By Ahmed Kamran
Chapter Two: The Communist Party of India – Its Genesis (1920 – 1932) – (Continued)
The First Communist Conference in India
During the proceedings of Kanpur Conspiracy case, strong protests were made in the British press and the parliament against trial of accused for being communists and having links with the Communist International while the communist parties were legally allowed to operate in the Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and many European countries. M.N. Roy, in his open letter addressed to Ramsay MacDonald, the newly inducted Labour Prime Minister of Great Britain, the Labour Government and the British Working Class on behalf of the workers and peasants of India, said, “Has socialist and communist propaganda – that is to say working-class propaganda – been declared illegal in Great Britain and the dominions? Then why should it be illegal in British India? Have socialist and communist parties, that is to say working–class parties, been denied the right to exist in any other part of the British Empire? Then why should Indians be denied that right? Does affiliation to the Third International constitute a crime on part of the Communist Party of Great Britain, of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa? Then why does such affiliation on the part of the Communist Party of India constitute ‘seditious conspiracy’? The toiling masses of India will record the verdict of the British labour government upon this chapter in the history of their struggle for emancipation”(42). Under pressure, the British Indian government issued clarification that the accused in Kanpur Conspiracy case were not tried for being communists but on the charges of ‘organising a conspiracy to overthrow the British Crown’.
Perhaps, taking a cue from the official pronouncement, a self-proclaimed communist journalist Satyabakht published a pamphlet on 1 September, 1924 openly announcing formation of a communist party in Kanpur. He named the party ‘The Indian Communist Party’ (ICP) and appointed himself as the Secretary of the party (43). Satyabakht also published another 4-page leaflet under the title ‘The Indian Communist Party (Bharatiya Samyawadi Dal)’, both in Hindi and English, with a membership form attached to it. It defined the aims and objects of the party. The leaflets were signed ‘Secretary, Indian Communist Party’, with Satyabakht, Socialist Bookshop, Kanpur as the printer & publisher. Although, the U.P. government banned and confiscated both the leaflets but in spite of an all-round suppression of communists in India in the aftermath of the Kanpur Conspiracy Case a year before, no police or administrative action was taken against the party or its leader. Satyabakht also announced holding of the first conference of all communist groups and workers in December, 1924 at Kanpur. Hasrat Mohani and others supported Satyabakht and joined his party (44). The ideas of the sponsors of this new communist party, ICP, were, at best, a theoretical hodge podge. Ideals of utopian socialism, Marxism, and liberal capitalism were freely mixed to produce an amalgam of a revolutionary theory. Hasrat Mohani, an otherwise remarkably selfless and dedicated freedom fighter, seemed to have added a liberal dash of Islamic religious precepts into it.
However, independent of Satyabakht’s move many Indian communist groups were already discussing among themselves plans for holding a communist conference even before the arrests of Kanpur Conspiracy Case took place. S.A. Dange in Bombay was particularly keen to see such a conference being organized in India. In spite of their initial reservations about the dubious credentials of some of the Satyabakht’s conference sponsors, the communist groups working in Bombay, Madras, U.P., Bengal, and Punjab agreed among themselves to participate in Satyabakht’s Kanpur conference. Under the cover of a public call from ICP for a communist conference and a meeting of the Indian National Congress at the same time at Kanpur, the communist groups decided to attend the event and, in the words of S.A. Dange, ‘establish a properly constituted party and a central committee inside the country’. M.N. Roy is also said to have lent support to the idea of attending the communist conference in Kanpur. On behalf of the British communists, Shapurji Saklatwala also sent a message of felicitation for the conference.
The communist conference was finally held on 26-28 December, 1925, coinciding with the Kanpur session of the Indian National Congress. Hasrat Mohani chaired the Reception Committee with K.N. Jogelekar and Janaki Parsad Bagerhatta as members of the committee. While many of the leading communist workers were still in prison, about 500 communist workers participated in the conference. Various communist groups including that of Muzaffar Ahmed in Bengal, S.A. Dange in Bombay, the Labour Kisan Party of Hindustan of Madras, and that of Shaukat Usmani in U.P. dissolved themselves to form a unified Communist Party of India. This was, in a sense, a renewed founding of the Communist Party inside India. At Kanpur conference, the attempts of the Satyabakht’s group to steer the proceedings towards their objectives were successfully foiled. Most of their proposed resolutions were defeated. The conference, was, so to speak, hijacked by the communist workers of groups coming from Bombay, Bengal, Madras, and other parts of UP. Satyabakht and his supporters strongly advocated naming the new party as the ‘Indian Communist Party’ instead of the Communist Party of India, to avoid the naming style of most communist parties in the world. Their insistence was to keep away and completely dissociate from the international communist movement and particularly the Comintern. Addressing the conference, Hasrat Mohani said with reference to the Comintern and the CPI leadership abroad, ‘We were only fellow-travelers on their path and not their subordinates’(45). The conference, however, approved the name of the Communist Party of India (CPI) as insisted by the communist workers coming from other cities now dominating the conference proceedings. The new party stressed upon the fraternity of the international communist movement. The Conference elected M. Singaravelu as president, Bagerhatta and S.V. Ghate as two Joint Secretaries and an Executive Committee of the CPI. The central executive committee was to consist of 30 members but only 16 were elected at the conference (including three representatives from the émigré CPI based in Russia), and 14 were to be co-opted later from the provinces. Satyabakht and few of his comrades were also elected as members of the executive committee. To take the control of the party away from Satyabakht, the Party headquarter was shifted from Kanpur to Bombay. The first constitution of the party was drafted and published in 1926. The newly formed body of the CPI did not, however, apply for affiliation with the Communist International (Comintern).
