The Working Class Movement and Communist Movement of India: Lessons from the Past; Possibilities and Challenges of the Present


The Working Class Movement and Communist Movement of India: Lessons from the Past; Possibilities and Challenges of the Present

paper presented in the second Arvind Memorial Seminar


“History is nothing but the activity of man pursuing his aims.”

– Karl Marx, Holy family

Comrades present in the second Arvind Memorial Seminar,

When man makes an attempt towards achieving his aims, he commits many mistakes while advancing in the light of the lessons of the past experiments; sometimes he succeeds and fails at other times. And he leaves behind the positive and negative lessons of these attempts for the coming generations.

The history of the Communist Movement in India is around 90 years old. The Indian working class had already started its organized struggle against the capitalist exploitation around four decades before this. There can hardly be any doubt about the militancy of the struggles of working class or about the sacrifice, bravery and renunciation of the communists. But while dealing with the problems of organizing afresh the economic-political struggle of the proletariat population at large and of carrying out propaganda of their historical mission amongst them, when we re-evaluate the history, a lot of questions prop up regarding the work of the Communist Party among the workers.

Sukhwinder presenting his paper

Sukhwinder presenting his paper

It is a widely accepted fundamental proposition of Leninism that the working class movement which arises spontaneously against the wage slavery does not automatically, by its independent motion, become a struggle for socialism. Such a line of thinking was termed as economist, spontaneitist and syndicalist thinking by Lenin. It was his clear belief that: (i) The economic struggle does not become a political struggle by its spontaneous motion. (ii) The communists have to advance and extend the political struggle to a higher level than just economic struggle and at the same time have to run the activities of political education and propaganda among the working class. (That is to say, that the ideas of scientific socialism are not automatically born in the working class movement but have to be injected from outside). (iii) Trade unions are essential as an elementary school of the class struggle; however, the fundamental condition of moving towards the proletarian revolution is to bring the workers with advanced consciousness to the Marxist ideology through a political newspaper and by other means and accomplish the task of party building.

When we measure the work of the Communist Party in the working class movement of India against these parameters, we find serious mistakes continuously from 1920 to 1951 which could be termed as economist or trade-unionist deviation. We are not talking about the Communist Party after 1951 as it had become a completely revisionist party by then. While surveying the history, we will see that despite acquiring massive support of workers, the ideologically weak Communist Party having loose Bolshevik structure did not carry out any systematic political work among the workers at any point of time. Not surprisingly, under such circumstances the leadership of the National Movement could not come into the hands of the proletariat and the hegemony of the proletarian politics could not be established among the masses seeking emancipation. Between 1951 and 1967 the same could not be expected from the revisionist CPI and CPI (M). Afterwards the new wave arising after the Naxalbari uprising got entangled in the whirlwind of “left-wing” adventurism. The problems of the party work and mass work were never on its agenda. Most of those who got organized in different streams-sub-streams on the issue of mass line remained entangled in the fight for input cost- minimum support price for the rich peasantry due to the wrong understanding of the  democratic revolution and even when they worked among the workers, it was not more than a militant economism. Today when we are deliberating on the challenges of organizing the working class afresh in the new conditions of globalization, it is very essential to think-ponder in the larger context of the relationship between the communist movement and working class movement in India and the one between the economic work and political work among the workers. In the same context we have tried to undertake a brief retrospection of history and made an attempt to draw important conclusions.

A brief historical overview and some important conclusions

The working class movement in India has a glorious history.  With the advent of the capitalist development in the colonial India, two new classes emerged on the stage of Indian history.  While on the one hand the industrial capitalist class was born, on the other hand, the industrial proletariat – the most revolutionary class in human history – came into being. This class is different from the exploited-oppressed classes of the past – slaves and peasants. Unlike the slaves and peasants, this class is not ready to tolerate the exploitation-oppression for thousands of years.  It engages in a war against with the capitalist class right from its inception.  In India, the process of the working class movement has been unfolding unabated, passing through many ups and downs, at times resting and then with a stormy speed making its headway and it has always been disturbing the sleep of the colonial rulers before 1947 and the indigenous rulers after that.

 The modern industries (indigo, tea, coffee) were set up in India in the middle of the 19th century. In 1850, 55 coal mines began operating. In 1879 there were 56 cotton mills and in 1882 there were 20 jute mills. Between 1880 and 1895 there were 144 cotton mills, 29 jute mills and 123 coal mines.  In 1913-14 the number of cotton mills in India shot up to 274 and the number of jute mills to 64. Number of workers working in the coal mines was 1,51,273 at that time. In 1940 there were 1000 factories in India in which 17 lac workers used to work.  Whether the factories were owned by the British or by Indian capitalists, the workers were subjected to untold poverty and exploitation-oppression. They had to work in hell-like conditions (the conditions of the workers are same even now) and soon the workers hit the streets against these infernal conditions. As the power of the workers strengthened, their struggle became increasingly radical, extensive, organized and planned as well. Despite the fact that the number of workers was very less in colonial India, their concentration in the big cities like Bombay, Calcutta, Ahmadabad, Kanpur and Sholapur etc. enhanced their offensive capacity.

