During the period under review (1926-early 1929) WPPs sprang up in Bengal, Bombay, Punjab, UP and Ajmer-Marwara with basically the same orientation and programme, but the actual process of their emergence displayed interesting regional variations. Before we generalise, therefore, let us study the experiences separately.
The “Labour-Swaraj Party of the Indian National Congress” was founded in Calcutta on 1 November, 1925 by Hemanta Kumar Sarkar, Kazi Nazrul Islam and a few others. Its moving spirit was Nazrul, an ex-soldier of the British Indian army fighting in foreign lands during the first world war and the firebrand “rebel” poet of Bengal. From the early twenties he wrote highly inflammatory patriotic poetry and prose and was sentenced to one year’s RI in January 1923 for publishing one such poem in Dhumketu (the Comet), a literary magazine edited by him. Sarkar was a prominent left-swarajist and many others like him supported the Labour-Swaraj Party. The party’s “constitution” defined its object as “the attainment of swaraj in the sense of complete independence of India based on economic and social emancipation and political freedom of men and women”, with “non-violent mass action” as “the principle means of the attainment of the above object”. The “Policy And Programme” laid particular stress on organising workers and peasants and put forward a complete charter of the immediate as well as ultimate demands of these “eighty per cent of the population.”
From 16 December 1925 the party’s weekly organ Langal began to appear under the able editorship of Nazrul. It was very popular, particularly for Nazrul’s poems, but at the same time made critical comments and analyses on political currents. In early 1926 Muzaffar Ahmad associated himself with the magazine and the party, which was now renamed as Bengal Peasants’ And Workers’ Party. Langal in its various issues carried the documents of the first communist conference of 1925 as well as many other materials that directly or indirectly popularised communist ideals. It was discontinued after 15 April 1926 but reappeared from 12 August the same year as Ganavani (Voice of the People), this time with Ahmad himself as editor. Whereas Langal had published summaries of Marx’s two articles on India, Ganavani serialised the Manifesto of Communist Party by Marx and Engels. Both the papers, particularly the later one, acted as mouthpieces of the all-India communist movement. Thus Ganavani published a review of Dange’s Gandhi Vs. Lenin and reported on workers’ movements in Assam, Kanpur and around Calcutta. The magazine stopped in October 1926 for lack of funds, reappeared from April to October 1927 and then stopped for good owing to the same reason.
The Peasants’ And Workers’ Party of Bengal (PWPB) held its second conference in Calcutta on February 19 and 20, 1927 and adopted a new programme which was exactly similar to the one adopted by the WPP of Bombay a little earlier (see below). Right from the days of the Labour Swaraj Party it kept its membership open to Congressmen provided they accepted its constitution and programme; similarly it encouraged its members to become members and office bearers in the Congress. The party’s TU work was concentrated among jute mill and railway workers around Calcutta; it organised district conference of peasants in Nadia and Bagura. In its third conference held in Bhatpara (an industrial area north of Calcutta) on 31 March – 1 April 1928, the party was renamed as Workers’ and Peasants’ Party of Bengal.
In Bombay province, a “Congress Labour Party” emerged from within the Congress in November 1926. It renamed itself as WPP in February 1927 and adopted a programme (Text Vs) that corresponded to the resolution adopted by the CEC of CPI in its January meeting. The programme clarified that the WPP was an independent political party based on the class organisations of workers and peasants, but working also inside the Congress to form a left bloc there; it strove to form a broad anti-imperialist front for attaining “complete national independence” while its “ultimate object” was socialist swaraj. Among its office-bearers three were AICC members (Joglekar, Nimbkar and Thengdi) and three members of the CEC of CPI elected at Kanpur (Ghate, Joglekar and Nimbkar). Apart from these three all others, i.e., the majority were not communists (Mirajkar joined the CPI later but not the others). The WPP was thus really a broad-based mass political organisation. The party’s constitution declared that “membership to the Indian National Congress is considered highly recommendatory.”
1. The complete texts of the “Constitution” and “Policy And Programme” are available in G Adhikari, Vol. II, pp 682-86
2. See G Adhikari, vol. IIIB, p 33
The WPP (Bombay), from the very outset, engaged itself very seriously in trade union activities (particularly among textiles, railways, municipal and dock workers) and at the same time worked within the Congress with a definite purpose. When the AICC met at Bombay from 5 May 1927, the WPP through Joglekar and Nimbkar presented before it a programme of action which the Congress should take up (See Text V-4). The programme put forward the slogan of complete independence and called for mass civil disobedience movement — both of which were rejected at the time but taken up by the dominant Congress leadership more than a couple of years later.
An idea of the daily activities of the WPP can be had from the annual report of its first annual conference held in early 1928. In addition to energetic trade union work, during 1927 the party “organised the following meetings: Lenin Day (22 January), Welcome to Saklatvala (February), Welcome to SA Dange (on his release – 24 May), first ever May Day in Bombay, welcome to Shaukat Usmani on his release (July), 10th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution (7 November), and the protest meetings against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in USA.” The party organ Kranti (Marathi, meaning revolution) was published from May to September, 1927.
