The National Scene And Early Communist Propaganda

Any account of communist literary work in India has to start with SA Dange’s Gandhi Vs. Lenin, written in April 1921 and published openly from Bombay in the middle of the same year. We already have had occasion to discuss this book. Shortly after the formation of “CPI” in Tashkent-Moscow, communist pamphlets (e.g., India in Transition, What Do We Want and a few others by MN Roy) and journals (e.g., International Press Correspondence or Inprecor for short, a biweekly in English, German and French published by the Comintern from Berlin since October 1921; the Vanguard of Indian Independence, later renamed as Vanguard, published by Roy under Comintern auspices from May 1922) started being smuggled into India. Since many of them were confiscated or proscribed by the police, they had only limited effect on the emerging movement in India. So we are dealing only briefly with them.

One of the earliest Marxist analyses on India penned by an Indian communist was published in the Communist International (monthly organ of the Comintern) No. 3,1921 (December 1,1921). Written most probably by MN Roy, (signed ‘N’) the article “Present Events in India” is manifestly an attempt to implement the guideline of Lenin’s Colonial Theses on supporting national liberation movements. Calling attention to the tremendous upsurge in mass movements during August-November 1921, the very first paragraph declares: “The agrarian movement, the proletarian movement and the nationalist movement are moving concertedly towards one object, national Independence, under the guidance of the All India National Congress, which is the acknowledged head today of the Indian struggle against British rule.” The author writes quite approvingly about Gandhi and his programme: “At first sight, Gandhi appears a mad prophet of peace and nonresistance. But closer examination of his utterances and tactics convinces one that he has deliberately chosen the only road open to Indian patriots under the present regime of force — the preaching of non-violent non-cooperation with the present government.”[1] And so on with practically no criticism, save a complaint about the “lack of scientific understanding of the various social forces” and neglect of trade union movement and agrarian struggles.

A much more critical, yet by no means sectarian, analysis of the same theme appeared in the form of a “Manifesto to the 36th Indian National Congress Ahmedabad, 1921”.[2] (see text VI-2). Later it became the first chapter of the book — One Year of Non-Cooperation — From Ahmedabad to Gaya, authored by MN Roy and Evelyn Roy and published abroad in 1923. Despite certain extreme statements characteristic of Roy (e.g., that the exploited masses do not ask for “political autonomy” or that “it does not make any difference to them to which nationality the exploiter belongs”), the manifesto remains the best early model for united front effort. It analyses why the old “moderate” Congress had “landed in political bankruptcy”, welcomes the advent of the “new congress” or “non-cooperation party” with the slogan of “Swaraj within a year”, and forcefully points out how to rouse the toiling masses on their economic demands for realisation of this slogan. As noted earlier, the appeal was sent to India and distributed among the delegates to the Congress session.

The “Manifesto” was followed by a series of articles in Inprecor. such as:

    Revolutionary India — Shramendra Karsan (probably MN Roy); 20 December, 1921. It reiterates the ideas put forward in the “Manifesto”.

    The Indian Trade Union Congress – MN Roy; 3 January 1922. It reports on the second session of AITUC held in Jharia (Bihar) at the end of 1921. We reproduce brief extracts from this and the following article, for they represent pioneering attempts to analyse and link up with the Indian labour movement. (Texts Via and VI-3 and VI-4).

    The Revolt of Labour in India — Shrarnendra Karsan; 14 February, 1922.

    The Political Crisis in India — Shramendra Karsan; 17 March 1922. It gives an overall account of the Indian scene after the arrest of Gandhi.

    The Awakening of India — Evelyn Roy, 5 May, 1922. It is a sort of continuation of the article just mentioned, and we reproduce a portion which seeks to make a positive critique of Gandhism without hurting the people’s sentiments for the arrested leader (Text VI-5).

Notes :

1. See G Adhikari, Vol. I, pp 323-37.

2. The Ahmedabad session of INC was held at the fag end of December 1921.

Before we go over to Vanguard articles, mention must be made of Roy’s theoretical treatise India in Transition written in 1921 and published the next year. This book provides an able theoretical elaboration of Roy’s conviction that the post-war industrialisation of India, made possible bjf a shift in imperialist policy, has led the Indian bourgeoisie away from the freedom movement into the arms of its imperialist mentor. We will take up the discussion of this theory elsewhere; suffice it to note here that in those days the book was internationally recognised as an advanced Marxist work dealing with a very pertinent question: how to explain, and what political conclusions to be derived from, the indisputable fact of remarkably accelerated pace of industrialisation in India? The Comintern took care to publish the book almost simultaneously in three languages – English (original), German and Russian; and this despite everybody’s knowledge that Roy’s views on the “colonial question” ran counter to Lenin’s on many points (Roy himself commented later in his Memoirs that his purpose in writing this book was “to convince Lenin of the correctness of my view.”). As EMS Namboodiripad correctly observes, Roy’s conclusions were wrong, but he “had made a detailed study of the Indian situation. And he set a new tradition of using the methodology of Marxism-Leninism to analyse and assess the Indian situation.”[3] In many ways it was a forerunner of RP Dutt’s Modern India published 4 years later (not of Dutt’s India Today (1940), as comrade EMS states mistakenly.[4])

Now for the early Vanguard articles, which included:

    • Editorial of Vol I, No. 1: Our Object, 15 May, 1922 (Text VI-6)

    Economic Basis of Politics (A note on the Bardoli resolution which cried halt to the non-cooperation movement and asked ryots to pay rent to Zamindars) : Ibid.

