17 October 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Communist Party of India. On 17th October, 1920, the Communist Party of India was formed under the supervision of the Comintern at Tashkhent. A 7-member committee was formed comprising Mohd Shafi, M N Ray, Evelyn Trent, Roza Fittingoff, Mohammed Ali, Abani Mukherjee and M P T Acharyya. Mohammad Shafi was elected the General Secretary of the Party. After the formation of this Party many Mujjahidins leaving India to fight against British rule from outside joined this party and mainly in the Soviet Union they learnt Marxism-Leninism and became communists. From that time those comrades were relentlessly engaged in building contacts in the country and Mujaffar Ahmmad, S A Dange, Singaravelu Chettiar, Sapurji Shaklatwala etc. like persons became their main source to expand party work within the country. Since the inception of this committee, the Communist Party tried to develop the freedom struggle in India. For that reason after some training in Tashkhent military institute and others the ex-mujahids who had joined the Party tried to return to India. Among them around 10 comrades were arrested and tried in several conspiracy cases. Peshwar and Kanpur conspiracy case were famous among these. Although severe inner problems cropped up within the Party very soon after its formation – mainly due to the clash of the two key role players Comrade MN Roy and Comrade Abani Mukherjee – and hindered the development of a big movement, yet this attempt created the basis for the formation of a real Party within the country. Comrades like Mujaffar Ahmmad, S A Dange, Saukat Usmani, Sapurji Saklatwala, Singaravelu Chettiar and many others came forward to develop the party within the country, as a result of which on 26th December, 1925, in Kanpur, the Communist Party of India was formed within the country. In 1920 we can say the kitchen work of the party building had started.
In this write-up our intention is not to go into the history of the Communist Party of India, but rather to evaluate the past in brief so that it can be helpful to develop a concrete understanding of our past, based on which we can prepare the way to develop the communist movement more vigorously.
First of all, especially in the context of the present situation in India, we need to assert clearly that since the formation of the Party, Communists were the main propagators of complete independence from British rule in India. Though today many erroneously suppose that the Congress was the main force fighting for independence, yet the fact is that before its Lahore Congress the Congress Party did not take the resolution of complete independence. Everybody knows about the fight of the Moderates and Extremists within the Congress. The Moderates were not in favour of complete independence while the Extremists were in favour of complete independence. Most of the time the Moderates were the majority in the Congress. The Communists were working in the Congress and it was in fact their contribution that within the Congress party the Extremists – rooting for complete independence – became strong enough to put up a fight against the Moderates. And in the Lahore Congress, under the pressure of Communists and Congress leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose, Gandhiji was compelled to admit the resolution of complete independence. Another fact is that the Communist Party was banned since the beginning and there were several conspiracy cases against the Communist leaders. Meerut Conspiracy case, Kanpur Bolshevik Conspiracy case etc. were famous among those cases. In this way, through the whole phase of freedom struggle, the Communists led the workers’-peasants’ movement independently and, along with the Congress, were the main qualitative force in the freedom struggle.
In spite of this great sacrifice, vigorous role in freedom struggle, we can say pivotal role in the freedom struggle, the Communists were not able to emerge as the leaders or the decisive force in the freedom struggle. The main problem was that the Indian Communists were lacking theoretically. One of the founder leaders, Comrade Mujaffar Ahmmad, said in his memoirs that our leaders were not so much theoretically sound as the Chinese leaders. On the question of working class leadership in the democratic revolution, the relation between class and caste, the nationality question, the relation between internationalism and nationalism, role of the bourgeoisie etc., the understanding was very poor and in some cases non-Marxist and non-dialectical.
