The First Communist Conference in India

One of the many curious events hi the history of communism in India was that the credit for organising the historic conference which united the scattered communist groups into one party goes to a person named Satyabhakta who deserted this very party — the CPI — within days after foundation. This Satyabhakta was a former member of a patriotic-terrorist group in UP, and a disillusioned disciple of Gandhi who after the withdrawal of the non-cooperation movement got interested in Soviet Russia and communism. He set up an open “Indian Communist Party” in mid-1924 with a membership, according to his own claim, of 78 persons which grew to 150 by 1925. He felt emboldened to form the party openly when in May 1924 the Public Prosecutor (PP) in the Kanpur Conspiracy Case made a statement to the effect that the accused was being prosecuted not because they held or propagated communist views, but because they conspired to overthrow the government. From this Satyabhakta inferred that a communist party which is open and above board and fully and manifestly Indian, i.e., having no connection with Bolshevism or the Comintern, would not perhaps incur the wrath of the authorities.

The existing communist groups did not take this party seriously (nor did Cecil Kaye, the British intelligence chief, though Satyabhakta was closely watched), but when he announced the decision to organise what he called the “First Indian Communist Conference” in Kanpur late in 1925, they took notice and sat up. Already in jail there was a discussion among them on the propriety or otherwise of holding an open conference to set up the Communist Party on an all-India basis utilising the above-mentioned statement of the PP in the Kanpur case. The idea was Dange’s, so the Bombay group (Dange himself was in jail) co-operated with Satyabhakta and participated wholeheartedly in the Kanpur Conference (25-28 December 1925). Ahmad was against the idea but, released from jail just three months before the conference on the ground of severe tuberculosis, he also attended. Delegates from other places were also present.

The conference was attended by 300 delegates according to the February 1926 number of Kirti (a communist-sponsored Punjabi magazine), though intelligence sources put the figure at 500. The British communist MP Shapurji Saklatvala had sent a short message to the “Congress which I hope will be the beginning of a large and stable Communist movement in India”; this was read out at the first session, followed by the speech of the reception committee chairman Hasrat Mohani (who had raised the famous “Independence Resolution” at the Ahmedabad session of Congress in December 1921). Next came the presidential address by M Singaravelu (see Text VII-1 for extracts).

The second session met in the evening of 26 December and adopted the resolutions placed before it by a resolutions committee comprising S V Ghate, Satyabhakta, KN Joglekar (Bombay), JP Bager-hatta, S Hassan (Lahore) and Krishnaswamy (Madras)[1]. There was no debate in the conference, but earlier, in the commitee itself, there was a sharp controversy. While all others,[2] following the Comintern norm, were for naming the party as “Communist Party of India”, Satyabhakta smelt a Bolshevik flavour in it and stuck to the name of his own party. He was alone and therefore defeated, but within a few days he founded a new party and to stress his point more conspicucusly, he named it as the “National Communist Party”!

To come back to the conference, the third session on 27th adopted the Constitution (Text III-5) and elected the Central Executive Committee. The CEC was to consist of 30 persons, but only 16 were elected, leaving the rest for cooption from different provinces. The next day the CEC met in the President’s, i.e., Singaravelu’s camp and elected the office bearers (see Text III-6 for names of CEC member and office bearers).

The other documents which we quote in full are : “Resolutions” of the conference (which shows, inter alia, that Singaravelu’s LKPH was dissolved and its organ became the organ of the CPI — see Text III-7); the “Declaration Form” to be signed by party members which also contains, on the reverse side, a short summary of the objectives, methods of work, rules etc. of the new party (Text III-8) and a Press Communique (Text III-9).

Notes :

1. Cited by G Adhikari, Vol. II, p 606 from an article by SV Ghate published in New Age weekly dated 6 February, 1966.

2. Including Muzaffar Ahmad, according to his article in New Age monthly of April 1958. This shows that he too was involved in drafting or discussing the resolutions before the conference, though Ghate does not mention him as a member of the resolutions committee. Ghate’s article mentioned above was written, it may be noted here, a little more than a year after the CPI-CPI(M) split.

