December 01, 2019

Once Again on the Formation of CPI - 5

From this issue onwards, we will publishing the column on the centenary of the Communist Party formation, every week

WITH the CPI(M) conducting a year-long observance of the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Communist Party of India on October 17, 1920 in Tashkent, the issue of the actual date of the formation of the party has come up again.  It is well-known that the CPI considers the Kanpur Communist Conference of December 26, 1925 as the foundation date of the Communist Party of India.

In this column, we have covered the October 17, 1920 meeting in Tashkent and then proceeded to record the developments within India of the formation of Communist groups after that and their interconnection. The last column described the Communist Conference in Kanpur in 1925.

The readers would have got a brief overview of the early days of the Communist Party of India. In response to the CPI(M)’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPI in 1920, the CPI had reiterated its stand as to why the 1925 date should be considered as the formation of the CPI.

In an article in New Age, its editor and secretary of the CPI, Benoy Viswam, has set out the arguments for this. He has traced the history of how the undivided CPI came to the conclusion about the foundation date of the party. It was in August 1959 that the secretariat of the party decided that the foundation date of the CPI is December 26, 1925. This foundation date was reiterated by the leadership subsequently whenever questions arose about the matter. 

It is true that the united CPI had decided that the foundation date of the party should be the Kanpur Conference of December 1925. However, after the formation of the CPI(M) in 1964, this decision was reviewed just like many other political and ideological issues which were then relevant to be settled and clinched.  For instance, for the first time in the history of the party, a definitive programme was adopted by the CPI(M) at its 7th Congress in 1964.  The CPI too adopted its own programme at its 7th Congress the same year. 

The question about the formation of the CPI was reopened primarily due to the efforts of Comrade Muzaffar Ahmed, one of the founders of the Communist Party of India and who was elected as a member of the first Central Committee of the CPI(M).

Without going too much into the history of this review, it needs to be only stated here that the momentum for reviewing the date was provided by the discovery of documentary records of the Tashkent meeting.  Dr Devendra Kaushik, then a Reader of History in the University of Kurukshetra, stayed in Tashkent for three years pursuing his research. In the course of his work, he came upon the documents concerning the formation of the CPI in the archives of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan, of which Tashkent was the capital.

Till then, all that was known was that a meeting had been held in Tashkent, the date of which was not clear.  Even MN Roy, in his memoirs, had not mentioned any specific date. The discovery of the record of the Tashkent meeting and its minutes gave a coherent picture of how the first unit of the CPI was formed.  The authenticity of the Communist character of the group is unquestioned. MN Roy, who initiated the formation of the unit, had attended the Second Congress of the Communist International as a delegate of the Communist Party of Mexico. But after his important role in the debate on the national and colonial questions, after the Congress, he was made a member of the Central Asiatic Bureau, which was based in Tashkent.  It is in this capacity that he went to Tashkent along with his wife, Evelyn Trent-Roy, who was a Communist in her own right.  MN Roy was subsequently elected as member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) – the body which oversaw all the work of the Comintern in between two Congresses.  It was such a person of authority in the Comintern who  began to work among the Muhajirs in Tashkent and recruit them to the Communist Party.

In 1921, a group of Indian revolutionaries based in Berlin visited Moscow.  They were led by Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, brother of the well-known freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu. He and his group were not for forming a Communist Party before India got independence. They wanted instead the support of the Comintern for an Indian Revolutionary Board. They demanded the dissolution of the Tashkent party and asked for it to be “struck off the rolls of the Communist International”.

A Commission of the Comintern heard their views and that of MN Roy. The Comintern Commission did not agree with the demand of the Berlin group as it was the decision of the Communist International that in colonial countries, the Communist party should have an independent existence while joining the united front  for national liberation. The Comintern continued to recognise the Tashkent group (which got expanded) as “the Indian Communist group”, or, the emigrant Communist Party of India.

The argument that this was a unit founded outside India and, therefore, cannot be considered as the formation of the CPI is an untenable and narrow view. When the Tashkent unit was formed in 1920, there were no Communist groups existing anywhere in India. It was only in 1922 that certain groups came into being, but they were not yet having any political or organisational clarity of how a Communist Party should function. It was the Tashkent unit, which established contact with the fledgling Communist groups and their leaders.  In the years 1921 and 1922, there was a series of letters and communications sent to persons like SA  Dange (Bombay), Muzaffar Ahmed (Calcutta) and Singaravelu Chettiar (Madras).