The history of colonial India has witnessed numerous big workers’ uprisings. The process of the working class movement started unfolding from the eighth decade of the 19th century itself. Between 1882 and 1890 there were 25 strikes in Bombay and Madras, and between 1892-93 and 1901 several big strikes were organized. ( Sumit Sarkar, Modern India)

Between 1905 and 1908, owing to the direct impact of Swadeshi and the boycott of the foreign goods movement, there was an upsurge in the working class movement. In 1908, an important event took place in the history of the working class. In 1908, the workers of the cotton mills of Bombay organized a political strike against the arrest of the nationalist leader Tilak. It was their first political activity and they demonstrated their political consciousness and maturity. On 24 June, 1908 when Tilak was arrested, not only in Bombay but in places like Sholapur, Nagpur etc., suddenly a storm of protest broke out. During the hearing of the case against Tilak, the workers of Bombay carried out huge demonstration and strikes in which the skirmishes with police and army were not uncommon. On 18 July, in one such battle, thousands of workers were injured and many were killed. Next day around 65 thousand workers of 60 mills went on strike. On 21st July, the dock workers joined the strike. On 22nd July, Tilak was sentenced to 6 years of rigourous imprisonment and the striking workers converted Bombay to a battleground for 6 days.  Referring to this struggle, Lenin said on 5th August, “Demonstration and strike have unfolded on the streets of Bombay as a result of a revengeful act by the pet dogs of the capitalists against a democratic person ( i.e. Tilak). Even in India the proletariat has evolved to the level of conscious mass struggle”(Collected Works, part 15, page 184). Besides this, at the same time numerous small as well as big workers’ struggles took place in Bengal, Madras, Punjab etc.

The history of the working class movement till this point shows that the working class fought not only for its economic interests but also waged brave struggles comprehensively for the general political interests of the Indian masses.  But till this point the working class movement was either spontaneous or was dominated by the nationalists. But after the summer of 1908, the interest of the nationalists in the working class movement suddenly and completely vanished which could reemerge only in 1919-22.

In 1918 begins a new wave of the labour strikes. From now onwards the participation of the workers in the strike was extensive. The first general strike in the history of the working class movement took place in 1918. 120,000 workers participated in this strike. Even in other parts of the country, the workers launched strikes in support of this strike. Earlier too, the strikes were common feature in the factories. However, earlier it was not a countrywide phenomenon. This countrywide wave of the working class movements continued till 1921 in which hundreds of big and small strikes took place in Bombay, Madras, Assam, Punjab etc. and lacs of workers participated in them.

With the strike of 1918, the working class movement enters into a new phase. Now the workers started organizing themselves in trade unions. Trade unions were a new phenomena for India. Before 1918, they were non-existent, only few unions of the white workers were present (Abani Mukherji, The Communist Review, September 1922, Volume 3, Edition 5). It was at this time that the labour unions were set up for the first time in the cities of Bombay, Madras and other cities.  In 1920 ‘All India Trade Union Congress’ was set up which was the representative of the worker unions and a countrywide institution whose leadership was in the hands of liberal nationalists.

When the working class movement in India was entering into a new phase, the event which impacted the modern human history to the most had already occurred. This event was the great October Socialist Revolution of Russia which took place in 1917. This revolution liberated the exploited-oppressed people for the first time. The first workers’ state came into being. The October Revolution shook the entire world. Owing to the October Revolution, the light of the science of proletarian revolution which till then was mainly a European ( and North American) phenomenon now began to spread to the colonial, semi- colonial and neo-colonial countries of the third world. Now the communist parties and organizations began to be formed even in these countries. In the same process the Communist Party of India was formed on 17th October, 1920 in Tashkent under leadership of M.N. Roy. But this party did not have any roots among the working class. This “migrant party” tried to bring under its influence the nationalists, worker and peasant leaders working in India through correspondence, journals. manifesto and by sending ambassadors and money but did not achieve much success in it.  On the other hand, the first communist groups of India, totally independent of this party, emerged around 1921-22 in which the Bombay group around S.A. Dange, Calcutta group around Muzaffar Ahmad, Madras group around Singravelu Chettiar, Lahore group around Ghulam Hussain and Kanpur group were important.

The “first Communist Conference” was organized in Kanpur on 25-28 December 1925 on the initiative of Satyabhakt. In this conference, the various communist groups active in different parts of the country, united in one single party – “Communist Party of India”.

The positive aspect of this conference was that it united the communist groups scattered throughout the country. Whereas its negative aspect was that ideologically it was very weak. (This limitation of the party was carried forward in the subsequent period as well which will be covered in the discussions ahead). Satyabhakt, the organizer of the “first Indian Communist Conference” could never free himself from nationalism. He considered himself a nationalist and not a Marxist. It was because of this reason that he wanted to  name the party as Indian Communist Party.  However, he could not get the support of anyone on this issue. His these thoughts notwithstanding, he was selected as the member of the Central Committee and the secretary of the Kanpur Provincial Centre. He was adamant on his “nationalistic communist” stand and soon formed “National Communist Party” which shortly became defunct. Secondly, this conference did not adopt any clear-cut programme of Indian revolution. Thirdly, the organization of party was not built on the Leninist principles. In this matter, this party was too much of an Indian party. It was due to this reason only that in its constitution “any true worker or peasant” was made eligible for becoming a delegate in the supreme party institution i.e. annual conference (Article 6), the provincial and even the district committees were given the power of formulating the conditions of the membership in it ( Article 5 A) , and the “unions of working class” affiliated with the party were considered “integral part of the CPI” (Article 3 C).

