Formation of All India Mass Organisations
COMMUNISTS took the initiative to form various class and mass organisations as part of their efforts to mobilise vast sections of the people for social transformation. In 1936 itself, three all India organisations – All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), All India Students’ Federation (AISF) and Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA) were formed. Communists, along with Left and progressive sections in the Congress, played an important role in their formation.
KISAN SABHA: The activities of communists, particularly the ideas expounded through the All India Workers’ and Peasants’ Party and the General Statement of the accused in the Meerut Conspiracy Case, contributed to the expansion of Left and exerted considerable influence among the peasants. They began to work with the perspective of forming an independent class organisation of their own and fight against British imperialism. Communists were in the forefront in taking up the issues of peasantry by organising them under Kisan Sabhas.
Huge peasant struggles against the oppressive tax regime and exploitation took place during this period. The powerful kisan movements launched in the early and mid-thirties in various parts of the country, were mainly concerned about saving the peasants from attacks from the landlords, against forced labour and other forms of exploitation. The severe economic crisis of the 1930s further burdened the peasantry. Various state level organisations were formed, before the formation of the All India Kisan Sabha in 1936, with a clear cut programme not only for immediate relief, but also directed against the system of landlordism. Communist leaders joined hands with Congress socialists to organise peasants and lead them in various struggles.
The founding conference of the Kisan Sabha in Lucknow (1936) coincided with the holding of the annual session of the Indian National Congress. The idea was to project the kisan movement as a part of the national movement, though maintaining its separate existence as a class organisation. Many later generation communist leaders like EMS Namboodiripad and Harkishan Singh Surjeet attended this founding conference.
The founding conference of the Kisan Sabha set its objectives as ‘complete liberation of peasants from economic exploitation and achievement of economic and political power to peasants, workers and other exploited classes’. The conference also adopted two important resolutions. One, demanding the abolition of landlordism existing in all its different forms and conferring land ownership on the cultivating peasants. The second resolution demanded radical change in the land tax system in the ryotwari regions and the introduction of a graduated system of tax, exempting poor peasants from payment of land tax. Other issues covered by the resolutions included prices of inputs, prices of marketable agricultural products, indebtedness, forced labour and illegal extractions from the tenants by the landlords and the distribution of landlord’s land to the landless poor peasants as also investing of waste land and grazing land with the village level panchayats. The AIKS also demanded minimum wages for the agricultural labourers and a central legislation legalising and regulating their unionisation.
Clearly the influence of communists and socialist ideas led to the adoption of these objectives and resolutions. Communists were guided by the tactics that the working class would rise as a class capable of strengthening the anti-imperialist movement only by leading the peasantry in this struggle.
STUDENTS’ FEDERATION: Literature on Russian revolution, the advances made by socialism, the activities of Indian revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh had tremendous influence among the youth. The influence of communists was a fact grudgingly accepted by the Congress and with a lot of anxiety by the British.
The Navjavan Bharat Sabha founded by Bhagat Singh and his compatriots attracted large sections of youth and students in the Punjab region. The Bombay Pradesh Youth League and All Bengal Students’ Association (which later split to form the Bengal Pradesh Students’ Association) were some of the organisations that were formed during this period. The conferences of these organisations passed resolutions demanding complete independence and most importantly against communalism. The achievements and progress of Russian revolution, invariably found a mention in all these conferences.
Meerut Conspiracy Case and Lahore Conspiracy Case (against Bhagat Singh and his comrades) had a tremendous influence among the students and youth. In many parts of the country, particularly in Meerut, Punjab and Bombay, students’ organisations passed resolutions condemning these trials and also formed defence committees. Students of Meerut College formed the Meerut Communists Seva Sangh for this purpose.
During this period, leaders like Chandra Rajeswara Rao along with his comrades formed the Young Communist League in 1931, in the Benaras University. They used to organise regular study circles in that university and also conduct physical training. Many a times they were forced to confront the RSS and its communal politics.
In the Madras Presidency, Radical Youth Conference was held in 1935 with the objective of attainment of complete independence. Committees were formed to organise regional leagues in Andhra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamilnadu and Madras city. Home Department reports note this phenomenon and had issued an alert to all its forces stating that ‘considerable quantity of Communist literature was seized from various students in Madras presidency.
It is in this background that efforts were made to unite all these provincial student organisations and form an all India organisation. The effort fructified in 1936, when the students of United Provinces (Uttar Pradesh) took this responsibility and organised a conference in 1936. This conference was presided by MA Jinnah, while Jawaharlal Nehru delivered the opening address. Among the many resolutions on student issues that were adopted in this conference, the stand out resolution was the one against communalism. Students of all political affiliations were encouraged to join the AISF. As a result, Gandhian students, students professing ideas of the Muslim League were part of the AISF, along with the communist and socialist minded students, who played a leading role in its organisation.
Issues like free education, hostels, schools, housing, cooperative credit societies were raised by the student movement because of the influence of communists. The student organisation particularly took up the issue of untouchability and efforts were made to organise dalits. Struggles were successfully launched against various discriminatory practices like separate dining halls for students of various castes.
Similarly, they had also demanded steps to prevent eve-teasing, simultaneously forming teams to protect girl students from this menace. Another important step to organise the girl students was taken through the formation of a separate girl students’ convening committee in 1939. Kanak Mukherjee was the first convener of this committee.
PROGRESSIVE WRITERS ASSOCIATION: The founding conference of the PWA too was in Lucknow, during the annual session of the Indian National Congress in 1936. The inspiration for the formation of the All India Progressive Writers Association came from the organisation of anti-fascist writers led by Maxim Gorky and other progressive writers in Europe. Formed on the initiative of the communists, it had the blessings of Rabindranath Tagore, Sarojini Naidu, Munshi Premchand, Mulk Raj Anand and other top ranking writers in the country.
In fact, the Lucknow conference of the Indian writers was presided over by Premchand. In his presidential address, he stated that the purpose of language is “to mould our thoughts and emotions and to give them the right direction”. Further he exhorted writers to become standard bearers of humanity and take up the duty to “help all those who are downtrodden, oppressed and exploited individuals or groups and to advocate their cause”.
Reflecting these concerns, the Manifesto adopted by the founding conference of the PWA states: “While claiming to be the inheritors of the best tradition of Indian civilisation, we shall criticise, in all its aspects the spirit of reaction in our country, and we shall foster through interpretative and creative work (with both Indian and foreign resources) everything that will lead our country to the new life for which it is striving. We believe that the new literature of India must deal with basic problems of our existence today – the problem of hunger and poverty, social backwardness and political subjection. All that drags us down to passivity, inaction and unreason, we reject as reactionary. All that arouses in us the critical spirit, which examines institutions and customs in the light of reason, which helps us to act, to organise ourselves, to transform, we accept as progressive”. The manifesto called the writers to “combat literary trends reflecting communalism, racial antagonism and exploitation of man by man”.
The formation of this organisation is a clear indication of the impact of socialist, anti-imperialist, anti-fascist ideas on the intelligentsia.
The emergence of the reorganised CPI and the united action with the Congress Socialist Party (CSP) had a tremendous influence on the socio-political life of the country. The ideas of the Left found an echo even in the presidential address and resolutions adopted in the annual Congress session. The new Left trend started asserting itself not only in the political and economic sphere, but also in the cultural movement also.