Initiatives in the Soviet Union

The chronology of events relating to the emergence of an Indian communist group in the Soviet Union is as follows.

1. Mahendra Pratap[1], arrived in Tashkent in February 1918, followed by Barkatullah in March 1919 who came as a special envoy of Emir Amanullah of Afghanistan though personally more interested in the freedom of India. These left-wing nationalists became and remained good friends — though not members — of the “CPI” when it was formed. On May 7,1919, they along with a few others including MPBT Acharya and Abdul Rub met Lenin. Acharya — earlier a follower of Savarkar and colleague of Chattopadhyaya — became one of the founder members of the Tashkent CPI.

2. In January-April 1920, nine radical nationalists arrived in Tashkent and seven of them including Mohammad Ali, Mohammad Shafiq (these two were on a mission of the “Provisional Government”), Abdul Majid and Abdul Fazil were constituted into an “Indian Communists Section” of the Sovinter-prop[2] on April 17,1920. This Section produced propaganda materials like “What Soviet Power Is Like” (pamphlet), “Bolshevism and the Islamic Nations” (a pamphlet by Barkatullah), “To the Indian Brothers” (appeal), and the Urdu magazine Zamindar, the first and only issue of which appeared in May 1920 on the initiative of Mohammad Shafiq.

3. MN Roy arrived in Moscow in May or June 1920 as one of the two delegates of the Mexican Communist Party to the Second Congress of the Comintern (July-August, 1920), though everybody knew and accepted that he actually represented India. In this Congress, apart from MN Roy and his wife Evelyn Trent-Roy, the following Indians also participated : Abani Mukherjee, MPBT Acharya (they had consultative voice but no vote; the former was mentioned as a left socialist and the latter as a delegate from the Indian Revolutionary Association in Tashkent) and Mohammad Shafiq (an observer delegate). Roy was the only one with a decisive vote.

4. Before the Second Congress closed, a “General Plan and Programme of Work for the Indian Revolution” was drawn up by Roy and few others. As MA Persits[3] shows, “the General Plan posed three major tasks: first, the convocation of an all-India Congress of revolutionaries and the establishment of an all-India Revolutionary centre capable of preparing and holding, in particular, this congress, second, the immediate formation of a Communist Party of India and, third, the immediate launching of the military and political training4 of revolutionary forces.”

5. The “CPI” in exile was formed on October 17,1920 in Tashkent. The names of the seven members and of the three others who were co-opted on December 15 the same year are given in Text III-2 and III-3 respectively. In the meeting of December 15, as Text III-3 tells us, a three-member Executive was elected with Roy, Shafiq and Acharya. Shafiq and Acharya were elected secretary and chairman of the Executive Committee respectively. From a letter dated 30.12.20 from Mukherjee to SP Gupta, an Indian nationalist leader[5], it appears that between 15 and 20 December three more persons joined the party, taking the number to 13 (7+3+3). The new-born party worked “under the political guidance of the Turkestan Bureau of the Comintern”, as Text III-1 informs us.

Notes :

1. Mahendra Pratap and Barkatullah – “President” and “Prime Minister” of the “Provisional Government of Independent India” established in Kabul in 1915 with German help. This government- in-exile had earlier sounded the Tsar and even the Kerensky government for help in anti-British struggle.

2. Soviet Council for International Propaganda based in Turkestan, which carried on propaganda work among Oriental nationals.

3. Revolutionaries of India in Soviet Russia by MA Persits; Progress Publishers (Moscow, 1973) p 169

4. Between October 1920 to May, 21, the Indian Military School run by Roy, Mukherjee and others in Tashkent imparted military training to a few small batches of muhajirs. The aim was to build a liberation army. But the plan failed and the school was closed down because of (a) less than expected influx of muhajirs (b) difficulties in imparting a minimum political consciousness to these intensely religious men and (c) constant British pressure on the Soviet government, which became difficult to ignore in view of the just-concluded trade-treaty and on-going trade negotiations between UK and RSFSR. But a better successor to this military school was immediately available in the “Communist University for the Toilers of the East” which operated in Moscow from May 1921. The “University” had a good syllabus and arranged a wide range of extra-curricular activities to promote a scientific communist attitude to life. Some 23 muhajirs from India were trained here besides many others from other countries.

