Party Foundation and the Years Preceding it (1917-1925)

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...

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Comintern Debates And The Indian Reality

We have already surveyed the Indian scene upto February 1922, i.e., upto the withdrawal of the non-cooperation movement on the pretext of Chauri-Chaura. To the enthused fighters this came as a rude shock, but actually there was nothing sudden about it. As RP Dutt[1] showed, the retreat was being contemplated since the days of the Ahmedabad session itself (December 1921). Clearly the Congress leadership, representing first and foremost the interests of Indian landlords and capitalists, was finding it increasingly difficult to digest the broad sweep of people’s movements. That was why the Bardoli resolution calling off the movement resented not only Chauri-Chaura but also the “hooliganism” of working class in Bombay and elsewhere, emphatically and repeatedly forbade non-payment of taxes and sought to allay the fears of zamindars. After the tragic withdrawal, utter confusion and demoralisation set in within and without the Congress organisation, its membership nose-dived and the great communal amity achieved during the non-cooperation-Khilafat movement yielded place to large scale riots (Delhi, Calcutta, Dacca, Rawalpindi and many places in UP). Without a doubt, this classic case of class betrayal proved a point Roy was repeatedly emphasising, viz., the utterly compromising character of the national leadership and the great harm it had done to the movement. But there was another side to it which Roy recognised abstractly, yet failed to draw political conclusions from. This was the aspect...

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Third to Fifth Comintern Congresses

The Third Congress The Third Congress met from June 22 to July 12, 1921 – only three month after the famine-stricken Soviet Land had concluded a peace treaty with Poland and a trade pact with the UK. Under the latter pact, the two countries had undertaken to curb all mutually hostile propaganda, and Soviet Russia in particular agreed to abstain from all propaganda that might provoke the Asian peoples to act against British interests. Either because of this, or because the question had been sufficiently dealt with just a year ago – or for both the reason – the national-colonial question was not placed on the agenda of this Congress. However, it was indirectly discussed in the thesis on the world situation and overall strategy and tactics. In Text II-6, we reproduce a paragraph from the said thesis which briefly but ably reaffirms and clarifies the Second Congress class line on national liberation movements. On the last day of the Congress a very short discussion of the “eastern question” was allowed, and this immediately drew a vigorous protest from colonial countries’ delegates and a few others like Andre Julien of the French delegation. Leading them was MN Roy, who said that “The method by which the eastern question is being discussed in this Congress purely opportunistic and more worthy of the Second International.” Pointing out the way the issue...

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Party Foundation Day: 26 December, 1925

Despite all these major weaknesses, it was this conference that adopted the first Party Constitution and elected the nucleus of an all-India leadership where all the erstwhile communist circles were represented. This leadership or CEC (minus Satyabhakta who resigned in February 1926 and Bagerhatta who became aware of other comrades’ suspicions about him and resigned hi mid-1927) met irregularly from tune to time till the Meerut arrests (March 1929) and played a commendable role on the working class front and in organising the Workers’ and Peasants’ Parties during this period. If the subjective intentions of AO Hume did not determine the nature of the Congress, this was all the more true in the case of Satyabhakta and the CPI. Satyabhakta’s nationalist attitude was defeated, and the CPI started its journey as a part of the international communist movement. It was, therefore, quite natural that the foundation of the party should be counted form the Kanpur conference, as indeed was decided by the Central Secretariat of the CPI on 19 August, 1959. There was no debate about this, at least in public. After the CPI-CPI(M) split, however, a peculiar position was taken by Muzaffar Ahmad who sided with the CPI(M). In his Myself and the CPI published in 1969, he describes the Kanpur conference as a “tamasha” and declares the Tashkent formation as “the real date of the foundation of...

