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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 47

Festival of Freedom

Wednesday 14 November 2007, by Nagarjun


On the bitter cold November night when the sailors of the battleship Aurora fired at the Czar’s Winter Palace at Petrograd they knew that they were participating in a historic revolution, but were perhaps unaware of the fact that they were pushing the world from the dark catacombs of pre-history to the open arena of history. What the Russian Revolution achieved this week fifty years ago was indeed to help to bring about what Marx had foretold, that with the abolition of class exploitation of man by man real history would begin and pre-history would end.

Revolutions in history have marked the turning-points in man’s untiring journey in search of a better world; and when the wheel turns the wrong way, it is not the oppressed who is enthroned but the oppressor returns through counter-revolution. That was how the fall of the Bastille saw the overthrow of the feudal despotism in Europe and gave the world the concept of modern democracy with its trinity of liberty, equality and fraternity. But while the concept of freedom was established, the inequity of the social order remained, for the common masses continue to be deprived of the fruits of their labour. From Spartacus to the Paris Commune, the might of the oppressor triumphed through centuries over the toiling millions.

This was precisely the point where the Russian worker and peasant under the guidance of the master-revolutionary Lenin opened a new chapter in the annals of man. For fifty long years, this fortress of the toiling people has beaten back all the adversaries, from Churchill in the twenties to Hitler in the forties; and has not only held its own but has extended the frontiers of this enriched freedom to new lands and over distant peoples. Today its shining Red Flag has been planted beyond the orbit of the earth, on the moon and the Venus, proclaiming the triumph of Labour enthroned.

It is no wonder that such a revolution should shake the world—shaking the oppressors of all denominations into panic and desperate actions, and the oppressed with renewed confidence that oppression can be ended.

Such a revolution could not but touch the millions in this country; and its power and example have been a source of not only inspiration but of direct strength, not only fifty years ago but even today. When Czarism was overthrown, it was but natural that it should spur on this entire nation with a new confidence that British imperialism, the blood-brother of Czarism, could also be overpowered. The British rulers themselves realised this with almost a sense of horror. In 1918, the British official report on Indian Constitutional Reforms admitted that the Revolution in Russia “was regarded in India as a triumph over despotism”, that “it has given an impetus to India’s political aspirations”. K.M. Panikkar, the Indian historian, correctly assessed in his book, Asia and Western Dominance: “The Declaration of right of the peoples of Russia was indeed an explosive statement and all the natives of Asia working for freedom heard it with a new hope.” At the session of the Indian National Congress in December 1917—the very first to be held after the Russian Revolution—Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya in his presidential address warned that “in future unless India wins self-government, she will enviously look at her self-governing neighbours and the contrast will intensify her interest.”

Western historians and publicists have patronisingly claimed that the idea of self-determination among Indian patrons was the impact of British liberalism. But reality showed that those British-inculcated liberals like Sir Surendranath Banerjee, who tried to warn about the “wave of Bolshevism” and cautioned against “extravagant proceedings”, found themselves to be the back numbers in the nationalist ranks. It is no accident that the first round of nationwide mass movement against British rule took place in India in the years immediately following the Russian Revolution. And Gandhiji, who led this new revolutionary upsurge until freedom was won thrity years later, rebutted the British-inspired Red bogey (despite his differences over the technique of mass action) in his characteristic way: “I have never believed in a Bolshevik menace and why should any Indian Government fear Russian, Bolshevik or any menace?”

The hazardous trek of Indian revolutionaries to Moscow that could be noticed in those years—smuggling across the closely-guarded frontiers of the British empire—signified the almost automatic reaction of the militant section of the militant section of the Indian freedom movement, that the new revolutionary Russia had turned overnight into the headquarters of the world struggle against imperialism, just as the Czarist Russia before it had been citadel of world reaction. The hundreds of Indians who eluded Britsh sentries and crossed over the mountains to reach the new Russia were not Communists but militant detachments against British oppression: the Hijrat and the Ghadar movements joined with the exiled Indian revolutionaries from Europe in the pilgrimage to Moscow to find a stable ally of the freedom struggle.