5. Cited by MA Persits, op. cit., p.197

6. Formation of a communist party or group remains incomplete without at least a programme, and Abani Mukherjee prepared one towards the end of 1920. This was, however, rejected on the insistence of Roy[6]. As for “international recognition” of the CPI formed in Tashkent, that remains a disputed question, with some like SA Dange saying it was not recognised and other like Muzaffar Ahmad declaring it was. The facts are (a) an official letter of its formation was despatched to the CC, Communist Party of Turkestan and the Turkestan Bureau of Comintern, (b) the Turkestan Bureau and the Executive Committee of the Comintern did take certain measures to solve certain political and organisational problems of Indian Communists and other revolutionaries[7] and (c) the list of the parties and organisations invited to the Third Congress of the Comintern (endorsed by the Small Bureau of the ECCI late in April or early in May 1921) mentioned “India : The Communist Groups (consultative vote)”[8]. From these facts — and no less importantly, from the Leninist understanding of the essential requirements of a communist party — the truth emerges that the Comintern did accept the formation of CPI at Tashkent as a fait accompli and therefore as a starting point, but refused to recognise it as a communist party in the complete sense of the term.

7. Since the Tashkent formation side-tracked some other revolutionaries who were gradually coming over to Marxism, an All-India Revolutionary Conference was sought to be organised. The Comintern took special interest in this, and between January to May 1921 two important groups arrived in Moscow: from Tashkent the members of “Indian Revolutionary Association” led by Abdur Rabb Barq (also known as Abdul Rab) and from Berlin — Virendranath Chattopa-dhyaya, GAK Luhani, Dr. Bhupendra Nath Dutta, Khankojee, Agnes Smedly and others. The latter group presented their theses on India and world revolution, authored by Chattopadhyaya, Luhani and Khankojee, to Lenin and the Executive Committee of Communist International (ECCI). Abdur Rabb also presented a few policy statements. For more than a year the Comintern, through its Eastern Commission and India Commission, tried to forge unity among the Roy, Chattopadhyaya and Rabb groups, but in vain. All of them suffered more or less from individualistic sectarianism and were engaged in a race for exclusive recognition and patronage of the Comintern; the political differences were not insignificant either. The minutes of several meetings between Roy, Acharya and Rabb, held under Soviet auspices, show that the main political conflict arose “on the ground of differences over the methods of work among Indian immigrants”. Acharya accused that Roy used to coerce Indian immigrants to join the Party organisation, while Rabb criticised Roy for following, “the erroneous policy of communist propaganda which is pointless at the present time”. In his (Rubb’s) opinion, “nationalism had to be used, too, in considerable manner.”[9] Given these acute personal and political disagreements, the proposed conference of communist and pro-communist national revolutionaries never took place. But the prolonged discussions in Moscow, in which Lenin also sometimes took part, were not entirely fruitless. While some like Luhani joined the communist party shortly afterwards, others like Chattopadhyaya did the same later on.

From this record of events it is not difficult to see why the group formed in Tashkent-Moscow during 1920-21 was still-born. Hastily formed without any ground-work, it had no constitution or programme. In fact it was a handiwork of Roy to secure himself a berth in the Communist International (CI). What is most important, the emigre revolutionaries had no roots in the masses of India and their subjective creation was never internalised in the society it sought to transform. So in no sense can the Tashkent formation be regarded as the formation of CPI.

MN Roy, however, lost no time to try and build political bridges to India through journals, manifestoes, letters etc. and by sending emissaries[10] and funds. In these efforts he was fully financed and politically assisted by the CI, on whose behalf he was acting (he was inducted into its leadership in 1921 itself). The emissaries and the funds were not of much help, but the Comintern reports and guidelines contained in magazines11 edited by Roy certainly was, notwithstanding the fact that many if not most copies of these magazines used to be intercepted by the police. Besides, Roy made the first attempts at a Marxist interpretation of the various facets of the Indian political scene.

Notes :

6. This piece of information transpires from the minutes of a meeting of the party on 2.1.21 cited in Ibid., p.198

7. For details, see the next point

8. See MA Persist, op. cit., p 198

9. For details, see MA Persits, op. cit., pp 205-06

10. Nalini Gupta arrived in India in late 1921 and later became a British spy. Charles Ashleigh, a well-known communist writer from Britain whose services were made available by the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) on Roy’s request, came in September 1922.

11. See for details the chapter on The National Scene And Early Communist Propaganda.