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The First Communist Conference in India

One of the many curious events hi the history of communism in India was that the credit for organising the historic conference which united the scattered communist groups into one party goes to a person named Satyabhakta who deserted this very party — the CPI — within days after foundation. This Satyabhakta was a former member of a patriotic-terrorist group in UP, and a disillusioned disciple of Gandhi who after the withdrawal of the non-cooperation movement got interested in Soviet Russia and communism. He set up an open “Indian Communist Party” in mid-1924 with a membership, according to his own claim, of 78 persons which grew to 150 by 1925. He felt emboldened to form the party openly when in May 1924 the Public Prosecutor (PP) in the Kanpur Conspiracy Case made a statement to the effect that the accused was being prosecuted not because they held or propagated communist views, but because they conspired to overthrow the government. From this Satyabhakta inferred that a communist party which is open and above board and fully and manifestly Indian, i.e., having no connection with Bolshevism or the Comintern, would not perhaps incur the wrath of the authorities. The existing communist groups did not take this party seriously (nor did Cecil Kaye, the British intelligence chief, though Satyabhakta was closely watched), but when he announced the decision to organise what he...

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Peshawar And Kanpur Conspiracy Cases

Treason, treachery and conspiracy have always been the catchwords of the British imperialist rulers and their successors — the modern Indian ruling classes, against the Indian communists. Thus the conspiracy cases are nothing but notable episodes in the continuing class struggle. From early ’20s to mid-’30s more than a dozen of conspiracy cases were hatched by the imperialist rulers against the communist movement in India, the Peshawar, Kanpur and Meerut episodes being the most important ones.[1] The Peshawar Conspiracy Cases (1921-27) In our earlier section on Party formation, we have stated that an abortive attempt was made to form a CPI in Tashkent with muhajirs in 1920 by MN Roy and other Indian communists abroad. Out of the 200 muhajirs who crossed over to Russia around the year 1920, some 40 to 50 joined the political and military school at Tashkent and later the Communist University for the Toilers of the East in Moscow. From their foreign office, the British intelligence got the information that batches of trained personnel were being sent to India by the CPI in Tashkent. The first batch reached Peshawar on 3 June, 1921. The British police arrested them as “Bolshevik agents” and started the conspiracy cases. From 1921 to 1927 five conspiracy cases were launched against those early communists and national revolutionaries. The distant town of Peshawar was chosen as the venue of the...

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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...

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The First Communist Groups in India

Almost simultaneously with but quite independently of the formation of a communist centre in Soviet Russia, the first communist elements and groups sprang up in India during 1921-22. These were: (1) The Bombay group around Sripad Amrit Dange, who published his Gandhi Vs. Lenin in mid-1921. Dange was then one among a group of student leaders just rusticated from Bombay’s Wilson College, which they had earlier boycotted as part of the non-cooperation movement. Based on very scanty information about Lenin and Russia available at the time and penned by a 21-year old who was then just transforming himself, in his own words, from “Tilak’s chela” (meaning disciple) to “Lenin’s chela”[1], it is full of errors both in theory and in facts. This will be evident even from the short excerpt we have reproduced in Text VI1, which presents the central theme of the book. But to students of communist history the value of the book rests not so much in its content as in its background and, therefore, in the follow-up. It appeared in the course of a debate, among politicised student circles in Bombay and for that matter elsewhere too, as to what should be the correct path for India’s emancipation; and it remains the best available historical documentation of the very first phase in a generation’s ideological transformation. This is proved also by the fact that after...

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Initiatives in the Soviet Union

The chronology of events relating to the emergence of an Indian communist group in the Soviet Union is as follows. 1. Mahendra Pratap[1], arrived in Tashkent in February 1918, followed by Barkatullah in March 1919 who came as a special envoy of Emir Amanullah of Afghanistan though personally more interested in the freedom of India. These left-wing nationalists became and remained good friends — though not members — of the “CPI” when it was formed. On May 7,1919, they along with a few others including MPBT Acharya and Abdul Rub met Lenin. Acharya — earlier a follower of Savarkar and colleague of Chattopadhyaya — became one of the founder members of the Tashkent CPI. 2. In January-April 1920, nine radical nationalists arrived in Tashkent and seven of them including Mohammad Ali, Mohammad Shafiq (these two were on a mission of the “Provisional Government”), Abdul Majid and Abdul Fazil were constituted into an “Indian Communists Section” of the Sovinter-prop[2] on April 17,1920. This Section produced propaganda materials like “What Soviet Power Is Like” (pamphlet), “Bolshevism and the Islamic Nations” (a pamphlet by Barkatullah), “To the Indian Brothers” (appeal), and the Urdu magazine Zamindar, the first and only issue of which appeared in May 1920 on the initiative of Mohammad Shafiq. 3. MN Roy arrived in Moscow in May or June 1920 as one of the two delegates of the Mexican...

