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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 25, New Delhi, June 5, 2021

Once more on the founding of CPI | Nityananda Ghosh

Friday 4 June 2021

A reveiw by Nityananda Ghosh

COMMUNIST PARTY OF INDIA: FOUNDATION NOTE

by Bhanudeb Dutta

(CPI Publication, Rs 20/-, Dec 2020)

Leaderships of Communist Party of India (Marx) and, Communist Party of India have been close to each other for several years and think of moving towards unification. However, this remains on paper due to an ivory tower-mindset of their leaders. Other Left parties like Communist Party of India(Marxist-Leninist), Revolutionary Socialist Party in India and Socialist Unity Party of India (Communist) have been fighting on people’s issues together with CPI(M) and CPI.

Debates and differences need to be sorted out before moving towards reunification of CPI(M) and CPI and the process cannot be limited to two parties although ‘dadagiri’ is in the way. One of the most crucial issues is when the CPI was founded- 1920 or 1925. CPI theoretician Bhanudeb Dutta’s ‘Communist Party of India: Foundation note’ revived the debate. The CPI is firm that the undivided CPI was founded at Kanpur on 26 December 1925 while the CPI(M) asserts that it was born at Tashkent on 17 October 1920. The CPI general secretary D. Raja in a forward to the pamphlet wrote, “In the wake of the Russiam Revolution, many left people and groups were coming close to throw off the colonial yoke and to establish a true republic, notable among these moments was the foundation of the AITUC in 1920. Similarly in a glorious chapter of left history, over 300 communists from different parts of the country gathered at Kanpur from 25-27 December 1925 to found the Communist Party of India and later drafted its rules and regulations and resolved to fight the British raj and imperialism. After the split of 1964, the CPI(M) came into existence and started observing the foundation day on December 17 (actually October 17-NG), after the formation of a communist group of seven people under the leadership of M N Roy un Tashkent,1920. The CPI and CPI(ML) Liberation observe the foundation of the Communist Party of India on 26 December 1925 after the Kanpur conference.”

The top CPI leader briefly stated what Dutta narrated how the Bolshevik Revolution intertwined the birth of AUTIC with Dewan Chamanlal as its general secretary and freedom struggle to oust colonial yoke from Indian soil. He stresses the formation of a central trade union as a stepping stone towards consolidation of communist movement and birth of CPI very much on Indian soil.” True, the Marxist outlook was not there, its importance in the sprouting of class consciousness for demanding workers’ rights was undeniable. It expressed the view that the sole aim of capitalists was exploitation of workers at workplaces. In its address to workers, it said: ‘When your leaders demand Swaraj, they do not mean to let you do anything other than it. But political freedom sans economic freedom is vacuous”, wrote Dutta. The first May Day in India was observed in 1923. ‘Organized singlehandedly by Malayapuram Singaravelu Chettiar (also known as Comrade Singaravelar or Singaravelu) on the sea beach of Madras ( now Chennai), he hoisted a red flag by tearing off a portion of his daughter’s red-coloured sari. The slogan was: ‘Workers of the world, unite” ’, he added. The first official May Day in India was observed in 1927.

The indigenous ambience, handed down by renascent thinking of the 19th century, helped build the radical and revolutionary trends. Periodicals like Swaraj, Atmashakti, Bijali, Dhumketu and Bangabani (’ Socialist’ carried essays rebutting slanderous campaign against Bolsheviks and Russian Revolution (Dutta meaning the Bolshevik Revolution). Dutta mentions an article in November 1920 issue of Swarajya.

Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian Nobel laureate, and Kaji Nazrul Islam to hailed the Bolshevik regime. The indigenous ambience, handed down by renascent thinking of the 19th century, helped build the radical and revolutionary trends. Periodicals like Swaraj, Atmashakti, Bijali, Dhumketu and Bangabani ( Socialist carried essays rebutting slanderous campaign against Bolsheviks and Russian Revolution (Dutta meaning the Bolshevik Revolution). Dutta mentions an article in November 1920 issue of Swarajya. Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian Nobel laureate, and Kazi Najrul Islam too hailed the November Revolution.

Peasant agitations too were inspired by Russian Revolution. “The chief of British intelligence in India had submitted a secret report to the colonial government in 1919. Kishan Sabhas and Ryot Sabhas of Northern province (now Uttar Pradesh or UP) were inclining towards communist ideas. Indian masses were inspired by communist policy of redistribution lands to tillers as Indian communists were propagating this clarion call among the tillers extensively( trnsl into Bengali)”. The report made it clear that the message of Russian Revolution reached down to the peasant movements”, wrote Dutta.

The push was irresitible. At the Ahmedabad Congress (1921) of Indian National Congress, the leading platform of freedom movement, a statement (declaration(, signed by Manabendra Nath Roy and Abani Mukherjee, was circulated. It called for ‘complete independence ‘ and ‘termination of British rule’ through revolution for setting up an independent and sovereign republic. In the next session (Gaya,1922), Maulana Hasrat Mohani, the legendary leader of Khilafat movement. (later a communist) tabled a resolution for complete independence but failed to get it through. INC leadership which had large following was yet to be free from the illusory ‘dominion status’. Mahatma Gandhi called it ‘irresponsible.