Few days after the conference ended, Satyabakht announced his dissociation from the CPI, resigning from its executive committee and, he together with his comrades, formed a new ‘National Communist Party’. The Satyabakht’s party had hardly any activity to its credit and was confined to Kanpur only. By 1927, it was, for all intents and purposes, defunct. By early 1927, Muzaffar Ahmed and other communist leaders began suspecting one of the Joint Secretary of the CPI, Janaki Parsad Bagerhatta to be a police informer. The arrest of Ashfaqullah Khan of Kakori case (whose hiding from the police was entrusted to him) had further raised the suspicions. Finally, Bagerhatta resigned from the party in May, 1927 on the grounds that he had lost the trust of his comrades. Later, it was established that Bagerhatta was regularly reporting to the secret police and the arrest of George Allison (a member of the CPGB sent to India) in January, 1927 was also the result of Bagerhatta’s betrayal. Ashfaqullah Khan was hanged to death and George Allison was sentenced for 18 months RI (46).
M.N. Roy later criticized the conference not only because it failed to take a clear cut view towards the Communist International, but also because it failed to adopt a ‘correct’ immediate programme of national liberation. Initially, the primary purpose of the communist groups’ participation in the conference was to prevent Satyabakht from using it to create a legal structure on a wrong basis, which would have been a great obstacle for the communists for a long time. But, in the end there were two positive outcomes of the conference: firstly, it prevented the ‘Indian Communist Party’ of Satyabakht to emerge in public as the representative communist party, and, secondly, for the first time, it provided the communist groups an opportunity to come together and forming a central all-India nucleus of the party that was crystallized in the form of the Central Executive Committee. In the middle of February 1926, Mohammad Ali ‘Sipassi’ (Khushi Mohammad of Lahore students’ Group) of the Foreign Bureau of Comintern wrote to the Joint Secretary of CPI that the newly formed party should be affiliated to the Comintern. Again, Roy wrote in March 1926, ‘The statements made repeatedly by Satyabakht as well as by Hasrat Mohani and Singaravelu at Kanpur made very bad impression here… I hope this question will be taken in the next meeting of the central committee and a resolution will be passed repudiating the previous statements. The same meeting would also resolve to affiliate the Communist Party of India with the CI and officially communicate the latter the resolution. The formal affiliation cannot be effected until the next world congress to which a delegation of the party must be sent’ (47). The Vanguard issues in 1923 with M.N. Roy as the editor, however, continued writing on its mast ‘The organ of the CC of the Communist Party of India—section of the CI’.
A Battle Within
The formative years of the Indian communists’ organizational activities in India and abroad were not without internal dissensions and rivalries. In fact, some differences among Indian revolutionaries had emerged even before the founding of the Communist Party of India in Tashkent. These internal rivalries later projected in the organisation inside India. Members of the Berlin Committee, including Mahindra Partap, Barkat Bhopali, M.P.T. Acharya, and Abdul Rab were the first to arrive in the Soviet Union in about 1919 to organize revolutionary work for the Indian independence. Acharya and Abdul Rab went to Tashkent to work among Indians living in the Central Asian republics. By 1920, they were joined by many of the Muhajirs and Khilafat Jihadis. Barkatullah and Mahindra Partap met Lenin and gained his personal confidence. From Moscow, Barkatullah was sent with the Soviet delegation at the end of 1919 to Geneva for participating in the talks between Soviets and the Allies. He was instrumental in building strong working relationships with, and diplomatic support for, the Turkish delegation at the Peace Talks. These people were essentially radical nationalists. In due course of their struggle, they were exposed to the socialist ideas and few of them had converted or grew sympathetic to the new revolutionary ideology. Maulvi Barkatullah had said in one of his interview to Petrograd Pravda in 1919, ‘I am neither a socialist nor a communist. My political mission is to expel the British and other imperialists from Asia. I am strongly opposed to the European capitalism in Asia that is represented by the British. In this struggle I am a staunch ally of the communists and I consider them as necessary allies for achieving my political objectives. I think today without their practical support winning freedom from the imperialists is a pipe dream…I am not a communist, I am an anti-imperialist revolutionary. But I respect communist ideology from my heart. Communism or Bolshevism is a social and economic system that I, as a Muslim scholar, find much closer to Islam (48).
