PG Teacher, Higher Secondary School, Nabiganj Bazar, Siwan Bihar.
The Left movement in India began originally in Russia, heavily influenced by international politics. It’s a movement not very clearly understood by the Indian masses, which has evolved into many shades. The Left movement kicked off with various Socialist and Communist Parties being formed, and also getting a lot of patronage within the Congress. In my paper, I hope to discuss the evolution of the Left movement, which majorly transforms into a discussion on the Communist Party of India giving a brief history. The main objective of this paper is to understand the movement in context of India, it’s influence and how in current days of turmoil it has become a contested ideology, all the while emphasizing that like all other ideologies, we need to recognize and accept the fact that the Left isn’t of one particular shade.
During the 1920s, the National Movement was in full swing in India and had viewed the rise of various streams and methods for the fight. This was the age of Gandhian politics, and the rise of the educated youth giving unprecedented support to the freedom struggle. Due to the unrest among some classes about the inaction of the Moderates, revolutionary terrorism sprouted up in various parts of the country, with the cult of the bomb1 under the leadership of Lokmanya Tilak and his colleagues as Lala Lajpat Rai and Bakin Chandra, the trio being popularly called as ‘Lal, Pal and Bal’. This led to the beginning of an alternative method of struggle contributing to the radicalization of the national movement. Add to this, the impact of the Russian revolution which drove the lesson that if common people as the workers, peasants and the intelligentsia could overthrow the might Czarist empire, and establish a socialist state with no exploitation of human beings, the same could be replicated by the Indians. Socialist doctrines became extremely popular with the Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx being released in English and Malayalam almost simultaneously and spreading to further regions. Print media contributed further to the cause with various Socialist weeklys being published. Certain fractions of the populations, dissatisfied with the Gandhian policies were more attracted to the same. A lot of youth associations were formed in Bengal, Punjab and to a certain extent, other princely states. Similar groups were formed by Indians living abroad.
These groups started planning the liberation of India from abroad with the help of countries hostile towards the British. An example of this was the Ghadar Party formed in US in 1913. The Russian Communist Party, its leaders, Lenin and the Communist International paid a great deal of attention of the revolutionary emigrants on their soil. While the emigrants had committed themselves to the idea of Communism, many of them didn’t understand the concept clearly. However, just their support and stay abroad helped garner a lot of support from the Indian locals. The success of the revolution was further exaggerated with the ongoing depression in the capitalist economies. A group in Tashkent and Moscow should be given special focus which was granted a consultative status at the Third congress of the Communist International. This, according to one of the founding members of the Communist Party of India (henceforth, CPI) should be considered as the foundation date of the party2. However, others disagree saying that MN Roy founded the party during the Kanpur Conference of 1925 where CPI was formally constituted.
After 1925, the party couldn’t hold any Congress due to various disturbances. Its first Congress was held sixteen years later, as the Meerut Conspiracy Case involving all the known Communist leaders of the time disintegrated whatever work had been done at Kanpur. The Meerut Trial, which continued for over three and half years, ended with the conviction of 27 persons made martyrs of the Communist. The anti British attitude of the Communists favored them to win over the sympathy of the nationalists. The Congress working Committee set up a Central Defence Committee, sanctioned a sum of Rupees 1500, and the eminent nationalist like J.L. Nehru, K.N. Katju, pleaded the defense case. Gandhiji visited the prisoners in the jail in the year 1929 s and expressed his sympathy to the Communist leaders. Consequently the Congress leaders of the Central Legislative Assembly strongly opposed the enactment of the Public Safety Bill, a bill that was directed against the Communists in India. In the course of long drawn out trial, the Communist leaders made political propaganda speeches, which received a wide coverage in the nationalist press. By 1934 the Communist Movement in India attained some respectability. During the Quit India Movement, The CPI sought to distract the popularity of the Congress. They attempted to project a people's struggle not only against the foreign imperialism but also against the Indian exploiters. It attacked the petty bourgeoisie nationalist leadership of Gandhiji. However in July 1934, the CPI was declared an illegal organization.
