THE Government of India correctly identified the basic source of the Bolshevik menace in the internal conditions of India. In a very revealing note, it warned : “If India is not to share the fate of Russia, there must be a deliberate effort ... to improve the conditions of the masses and to make them less discontented.” In some other notes it drew attention of the Secretary of State in London to the inspiration the national movement in India was already drawing from the Russian revolution.
It was in this atmosphere surcharged with a new hope, a new passion for liberation that the most dynamic revolutionists of India got attracted first towards the new “Red” heroes and then towards Marxism or communism because that was — they were told — the great secret behind the Bolshevik miracle. They came basically from three backgrounds:
The common urge that propelled these diverse forces was the liberation of the motherland. Herein lay the original impulse of communism in India. Of these three streams the first two joined together in the Soviet Union to form a self-styled ‘CPI’, but being cut off from the internal dynamics of Indian society this combination never developed beyond an emigre communist group. It was the third stream that arose out of the evolution of the Indian society itself and therefore became the real Communist Party of India. Before we take up a detailed study of that vital process, let us, for the sake of historicity, record the abortive attempt at party formation in a foreign country.
The chronology of events relating to the emergence of an Indian communist group in the Soviet Union is as follows.
From this record of events it is not difficult to see why the group formed in Tashkent-Moscow during 1920-21 was still-born. Hastily formed without any ground-work, it had no constitution or programme. In fact it was a handiwork of Roy to secure himself a berth in the Communist International (CI). What is most important, the Emigre revolutionaries had no roots in the masses of India and their subjective creation was never internalised in the society it sought to transform. So in no sense can the Tashkent formation be regarded as the formation of CPI.
MN Roy, however, lost no time to try and build political bridges to India through journals, manifestoes, letters etc. and by sending emissaries and funds. In these efforts he was fully financed and politically assisted by the CI, on whose behalf he was acting (he was inducted into its leadership in 1921 itself). The emissaries and the funds were not of much help, but the Comintern reports and guidelines contained in magazines edited by Roy certainly were, notwithstanding the fact that many if not most copies of these magazines used to be intercepted by the police. Besides, Roy made the first attempts at a Marxist interpretation of the various facets of the Indian political scene.
One of the many curious events in the history of communism in India was that the credit for organising the historic conference which united the scattered communist groups into one party goes to a person named Satyabhakta who deserted this very party — the CPI — within days after foundation. This Satyabhakta was a former member of a patriotic-terrorist group in UP, and a disillusioned disciple of Gandhi who after the withdrawal of the non-cooperation movement got interested in Soviet Russia and communism. He set up an open “Indian Communist Party” in mid-1924 with a membership, according to his own claim, of 78 persons which grew to 150 by 1925. He felt emboldened to form the party openly when in May 1924 the Public Prosecutor (PP) in the Kanpur Conspiracy Case made a statement to the effect that the accused was being prosecuted not because they held or propagated communist views, but because they conspired to overthrow the government. From this Satyabhakta inferred that a communist party which is open and above board and fully and manifestly Indian, i.e., having no connection with Bolshevism or the Comintern, would not perhaps incur the wrath of the authorities.
The existing communist groups did not take this party seriously (nor did Cecil Kaye, the British intelligence chief, though Satyabhakta was closely watched), but when he announced the decision to organise what he called the “First Indian Communist Conference” in Kanpur late in 1925, they took notice and sat up. Already in jail there was a discussion among them on the propriety or otherwise of holding an open conference to set up the Communist Party on an all-India basis utilising the above-mentioned statement of the PP in the Kanpur case. The idea was Dange’s, so the Bombay group (Dange himself was in jail) co-operated with Satyabhakta and participated wholeheartedly in the Kanpur Conference (25-28 December 1925). Ahmad was against the idea but, released from jail just three months before the conference on the ground of severe tuberculosis, he also attended. Delegates from other places were also present.