With the advent of M.N. Roy attaining rapid pre-eminence in the Communist International, his taking command of the Indian revolutionary work was naturally resented by some of those who were already working on this plan for some time. They wanted to quickly accelerate their efforts to revive the ‘Provisional Indian Government’ and mobilize an anti-imperialist united front consisting of Turkey, Afghanistan, China, Japan, and Russia. For them formation of an Indian communist party in Russia was also a part of this grand plan to obtain full support of the Soviet Communist Party. Roy, on the other hand, did not believe in the dead horse of the ‘Provisional Indian Government’. He did not think few of these ‘pseudo revolutionaries’, particularly Abdul Rab, were even really fit for becoming member of the communist party. With the leadership of the Indian revolutionaries in Soviet Union clearly passing to M.N. Roy who was then highly influential with the Soviet leadership and having his own definite ideas about the revolution, some of the ‘nationalists’, including Mahindra Partap, Barkatullah Bhopali, Viren Chattopadhya, Ghulam Nabi Anbia, and their Berlin colleagues returned to Germany by end of 1921. Others, like Abani Mukherji and Acharya, acquiesced for a while, albeit, grudgingly.
It was in this backdrop that M.N. Roy was trying to build a nucleus of communist party in India. Using Comintern’s European network, Roy was trying to build communication links with the Indian communists on the ground. He also had to depend on the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) channels for transporting men and material to India. While many of the trained communist workers were promptly arrested upon their return to India, Nalini Gupta was one of the main contacts between Roy and Indian communists. He had visited India twice in 1921 and 1922, second time with a Roy’s message to C.R. Das, the President of the Indian Congress. By now, Roy had become a nuisance for the British government. He was not only one of the members of the Comintern but one of its key leaders, an architect of its policies for the liberation of colonies. After disappearing from the radar of British police after sneaking out from New York to Mexico in 1917, Roy had staged an impressive reappearance in Russia. The British police hounded him and made all efforts to discredit him among Indian revolutionaries. With a view to develop their own direct contacts, one of the dissenting group’s members, Abani Mukherji came to India in 1922. The British were aware of the internal friction between Roy and few other Indians in Russia. Apparently, Abani Mukherji was given a free run for meeting people in India to cloud Roy’s image. In response to a British government’s communication to arrest all communist infiltrators, including Abani Mukherji, the British Indian government wrote a letter to the British Secretary of State for India that perhaps, it would not be advisable to arrest a man “sent by Roy’s enemies to India where he has been intriguing against Roy for some months”(49). It is interesting to note that except for Abani, in all, about 44 political workers were arrested, tried and convicted for the charges of having contacts with M.N. Roy and the Communist International. Also, in connection with Kanpur Conspiracy Case, no charge was ever registered against Abani in India. The other exception was Jatin Mitra who was never arrested. Mitra was the one who was sent to Europe in 1924 in response to Roy’s request for sending few people from India for Marxist political training. After reaching Europe, Roy found Jatin ‘stupid and useless’. He was sent back home in Nov 1925. The disgruntled Jatin Mitra, later, joined Satyabakht’s national communist party.
Roy wrote in his letter to Muzaffar Ahmed in Feb 1923, “Abani has returned to the country, be careful about him.” In another letter, he wrote, “The devil [Abani] has at last joined the Berlin crowd… He killed himself in the International by his own behavior. Be careful of him and put others on guard”. The Executive Committee of the Communist international (ECCI) had issued a circular saying, “ECCI is investigating the activities of Abani Mukherji”. The results of the investigation were never made public or shared with CPI, but Abani remained absent from major public appearances in subsequent Communist International events (50). CPI in Tashkent, however, continued in its efforts for establishing and maintaining communication links with some of the key leaders of these communist groups. It provided them with theoretical support.
Maintaining a regular correspondence with the Indian communist leaders for establishing a mass legal party as well as the nucleus of an illegal communist party, M.N. Roy wanted key Indian communists to visit Berlin to finalise arrangements under his supervision and suggested that the program has been discussed by the people of world experience (obvious reference to the Comintern leaders). Dange and Singaravelu, however, did not like the idea of holding a conference of Indian communists in Europe, thinking it as an impractical idea in the given circumstances. Dange wrote to Singaravelu in February 1923, “You perhaps know that Roy wants to hold a conference of Indian communists in Berlin. I think it is a mad venture for Indians to go hunting communism in European conferences. Whatever has to be done must be done in India” (51).