Even though the different communist groups of the country were formally united as one party, its structure remained loose and federal even after its formation and its leading core too was not organized in Leninist terms. Only by 1933, the entire party could for the first time be organized under a Central Committee.

Any ways, we return to the work of the Communist Party of India among the workers.

Between 1918 and 1921 the working class movement in India was on upswing. From 1922, begins the era of the descent in the working class movement. But this situation could not continue for long. From 1924 itself the revival of the working class movement begins. The textile workers’ movement of Bombay in 1924 is a good example in point when 1,60,000 workers of 81 factories went on strike. In 1925, the class struggle was further intensified. In March 1925, the workers of North-Western railways went on strike. In the same year, two and a half months long movement of the textiles workers of Bombay took place which is famous as “bonus strike” and in which 56 thousand workers participated. From 1927, the working class movement was once again on full swing. During the same period, the work of the communists begins among the workers of India.

We have already discussed the modus operandi of the “migrant” CPI in which it tried to influence the activities of the leaders of the National Congress and the groups of workers and peasants by sending manifesto or appeal in which it did not get any considerable success.

The communists working in India expressed their opinion about the working class movement for the first time in ‘The Socialist’ of March 1923. In an article titled “The capitalist attack in India”, instead of listening to philosophical advice of the reformist working class leaders only which was propagated as “welfare for all” by the followers of Gandhi on the workers’ front, an appeal was made to the workers to wage class struggle against the capitalist attack.

In 1924, when the communists started proper work among the workers, the British officers in the beginning launched an offensive on the communist leaders involved in organizing the workers. S.A. Dange, Muzaffar Ahmad and Shaukat Usmani were arrested in 1924 itself in connection with the Kanpur Bolshevik case. This event badly shook the initial initiative of the communists in organizing the workers.

During 1926-27 the emergence of the peasant and worker parties in the various political centres of India such as Calcutta, Bombay, Madras and Lahore etc. helped the communist working class leaders a lot in organizing the workers. They also tried to intervene in the Congress politics by raising working class related questions in the annual session of the Indian National Congress. It was by this time that the communists started working within AITUC.  In 1927, the elected assembly of the Central Executive of CPI accepted a proposal on “Trade Union Congress” in its annual report in which the communist members were urged onto enter into AITUC and capture the leadership of this organization from its current bourgeois leadership.

Soon the communists made their presence felt in AITUC.  The presence of an active leftist group in the Eighth Congress of AITUC held on 26-27 November in Kanpur was of special importance in this respect.

In 1928, there was a new upsurge in the working class movement. On the fateful day of February, when Simon Commission arrived in Bombay, a huge demonstration took place there. Around 20 thousand workers opposing the Simon Commission hit the streets. The second event took place in Calcutta. Under the leadership of the Peasants’ and Workers’ Party of Bengal, thousands of workers entered into the annual session of Indian National Congress. They captured the central podium and approved the proposal of the complete self rule. These two events underline the ever increasing participation of the Indian workers in the national politics and their growing anti-imperialistic consciousness. This process of the working class movement under  the communist leadership kept on unfolding till the Second World War with some brief periods of stagnation. In this duration, numerous big and small working class movements took place under leadership of communists in which the strike of the textile workers in Sholapur is worth mentioning. On 7th May, 1930, the textile strike was organized in Sholapur which became famous as “Sholapur Commune”. The entire Sholapur city came under the control of workers from 7th May to 16th May. It was only after the Marshal Law was imposed in the city that the “normalcy” returned.

In the same period, the events like the first split (November 1929) and then unity (April 1935) took place in AITUC.

