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Monday 14 May 2012

Origins of Indian communism A.G. NOORANI This insider account helps clarify some of the long-held misconceptions about the origins of the Communist Party in India and its evolution.


Origins of Indian communism
This insider account helps clarify some of the long-held misconceptions about the origins of the Communist Party in India and its evolution.

S.V. Ghate, one of the founders of the Communist Party of India spoke to Dr Hari Dev Sharma about the formation and early years of the Communist Party in India as part of the Oral History Project of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi. The first part of the essay was published in the issue dated May 4.
S.V. GHATE was asked if he would throw some light on the Communist Party of India's date of birth. "Yes, I will, because this problem came before us when the Indonesian Communist Party asked us: When was the Communist Party of India formed? Then the Polit Bureau or the Secretariat (I don't remember which) met, and we held that the Communist Party in India was formed in December 1925. But we had already heard that when M.N. Roy was in Tashkent, the Communist Party was formed there, much against his will. We said whether it was formed in Tashkent or not, it did not function properly, though it is a fact that the basis was laid there. But the actual formation of the Communist Party, bringing together all the different communist groups in the country, took place in Kanpur, and that laid the foundation of the Communist Party of India. That is what the Polit Bureau decided at that time.
"Now, Muzaffar Ahmad and others are trying to say that our Communist Party was formed under different circumstances, but the real Communist Party was formed in Tashkent. Now, our statement does not deny the formation of the Communist Party in Tashkent. Our statement says that the Communist Party of India, as an Indian communist party, was formed in Kanpur. It might have been formed in Tashkent. But it did not survive because when some of its members came back to India, they were arrested and put in prison."
H.D. Sharma: Who were the founders of the Communist Party in India?
S.V. Ghate: The nucleus of the party was in different places and different people were there. But the work of bringing them together at Kanpur was done by a man named Satya Bhakta. He had contacts with M.N. Roy. He wanted to come forward with a new idea of forming a new party. Thus he formed a committee. He got help from Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi and his paper, Pratap. So Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi came forward to help these people. He was also a leftist. Satya Bhakta took an opportunity to call a meeting of all the communists in the country. He issued an appeal and when we saw that we immediately went there.

S.V. GHATE (standing, left), one of the founders of the Communist Party in India, with other party leaders.
When we went there, the whole shape of the thing was changed. He said he wanted to call it the Indian Communist Party. The first wrangling started there. Now, I said that we couldn't call it the Indian Communist Party because the general international form was the Communist Party of this country, that country. So it should be called the Communist Party of India. He said: No, this is a foreign idea. We said that foreign or otherwise, but the Communist Party of India should be the name and we carried the day. We were the vocal people on the platform – K.N. Jogelekar, R.S. Nimbkar, and I. I do not think S.S. Mirajkar was there. Dange was not there. So we carried the day and Satya Bhakta was defeated….
Satya Bhakta said he was forming a national communist party – Indian National Communist Party. He told that to Mitrokhin also. Then, at the outset, our old man, Singaravelu Chettiar, presided and made a speech. It was a printed speech. Then Arjunlal Sethi, who was in the Congress in the old days and became a Muslim later on, was there."
Sharma: Yes, he became a Mussalman and he used to live in the Dargah in Ajmer. He belonged to the terrorist group.
Ghate: Yes. He had come there and there was a tiff between him and Jawaharlal Nehru.
Now, when we decided that the Communist Party of India should have its headquarters in Bombay (now Mumbai), Satya Bhakta said that he had started the party and we were taking it to Bombay! Why did we want to take it to Bombay? We told him that Bombay was an industrial centre where the Communist Party should be. The working classes there were more organised.
Hasrat Mohani was there; he was chairman of the reception committee. Then there were some foreign delegates. I do not remember who they were. They called themselves delegates. Anyone could call himself a delegate in those days."
Sharma: Now, Mr Ghate, one small point. Hasrat Mohani was an eminent Urdu poet, and was a member of the Indian National Congress. He was also a member of the Muslim League and was more of a firebrand. What was his connection with the communists?

