The Sixth Congress of Comintern

The long-drawn sessions of this Congress (July 17 to September 1, 1928), the first one to be held after the new Soviet and Comintern leadership headed by Stalin had consolidated itself, marked a watershed in the evolution of strategy and tactics for the international communist movement in general and that in colonies and semi-colonies in particular. But before we come to that, let us note the names of the Indian delegates to this Congress:

With Decisive ———————————— Vote Others

1. Sikander Sur (Shaukat Usmani) ———- 1. Clemens Dutt

2. Raza (Mohammed Shafiq Siddiqi) ——- 2. Mohammad Ali (Sepassi)

3. Narayan (Saumendranath Tagore) —— 3. GAK Luhani

Sikander Sur was included in the presidium and his speeches supporting the official line were reported in Inprecor. According to some sources there was another Indian delegate named Habib Ahmed. Anyway, the important thing to note is that none of these delegates carried a proper official mandate from the CPI — they arrived in Moscow and attended the Congress on individual or factional basis. Tagore, for example, had been staying in Moscow since 1927 as a representative of the WPP of Bengal.

MN Roy had been under medical treatment in Berlin and therefore could not answer the political charges brought against him in this Congress. He had been asked by the Comintern to prepare a draft on the Indian situation and he did so in 1927 itself; but this was not placed before the Congress although Kuusinen in his report (Text II-15) quoted particular passages to attack Roy.

Held at a crucial juncture of the international communist movement, the Sixth Congress heard a number of reports, co-reports and debates on many vital questions of theory, strategy and tactics. Of these, we will be selectively discussing those that are connected with questions of revolutionary movements in colonies and semi-colonies[1]. India figured very prominently in the discussions on these questions, for the 1927 setback in the Chinese revolution had created a great concern for preventing the repetition of the CPC’s mistakes in India.

This Congress adopted a general programme for the international communist movement as a whole (Programme for short). Regarding the colonial and semi-colonial countries it said:

    “The principal task in such countries (China, India etc.) is, on the one hand, to fight against the feudal and pre-capitalist forms of exploitation, and to develop systematically the peasant agrarian revolution; on the other hand, to fight against foreign imperialism for national independence.

    “… the central task is to fight for national independence.

    “In the colonies and semi-colonies where the proletariat is the leader of and commands hegemony in the struggle, the consistent bourgeois democratic revolution will grow into proletarian revolution in proportion as the struggle develops and becomes more intense.”[2]

The Programme, like other documents of the Congress, repeatedly emphasised the task of agrarian revolution, asking the communists in the colonial and semi-colonial countries to “rouse the broad masses of the peasantry for the overthrow of the landlords and combat the reactionary and medieval influence of the priesthood, of the missionaries and other similar elements.” It stated :

“In these countries, the principal task is to organise the workers and the peasantry independently (to establish class Communist Parties of the proletariat, trade unions, peasant leagues and committees and—in a revolutionary situation, Soviets etc.), and to free them from the influence of the national bourgeoisie, with whom temporary agreements may be made only on the condition that they, the bourgeoisie, do not hamper the revolutionary organisation of the workers and peasants and that they carry on a genuine struggle against imperialism”[3]

Notes :

1. To have a brief idea of the general backdrop to this Congress and a summary of the main decisions on the colonial question., the reader will do well to first glance through Text II18 — the “Theses of the Agitprop of the ECCI”, i.e., a report by the propaganda wing of the Cl which was published after the Congress and summarised the proceedings.

2. Inprecor, December 31,1928

3. Ibid.

The ‘Decolonisation’ controversy

As we have seen before, right from his 1922 work India In Transition, MN Roy had been trying to develop, a theory on the post-war industrialisation of India made possible by the British imperialists’ compulsion to export considerable amounts of finance capital to India. The theme was further developed in his The Future of Indian Politics (1926) and a number of other writings; Rajani Palme Dutt in Modern India (1926) also put forward a more or less similar analysis of the economic scene in India. Finally, in his unpublished Draft Resolution on the Indian question (to which we have referred earlier), Roy wrote:

