Nationalism And Internationalism

From the late nineteenth century onwards, Indian national struggle had been quite receptive and responsive to international political currents. There are many evidences to show that enlightened Indians were aware, though rather vaguely, of the Fabian and other streams of socialism (remember, for example, Vivekananda’s remark : “I’m a socialist”). Again, from the minutes of a meeting of the General Council of Marx’s First International held on August 15,1871, we learn that some radical elements from Calcutta had written a letter to the International asking for powers to start a section in India. Unfortunately we know no more of details, except that in the said meeting the secretary was instructed to give a positive answer to the letter[1]. Decades later, when Japan defeated Tsarist Russia in 1905, this victory of a tiny Asian country over what was considered a major European power greatly encouraged the Indian struggle. Also the Russian revolution of 1905 inspired leaders like Tilak and a few revolutionary patriots like Hemchandra Kanungo (the latter was among the first in India to get attracted to Marxism). In March 1912 Hardayal, then in USA, became the first Indian to write a biography of Karl Marx in the Modem Review, though he clarified that he was no Marxist; towards the end of the year S Ramkrishna Pillai published the first biography of Marx in an Indian language, i.e., Malayalam, probably on the basis of the Hardayal article. In October 1916, Ambalal Patel wrote an article on Karl Marx in a Gujarati magazine.

The progressive international impact, however, rose to a new plane after 1914. The first world war, arising out of intensified inter-imperialist contradiction for redistribution of limited world resources, markets and territories, snapped the global chain of imperialism at its weakest link and the new Soviet state was born. Across the earth there was a tremendous upsurge in struggles against imperialism and its lackeys, and these struggles proved to be more persistent in Asia than in Europe and America. It was only natural that these intrinsically inter-connected struggles, including the Indian national struggle, should draw inspiration from the most advanced fortress against imperialism — the Union pf Soviet Socialist Republics. The emergence of the Communist International (Comintern) in March 1919 provided further impetus to the spread of communist ideals across national and continental frontiers and a number of communist parties came up in the early 1920s — among them those of China, Indonesia and India.

Bolshevik Revolution and the Indian response

“The downfall of Tsardom has ushered in the age of destruction of alien bureaucracy in India too” — commented the Dainik Basumati, then a leading nationalist daily of Calcutta, just ten days after the Bolshevik power was established in Russia.

“Our hour is approaching, India too shall be free. But sons of India must stand up for right and justice, as the Russians did” — spoke out the Home Rule Leaguers in South India, as soon as they got the news of the great emancipation, in a pamphlet entitled Lessons from Russia (Madras, 1917).

And so on and so forth, exclaimed the exuberant Indian patriots, and this on the basis of the droplets of news that trickled hi through the British censorship net[2]. The very first decrees and treaties of the Soviet Union (e.g., the unilateral renouncing of the imperial rights in China and other parts of Asia acquired under the Tsar; proclamation of the rights of nations to self-determination and its immediate implementation in Finland; and so on) electrified the educated people of India. The Soviet government on its part was also stretching out its hand of friendship, as we shall see, to the radical nationalists fighting against imperialism, the common enemy.

Notes :

1. Source: Documents of the First International, Institute of Marxism-Leninism, (Moscow), p 258.

2. Here mention should be made of the fact that months before the October revolution, the Indian Independence Committee of Berlin set up a branch office at Stockholm to make contacts with the Bolsheviks. It was from this office that the first Indian request to “the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Soviets to put up a dauntless fight against the shameless and cruel imperialism of England” was wired to Petrograd, the centre of what the telegram called “Revolutionary Russia”, in September 1917. This took place on the initiative of Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, the principal leader of the Berlin Committee.
The Government of India correctly identified the basic source of the Bolshevik menace in the internal conditions of India. In a very revealing note (reproduced in Text X-1) it warned : “If India is not to share the fate of Russia, there must be a deliberate effort … to improve the conditions of the masses and to make them less discontented.” In some other notes it drew attention of the Secretary of State in London to the inspiration the national movement in India was already drawing from the Russian revolution.

It was in this atmosphere surcharged with a new hope, a new passion for liberation that the most dynamic revolutionists of India got attracted first towards the new “Red” heroes and then towards Marxism or communism because that was — they were told — the great secret behind the Bolshevik miracle. They came basically from three backgrounds:

    (a) revolutionary patriots working from Germany (e.g., the Berlin group led by Virendranath Chattopadhyaya), Afghanistan (e.g., M Barkatullah of the “Provisional Government of Independent India” established in Kabul), USA (most notably Ghadrites like Rattan Singh and Santokh Singh who revived the movement in early 1920s) etc. and roving revolutionaries like MN Roy and Abani Mukherjee;

    b) national revolurionaries from the Pan-Islamic Khilafat movement and the Hirjat movement[3] who went to Afghanistan and Turkey during and after the First World War (e.g., Shaukat Usmani, Mohammad Ali Sepassi etc.); and

    (c) radical patriots working from within the Congress movement or without who, disillusioned and shocked at the sudden withdrawal of the non-cooperating movement in 1921, turned to socialism and the working class movement in search of a new path (e.g., associates of Dange in Bombay, of Muzaffar Ahmad in Calcutta and of Singaravelu in Madras; the Inquilab group of Lahore; the Babbar Akali faction of the Akali movement etc.).

The common urge that propelled these diverse forces was the liberation of the motherland. Herein lay the original impulse of communism in India. Of these three streams the first two joined together in the Soviet Union to form a self-styled ‘CPI’, but being cut off from the internal dynamics of Indian society this combination never developed beyond an emigre communist group. It was the third stream that arose out of the evolution of the Indian society itself and therefore became the real Communist Party of India. Before we take up a detailed study of that vital process, let us, for the sake of historicity, record the abortive attempt at party formation in a foreign country.


3. The Hirjat (also known as the Muhajir or emigrant movement) grew out of the Khilafat movement when the Emir of Afghanistan welcomed all Muslims who, disgruntled with the British for its unjust dealings with the Khalifa of Turkey, wanted to leave India and settle in a Muslim country. More than 30,000 Muslims, including a number of intellectuals who were moved not only by this religious sentiment but also an urge for attaining swaraj by means other than non-violent non-cooperation, went over to Afghanistan, the bordering Muslim country.