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Nationalism And Internationalism

From the late nineteenth century onwards, Indian national struggle had been quite receptive and responsive to international political currents. There are many evidences to show that enlightened Indians were aware, though rather vaguely, of the Fabian and other streams of socialism (remember, for example, Vivekananda’s remark : “I’m a socialist”). Again, from the minutes of a meeting of the General Council of Marx’s First International held on August 15,1871, we learn that some radical elements from Calcutta had written a letter to the International asking for powers to start a section in India. Unfortunately we know no more of details, except that in the said meeting the secretary was instructed to give a positive answer to the letter[1]. Decades later, when Japan defeated Tsarist Russia in 1905, this victory of a tiny Asian country over what was considered a major European power greatly encouraged the Indian struggle. Also the Russian revolution of 1905 inspired leaders like Tilak and a few revolutionary patriots like Hemchandra Kanungo (the latter was among the first in India to get attracted to Marxism). In March 1912 Hardayal, then in USA, became the first Indian to write a biography of Karl Marx in the Modem Review, though he clarified that he was no Marxist; towards the end of the year S Ramkrishna Pillai published the first biography of Marx in an Indian language, i.e., Malayalam,...

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Comintern and the Colonial Question: The Second Congress

Already on the eve of the first world war, Lenin in his “Right of Nations to Self-Determination” had laid down the essence of proletarian approach to the national question very clearly. While the bourgeoisie “naturally assumes the leadership at the start of every national movement”, and “always places its national demands in the forefront”, for the proletariat “these demands are subordinated to the interests of the class struggle”. Lenin further explained that “bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation has a general democratic content that is directed against oppression, and it is this content that we unconditionally support.”[1] VI Lenin’s contribution to the theory of national liberation movement is too vast a subject to be dealt with here; the above reference is meant to serve only as a pointer. In any case, it is necessary to state that Lenin’s role on this question was based not simply on theoretical studies but also on direct experience of communist work in the extremely backward countries on the eastern flank of Soviet Russia. This will be evident from the materials of the Second All-Russia Congress of the Communist Organisations of the Peoples of the East (November 1919), the First Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku (Sept ember 1920) etc. Take for instance two short quotes. Addressing the delegates to the November 1919 Congress, Lenin said : “… You are confronted...

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Impact of World War I on the Alignment of Class Forces

The first world war, arising out of inter-imperialist conflict for redivision of world resources and territories, sharply exacerbated all the contradictions of Indian society. The principal contradiction — that between the emerging Indian nation and British imperialism — intensified as a result of a much greater drain of material wealth (a three-times increase in defence expenditure was secured by floating war loans and increasing rates of taxes) and of human resources (tens of thousands of Indians were drawn into the Army, often under coercion as in Punjab, and despatched to die in alien lands). Galloping inflation (the all-India price index, with 1873 as 100, rose from 147 in 1914 to 225 in 1918 and to 276 in 1919)[1] and acute shortage in food and other necessities of life were the two most glaring expressions of the sharpening of this contradiction, which provided an objective basis for the remarkable growth in the nationalist movement just after the war. But the war affected different classes of Indian society in different ways and also sharpened the contradictions among them. Thus the land-owning class had to shoulder the least of the burden, for except in a few cases the land tax was not raised much, and the landlords reciprocated by assisting in the British war efforts : purchasing war bonds, helping recruit soldiers and so on. So the war further cemented the alliance...

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PART-II : party foundation and the years preceding it (1917-25)

Communism in India arose on the high road of Indian people’s movements briefly discussed above. But to understand the historical conditions of its genesis, it will be necessary now to close in on the immediate socio-political backdrop. Impact of World War I on the Alignment of Class Forces Comintern and the Colonial Question: The Second Congress Nationalism And Internationalism Initiatives in the Soviet Union The First Communist Groups in India Towards a Left Bloc Within the Congress The Peshawar And Kanpur Conspiracy Cases The First Communist Conference in India Party Foundation Day: 26 December, 1925 Third to Fifth Comintern Congresses Comintern Debates And the Indian Reality The National Scene And Early Communist...

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