The movement however continued due to it’s member’s active participation in the Quit India Movement and the spread of socialist ideas. The situation underwent a massive change as P.C Joshi took over in 1935, changed its earlier position of working within the ambit of the Indian National Congress, advocating the formation of a united front with socialists and other anti‐fascists in the capitalist countries and with bourgeois‐led nationalist movements in colonial countries. This change was brought about by the Dutt and Bradley Thesis, which advocated participation in the Indian National Congress (INC)’s movements. In 1939, P.C Joshi wrote in the party weekly, National Front, that the ‘greatest class struggle today is our national struggle’ of which Congress is the ‘main organ’ 3, hence linking the main Communist ideology with the national movement.
Simultaneously, a number of socialist parties were also formed in the jails by a group of young Congressmen, the Congress Socialist Party (Henceforth, CSP) under the leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan, Acharya Narendra Dev in 1934. It’s main objective was to transform the Congress and strengthen it, ideologically as well as in their objectives. It always remained a safe party, never challenging much and staying close to Nehru, earning the condemnation of other Left wing groups like being criticized for their refusal to support Subhash Chandra Bose in his confrontation with Gandhi and right wing INC. The CSP was primarily divided into three currents: Marxist, Fabian and Gandhian, ending up in confusion, but the party lasted for quite some time due to its commitment to nationalism and socialism.
Despite the fact that the Left cadres were among the most courageous, militant and sacrificing of freedom fighters, the Left failed in the basic task it had taken upon itself to establish the hegemony of socialist ideas and parties over the nationalist movement.4 It’s been argued that they couldn’t understand the Indian reality completely. They couldn’t work in united form, but the discussion and organization of workers and peasants was one of its greatest achievements. Politically and ideologically, the Congress as a whole was given a strong Left orientation, accepting that Indian society did not only suffer from British imperialism but also exploitation from within the society.
The clash of ideas within the Left was represented in the internal crisis of the Congress while selecting their President in 1939 over which Nehru and Bose bickered publically. The Second World War broke out soon after, the CSP siding against Russia while CPI aligned with them. The Congress socialist was critical of the Congress leadership but failed to give any militant leadership to the fighting people. The CPI on the other contrary came out with what was called the ‘proletarian path’ was a program of organizing and leading militant struggles of the working class people.5 The CPI believes it was the victory of the anti‐fascist forces which led to the attainment of freedom by India and few other neighbouring countries, this isolated the party from the other anti‐imperialist forces. The party often accepted its mistakes and rectified them, and it emerged as an independent and growing political force, deeply rooted in the working masses in the country and the revolutionary movements abroad. 6
However according to the historians, the Communists or the Leftist concept of the Proletarian Internationalism could not be reconciled with India's national aspirations. Moreover the basics themes of Marxist communism, "class antagonism" and "violence" were alien to the Indian tradition. Henceforth the Leftist Movement led by the Communists could not make a progressive development in India. The CPI also refused to associate themselves with any religion, they understood caste but felt that class loyalty would erase caste differences, this didn’t happen. Also, women were not given much representation which was another drawback. Hence, their popularity and actions remains highly contested, but the support of CPI after independence clearly proves this was not the entire truth.
1. E.M.S Namboodiripad, “The Left in India’s Freedom Movement and In Free India”, p. 8
2. Bakin Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, Sucheta Mahajan, KN Panikkar ‐India’s Struggle for Independence.
3. Ibid, p. 6
4. Bipin Chandra, “India’s Struggle for Independence”, p. 304
5. http://www.indianetzone.com/24/fifth_phase_left_movement_india.htm (Accessed on 2nd April 2015)
6. http://cpim.org/documents/20040101_india_left.pdf (Accessed on 3rd April 2015)
7. Sudeep Chakravarti ‐ Red Sun; Travels in a Naxalite Country
Received on 14.11.2020 Modified on 24.11.2020
Accepted on 01.12.2020 ©AandV Publications All right reserved