Electrifying Effect

The response they received had an electrifying effect. Greeting a band of Indian revolutionaries, the great Lenin himself wrote on May 20. 1920:

“The toiling masses of Russia follow the awakening of the Indian worker and peasant with unabating attention. The organisation and discipline of the working people and their perseverance and solidarity with the workers of the world are an earnest of ultimate success. We welcome the close alliance of Moslem and non-Moslem elements. We sincerely want to see this alliance extended to all the toilers of the East. For only when the Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Persian, Turkish workers and peasants join hands and march together in the common cause of liberation—only then will decisive victory over the exploiters be ensured. Long live free Asia!”

Inevitably, all this brought a new awakening to India’s working masses. A Hindi periodical from Banaras, Maryada, in its issue of September 1919, reflected the new mood: “The birth of Bolshevism in Russia has in a way changed the situation. It has placed an idea before the world according to which all are equal and all powers have been seized from the rich financiers and bankers etc…. now these powers have been vested in workers, peasants etc…Seeing all this, the eyes of workers of other countries have also been opened and they have started thinking of getting happiness in their hands by effecting similar reforms.”

Birth of AITUC

It is no accident that within three years of the Russian Revolution, the All-India Trade Union Congress was born in 1920. Lala Lajpat Rai, presiding over this inaugural session, declared: “My own experience of Europe and America leads me to think that socialistic, even Bolshevik truth is any day better, more reliable and more human than capitalist and imperialist truth.” At its next annual session in 1922, the AITUC conveyed its sympathy for the Russian people in the grip of famine and appealed to the world working class to abolish wars by international action.

In this background of new ferment in the
wake of the Russian Revolution there appeared Communist groups in India which merged later to form the Communist Party of India.

But the power of attraction and influence that the Russian Revolution has wielded over India through the five historic decades of its glorious career has extended far beyond the bounds of the Indian communist movement. In the twenties many Indian national leaders not only visited the Soviet Union—despite the severe restrictions put up by the British authorities—but were greatly impressed by its unfolding drama. Among them, two outstanding instances cannot be overlooked in any reference to the impact of the new land of socialism on India. In 1928, young Nehru visited Moscow in the company of his father. And it had an immediate effect upon him.

The gropings that started in Moscow were carried forward through the stress of the national struggle and ponderings during years in prison. In 1933, Nehru wrote: “I do think that the basic ideology of communism and its scientific inter-pretation of history are sound.”

Presiding over the Congress session at Lucknow in 1936, Nehru unhesitatingly said: “If the future is full of hope it is largely because of Soviet Russia and what it has done, and I am convinced that if some world catastrophe does not intervene,

this new civilisation will spread to other lands and put an end to the wars and conflicts which capitalism feeds.” It was at this session that he characterised the Soviet system as being “based on a wide and living democratic foundation”; and he debunked Western claims to monopoly of democracy: “Russia is not supposed to be a democratic country after the Western pattern, and yet we find the essentials of democracy present in far greater degree amongst the masses there than anywhere else.”

Incredible Courage

Rabindranath Tagore in course of his world quest reached Russia in 1930, and in one of his letters (which the British Government tried to suppress from publication), he wrote from Moscow: “The first thing that occurs to me is: what incredible courage! … They are determined to raise a new world. They have no time to lose, because the whole world is their opponent.”

And in his farewell address in Moscow in September 24, 1930 he addressed the Soviet people: “I am thankful, truly thankful to you all who have helped me in visualising in a concrete form the dream which I have been carrying for a long time in my mind, the dream of emancipating the people’s minds which have been shackled for ages. For this, I thank you.”

This faith in the Soviet Union remained unshaken with India’s national poet. From his deathbed, he wrote about the grandeur of the Soviet edifice:

“Her civilisation is free from all individious distinctions between one class and another, between one sect and another. The rapid and astounding progress achieved by her made me happy and jealous at the same time….When I see elsewhere some two hundred nationalities—which only a few years ago were at vastly different stages if development—marching together in peaceful progress and amity, and when I look about my own country and see a very highly evolved and intellectual people drifting into the disorder of barbarism, I cannot help contrasting the two systems of government, one based on cooperation, the other on exploitation, which have made such contrary conditions possible.”

