WPP Vis-a-vis CPI

After its foundation at the fag end of 1925, the CPI routed all its anti-imperialist agitations (e.g. against Simon Commission), TU activities and propaganda work through the WPPs. Originally and basically the WPPs evolved as a left pole in the national movement and the first batch of communists got involved with them more out of political instinct than according to any theoretical framework.[1] However, the communists were quick to bring these organisations under their guidance, imparting greater specificity of purpose to, and creating a mass base through, the latter. PC Joshi, SS Josh and many other prominent and not-so-prominent leaders and cadres started their political life as WPP activists or leaders and became communists subsequently.

During this period, was there any effort to strengthen the communist party as such? Let us briefly review the relevant facts in a chronological order.

1. The “Working Council of the CEC” (i.e., the office-beareres) assembled in Bombay from 16 to 18 January 1927 to (i) meet Shapurji Saklatvala and (ii) discuss the proposal of a second communist conference. Saklatvala arrived in Bombay on 14 January and was warmly welcomed by CPI leaders who frankly sought his “suggestions and lead” to make the approaching conference (then planned to be held at Lahore) a success. In response, Saklatvala issued a statement to the press to the effect that he would not preside over the conference of a communist party which is not affiliated to the CI. This was immediately and strongly protested by the joint secretaries SV Ghate and JP Bagerhatta: “We in India have every right to form a communist party and to contribute in our own way to the cause of international communism. The question of international affiliation comes later. … All the same, in spite of your non-cooperation with us, we extend [you] our hearty welcome to our conference at Lahore.” The ill-feeling thus generated was overcome within a few days when Saklatvala, after further discussions with CPI leaders and Philip Spratt and George Allison, reversed his position and expressed his readiness to give all help “to make such a conference a success so that out of your efforts a regular and properly authorised communist party of India may take birth.”[2]

This episode finds reflection in the seventh resolution of the “Working Council of the CEC” (Text III-10) because Saklatvala’s second letter, from which we have quoted above, reached the CPI leaders a bit later. Muzaffar Ahmad, JP Bagerhatta, SV Ghate, Krishnaswamy lyengar, RS Nimbkar and Shamsuddin Hassan were present at the meeting. Three major immediate tasks were decided upon (a) holding a party conference in March in Lahore to be presided over by M Ahmad, (b) drafting a new party constitution and (c) organizing a WPP in Bombay. The proposed conference did not materialise, but an extended CEC meeting was held in May 1927.

2. The May 1927 extended meeting of the CEC adopted an annual report, a new party constituion and a few resolutions on the party programme and on certain other points. All these are collected under Text IIIn, which is largely self-explanatory. Let us, therefore, note here only some important outcomes and salient features of this meeting.

The annual report stresses the national roots of the CPI and expresses an ardent desire to overcome the Party’s historical limitations. Although three “non-official organs”, i.e., magazines of WPPs were being published, the necessity for a Party organ and for that purpose the Party’s own printing press, was underscored. But the section on the government’s attitude shows that even after Peshawar and Kanpur cases and other repressions, the Party still nurtured some legalist illusions : “nothing can, as yet, be said about their attitude towards us”. The meetings was held openly and the names as well as addresses of office-bearers were made known to all.

Notes :

1. Although the Comintern had in 1925 called upon the communists of the east to form WPPs and “to work hard and consistently within these parties -always maintaining their own political independence — in order to turn them into political organisations of the anti-imperialist front” (See Outline History of the Communist International — Progress Publishers (Moscow, 1971) p 232) and MN Roy in a series of articles, letters, etc. (see Text V9) dwelt on this theme at length, these do not seem to have determined the actual practice of the WPPs.

2. For details of the episode, see G Adhikari, Vol. IIIB, pp 3-6. Saklatvala toured a number of cities, addressed huge meetings and exchanged open letters with, and also met, MK Gandhi. His speeches were widely reported and he was accorded a warm welcome by citizens of Bombay, Calcutta etc.