In 1939, the Second World War began. During the war the CPI committed a mistake which was among its most serious mistakes. In the latter half of 1941, after the Fascist German attack on Russia, the CPI adopted the line of giving total support to the anti-fascist “people’s war”. Even though it reiterated the demand of independence and immediate national government, building a country-wide movement on these demands was not on its agenda because it did not intend to weaken the anti-fascist world-wide front by waging a decisive struggle against Britain standing as it was with the Soviet Union in the anti-fascist war.  The Communist Party of India considered the principal contradiction at the international level as the principal contradiction at the national level as well. However, it was a wrong thinking on part of the Communist Party. Owing to the equations at the international level, it was the compulsion of Britain and all other Western imperialists to form an alliance with the Soviet Union against the Axis powers. Today it is an established fact that it was a policy of Britain and its imperialist counterparts that the Soviet fort of socialism would by destroyed by the storm of fascism and when the fascist forces would weaken in the process, they could be easily dealt with. Churchill, the British Prime Minister at the time, stated that if Hitler would approach towards victory they would take Soviet Union’s side and if the Soviet Union advances towards victory they would support Hitler. So the policy of the imperialists was to weaken the two to an extent that both could be easily dealt with. Soviet Union on its own was fighting against the 200 divisions of Hitler and despite repeated calls, the opening of the European front was much delayed. Under these circumstances, the Communist Party of India could have put pressure on Britain for giving assurance on national liberation and calling a constituent assembly as well as opening the Western war front apart from posing an effective challenge to the Congress leadership in the national movement. In any case, the Soviet Union received no real help in the anti-fascist people’s war with the support of Indian communists. At the time when the Communist Party was engaged in the impractical activities of “strengthening” the anti-fascist front, the congress leaders being the representative of the bourgeoisie were seriously contemplating about taking advantage of the British involvement in the war and the stand of Indian communists to support the British. By the mid 1942, the German army started losing its ground in Stalingrad. By the summer of 1942, Gandhi – the most skilled political representative and strategist of the Indian bourgeoisie – had understood that the time is most ripe for extracting maximum concession by putting the pressure of mass movement on the British imperialism. In August 1942 Gandhi, gave the slogans of “Do or Die” and “Quit India” from an open session of Congress in Bombay and clearly stated that they would settle for nothing less than Independence. Indeed the “Quit India” movement was a country-wide mass uprising. It was the fiercest expression of the anti imperialist mass sentiments. Even after the arrest of the top Congress leaders, the mass struggle continued in spontaneous manner and the independent governments worked for months in many zones of the country.

But the Communist Party was totally cut off from this fierce mass uprising. The workers of Bombay and Calcutta – the forts of the workers’ movement –  to a large extent remained quiet during this movement. The opposition of communists to this movement played a substantial part in keeping the workers away from it. The communists had a strong base among the workers of these two big centres of working class movement. In the places where there was no or less influence of the communists among the workers such as Jamshedpur, Ahmadabad, Ahmadnagar, Puna etc., the workers participated in this movement in a big way.

From the mid 1945, a new country-wide wave of the workers’ strike emerged. The characterstic of this wave was to become more and more political. The workers’ strikes were increasingly getting linked with the struggle-demonstration of the students and other toiling sections of the society. The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) had approved the proposal of independence in the 21st Congress itself which was held in Madras in January 1945. By the second half of 1945 the strikes and demonstrations had started taking shape of armed skirmishes and conflicts with the army and police. The year of 1946 was a witness to four valiant struggles of Indian masses.  Between 18th and 23rd February, 1946 naval revolt took place in Bombay which was an epochal event in the history of the national liberation struggle whose real importance has so far been underestimated by the historians. In September 1946 Tebhaga movement started under the leadership of the communists. The Tebhaga movement of Bengal was a movement of the Assamese Kashtkar and Bataidar (Bargardar and Adhiyar). Their demand was that the revenue given to the jotdars must be one third of the harvest. Beginning in September 1946 this movement soon spread like the forest fire to the 11 districts of Bengal. The number of peasants participating in it shot up to 50 lacs.

In October 1956 the famous Punappra-Vayalar peasant movement took place under leadership of the communists. Punappra and Vayalar are the two villages in the Shertalai-Allepey-Ambalpuzha region of North-western Travancore which were immortalized by the martyrdoms during the glorious peasant struggle.

Between July 1946 and October 1951 the biggest peasant guerilla struggle of the history of modern India was waged. The magnitude of the Telengana struggle was much larger than that of Tebhaga and Punappra-Vayalar. On its peak this armed struggle had liberated a region of 16 thousand square miles of three thousand villages. Here once again we come across a historical mistake of the Communist Party. On getting the news of the naval revolt the central leadership of the party did not take initiative to try to provide leadership to it, even though the situation was conducive on account of the opposition shown by the Congress and the League to it. Had the Communist Party had moved beyond strike in Bombay only, to a country-wide general political strike in support of the revolt, the situation could have evolved into an insurrection. Even if this insurrection had not succeeded, the party could have retreated and could have waited for the next round of countrywide protests by adopting the line of people’s war in countryside and by Advancing the peasant struggle. The naval revolt (and possibly revolts in army and air force as well) could have provided the conducive environment to arm the people. Under these circumstances, it was almost certain that the leadership of the national freedom struggle would have come into the hands of the communists. But it was not to be. Similarly, the party could not extend the peasant struggles of Tebhaga, Punappra-Vayalar and Telengana to the path of the protracted people’s war. It could not take advantage of the transition period spanning from 1946 and 1950.  The root cause of the mistake after mistakes committed by the Communist Party during the national movement was that the party was ideologically very weak.

It is beyond doubt that the toiling masses played the principal role in the freedom struggle and this fight was fought on the strength of their force. Only two classes of British India were capable of providing leadership to this struggle – Indian bourgeoisie and Indian proletariat. The Indian bourgeoisie was first to organize itself, establish its leadership in the freedom struggle and succeeded to maintain it till the end.

