The First Party Congress – 1943
THE first Congress of the Communist Party of India (CPI) was held in 1943 in Bombay. It was held for eight days, from May 23 to June 1. 139 delegates attended the Congress, representing a membership of 15,563. By this time, Party organs were being brought out in 11 languages, with a combined circulation of 60,000. It was estimated that at least 6,00,000 people were reading these organs, along with other leaflets and pamphlets brought out by the Party. The Congress was held in the background of an overall rise in the membership of the Party, trade unions, kisan sabha and other mass organisations.
The Congress was held after all the existing communist groups in the country were welded together into a single, strong Communist Party. Just before the Congress, in 1941, the Ghadr-Kirti group merged with the Party and its leaders like Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna attended the Congress as delegates.
The report placed in the Congress notes that the Party membership grew from 150 at the end of 1933 to 4,400 in 1942 and by the May Day of 1943, it reached 15,563. Similarly, 2,637 whole timers were working for the Party. There were 32,166 volunteers for the Party, 9,000 members in the Kishore Bahini, 41,100 members in the women’s organisation (of which 700 were Party members, the only Party at that time to have five per cent of its members as women), 39,155 in the students’ organisation, 3,85,370 in the Kisan Sabha (5,500 were Party members), 3,01,400 (4,000 were Party members) in the trade unions. S A Dange and Bankim Mukherjee, both leaders of the Communist Party, were the elected presidents of the trade union and Kisan Sabha respectively, a reflection of the work done by the communists among these classes.
The influence of the Party was across all sections of the society as can be found from the wide spectrum of delegates who attended the Party Congress. According to the credentials report, out of the 139 delegates, 22 were workers, 25 peasants, 86 intellectuals (all who had worked in the mass movement, popularised Marxism on a mass scale among the toilers and were primarily responsible for transforming the Party from a group of Marxists working among the workers to a major political party) three zamindars, two small landlords and one businessman. 13 of the total delegates were women, three were dalits, Muslims 13, Sikhs eight, Parsis two and one Jain.
Even though the ban on the Party was revoked, 695 Party members were still languishing in the jails at the time of the Congress. Of them, 105 were serving life sentences. 70 per cent of the delegates had served one or more terms in jails and the aggregate time spent in the prison worked out to be 411 years. In other words, nearly half of the political career of the Party leaders had been spent inside the jails. Among them, two women, Kalpana Dutt and Kamala Chatterjee spent seven and half years inside the prison. 53 per cent of the delegates had underground experience and in all they had spent 54 years working underground.
The delegation attending the Party also reflected its age composition – 68 per cent were below 35 years of age, in spite of the fact that 8 delegates were pioneers, who had joined the Party before 1929. Interestingly, none of the delegates were illiterate. Many delegates representing workers and peasants were self-taught in English to enable them to read the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin and grasp the Marxist-Leninist theory for its application in the country.
The Congress commenced with a public meeting, which was attended by around 25,000 people. Comrades Muzaffar Ahmed, Dange, Bhayyaji Kulkarni, an old worker who was the secretary of Bombay province, Krishna Pillai from Kerala, Manikuntala Sen, woman leader from Calcutta, D S Vaidya, a railway worker and secretary of the Bombay committee and Nergis Batliwala, a student leader acted as the presidium. Bankim Mukherjee hoisted the flag, while Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna moved the resolution on martyrs.
P C Joshi, general secretary of the Party, took nine hours to introduce the Political Resolution. B T Ranadive, introduced the report on the ‘Tasks of Working Class and National Defence’. The Congress sat everyday from 6 am in the morning to 11 pm in the night for hearing the reports, discussions among the groups and reporting the discussions, with very short breaks for lunch and dinner. Six fraternal parties – Great Britain, South Africa, USA, Chile, Cuba and Canada – sent their messages greeting the Congress, while representatives from Sri Lanka and Burma were present in the Congress. Heroic mothers who had sacrificed their children in the struggle against British, like those from Chittagong and ailing Party leaders, also sent their messages greeting the Congress and also pledging to work for the Communist Party.
Chitta Prasad, the famous artist from Bengal, painted the portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin, which adorned the dais along with those of Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah. The flags of Congress and Muslim League also were part of the background. The display of the portraits and flags reflected the political-tactical understanding of the Party – building a united front in the struggle against fascism and an emphasis on Congress-League unity.
The political resolution introduced by P C Joshi, explained the international and national context, the tactics adopted by the Communist Party, the reasons and the need to work for increasing industrial and food production and to build all-in people’s unity. It was followed by reports from various provincial secretaries, detailing the work done in their respective provinces and experiences gained. Following these reports, Sardesai introduced the report on food situation in the country, Namboodiripad on the need to grow more food, Arun on students, Kunhainandan on Bal Sangham and Kanak, Yasoda, Annapurnamma and Puran Mehta on women. These comrades not only reported on the situation in their specific front, but also on whatever victories were achieved in implementing Party’s policies in these fronts. Adhikari introduced new statutes of the Party, in the background of changed circumstances.
The Political Resolution adopted in the Congress stated that the main task of the day was ‘national unity for national defence to win national government’. It called upon the entire Party to campaign for the implementation of this task, along with the demand for the ‘release of all national leaders’, ‘intervention in the food situation, against hoarding and ensure the prevention of food riots’ and for the ‘isolation of Fifth Columnists’.
The Congress called all the workers and peasants to unite and work for increasing industrial and food production, to ensure the defeat of fascism. It reasoned that unless they unite for this purpose, they would not be able to strengthen their organisation or win demands like ‘adequate dearness allowance, rise in wages, bonus, recognition of unions, distribution of fallow lands, irrigation facilities, seeds, relief or remission from rents and interest’. It also called for the unity of students and exhorted them to stand for their educational rights and freedom in institutions.
Acknowledging that one of the ‘striking features of the mass awakening’ that had taken place due to communist work was ‘the upsurge of women’s movement’, particularly in Bengal, Andhra and Malabar, the Congress resolved to pay ‘special attention to the organisation of women, especially toiling women’. The Congress asked all is units to draw out ‘plans to build mass organisations’ on the basis of the above campaigns and lay the base for building a ‘mass Communist Party’.
The Congress resolved to transform the Party from a ‘mass political force to a mass political organisation’, and acquire political influence ‘not only over the toiling millions but over the Indian people as a whole’. It had also taken the task to increase the number of Party members, whole timers, volunteers, funds and also the membership of trade unions, kisan sabha, students, women’s and children’s organisations.
All the resolutions and reports, despite their limitations in reading the political situation and deciding upon the tactics, were adopted unanimously in the Congress. It had also unanimously elected the central committee and the general secretary. P C Joshi, reporting about the Congress stated that the delegates ‘unanimously thought that they had learnt the most from the self-critical discussions in the Congress’. He commented that the unity displayed in the Congress had come from the purpose of achieving ‘common goal, common programme, matured by years of common practice’.
Muzaffar Ahmed, founder-member of the Party gave the concluding address to the Congress on behalf of the presidium. “The first Congress of the Party is over. The Party has taken on itself the greatest job of its life. Let us go out to fulfill it”.