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Mainstream, VOL L, No 45, October 27, 2012

Chinese Attack and CPI

Wednesday 31 October 2012, by Mohit Sen

On the occasion of the Chinese aggression’s fiftieth auniversary this month we are continuing to publish and reproduce relevant articles on the subject.

The Chinese pinpricks on the border continued all the time. The Indian posts were also moved to different positions in the north-west of our country whils the status quo was more or less maintained in the north-east. Tension and irritation remained but there was no expectation of any major flare up. V.K. Krishna Menon met the Chinese Foreign Minister, Marshal Chen Yi, in Geneva. The latter stated that while the situation was abnormal the Chinese side would strive for normalisation and keep to its pledge not to cross that McMahon Line which, however, it considered illegal. Krishna Menon repeated India’s stand that it would not disturb the border though it did not withdraw its stand on what was Indian territory as set out in maps and documents.

The Soviet Union told the Indian Government that it continued to consider the dispute as unfortunate and damaging not only to the two countries directly involved but also to the world anti-imperialist and peace-loving countries and forces. While it did not expect the Chinese side to relent, no provocation from it was likely.

In this situation the Cuban missile crisis suddenly erupted and threatened to blow up the world. It is not necessary here to recall the details of that crisis nor to try to assess whether Khrushchev or Kennedy was more responsible for it. There is no doubt, however, that the world was on the brink of being consumed in a nuclear holocaust. The need of the hour was the unity of all peace-loving and progressive countries and forces to pull the world back from the brink. It was, however, also the time when the attention of the Soviet leadership was concentrated on how to extricate itself and the world from the crisis. It was in this situation the Chinese leadership decided to ‘teach India a lesson’, as many years later Deng Xiaoping described it.

THE pretext was provided by an incident on the Thagla Ridge. There have been conflicting accounts of which side did what and who acted first. Pandit Nehru took off for a visit to Sri Lanka and made the uncharacteristic statement that he had asked our Army to ‘throw the Chinese back’. Whatever the merits or otherwise of that statement it indicated that he certainly was not planning a major offensive nor expec-ting one. In any event Indian had absolutely no plans to cross the Himalayas and invade China on a massive scale nor to act as a base for the USA.

The Chinese acted on the basis of a long prepared plan and attacked in force. While wiping out many Indians posts in the north-west, their main strike was in the north-east where they poured across the McMahon Line and came into Assam right up to Tezpur. The sorry state of unpreparedness and inept political military command has been often told in great detail. That is not what concerns me here. What one was told at the time by the CPI leaders who were in touch with Pandit Nehru as well as the Soviet leadership was that the Chinese leaders had hoped to humiliate India, remove Nehru from the political scene or reduce him to being a puppet of the US and thereby deliver a weakening blow to Khrushchev’s revisionism. They also had not expected the Cuban crisis to blow over so soon and so dramatically.

The CPI leadership was taken by surprise—all sections of it. What was to be the line of the party? Mass anger against the Chinese was widespread and ran high. The Right reaction was delighted. The press, sympathetic to it, of course, joined the chorus of condemning the Chinese as being aggressive by nature and betrayers of their friends. The anti-Communists were encouraged by two developments.
One was the first editorial on the Chinese attack published by Pravda, the central organ of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Taking a so-called balanced view, it called upon the Chinese and Indian governments to settle the dispute between themselves. There was no call to the Chinese to withdraw their forces from Indian soil. What made matters worse was that China was characterised as a fraternal country and India as a friendly country. The representa-tive of the CPSU leadership advised the CPI to take a similar stand. Not only the Right in the country but the ‘Left’ in the party welcomed this editorial. The former used it to strengthen its anti-Communist case on the grounds that when the chips were down Communists were all the same and would not hesitate to abandon their friends in order to maintain their solidarity. The ‘Left’ in the party believed that the CPSU leadership would now back them and ditch the ‘Dangeites’. In fact, when the National Council of the party met, the ‘Left’ proposed that with suitable verbal changes the Pravda editorial should be adopted as its resolution.

The second development helping the anti-Communists was the behaviour of the ‘Left’ in the CPI. Apart from its attempted use of the first Pravda editorial, the ‘Left’ leaders across the country told their followers that it was Pandit Nehru who had sanctioned the attack on the Chinese in order to curry favour with the USA. The Chinese had given him a suitable rebuff and had also thereby helped the Communists in India by exposing and weakening their main enemy. The mass mood, according to them, would soon change and the Chinese stand would be appreciated. If the CPI kept neutral and rode out the storm, it would benefit.

