Communism refers to a set of ideas which emphasize upon the abolition of private property, the emphasis on the importance of economy as the base upon which the superstructures like society, law, politics etc stand. It is a school of thoughts which believes in observing society through the lens of class-struggle, or, in structural terms, the 'dialectic materialism', which refers to the struggle for power between the opposing forces of the capitalist owners of 'property', referred to as the bourgeoisie classes and their outdated modes of production, with the growing forces of the labourers who happen to be the downtrodden classes, in technical terms, 'the productive force' or the proletariats. Adherents to this doctrine believe that a communist society would be the historical culmination of the development of the human race, and would be the supreme manifestation of the human civilization, leading to the elimination of inequality between classes.
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The forefathers of the doctrine believed that mere interpretation of the world situation and the related analyses of the same would not be sufficient to further the causes of the doctrine. As Karl Marx had once famously stated in his "Theses on Feurbach": 'the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it'.
Keeping this end in mind, the so called movements were initiated, with the objective of putting an end to the oppression and inequality associated with the capitalist framework. The Communist Manifesto, which was scripted by Karl Marx and Freidreich Engels and was published on 1848 was the first decisive step in the development of the Communist Movement throughout the world. In the manifesto, a clarion call was issued to the working men of the world to unite, as the manifesto ended with the words: "The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of the world, unite!"
Important developments of the Communist Movement in the 19th century include the revolutions of 1848, the establishment of the First International in 1866 which sought to bring different Left-wing ideologists and parties under one roof, the Paris Commune of 1871 which lasted for sixty one days, the Hay-Market Massacre of Chicago in 1886 and the consequent execution of Adolph Fischer, August Spies, George Engel and Albert Parsons, et cetera.
The beginning of the 20th century was marked by tremendous agitations in Russia against the oppressive Tsarist regime. The first prominent event in this regard was the Revolution of 1905. It was marked by workers' strikes, unrests and military mutiny in many places. It led to the establishment of partial constitutional democracy in Russia, but, more importantly it brought Vladimir Lenin to the limelight.
The next wave of revolution happened in Russia in 1917, which was led from the front by Lenin. The final and the most violent stage of this was the Bolshevik Revolution or the October Rebellion, which happened in November, 1917 and led to the complete destruction of the Tsarist autocracy in Russia with the consequent execution of the Tsar Nicholas and his family and the establishment of a Communist Government in Russia headed by Lenin. This Communist Government existed in Russia, which became the United Soviet Socialists Republic for more than seventy years. The Revolution of 1917 was headed by stalwarts like Lenin, Trotsky and Kamenev, and has been immortalized in the writings of John Reed, Mikhail Sholokov, Leon Trotsky, E.H. Carr, as well as in the poetry of Vladimir Mayakovsky and the cinema of Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov and the like.
At that time, India was reeling under the oppressive British regime and contact with the outside world had fuelled anti-British and anti-Imperialistic sentiments of the Indian nationalists who sought to free the country from foreign rule. Quite naturally, the events of Russia influenced a large section of the Indian nationalists at that time. In the remaining part of the article, we shall look into the extent of this influence on them.
The Communists, as Marx had stated, must fight for the cause of democracy against imperialism, but under their own banner. In this project, I intend to probe on the applicability of this notion in the Indian context, prior to independence
The Communist Party of India
Always on Time
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Soon after the Second Congress of the Communist International, The Communist Party of India (the CPI) was established at Tashkent in 1920. The founders were M.N. Roy, Evelina Trench Roy, Abani Mukherji, Rosa Fitingof, Mohammad Ali (Ahmed Hasan), Mohammad Shafiq Siddiqui and M.P.B.T. Acharya. Soon after, organizational works began in India, the prominent seats being Bengal (led by Muzaffar Ahmed), Bombay (led by S.A. Dange), Madras (led by Singaravelu Chettiar), United Provinces (led by Shaukat Usmani) and Punjab (led by Ghulam Hussain).
Soon after the 1926 conference of the Workers and Peasants Party of Bengal, the underground CPI directed its members to join the provincial Workers and Peasants Parties. All open communist activities were carried out through Workers and Peasants Parties.
In 1926, after the Kuomintang Government had become hostile towards the Communists in China, the Sixth Congress of the Communist International warned the Indian Communists against alliances and dalliances with the Indian National Congress leaders and the Swarajists, including Gandhi, terming them as 'bourgeoisie' and instructed the party and the Communist leaders to 'unmask their national reformism'. This led to many problems, which shall be discussed later.
Communism continued to influence the outlook of several Indian nationalists, including 'Deshapriya' JYotindranath Sengupta and Neli Sengupta, 'Dinabandhu' Andrews, Muzaffar Ahmed, P.C. Joshi, Philip Spratt and the like.
The incident which gave a tremendous blow to the cause of Communism in India was the Meerut Conspiracy case
The Meerut Conspiracy
Being worried about the growing influence and activities of the Communists, the British Government decided to take drastic measures to nip the tide of Left-tinged nationalism which was slowly spreading its roots throughout the country in the bud.
The attempts to establish a branch of the Comintern in India, as were made by prominent Communist leaders of India including Dange, Usmani and Muzaffar Ahmed, were deemed to be treason against the Government under under section 121-A of the Indian Penal Code (Act 45 of 1860).