The conference was attended by 300 delegates according to the February 1926 number of Kirti (a communist-sponsored Punjabi magazine), though intelligence sources put the figure at 500. The British communist MP Shapurji Saklatvala had sent a short message to the “Congress which I hope will be the beginning of a large and stable Communist movement in India”; this was read out at the first session, followed by the speech of the reception committee chairman Hasrat Mohani (who had raised the famous “Independence Resolution” at the Ahmedabad session of Congress in December 1921). Next came the presidential address by M Singaravelu.
The very first set of documents of the CPI (adopted at the Kanpur Conference) naturally carry many imperfections both on political and organisational questions.
Despite all these major weaknesses, it was this conference that adopted the first Party Constitution and elected the nucleus of an all-India leadership where all the erstwhile communist circles were represented. This leadership or CEC (minus Satyabhakta who resigned in February 1926 and Bagerhatta who became aware of other comrades’ suspicions about him and resigned in mid-1927) met irregularly from tune to time till the Meerut arrests (March 1929) and played a commendable role on the working class front and in organising the Workers’ and Peasants’ Parties during this period. If the subjective intentions of AO Hume did not determine the nature of the Congress, this was all the more true in the case of Satyabhakta and the CPI. Satyabhakta’s nationalist attitude was defeated, and the CPI started its journey as a part of the international communist movement. It was, therefore, quite natural that the foundation of the party should be counted form the Kanpur conference, as indeed was decided by the Central Secretariat of the CPI on 19 August, 1959. There was no debate about this, at least in public.
After the CPI-CPI(M) split, however, a peculiar position was taken by Muzaffar Ahmad who sided with the CPI(M). In his Myself and the CPI published in 1969, he describes the Kanpur conference as a “tamasha” and declares the Tashkent formation as “the real date of the foundation of the CPI”. His main logic is that the CPI formed in Tashkent was affiliated to the Comintern and the CPI established in Kanpur was not. Muzaffar thus makes international recognition the sole criterion in determining when and whether a communist party comes into existence, and disregards all other factors like organic links with the mass movements in the country concerned. And on this point also his argument is far from perfect, for as we have seen before, the CPI at Tashkent was indeed registered with the Comintern (with its Turkestan Bureau to be more precise), but the Comintern was not so stupid as to recognise the motley group as a full-fledged party.
However, the question remains as to why did the CPI formed in Kanpur not appeal for affiliation with the Comintern? Muzaffar Ahmad, who was elected to the CEC in the Kanpur conference, explains this before the CPI-CPI(M) split in this way: “... as the party members did not consider the membership sufficient so they did not apply for the party being affiliated to the CI. All the same, the CI considered the CPI as a part of itself.” Ahmad thus, did not consider non-affiliation as a great crime at that time, as he did after the split. In fact just like his other comrades he took the Kanpur decisions in all seriousness and made a fervent appeal to all “Communists in Bengal” to “come together and build the party” in a statement published in Langal on 21 January,1926.
Without wasting time in explaining Ahmad’s self-contradiction, let us record here our own views on the relevant questions. First, the absence of formal recognition did not prevent the CPI, either during the 1920s or later, from making reports to and seeking advice from the Comintern, which on its part guided and issued directives to the CPI just as it did in relation to other affiliated parties. For all practical purposes, therefore, the CPI acted very much as a part of the international communist movement led by the Comintern. Perhaps there was a subtle tendency, even after the desertion of Satyabhakta, of avoiding an organic relationship with the Comintern, but that falls within the purview of inner-party debates and cannot render the party itself illegitimate.
Second, we regard the entire historical period between the Bolshevik revolution and the second world war as the formative years of the CPI, in the sense that a more or less full-fledged communist party actually developed only in the second half of 1930s after overcoming a prolonged setback by means of rectification of certain political mistakes and reorganisation of the leadership. It is in this total historical context that we take 26 December 1925, when representatives of all the active communist circles of the country met together and adopted the resolutions founding the all-India party, as the foundation of the CPI. If the October Revolution ushered in a brand new stage in national liberation struggles worldwide, for India this general advance was concretely realised — for the first time and therefore in an embryonic form — through this conference. Ideologically this meant a revolutionary leap from petty bourgeois revolutionism to Marxism-Leninism and once this was achieved, the political transition from individual terrorism to mass struggle could not be far behind.