On the contrary, despite being the most revolutionary class, the working class could organize itself very late. Its party came into existence much later.  On account of being the most revolutionary class and its aim of establishing a exploitation free, classless society, it had to face more adverse conditions. However, the main reason for its failure was its subjective weaknesses. Its leadership failed in internalizing Marxism and applying it to the concrete conditions of the country. We will discuss it further at a later point.

Anyways, let’s return to our original discussion of the work of the Communist Party of India among the working class. After 1923, when the Communists started working among the working class, numerous big and small working class movements took place on the economic and political issues under leadership of the communists. Throughout this entire period (till 1951 when the Communist Party withdrew the Telengana movement and marched on the path of revisionism), the history of the communist movement has been a bloody history of militant struggles, valour and gallantry, renunciation and sacrifices.

On the other hand, the other aspect of this situation is that by 1951, the work of the Communist Party of India among the working class was suffering from economist deviation. There were problems in coordinating the economic work and political work as well as the party work and mass work in the working class also. The party did not pay much attention to the political education of the working class and nor did it make any attempt to undertake any political-ideological propaganda among the extensive workers’ populace. In this duration, the party published many newspapers-magazines, for example, ‘National Front’ and ‘New Age’ in English, ‘Ganashakti’ in Bangla, ‘Prabhatam’ in Malyalam, ‘Kranti’ in Marathi, ‘Navshakti’ in Telugu and ‘Janshakti’ in Tamil. However, the party did not publish a workers’ newspaper like ‘Iskra’ addressing the class-conscious workers, which could directly propagate Marxism-Leninism and could acquaint the working class about its historical mission, “which focuses its attention on all the strategic, political and theoretical problems of world communist movement” (Lenin); which could play the role of a revolutionary teacher, propagandist and agitator apart from being a revolutionary organizer. Also, the party did not have a newspaper like ‘Pravda’ addressed to the general working population.  In short, the Communist Party of India did not follow Leninist methodology to work among the working class. The concept of a newspaper like ‘Iskra’ was totally absent in the Communist movement of India.

According to Lenin, “social democracy (i.e. communism) is a combination of the working class movement and socialism. Its task is not to serve the working class movement passively in its different stages, but to represent the interests of the entire movement, to take the movement to its final goal and to protect its political and ideological freedom. Being detached from the social democracy, the working class movement inevitably becomes capitalist. …Our main and basic task is to aid the process of the political evolution and political organization of the working class. Those who put this task on the backburner; those who refuse to make the myriad special tasks and the specific methods of struggle subject to this principal task are treading on wrong path and are causing immense damage to the movement.”(Lenin, Collected works, volume 4, page 367-69)

But here the party did not make any attempt to coordinate between the working class movement and socialism; it did not make any attempt to establish the hegemony of the ideology of working class – Marxism-Leninism amongst it and thus cleared the way for the establishment of the bourgeois ideology among the working class. It was because of this reason that even in places where the base of Communist Party was strong, the enemy class succeeded in winning over the working class and even the communal forces succeeded to manipulate and cajole the workers and throw them into the communal riots. There was a new upsurge in the working class in 1945; the militant struggles of the workers under communist leadership began advancing. The imperialist rulers tried to incite communal riots to break this combative unity. They even succeeded in their attempts in Bombay – the stronghold of working class movement under communist leadership. On 28 March 1947, in support of the Tebhaga peasant movement, the CPI had planned for a general strike. But at the same time, the Hindu Mahasabha’s campaign for the partition of Bengal was also gaining momentum; from 27th March onwards, communal riots broke out in Calcutta which ended the possibilities of any activities in the cities in support of the Tebhaga movement.

Like its other numerous mistakes-weaknesses the weaknesses of the Communist Party in its work among the workers has been, in the main due to the ideological weakness. It was only because of this weakness that the Communist Party of India, at the time when it had not yet fallen into the swamp of revisionism and its character was still  proletarian, never acted like a steel-tempered party moulded  according to Bolshevik principles and  practicing Democratic Centralism. For a long time after the formation of the party, its structure was loose and even its leading core was not organized as per Leninist methodology.  It was only after receiving the criticism of the having numerous scattered  groups of Communist Party of India, of the non-Bolshevik structure and for ignoring the tasks pertaining to the methodology and the necessary suggestions in a joint letter from the communist parties of Britain, Germany and China ( 1932), in an article in “Imprecore” and in another letter of the Communist Party of China (July, 1932),  that in December 1933, a core of an Central Provisional Committee of CPI was formed, which after co-opting a few other people was called Central Committee. For two and half years after this, the post of general secretary was held by many under makeshift arrangement. This situation ended only in 1936 when P.C. Joshi was elected as general secretary. But even after this the process of Bolshevization was never undertaken in a proper manner. During the period of the rightist deviation under the leadership of P.C. Joshi, excessive flexibility and carelessness was practiced in the conditions of the membership of the party, in the committee arrangement and the underground structure which actually got fillip after the party was made legal in 1942. It needs to be mentioned that the first congress of the party also could take place only after it was declared legal (between 23rd May to 1st June 1943, Bombay). It is obvious from the above that unlike the Bolsheviks and the other efficient Leninist parties, the communists of India were not prepared for the proper functioning of the party in the event of state repression and of being declared illegal. Between 1936 and 1948 the rightist line of its general secretary, P.C. Joshi, was dominant in the Communist Party of India. In 1948, when B.T. Randive took over from P.C. Joshi as the general secretary, the party’s pendulum moved to the other extreme and the “leftist” adventurist line of B.T. Randive became dominant over the party. Both these lines caused a lot of damage to the working class movement in India. Owing to absence of a democratic centralist Bolshevik structure to a large extent, there always remained a lack of waging the two line struggle consistently. The coexistence of the “leftist” and the rightist opportunistic tendencies was always present in the party. At time, one and at other times, the other line became dominant over the party and sometimes a strange mixture came into being. The tendencies of narrow factionalism were also present at all levels even after the formation of the Central Committee. In fact, the party leadership never considered the task of party building as an important task. It was never emphasized to undertake Bolshevization and rectification of the ranks through the ideological-political-practical education.