After a lopsided trial, twenty five of the accused were deemed guilty and stringent punishments were 'awarded'. The persons who were thus convicted included several prominent trade union activists and Communist leaders of India including K.N. Sehgal, S.S. Josh, H.L. Hutchinson, Shaukat Usmani, B.F. Bradly, A. Prasad, Philip Spratt,G. Adhikari, K.R. Mitra, Gopan Chakravarthy, Kishore Lal Ghosh, K.L. Kadam, D.R. Thengdi, Goura Shanker, S. Banerjee, K.N. Joglekar, P.C. Joshi, Muzaffar Ahmed, M.G. Desai, G. Goswami, R.S. Nimkar, S.S. Mirajkar, S.A. Dange, G.V. Ghate and Gopal Basak.
Though these imprisonments stunted the growth of Communist ideals in India, in the long run it helped the cause of Communism in the country by consolidating the anti-British sentiments of the Communist nationalists and by strengthening their bond of unity, a point which was later underlined by Harkishen Singh Surjeet in an article published in The Marxist, titled "Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Formation of the Communist Party of India".
Besides, the attitude of the British Government in this case quite clearly reflected the sense of fear that had been instilled in their minds regarding the Communist movement of India.
Bhagat Singh and his part in the Freedom Struggle
Apart from the nationalist leaders who were involved with the Communist Party of India, Communism had also influenced many young Indian revolutionaries and freedom-fighters in the 1920s and 30s. The most prominent among them was Bhagat Singh.
According to Niraja Rao, Bhagat Singh had studied about the concepts of anarchism and communism in his adolescence and this had a profound impact on his mind.
He worked for the nationalist group called the Hindustan Republican Association which had socialist leanings. He was instrumental in converting it into the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. He wrote about the notion of Anarchism in a Punjabi periodical named Kirti. However, according to Prof. K.M. Panikkar, he was one of the earliest Marxists of India, being well-versed with the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, as his diary entries reflect.
Bhagat Singh, along with Batukeshwar Dutt, were involved in the bombing of the Central Legislative Assembly when the notorious Defence of India Act was being passed, though their intention was not to kill anybody but to make a strong statement. Previously, he was directly associated with the murder of tyrannical police officer named J.P. Saunders, though he had intended to kill another police officer named Scott who had beaten Lala Lajpat Rai to death when the later was protesting against the Simon Commission.
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Bhagat Singh was subsequently convicted for treason in the Lahore Conspiracy Case and was hanged along with fellow revolutionaries Rajguru and Sukdev on 23rd March, 1931, in the Lahore Prison, his final wish being to complete his reading of Lenin's works.
Bhagat Singh and his ideals continue to inspire the Indians even to this day. He was a bright meteor that had shone in the skies of a dependent India. Maybe the reason why he is regarded more as a great freedom fighter and not so much as a great Communist leader of the nation is that he was more of a revolutionary than a politician, unlike most other Indian Communist leaders of those days.
Problems of the Second World War
With the beginning of the Second World War, Communism in India faced yet another challenge. Russia and Britain were on the same side in the war. Consequently, Communists in India were instructed by the U.S.S.R. not to be hostile towards the British rulers. On the other hand, many of the young members of the Indian National Congress, including Subhas Chandra Bose, became impatient of the policies of the Congress. Bose, who was sidelined in favour of Sitaramayya in the Tripuri Congress despite the former's victory, subsequently had no option but to quit from the party. His socialistic orientation was well-known, nevertheless, he could not enter the folds of the CPI, owing to his intense patriotism, given the fact that, by that time, the Second World War had begun and the Communists in India had decided to distance themselves from the cause of India's independence. The fact that he was denied any help from the Communist Government in Moscow when he had reached there after fleeing from his home in Calcutta and that he had decided to take aid from the Fascist Axis Powers made it impossible for the Communists in India to associate themselves with him. Nevertheless, the Forward Block, a party which was established by him, remains a prominent Party within the fold of the Left Front even today.
Again, the Communists in India had decided to oppose the Quit India Movement of 1942 and leaders such as M.N. Roy had decried the Movement as a wrongful channelization of public energy made them lose out on considerable amount of popularity. Neither could they successfully ally themselves with Fazlul Haq's Krishak Praja Party, despite both parties being staunch opponents of the Partition. The CPI even failed to associate itself with B.R. Ambedkar and his championing the cause of the Dalits, on grounds that the Communists are concerned with a 'class-based approach' and not with one based on 'caste'. All these myopic decisions hampered the growth of the CPI, and of Communism in India in the 1940s, something the party more than made up with post-independence.
The CPI contested the Provincial Elections of Bengal in 1946 and won in all the three seats for which it had contested.
The main problem that affected and stunted the growth of Communism in India was the enormous mass-support as was garnered by the Indian National Congress, which took much of the limelight away from the Communists. The policies of the Congress were, at times, completely different from the approach taken by the Communists, which led to considerable animosity between the two parties. The Congress continued to play the most significant role in the Indian polity prior to independence, thereby pushing the Communist nationalists of India to the sidelines. The immense influence of the Congress on the Indian psyche, added with the demigod status of Gandhi, made it difficult for the Communists to make significant mark in the minds of the larger Indian populace, and, thus, the appeal of Communism was restricted mostly to the urban educated middle class youth, and could not reach the grass-root level. The fact that those workmen who joined Communist Trade Unions of the Factories were harassed by the Factory Owners and were wrongfully denied many of their deserved benefits compelled the workers to think twice before joining such Unions, thereby further weakening the cause of Communism in India during the British Raj. Also, the Communists opposed many of the popular programmes, policies and initiatives of the Congress, including the immensely popular Quit India Movement, as has been mentioned earlier. All these, added with the withdrawal from the cause of independence during the Second World War due to the Russo-British alliance, made it difficult for the Communists to gain much foothold or sway in the Indian pre-independence scenario.