By Ahmed Kamran
Chapter Three: The Rise and Fall of Indian Communists
(1933-1951) – (Continued)
In the party, however, a uniformity of ideas and a broad consensus on policy matters was still a far cry. Strong disagreements persisted along fractured lines in the party. The party organization in Bombay led by Ajoy Ghosh, S.V. Ghate and S.A. Dange opposed this new policy as a ‘mechanical application of the Chinese model’. Together, they issued a ‘Three P’s Letter’ (Prabodh, Purshotam, Prakash; pseudonyms of Dange, Ghate, and Ajoy Ghosh respectively) in the party advocating withdrawal of the armed struggle and forming a united front with Nehru against imperialism and feudal lords in its struggle for the international peace. P.C. Joshi also came out opposing the new radical line saying that conditions were not ripe for immediate armed revolution in India. Again, the central committee could not have functioned properly, leading to another organisational paralysis. Towards the end of 1950, CPGB also came out with a letter addressed to CPI rejecting the ‘Andhra Thesis’. A second Party Plenum was called in December 1950, restoring Ajoy Ghosh and S.A. Dange back into the central committee. But the stalemate continued and the party was on the verge of a formal split.
Finally, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) intervened and called two representatives each from both the Radical Left and the Right factions of the party to Moscow. Ajoy Kumar Ghosh and S.A. Dange of the ‘Right’, and Rajeswar Rao and M. Basavapunnaiah of the ‘Left’ reached Moscow for holding consultative meetings with the CPSU leadership in February-March 1951. Both cases were presented before an Inquiry Commission comprising of V.M. Molotov, Mikhail Suslov, Gregory Malenkov, and J.V. Stalin. Detailed accounts of what transpired in these crucial meetings have been recorded (with some differences) by Basavapunnaiah, (34) S.A. Dange, (35) P. Sundarayya, (36) and Mohit Sen, (37). The personal narratives of the first two who were personally present in the meetings and the other two who were close confidantes and comrades of the key participants do not differ with each other much, except in some details. The Russians have also now released the official minutes of the meeting.
According to the detailed personal accounts and the Russian minutes of the meetings, Stalin advised CPI leaders that the ‘expulsion of P.C. Joshi from the party in 1948, even if his line was incorrect, was a mistake’. ‘Instead’, he said, ‘an inner party discussion should have been pursued’. Referring to two contesting theses advocating the ‘China Path’ or the ‘Russian Path’, Stalin informed Indian communists that the talk of India being on the path to a socialist revolution with sole reliance on the insurrection of working classes in cities and general strikes [Ranadive’s Calcutta thesis of ‘Russian path’] ‘is very dangerous thesis’. He said, ‘the Indian conditions were similar to ‘China’s path’ in as much as India’s revolution is also primarily an ‘agrarian revolution’, which means liquidation of feudal property and its distribution among peasants. He said, ‘we do not think that India is on the threshold of a socialist revolution… India is approaching the first stage of ‘people’s democratic revolution’. At this stage, there is no doubt, the entire peasantry, including the kulaks, needed to be mobilized against the feudal lords. But, then, there are significant dis-similarities with China’s conditions as well. The Chinese carried out an ‘armed revolution’ signifying the existence of ‘partisan warfare’ together with the participation of a sizable trained liberation army to set up bases. They were surrounded, escaped encirclement, abandoned the old liberated areas, created new ones, tried to avoid battle, and then longer it lasted the more the Chinese communists were cut off from the workers and cities and railroads. Off course, Mao Tse-tung did not want to break off ties with the workers, but the path of partisan warfare led to losing touch with the cities. This was an unfortunate necessity. Finally, in order not to be surrounded and broken up, they were based in Yenan where they defended themselves for a long time. After Japanese army surrender to the Soviet army in the Japanese occupied Manchuria in the north-east of China and ensuing Chinese civil war, the Chinese communists swiftly moved from isolated Yenan into Manchuria to hold positions creating a safe rear area, near borderlands of a friendly country [Russia] for themselves. After this, Chiang Kai-shek lost the ability to encircle the Chinese peasants. The ‘conditions in China were much more favorable than in India. There was a trained People’s Liberation Army in China. You do not have a trained army. China does not have such a dense rail network as India… India is more developed than China industrially. You don’t have such a friendly neighboring country on which you could rely as a backbone… the Chinese way was good for China.’ According to Dange, during the meeting, Stalin pointing towards the very heart of India on the map asked with unconcealed contempt, “Is this your Yenan?”
