas in response to developments in the world situation is important for the purposes of this book. It shows that, simultaneously as India was proceeding towards a higher mass phase of freedom struggle and the first phase of organised working class movement, the theoretical arsenal for leading both these movements to victory was also being developed by the Leninist leadership of international proletariat. How during the 1920s these two protracted processes — one on the soil of India and the other in the arena of international class struggle — were forged together by the Bolshevik revolution into the communist movement of India, thereby adding a new dimension to the freedom struggle itself — this will be studied in Part II of this volume.


1. Cited in Marxism And Asia by Helene Carrere d’Encausse and Stuart R Schram; Alien Lane, The Penguin Press; (1969), pp 119-20.

2. See On Colonialism — A collection of writings of Marx and Engels, FLPH, (Moscow), p 125.