Owing to its ideological bankruptcy, the leadership of the Communist Party of India did not even made an independent attempt to determine the strategy and general tactics of Indian revolution by concrete study of the production-relations of colonial India and all aspects of superstructure (which includes caste system, woman question and the question of nationalities)  and it always took its decisions based on the assessments of the international leadership and the big fraternal parties. In such a situation, the party repeatedly  fell prey to the deviation on two extremes on the question of a joint front, working class movement and other questions. It is obvious that under these circumstances, the deviations arising from time to time in the international communist movement and the wrong or unbalanced assessment regarding India also affected the communist movement in India.

It was the ideological weakness of the party and the intellectual incapacity-poverty of the leadership due to which the Communist Party of India always failed in implementing the well known truths of Marxism to the concrete conditions of India; in fact, instead of attempting this, it always looked towards the international leadership and the big and experienced fraternal parties for guidance. The Communist Party of India used to determine its policies and strategies under influence of the proposals-circulars of the Communist International, the articles published in its mouthpiece, the articles of the Soviet party and the people like Rajni Palme Dutt of the Communist Party of Britain. What can be a more tragic irony that till 1951, the Communist Party of India did not have a programme on Indian revolution; there were only some essays on the the general orientation and directions,  proposals, strategy and the policy related documents which held that the task of national democratic revolution is to be accomplished in India. Despite the agrarian revolution being the principal task, a detailed investigation to know and understand the specifics of the agrarian-relations was never attempted,  leave alone preparing an agrarian programme. Under such a situation, if the party could not become a leading force in the national liberation movement, repeatedly failed to take advantage of the favourable conditions and the immense sacrifices and courageous participation of communist ranks in the mass struggles was wasted, then it comes as no surprise. For the first time the party leadership, after the talks of a delegation with Stalin and other leaders of the Soviet Party, released a programme and policy related statement in 1951 which was passed first in October 1951 by the All India Conference and then in the Third Party Congress in 1953.

In 1951 itself the party chose the path of parliamentarism and revisionism and mainly and essentially was moulded in the frame of Mensheviks and Kautskyite European parties. Between 1951 to 1962-63, the two-line struggle in it was essentially present in the form of the struggle between the moderate stream and the radical stream of parliamentarism-economism. A large section of the ranks bore revolutionary aspirations and character, however, owing to its ideological weaknesses, considered the radical revisionist faction as revolutionary.  It was as a consequence of the above mentioned two-line struggle that a split took place in 1964 and a new party – Communist Party of India (Marxist) was formed. The major issue behind the split was not the ideological and political but was related to the moderate or the radical policies and strategies in the parliamentary politics. The newly formed CPI (M) was right from its birth a revisionist party. To discuss more on it would be a waste of time.

The Peasant Revolt of Naxalbari – Emergence of a New Communist Stream in India and its Disintegration

In May 1967, a historic peasant revolt began in Naxalbari – a Terai zone of West Bengal— which shook the new rulers of independent India. With Naxalbari the communist movement of India entered into a new era. Thousands of communist revolutionaries, holding aloft the flag of Naxalbari in the nooks and corners of the country disassociated themselves from CPI(M). Thus they made a decisive rupture from the revisionism and neo-revisionism of CPI and CPI(M). Naxalbari generated a new hope of emancipation among the exploited-oppressed toiling masses of India.

However, the ideological weaknesses of the communist movement in India with which it was infected right from its inception were not absent in the new stream of communists emanating from to Naxalbari. Even the revolutionaries of Naxalbari were carrying the burden of the tradition of the ideological bankruptcy and intellectual poverty. The dependence of the communist movement of India on the international leadership which existed right from the beginning, continued unabated. Earlier the Communist Party of India  looked towards the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and other big fraternal parties for  its minor as well as major decisions, now the new communist stream arising from Naxalbari started looking towards the Communist Party of China for guidance. The tendency of copying the Chinese revolution as it is, was dominant in the revolutionaries of Naxalbari.  Without undertaking concrete analysis of the concrete conditions of India, they declared Indian society as semi-feudal, semi-colonial which followed that the path of Indian revolution would be that of protracted people’s war.