About the struggle against bourgeoisie and Nehru government, Stalin said, ‘I cannot consider Nehru’s government to be a puppet. He has his own roots among the population nevertheless. The top level of national bourgeoisie is already in league with the imperialists but this is only a part, and moreover, not a large one. The bourgeoisie is mainly interested in supporting you in the struggle for the complete independence of India. The national bourgeoisie, the bourgeoisie of India, is the middle and big [bourgeoisie]; these are your own national exploiters. You need to say that you are not going against them, but against a foreign enemy, against the British imperialists. Many will be found among the national bourgeoisie who agree with you. I would not advise you to expropriate the big capitalists, even if they are in alliance with the American and British banking capitalists. If you have a demand to expropriate the big bourgeoisie in your platform, then it needs to be eliminated. You need to draw up a new platform or a program of action. It is very much to your advantage to neutralize the big bourgeoisie and split off nine-tenths of the entire national bourgeoisie from it. You don’t need to artificially create new enemies for yourself. You have many of them. The big capitalists’ turn will come, too… The problems of a revolution are decided in stages. All stages cannot be lumped together. Your people are copying our revolution. But these are different stages. You need to take the experience of the other fraternal parties critically and adapt this experience to the specific conditions of India. Don’t be afraid of being criticized from the left. Bukharin and Trotsky criticized Lenin from the left but they ended up ridiculous. Ranadive has criticized Mao Tse-tung from the left, but Mao Tse-tung is right – he is acting in accordance with the conditions of his own country.” Stalin asked CPI leaders to “pursue your own policy and pay no attention to leftist shouting.” He advised that the armed struggle being conducted in various areas, especially the Telengana region should be ended.’ According to Mohit Sen, Stalin said that it was ‘Comrade Rajeswar Rao who should travel to different camps and see that the arms were surrendered. This would be difficult but it was he alone who could do it.’
During his interview with H.D. Sharma, Basavapunnaiah observed in his reflections that the Russians and Stalin had said at the outset of the meetings in Moscow, “Our knowledge of the Indian conditions is very limited. With the available general knowledge that we have got about some dialectics and some Marxism and Leninism, we will try to help you”. At the end, the conclusions of the discussions were incorporated in a program that was seen by the Commission also. Stalin concluded by saying, “I gave you no instructions. This is just advice, which is not obligatory for you… Your party is sovereign. There is no more the Communist International. That is dissolved. From one centre we cannot run the international communist movement. That is why you are at liberty to follow your own independent line. Understand this, amend it, accept it, reject it, do anything you like. That is all for you to decide.” He, however, asked the leaders to “unite, work together, save the party and take it forward.”
After return of CPI leaders from Moscow, a new draft Party Program, Tactical Line and the Policy Statement were published by the Polit Bureau in April 1951.These were formally adopted by the All India Party Conference in Calcutta, in October 1951. The central committee was reorganized with Ajoy Kumar Ghosh taking over as the new Secretary General. On Telengana Question, the party stated, ‘With a view to establishing peaceful conditions in Telengana, the Central Committee as well as the Andhra Committee has decided to advise the Telengana peasantry and the fighting partisans to stop all partisan actions and to mobilize the entire people for an effective participation in the ensuing general election to rout the Congress at the polls” (38). CPI stalwarts of the Telengana movement, Rajeswar Rao and AK Gopalan helped CPI formally withdrawing the Telengana armed struggle. According to Mohit Sen, Rajeswar Rao later told him that ‘this was the most difficult task he had ever performed for the party’ (39).
Another failing of the CPI leaders at this stage, perhaps, was not acknowledging the communal excesses committed during Telengana movement in Hyderabad. As senior journalist Jaspal Singh Sidhu later observed, albeit from a Khalistani perspective, “it is astonishing that communist leaders are never heard of talking about and never they penned down the Hyderabad massacre of Muslims in 1949 as they are proudly referring to the Telangana armed revolt led by the communists during the same period and in the close vicinity of Nizam’s princely state capital—Hyderabad city. One wonders whether underground communist fighters did not take note of communal killings unleashed against the Muslim minority in Hyderabad after Army action there” (40).