    “The implication of the new policy is a gradual “de-colonisation” of India, which will be allowed to evolve out of the state of “dependency” to “Dominion status”. The Indian bourgeoisie, instead of being kept down as a potential rival, will be granted partnership in the economic development of the country under the hegemony of imperialism. From a backward, agricultural colonial possession India will become a modern, industrial country — a “member of the British Commonwealth of free nations”. India is in a process of “decolonization” in so far as the policy forced upon British imperialism by the post-war crisis of capitalism abolishes the old antiquated forms and methods of colonial exploitation in favour of new forms and new methods. The forces of production, which were so far denied the possibilities of normal growth, are unfettered. The very basis of national economy changes. Old class relations are replaced by new class relations. The basic industry, agriculture, stands on the verge of revolution (The prevailing system of land ownership which hinders agricultural production is threatened with abolition). The native bourgeoisie acquires an ever-growing share in the control of the economic life of the country. These changes in the economic sphere have their political reflex. The unavoidable process of gradual “de-colonisation” has in it the germs of disruption of the empire. As a matter of fact, the new policy adopted for the consolidation of the empire — to avoid the danger of immediate crush [crash?] — indicates that the foundation of the empire is shaken. Imperialism is a violent manifestation of capitalist prosperity. In this period of capitalist decline its base is undermined.”[4]

And again:

    “Indian bourgeoisie outgrows the state of absolute colonial suppression not as a result of its struggle against imperialism. The process of the gradual “decolonization” of India is produced by two different factors, namely, (1) post-war crisis of capitalism and (2) the revolutionary awakening of the Indian masses. In order to stabilise its economic basis and strengthen its position in India, British imperialism is obliged to adopt a policy which cannot be put into practice without making certain concessions to the Indian bourgeoisie. These concessions are not conquered by the Indian nationalist bourgeoisie. They are gifts (reluctant, but obligatory) of imperialism. Therefore, the process of “de-colonisation” is parallel to the process of “de-revolutionisation” of the Indian bourgeoisie”.[5]

Otto V Kuusinen in his report on “The Revolutionary Movement in the Colonies” (Text II15) forcefully countered this theoretical position and also its variants as expressed in the writings of RP Dutt and GAK Luhani. He argued that (i) British concessions in favour of India’s industrial growth in the post-war period was the result of certain short-term economic, political and military exigencies (e.g., intensifying trade-war with Japan and USA, the linked non-cooperation and khilafat movements, mutiny in the army etc.); (ii) only some 10 per cent of the British capital export to India was being invested in industry and the rest in government bonds etc.; (iii) given the stagnant internal market of India made up mainly of the pauperised peasantry, the scope of industrialisation was extremely limited; and (iv) the huge unproductive investments on the part of the Indian bourgeoisie (in gold, silver, savings banks etc.) was nothing but an indirect pointer to the obstacles put up by the British colonial system on the road to industrialisation.

The official Comintern view presented by Kuusinen sparked off a sharp debate in the Congress. The majority of British delegates such as Bennett, Rothstein, Page Arnot etc. spoke against the official report. They, however, did not necessarily support Roy’s formulations and there were important differences among themselves. The Indonesian delegate Padi tried to show that despite the low purchasing power of the colonial peoples, industrialisation was proceeding there at a rapid rate thanks to cheap raw materials and labour power. Among Indian delegates, Sikander Sur (who had the privilege to present a co-report after Kuusinen), predictably, supported Kuusinen and so did Raza while Narayan spoke against.

Notes :

4. For full text of the document, see G Adhikari, Vol. IIIC, pp 572-606

5. Ibid.

The debate on the nature, extent and political implications of industrialisation in India had, in fact, been going on from well before the Sixth Congress and continued after it. For instance, in January-February, 1928, GAK Luhani wrote an article in Communist International putting forward his own version of the decolonisation theory; interestingly, in the Sixth Congress itself he declared that he had “nothing whatever to do with the so-called decolonisation of India theory” and that he “wanted to repudiate entirely the interpretation which comrade Kuusinnen has given to our use of the term”. Then between March and June the same year, an interesting polemic took place between Eugen Varga, the noted Hungarian economist on the Comintern staff, writing in Inprecor and RP Dutt writing in Labour Monthly. However, Clemens Dutt took his position against the de-colonisation theory both in an article in Communist International in July 1928 and in the Congress itself. The Comintern position was ably defended at the Congress by, inter alia, the American delegates Pepper and Wolfe, the German delegate Remmele and Martynov who represented the CPSU. Finally, Kuusinen in his concluding speech (Text II-17) offered some clarifications. When MN Roy received the relevant documents of the Sixth Congress, he issued a comprehensive statement elucidating and summing up his position on the industrialisation-decolonisation controversy. In Text II-19 we reproduce extracts from this statement to the ECCI because this embodied his most mature treatment of the subject.