First of all, the Communist Party of India was not able to take the decision that the freedom struggle would be victorious through the leadership of the working class in close alliance with the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie and a small middle bourgeoisie and a section of the big bourgeoisie who were in favour of Nationalism, who were patriotic bourgeoisie. Fraternal parties like China, Britain etc. warned our party about ‘tailism’ of the Indian National Congress. But unlike China they couldn’t take a stand to lead the national liberation struggle. Due to this shortcoming the CPI failed to use the inner contradiction within the Congress and failed to win over the patriotic section who wanted to unleash an uncompromising battle against the British. Most particularly, the Communists made a historical blunder at the time of the ‘Quit India’ movement. When ultimately all sections of the bourgeoisie, including comprador section also (fearing Japan), were mobilized through the call of ‘Quit India’ and the whole nation were aroused by this slogan, the Communists kept themselves away from this movement on the plea that if the British left then that vacant place might be fulfilled by Japanese Imperialism! At that critical juncture the then leadership failed to understand the concrete situation of the country and, at the same time, of the world. If a national liberation struggle against the British was unleashed, that would not have been a hindrance to the formation of anti-fascist alliance with states like Russia, Britain and America. Rather that might have been conducive to develop an anti-fascist front because at that time the British would have been compelled by circumstances to agree to it. Actually the CPI failed to differentiate between the foreign policy of a socialist state and the national liberation policy of a colony. This dialectical thought was missing. It was a great blunder. Due to this, there still remains an impression among the people of our country that Communists were not eager to overthrow British rule. If we see internationally, we will realize that Comrade Lenin and the Bolshevik party as well as Comrade Ho-Chi-Minh later did not make this mistake. Rather they created instances of how to utilize the inner contradiction of imperialism. They really turned the imperialist war into civil war and were able to overthrow the immediate oppressor of the country and thereafter successfully resist the other aggressions. But we failed and this created so much anarchy in the Communist movement that we are still suffering from its effects. It was as a result of this blunder, this inability to take a dialectical approach, that Communists labeled Subhas Bose was supposed as ‘Tojo’s pet’ and created a very bad impression. One wrong idea invites another wrong idea. At the critical juncture, where the British were really weak, the Communists made one mistake after another. Though they played a significant role in the movement for the release of the Azad Hind Fauj prisoners, their position regarding Subhas Chandra Bose obscured their involvement in the freedom struggle. However, it should be kept in mind that it was not only the Communists who dishonored Subhas Bose and disparaged his heroic role. Nehru was far more guilty of doing so. Not only that, Nehru also took an active role so that Subhas Bose could be caught and arrested. He wrote a (now well-publicised) letter to the British Government accusing Russia of giving refuge to Subhas Bose. This is the history. We know that bourgeois media don’t highlight this role of Nehru. But there is no denying that the Communists had made a monumental mistake. The mistake continued in the assessment of and attitude to Gandhi. For a time Gandhi was elevated to ‘Father of the Nation’ and then, later, he was labeled as a traitor to the nation, a stooge of British imperialism. Both assessments are not true. When we are discussing this after a hundred years of the formation of our Party we should consider the question more concretely.
The second point of mistake, we can say, refers to the relation of caste and class. Caste is a unique feature of our country. Indian Communists were against caste discrimination and fought against caste oppression. But on the question of caste eradication they took a reductionist approach. Their standpoint was – through class struggle caste division will be eradicated, there is no need of caste-based organization or need to raise the slogan for eradication of caste system separately. Thus they failed to lead the people who were fighting against caste oppression. Although it is true that Ambedkar’s position cannot overcome caste discrimination and eliminate the caste system, it is also true that the Communists were not able to develop anti-caste movement. Rather they were confined to show how the caste oppression will end after the victory of the revolution. This hindered the development of good relationships with the leaders of the Dalit movement. For instance, when Ambedkar formed the Scheduled Caste Federation and raised the demands of the Scheduled Castes, the Communists criticized this step. It is true that if workers will be divided into many sects it will lead to problems, but at the same time we have to take into consideration the aspiration of the repressed section. The Communists could have refrained from joining this organization but at the same time it would have been wise to refrain from criticizing it. This would have strengthened the unity of the workers and would have left space for all sections of the workers to come together after some time. It is our duty to organise Dalits and for this we have to fight the alien trend also, but at the same time we have to think whether the alien trend consists of a contradiction within the people or with the ruling class. Dalits are the most repressed section in our society. This should definitely be kept in mind and thus the manner of criticism against this alien trend should necessarily be different.