The constitution, despite a number of weaknesses, is definitely an improvement over the 1925 one adopted at Kanpur. A detailed organisational structure is formulated, party discipline is emphasised, rules for fractional work etc. is laid down. Democratic centralism is not mentioned, but a compact all-India collective leadership is formed (the presidium plus the, general secretary) and a central office set up. It is interesting to note that the CPI is not described as a “section of the CI”, as was the norm in those days, and as MN Roy had instructed on behalf of the Comintern just after the Kanpur conference; but member ship is limited to “those subscribing to the programme laid down by the CI”.

Among the various resolutions adopted, perhaps the most notable are the minimum programme, the call to all party members to enter the Congress and the decision to try and form a republican wing in the AICC. Interestingly within half a year a “republican congress” session was held, as we have already seen, on the initiative of Jawaharlal and some others, in which communists played an important role.

All things considered, this was the most significant CEC meeting in the pre-Meerut period.

3. An informal meeting of some CEC members and a few WPP leaders was held in the fag end of December 1927 in Madras, where they met on the occasion of the Congress session. Unlike the earlier meetings, this one was secretly held. The main political discussion centred round the holding of a “congress” in Calcutta to set up an all-India WPP — drafting political and organisational theses for that, practical arrangements etc. The “congress” or conference was planned to be held between February-March but actually took place, as we have seen, in December 1928. The meeting also took action against party members associated with communal organisations or journals brought out by the latter. For instance, Hasrat Mohani, who was simultaneously a member of the Muslim league, was asked to quit the same but he preferred to resign from the Party while KN Joglekar, concurrently a member of the Brahman Sabha of Bombay, was asked to resign from the latter and he obliged.

4. The CEC met again for three days just after the WPP conference. G Adhikari, SS Mirajkar, DB Kulkarni and SS Josh were admitted as members; the name of PC Joshi also came up, but it was decided to leave it for the time being. Hasrat Mohani and SD Hasan were expelled. A 10 member Central Executive was formed, with five from Bombay (Mirajkar, Dange, Nimbkar, Joglekar, Ghate), three from Calcutta (M Ahmad, Abdul Halim and Samsul Huda) and two from Punjab (Abdul Majid and SS Josh). Ghate was elected General Secretary. It was decided that in between two CE meetings the five in Bombay would function as the CE with a quorum of four which must include the GS. The Party’s head office was to be in Bombay. The Party’s central organ was to be published from Calcutta — the responsibility was given to Ahmad. Ahmad was also selected as the party’s delegate to the ECCI. It was also decided that plan for enrolment of new members should be drawn up.

Much more crucial than these organisational matters was a prolonged discussion on the theses of the Sixth Comintern Congress which concluded two months ago. These theses, as we shall presently see, had strongly criticised the practice of WPP and the policy of close cooperation with the Indian National Congress; great stress was laid on the independent role of the communist party in the arena of class struggle. After discussion and debates, it was decided that the new Comintern guideline “should be taken up as a basis and to be changed according to the conditions in India” and that “possibilities of an open party should be tested”[3]. This critical assimilation of international guideline resulted in the issuance of a “Manifesto of CPI To All Workers” (Text III-12) which reaffirmed the need for WPP as “a necessary stage” but put special emphasis on the need to develop class struggle and to build the communist party as the party of the working class. Shortly afterwards, i.e. in early 1929, a new constitution was framed (Text III-13) which for the first time formally decalred the CPI to be “a section of the CI”.