This “analysis” of Indian society was miles away from the ground realities of India. By 1967, Indian society had completed the second phase of capitalist development (if we consider the capitalist development which took place in the colonial India as the first phase). In 1947, after the transfer of power, the Indian bourgeoisie occupied the political power in India. It advanced the process of the capitalist development in India from above through slow economic reforms. By 1967 the socio-economic situation in India was quite diverse. In some areas the capitalist development had proceeded much farther; at some places the grip of the feudal relations was very strong; at some other places the feudal remnants were quite dominant. Understanding this diverse and transitory social reality required a lot of maturity and deep ideological understanding on part of the leadership. However, the new communist leadership which had emanated from Naxalbari did not possess these qualities. There was complete absence of maturity and ideological understanding in it.

The peasant uprising at Naxalbari was a mass movement whose leaders were Kanu Sanyal, Khokan Mazumdar, Kadam Malik and Jangal Santhal etc. and who had built this movement implementing the mass-line. To some extent, the eight documents of Charu also played a role in building this movement in form of a political and ideological guidance. Charu Mazumdar, right from the time of writing these eight documents, was an advocate as well as proponent of a consistent “left” terrorist line. At the time when the mass movement was advancing at stormy pace in Naxalbari, Charu’s “left” adventurist line was a total disaster in the region of Islampur-Chatarhat which was close to Naxalbari.  When the mass movement of Naxalbari reached stagnation after some time, its leadership, owing to its ideological weakness surrendered before Charu’s terrorist line.  Within a short period, the terrorist line of Charu destroyed the great mass movement of Naxalbari. Later too, Charu’s terrorist line played havoc with many mass movements in which the prominent ones are –  movement of Girijans in Srikakulam, the peasant movement of Debra and Gopiballabhpur in Midnapur district in West Bengal, the peasant movement of the Musahari zone of the Muzaffarpur district in Bihar and the peasant movement of Terai zone of Lakhimpur district in Uttar Pradesh.

After the peasant revolt of Naxalbari, the communist revolutionaries who had left the CPI(M), organized an All India Coordination Committee of the Communist Revolutionaries of India. Apart from many other tasks, one of the tasks which this committee had put before itself was to prepare a revolutionary programme and tactics on the basis of the definite analysis of Indian situation in the light of the Mao Tse-tung thought. But owing to the dominance of Charu’s line on the coordination committee, the task of analyzing the Indian situation could never come on the agenda of the communist revolutionaries. Later, Charu expelled the “Andhra Pradesh Communist Revolutionary Committee” in an absolutely bureaucratic manner and on 22nd April,1969 declared the formation of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).

The exponent of the “left-wing” terrorist line, Charu Mazumdar, propounded many amazing principles.  He declared all kinds of mass organizations and economic struggles of the masses as economism, reformism and the biggest impediment in the path of revolution. He propounded that the annihilation of the class enemy is the highest form of class struggle. This “left” adventurist line of Charu got beaten one after another, however, every time a new place was found to carry out a new experiment.

This terrorist line had nothing to do with the industrial workers because this line could not be implemented in cities and other industrial centres. For the industrial workers too, there was not much to do as far as this line was concerned. For its implementation, this line was always on a look out for remote, inaccessible and backward areas. At that time many such regions could be found and even now owing to the backwardness of the capitalist development, many such extremely backward regions are still existent. Today the CPI(Maoist) is implementing the terrorist line of Charu with slight alterations in such regions. In the cities, the ground for the implementation of this terrorist line was not there right from the beginning however, now with the six decade of capitalist development, the ground for implementing this line has disappeared even in the rural areas too.  That is why today the CPI (Maoist) is confined to extremely backward forest areas where it has formed its mass base among the tribals having extremely backward consciousness because such a possibility exists only there. This party dreams about building liberated zone in this forested areas. This party dreams that one day its red army would come out of these forests and would first capture the rural plane areas followed by the towns and finally the big cities and one day it would capture the entire country and thus revolution would be accomplished. Only a fool can believe in the possibility of such a dream getting realized in the present-day India. But the soil of our country is so strangely blessed that there is no dearth of people believing in such a dream.

The communist revolutionary groups which had opposed Charu’s terrorist line and advocated mass-line have also suffered continuous split-disintegration. Many among them have been liquidated. Some are heading towards the same direction. The rest have been working among the peasants and rural labourers for the past four decades. Along with fighting the economic struggle of the rural labourers in an economistic manner, they are also involved in the reactionary activities of engendering the hunger for property (land) among them. Among the peasantry, they remain busy in enhancing the profit of the rich farmers by fighting for support price and lowering the input price of the crops.

These groups have weirdly understood the New Democratic Revolution. When Charu gave the slogan of “China’s path is our path”, he forgot that the Chinese revolution succeeded by implementing the mass-line by continuously fighting against the left and right deviations. At the time of Naxalbari it was iterated that the Communist Party would be village based party. The task of the New Democratic Revolution was reduced to the task of working among the peasants. Whereas the Communist Party of China which accomplished the New Democratic Revolution in October 1949 had been working among the industrial workers right from the beginning and till the later period (1949) its strong base among the industrial workers remained intact.