Acting on this orientation soon after the Chinese attack but before the National Council meeting, EMS called a press conference. Dange, who was in Delhi, but was not living in the CPI office, was not informed about the press conference. Some of the comrades in the office, how-ever, told him. In the meantime, the press conference had begun and EMS was asked whether he thought the Chinese had committed aggression. He said that the Chinese had entered territory that they thought was theirs and hence there was no question of aggression as far as they were concerned. At the same time, the Indians were defending territory that they considered theirs and so they were not committing aggression either. Just then Dange walked in and sarcastically asked, “And what is your opinion about the territory in question?” Even as EMS fumbled for a reply Dange stated that the Chinese had attacked India, occupied Indian territory and the Communists supported Nehru’s call to the nation to defend itself and repel the Chinese forces. He said that the Chinese Communists had violated all the norms of proletarian internationalism, acted chauvinistically and broken its pledge to the world communist movement that it would never cross the McMahon Line. His statement created a sensation but it was much more than that.

THE CPI had at long last taken a stand in support of the nation. The disastrous error of opposing in 1942 ‘Quit Indi’ struggle on the ground that the defence of the Soviet Union had to be given prior and paramount importance was compensated for to a considerable extent. It is not that Communists were, or are not, pat-riotic. They have fought, suffered and sacrificed for the people of India and would do so again. But they often separated the people from the nation and even pitted the former against the latter. This was a legitimate position in imperia-list countries but quite wrong in countries that were struggling for or had just won their free-dom. What was also wrong was to place proleta-rian internationalism over and above progre-ssive, anti-imperialist nationalism. All this sounds, and is simple and straightforward, but it went against all that the Communists, reared in the Stalinist school, had been taught to believe. It was Dange who played the chief role in bringing a majority in the CPI to accept this position.

Even before the National Council met, Dange contacted the leaders of the CPSU and other major Communist Parties and made a compre-hensive, historical critique of the Chinese leadership and called upon them to stand by India. He conveyed his disagreement with the Pravda editorial.

The Chinese Communists further muddied the waters by calling upon all ‘true Communists’ to oppose and overthrow the reactionary Nehru Government.
The National Council met and endorsed Dange’s stand. It was bitterly opposed by a vociferous and influential minority that included Sundarayya, Promode Dasgupta, Ranadive and others. There was another group that was neutral, wanted the CPI not to commit itself and not to condemn the Chinese Communists. Bhupesh Gupta and Namboodiripad were the prominent representatives of this line.

Dange’s position was strengthened by the second Pravda editorial that sharply criticised the Chinese, praised Nehru as a progressive anti-imperialist, friend of the Soviet Union and champion of world peace and called for the withdrawal of the Chinese troops. The CPSU leaders informed the CPI leaders that Khrush-chev had contacted Mao, Zhou Enlai and others and told them that if the Chinese troops were not withdrawn, the Soviets would cut off all oil supplies that would create serious logistical problems for the former. This Soviet threat played a key role in the Chinese leadership deci-ding to suddenly withdraw their troops. The immediate threat had gone but the damage had been done and it was considerable.

Sino-Indian relations did normalise after many years but there was no return to friendship. The grand vision of the unity of the two great revolutions, Indian and Chinese, died. Lenin’s hope that the Russian, Chinese and Indian revolutions would unite and ensure the worldwide defeat of imperialism and victory of the world revolution was dashed to the ground and that too, because of the chauvinism of what was once a great Community Party.

Pandit Nehru was enormously upset and his position in the world and inside the country gravely weakened. V.K. Krishna Menon, who despite all his serious faults and shortcomings, was a pillar of strength for the world anti-imperialist forces, for the Left and other progre-ssive forces in the country and personally for Pandit Nehru, had to be removed from office. This was important in itself but even more it was a symbol of the general decline of the Left nationalists who, in fact, were the strongest Left force in the country. This decline was later partially reversed when Indira Gandhi took on the conservatives in the Congress and faced up to counter-revolution with the banner of ‘total revolution’ in its hands, in 1969-77. Indira Gandhi’s effort was itself weakened, however, by her refusal to rally the Nehruites and the penetration of fascist-inclined hoodlum forces led by Sanjay Gandhi into her camp and forming a powerful force within it.

It was not the Left nationalists alone who suffered. The Communists suffered grievously as well. The Chinese aggression, forming as it did part of the general Maoist offensive against the world communist movement, lowered the political appeal and the moral authority of communism and the Communists, particularly in India. It was so clearly an act of betrayal of a country and its leader who had consistently stood by China when the USA and other impe-rialist powers had sought to isolate it and to subvert the new, independent people’s democra-tic state. It also showed that Communists too, could be chauvinistic and seek to grab the terri-tory of others. The more idealistic among the younger and brilliant students and young intellec-tuals were put off and did not gravitate towards the Communists as used to happen in the past. As we shall see it led to a split in the CPI.

MUCH worse was the hurt caused to the morale and idealism of the Communist leaders and cadres. It is true that an important section of them who later went on to form the CPI-M believed that the Chinese Communists had done nothing wrong in attacking India. They thought that this was not an attack but a defensive action and that in the not-so-long run the Chinese action would help the advance of the revolution by weakening the power of the ruling alliance, especially by pulling down the prestige of the Congress and its leader Pandit Nehru. But soon enough, they themselves became the victims of Maoist intolerance and its fragmenting strategy when the Naxalites came on the scene. Be that as it may, the Chinese attack on India shook the belief system of the Indian Communists even more than Khrushchev’s revelations had about Stalin’s crimes.