Slowly, but surely, a policy shift was taking place inside Comintern. The so-called ‘first period’ of the Comintern, characterized by policies driven by the euphoria of carrying through an ‘international revolution’ and the export of communism, were coming to an end. Successive failures of revolutionary uprisings in Europe and reversals in Hungary (1919), Germany (1921), and Estonia (1924) had played their role in changing the perspective and focus inside the Comintern by its Fifth Congress held in June-July, 1924. Lenin was nearly incapacitated due to a stroke since December, 1922 and had died in January, 1924. Joseph Stalin had already presented his thesis of ‘Socialism in one country’. The idea of Trotskyite ‘Permanent Revolution’ was dismissed and the focus was shifting towards the ‘New Economic Policy’. In the changing world scenario where Soviet Union was rebuilding its political and economic ties with European powers, Russian leadership wanted to encourage the Indian communists to depend upon their own resources, and not on Russian money. Its emphasis was changing to the formation of the party in India and its functioning from a base inside India itself. Collaboration and ‘united front’ with the local ‘national bourgeoisie’ was encouraged. The policy was designed to strengthen the Indian party to save the Soviet Union from a British accusation of Russian interference in India.
This policy shift had three outcomes: firstly, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) gradually gained authority to take direct charge of the communist activities in India; secondly, Indian communists began to infiltrate into Indian National Congress seeking to capture leadership of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC); and, thirdly, not having his own base and his own ‘constituency’, M.N. Roy’s attempts to gain remote control of the Indian communism greatly diminished in value, resulting in his being, in a way, kicked upstairs. While Roy was gradually being eased out of his executive powers of directing the Indian movement, he was appointed to the editorial staff of the Communist International, the multi-language journal of the Comintern; in the Sixth Plenum meetings during Feb-Mar, 1926, he was elected to the Presidium and named Chairman of the Eastern Commission and member of the Executive Committee of Comintern; the Seventh Plenum in Nov-Dec, 1926 elected him to the Agrarian Commission, and the Chinese Commission. Thus, by the end of 1926, Roy was a member of all four official policy-making bodies of the Comintern: The Presidium, Political Secretariat, Executive Committee, and the World Congress (52). But, his executive powers on the ground to directly influence the course of events in India were significantly reduced; Stalin appointed Roy as head of the Comintern delegation to China in 1927 and sent him there to help develop agrarian revolution. He was in a way completely cut off from the field action in India.
During this period, Ghadar Party leaders including Raja Mahindra Partap Singh, Barkatullah, and the Party President Bhagwan Singh Giyani, attempted another completely thoughtless and botched adventure to cross over from Tibet into India via Nepal with an armed band (Jattha) of Ghadar soldiers. According to the reminiscences of Kartar Singh Dhillon, the younger brother of one of the Ghadar Party soldiers setting out from San Francisco, Badawa (Bud) Singh Dhillon, Raja Mahindra Partap visited Ghadar Party headquarter in San Francisco and recruited a group of Sikh volunteers and raised some funds for transporting them in ship stowaway to Japan. Japanese support and some outdated rifles were acquired for the group with the help of Rash Bihari Bose in Tokyo. The armed band reached Peking (Beijing) taking the route via Korea and Manchuria. From Peking they journeyed on foot along the Great Wall of China and the Gobi Desert to reach Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, about 1,600 km in north-west China. This was the period when the ‘united front’ between Mao Tse-tung’s Red army and Chiang Kai Shek was still not broken and the Ghadar Party group’s passage through many of the communist controlled ‘liberated’ areas was facilitated. But, by the time this rag-tag army band of ‘volunteer revolutionaries’ reached Lanzhou they were almost breaking down due to fatigue, lack of proper planning, and the alleged complete neglect of their plight by Raja Mahindra Partap. Suffering from acute dysentery, Bud (Singh) Dhillon, together with two of his friends, Charan Singh and Bishan Singh, refused to go any further. The remaining ‘army’ continued its journey for another about 13-14 days before completely disintegrating in the wilderness, still far from reaching Tibet (53).
