November 12, 2017 4:29:28 pm
A hundred years back Russia embarked upon a historic movement that had its repercussions across the world, some of it still being felt in modern day politics. When the Bolshevik party led by V I Lenin overthrew the Czarist monarchy and declared the formation of the first socialist state, the colonial world was particularly impressed by the brazenness of the act. If the common people- workers, peasants, and intelligentsia- could overthrow an exploitative ruling power, then so could the oppressed majority of the colonised sphere. For India, the groundbreaking transition at Russia was a moment that struck a chord, reminding the nationalist forces of a possibility of the power of the people succeeding against all odds.
Reeling under the exploitation of British oppressors, India in 1917 had just acquainted itself with the Gandhian strategy of peaceful confrontation. The October revolution in Russia, however, had an appeal that was in marked contrast to the ideas of Gandhi. Socialist ideas, particularly the one embedded in Bolshevism, started to spread rapidly, particularly among the youth who were unhappy with the Gandhian mode of non-cooperation and looked for an alternative to the swarajist programme.
Indian soil had been preparing itself for socialism since the mid-nineteenth century. Between 1853 and 1857, Marx and Engels had composed some 40 articles commenting on the fact that exposure of the British imperialist misrule would lay the foundations of the socio-economic revolution in India. In 1882, Marx wrote a letter to the socialist philosopher Karl Kautsky stating that while all countries occupied by European powers would become independent, the countries occupied by native population and subjugated by the Europeans, such as India and Africa, must be taken over by the proletariat and led as rapidly as possible towards independence. By the beginning of twentieth century, Lenin too had made clear his belief that the proletariat in India had developed a conscious political mass struggle, which would lead to the doom of the British regime.
The Russian revolution, however, proved to be a catalyst to the ripening grounds of socialism. Soon after 1917, several socialist and communist groups sprouted all across the country. In Bombay, S.A. Dange published the pamphlet, “Gandhi and Lenin” and started the first socialist weekly, “The Socialist.” In Bengal, Muzaffar Ahmed and Nazrul Islam founded a magazine “Navayug”. While Ghulam Hussain published Inquilab in Punjab, M. Singaravelu founded the “Labour-Kisan Gazette” in Madras. By the late 1920s, student organisations, trade unions and peasant movements advocating radical solutions to socio-political evils became a regular feature. Within the Congress itself, a powerful strain of left-wing tendency developed and soon split away from the Congress to form political parties of their own.
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The Communist Party of India
In October 1920, seven revolutionary Indians who had been inspired by the Soviet Union met in Tashkent and set up what would be one of the first organised left-wing political parties of India. The group was headed by a well known radical activist, M N Roy, who along with Lenin had helped evolve the Communist International’s policy towards the colonies. Later, in December 1925, many other such independent communist groups came together and founded an all-India organisation under the banner “the Communist Party of India (CPI).”
The main form of political work by the early Communists was to organise peasants’ and workers’ parties and work through them. The Communists along with the workers and peasants parties worked hard to influence the Congress and give the nationalist movement a sturdy left-leaning direction. By the late 1920s, however, the government came down heavily upon the nascent Communist movement in the country and arrested many of the leaders. Further, the Communists too, made a radical move of isolating themselves from the Congress, declaring the party to be an organ of the bourgeoisie. As noted by historian Bipin Chandra, “the result of this sudden shift in the Communists’ political position was their isolation from the national movement at the very moment when it was gearing up for its greatest mass struggle and conditions were ripe for the massive growth in the influence of the Left over it.”
However, communism refused to die down. Several young people continued to be attracted to the ideals of socialism, Marxism and the Soviet Union. By the 1930s, communism in India underwent a change, with a decision to work well within the Congress and influence its working.
The Congress Socialist Party
In the early 1930s, a group of disgruntled young Congressmen who were behind bars decided to come together to form a socialist party that would be different from the political stance of the CPI. In the jails they studied and discussed Marxism, communism and the Soviet Union and found themselves disagreeing with the ideology of the CPI. Finally, in October 1934, they formed the Communist Socialist Party (CSP), under the leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan, Acharya Narendra Dev and Minoo Masani.
The CSP functioned under the firm conviction that the primary struggle in India was the nationalist struggle for freedom and that nationalism was a necessary stage on the way to socialism. Further, they understood that in order to achieve their goal, they must work within the Congress or face the consequence of getting isolated from the national movement altogether. From the very beginning, the CSP had decided to work within the Congress with an aim to strengthen it both ideologically and functionally. On account of their inability to oppose the Congress, they came under severe criticism from other Left-oriented parties of the time. Further, among themselves also they remained divided in their political ideologies and the confusion plagued them right until the very end.
The Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP)
The RSP owes its origins to the Anushilan Samiti, a revolutionary terrorist organisation that started in Bengal in 1905. The Anushilan Samiti had faded out soon after it was conceived and was revived on various occasions in the next few decades under different names. After the Chittagong Armoury Raid in 1930, most of the revolutionaries were imprisoned. While in jail, they imbibed socialist ideas in the process of reading Marxist literature. Once they were released, the group styled itself as the Revolutionary Socialist Party at the time of the Ramgarh Congress in 1940.
The basis of the RSP’s ideology was the Soviet Union. The group was of the firm belief that the proletariat, allied with the peasantry and the lower middle class was the only revolutionary class that was consistent and that their goal was to overthrow British imperialism and establish communism and a classless society in India. For a long time after its inception, the RSP was working as a group within the Congress Socialist Party. However, it soon moved away from the CSP as it decided to align itself with the political methods of Subhash Chandra Bose rather than Gandhi. The RSP was also against the way in which the British handed over power to India and the Partition, both of which they believed were treacherous deals between the bourgeoisie represented by the Congress and the British.
The Revolutionary Communist Party of India
The Revolutionary Communist Party had been conceptualised by Saumyendranath Tagore who was initially part of the Communist Party when it was formed in the 1920s. However, over time he fell out with both the CPI and the Comintern over their working and particularly disagreed with M N Roy.
By the mid-1930s, Tagore returned to India after having traveled a number of European countries and on observing the isolation of the Left from the nationalist struggle, he urged the communist leaders to change its stance. However, he was also against aligning with the Congress, as he considered the party to be a bourgeois organisation and regarded Gandhi to be the biggest reactionary force in the world. He believed that an anti-imperialist movement could only be carried out by the toiling masses led by the proletariat. It was on this basis that he formed the Revolutionary Communist Party of India in 1942 and was convinced that his was the only truly Left-wing organisation in the country.
The Bolshevik Leninist Party
In 1941 a group of communists following the ideologies of Leon Trotsky formed the Bolshevik Leninist Party. The party had collaborated with socialist parties in Burma and Ceylon and believed that a socialist revolution can be brought about in India on the basis of a theory of permanent revolution.
While on one hand, the Bolshevik Leninist Party considered the Congress to be a counter-revolutionary force, it was also against the workings of the other Leftist organisations. Further, like most other communist parties, they too were unhappy with the way the British transferred power in India.
There were several other communist parties that had taken root in India during the nationalist movement such as Subhash Chandra Bose’s Forward Block, the Bolshevik Party of India and the Radical Democratic Party. Over time though, most of these faded away to the background with the exception of the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Despite being unsuccessful in leading Indian democracy, leftist ideology has continued to play a significant role in Indian academics, media, and politics.
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