This was because they knew at first hand that what was being propagated from Beijing about Pandit Nehru and the intentions of the government he headed was not only false but quite the opposite of what the Chinese Communist leaders themselves had been saying and writing for many years. Besides, the Indian Communists knew very well that territory, ‘bones of ancestors’ and so-called ‘anger of the Chinese people’ was not the issue. What their Chinese counterparts wanted was to pull down the national standing and international stature, above all, of Pandit Nehru. They were aware of the cavalier, contemptuous and even deceitful manner in which their party and its leaders had been treated by the Maoists. The latter had also betrayed the CPSU and other leading parties of the world communist movement. All this had been done; ‘India had been taught a lesson’ by a Communist Party and Communist leaders with a great revolutionary record.
The CPI, or at least the majority in it that accepted the leadership of Dange, did take a correct stand in support of national defence against the Chinese attack. As has been stated earlier, Dange showed great insight and courage in taking the stand he did. No doubt he was aware that the Soviet Communist Party and the majority of Communist Parties in the world were opposed to what the Chinese Communist were preaching and practising. But nobody could be sure what their stand would be in a conflict between Communist China and nationa-list India. It was an unprecedented situation and the first Pravda editorial referred to earlier reflected the confusion and surprise at the highest levels of leadership of the Soviet Com-munist Party. If the CPI led by Dange had not stood firm in opposing the Chinese attack and doing so as Communists, it is quite likely that the second Pravda editorial would not have been written. One has to remember that Khrushchev was removed only two years after the events being narrated here and there was a neo-Stali-nist takeover of the Soviet Communist Party.

Yet, despite all that Dange did for India and the CPI’s position in it, neither he nor anybody else went beyond categorising the Chinese attack as a mistake and an aberration. The deeper implications of what had happened for communist ideology, theory and practice were never raised. All was right for the communist move-ment and communism as such. Only the Chinese had erred and deviated. Not the CPI alone but the whole communist movement would have to pay a heavy price for evading troublesome questions. Of course, the de-Stalinisation drive of Khrushchev had partially de-dogmatised the Communist mind but only to a limited extent.

The Chinese attack had two contradictory consequences for the CPI. It made one section less dogmatic and more nationalist but on a restricted scale and manner. It made another section still more dogmatic and contemptuous of what they called the representatives of bourgeois nationalism in the party.

PERSONALLY the attack itself and all that preceded it in the thought and action of the Chinese Communists came as a great shock. It completely contradicted what I had been taught in Beijing. The strategy and tactics of the United Front were one of the three most important contributions of the Chinese Communists to the general theory of the communist movement. The United Front orientation that Mao gave to his party was rightly regarded as one of his great achievements in the ideological-political sphere. He had sloganised this orientation as ‘Advance the progressive forces, win over the middle of the road forces, isolate the Rightist forces and defeat the enemy one by one’. In his critique of Stalin’s errors he had listed the latter’s advice that revolutionaries must strike their main blow at the Centrist forces. In the classes in Beijing among the documents that we had been asked to examine and to point out their sectarian errors was Ranadive’s thesis on the people’s democratic revolution in India which, in fact, made the same assessment of Pandit Nehru and the government he headed as the Chinese Communists were making in 1960-62. What had happened to the understanding that had made Liu Shaoqui in 1958 in the presence of Mao Zedong, question Ajoy Ghosh and Bhupesh Gupta on why the CPI MPs sat in the Opposition in Parliament?
No less baffling than the change in under-standing was the fact that not only was there no explanation for the change but the change itself was not acknowledged. Deng Xiaoping changed many things in China and was unsparing in his denunciation of Mao’s errors from 1958 onwards. But there is not a word about the Chinese attack on India in 1962 and it is what he said that still remains the official last world on the event, namely, that ‘India had to be taught a lesson’.

What worried me was, however, what had made the Chinese Communists commit such a grave error and how Communists as such could commit such errors. Lenin had once said that only those who were dead or who did nothing committed no errors. Communists, thus, were bound to make mistakes. But he added that Marxism would prevent them from committing absurdities. Thus they could make the mistake of calculating that two plus two equalled a tallow candle. It did not, however, strike me then that Marxism had not prevented the Chinese Communists from committing an error that amounted to an outrageous absurdity. What was wrong with Marxism that led to such absurd errors along with, of course, great and noble accomplishments? This kind of question still did not cross my mind.

[Excerpts from the author’s A Traveller and the Raod: Journey of an Indian Communist, published by Rupa & Co. and formally released in New Delhi on March 7, 2003]

The author was a well-known Marxist ideologue who passed away in early May 2003 at the age of 74.

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