On the other hand, the Amsterdam Conference of representatives of the émigré anti-Imperialist freedom movements sponsored by Comintern in Sep 1926 ‘marked a stage in the transfer of authority from Roy to CPGB (54) as the recognized agent and intermediary of the Comintern in dealing with the Indian movement. One of the purposes of the conference was to link up and align the work done by CPGB with the working of Roy’s Foreign Bureau. This Foreign Bureau mainly comprised of M.N. Roy, Clemence Palme Dutt (elder brother of Rajani Palme Dutt (55)), and Mohammad Ali (56) (Sipassi). But after the Sixth Congress of the Comintern, Roy ceased to be in charge of India on behalf of the Comintern. The British communists who arrived in India, so to say, to take charge and assist the CPI in organizing and expanding its base in India were, among others, Philip Spratt, George Allison, Hugh Lester Hutchinson, and Benjamin (Ben) Bradley. Spratt arrived in India in December, 1926 and soon became the linkman of the CPI. He helped establish mass Workers and Peasants parties in 1927 in Bombay (February) and Calcutta (March). Ben Bradley arrived joining hands with Spratt in Sep 1927. Shapur Saklatwala from CPGB also visited India in 1927. In 1928, Hugh Hutchinson reached India. The British communists greatly contributed in the strategy formulation, introducing organisational framework, and honest conduct displaying exemplary courage. In 1939, Philip Spratt married Sita, a grand-niece of M. Singaravelu, the veteran communist trade union leader from Madras.
The failure of the China’s Shanghai uprising in 1927 and the brutal massacre of the Chinese communists by Chiang Kai Shek, abruptly breaking its ‘united front’ with the Chinese communists, was a major setback to the Comintern’s policies in China and by extension in India. This major reversal in the communist movement in China triggered another change of heart in the Comintern and the internal rivalries intensified. Upon his return from China, Roy also came under clouds. The CPI leadership inside India also distanced itself from, and, practically, replaced Roy and his émigré CPI.
Amir Haider Khan, a veteran of CPI (later, known as Dada Amir Haider in Pakistan’s communist movement) reminiscences in his Memoirs that in early 1929 in Bombay in a letter from Roy addressed to S.A. Dange and S.V. Ghate sent through an emissary, “Roy had asked the comrades in India whether his activities abroad on behalf of the country had been of any help to them. It was also brought to our attention that the recent [Sixth] Congress of the Communist International had left unfilled reserved seat for India in the Central Executive Committee. It would be best if a comrade from India could be sent to fill the reserved seat. In case this was not possible Roy wanted to find out if he himself would be an acceptable choice to fill the position”. According to Amir Haider, “the reply from Comrades Ghate and Dange indicated that while M.N. Roy’s activities might have helped theoretically, in practice his methods had harmed us in India. To the second point the response was that at the time we were not in a position to send a comrade to Moscow to represent us, nor were we willing to recommend him [Roy] to represent us from abroad” (57).
Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the party and Comintern in Nov-Dec 1928 and finally Trotsky was exiled from Russia in Jan 1929. Zinoviev and Bukharin were humiliated and cut to size. Roy also fell from grace and escaped to Germany in May 1929 with the help of Bukharin to avoid Stalin’s wrath. Roy was, finally, expelled from Comintern in Dec 1929, almost simultaneously with Bukharin’s expulsion from the party and the Comintern.
Much later, in August 1959, the CPI leadership, perhaps, to permanently disconnect itself from M.N. Roy and his émigré CPI, adopted the First Kanpur Conference date of Dec 1925 as its official founding date. But the other faction of CPI (Marxist), which broke away from CPI at the time of Soviet-China split in the international communist movement, however, insists on continuing to recognize the 17 October 1920 in Tashkent as the original founding date of the CPI.
Reorganization of CPI
After their release from prison in Kanpur Conspiracy Cases, the Indian communists were slowly returning to pick up the broken threads. To supplement CPI’s depleted cadre, Comintern had been making efforts for recruiting potential activists for the training in communist ideology and organizational methods at its Communist University in Moscow. Owing to strict surveillance and monitoring of the British intelligence services of all movements to and from India, maintaining regular links with the Indian communists and recruitment of activists for training abroad was proving to be immensely difficult. A search was made for recruiting suitable candidates from overseas Indians in Europe and the U.S.A. Dada Amir Haider was one such recruit selected in Detroit, U.S.A., in Jan 1926 with the help of the Communist Party of the U.S.A. for training in Moscow. Amir Haider was working for the Packard Motor Company plant in Detroit and had come into contact with communist workers (58). While in New York, around Sep-Oct, 1920, the young Amir Haider had his first brush with political activists of the Ghadar Party and attended their agitations and conferences.
In New York, Dada Amir Haider met Agnes Smedley, an American revolutionary journalist and political activist who was deeply involved in supporting the Indian revolutionaries in the USA. Agnes worked with Lala Lajpat Rai and met M.N. Roy (then living in New York with his American wife), and Bhai Bhagwan Singh Giyani of Ghadar Party. She was the Secretary of the ‘Friends of Freedom for India’, with Professor Robert Morss Lovett as President. She inspired Amir Haider to join the movement. Agnes left New York in 1921 and moved to Berlin to work with Indian revolutionaries. There she met and lived with Viren Chattopadhya as her partner for many years and went with him to Moscow.
