On February 17, 1920, a group of Indian revolutionaries met in Kabul to pass a resolution. The resolution directed at the Russian Communist revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin, expressed deep admiration of Soviet Russia’s working class struggle that was led by him. “The Indian revolutionaries express their deep gratitude and their admiration of the great struggle carried on by Soviet Russia for the liberation of all oppressed classes and peoples, and especially for the liberation of India,” said the statement. Just about a couple of months later, Lenin responded to the Indian call. “I am glad to hear that the principles of self-determination and the liberation of oppressed nations from exploitation by foreign and native capitalists, proclaimed by the Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic, have met with such a ready response among progressive Indians, who are waging a heroic fight for freedom,” he said. For the revolutionary leader, an India free from an oppressive British rule was a necessary prerequisite for a decisive defeat of an exploitative capitalist system.
Lenin was sure that the Russian revolution would be incomplete unless it was followed by a similar uprising of workers and peasants across Europe and Asia. The anti-colonial struggle in this regard was a necessity, an essential step in that direction, and Lenin did everything in his capacity to motivate and support a revolution against imperialist rules.
On Tuesday, the legacy of the Soviet leader in India received a disturbing jolt when a statue of his in Belonia town of Tripura was brought down by an enthusiastic crowd of BJP supporters amid cries of “Bharat mata ki jai.” The demolition was on one hand justified by the BJP as a reaction by those being ‘oppressed’ by the Left. On the other hand, though, the CPI-M explained the act as the manifestation of ‘Communism phobia’. “Even if it was a statue of our former CPI(M) chief minister Nripen Chakraborty, nobody would have touched it — he was one of us and belonged to the country. But what does this foreigner Lenin have to do with our people?’’ remarked BJP south district secretary Raju Nath in response to the incident.
The incident took place just days after the BJP made a sweeping victory in the state that had been a Communist citadel for decades. While the motive of the act remains debatable, what is indisputable is the disdain for one of the most important communist revolutionaries of the world. What is further necessary to dwell upon, are the lesser known details of the support that Lenin lent to both the rise of a communist movement in India and to the anti-colonial struggle that gave birth to a free India.
One decade before the Russian revolution, Lenin had been aggressively advocating the need for an international community of revolutionaries. In his article, “Inflammable material in world politics” written in August 1908, the leader made a detailed analysis of the revolutionary movements across the world, admiring their intensity and appreciating the diversity of their methods in pulling down those who prey and exploit.
“The international movement in various European and Asian countries has latterly made itself felt so weightily that we see before us the fairly clear outlines of a new and incomparably higher stage in the international proletarian struggle,” he wrote.
The counter-revolution in Persia, the revolutionary movement in the army led by young Turks, and the movement against the medieval order in China were discussed with much eagerness by the Communist leader. While discussing India, Lenin showered praises upon the natives who in the early years of the twentieth century had risen in rebellion against the ‘civilised’ British, unsettling them from their position of security. “In India lately, the native slaves of the ‘civilised’ British capitalists have been a source of worry to their ‘masters’,” he wrote.
He celebrated the rise of the Indian proletariat and the potential they carried within themselves in consolidating an international revolution led by the working classes.
But perhaps the most noteworthy of contributions made by the Russian giant to the revolutionary process in India was the support it lent in shaping the Communist Party of India (CPI). It was Lenin who personally received the founder of the CPI, MN Roy, in Moscow where he was invited to attend the second world congress of the Communist International, and it was he who led Roy to formulate his ideas as a supplement to Roy’s thesis on the national and colonial questions. It was under Lenin’s guidance that Roy published his writings in the weekly bulletin of the Communist International, and also served as a member of the organisation’s presidium for eight years. During this period, Roy was mentored by Lenin to prepare the East for its moment of revolution. From Moscow, Roy published some of his most influential writings including “India in transition,” “The future of Indian politics,” and his own journal, “The Vanguard”, which would eventually become the organ of the CPI. During this period, still under the tutelage of Lenin, Roy founded the CPI at Tashkent in October 1920. In the decades to come, the CPI would not just become the face of the Communist movement in India, but would also shape much of the nationalist movement and the political landscape of independent India.