Singaravelu Chettiar moved an amendment for complete independence at the Gaya session , which too was defeated.” In the same session’, wrote Dutta, ‘, communists tabled a separate programme, which was written by Roy and Mukherjee . It did not mention the words communist party anywhere’. For the communists, complete independence did mean freedom from foreign domination and an independent and sovereign republic, based on the right of self-determination. On the Congress fought for Swaraj which was not complete independence, but freedom within the framework of British rule’.

Things took a turn after, Gandhiji’s withdrawal of peasants’ agitation over Chauri Chaura incident of Gorakhpur district in UP in 1922. Peasants ‘started a movement under the leadership of Gandhiji for refusal to pay taxes. When the local police attacked the people, the latter counter-attacked the police station and set the chowki ablaze. As a result, 21 constables and an inspector were burnt alive. Gandhiji did not approve of the path of violence and withdrew. Thus he held in cheek the peasant struggle in totality.’ Gandhi’s stance caused disillusionment in him. Leftists within INC ‘gravitated towards the movements of workers and peasants under inspiration from the Russian Revolution and scientific socialism. Later on, they turned out as pace-setters for the formation of CPI, Among them were Sripad Amrit Dange of Bombay, Muzaffar Ahmed of Calcutta, Singaravelu Chettiar of Madras and Ghulam Hussain of Lahore, keeping at whom in centre, efforts towards the formation of base of communist in those cities took place and to other place’..

Peasant agitations too were inspired by Russian Revolution. “The chief of British intelligence in India had submitted a secret report to the colonial government in 1919. Kishan Sabhas and Ryot Sabhas of Northern province (now Uttar Pradesh or UP) were inclining towards communist ideas. Indian masses were inspired by communist policy of redistribution lands to tillers as Indian communists were propagating this clarion call among the tillers extensively (trnsl into Bengali)”. The report made it clear that the message of Russian Revolution reached down to the peasant movements”, wrote Dutta.

The push was irresitible. At the Ahmedabad Congress (1921) of Indian National Congress, the leading platform of freedom movement, a statement (declaration(, signed by Manabendra Nath Roy and Abani Mukherjee, was circulated. It called for ‘complete independence ‘ and ‘termination of British rule’ through revolution for setting up an independent and sovereign republic. In the next session (Gaya,1922), Maulana Hasrat Mohani, the legendary leader of Khilafat movement. (later a communist) tabled a resolution for complete independence but failed to get it through. INC leadership which had large following was yet to be free from the illusory ‘dominion status’. Mahatma Gandhi called it ‘irresponsible.

Singaravelu Chettiar moved an amendment for complete independence at the Gaya session , which too was defeated.” In the same session’, wrote Dutta, ‘, communists tabled a separate programme, which was written by Roy . It did not mention the words communist party anywhere’. For the communists, complete independence did mean freedom from foreign domination and an independent and sovereign republic, based on the right of self-determination. On the Congress fought for Swaraj which was not complete independence, but freedom within the framework of British rule’.

Things took a turn after, Gandhiji’s withdrawal of peasants’ agitation over Chauri Chaura incident of Gorakhpur district in UP in 1922. Peasants ‘started a movement under the leadership of Gandhiji for refusal to pay taxes. When the local police attacked the people, the latter counter-attacked the police station and set the chowki ablaze. As a result, 21 constables and an inspector were burnt alive. Gandhiji did not approve of the path of violence and withdrew. Thus he held in cheek the peasant struggle in totality.’ Gandhi’s stance caused disillusionment with him. Leftists within INC ‘gravitated towards the movements of workers and peasants under inspiration from the Russian Revolution and scientific socialism. Later on, they turned out as pace-setters for the formation of CPI, Among them were Sripad Amrit Dange of Bombay, Muzaffar Ahmed of Calcutta, Singaravelu Chettiar of Madras and Ghulam Hussain of Lahore, keeping at whom in centre, efforts towards the formation of base of communist in those cities took place and to other place’, Dutta noted.

Cecil Kaye the head of the Intelligence Bureau, between 1919 and 1924 wrote in “his secret report to the Government, submitted a list of 13 communists - M. N. Roy, Muzaffar Ahmad, Shaukat Usmani (Maulla Bux Usta), Ghulam Hussain, S.A. Dange, M. Singaravelu Chettiar, Ram Charanlal Sharma, Nalini Gupta, Shamsuddin Hassan, M. P. T. Velayudhan, Manilal Doctor (Shah), Sampurnanand and Satyabhakta.. They were accused of depriving ‘the King Emperor of his sovereignty of British India, by complete separation of India from imperialistic Britain by a violent revolution.’ ”

