Towards a Left Bloc Within the Congress

From the Second Congress onwards, the Comintern was repeatedly advising communists in colonial countries to support and influence the national liberation movements. The communists in India, particularly those with a Congress background, also realised this necessity from their own direct experience. Dange, for instance, used to distribute his magazine Socialist among AICC members and other Congressmen from the very start, i.e., from August 1922. MN Roy, too, wrote a “Manifesto to the 36th Indian National Congress, Ahmedabad, 1921”, which was smuggled into India and distributed at the session (end of December 1921). But since there was no organised initiative in the Congress session itself, the appeal did not produce much of a practical result.

The Indian communists were thus facing a crucial political problem : what should be the practical medium for successfully influencing Congress policies and decisions? And, at a more fundamental level, how to carry on communist work among workers and peasants, given the British government’s refusal to allow any and every activity carried on in the name of communists? Both problems were sought to be solved by organising an open mass party or a kind of revolutionary bloc within the Congress. Let us briefly note the chronology of ideas and attempts relating to this interesting experiment.

In the 16 September, 1922-issue of Socialist, Dange appealed “to the radical men of the Congress” to unite in a “Indian Socialist Labour Party of Indian National Congress.” The Party, he wrote, “should be organised on the basis of the socialist movement and should have for its object the establishment of the people’s state in which land and capital are owned communally and the process of production, distribution and exchange is a social function democratically controlled”.[1]

MN Roy put forward his idea of a people’s party in the 1 October, 1922 issue of Advanced Guard in the following words : “A mass party consciously representing the interests, immediate as well as ultimate, of the workers and peasants — a political party of the masses based on the principle of class interest and with a programme advocating mass action for carrying forward the struggle for national liberation”[2]. When he came to know of Dange’s idea, he welcomed it in a letter dated 2 November, 1922. However, he preferred a more widely acceptable name : “The People’s Party”. Explaining his position, Roy wrote :

    “Of course the social basis of this party will be workers and peasants and the political direction of the party should be in the hands of the communists and socialists who alone can be the custodians of the interests of the toiling masses. But in order that the communists and socialists are not isolated in small sects, and can take active and leading part in the mass struggle, determining its course and destinies by the revolutionary and courageous leadership, a legal apparatus for our activities is needed. The people’s party will provide the legal apparatus.”[3]

In the same letter Roy suggests that he would draft a programme (see below) which he expects Dange and Singaravelu to present at the forthcoming Gaya session of the Congress. Roy is aware that the proposed programme will not be accepted by the Congress, but hopes that the refusal will expose the true character of the Congress leadership, while the attempt to popularise it will place the communists “on the high road towards the organisation of a communist or socialist party, which will not be a small sect – but a great political force because it will have at its disposal the legal apparatus of a mass party preparing to capture the leadership of the Congress”. Roy also asks Dange to contact Singaravelu and Ghulam Hussain for jointly organising “the new revolutionary mass party.”[4] Roy further wrote to Dange on 19 December clarifying the distinction as well as connection between the organisation of the CPI and of the open mass party.[5]

Notes :

1. For details, see G Adhikari, Vol. I

2. Cited by G Adhikari, Vol. II, p 98.

3. Ibid., p 98

4. Ibid., p 99

5. For details on these correspondence, see G Adhikari, Vol. I, pp 593-96 and Vol. II, pp 103-05

Roy’s “Programme for the Indian National Congress”, which we reproduce in Text VI-11, called for complete national independence and a set of consistent democratic demands. It was widely reported by the semi-official news agency Reuters, with a view to scaring men like CR Das away from the “Bolshevism” of Roy. This “programme” was not accepted by any section of the Congress but its wide propagation had its own value in popularising the communist viewpoint.

During end ’22 and early ’23, Roy wrote repeatedly to Dange. Singaravelu, Ahmad and Shaukat Usmani (Kanpur) about the need to have a “small”, “preliminary conference” at Berlin to be held under Comintern guidance. Knowing that various shades of broadly similar ideas. as well as some important differences prevailed among the scattered communist groups, Roy wrote that the Berlin conference was necessary “before the organisation of the Party[6] is started. We must come to an understanding among ourselves first.”

Both Dange and Singaravelu rejected Roy’s plan. They wrote to each other, the former stating that it was “a mad venture to go hunting for communism in European conferences. Whatever has to be done must be done in India” and the latter echoing the same sentiment : “There is good deal to be done here before one thinks of a congress.”[7] Ahmad was not opposed to the idea, but regretted that, being a whole-timer, he did not have the required money and that Roy did not send him any. The proposed conference, therefore, never took place.

In early to mid-1923, Dange and Singaravelu continued to exchange ideas on the same subject. While Dange called for “the first session of an all-India socialist labour congress”, the latter proposed “an independent Labour Kishan Party, forming a section of the Congress”. Singaravelu actually organised a conference in Madras in late April, 1923 and announced the formation of the “Labour Kishan Party of Hindustan” (LKPH) on the first of May. Madras became the great historical place to host the first May Day Celebration in India, with the Red Flag unfurled for the first time at a public meeting. The same day was also published the Manifesto of the new party. Dange and Roy welcomed the initiative[8], but criticised (separately) what they considered the weaknesses of the Manifesto. We reproduce a part of the manifesto which contains the “Action Programme” and a news item in Vanguard, June 1923, covering the other aspects of the new party, in Texts V-1 and V-2 respectively.

Roy continued, with the help particularly of Ghulam Hussain, his efforts to organise a conference in India that will give birth to a legal party guided by communists but incorporating all the progressive nationalists available at the time. This party, he hoped, will be free from the political confusions of Singaravelu’s party and will have an all-India character. But the police struck swiftly and decisively. In May-June they arrested Hussain, Usmani, Ahmad and others; the conference was no longer possible. These arrests were later linked up with the well-known Kanpur conspiracy case, one of the charges being that the accused were trying to organise a workers’ and peasants’ party.

Thus it was that the project of a communist-sponsored democratic organisation aimed at combining united front work (from within the Congress, which was obviously the best method at the time) with class struggle of workers and peasants, came to a grinding halt just before take-off. The whole thing suffered from many political and organisational weaknesses, but often though not always they resulted from a commendable effort to provide a broader base and a specifically Indian dimension to the theory and practice of communism in India. This is best illustrated by the cover page of the “Manifesto” of LKPH. The combination of the communist symbol of hammer and sickle with the Gandhian symbol of Charkha and the blend of a popular democratic slogan (“For Food, Cloth and House”) and the specifically Marxist slogan (“Workers’ of the world, unite”) is definitely illuminating. And precisely because this creative effort had its roots in the real, living political milieu of the country, it resurfaced — and more forcefully at that — as soon as opportunities were available in the second half of the 1920s.

Notes :

6. The reference is to the open mass party, but in this letter Roy also calls for setting up communist party branches all over the country.

7. See G Adhikari, Vol. II, pp 103-05.

8. Dange also declared in his Socialist, May 1923 number, that “Provincial councils of the Labour Kishan Party of Hindustan have been formed in Madras and Punjab”. These, however, remained paper organisations only.