Thus ended the great COM in the very first year of which almost a lakh of people went to jail and the import of foreign cloth was reduced by 50% — to cite two of the many indices of the intensity and strike power of the movement. But for certain areas (e.g., Hindu-Muslim unity, boycott of educational institutions and courts, etc.), it marked a major advance for the national struggle. This is true not only as regards the resoluteness, sacrifice and heroic deeds of the people and their vanguards, but also the movement’s declared goal (Puma Swaraj, or at least Dominion Status, in place of the deliberately vague concept of swarajya as in the Non-Cooperation Movement), method (deliberate defiance of laws in place of mere non-cooperation), the relative tenacity of central command (for all its vacillations and compromises as noted above, the latter did not withdraw the movement just after incidents like Chittagong and the militant peasant and tribal movements in various places, as it did after Chauri Chaura). Together, all these reflected the enhanced self-confidence and maturity of the Indian bourgeoisie to accommodate and utilise alien class movements in its own bid for power. This point the CPI failed to see. In its conception, the bourgeoisie had completely gone over to imperialism, doing everything, from the very start, merely to hoodwink and restrain the masses and sabotage the movement. This extreme and erroneous position rendered the Party’s otherwise correct exposure of the vacillations, compromises and the essentially bourgeois character of the Congress far less convincing. This will be evident from even a cursory glance at the representative samples of CPI propaganda during this period excerpted in Texts VI-22 to VI-26.
What was the CPI doing during the CDM? It presented before the people of India a comprehensive alternative framework of freedom movement to be based on the revolutionary struggle of workers, peasants and the “revolutionary section of middle classes” and to be informed, from the very beginning, by socialist ideals. An Anti-Imperialist League was founded on this basis in a conference held in Bombay in October 1930. The approach paper for this conference (Text VI-22) called for “an independent united front platform” since it was “an idle dream to think of” capturing “the Congress and converting it into a genuine anti-imperialist body.” (Emphasis in the original). But the League failed miserably to mobilise diverse forces. Formation of the new League signified a split in the national liberation movement and the split was complete at the international level when, within a few days after the signing of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact or Delhi Pact, the Congress was expelled from the “League Against Imperialism” by the communist-dominated international leadership. The charge was that the Congress had practically gone to the camp of British rulers.
Perhaps the worst act of sectarianism on the part of the CPI during this period was the split away from AITUC in its Calcutta sessions (July 1931) and formation of the Red Trade Union Congress (RTUC). This we shall discuss in some detail in Part VI of this volume. However, the CPI continued to address the “Congress rank and file” on all important junctures of the anti-imperialist movement — e.g., on the RTC (February 1931 — Text VI-23), on the occasion of the Karachi Congress (March 1931 — Text VI-24) and the Bombay Congress (1934 — Text VI26) and so on. The political attack on Congress grew sharper as the latter’s vacillations and compromises became more and more pronounced. Thus the Calcutta Committee of CPI declared in its organ in July 1934 : “the revolutionary unity of the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie can be affected only outside the Congress and in opposition to it — in country-wide organisation fighting against imperialism and its ally the National Congress” (Here “petty bourgeoisie” covers the peasantry. Emphasis ours — Ed.). The same committee organised a “Gandhi Boycott Committee” (later renamed “League Against Gandhism”) which staged a demonstration against Gandhi and proudly regarded this as an evidence of the anti-imperialist, anti-Congress unity.
In early 1935 another anti-imperialist conference was organised by the already banned CPI in secret. A new All India League Against Imperialism was founded (the League founded in 1930 had become defunct much earlier). The new league was only marginally more successful than its predecessor in mobilising fresh forces; most of the organisations it assembled were TUs, youth leagues and other frontal organisations of communists.
An interesting feature about the 1934 conference was the communist initiative to involve the socialists in it. A call addressed to the Congress Socialists and to the revolutionary youths was distributed at the first all-India conference of CSP held in October 1934. It was a broad-minded and friendly call for unity in the context of a series of compromises by the Congress, blended with a balanced dose of political struggle: “… By undertaking to be loyal to the Congress creed and constitution you also undertake to preach Gandhism or social-Gandhism (socialism in words and Gandhism in deeds) of the type of Jawaharlal Nehru, so long as you remain a minority, and to attain a majority in the Congress on the basis of a revolutionary programme of action is impossible, for the simple reason that the capitalist class has at no period in history accepted the programme of the working class in action.” (see Text VIII-2). The CSP declined the invitation, saying that as a part and parcel of the Congress it was not in a position to associate with anything illegal or organised secretly.
In its endeavour to build up the revolutionary anti-imperialist united front, the CPI made repeated overtures to another significant force — the patriotic terrorists, with whom many communists maintained warm personal relations. A specimen of the CPFs appeals to them has been reproduced in Text VIII-3, which was issued on the international youth day (2 September) of 1934 by the Calcutta Committee. The combination of sincere appreciation of the terrorists’ heroic sacrifices with patient yet clear-cut exposition of their mistaken path was indeed appealing. No wonder that the most advanced section of the patriotic petty bourgeois revolutionaries joined the communist movement in the 1930s, including a majority of the surviving members of Surya Sen’s group.
Despite all these efforts, why did the CPI remain basically a peripheral force during the period ?
The reason must be sought, firstly, in the Party’s left sectarian line which debarred it from any meaningful united front programme, i.e. devising some form of joint activities with the Congress as the recognised champion of the national movement. Had it undertaken such activities as far as possible, it could have utilised the only available national-level mass forum for propagating the alternative communist policies and augmenting its own forces and mass base. Secondly, the reason lay in the organisational incohesion and the absence of a central leadership following the Meerut arrests — a factor which disabled the Party to take any concerted all-India initiative. Thirdly, the Party’s abject failure on the peasant front rendered it basically incapacitated to challenge the Mahatma as an indpendent mass force. Fourthly, sectarian politics and fragmented organisation kept the Party’s otherwise good work in the labour front confined to local levels only. In the next two chapters we should investigate the first two areas, leaving the two other factors for Part VI.
1. The communists had already started ideological struggle against the trend of Congress socialism with an article by RP Dutta which first appeared in Indian Forum and was then reprinted in the English Edition of Ganashakti, September 1934 (actually appearing only October). With excerpts from this fine piece of polemics we open Text VIII of our Documents section (covering documents on unity and struggle with other left forces and on inner-party polemics). But the ideological struggle did not prevent the CPI from opting for unity on the basis of a minimum programme.