TWENTY-FIVE OF THE prisoners in the Meerut Conspiracy Case, photographed outside the Meerut jail. Back row: (left to right) K.N. Sehgal, S.S. Joshi, H. Lester Hutchinson, Shaukat Usmani, B.F. Bradly, A. Prasad, Philip Spratt, and G. Adhikari. Middle row: K.R. Mitra, Gopan Chakravarthy, Kishore Lal Ghosh, K.L. Kadam, D.R. Thengdi, Goura Shanker, S. Banerjee, K.N. Joglekar, P.C. Joshi, and Muzaffar Ahmed. Front row: M.G. Desai, G. Goswami, R.S. Nimkar, S.S. Mirajkar, S.A. Dange, S.V. Ghate and Gopal Basak.
Ghate: I cannot say much about him. He called himself a republican, if you remember.
Sharma: He appeared, as a matter of fact, in 1921 at Ahmedabad.
Ghate: He has stated that he wanted complete independence for India.
Sharma: He moved a resolution in the Indian National Congress which was opposed by Gandhiji.
Ghate: Yes. He probably did not agree with the Congress and he took to leftist movement. Probably, our aim also was put up there as complete independence from the British. So that must have attracted him and he came. At that time not much distinction was made as to who was coming and who was not coming….
Sharma: Mr Ghate, what was the relationship between the Communist Party of India and the Communist International?
Ghate: We had absolutely no correspondence with the International. We ourselves held that we were part of the International. At that time there was no possibility of any correspondence between the two. I think when we were in jail, in 1930 or 1931, the Communist Party was affiliated to the Communist International and there were lots of attempts to go to the meetings, but nothing succeeded. Therefore, the relationship between the two was that we read their resolutions and tried to see how far they suited our country's needs, and thus we accordingly shaped the actions. But otherwise there was no correspondence with them. Only for the Sixth World Congress, as I told you, Shaukat Usmani and some three others went there. Saumyendra Nath Tagore also attended the Sixth World Congress. The Communist International magazine, that paper called the International Press Correspondence ( Inprecor), published the speeches of these people but they were very small. We could not make out much.
S.A. DANGE. both Ghate and Ajoy Ghosh were close to him. The three of them issued "a letter called `Three Ps Document'" in September 1950 in an attempt to reorganise whatever was left of the party then.
Shaukat Usmani represented India because the British Communist Party wanted somebody to represent India. These people happened to be there at that time. So they said: Why not put them as representatives of India. Then we, from here, wired to British Communist Party that we did not want them as representatives of the Communist Party of India. The telegram was couched like this: 'University gives no powers', which meant that these people should not be our representatives. The wire never reached them because it was intercepted.
Sharma: So they represented you.
Ghate: They were sent there and they represented us.
Sharma: How far the policies or messages of the Communist International influenced you?
Ghate: They influenced a lot. We used to get the Comintern magazine, a weekly or monthly, occasionally. We could not get it all the time, whatever percolated through the post we could get, and occasionally somebody or other would come and we would get information. It was not a regular affair. From the International things which we could get to read, we could formulate our own policies. We considered ourselves a part of the International Communist movement and this continued, till the Comintern was dissolved. Later on, we got more and more connections in that sense, but by that time we, too, had matured a lot after all the imprisonments and reading. But directly we could not establish contacts.
Sharma: Since the united front broke down, it has been generally said by the communists that the CSP [Congress Socialist Party] was not genuinely socialist; they have compared it to social democrats of Europe. In view of the above why were you keen to have an alliance with them?
Ghate: In the early stages we had to ally with different people who called themselves socialists. In the beginning we thought it [would be] good if we could work together, and Jayaprakash also agreed to the fact that the Congress Socialist Party would be the party where different types of people would come; and that would be a sort of recruiting ground from where the Communist Party would select its membership.
Sharma: Was it not partly due to the fact that the Communist Party had been declared illegal in 1934 and had no platform to work that they wanted to enter this party?
Ghate: You can say that, but we were functioning in different ways. I told you we had Youth Leagues in different places; we were functioning in the trade unions. So it was known that we were communists and there was no question of that. As regards the political platform, probably it was difficult to have one and we thought that this was the best one. It is quite likely that we might have thought of this also, but we had already started the Workers' and Peasants' Party and there was no need for us to go [to anybody]. But here was a party that was functioning within the Congress and we were also within the Congress at that time.
Sharma: And you continued to work in the CSP for some time. Then what led to the breaking up of this alliance? I think, finally, at the time of the Ramgarh Congress in 1940, the communists were expelled by the national executive of the CSP. What led to it?