Thirdly, similar problems occurred regarding the women’s question. Though women’s organizations were formed, what was missing was any clear idea regarding the role of women in the Party, weakness in the understanding that women form a repressed section both in production relations as well as socially. For instance, among the seven founder members of the Communist Party two were women, Evelyn Trent and Rosa Fittingov. They were not Indian by birth. But they played a pivotal role in the formation of our party. But are their names or their contributions familiar among the ranks of the Communists? Rather not. The little they are known is merely as the wife of MN Roy and Abani Mukherjee respectively. It is also the Party’s history that books written by women activists were banned for openly criticizing the patriarchy in the party. We know that in this society patriarchal trend remains in every male and female. In the Party also this trend definitely remains. So fight against this should be encouraged. If overreaction occurs, it is the duty of the leadership to understand and explain. But instead of welcoming the criticism, Party leadership discouraged many women comrades from wholetime party service. We are still not well aware about the role of women in the building of our Party. If this propaganda work is taken up, it would encourage more and more women comrades to get the confidence to come forward. Now there is a popular version – much hyped by bourgeois intellectuals and the media – that in the Communist party oppressed sections like women, Dalits and minorities cannot become leaders. We cannot contradict this. That is our shortcoming. That does not mean that we have to start quota system. Rather, we have to create an atmosphere so that the comrades who due to their social hindrance and handicap cannot come forward, may be educated and prepared to take the responsibility of leadership. Actually some questions are concealed, either deliberately or thoughtlessly. Who knows that the first General Secretary of the Communist Party was Mohammad Shafi, a Muslim by birth? Who knows that the main and pivotal role to form the Party was taken by those who were Muslims by birth? Or that hundreds of Muslim mujahids who joined the Party were either executed or sent to exile for several years? Who knows that Guruchand Thakur, leader of the Matua Mahasangh, was also the leader of the Kisan Sabha? Who knows that he and the Matuas have played a heroic role in the peasant movement influenced by the Communists? Actually all these questions remained unimportant in the Communist movement due to the failure to understand the peculiar type of our nation.
Fourthly, regarding the nationality question the Communists made the mistake to take the Muslims as a nationality. Where every Marxist teacher has said that without a territory no nation can be developed, our leaders didn’t follow that teaching. By the time they realized this and raised the slogan of formulating states on the basis of language, it was too late. Pakistan and Bharat were already agreed upon. This was also a big mistake of the Communists. We are suffering from the consequences of these mistakes till now. We know about the debate between the Bunds and the Bolsheviks regarding the national cultural autonomy of the Ehud. But Indian Communists actually took the Bundist position by accepting Partition based on religion.
Fifthly, the question of art and culture was also dealt with from a reductionist approach. The issue was democratic centralism. Artists will produce according to their will. The particular thing which is necessary for the Party and campaign can be produced specially. But we cannot say that a cultural activist should always produce as the party leaders dictate. Sometimes their output may be beyond the party line also. But Communist leaders should handle this flexibly. This is also true in the party democracy. We know that difference is absolute, unity is temporary. That is true also in party life. But although there was so much difference within the higher strata of party leadership, when this difference came out in the ranks then immediate actions were taken! Particularly this happened with the cultural activists.