The debate was complicated by the existence of not two but three distinct views. First, there was MN Roy’s view that rapid industrialisation of India was leading the country towards political decolonisation via domination status and that this resulted in a lessening of the contradiction between the Indian bourgeoisie and British imperialism or even a total shift of the former to the side of the latter. Secondly, the British delegation which did not share the proposition of political decolonisation put forward the “industrialisation thesis” as an economic process. Thirdly, the Comintern view rejected both these views, saying that (i) a certain industrial development did not yet mean “industrialization”, i.e., transformation of a feudal-agrarian country into a capitalist industrialised country, which is impossible under the control of imperialism; (ii) this industrial growth actually deepened the contradiction between the Indian bourgeoisie and British imperialism (see the title of Kuusinen’s concluding speech); and (iii) the thesis of “decolonization” was theoretically anti-Marxist-Leninist and politically harmful.

Writing about it six decades later, it is easier for us to take the testimony of history and observe that Roy’s conclusions were rather hasty and far-fetched and therefore politically harmful, but he grasped the essential direction of change: the post-war industrial growth (quite remarkable by colonial standards), and progressive power-sharing (however haltingly) — which ultimately led to a semi-colonial status for India as a member of the Commonwealth. By contrast, the Comintern’s portrayal of the current Indian scene was more correct but it took a metaphysical view of Lenin’s theory of imperialism and refused to follow the real course of life. Of course, the best thing would have been to allow a healthy debate on the subject. Changes in the political relationship between imperialist countries and their colonies/semi-colonies, based on economic evolution in both (primarily the former) as well as in the world at large, was indeed an important topic of Marxist study and remains so to this day. But the way the CI rejected it all by branding it “anti-Marxist-Leninist” prevented the research and the debate from running their full course. This rigidity marked a clear departure from Lenin’s dialectical method of resolving theoretical debates (remember the Roy-Lenin debate in the Second Congress) and hampered the much-required development of the Marxist-Leninist understanding of the colonial question.

The Second Colonial Theses

Eight yeas after Lenin’s colonial theses were adopted at the Second Congress of Communist International (1920), the new theses (Text II16) now put forward the following basic propositions :

1. Stage and Nature of Colonial Revolution : “Along with the national-emancipatory struggle, the agrarian revolution constitutes the axis of the bourgeois democratic revolution in the chief colonial countries.”

2. Role of different classes: While the commercial or comprador bourgeoisie directly serves the interests of imperialism, another section connected with native industry supports the national movement in a vacillating way and at times also compromises with imperialism. Overall, the colonial bourgeoisie has proved itself treacherous and is so inexorably bound up with feudal interests that it opposes not only the agrarian revolution but even any major agrarian reform. In such circumstances, the industrial proletariat must come forward to lead the bourgeois-democratic revolution. “The peasantry, as well as the proletariat and as its ally, represents a driving force of the revolution.”

3. The Key Task: Strengthening the communist parties politically, organisationally and as regards mass base; and in the particular case of India:

Politically, the “basic tasks” are “struggle against British imperialism for the emancipation of the country, for destruction of all relics of feudalism, for the agrarian revolution and for establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry in the form of a Soviet Republic.”

And organisationally : “The union of all communist groups and individual communists scattered throughout the country into a single, independent and centralised party is the first task of the Indian communists.”

4. On United Front: “The formation of any kind of bloc between the communist party and the national revolutionary opposition must be rejected; this does not exclude temporary agreements and the co-ordination of activities in particular anti-imperialist actions”, provided this proves helpful for the development of mass movement and the communists’ freedom of agitation and organisation is not restricted. Generally speaking, the communist parties in colonial countries must “demarcate themselves in the most clear-cut fashion, both politically and organisationally, from all the petty-bourgeois groups and parties.”

