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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 10, February 21, 2009

A Forgotten Communist

Monday 23 February 2009, by Sankar Ray



The national headquarters of the Communist Party of India is named after Ajoy Ghosh, an outstanding communist ideologue, who was born on February 22, 1909, according to S.G. Sardesai who played the key role in the conversion of Ghosh from an armed freedom-fighter to a Marxist revolutionary. But the CPI considers his date of birth as February 20, 1909. As the General Secretary of the undivided CPI he foiled the bid to split the party at its Sixth Party Congress (Vijaywada, 1961), the last jamboree of the undivided CPI. But, more importantly, he waged a two-pronged ideological struggle for most of his eleven-year tenure as the party chief: one against reformists and the other against dogmatists.

Primarily, Ghosh was committed to proletarian internationalism and worldwide battle for socialist transformation. Boris Ponomaryov, Alternate Member of the Polit-Bureau of the now-defunct Communist Party of Soviet Union for about two decades, described him as one of the ’sterling leaders‘ of the era of Communist International alongside the legendary Ho Chi-Minh, Dolores Ibaruri, the firebrand leader of the Republican struggle of Spain, French Communist stalwart Maurice Thorez, Antonio Gramsci’s comrade-in-arms Palmiro Togliatti, German Communist leader Walter Ulbricht and the British scholar-communist Rajani Palme Dutt among a few others.

But the CPI brass, especially the present General Secretary, A.B. Bardhan, is consciously indifferent to inspire the rank-and-file and middle leadership by apprising them of how Ghosh fought without giving up the comradely brotherhood against both the trends inside the CPI—National Front-liners (those who remained with the CPI) and Democratic Front-adherents (those who split and formed the CPI-M) in the 1950s; and until his death. Bardhan does not want to put the CPI-M leaders to a state of embarrassment at the cost of the CPI’s prospects of growth among the Left and democratic masses.

Let me share with the readers my own experience of how Bardhan refused to publish an article, captioned “Relevance of Ajoy Ghosh in the Indian Communist Movement”, written by Dr Ranen Sen jointly with me in 2001. In a nutshell, we recalled the ways of defusing tendencies of schism and splits and suggested reopening of friendly polemics inside the Indian communist movement, especially in the context of the CPI’s call for reunification of the communist movement in India. Bardhan refused to publish the article in the CPI’s central organ New Age. The article, he wrote on July 3, 2001, “rakes up certain issues and events which will only open a pandora’s box of controversies and mutual attacks without, in our view, helping in any way to further the process of unity”. Friendly polemics was strangely equated by the CPI supremo with ”a pandora’s box of controversies and mutual attacks”. To me, these words were a reflection of Ajoy Bhavan’s subservience to the mandarins of the A.K. Gopalan Bhavan, the CPI-M’s national headquarters. Which was why Bardhan wrote that reference to the past in the article was presented “subjectively and in a one-sided way”. Dr Ranen Sen, the only CPI leader other than S.V. Ghate to have been a CC member (after that in the National Council) of undivided CPI without a break, took strong exception to Bardhan and wrote back: “To describe what was stated in the article as one-sided is to take an erroneous stand on the genesis of inner-party political and ideological struggle in the Indian communist movement.”

Dr Sen, with whom I was associated as his personal secretary in his twilight years, wanted me to publish the article in my name but I couldn’t do so as mainstream dailies and periodicals showed little interest in such a topic. Let me reiterate some points harped in the article which will perhaps be of interest to students of political science and the history of the Left in India.

The CPI-M’s founding Polit-Bureau member, M. Basavapunnaiah, characterised Ghosh, 15 years after his death on January 13, 1962, as “the skilful architect of Indian revisionism” in a pamphlet CPI-M and the Right CP. Dr Sen, who was also a CPI Polit-Bureau member in 1952-56, considered this as ‘slanderous’. Reminiscing the debate and deliberations at the Palghat Congress (1956), we wrote:

One wished that Comrade Basavapunnaiah stated this during the lifetime of Ajoy Ghosh. He quoted from the Political Resolution of the CPI in the Fourth Congress (Palghat, 1956) recalling that the ‘democratic front will be an anti-Congress front’, picking up conveniently from select pages. Comrade Surjeet, Comrade Sundarayya and Comrade EMS voted for the draft Political Resolution which was moved by Comrade Ajoy Ghosh. The alternate draft was placed by Comrade P.C. Joshi who was supported by Comrade Bhowani Sen. None among the Left who formed the CPI-M had the guts to do so in refuting Comrade Joshi. It was Comrade Ajoy Ghosh who rose to refute Comrade Joshi and the National Front-liners.

