By Ahmed Kamran
Chapter Three: The Rise and Fall of Indian Communists
(1933-1951) – (Continued)
The Second Congress of CPI
The last days of the British Raj was marked by a rise in militant radicalism. Greatly enthused by certain successive events of spontaneous rebellion and uprisings in various sections of people in India the party was greatly upbeat. The triumphant advance of Soviet Red Army in the Eastern Europe in the wake of the Second World War, impending victories of communists and the national liberation movements in China and the Far East, and finally the winning of the independence of India because of Great Britain losing its grip on the vast fractured Empire were too many powerful shots in the arms of CPI. The INA trial in the Red Fort, Delhi had greatly agitated the Indian people who took the INA soldiers as their ‘national heroes’. In February 1946, Indian Navy sailors and ratings rose in open rebellion by taking over command of their ships. The Union Jack was removed from the ships’ masts in Bombay, Karachi and Madras. The rebel naval ratings carried CPI red flags raising slogans of Inqilab Zindabad during their street demonstrations. CPI in Bombay led the support for uprising and joined in the protests. About 250 protesters were killed when the naval uprising was brutally suppressed by the panicked British Indian government. “The naval rising and popular struggle in the February days in Bombay”, said Ranadive, “revealed with inescapable clearness the alignment of forces in the explosive situation developing in India in the beginning of 1946”(28). At the same time, in 1946 a peasant armed struggle led by some local CPI leaders broke out in Punnapra-Vayalar region of Travancore, Mysore and a communists-led independent local government was formed. Also, a powerful armed uprising of peasants started building up in Telengana, Hyderabad. The Telengana rebellion spread rapidly. In Telengana, “during the course of the struggle, the peasantry in about 3,000 villages, covering roughly a population of 3 million in an area of about 16,000 square miles, mostly in three districts of Nalgonda, Warangal, and Khammam, had succeeded in setting up Gram Raj (Peasant’s rule), on the basis of fighting panchayats…For a period of 12 to 18 months the entire administration in these areas was conducted by the village peasant committees” (29). The traditional lands of feudal lords and Jagirdars were confiscated and freely distributed among landless peasants.
In the wake of massive peasant uprisings in Travancore and Telengana (now these regions are included in today’s Kerala and Andhra Pradesh provinces respectively) the membership rolls of CPI swelled to 80,000-90,000 strong. The party leadership was ecstatic when it went into the Second Party Congress in Calcutta in early 1948. For many in the CPI leadership, the ‘Great Revolution’ was just around the corner. No wonder, the Party Congress called for ‘combining the tasks of the democratic and the socialist revolutions to be completed by the armed overthrow of the Indian state’. A new party under the leadership of the new Secretary General, Balchandra Trimbak (B.T.) Ranadive, 44, took over control from the old guard. A new party policy document presented by Ranadive, ‘Strategy and Tactics of the Struggle for National Democratic Revolution in India’, known as the ‘Calcutta Thesis’ was adopted by the newly elected Polit Bureau. The new party line strongly criticized the ‘soft’ and ‘conciliatory’ policy of the ‘united front’ with comprador bourgeoisie pursued for over one decade. Rejecting the freedom of India as ‘false’, the new thesis stated that the so-called ‘transfer of power [in August 1947] was one of the biggest pieces of political and economic appeasement of the bourgeoisie…From the standpoint of the revolution all that it means is that henceforth the bourgeoisie will guard the colonial order.’ The document went on to say, ‘The leadership of the Indian National Congress, representing the interests of the Indian capitalist class, thus betrayed the revolutionary movement at a time when it was on the point of overthrowing the imperialist order.’
Dogma triumphed over reason and Ranadive won—at least for some time. With the change in party leadership, P.C. Joshi, previous Secretary General of the party was not only not included in the new Central Committee but was also, later, expelled from the basic party membership. For all previous political mistakes and failures of the party, Joshi was singularly targeted and held responsible. He was made to self-criticize and admit his mistakes of ‘collaboration with bourgeoisie’ and ‘cooperation with Nehru and Indian Congress’. His supporters in the party were subdued. Clearly, Ranadive firmly believed that the momentous time for the armed uprising against the tottering regime and snatching of political power from the weakened and frightened ruling class had arrived. Only a last push was required to achieve the long cherished revolutionary goal in India, more particularly in Pakistan, where a hastily formed government was supposed to be in complete disarray. Ranadive at once set about refashioning the party in his own image and virtually declared war on the Indian Government, of which now Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister. The Second Congress also formalized the decision to establish a separate Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP).
