From Fragmentation to Reorganisation

“The building of a centralised, disciplined, united, mass, underground communist party is today the chief and basic task long ago overdue” — declared the Draft Platform of Action in December 1930. Even the rudiments of all-India party system had been effectively crushed by the Meerut blow and the scattered groups in the provinces of Bombay, Bengal, Punjab, the Central Provinces etc. were working according to their different perceptions in almost total isolation from one another. The three-party open letter to the CPI issued in May 1932 (Text VII-3) gave a correct portrayal of the state of affairs : “Instead of a struggle for a united all-Indian Communist Party, we find localism, provincialism, self-isolation from the masses, etc., which though it could be understood in 1930, now represents the main danger to the revolutionary proletarian movement.” Particularly disturbing was the factional fight in the Bombay organisation between the groups led by SV Deshpande and BT Randive (in early 1932 the latter formed the “Bolshevik Party of India” and sought the recognition of the CI, but in vain). Expressing the same anxiety, the open letter from the CPC (Text VII-5), issued a year later, called for “the Bolshevisation of your ranks”. It drew attention to the necessity of “struggle on two fronts” (i.e., against right opportunism and ‘left’ sectarianism) and added : “You must struggle against petty-bourgeois individualism, self-centred pride; you must struggle against those who deny the necessity or oppose the formation of an underground all-Indian Communist Party, who neglect to use legal possibilities, who occupy a tailist position, who draw the Communists away from the democratic movements and the anti-imperialist struggle”. This clear enunciation of the political basis of reorganisation and consolidation of the Party greatly helped the movement in India.[1]

This does not mean, of course, that comrades in India were just listeners. If Horace Williamson is to be believed[2], the Meerut prisoners hi 1931-32 had put forward a set of most valuable suggestions to the international leadership for reorganising and revamping the Party ideologically, politically and organisationally. The more important of organisatinal recommendations were:

  • “A provisional central committee should be set up forthwith, composed of four elected representatives each from Bombay and Bengal, two from the Central Provinces and possibly one or two from the Punjab.” The committee should adopt “a suitable constitution”, elect a secretariat and take steps to establish necessary inter-provincial contacts etc.
  • In place of using the P & T services, a secret courier system should be established through Party supporters among railwaymen.
  • “… the immediate publication of vernacular weekly papers in various centres, the free distribution of weekly or fortnightly news-sheets in large numbers, and the circulation of ‘international material’ through the medium of an English monthly” to help provincial leaders and “also to attract intellectuals.”
  • “… a substantial number of young men, about thirty to begin with, should be sent forthwith to Moscow for training …”
  • The CI should immediately issue an “open letter” to the CPI analysing its mistakes.
  • Two representatives of the CI should be sent to India — preferably British citizens who were immune to the Foreigners Act. The emissaries “should not work wholly underground, as previous representatives had done, but more or less openly and as far as possible within the law. They could, for instance, associate openly with trades-unionist and political movements of all complexions on the pretext of studying them. … Past experience had shown that the usefulness of comrades who remained strictly underground was seriously reduced.”

Notes :

1. The CI also helped the work of Party building by sending comrades Amir Hyder Khan, HG Lynd and a few others and through a “Indian Secretariat” set up in Berlin with Clemens Palme Dutt and Virendranath Chattopadhyaya. But in a show of one-sidedness characteristic of this period, the CI negated the entire history of CPI before the 1930s. Thus Valia, a leading commentator on India, wrote in February 1933: “The revolutionary groups, which came out in defence of Communism and considered themselves Communists, in reality remained part of the National Congress to the end of 1929. … [They] energetically participated in the independence movement, and had great influence, but by their policy, they in reality, almost amalgamated with the “left” national reformists, and did not appear before the working masses as an independent class force. As the result, there was no Communist Party.” The blame lay squarely on “the renegades, Roy and Co.”, who strove for “the formation of a national revolutionary (!) Party (the reference is obviously to the WPP — Ed.) and the replacement of the Communist Party by it. …” It was only in 1930, notes Valia, that the “Communist groups took definite form. A break was made with “left” national reformism. A severe struggle commenced. …” (“The Development of the Communist Movement in India”, The Communist International, February 1, 1933, pp 81-82) The theme is repeated in many other authoritative writings of this period.