Ghate: Because they thought that we were there to disrupt the Congress Socialist Party. I think that was the main reason. When the war broke out in 1939, the branches of the Congress Socialist Party in which we were functioning declared that they were the branches of the Communist Party.
Sharma: Mr Ghate, my impression is that from the very beginning, from both sides, it was a marriage of convenience. One was trying to outwit the other. Probably, the CSP thought that they would swell their membership, and the communists, since their party had been declared illegal, wanted some platform for their work.
Ghate: Quite possible. But then, I don't see why we should have gone for that. We had the Workers' and Peasants' Party.
Sharma: Later on, if you remember, some documents were circulated by the communists within the CSP, and Masani has mentioned them in his history of the Communist Party.
Ghate: I don't remember; you must remember that part of the time I was in jail when all these things were happening. So it was very difficult to keep track.
I am talking mostly from my memory and, therefore, I cannot swear that everything that I will say would be exact, but my memory has not cheated me so much. But I don't know what particular document you mean.
Sharma: On the national executive of the CSP, for example, they had Sajjad Zaheer and E.M.S. Namboodiripad as joint secretaries. Two documents were sent by Namboodiripad to various members of the CSP who were communists. So Masani's contention is that the communists were working as a well-knit group within the CSP.
Ghate: I think it is all right, they were functioning as communists. E.M.S. Namboodiripad, as I told you, joined the Communist Party very late. He was also functioning as secretary of the Congress in Kerala, not only of the Congress Socialist Party. Later, one Abdur Rehman, who became a Forward Bloc man, was also the president of the Congress. Namboodiripad became the secretary of the Congress.
Sharma: And they were trying to capture the CSP and turn it into a communist party.
Ghate: There was nothing to capture in the Kerala Congress because we were a majority in the Kerala Congress.
Sharma: On the all-India basis, they wanted to capture the CSP and turn it in a communist party.
Ghate: You might say that it was coming to that, if at all. But I don't think it could have come to that; essentially, the leadership of the Congress Socialist Party was opposed to us, though, in the beginning, the opposition was rather mellow, but later on they started opposing the whole thing more and more.
Sharma: But why did they do that?
Ghate: It is very difficult for me to answer for them.
Sharma: Is it probably that the communists were becoming too powerful?
Ghate: Maybe. I cannot say. Supposing you try to come and dominate a movement we have started, then it is quite likely that conflicts will arise.
Sharma: So it was a conflict of that sort?
Ghate: Probably that, I think. For instance, Yusuf Meherally and Achyut Patwardhan came to Madras [now Chennai] when I was there. In Madras, there was very little to distinguish between the Communist Party and the Congress Socialist Party workers, but then we never gave them to understand that it was the communist group that was functioning.
Where the party was strong [it] was able to muster itself, and where the working classes were with us, as in so many areas in the South, it could be done; and they [CSP] had no working class [backing] or anything. That is why we were able to come up. In 1939, the signboard was changed; the same people were called the Communist Party. That happened only in the South.
Sharma: Yes, it happened in Madras and Kerala. What was the attitude of the communists towards the Congress movement?
Ghate: We still wanted to function in the Congress until Jawaharlal Nehru got very wild. (They would blame us for everything that went wrong.) For instance, once, some loudspeaker failed. Vallabhbhai [Patel] said that it were the communists who had done that."
Sharma: In 1944-45, the party was following a policy. Then suddenly in 1948 they changed the policy. Why?
Ghate: You see, in the second party congress, the policy was changed, if you remember. The author of the second party congress documents was my old friend, [B.T.] Ranadive, and at that time we accepted the thesis without much hesitation. Later on, we had to correct the thing. In 1949-50, we again came out of jail under Morarji. I was then in Bombay jail. So we did change, saying that we wrongly assessed that situation. Independence we should have accepted as independence and gone forward. But we have been making mistakes every time. As somebody said: You are making mistakes and every time you say that you have made mistakes. Of course, it is not every time that we make mistakes. We have progressed also. We made mistakes, we progressed. We corrected them [mistakes] whenever we had the opportunity. But after the second party congress in 1948 we went to the devil.
Sharma: What were the reasons for the rejection of Joshi's leadership?
Ghate: You see this man [Ranadive] came with a different theory and at that time it was rather attractive to the whole party congress. The party congress accepted his thesis. And Joshi in the party congress accepted that he had made mistakes, that he was wrong. He was wrong. Then like the rising sun, he [Ranadive] came up.