These very first set of documents pf the CPI naturally carry many imperfections both on political and organisational questions. For instance, the Party’s “ultimate aim” is defined as “a republican Swaraj of workers and peasants” (according to the Declaration Form) or, in the words of the Constitution, as “… a workers’ and peasants’ republic based on the socialisation of the means of production and distribution by the liberation of India from British imperialist domination.” Here we would rather expect “establishment of classless communist society” or something like that. Similarly, in place of “the immediate object” of “securing a living wage to the workers and peasants by means of nationalisation and municipalisation” of land, factories, houses, railways etc., we would rather expect complete independence, a people’s republic based on universal adult suffrage etc. Such political weaknesses are easy to locate in the president’s speech too; but it gives a better expression to “Our Communist Ideal”, i.e., the ultimate goal and “Our Immediate Aims.” And the document’s great merit lies in the attempt to present a popular, living and manifestly Indian explanation of communist ideals, aims and methods. Also noteworthy is its non-dogmatic, broad approach: on many questions of policy and tactics we hear the president give his introductory ideas and then leave the matter for discussion and decisions by the house. The house, however, did not have proper discussion on these questions and hurriedly adopted the resolutions, the Constitution etc. Practically it was only a few leaders and activists who took an active role; the majority were only listeners or even less than that.

Coming to organisational principles and rules, the constitution betrays a very poor understanding of these and fail to learn from the constitution of the communist parties in other countries. Thus it makes “any bonafide worker or peasant” eligible for being a delegate to the highest organ, i.e., the annual conference (Art. 6); allows provincial or even district committees “to frame rules laying down conditions of membership” (Art. 5(a)) and regards affiliated “working class unions” as one of the “component parts of the CPI” (Art. 3(d)).

Yet another weakness of the conference was that even in the days of severe repression and utter lack of democratic rights, it was held openly and elected a totally open leadership vulnerable to enemy attacks. Even if this is attributed to Satyabhakt’s amateurish ideas, the other leaders also cannot be absolved of the same blame in so far as they did not try subsequently to make good the gap and build an underground organisation of professional revolutionaries.

What was the Comintern’s view about the Kanpur conference? At the outset those in the know about the communist movement in India — such as Roy and the leaders of CPGB — were unclear and hesitant about the Kanpur conference organised by a man like Satyabhakta. However, after receiving a report sent by Bagerhatta, Roy accepted the CEC elected at Kanpur as a basis for further work and put forward the following main suggestions or directives on behalf of the Comintern : (a) “the Communist Party of India in the process of formation” should immediately and formally affiliate itself with the CI and repudiate the statements of Satyabhakta, Singaravelu and Hasrat Mohani which gave an opposite impression; (b) “the CPI shall make a UF with the nationalist movement” on the basis of Roy’s “Programme” placed before the Gaya Congress session; (c) “the foreign bureau” (meaning Roy and other Indian communists working abroad under CI auspices — Ed.) to act as “the ideological centre” and “the organ through which the party’s foreign relations will be maintained”; (d) a book shop should be opened and arrangements made for the receipt and distribution of the Masses (brought out by Roy from abroad — Ed.) via Pondicherry and Madras, and (e) there must be no “illusions” about “a legal communist party” — “We must be prepared for attack any moment and organise the party in such a way that an attack on legality will not destroy the party.” Of these suggestions, the fourth was completely implemented and the first and fifth completely ignored. The second and third were partly carried out, i.e. a “united front with the national movement” was attempted, but not on the basis of Roy’s “Programme” and Roy’s group in Moscow was accepted as the “foreign bureau” and “ideological centre”, but on condition that “it will not in any way work inconsistent with the party’s programme and resolutions.” (vide resolution of the Central Executive of the CPI held on 31 May 1927 – see Text III-12).

Now we should proceed to examine the historical significance of this conference and its outcome. But before we do that, we ought to utter a word on Satyabhakta. He used to maintain contact with the revolutionary patriotic group HRA, worked among the working class in Kanpur and imported and sold communist literature. In his own way, he sincerely sympathised with communism, but he never grasped the science of Marxism and was too narrowly nationalist (and perhaps too afraid of the repression that even a presumed link with the Comintern would invite) to tolerate international connections and directives. He was one of those transient fellow-travelers of the communist party who are found in every country, particularly during periods of national turmoil. His post-conference “National Communist Party” remained confined to UP and become defunct by 1927. And Satyabhakta the journalist returned to his good old profession.