Despite loud protests from leaders of CPGB and some others including the Indian Tagore, the concept and practice of WPPS were rejected outright as we have seen in an earlier chapter, And needless to add, the entire theses was premised on the rejection of the de-colonisation theory.

Implications of the New Tactical Line

From the above we find that new Comintern theses did not ask the communists to cut themselves off from the national movement, but put forward two complimentary tasks. Firstly, since “bourgeois opposition to the ruling imperialist-feudal bloc”, though insignificant in itself, “can accelerate the political awakening of the broad working masses” and “indirectly serve as the starting point of great revolutionary mass actions”, communists must learn to utilise every such conflict, “to expand such conflicts and to broaden their significance, to link them with the agitation for revolutionary slogans” and so on. This is one part of the task, contained in para 23 of the theses. The second part, enumerated in para 24, is this: since parties like the Swarajists (meaning the Congress), despite their repeated betrayals, “have not yet finally passed over, like the Kuomintang, to the counter-revolutionary camp” but will certainly do so later on, the communists must expose their true character in all possible ways. Overall, the communists are thus asked to link up with and utilise the programmes of bourgeois parties; to carry on issue-based joint activities and enter into temporary agreements with the latter if necessary, but not to enter into any kind of bloc, which naturally envisages a common programme, concentrating rather on building up the independent strength of the party of the working class — the communist party — among workers and peasants. At the core of these guidelines lay an emphasis on the purity of class character (hence the disavowal of WPPs), political independence (to be manifested through the most advanced slogans and a distinct proletarian programme) and organisational consolidation of the communist party. At least so far as the CPI was concerned, these were precisely the points neglected for long and apparently the emphasis was not misplaced.

But where the directives of the Sixth Congress deviated from the Leninist line of the Second to Fifth Congresses was: the task of building a broad anti-imperialist front was practically withdrawn, only to be reintroduced at the next Congress in 1935. This five-year departure from the otherwise consistent UF policy is explained by a whole set of objectives and subjective conditions. Internationally, the CI expected an impending crash in the world capitalist economy (within a year this certainly proved correct) and a consequent leap forward in the world communist movement (this mechanical deterministic appraisal proved largely incorrect). It also visualised a fusion of social-democracy with fascism and hence the need for communists to go it alone. These overall political understandings naturally influenced the Comintern’s colonial theses too. And as regards the specific situation in colonies and semi-colonies, there was, in the first place, the great betrayal by the Kuomintang in 1927, the vacillations and compromises by the Gandhian and Wafdist (in Egypt) leaderships and the assumption (which, again, did not prove fully correct) that these parties also are bound to openly join the imperialist camp sooner or later. This made the CI rather sceptical about any united front with the colonial bourgeoisie. Secondly, in the particular case of India, the vigorous growth of working class struggle — and that even during periods of lull in the Congress-led movement — prompted the CI to overestimate the political independence and advanced role of the Indian proletariat. So it straight away put forward the task of “establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry in the form of a Soviet republic” (para 16 (a) of the theses), skirting round the complicated but vital question of united front with the native bourgeoisie.

In the Indian context, this meant not only the abandonment of the specific organisational form of WPPs working inside the Indian National Congress, but a total oppositiorrto the latter. But as the next couple of decades was to show, the INC never behaved exactly like the Kuomintang. The Chinese big bourgeoisie did enjoy state power, however incomplete, in at least some major parts of the country, and this they strove to defend, in league with imperialists, against the onslaughts of the revolutionary workers and peasants led by the Chinese Communist Party (and even then they sided with the CPC when the onslaught came mainly from the imperialist side). In India the same classes were placed in a different situation. They could hope to rule the land — and this hope and aspiration rose consistently with the growth in their economic stature — only by squeezing state power from the colonial masters. In this struggle against an incomparably stronger force they were prepared, even eager, to enlist the support of all other class forces; of course to the extent their own hegemony was not impaired. So there was enough scope for UF work in India, but this was completely negated by the Sixth Congress line. How this grave error was further magnified in the actual practice of Indian communists, we will see in the next Part of the volume.