January 26, 2020

Grappling with Certain Theoretical Questions 1928-1935

THE Sixth Congress of the Communist International (1928) had a profound impact on the communist movement in India. The Colonial Theses of the Sixth Congress revised the understanding of the theses adopted at the Second Congress of the Comintern (1920) under Lenin’s guidance. In the period between the Fifth and Sixth Congress, many right-opportunist groups were expelled from the communist parties in various countries and from the Comintern itself. The Comintern also had to attach special importance to the fight against Trotskyism. Moreover, the Colonial Theses of the Sixth Congress was deeply influenced by the events in China. All these developments shaped the positions of the Comintern.

On the tactics to be pursued by communists, the Theses directed communist parties to demarcate themselves, both politically and organisationally, from all the petty bourgeois groups and parties. “In so far as the needs of the revolutionary struggle demands it, a temporary cooperation is permissible and in certain circumstances, even a temporary union between the communist party and the national-revolutionary movement, provided that the latter is a genuinely revolutionary movement, that it genuinely struggles against the ruling power and that its representatives do not put obstacles in the way of the communists, educating and organising in a revolutionary sense the peasants and wide masses of the exploited”.

An important point made by the Theses concerning India was against the formation of Workers’ and Peasants’ Parties, because: “they can too easily at particular periods be converted into ordinary petty-bourgeois parties….The basic task of the Indian communists consists in struggle against British imperialism for the emancipation of the country for destruction of all relics of feudalism, for the agrarian revolution and for establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry in the form of a Soviet republic. These tasks can be successfully carried out only when there will be created a powerful communist party, which will be able to place itself at the head of the wide masses of the working class, peasantry and all the toilers, and to lead them in the struggle against the feudal-imperialist bloc….The union of all communist groups and individual communists scattered throughout the country into a single independent and centralised party represents the first task of Indian communists”.

The question of the role of the bourgeoisie in the national liberation movement was one of the highlights of the discussions in the Sixth Comintern Congress. The Colonial Theses adopted in this Congress contained some erroneous and contradictory propositions on the questions of the strategy and tactics of the national liberation struggles and the role of the national bourgeoisie. For instance, it had claimed that the ‘national bourgeoisie has not the significance of a force in the struggle against imperialism. At the 20th Congress of the CPSU (1954), Kuusinen, leader of the Comintern, accepted that this appraisal by the Sixth Congress of the Comintern ‘bore a definite shade of sectarianism’.

While it (Sixth Comintern Congress) correctly analysed the nature of the working class and the importance of the agrarian revolution in the freedom struggle, the Theses marked a shift from the earlier strategy of an anti-imperialist united front. The Theses over-estimated the strength of communist parties and the working class in leading national liberation movements in the colonies. The reality at that point of time in India was, neither the system was ‘about to collapse’, nor the communist parties were necessarily in a position to lead anti-colonial movements in the colonies. In spite of it, the Indian delegation supported the draft Colonial Theses, though Soumyendranath Tagore spoke in favour of the WPP.

The Comintern directives posed serious organisational and political dilemma before the Indian communists. Upon the direction of the Comintern, communist leaders convened a meeting in Calcutta after the conference of the All India Workers’ and Peasants’ Party (December, 1928). It was decided to accept the Theses on the Colonial Question ‘as a basis for work’ and resolved that they would ‘test’ the possibility of forming an open CPI. The meeting did not take any decision on the directive to wind up the Workers’ and Peasants’ Party.

The reflection of the line prescribed by the Comintern was found in the ‘Manifesto of the CPI to all workers’. This document justified the necessity of revitalising the CPI alongside the WPP. The Manifesto described WPP as ‘a necessary stage’. The Manifesto called upon the workers and the trade unions to support the WPP and to organise ‘now’ the communist party, ‘their vanguard….if they are to emerge victorious’. The Manifesto was an attempt on the part of the communists in India to adjust with the Comintern directives. Even before they can chart out a decisive path, the Meerut Conspiracy Case instituted in March 1929, dealt a huge blow to the Indian communists.

The Platform of Action adopted by the Party in 1930 contained some of the formulations suggested by the Sixth Congress of the Comintern. The Platform states “the most harmful and dangerous obstacle to the victory of Indian revolution is agitation carried on by the Left elements of the National Congress led by Jawaharlal Nehru, Bose, Ginwala and others under the cloak of revolutionary phraseology”. This understanding led to sectarianism in 1930-32, which did great damage to the Party's image.

The Comintern had predicted the world economic crisis well before the onset of the Great Depression in 1930 and had alerted the communist parties that this would lead to a sharpening of the contradictions of imperialism, precipitating a new upsurge of revolutionary activity. It also warned that this intensification of class struggle would lead to the increased use of repression by the State, as well as to fascism. It was in the Twelfth Plenum (1932) of the Comintern that the urgent necessity of rallying masses to confront the attacks of crisis driven capitalism and increasingly aggressive fascistic machination was addressed. This Plenum was the beginning of the Comintern’s journey towards a united front policy, which was eventually adopted at the Seventh Congress of the Comintern in 1935.

In May 1932, ‘Inprecor’, the official organ of the Comintern published an ‘open letter’ issued jointly by Communist Parties of China, Great Britain and Germany, with full endorsement of the Comintern. The letter made a ‘distinction’ between the ‘bourgeois Congress leadership and those sections of the workers, peasants and revolutionary elements of the town’s ‘petty-bourgeoisie’ who for lack of proper understanding of the ‘treacherous character’ of the Congress, followed it. It suggested that it is ‘necessary’ for the communists in India to participate in all mass demonstrations organised by the Congress, and coming forward with their own ‘communist slogans and agitation’. This letter directed the Party to participate in mass actions organised by the Congress and not to allow the Communist Party to be isolated from the mainstream. In 1933, the Communist Party of China once again wrote an open letter to the Indian Communists.

However, these open letters were not enough to correct the mistakes and sectarian stance. Despite the Party’s efforts of revival it could not do away with the negative view of the role of the national bourgeoisie in the struggle for freedom. The main emphasis of the communists was on the exposure of the bourgeoisie. The change in the international situation and the subsequent changes in the Comintern policies had helped in correcting certain tactical positions that the communists were to subsequently adopt.

The Seventh Congress of the Comintern (1935) closely associated national liberation struggle in colonies and semi-colonies with anti-fascist and anti-war struggle. The united front for these countries was specified as a slogan of a united anti-imperialist front. It rejected the sectarian assertion that the national bourgeoisie had totally betrayed the cause of anti-imperialist movement. It called upon the Communists to take an active part in the popular anti-imperialist movements headed by national reformists and act jointly.

Dimitrov in his speech in this Congress, talked about the role of Indian communists in the then existing international situation: “In India, the communists have to support, extend and participate in anti-imperialist mass activities, not excluding those which are under national reformist leadership. While maintaining their political and organisational independence, they must carry on active work inside the organisations which take part in the Indian National Congress”.

Developing this understanding further, in 1936, Rajani Palme Dutt and Ben Bradley of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) published the ‘Dutt-Bradley Thesis’, for anti-imperialist people's front in India. This Thesis had a profound impact on the Indian communist movement.