Owing to this distorted understanding of the New Democratic Revolution, the ML groups of our country either did not work among the industrial workers or if at all they did somewhere they presented a model of militant economism and militant trade unionism as against the economism and trade unionism of the CPI and CPI(M).  Nowhere did they work among the workers in Leninist fashion.

These groups have completely shut their eyes to the changes in the country as well as the world after the Second World War. For them the world is standing at the same place where it was during the time of the Second World War. For them the world has halted in 1945 But it is merely an illusion. In fact the world has moved ahead, these groups have stayed back in 1945.

The capitalist development which has taken place in the last six decades in India has now acquired a definite shape. However, for these groups, India is still semi-feudal, semi-colonial country. But such an India only resides in their imagination; not in reality. But even the imaginations have some material basis. It is a mystery which can be unravelled by these groups themselves as to how they create an imagination without a material basis.

The knot of the New Democratic Revolution has become so entangled for these groups that it has become difficult to untie it. And since it is not disentangling, most of these groups have even left their attempts to disentangle it.

The CPI(Maoist) ,the biggest group among those believing in the programme of the New Democratic Revolution is implementing its terrorist line in the remote forests.  The remaining groups are functioning with totally open organisational structures. They keep on doing some economist activities in the name of mass movement. The organizational structures of some groups are even worse than that of the revisionists of CPI(M).

There have been huge changes in the modus-operandi of imperialism and the internal structure of capitalism after the Second World War. Today the circumstances have become very complex and the communist revolutionaries have to explore new path by understanding them. But our ML groups could not even understand the well beaten path properly. Their understanding of even the New Democratic Revolution leaves much to be desired. To expect them to understand the complex circumstances of today and find new path thereof is asking too much from them?  Those who still find feudalism in India cannot be expected to see anything else. But our revolutionary brothers are too obstinate; they insist on accomplishing the New Democratic Revolution regardless of the fact that the socio-economic circumstances have changed. Let’s “salute” their stubbornness and leave this discussion here and move ahead.

The Present-Day  working class movement: New challenges, new prospects

If we look at the international plane, the working class movement has not yet been able to recover from the setback the proletarian revolutions suffered in the last century. Even today the tide of counter-revolution is dominant over the tide of revolution.  Secondly, at the international level many changes have occurred in the modus-operandi of imperialism and the internal structure of capitalism. Without understanding the fundamental reasons behind the defeat of the proletarian revolutions of 20th century and the changes which have occurred in today’s world, the forward progression of the working class movement is impossible. Today the world proletariat does not have any socialist country or an experienced and mature leadership due to which the situation has become more complex and challenging. However, the other aspect of this situation is that the communists can be free from the tendency of copying the successful revolutions and that of looking expectantly towards the international leadership because no such leadership exists today. Therefore, now we have to find the path ourselves.

Today the contractualization, informalization, peripheralization and feminization of the working class has posed new challenges before the communists to organize the working class. Now the blind imitation and the stereotyped methods would not work. Now the communists would have to invent new creative forms and new means to organize the working class.

Along with these challenges in the working class movement, the new possibilities have also emerged.  In 1848 when the slogan of “workers of the world unite!” was given in the “Communist Manifesto”, then as a matter of fact workers were not present in the entire world because the proletariat had  not yet been born in large part of the world as the capitalist development had not yet started everywhere. But now capitalism has engulfed each and every country of the world. Today the workers are present throughout the world. Today every section of the workers throughout the world is materially linked with each other through the ‘Global Assembly Line’.  Secondly, owing to the unprecedented advancement in the means of communication and transportation, the possibilities of mutual interaction of the workers and organizing them at the international level have been tremendously enhanced as compared to the earlier times.

Looking at the condition prevailing in our country, more than half of the population of our country today consists of urban proletariat, rural proletariat and semi-proletariat. The metropolitan cities with the population running in millions have come into existence, where tens of millions of wage proletariat are packed in the filthy slums. And what is worth considering is the fact that the great majority of the industrial workers today consist of young workers. This young worker is different from the workers of the old generation. He is not attached to the villages as compared to the older generation. Village is not the dream of this young worker. Despite immense problems in the cities, this young worker does not wish to go back to the prosaic, stagnant, narrow-minded environment of the villages.  Secondly, this young worker is educated. This educated young worker can be easily educated politically and can easily internalize the ideology of the proletarian revolution. So the conditions are more conducive today for Indian proletariat to create its own ‘organic intellectual’ (in Gramsci’s terminology). This new worker would be a carrier of a new working class movement in India.  It is here that the fountain of hope lies.  Today, the aspect of change is dominant over that of continuity in every sphere of the working class movement. Today’s era is full of immense challenges and huge possibilities for the communist movement. It demands courage and wisdom from the communists, like true scientists. Today what is needed is that like a true scientist, the changed circumstances of the country as well as of the world must be accepted, studied and analyzed, understood and the new methods and forms to transform them must be pondered over. Needless to say that it should not only be pondered over, but whatever be the outcome of the these deliberations, they must be implemented in the practical activities of organizing the working class movement.

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