The Formation of Workers’ and Peasants’ Party
THE period following the Kanpur Communist Conference witnessed the establishment of workers’ and peasants parties in various provinces of India, culminating in the formation of the All India Workers’ and Peasants’ Party (WPP) by the end of 1928. Though communists led these parties in various provinces, the WPP was not a Communist Party, or even a veiled Communist Party. The WPP was conceived as an organisational form of the united front of the working class, the peasants and the petty-bourgeoisie to carry through the national democratic revolution.
WPP in Bengal was formed with the transformation of the Labour Swaraj Party (LSP) into the Bengal Peasants’ and Workers’ Party in 1926. The LSP, despite its shortcomings, became the hub of radical-minded political activists in Bengal. Renowned Bengali poet, Qazi Nazrul Islam played an active role, editing the organ, Langal, which had published Muzaffar Ahmad’s call for the formation of the communist party in Bengal. In a conference of the LSP held in February 1926, the formation of the WPP was formally announced with the adoption of a new programme. WPP, from the beginning demarcated itself from both the Indian National Congress and also the revolutionary nationalists and steadily grew in strength. It started bringing out Ganavani, its official organ.
The CPI Executive Committee meeting, held from January 16-18, 1927, decided upon the formation of a WPP in Bombay province, the first such organisation outside Bengal, and the publication of a Marathi weekly. Muzaffar Ahmad also attended the meeting. Subsequently, on February 13, 1927, six days before the second conference of the Bengal Peasants’ and Workers’ Party in Calcutta, the WPP was formed in Bombay. It also published a Marathi weekly organ, Kranti.
The origins of the WPP of Bombay bore similarity to that of Bengal. The nucleus of the party was a small group of Left-wing radicals and communists, who formed the Congress Labour Party (CLP) in November 1926. This party was transformed into WPP, as per CPI’s decision in January 1927. The WPP of Bombay was organised as an independent party to work inside the National Congress and also to form a Left wing there. It sought to form a broad anti-imperialist front for the fight for complete independence. The declared objective of the party was: ‘to establish complete national independence wherein the means of production, distribution and exchange are publicly owned and socially controlled’.
The emergence of the WPP in Bengal and Bombay marked a turning point for the working class movement. Due to the active role of the communists in organising workers, S V Ghate became the first communist to be elected as an AITUC office bearer. Before May 1927, WPP had also emerged in Rajputana under the leadership of Arjunlal Sethi, who had attended the Kanpur Communist Conference in 1925. By the Bombay CEC meeting of the CPI held on May 31, 1927, WPP’s were formed in three provinces, Bengal, Bombay and Rajputana. The extended meeting of the CEC approved the programmes laid down by the WPP in these three provinces and resolved that CPI members ‘shall try to form similar organisations where such do not exist’.
Acting on these decisions, WPP of Punjab was formed in April 1928 in Hoshiarpur at the initiative of Sohan Singh Josh, who later became the president of the all India WPP. The formation of the WPP in Punjab was closely followed by the formation of the party in the United Provinces. The UP WPP was organised at a conference in Meerut in October 1928. The formation of WPP in four major provinces (Bengal, Bombay, UP and Punjab) made important contributions to spread the communist movement among the working class, peasants and the middle classes.
In the Madras session of the Indian National Congress (December 26-28, 1927), a manifesto of the WPP drafted by Muzaffar Ahmad, in consultation with Philip Spratt, was distributed. This manifesto spelt out its views on the attitude towards the Congress and also its position on the question of drafting a constitution for free India. It called for the election of the ‘national constituent assembly, which shall be the supreme organ for expressing the will of the people’ on the basis of ‘universal adult suffrage. CPI CEC members who had assembled in Madras to attend the Congress session met secretly at Singaravelu Chettiar’s residence. The meeting resolved to hold a conference at Calcutta to form an All India Workers’ and Peasants’ Party. Muzaffar Ahmad was given the charge of organising the proposed conference.
Workers’ and Peasants’ Parties took a leading role in organising the movement for the boycott of Simon Commission with the aim of mobilising workers and peasants to the greatest extent possible in the struggle for complete independence. A massive protest rally was organised in Calcutta in January 1929, where the slogan ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ was raised for the first time in the Calcutta rally.
The adoption of the document, ‘A Call to Action’, in the third conference of the Bengal Peasants’ and Workers’ Party, held in March/April 1928, was very significant in the then prevailing political situation. Decisions of this conference along with a document titled ‘Thesis on our attitude towards the Congress and present Labour leadership’ formed the basis of ‘A Call to Action’.
In the backdrop of the anti-Simon Commission movement and the vacillating attitude of the INC leadership on the question of the draft constitution for India, ‘A Call to Action’ reflected a change in the mood of the communists. The document observed: “The bourgeoisie as a whole can no longer be looked upon as the leader of the national movement….A strong conscious and well disciplined Workers’ and Peasants’ Party is the most pressing need of the present….We must support Congress while it fights imperialism, but must not hesitate to criticise the compromising tendencies of Congress leaders, however prominent. The alliance of the party with the petty-bourgeois Left of the Congress must be consolidated on the basis of direct action for complete independence, as against the compromising bourgeois leadership”.
A significant move on the part of communists and WPP was their intervention in the growing, organised youth movement, especially in Bengal, Punjab and Bombay provinces. The first formal decision to organise youth wings was taken by the enlarged executive committee meeting of the WPP in Bombay in January 1928, in the backdrop of the anti-Simon Commission boycott movement. The decision was endorsed by the provincial conferences of the party in Bombay and Bengal in March 1928. ‘A Call to Action’, adopted by the party dealt with the issue in detail. The document resolved that the WPP, “should attract to its banner the newly organising forces of the youth and must establish an ‘independent youth organisation’ by recruiting working class and peasant youth ‘to broaden the social base’ of the traditional youth organisation’. It charted out a six-point programme of action for such a youth organisation.
In Bengal under the direct initiative of the WPP, the Young Comrades League was formed by the end of July 1928 and a ‘Statement of Programme and Policy’ of the League was adopted. The Bombay Presidency Youth League, held its first conference by the end of January 1928. In Punjab, the organisers of the WPP also played an active role in mobilising the Naujavan Bharat Sabha (in whose formation Bhagat Singh played a prominent role) in April 1928. However, in spite of these efforts, it should be noted that the all India conference of WPP did not give adequate attention to the organisation of the youth wing.
The all India conference of the WPP attended by all existing provincial organisations was held in Calcutta on December 21-24, 1928. Delegates from WPP’s of Bombay, Punjab, United Provinces and Bengal were present at the conference. Bhagat Singh also attended the conference in secret. The conference approved a draft constitution for the party, which records the objective of the party as “the attainment of complete independence from imperialism in general and British imperialism in particular and thorough democratisation of India based on economic, social and political emancipation of the masses”. The conference resolved to “form a peasants’ organisation and to fight for the abolition of adhiar/barga systems and the abolition of landlordism whatsoever without any compensation”. The constitution debarred party members from any involvement with any communal organisation or communal propaganda.
WPP’s were formed because of the organisational work of the communists for over three years. WPP was functioning in the eyes of the people as a Communist Party in a different name. Immediately after the conclusion of the all India conference, the British government arrested all the major communist leaders, severely affecting the functioning of the WPP. These arrested leaders were tried in the famous Meerut Conspiracy Case.