There was a situation of pre-independence period. But after the transfer of power so many problems developed regarding the immediate action and regarding the analysis of the concrete situation. Again two extreme positions came. One section supposed this was real independence and hailed Gandhi as the ‘father of the nation’, while another section termed characterized it as ‘fake independence’. After the transfer of power, the “Fake Independence” section was the majority in the Party. So in order to turn it into ‘real independence’ another unsuitable insurrection programme was taken and implemented. But naturally it failed. At that time people were not in favour of another insurrection to oust the Congress Government. Though people were not very satisfied with the outcome of independence, they were neither ready for immediate insurrection. Actually the people were to some extent happy and satisfied that the British were no more directly ruling over us. So actually it was distorted, crippled independence, but still it was independence. This is one aspect. The other aspect is that it was not real independence, it was indirect rule of imperialism. India turned from colonial to a neo-colonially dependent country. But the then leadership failed to understand these two aspects of the contradiction and bluntly raised the slogan, “Yeh Azadi Jhuta hai, Desh Hamara Bhukha hai.” Actually this slogan was erroneous as a poverty-stricken country can indeed still be independent from colonial rule. So this slogan failed to point out the real nature of the independence. After democratic revolution in People’s Democratic China, that country was also plagued by hunger, but that did not mean that China was not free! Thus the Indian Communist leadership failed to understand the concrete situation.
After failure of the insurrection and several setbacks another trend was strengthened. Though the heroic struggles of Tebhaga and Telengana were led by the Communists and several workers’ strikes were organized under their leadership, the coming of parliamentary democracy, which was unfamiliar to everyone, gave rise to a new kind of problem. On the one hand, parliamentary cretinism was strengthening and, on the other, the trend of excluding parliamentary struggle was also increasing. The main section of the leadership went to the reformist path. In 1962, at the time of Indo-China war, these two trends split away and in 1964 CPIM was formed. But the question was not resolved. Though CPIM decided to join parliamentary elections, they were still actually unresolved regarding the tasks of the Government. Thus what was written in chapter 112 (that the government will work for relief in this system through a benevolent programme) of their programme, was actually nothing but a compromise solution with the ruling class. In 1967 the real nature of it was practically proved. The United front government in West Bengal where CPIM was majority suppressed Naxalbari movement and CPIM openly supported this. Again the Communist movement split. CPI(ML) was formed through the continuation of Naxalbari movement in 1969. It was CPIML who brought revolution back to the agenda after a long time – something that the Communists had long forgotten till then. But still the problem was not resolved. In its fight against parliamentary cretinism CPI(ML) made great mistakes. Abandoning the question of working class in democratic revolution it was trying to make revolution only through the peasants’ militant struggle. Boycotting elections, mass organizations and even mass movements, CPI(ML) leadership got alienated from the people. As a consequence, a totally mechanical and dogmatic attitude towards history encompassed the whole movement. At the call of CPI(ML) thousands of youth and students plunged into the revolutionary movement but the CPI(ML) leadership not only failed to channelize this spirit to construct positive, continuous, relentless revolutionary struggle, they also trailed behind the inexperienced youth and students’ adventurist will. This was like a populist politics in another sense. Statue-breaking movement and annihilation type movements were some instances.
It is a matter of fact that the course of split in both cases was mainly the revolt against revisionist leadership. But the overall theoretical departure was not there. For instance, at the time of Chinese war both sections took extreme positions. One section supported the Indian government and took social chauvinist position while the other section blatantly supported China. While it was true that China was not the first aggressor, it was equally true that China’s failure to deal with a border conflict led to total warfare. China should have been more cautious because a powerful nascent revolutionary struggle was growing in India at that time. Ultimately the Chinese withdrew but the incident had a huge backlash. So those who blatantly supported China did not act wisely as their immediate aim should have been and they should have called for immediate end of war.
Now this past is haunting us. After hundred years now we are dwelling in a situation where the Communist movement is splintered. A big anarchy is prevailing on the question of theory. So, in this situation, materialist thinking and analysis of our past and rectification of all mistakes and development of a new stream of movement is essential. Developing a developed theory and movement is essential. What is necessary is a Party where there is the scope of raising these types of questions and resolving them through discussion, debate, study and practice. To develop this atmosphere, criticism and self criticism, learning and practice is necessary to build up a revolutionary struggle that can shatter the ruling class and be able to snatch the ultimate victory.
So on this day, on the 100th anniversary of the formation of our party, we can raise the slogan:
Dare to critique, Dare to learn, Dare to build and Dare to Win.