Back in Moscow, it is reported that Stalin was not too pleased with the performance of Indian communists. He was polite to the visitors but, apparently, they did not win his respect. Stalin’s interpreter and diplomat Nikolai Adyrkahyev in his memoirs released on 118th birth anniversary of Joseph Stalin recounts that later that year in 1951 during a meeting with the Japanese Communist Party delegation on their party matters, Stalin observed: “In India they have wrecked the party and there is something similar with you”(41).
Joseph Stalin died on 5 March, 1953, leaving an enigmatic legacy and an indelible mark on the history of the international communist movement and of the world. Like other communist parties of the world, Stalin had inspired and greatly influenced the CPI and the communist movement of India from its inception. He had worked closely with M.N. Roy and other Indian communists and the last major impact he had on CPI’s strategic thinking was during his meetings with CPI leaders in Feb-Mar 1951. Although, already fallen from the grace of Stalin, M.N. Roy, while he was still in an Indian jail in Jan 1936, wrote about Stalin “…after all, I still remain a personal admirer of my ex-friend, who used to pride over our racial affinity, and called me ‘gold’. Now he won’t appreciate me even as copper! But I have the weakness of giving the devil his due. And in my account, his due is very considerable” (42). When Stalin died in 1953, Roy wrote in his journal Radical Humanist, that ‘Stalin was the most hated, feared, and maligned man of our time’. He added, ‘No great man has ever been an angel. Greatness is always purchased at the cost of goodness. Stalin did not do anything worse. He certainly deserves a place among the great men of history… He was the greatest military genius of our time… Stalin was undoubtedly the tallest personality of our time, and as such is bound to leave his mark on history’ (43).
After Stalin was roundly denounced by the CPSU leader Khrushchev three years after his death, Mao Tse-tung who was known to have sharp differences with Stalin on matters of policy and theory on many occasions, strongly defended Stalin saying, “The Communist Party of China has consistently held that Stalin did commit errors, which had their ideological as well as social and historical roots. It is necessary to criticize the errors Stalin actually committed, not those groundlessly attributed to him…Stalin … headed by Lenin …took part in the struggle to pave the way for the 1917 Revolution; after the October Revolution he fought to defend the fruits of the proletarian revolution. Stalin led the CPSU and the Soviet people, after Lenin’s death, in resolutely fighting both internal and external foes, and in safeguarding and consolidating the first socialist state in the world… Stalin led the CPSU, the Soviet people, and the Soviet army in an arduous and bitter struggle to the great victory of the anti-fascist war. Stalin defended and developed Marxism-Leninism in the fight against various kinds of opportunism, against the enemies of Leninism, the Trotskyites, Zinovievites, Bukharinites, and other bourgeois agents… Stalin made an indelible contribution to the international communist movement in a number of theoretical writings which are immortal Marxist-Leninist works… Stalin stood in the forefront of the tide of history guiding the struggle, and was an irreconcilable enemy of the imperialists and all reactionaries… Stalin’s life was that of a great Marxist-Leninist, a great proletarian revolutionary. Stalin, a great Marxist-Leninist and proletarian revolutionary, also made certain mistakes; some could have been avoided and some were scarcely avoidable at a time when the dictatorship of the proletariat had no precedent to go by… In the work led by Stalin of suppressing the counter-revolution, many counter-revolutionaries deserving punishment were duly punished, but at the same time there were innocent people who were wrongly convicted; and in 1937 and 1938 there occurred the error of enlarging the scope of the suppression of counter-revolutionaries. In handling relations with fraternal Parties and countries, he made some mistakes. He also gave some bad counsel in the international communist movement. These mistakes caused some losses to the Soviet Union and the international communist movement… on the whole, his merits outweighed his faults. He was primarily correct, and his faults were secondary” (44).
CPI’s Impact on Society
The ideas of socialism and communist ideology, which were first introduced in India in 1920s and gained wider circulation in 1930s, had a significantly powerful impact on Indian society, particularly among people from academia, art and literature during 1930s through 1960s. Perhaps, few countries had had such a wide and far reaching impact of Marxist and socialist ideas on its social and cultural consciousness as it was witnessed in Indian society at the time. A very large number of essayists, teachers, university professors, writers, playwrights, poets, film-makers, theater artists, lyricists, and musicians who had their hearts in the right place were powerfully attracted towards the liberating ideas of Marxism. Particularly, the powerful Indian film industry that took off in 1930s and bloomed initially in Tollygunj, Calcutta (Tollywood) and, later, in Bombay (Bollywood) had considerably large number of leading actors, directors, producers and musicians who were influenced by socialist ideas and several them worked as active members of the Communist Party of India.