Amir Haider Khan received two years training in Moscow. Shamsul Huda of Bengal and Suhashini Chattopadhya, the younger sister of Viren Chattopadhya and Sarojni Naidu were also with him. He returned to India in Sep 1928 joining with CPI leaders S.A. Dange, V.S. Ghate, Ben Bradley, Hutcheson, and P.C. Joshi in Bombay. After a while, Suhashini Chattopadhya also returned to Bombay and worked for the CPI, living together with the British Comrade Hutcheson. Suhashini was probably the first Indian woman (Evelyn Trent Roy and Rosa Fitingov Mukherji before her were both of foreign origin), who formally joined Communist Party of India. Amir Haider was assigned the responsibility of establishing a regular channel of under-cover contacts with the Foreign Bureau and Comintern using his old links with Bombay seamen and Seamen Club in Hamburg and other shipping hubs. After being released from jail term in Kanpur Conspiracy Case, Nalini Gupta was also working with Seamen Club in Hamburg for keeping the contacts alive.
The 9th Plenum of the Executive Committee of Comintern, held in February, 1928, heralded a new era of policy shift. The bitter experience of ‘national bourgeoisie’ betraying the ‘popular united front’ in China was still fresh in memory and the wounds were bleeding when an ultra-left swing was decided to be played. With the world economy inflicted with deepening recession, the fresh assessment was that the world capitalist system was dying and its final collapse was imminent. The communist parties were exhorted to reject the ‘social democratic parties’ of Europe. In colonies, like India, declaring the bourgeois parties as ‘social fascists’, the communists set out to sharpen the class struggle between labour and capital and take aggressive leadership in trade unions and mass political parties. ‘It was inconceivable’, argued Bukharin, in the Sixth Congress of the Comintern, ‘that the bourgeoisie would play a revolutionary role for any length of time’. Otto Kuusinen, in his official report of the Comintern said, ‘But it is important to understand the political character of the Indian bourgeoisie, its national reformist policy… That the policy of the Indian bourgeoisie is not revolutionary is also quite clear.’ On the question of Workers and Peasants parties, the lines were now clearly drawn. ‘The Russians wanted to liquidate them; the British wanted to maintain them’ (59). Roy and CPGB wished to continue with the previous strategy of having two parties, a legal Workers and Peasants Party and an illegal Communist Party to steer the mass party from behind. The Sixth Congress of Comintern was held in Jul-Sep 1928, in Moscow. A delegation from India arrived via Iran for attending the congress. They were: Shaukat Usmani, Mohammad Shafiq, Masood Ali Shah, and Habib Ahmed Nasim. They came together with Saumydranath Tagore, a nephew of Rabindranath Tagore. Clemens Palme Dutt, and Ghulam Anbia Khan Lohani had also come. M.N. Roy was there but he was almost at the end of his career with Comintern. There was, however, a question over the status of Indian delegates as authorized representatives of the Communist Party of India (CPI). Upon inquiry from CPGB in London, the CPI leadership in India sent a telegram informing them that Usmani did not represent the party at all. Philip Spratt writes in his autobiography, Blowing Up India, “… Shaukat Usmani decided to attend it [the Sixth Congress], and went via Iran, taking three others with him. … The first I heard of their adventure was a cable from London asking whether Usmani represented the party. I replied no, which was true” (60). But according to S.V. Ghate in a later interview, “the wire never reached them because it was intercepted” (61). Saumyendranath Tagore was not a member of CPI, and officially represented the Workers and Peasant Party of Bengal. Beside him, the Comintern accepted Shaukat Usmani and Mohammad Shafiq as delegates to the Congress. The other two included as observers on behalf of the Young Communist International. Nevertheless, Usmani was, subsequently, elected to the Presidium of the Comintern, sitting third from Stalin, clearly displacing M.N. Roy.
Clemence Palme Dutt speaking on behalf of the CPGB delegation and Tagore representing Workers & Peasants Party of Bengal attempted to oppose the Kuusinen thesis. In contrast, Shaukat Usmani and his two colleagues Mohammad Shafiq and Habib Nasim fully supported the thesis in opposition to Roy, Tagore, and the CPGB delegation. Usmani said in his address to the Congress with an obvious reference to Roy, ‘Comrades who have been here for about ten years cannot properly deal with the situation’ (62). Finally, as Overstreet & Windmiller observe, ‘perhaps to avoid the appearance of siding with Roy, the British delegation accepted the Russian thesis’ (63). The Russian view finally prevailed, and Comintern’s support for the Workers and Peasant parties was officially withdrawn. From a long held policy of supporting Indian Congress, the Comintern’s directive to CPI after its Sixth Congress was now to oppose it. While Comintern had clearly swung to the left and was reluctantly followed by CPGB, Roy found himself on the right of the Comintern and CPGB. Based on his understanding of the then political conditions in India where Congress under the influence of Jawaharlal Nehru was showing signs of radical tendencies, he was now in favor of ‘working together’ with the Congress.