    Mr. Gandhi – An Analysis, Part I arid Part II – Santi Devi[5]; 15 May and 15 June, 1922 issues respectively. Text VI-7 reproduces excerpts from both Parts of this very interesting article by a woman communist who in the mid-twenties complained about the internal bickerings of Indian comrades and left politics for good.

    How Revolution Spreads (Lenin’s article on the tenth anniversary oiPravda. 1912-22); 1 July 1922

    Participation in the Councils – Editorial, 5 July 1922

    Notes and Comments — “A clever Enemy” (Concession to plantation workers promised by authorities); “Noble Sentiments” (J Nehru’s statement in court on his second arrest) : “Bewildered Leadership” (on C Rajagopalachari’s article in Young India) – 15 July, 1922

    Irish Tragedy – Editorial, 1 August 1922

    Labour Organisation — Editorial, 15 August 1922

    Civil Disobedience – Editorial, 1 September 1922

Notes :

3. See A History of Indian Freedom Struggle, Social Scientist Press, (Trivandrum, 1986); p 313.

4. Ibid., p 312

5. Pseudonym of Evelyn Roy, wife of MN Roy until they separated in the mid twenties.

From this sample survey it is evident that the coverage of the magazine was quite broad. It also included regular columns like Press Review and Books to Read apart from articles and Notes and comments. The print quality, get-up etc. were of a high standard. It appeared as The Advance Guard from October 1922 to February 1923 to avoid persecution by the police, after which it reappeared with its original name. According to Cecil Kaye, the magazine influenced a good number of left-wing magazines in Indian languages, such as Dhumketu (Bengali), Vartaman (Hindi), Navayugam (Telugu) as well as the English Weekly Socialist of SA Dange.

The Socialist appeared as a weekly from early August to December end of 1922 and then as a monthly upto February 1924, when Dange was arrested and the magazine became irregular and then stopped. Being the “first Magazine of International Socialism” to be published in India, it attracted the attention of friends and foes alike. SS Mirajkar and SV Ghate of Bombay actively joined Dange, while Muzaffar Ahmad of Calcutta, Singaravelu Chettiar from Madras and MN Roy from Berlin wrote letters congratulating the Socialist. The limited but important role played by the paper was later narrated by Dange in the following words:

“At this stage, whatever problems of political line or ideology confronted the Indian communists, they had hardly any organ or organisation in which they could discuss them. The Socialist, which was the only paper we published in India and was edited by me from 1922 to 1924, was not in a position to handle such question for various reasons. It depended on literature sent by the representative of the ECCI [i.e., MN Roy] or the Inprecor for its ‘line’ and the material for it. But that did not help much as most of the material that was sent fell into the hands of British intelligence. We, however, found means to publish the Communist Manifesto of 1848 and Wage Labour and Capital and some ten other books and pamphlets in Bombay in 1922-23”[6].

The theoretical standard of the Socialist was visibly much lower than the Vanguard. But it bore evidence of a more intimate connection with the working class movement in and around Bombay (see Text VI-8). We also reproduce a commentary on the Akali movement (Text VI-9).

A little more than a year after the launching of the Socialist, the Labour Kisan Gazette was started by Singaravelu in Madras towards the end of December 1923. The fortnightly continued only for four months. We reproduce in Text VI-14 a specimen of its contents : a homage to Lenin on his death in early 1924. The Gazette used to contain good articles and notes on the major issues of national politics and also good analyses on working class movement at local and all-India levels. It declared itself to be “A Fprtnightly Journal of Indian Communism”, though practically it acted as the organ of the LKPH founded on 1 May, 1923. Singaravelu also published a Tamil weekly Thozhilali (Labourer) during 1923-24.

Among Indian language communist magazines, mention must be made of the Urdu Inquilab (Revolution) which was published from Lahore only for a few months during 1922; the Bengali Langal (Plough) and the Punjabi Kirti (Worker) – about these two highly successful magazines started in late 1925 and early 1926 respectively, we will discuss in the next part of this volume.

The Vanguard continued upto 15 December and then from 1 January 1925 it was replaced by the Masses of India (Masses for short). In Texts VI-12 to VI-16 we reproduce extracts from a selection of articles and notes on important political events during 1923-25, published in various magazines mentioned above.

Note :

6. When Communists Differ by SA Dange, PPH (Bombay, 1970) pp 38-39.