The Progressive Writers Association (PWA) was first founded in London in 1935 by few young Indian writers. Meeting once or twice a month in Nanking Restaurant in London, they also drafted its initial manifesto. These included, Syed Sajjad Zaheer, Dr. Mulk Raj Anand, Parmod Sengupta, Dr. M.D. Taseer, Dr., Jyoti Ghosh, Dr. K.S. Bhat, and Dr. S. Sinha. As a backdrop of this initiative of these young energetic Indian students there was a larger international effort of organising writers and poets for the human rights in Europe. Fascism was now clearly on the rise in Italy, Germany, and Spain. Similar trends were evident in other countries. International PEN (renamed as PEN International in 1910) was already founded in London in 1921 as an NGO for promoting cooperation among writers (poets, essayists, novelists, hence P.E.N.). An Indian chapter of the International PEN was founded in London in 1934 by Sophia Camacho Wadia (American wife of an Indian trade unionist and theosophist B.P. Wadia), K.M. Munshi, and Kaka Sahib Kalelkar with support from Gandhi. A little earlier, the Left Review had announced that a writers’ ‘International Congress for the Defence of Culture’ was to be held in Paris on 21-26 June, 1935. The Congress was “called by a committee of French Writers who believed that the perils confronting cultural freedom in a number of countries today are such that measures should be taken for its defence”. The committee for this congress was comprised of some of the most distinguished names in French letters, some of whom also had direct connection with India or Indians. Andre Gide had translated Noble Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali in French; Henri Barbousse had assisted Evelyn Roy, wife of M.N. Roy, in agitating at highest levels against expulsion of Roy from France in 1925; Romaine Rolland, had worked with Tagore and wrote his book Mahatma Gandhi; Andre Malraux had written a novel concerning the Chinese civil war (45). The Congress’ call was forwarded to many writers and journals throughout the world for information and circulation. In India, an appeal from this committee was printed in the journal Savera (Dawn) of Karachi (46).
Soon, Sajjad Zaheer returned to India and the Association under the name of Anjuman Taraqi Pasand Musanifin Hind (All India Progressive Writers Association: IPWA) was founded in Lukhnow in April 1936 with full support from CPI. Almost all prominent Urdu writers, poets, essayists and critics of that time supported and joined this new literary movement. Although, as most of its early sponsors were from Urdu literature in North India and the first IPWA congress was a galaxy of mainly Urdu luminaries, however, some very eminent Hindi and Bengali writers also attended and extended their support (47). The senior Urdu writers and literary luminaries who extended their full support to the progressive literary movement in its formative years including, Munshi Prem Chand, who also presided over its first conference in Lukhnow, and Maulvi Abdul Haq and Josh Malihabadi, carried hugely respectable and influential positions in Urdu literary field (48). Arguably, the ‘progressive literature’ movement had an enormous impact on the Indian belles-letters for a long time. A significantly large number of young writers of Anjuman (PWA) rose to literary prominence, almost completely dominating the Urdu language literary horizon from 1930s till at least 1970s in both India and later in Pakistan (49).
CPI also sponsored an Indian Peoples Theatre Association (IPTA) in 1942. Its founding members included Pirthvi Raj Kapur, Balraj Sahini, and Khwaja Ahmed Abbas (50). Shailandra, a noted music composer had worked as a welder in Indian Railways and was a union leader. The advent of Indian cinema in a big way in 1930’s and its evolution during 1940’s and 1950’s in cosmopolitan Bombay was mostly dominated by progressive film makers and artists playing a significant role in influencing changing lifestyles and worldview of Indian people, particularly in its big cities and towns (51). Bombay and Lahore were two big circuits of Indian films industry. By 1933, Lahore alone had sixteen cinemas. There were several regional theater associations also in Maharashtra, Gujarat,Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Bengal. Khwaja Ahmed Abbas adapted a Bengali play by Jyotianand Mitra called ‘Nava Jibonar Gaan’ and made a film ‘Dharti Ke Laal’ in 1946.
A Progressive Artists’ Group was also formed in 1947 that included M.F. Hussain, S.H. Raza, Manishi Dey, and Francis Souza who later emerged as the most eminent and internationally acclaimed artists from India.
34. Interview with Dr. Hari Sharma, Oral History Project of the Nehru Memorial & Library (NMML), June 1978.
35. Interview with Dr. Hari Sharma, Oral History Project of the Nehru Memorial & Library (NMML); and his radio talk on ‘My Visit to Russia’ in weekly BBC Marathi programme ‘Radio Jhankar’.