2. See p 135-36. The following quotes are from Williamson’s book India and Communism, op. cit, pp 177-79.

The requested open letter came soon, but in the form of a letter issued by three parties; this was followed by another one from the CPC. In the meantime, the Calcutta Committee of CPI issued in March 1933 a fervent call: “The CC of the CPI has been split up with quarrels on account of its own faults and weaknesses. Let us close that sad chapter in the history of the CPI and reform with new vigour and earnestness a strong and really representative Central Committee of the CPI, let us bring out a Central organ of the CPI, let us infuse fresh blood into the party …” (Text VII-4). Thus it was within India, and not in Moscow, that the ground was being prepared for party reorganisation — both at the conceptual level from above and, as the following account would show, in the heat of class struggle from below.

The most painstaking work was being carried out by young communist cadres on the labour front in and around Bombay, Calcutta, Kanpur and many other centres. TU work was closely linked up with Party building and scores of legal and semi-legal magazines — mostly in the vernaculars but a few also in English — were brought out for revolutionary propaganda among workers, students and youths. Byway of example, let us briefly examine the diverse work base from which the CPI re-emerged in and around Calcutta in the early thirties to become the main centre of Party reorganisation.

  • More than ten broadly communist or socialist groups, each with its own magazine, worked on the TU front and conducted study circles among workers, such as : the Labour Party (later Bolshevik Party) with New Front (later Labour Front) as its paper; the Karkhana (meaning Factory) group named after its organ; the Sarbahara (meaning proletariat) group, named after its paper; the Gananayak (People’s hero) group, also known as “Indian Proletarian Revolutionary Party”, active in the districts of Hooghly and Burdwan (not far away from Calcutta); the Samyaraj Party (Communist Regime Party) active in Calcutta as well as Dhaka; the Chandannagore group connected with Lal Nishan (Red Flag) magazine; Saumendranath Tagore’s group which later became the RCPI; Moni Singh’s “Young Comrades League” and so on.
  • Renowned communist leaders who started political work in this region and during this period include : MA Farooqui, Somenath Lahiri, Ranen Sen, Moni Singh, Muhammad Ismail, Genda Singh, Bhowani Sen etc.
  • Abdul Halim, who had started work earlier, organised the Calcutta Committee of the CPI in early 1931. This committee established contacts with most other communist groups or circles in Bengal and for some time acted as the provincial committee of Bengal. By early 1935, district committees/organising committees came up in Howrah, Hooghly, Burdwan, Midnapore and the far away district of Jessore. In the last three districts there was good work among the peasants.
  • In 1932, the “Workers’ Party of India” was floated by the Calcutta comrades to work as the Party’s open front and recruitment system. The experiment was however short lived.[3]
  • Work among students was going on simultaneously. There were a number of papers like Chhatra Dal (Students Group) and Chhatra (The Student). Many students actively joined forces with the working class movement and the Communist Student League was established in 1932.

On the basis of this organising work at the grassroots and the conceptual developments noted earlier, the actual process of reorganisation on an all-India basis started from August 1933 when Meerut prisoners began to be released. Dr. Gangadhar Adhikari was the first to come out. He spent some time in the Bombay organisation and then proceeded to Calcutta in November. The Calcutta Committee, which had already started publishing The Communist as its organ, shouldered the responsibility of secretly organising a meeting in December 1933. The participants included, inter alia, Halim, Lahiri and Sen from Bengal, Adhikari himself and SG Patkar from Bombay, PC Joshi from UP, Gurdit Singh from Punjab and ML Jaywant from Nagpur. The meeting was held for almost five days in four different places within Calcutta to avoid police harassment.