A large number of CPI workers had joined the Workers & Peasants Party (WPP) of Bengal, after it was re-organized in November 1925. In fact, most of their legal work was carried out through WPP. A WPP was also formed in Bombay in January, 1927 with D.R. Thengdi as its president and S.S. Mirajkar as the general secretary. Various WPPs were working inside the framework of the Indian National Congress. CPI members Thengdi, R.S. Nimbkar, and K.N. Joglekar from WPP Bombay and two other from WPP Bengal were elected to the All India Congress Committee (AICC). Working together with the young Jawaharlal Nehru who was making clear overtures for siding with International socialism, they had succeeded in making the Indian Congress an associate member of the Comintern’s sponsored League against Imperialism. At the annual session of Congress at Madras in 1927, K.N. Joglekar’s resolution, seconded by Jawaharlal Nehru, demanding for full independence of India was approved by the Congress for the first time. The first such proposal by Hasrat Mohani in 1921 at Ahmadabad was defeated by Gandhi’s strong opposition. The general political environment was taking a radical left swing. Working under the active guidance of CPI, the WPP Bombay was able to heighten and greatly radicalize the trade union movement. There was a phenomenal rise in workers’ strikes during 1928-1929, including a major strike of Bombay textile industry closing down over 50 mills, which lasted from 26 Apr to 6 Oct, 1928.
In a Communist workers meeting on 27-29 Dec, 1928, CPI was reconstituted and a new Central Executive was elected (64). Ghate was appointed general secretary and the CPI decided to formally apply for affiliation with Comintern. It seems the CPI was still divided, or rather confused, about the Comintern’s policy shift on WPP. In spite of having discussed the matter and in principle agreeing with the Comintern’s policy document, the CPI in practice deviated from Comintern’s directive about dissolution of WPPs. It continued to have an open, legal, mass party side by side with an illegal communist party. This was essentially Roy’s original recommendation. Interestingly, Shaukat Usmani also supported this view despite his different role at the Sixth Congress of Comintern. Perhaps, it was a reflection of his own subsequent fall from the grace of the Comintern in its continuing internal rivalries. But, simultaneously in a meeting on 17-19 Mar, 1929, the Executive Committee of CPI agreed to discuss the issue of ‘the danger of having WPP’ in its next meeting. The meeting was, however, never held as the next day, on 20 March, 1929 thirty-one communists and trade union workers were arrested by the government in the famous Meerut Conspiracy Case.
Disenchanted with the shifting policies of the Comintern and sensing his own future career in the international communist movement being dead, M.N. Roy started to look towards returning to India. Roy had developed good relations with Gangadhar (G) Adhikari, when the latter was a student in Berlin and had returned to India in Dec 1928 joining the CPI leadership in Bombay. In response to Roy’s letter to him in Bombay, shortly before his arrest in Meerut Conspiracy Case Adhikari replied Roy in Mar 1929 that Shaukat Usmani had “asked me to tell you that…he has nothing against you. Nobody here is making any propaganda against you” (65). Roy was also in contact with few Indian students converted to communism in Berlin, including, Tayab Shaikh, Sunder Kabadi, and Anadi Bhaduri. By July 1930, it was decided between Roy and these students that they will return to India and build a communist group to replace the large group of Indian communists who had been jailed in India. Roy returned to India in Dec 1930 and attended the Indian National Congress session at Karachi in Mar 1931 at Nehru’s personal invitation. Hiding from the British police (he was still wanted in Kanpur Conspiracy Case), he travelled in Maharashtra and U.P. to build his communist group to work within the Congress. He avoided Bengal as the risk of him being easily identified there was higher. Roy was, however, arrested in Jul 1931 and was jailed for 12 years. The sentence was later reduced to six years. He was released on 20 Nov 1936 and joined Indian National Congress on the same day in Dehra Dun and proceeded to meet Jawaharlal Nehru in Allahabad. At the Congress annual session at Faizpur, Nehru in his Presidential address welcomed “Comrade Roy” as “one of the bravest and ablest of India’s sons of the present generation” (66). At Faizpur session, Roy presented his thesis for converting National Congress into a ‘Constituent Assembly’ not only as an agitation and propaganda platform but also as model for practical politics, capturing power.
41. Mohammad Shafiq remained connected with CPI but in low key. He proceeded to Soviet Union together with Shaukat Usmani to attend Comintern’s Sixth Congress in 1928 but did not return. He disappeared after 1932.
42. ‘Open Letter from the Communist Party of India’ by Manabendra Nath Roy, Inprecor, Vol 4, No. 22, 27 March, 1924.