Dr Sen was somewhat acerbic at MB.

If Comrade Ajoy was reformist, why didn’t Comrade Basavapunnaiah try to refute the Joshi-line at the Palghat Congress? I distinctly remember that Comrade EMS fully defended the General Secretary.

Dr Sen wrote in the aforesaid reply to Bardhan:

Our Party began shrinking gradually (during the Bardhan period—S.R.). Now it is a very small party and, truly speaking, under your leadership, the CPI is a satellite of CPI-M, thanks to your leadership.

Bardhan and CPI biggies (rather pigmies who defame Ajoy Ghosh and his glorious revolutionary past) are fast losing their power to intervene in national politics and turning into mendicant associates of CPI-M leaders. Small wonder, Ghosh is pushed by them concertedly to the recycle bin of history, thus keeping the vast majority or rank and file who joined the party after the split in the CPI (1964) unaware of a great and emulation-worthy Communist of international stature.


Ghosh was imprisoned as a junior comrade of Bhagat Singh in the Lahore Conspiracy Case. He opposed both Hindu and Muslim communalism while agreeing that the Hindu variant was a much bigger threat to the democratic polity. A few days before he breathed his last in an article, For the Unity of our Motherland, in the CPI weekly New Age, he wrote, Hindu communalism was permeating India’s ‘social and political life’ and ‘is even more dangerous’, but he did not spare other communal variants. “When I say communal parties, I have in mind all communal parties, whether Hindu, Muslim or Sikh.” He categorically said: “Any opportunistic association or alliance would be a positive disservice to the cause of national integration.” This unalloyed secularism is missing in the lexicon of the CPI and CPI-M. The CPI-M central organ, People’s Democracy, in an editorial on October 7, 2007, wrote: “We had continuously exposed the illegitimate nexus between imperialism’s trimurti—the World Bank, IMF and WTO—and the communalism’s trishul.” The silence about the threat from Islamic fundamentalism reflects the party’s disingenuous commitment to secularism. African Marxist economist Samir Amin wrote an essay in Monthly Review (December 2007)—“Political Islam in the service of imperialism”. Amin wrote that ‘radical secularism’ is a contribution of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. ”Atheist or agnostic, deist or believer, the individual is free to choose, the state knows nothing about it.” Ghosh took this stand 45 years before Amin. To be more precise, Ghosh drove this point home more categorically seven decades ago when he was a PB member of the CPI. In an article in the CPI organ National Front on January 1, 1939, “Communal Unity”, he exposed the entente between the ‘reactionary Hindu landlords and Muslim League power-mongers’ (‘allies of imperialism’) who opposed the pro-ryot Tenancy Bill of the UP Government and asked the Congress Government to help Muslims rid of ‘cultural and general backwardness’. The Left Front Government in West Bengal did very little for the Muslims. Only two per cent of government employees in the State are Muslims who account for over 21 per cent of the State’s population. The sham sympathy for the Muslim community is evident in the CPI-M’s national outlook. The party didn’t offer a berth to any Muslim in the PB since its birth. Even Mohd Ismail, who was for sometime the West Bengal State Committee Secretary of the CPI in the very early 1950s, was ignored.

Interestingly, Moscow, not the CPI, published Speeches and Writings of Ajoy Ghosh after his death. It was not that he used to woo the top leaders of the CP of Soviet Union. Rather he never spared anyone. For instance, in 1956, New Times carried a piece “A non-capitalist path for underdeveloped countries” by Modeste Rubinstein who found elements of socialism in the Nehruvian concept of democratic socialism (Avadi resolution). The CPI monthly New Age reprinted the article alongside Ghosh’s rebuttal.

Cynics inside the CPI used to say that the party headquarters was named after Ghosh to please Moscow. This may be a conjecture but he remained ignored as now. When this writer was private secretary to Dr Sen, he was fond of saying that Ghosh “was head and shoulders above all the General Secretaries before and after split, even in the CPI-M, as an ideologue specially in inner-party politico-ideological struggle“.

Sankar Ray

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