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Can the revolution be dictated?

How four Indian stowaways went to Moscow for comradely advice from Stalin?

Written by Inder Malhotra |
December 27, 2010 1:30:21 am

In the account of the 1955 Bulganin-Khrushchev visit to India (‘Reading the Russians’,IE,December 13),Nehru’s blunt talk with the Soviet leaders about the Indian Communist Party’s role in pursuing policies that ran counter to nationalist feelings,frequently seeking directions from Moscow,and receiving “substantial sums of money from outside” was mentioned briefly. The prime minister had spoken tersely also about “some CPI leaders” having gone to the Soviet capital in 1951 “secretly and without passports” and boasting on return that they had received a directive directly from “Mr. Stalin”. Now,thanks to the Cold War International History Project of the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington,transcripts of the conversations of the four Indian comrades with Stalin and other Soviet leaders,declassified by Russia,are available. These throw a flood of light on the mindset of the Indian communist leaders and on some home truths that Stalin drove home to them. It is well known that the four CPI leaders who went to Moscow from Calcutta,now Kolkata,as stowaways on a Soviet cargo ship were C. Rajeshwar Rao,then general secretary of the party,veteran trade unionist S.A. Dange,Ajoy Ghosh,later to be general secretary,and Basava Punnaiah. At first they were received by Georgy Malenkov,Mikhail Suslov and two other Soviet leaders on February 4 and 6,1951. At both these meetings,the Indian foursome did most of the talking. The hosts wanted to know the subjects on which the visitors needed guidance. Rao made no bones about the fact that differences within the CPI about the “political line” to be followed were so serious that the “work of the party had come to a standstill”,and “all of us are agreed… that if we don’t get help and guidance [from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union the Communist Party of India might fall apart”. While replying to questions by Malenkov and Suslov,the four Indian communists often squabbled among themselves. This was inevitable because Rao and Punnaiah represented the faction that was vehemently sticking to “armed agrarian revolt” a la Telangana,while Dange and Ghosh wanted the party line to be moderated. At one stage the Soviet side asked “what work the CPI was doing in the army?” Rao: “The party has not done any work in the army and has no influence there. The party has a little bit of influence in the air force and the navy”. The questions that different members of the foursome posed speak for themselves: How to ensure that “partisan action on a wide scale” is followed by creation of “liberated areas” such as Telangana,and “finally to the liberation of whole of India”? How to pose the question of nationalisation of land in colonial and semi-colonial countries? What is the nature of Nehru’s government? “Can Nehru be viewed as a puppet in the same manner as Chiang Kai-shek?”,and so on. It was on the night of February 9 that Stalin spoke to the four CPI leaders for three hours. He began by telling them that he had received their questions,that he would answer them and then “express” some of his thoughts. “You ask: How should we evaluate the oncoming revolution in India? We Russians (russkie) look on this revolution as primarily agrarian. We do not consider that India is about to go through a socialist revolution. This is that very Chinese way about which everyone is talking… [this is a bourgeois-democratic revolution and the first step to a people’s democratic revolution”. Stalin then said that people’s democracy prevailed in East European countries. “China is still far from this stage. This stage is also far from India or India is far from this stage”. Stalin then took up a lead article in the Cominform newspaper,For a Lasting Peace,For a People’s Democracy, “regarding the Chinese way to develop a revolution”. CPI leaders had told their earlier interlocutors that this article had made the confusion within the ranks of the Indian party worse. The topmost Soviet leader explained that the article “had been in reaction to the articles and speeches of [B. T. Ranadive,who considered that India was on its way to a socialist revolution. We Russian Communists considered that this was a very dangerous slogan and decided to oppose it by pointing out that India is passing by the Chinese way,ie,the first step to the people’s democratic revolution”. (While they disagreed on almost everything else the four CPI leaders were unanimous in

denouncing Ranadive,a former general secretary,as “ultra-left adventurist”.) Stalin then told the Indian foursome: “You have to organise your revolutionary front as follows: to raise up all the peasants (including) rich peasants against the feudal lords… to mobilise public opinion,all the progressive layers of national bourgeoisie against English imperialism…. You have gotten in the habit of saying that it is necessary to throw out all imperialists… English and American. This is no way to organise a front. The cutting edge of the national front needs to be pointed at English imperialism.”

At this stage,Ajoy Ghosh said it was not clear to him why only English imperialism should be targeted,while everywhere “American imperialism is being fought,as the cutting edge of the anti-democratic camp”. Stalin: “It is very simple. The united national front is for national independence from England,and not from America. This is your national specific. Who is India half-free from? From England,not from America. India is in a commonwealth not with America but with England. Military and other specialists in your army are not Americans but Englishmen. These are historical facts and there is no getting away from them… It is not smart to fight with both… you must construct the front so that not you,but your enemies are isolated. This is,so to speak,a tactic to ease the battle of the Communist party. No one is willing if they are smart,to put all the weight on themselves… Beat English imperialism,while not offending for the moment other imperialists”.

Ajoy Ghosh: “Now it is clear to me.”

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator

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