In 1922, MN Roy and  the unit in Tashkent shifted to Berlin to work from there.  This is because they were finding it difficult to get in touch with the nascent Communists in different parts of India from the remote location of Tashkent. In May 1922, the Vanguard of Indian Independence, the first journal of the Communist Party of India was brought out from Berlin. In order to escape the detection by the British authorities, there was no declaration of its connection to the Communist Party of India on its masthead. Copies of this paper, which managed to reach despite British proscription, helped the Communist groups to orient themselves politically and ideologically to the Communist cause. After a few issues, the paper changed its name to the Advance Guard. A year later, it began coming out as the Vanguard. It is significant to note that, from this issue, the paper was declared to be the organ of the Communist Party of India.

That is why the Vanguard brought out from Berlin on its first anniversary had a message from the presidium of the ECCI greeting the paper and concluding with the slogan: `Long live free India! Long live the Communist Party of India! Long live the Vanguard’.

The ideological work conducted by the leaders of the Tashkent group should not be underestimated.  According to EMS Namboodiripad, MN Roy’s book `India in Transition’, “was, in fact, the first beginning of Marxist-Leninist analysis of the economy, polity and ideology of India under British rule”.  It is this tradition of ideological work and applying the theory of Marxism-Leninism to Indian conditions that was later carried forward by the organised Communist Party of India with a centralised leadership that emerged in 1934. It was the Manifesto sent by the Tashkent group to the 1921 Ahmedabad session of the INC which raised the slogan of complete independence for the first time. A demand echoed by Hasrat Mohani at the session. 

The Communist International was founded in March 1919. It is under the guidance of the Comintern that Communist parties in various countries were set-up. This was the era when proletarian internationalism was the moving spirit behind the Communist movement.  Communists rose above national boundaries to develop the international working class movement. It is wrong, therefore, to see the formation of the CPI in Tashkent as something which happened in a “foreign” country. Therefore, considering only the formation of a party unit within national boundaries as a genuine one like the Kanpur Conference of 1925 is a narrow nationalist view.

In this connection, Benoy Viswam has brought an uncalled for factor to be taken into account. He has remarked that: “The ill motivated attempts by class enemies to attach a foreign tag has to be borne in mind.  The enemies may sharpen their attack based on the fact that two out of seven who participated in the Tashkent meeting were foreigners”. 

This is a surprising attitude considering the fact that the ruling classes all over the world have considered Communists and Bolsheviks as foreign agents. Since Marxism has no `national’ ideology, it has always been subject to the foreign tag.  Communists are proud of their internationalist working class outlook.  The two “foreigners” who attended the Tashkent meeting were Evelyn Trent-Roy and Rosa Fitingof.  Both were Communists, one of American origin and the other Russian.  The contribution of Evelyn Trent-Roy, who was the wife of MN Roy, cannot be forgotten.  She played an important role in writing articles and analysing the situation in India. She also conducted organisational activities of the party in Tashkent and later in Berlin. Communists in India should be proud of the fact that two out of the seven members of the  founding unit of the Communist Party of India were women. 

There should be no revision of history to erase the role of foreign Communists in the development of the Communist movement in India. One has only to recall that out of the 33 accused in the Meerut conspiracy case, three were British Communists – Ben Bradley, Philip Spratt and HL Hutchinson.  Indian Communists cannot forget the role of British party leaders like Rajani Palme Dutt and Ben Bradley in helping the Communist party’s development in India. 

Both the Tashkent Communist party unit and the Kanpur Communist Conference did not adopt a programme of the party.  A programme, which could have given them the basis for affiliating as a full-fledged Communist party with the Communist International. Therefore, this cannot be the criteria to decide the original formation of the party.  It should also be noted that even after the Kanpur conference, the party unit formed there did not apply for affiliation to the Communist International. 

The emigrant CPI sent many of its members back to India to build the Communist movement. Many of them were arrested in the Peshawar and Kanpur conspiracy cases and sent to jail. Some of the Muhajirs, who became Communists in Tashkent and Moscow played an important role in the Party in India like Ferozuddin Mansur and MA Majid. 

The Communist Party of India formed in Tashkent was, thus, dialectically connected to the Communist Conference, which was held in Kanpur in 1925. If Tashkent was the first step in the formation of the Communist Party of India, the Kanpur Conference was the next step in the development of the party.