The principal outcome of the meeting was “the nucleus of the Provisional Central Committee of the CPI”. The expression “nucleus” was used to signify that the full PCC would come into being only after co-opting several other comrades from various provinces and a few of the Meerut prisoners due to be released shortly; however the word was not generally used in public.

Dr. Adhikari was the natural choice for the post of general secretary because his theoretical calibre had become known while in prison (and would be reaffirmed soon). It was decided that a new political thesis and new statutes or constitution should be drafted; contact should be established with other provincial groups; factional quarrels in Bombay and elsewhere must be resolved; and a more representative all-India conference was to be held around March 1934 to elect a regular central committee.

Note :

3. During this period, the Comintern approved the formation of legal labour parties at local levels on the following conditions — that an illegal communist organisation existed capable of organised revolutionary activity in such a party, that it did not take the place of a communist party, that it had a class programme, that it did not divert the workers from revolutionary to reformist activities. Clearly, the emphasis was on continuing the advantages of WPPs while steering clear of its negative tendencies.

Early next year the new Draft Political Theses (Text VII-6) and the Statutes of the CPI (Text III-14), authored mainly by Dr. G Adhikari with the help of Somenath Lahiri and others, were published and circulated among all provincial organisations. About the former we have discussed earlier; the latter is remarkable for its comprehensiveness blended with precision. Rules regarding such details as extraordinary congresses, “auditing commission” etc. are very carefully formulated. Most interestingly, a number of provisions reflect the experience and need of strictly underground existence — such as separating “special work” (presumably link systems, work among enemy ranks etc.) from “general work”, appointing CCMs and PCMs (Provincial Committee Members) as “manager of technical apparatus and organiser of distribution of literature” and as “head of the special apparatus” at all-India and provincial levels respectively, and so on. At the same time, Party education is taken care of, with a special department devoted to this task at all-India and provincial levels. Reflecting the real situation and trend of the period, collective or group admission is also allowed in certain cases after careful scrutiny (see Art. 4 and the note to Art. 36). In short, this was an excellent document, many of the basic provisions of which are upheld to this day by all the three stream of communist movement in India.

The two companion documents (Political Thesis and Statutes) having thus laid down the political-organisational basis for reorganisation, 1934 saw the Party emerge from years of stagnation and decay.[4] Already at the fag end of 1933 the PCC was strengthened by the inclusion of KN Joglekar, SS Mirajkar and SV Ghate on their release from prison, and from January The Communist, the organ of the Calcutta Committee, began to appear as the central organ. The very first issue declared its resolve to “act as an ideological guide to the numerous party groups scattered throughout the country”; to “invite and promote healthy discussion on certain points on which perfect ideological unity has not been achieved; and thus prepare for the “convention” to elect a properly constituted CC”. An appeal was held out to “all communist groups which have come inside the Party after the first session of the Provisional CC and other groups which are still outside, to make their contributions and criticisms of” the draft political thesis and join forces with the CPI. Throughout 1934 the progress in Party work continued in different provinces despite the ban on the Party declared in July and the re-arrest of many leaders and cadres including G Adhikari (whereupon Ghate and then Mirajkar became the general secretary). Thus in July itself the reorganised Bombay Provincial Committee called upon all worjcers, then engaged in a hard battle against a renewed capitalist onslaught, to “Unite Under the Banner of the Communist Party” (Text III-16). The same month the Calcutta Committee began republishing its organ as The Communist Bulletin (re-named The Communist Review from August). In Text III-15 we reproduce excerpts from the editorial of its first issue. At the end of the year the PCC met again in Bombay taking advantage, as they often did, of the Congress session and worked out plans for a year that would mark — though they did not know it at the moment — a great turning-point in the Party’s history.

Note :

4. This took place in the midst of a notable resurgence in the working class movement, as we shall see in Part VI.