It did not come to the Indian people as a surprise that at the very foundation session of the United Nations in 1946, the Soviet delegation alone expressed the hope that India would soon occupy her deserving place in the comity of nations.

But the impact of the Russian Revolution on the Indian people did not end with their attaining independence from British rule. In the twenty years since independence in 1947, India, both her government and people, not only have learnt a lot in the task of building the country but have got direct assistance from the Soviet Union, the repository of power of the Russian Revolution.

Continuous Struggle

The twenty years of Indian freedom were marked by continuous, relentless struggle against the forces of international capital trying to block or scuttle all efforts at building an independent national economy, and at every such turn, the heirs of the Russian Revolution have rendered unstinted assistance which has enabled India to beat back Western offensive.

In the building of an independent economy, the very concept of key industries being in the possession of the government has been continuously attacked by the powerful vested interests of the West. It was here that the breakthrough was possible with Soviet help first in steel, then in oil, heavy engineering, and later on in various branches from pharmaceuticals to State-farm equipments. It was not for nothing that Bhilai was hailed as a major landmark in the building of India’s independent economy.

Soviet Help

And it was because of this breakthrough, made possible by the generosity of the land of the Bolshevik Revolution, that the Western powers were forced to fork out economic assistance, though grudgingly at every step.

In the struggle for the acceptance of planning as the most suitable mode of economic development, India has had to combat the powerful pressure of the votaries of Free Enterprises which were keen on strengthening the grip of private monopoly capital, both indigenous and foreign. Here too, the Soviet experts along with specialists from other countries, helped in working out the economic strategy, which alone could have enabled India to advance along the road of self-reliance.

Similarly, in the domain of linguistic differences, the example of the Soviet Union in trying to solve it has helped the Indian authorities to understand the scientific approach to the vexed problem. The theory of nationalities evolved by the Bolsheviks in the struggle for socialism has had a very significant impact on India’s political leadership.

Equally spectacular has been the Soviet Union’s stand in the sphere of foreign policy, once again helping India to pursue an independent line. It was the Soviet Union that readily responded to Nehru’s appeal for peace in Korea. When US imperialism cast its evil net of military alliance over neighbouring Pakistan, the Soviet Union came out strongly in support of India over the Kashmir dispute, and thereby countered the Anglo-American machinations through the Security Council. Again, when the liberation of Goa by India was assailed by the Western powers in the Security Council, it was the Soviet Union that unreservedly upheld India’s stand.

In fact, the entire basis of the policy of non-alignment has been provided by the Soviet Union standing by the side of the newly independent countries of Asia and Africa. The large-scale military aid that the Soviet Union has provided has enabled this country to ward off imperialist pressures and to assert her own Independence. Even when Mao’s China committed aggression against India, the Soviet Union, true to the tenets of the Russian Revolution, never faltered in her friendship and assistance to India. It requires a lot of revolutionary courage to honestly disown the Chinese aberration of the principles of socialism making an enemy out of a newly-independent country struggling against imperialist economic and political pressure. Again, when two Asian neighbours, India and Pakistan, got involved in armed conflict in 1965, it was the untiring efforts of the Soviet Government that could bring about the Tashkent accord.

Unerring Foresight

Lenin in analysing modern imperialism had characterised the colonies as the reserves of imperialism: and with unerring foresight he could recognise the allies of socialism in the national liberation movements in those colonies. Today, by faithfully carrying out the behests of the Great Revolution led by Lenin, the Soviet people and their socialist neighbours have been struggling to turn these newly-independent countries into the reserves of the socialist camp. In place of the prison-house of nations in which the imperialist countries bound down millions of the colonial peoples to the chariot-wheel of super-profits, there has come up a new fraternity of free peoples drawing upon the resources of the camp of socialism reared by the Russian Revolution.

And today as the Soviet people proudly celebrate the golden jubilee of their glorious Revolution, millions upon millions all over the world join this unique festival of freedom in the fullest awareness of what that Revolution has meant to them all.

(Mainstream, November 4, 1967)

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