There was a sort of fierce ‘ideological debate’ taking place in the party over which path to be taken to the imminent revolution? The newly elected Polit Bureau of the CPI exhorted the party members for armed uprising and capturing political power, especially in the urban areas. It rejected the ‘Andhra Thesis’ originating from Telengana that was submitted to the party in May 1948. The ‘Andhra Thesis’ expounded the revolutionary theory on lines similar to the model that Chinese Communist Party under the leadership of Mao Tse-tung was pursuing at the time. It called for a ‘united front including the rich peasantry and the middle bourgeoisie as the allies in the People’s Democratic Revolution’. The new Polit Bureau termed the ‘Andhra Thesis’ and the ‘Chinese path’ as gross reformism and deviation from Marxism-Leninism. It called for the political general strikes and armed workers’ uprising in the cities to capture power on the model of ‘Great Russian Revolution’. The party organization, however, was not mobilized and educated for the new line to clearly filter through the lower levels of the party. Although, the Party Congress raised the slogan, ‘The Telengana Way is Our Way’, it could not stitch together the militant workers struggle in the cities with the peasant movements in Kerala, Andhra, Bengal and Maharashtra regions. Due to its aggressive insurrectionary policies, the CPI was soon again outlawed by the Nehru government, the second official ban on party activities. The aggressive sectarian adventurist posture of the new party leadership resulted in major disorientation and confusion among party members in adjusting to the policy swing at the top. Apparently, the central party organization was not ready for and equipped to maintain effective control over the massive armed struggles that had spread widely in Travancore and Telengana. Dizzy with its ‘high ideology’ the party top was almost paralyzed. The supporters of the previous ‘Joshi line’ were intimidated with threats of expulsion and were kept away from all party activities at the centre. The new Central Committee elected in the Second Congress did not meet once. The local CPI organizations in the rebellious regions, now swelling with thousands of militants joining in the ranks, had the sway over the armed uprising. The armed communists and militant peasants hardly had any meaningful military and political training to steer the struggle successfully and battle with the powerful trained army and the state machinery. Before and after independence, the state machinery with the assistance of military ruthlessly dealt with the radical red threat looming large in southern parts of India. The new Indian state had put its full might behind this task. Of about then 150,000 to 200,000 strong Indian army, about 50,000 personnel were deployed in the Telengana operation in September 1948 under the cover of ‘Hyderabad Police Action’ even at a critical time when a good part of the newly organized army was locked in Kashmir and other fronts. The Indian army under the command of General J.N. Chaudhry took hardly one week to demolish the Nizam of Hyderabad’s ill-prepared Razakar force (as a side show, the Nizam of Hyderabad had declared its independence as a sovereign state on 15 August 1947) and then turned towards communist bases in Telengana. In all, about 300 communist leaders and about 4,000 rank and file peasant militants were killed in action, more than 50,000 militant suspects were arrested, beaten and tortured, and over 10,000 were jailed, some for over 10 years.
In his letter to the State Governments, Jawaharlal Nehru who had earlier worked closely with communists like M.N. Roy, P.C. Joshi, Sajjad Zaheer, Z.A. Ahmed and K.M. Ashraf in the past, observed, ‘The Communists in India have even from the Communist point of view, adopted a very wrong course. They have gone in for terrorist activities and sabotage and raised a volume of feeling against them…Communism certainly attracts idealists as well as opportunists. But the way it functions is devoid completely of any moral standard or even any thought for India’s good” (30).
The party was now practically split into many shades of ‘left’ and ‘right’ groups. The cardinal question before the communists was whether the armed struggle is to be continued or is to be called off? If the armed revolution is to continue, whether its focus should be with peasant militias in the rural areas or with the militant workers in the cities? The party had reasons to be concerned, since membership had plummeted from about 90,000 in 1948 to 20,000 in 1950. The CPI found “its strength greatly diminished, most of its intellectuals expelled, several party units in open opposition, and party policy being criticized by the Cominform” (31). There were rumors among party members and reported in the national press, that CPI is being formally split and that another party is in the process of being formed under the leadership of P.C. Joshi. Joshi, in fact, had denied of any such move in his letter to the West Bengal provincial committee of CPI (where his basic membership of the party was registered) in August 1948. But his membership was, however, suspended and, later, he was expelled from the party. Joshi, who had practically withdrawn into hibernation, protested his expulsion and accusations of him being the ‘police agent’ and ‘informer of Nehru’, demanding a ‘Party Trial’ for him. He also raised his voice sharply criticizing the ultra-left adventurism. In a letter of protest to the central committee of the party addressing to the new party secretary general B.T. Ranadive, Joshi said, “But try however much, you will not succeed in provoking me to repeat the crime of your own youth, i.e. try to split the Party and start a rival racket. I have learnt my lesson much better. My loyalty to the party is greater than my holy Party anger against you and what you have done to the Party” (32). Joshi wrote several letters that he later published. Other than the letter to the central committee appealing against his expulsion, these letters included, ‘Letter to Foreign Comrades’ (January 1950, addressed to few communist parties abroad), ‘Letter to the Central Committee on Documents to P.B. and C.C. Covering Letter to Comrade Robi’ (February 1950), and ‘Letter to C.C. Communist Party of Pakistan’ February 1950). Joshi wrote to Sajjad Zaheer, now the Secretary General of CPP, “I have no doubt in my mind that our leadership is Titoite. It is no question of honest mistakes… our Party exist no more as an organization… Don’t misunderstand me. I do not seek self-justification of my past. I don’t claim my old line has been vindicated… Our common friend will tell you when and how I came to my present conclusions; appeal to brother parties was the last stage of my mental journey” (33).
The organizational crisis led the party to hold a Party Plenum in May 1950. The party plenum deposed Ranadive from the post of secretary general and he was removed from the Central Committee, which was reorganized with Rajeswar Rao of the Telengana movement as the new secretary. The Andhra Secretariat took over the party reins. The new central committee in its turn went on to expel Ranadive from the basic membership of the party and issued a Party Letter on 1st June, 1950. It rejected Ranadive thesis and came around the ‘Andhra Thesis’ advocating a united front in continuing its armed struggle in rural India. It said, ‘the conditions for the development of the armed struggle have matured’ and that ’the primary concentration of the party work should be in the rural areas’. It proposed a ‘Protracted People’s War’ on the lines of the newly victorious revolution in China.
28. B.T. Ranadive, op cited, p. 31.
29. P. Sundarayya, Telengana People’s Struggle and Its Lessons, CPI-M, Calcutta, 1972, p. 2.
30. Quoted in ‘Extremism then and now’ by Ramchandra Guha, Daily The Hindu, June 8, 2008.
31. Timothy E. Buchanan, Consequences, Eagle Mountain Press, 2010, p. 84.
32 P.C. Joshi letters: ‘Views Under the Red Banner’, Howrah, May 1950, p. 50.
33. Ibid, pp. 47-48.
Chapter 3 to be continued…