43. Satyabakht from Bharatpur had got involved in independence movement, participating in the Congress’ non-cooperation movement. After movement’s abrupt withdrawal in 1922, he claimed to have studied ‘communism’. In early 1923, he joined Radha Mohan Gokulji in Nagpur assisting him in editing the left wing journal Pranvir. Satyabakht returned Kanpur by October, 1924 and formed the communist party. The announcement of the formation of a communist party by Satyabakht appeared in Hindi daily Aaj, English daily Indian World of Kanpur and few other papers.
44. The others who supported and joined Satyabakht’s party included, Narayan Parsad Arora, Ram Shankar Aswanthi (editor Vartaman), Ram Parsad Sharma, Ram Gopal Vidyalankar (editor, Pranvir), Sureshchandra Bhattacharya (sub-editor, Vartaman), and Janaki Parsad Bagerhatta. Janaki Parsad was a classmate of Shaukat Usmani in Bikaner and a former secretary of the National Congress in Rewari, Gurgaon.
45. Chandrika Singh, “Communist and Socialist Movement in India: A Critical Account, Mittal Publications, 1987, p. 58.
46. Documents of CPI, op cited, Vol.II, p. 369-370.
47 Ibid, p. 626.
48. Daily Ishtrakyon (Socialists), 29 Mar 1919 quoted in Shaukat Siddiqi, Gumshuda Auraq (The Lost Pages), Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011, p. 175.
49. Samaren Roy, M.N. Roy: A Political Biography, Orient Longman, New Delhi, 1997, p. 100.
50. Abani Mukherji returned to Moscow but remained on sidelines. He became an academician and an Indologist at the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences of USSR. He also served as President of the All India Association of Orientalists. Mukherji eventually fell victim of the great purge in the Soviet Communist Party and was reportedly executed in October 1937.
51. Documents of CPI, op cited, Vol.II, p. 105.
52. Samaren Roy, op cited, p. 95.
53. ‘Bud Dillon’, by Kartar Dhillon in Tides Magazine, August 20, 2013, SAADA-South Asian American Digital Archive: http://www.saadigitalarchive.org/tides/article/20130820-2890?page=all.
54. E.H. Carr, Socialism in One Country, as quoted in Documents of CPI, op cited, Vol.II, p. 563.
55. Clemence Palme Dutt and Rajani Palme Dutt were born in England of an Indian surgeon, Upendra Dutt and his Swedish wife, Anna Palme, a great-aunt of Olof Palme, the future Prime Minister of Sweden during 1969-76 and 1982-86. Both Dutt brothers were active founding members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. They both served, Rajani followed by Clemence, as the Editor of respectable Labour Monthly. Elder brother Clemence worked as a coordinator from CPGB with Comintern’s Eastern Bureau, M.N. Roy, and several communist parties of British colonies including CPI. Rajini Dutt was a member of the Executive Committee and chief theoretician of the CPGB. Rajani was the author of India Today, the first seminal Marxist history of India.
56. Khushi Muhammad (Mohammad Ali Sipasi) after his expulsion from Pondicherry relocated to Antwerp in Holland and also worked from Marseilles. He married a Rumanian woman and settled in Paris where he met a violent death during Hitler’s army occupation of Paris during World War Two.
57. Chains to Lose: Memoirs of Dada Amir Haider Khan, Ed. Hassan N. Gardezi, Vol-II, Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi, Karachi, Pakistan, 2007, p. 663 58 A young Amir Haider had escaped from a harsh life of poverty and deprivation in his village near Gujjar Khan near Rawalpindi in 1914. First, trying his luck in Calcutta, he arrived in Bombay seeking employment. He boarded a vessel sailing for Basra as a sailor and spent many years on the sea, sailing around the world. During the First World War, he had sailed with various military and general cargo ships to the ports around the world. Amir Haider finally deserted his ship in 1918 in New York, adopted U.S. citizenship, and lived, sailed, worked, and learnt flying in the U.S.A. for many years.
59. Gene D. Overstreet & Marshall Windmiller, Communism in India, University of California Press, 1959, p. 115-116.
60. Philip Spratt, Blowing Up India, Parachi Parakashan, 1935, p. 41 as quoted in Overstreet & Windmiller, op cited, p. 112.
61. ‘Making of a Thesis: Interview with S.V. Ghate’ by A.G. Noorani in Frontline, Vol.29, Issue 08: Apr 21-May 04, 2012.
62. Overstreet & Windmiller, op cited, p. 117.
63. Ibid, p. 118.
64. It comprised of S.S. Mirajkar, S.A. Dange, R.S. Nimbkar, K.N. Jogelkar, S.V. Ghate, Muzaffar Ahmed, Abdul Halim, Shamsul Huda, Abdul Majid, and Sohan Singh Josh.
65. Samaren Roy, op cited, p. 107.
66. Ibid, p. 111.
Chapter 2 to be continued...