36. Interview with Dr. Hari Sharma, Oral History Project of the Nehru Memorial & Library (NMML). Sep. 1974; and ‘Telengana People’s Struggle and Its Lessons’ by P. Sundarayya, CPI-M, Calcutta, 1972.
37. Interview with Dr. Hari Sharma, Oral History Project of the Nehru Memorial & Library (NMML); and his Memoirs: ‘A Traveller and the Road: The Journey of an Indian Communist’, by Mohit Sen, Rupa & Co., 2003.
38. K.N. Ramchandran, op cited, p. 29.
39. Interview with Dr. Hari Sharma, Oral History Project.
40. ‘Role of Left in Punjab’ by Jaspal Singh Sidhu in CounterCurrents, January, 2013: http://www.countercurrents.org/sidhu060113.htm
41. ‘Of Quit India, Nehru & CPI Split’ by A.G. Noorani in Frontline, Dec 31, 2011 – Jan 13, 2012.
42. As quoted in Overstreet & Windmiller, op cited, p. 142.
43. ‘The Death of Stalin’ by M.N. Roy, Radical Humanist, XVII (March a5, 1953), pp. 121-132 as quoted in Overstreet & Windmiller, p. 143.
44. ‘On the Question of Stalin: Second Comment on the Open Letter of the Central Committee of the CPSU’, by Mao Tse-tung in People’s Daily and Red Flag, September 13, 1963.
45. Marxist Influences and South Asian Literature, Vol.1, Ed. Carlo Coppola, Asian Studies Centre, Michigan State University, Michigan, 1974, p. 13.
46. Khalilur Rehman Azmi, Urdu mein Taraqqi Pasand Adabi Tarikh, Anjuman Tarraqi-e Urdu (India), Aligarh, 1972, p.30 as quoted by Carlo Coppola cited above.
47. Among Hindi writers, prominent names included, Shivdan Singh Chohan, Narendra Sharma, Ramesh Chandar, Balraj Sahini, Om Parkash, Acharya Narendar Dev, Pandit Ram Naresh Tirpathi and Amrit Rai. Manik Benerji, Tara Shankar Benerji, Budhdev Bose, Primatma Chaudhry, and Sarojni Naidu were among Bengali supporters while Vallathol Narayan Menon was a well-known Malayalam writer.
48. Other prominent senior Urdu writers coming out in support of Progressive Writers Association included, Hasrat Mohani, Chaudhry Mohammad Ali Rudelvei, Rabindranath Tagore, Qazi Abdul Ghaffar, Sufi Tabasum, Maulana Salahuddin Ahmed, Abdul Majid Salik, and Dr. Abid Hussain.
49. These young writers emerging in the progressive writers movement and dominating Urdu literature for some time include, Ahmed Ali, Mulk Raj Anand, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Krishan Chandar, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Kaifi Azmi, Ali Sardar Jafri, Quratulain Hyder, Ismat Chughtai, Rajendra Singh Bedi, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Israrul Haq Majaz Lakhnavi, Sahir Ludhyanvi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Syed Sibte Hassan, Amrita Pritam, Ahtisham Hussain, Saadat Hassan Manto, Majnun Gorakhpuri, Syed Mutalibi Faridabadi, Hamid Akhtar, Hajra Masroor, Khadija Mastoor, Saghar Nizami, Mumtaz Hussain, Ibadat Barailvi, and Ibrahim Jalis.
50. Others included, Bijon Bhattacharya, Ritwick Ghatak, Uptal Dutt, Salil Chaudhry, Jyotrindra Mitra, and Pandit Ravi Shankar.
51. Among prominent artists and writers in Bollywood who were powerfully moved by the Marxist ‘progressive’ movement included, Cheten Anand, elder brother of Dev Anand, Habib Tanvir, S.D. Burman, Ismat Chughtai, Kartar Singh Duggal, Vishwamitr Adil, David, Shayam, Kaifi Azmi, A.K. Hangal, Satay Jeet Ray, Bimol Roy, Sahir Ludhyanvi, Shabana Azmi, Jawed Akhtar, Akhtarul Iman, Shayam Benegal, Samita Patel, Amol Palekar, Nasiruddin Shah, Om Puri, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Punkaj Kapur, Deepti Nawal, and Grish Karnad.
Chapter 3… Concluded