Actually, conditions favourable for founding a communist party were built up with y revolutionaries of various shades coming together.. Satyabhakta convened a conference to be held between 25 and 27 December 1925 at Kanpur . With about delegates, the first CP came into being in Indian soil. Chettiar in his presidential address made a significant observation, ‘‘the Russians applied Bolshevism while India may not need Bolshevism. We have joined the world communism, not Bolshevism’ There was an intense debate on party’s name – ‘Communist Party of India’ or ‘Indian Communist Party’ (Satyabhakta’s view). Ultimately, CPI was adopted. The conference decided to form a 30-member ‘central executive committee’. But the conference elected 16 (14 to be filled later) in which were Chettiar, Mohani, Satyabhakta, S D Hassan, Muzaffar Ahmed, K N Joglekar, S V Ghate,Azad Sovani, Baba Rana Choubey, Kameshwar Rao, Krishnaswamy Iyengar and Janaki Prasad Bagerhatta, R S Nimbkar, Abdul Majid, Radhamohan Gokulji and Ramchandra. S A Dange was behind the bar as an accused in the Kanpur Bolshevik Communist Conspiracy Case. He was set to be included among the 14. Ghate and Bagherhatta were elected general secretaries.

The most-revealing portion of the booklet is the author’s assertion that the CPI was founded in 1925 . An unassailable document he refers to is the unanimous decision of the central secretariat of undivided CPI on 19 August 1959. Let me quote from the booklet.” In the united CPI, the question of date of foundation was discussed on several occasions. One occasion was the query from the Communist Party of Indonesia in 1959 as to the date of foundation of the CPI. At that time several dates were in circulation, particularly 1920 and 1925. To put an end to the confusion, the Central Secretariat in its meeting held on 18 August 1959, decided that 1925 should finally be accepted. The meeting was attended by Ajoy Ghosh, B.T. Ranadive, P.C. Joshi, M. Basava-punniah, Z.A. Ahmed, S.A. Dange, Bhupesh Gupta, A.K. Gopalan and others. The minutes written in the handwriting of Basavapunniah stated: “Date of the foundation of the CPI: 1925.” No other date was put forward by any of those present.

The party wrote to the Editor of Review of Indonesia on 20 August .1959, signed on behalf of the CPI secretariat by B.T. Ranadive, following a meeting attended by Ajoy Ghosh, General Secretary, P.C.Joshi, M. Basavapunnaiah, S.A.Dange, A.K.Gopalan, and Ranadive. It stated: “The Communist Party of India was founded in the month of December in the year 1925 ….there were individual Communists and Communist groups working in different parts in the country.”( p 33). BTR, Gopalan, and Basavapunnaiah joined the CPI(M) after the split and staged a volte-face, claiming that CPI was set up in Tashkent in 1925.

But after the split of CPI, the new party, CPI(M) leadership, toeing Muzaffar Ahmed, started propagating that the party was set up in 1920. Dutta deserves credit for formidably refuting the line, quoting Ahmed’s previous stand.

After Promode Dasgupta became the secretary of the West Bengal State Council of CPI in 1960 replacing Jyoti Basu who was pressing hard to be relieved of the responsibility), attempt to establish that party was born in 1960 was afoot. Dasgupta was a leader of the dominant faction of state that often defied the authority of the national leadership when Ajoy Kumar Ghosh was the General Secretary of the Party. Dutta quotes Anil Rajimwale, a national council member of CPI “In 1960, the Bengal State Council of the CPI wanted to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the CPI in 1961, taking the foundation date as 1920. The Acting General Secretary of the CPI, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, wrote to the West Bengal State Council of the party on June 10, 1960: “We understand that your State Council has adopted a resolution to the effect that in 1961 we should celebrate the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the Party. ‘The Secretariat discussed the matter and has come to the conclusion that this is a question which cannot be decided by any other organ of the Party except the National Council. It will therefore be appropriate to take up the issue in the next meeting of the National Council.’ EMS was a founder of CPI(M) and for many years its General Secretary

Dutta refers to a booklet in Bengali, published in 1959 ‘Bharater Communist Party Gawdar Prothom Yug’ (The Beginning Era of formation of a Communist Party in India), written by Ahmed whose English version was earlier published in the April 1959 issue of New Age, then a monthly. The original Bengali booklet s published in ‘Swadhinata’, party’s Bengali morninger on May Day 1959. There Ahmed wrote “ Bringing communists from different states firmly, we constituted the first central committee of the Communist Party of India at Kanpur conference only, He stated further, “Had we not participated at the Kanpur conference, a separate communist party would have grown up under Satyabhakta and put spokes to every step of us”.

Dutta’s English version (rendered by veteran journalist Sankar Ray) raises questions about the role of most of the journalists in leading dailies and even some academics in political science. They almost go by the CPI(M) claim that the CPI was set up in 1920, without even mentioning CPI ( endorsed by CPI-ML Liberation). Strangely enough, they seem irresponsibly unaware of an article by Ghate in New Age weekly in 1966, refuting Ahmed point by point. Ghate, apart from being the founding general secretary of CPI at Kanpur was one of the convicts of historic Meerut Conspiracy Case alike Ahmed.

History will set at naught Ahmed’s freaks and whims on the age of CPI, despite his towering stature in the Indian communist movement.

(Reviewer, a former lecturer in Botany at Bankim Sardar College in South 24 Parganas district, is a commentator on social and polirical issues.)

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