Sharma: What was your personal reaction?
Ghate: Personal reaction? I did not pay much attention [to it] at that time. I myself fell in with the whole thing.
Sharma: What mistakes had Joshi committed?
Ghate: It is difficult for me to say just now. I do not want to say also. Why should I say he has made so many mistakes when I myself have been a partner in them. As a Central Committee member, I must own [my role in] some of the mistakes that he has made. To say that Joshi alone was responsible….
Sharma: I mean the collective leadership?
Ghate: That is right. One of the mistakes was our assessment of the Muslim demand; we were keenly concerned with the Pakistan business. You must have seen Dr Adhikari's pamphlet on Pakistan. So there are so many things like that. For instance, if we had stuck on to the question of imperialist war probably we would not have made so many mistakes in the period. After all, we were in jail. Supposing I say something from jail, it need not necessarily be religiously accepted by everybody. But once the idea comes that you are wrong then the whole thing comes down on you.
Sharma: But did not anyone say that Ranadive's thesis of 1948 was based on certain idea which was unreal in view of the prevailing conditions?
Ghate: I do not think there was much opposition to that in the party congress.
Sharma: Even [P.C.] Joshi did not oppose it.
Ghate: Joshi admitted that it was right and that he was mistaken in so many things. Joshi admitted that.
Sharma: Was the admission a result of depression or was it sincere?
Ghate: I think it must have been sincere. I do not attribute anything insincere to him.
Sharma: Because after that Joshi has not come into his own again.
Ghate: That is true. Probably, in the underground, we had suffered a lot. There was a lot of bitterness against the way of his treatment of things, and that worked on his mind.
Sharma: But as far as I can remember, in the 1950s, say, when the CPI became legal again, Joshi was the first for moderating the ideas. I think he went ahead of other leaders of the Central Committee.
Ghate: You see, that was a period when nobody had confidence in anybody. It was a period of chaos. In 1950, after the big deluge, the party was underground; [certain] things came out so that nobody could say anything, nobody believed any other man and we tried to reconcile to certain facts. Dange, Ajoy Ghosh and myself, by issuing a letter called Three Ps Document circulated on September 30, 1950, tried to reorganise whatever was left of the party. It was then that a delegation went to Moscow and met Stalin.
Sharma: Who were in the delegation?
Ghate: There were four people – two Rightists and two Leftists. I think Basavapunniah, Ajoy Ghosh, Dange and Rajeswara Rao. They were called there. They [Russians] said: You come, and discuss with us things that have happened.
Sharma: The party was still underground?
Ghate: The party was underground. The party conference was held underground in Calcutta [now Kolkata]. I myself was present at that conference. At that time people were being arrested. All these things were blowing up – all the dens and all that – and some people were leaving and coming out on their own. It was a period of great chaos and we are not yet out of that, not even today, even in 1970, 20 years after.
After coming out of jail we had tried to unify the party; we sent out a circular letter called 'Three Ps letter' signed by Prabhod, Purshottam and Prakash, that is, Dange, myself and Ajoy Ghosh. This circular helped to consolidate whatever was left of the party at that time and he was one of those who formulated the idea.
Sharma: Why did you withdraw the Telengana struggle?
Ghate: Telengana struggle I think was withdrawn in 1951 or 1952 by the central committee because at that time the people were being decimated. There were no arms and no place and so we said that the best thing is to withdraw the struggle.
Sharma: But was it launched without much preparation?
Ghate: No, it was launched all right with the knowledge of the second party congress. We knew that we were launching this struggle.
Sharma: But did it go according to your plan?
Ghate: I cannot say exactly; but more or less it was fought according to our ideas at that time and it was successful also. In so many places we were able to give land to so many people in those days, but now I think it has all gone back to the landlords from whom we had taken. [P.] Sundarayya, [C.] Rajeswara Rao, [M.] Basavapunniah were all in the active service in that period and their wives were also underground, helping their husbands, running from forest to forest.
Sharma: Mr Ghate, who has been the most scholarly Marxist in the party?
Ghate: In our party, Dr [G.] Adhikari. In fact, Ranadive thinks that he is one of the scholars, but he interprets Marx in an entirely wrong channel.
The CPI split in 1964 and there seems little prospect now of the CPI and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) kissing and making up.

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