The story of Punjab was much different. A Punjabi monthly Kirti (Gurmukhi, meaning worker) was started by Santokh Singh, a Ghadr Party leader, in February 1926. It came under the editorship of Sohan Singh Josh in 1927 and on 12 April 1928 the inaugural conference of the Kirti Kisan Party (KKP) was held at Jalianwala Bagh in Amritsar. A number of militant nationalist leaders of Punjab and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) was present in this conference, such as Dr. Satyapal, Bhag Singh Canadian, Bhai Gopal Singh etc. Main organisers of the party included Josh, Firozuddin Mansur, Mir Abdul Mazid and Kedarnath Sehgal. Kirti became the party’s political-cum-cultural organ and its Urdu edition also began to be published. The KKP decided to fight for the “establishment of the national democratic independence through revolution”, as SS Josh later put it in his statement in the Meerut case. Josh was elected the general secretary with Abdul Mazid as joint secretary.
The KKP was involved in trade union activities — particularly among the woolen mill workers of Dhariwal — and published the Urdu weekly Mehanatkash (Toiler) devoted to this purpose. It also strove, with some success, to win the toiling peasantry away from the landlord-Shaukar-domiriated “Zamindara League” and for this purpose held its second conference (September 1928) at Lyallpur, a stronghold of the League. The KKP differed from the WPPs of Bombay and Bengal on one important point: the attitude to the Congress. As SS Josh pointed out a statement in the Meerut trials,
“It was openly a revolutionary body of the militant workers and peasants, who being disillusioned by the Congress defeatist politics, had risen in revolt against it. It had nothing to do with the Congress and was in no way connected with, or under the influence of, the Congress. In fact this was a party diametrically opposed to the Congress. … No man professing to be a Congressman was allowed to use the platform of the party.”
Josh also declared that the party’s first president Raizada Hansraj was “chucked out of the party” when he was found to he “a Congressman”. The party, however, “was not a communist body” though “a number of communists were working side by side with the non-communists”.
3. See G Adhikari, Vol. IIIB, p 39
4. See G Adhikari, Vol. IIIC, p 89
5. See G Adhikari, Vol. IIIC, p 285-86
UP and Delhi
This WPP of UP and Delhi was founded at a conference held in Meerut in mid-October, 1929. The conference was presided over by Kedarnath Sehgal and attended by communist leaders from other provinces, such as SS Josh, Philip Spratt, Muzaffar Ahmad. PC Joshi, who later became the General Secretary of the CPI, was elected the secretary of the WPP. The party published the Hindi weekly Krantikari (Revolutionary) and concentrated on propaganda work by means of meetings, conference, pamphlets etc. The party’s political character was described by PC Joshi in his Meerut case statement in the following words:
“The WPP was a mass anti-imperialist party; it was a party of those classes whose interests are opposed to imperialism in a revolutionary manner. Its membership consisted of the affiliated trade unions, peasants’ unions, revolutionary youth organisations and revolutionary intellectuals.” Shortly after foundation, the party formed branches in Gorakhpur, Jhansi and Allahabad.
The WPP of India
The communists working in the different WPPs in various provinces began to plan an all-India conference early in 1920 and it was actually held in Calcutta in the last week of December the same year, i.e., just prior to the session of the Indian National Congress. The conference was quite well-prepared and well-organised. It opened with the “International” (in Bengali version) sung by Kazi Nazrul Islam and others. Delegates from all the four provincial level WPPs were present and also many TU representatives and other activists and sympathisers. The president’s speech was delivered by SS Josh (See Text V-5). Greetings were sent by a number of international organisations including the League Against Imperialism (which also sent a fraternal delegate but he was arrested on arriving in India). J Ryan of the New South Wales Council of Trade Unions and BF Bradley, representing the Amalgamated Engineering Union and the CPGB delivered speeches. On the third day of the conference, a message was received from the ECCI (Text V-8) which was not discussed and did not have any effect on the proceedings. We shall come back to this document a bit later. There were lively debates and discussions on the major draft documents which included the Political Resolution (Text V-6), On TU Movement and the Constitution (Text V-7).
The conference (also mentioned as congress in some of the documents) unanimously resolved that the All-India WPP be affiliated to the, League Against Imperialism. A 16-member national executive committee was elected with four members nominated by representatives of each of the four provinces (Bombay, Bengal, Punjab, UP) and then elected by the conference unopposed. There was a dispute, however, among Bengal comrades on choosing their nominees, and some of them staged a walkout. After the formation of the all-India party, the erstwhile WPPs were regarded as provincial committees of the former.
Interesting events of the conference included : the presence of Nazrul Islam who sang two songs composed by himself apart from the “International”; the presence of Bhagat Singh (as recorded by SS Josh in his memoirs on Bhagat Singh); and a procession of all the delegates, leaders and visitors to the “Congress Nagar” (venue of the forthcoming Congress session) during a break between two sessions.
7. See G Adhikari, Vol. IIIC, p 90-91