Note :

3. See Q Adhikari, Vol. NIC, p 783

From this account of the four meetings a definite trend becomes clear. During the first half of the three-year-period (approx.) between the first communist conference and the Meerut arrests, the handful of communists seriously strove to overcome the historical limitations of the new-born CPI — witness the efforts to organise the second communist conference and to set up a party press, the decisions and documents adopted at the May 1927 meetings, etc. But then with the success and spread of WPPs, the primary attention was shifted to them, while the communist party as a distinct entity and the special party tasks receded more and more into the background. Upto 1926, manifestoes to the annual sessions of the Congress — whether drafted and sent from abroad by Roy (to Ahmedabad and Gaya sessions for instance) or by the CPI after its foundation (to the Gauhati session of December 1926) — had always been issued in the name of the CPI, but from late 1927 all such interventions began to be made in the name of WPPs. Thus the “Manifesto” to the Madras session (December 1927), the “Open Letter” and “Statement” to the all-parties conference (1928) and similar propaganda materials were issued in the aame of WPP. The leadership no longer cared for a party organ — the otherwise successful and open WPP magazines were deemed sufficient. No attention was paid to the ideological and organisational aspects of party building (recruitment of large number of party members appropriate to the expansion of mass work, formation of party committees, cells etc. at various levels and so on) or to the painstaking task, which was being repeatedly emphasised by Roy on behalf of the CI, of building an underground structure. For all practical purposes, the communist party was gradually becoming an appendage of its own creation — the WPP[4].

This state of affairs was largely changed after party leaders came to know about the new directives of the Sixth Congress of the CI through its message to the WPP conference of December 1928 and through other documents[5]. The change will be evident from the above description of the fourth CEC meeting : though the WPP was not discontinued as implicitly asked by the Comintern, the role of the communist party was rediscovered, so to say, and this was reflected in the new manifesto and the new constitution (Text III-12 and III-13 respectively). Unfortunately, this renewed experiment for properly combining a broad democratic and anti-imperialist organisation (the WPP) with a consolidated communist party was cut short by the Meerut arrests (March 1929). And the next five-year period was marked by political confusion and organisational chaos.

Before we conclude this chapter, a few words on the discontinuation of the WPP are necessary.

The Indian communists never formally disbanded the WPP, nor took any decision to do so. Actually they held the second conference of WPP in December 1929 when they met in Lahore (the venue of that year’s Congress session), though in the shattered state of the organisation it could only be a poor successor to the first all-India conference. Again the Kirti Kisan Party of Punjab maintained its independent existence, though not under communist control, upto 1933. So it is wrong to suggest that the WPP was dissolved simply by the order of the Comintern. The fact of history is that the discontinuation of the WPP in the 1930s was the combined result of three factors: intensified police repression on the WPPs and discontinuity of leadership after the wholesale Meerut arrests; the Congress leadership’s regained credibility and capacity to attract militant forces during the Civil Disobedience Movement in the early thirties (this was important in so far as WPP success was largely proportionate to Congress failure and resulting disillusionment); and most importantly, the new, post-Sixth-Congress political line of stressing the independent role of the communist party to the extent of practical denial of anti-imperialist united front, particularly the implicit instruction to disband the WPP.

If there are so many evidences to support the allegation that Indian communists lacked creativity and blindly followed “international directives”, there are at least a few to prove the opposite. And one of them was the WPP. The Indian communists were trying to develop this as a popular form for communist mass work. If in the process they started losing the communist perspective, as indeed they did, the duty of the CI was to criticise and persuade the CPI to rectify this deviation. But the way it instructed the CPI to stop the practice altogether, without so much of a comradely discussion, scuttled the very process of Indianisation of the communist movement. This was but the first instance of arbitrary interference on behalf of the Comintern — many more were to be experienced in the years to come. The particularly deplorable thing about such directives was that they were often coloured by shifts in Soviet foreign policy or inner-party developments in the CPSU (struggle against right opportunism in this case).

Notes :

4. According to Horace Williamson, Director of IB, “To Such a pass had things come in May 1928, that Ghate seriously suggested that the Workers’ and Peasants’ Party should control the Communist Party — a complete reversal of the orthodox procedure prescribed in Moscow.” Williamson, however, does not give the source of this bit of information. See his India And Communism (published by Editions Indian, 1976) p 127.

5. It is in the next chapter that we shall discuss the Sixth Congress deliberations on WPPs, for these cannot be understood in isolation from the other issues discussed there.