Indian Communist Movement is now eighty-five years old. Communist Party was formed on December 26, 1925 at Kanpur (UP). Their objective was to fight for national independence and build socialism in this country.
The foundation conference was not a sudden event, there were several attempts made by then to establish a communist party within and outside the country. One notable attempt was made in 1920 at Tashkent, though did not succeed due to lack of support.
Much before the foundation conference in Kanpur, there were many groups and individuals functioning within the country from 1917 onwards, after the great Socialist Revolution of Russia. Important centers of the communist activities and movements were Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Kanpur, Sholapur, Lahore etc.
Leftist ideas and Arrival of Marxism in India
Much before the formation of the Communist Party in the country, there was the leftist ideological influence already in existence.
In August, 1871, certain radical elements of Calcutta contacted Karl Marx trying to forge links with the International Workingmen’s Association founded by him.
It was in the same period when Bankim Chandra Chatterjee raised his voice against the colonial regime and also against the exploitation of the peasants by the landlords.
Again it was in 1892 that Ravindranath Tagore wrote on what the socialists want, ‘Socialists want that production and distribution should be vested in society in general and not in the hands of some powerful individuals. Freedom is impossible without material prosperity therefore wealth should be distributed among people, otherwise freedom can never spread to every one. Socialism seeks equal distribution of wealth and thereby reunify the society.’
In 1896 Swami Vivekananda declared, ‘I am a socialist, not because I think it is a prefect system, but because half a loaf is better than no bread.’
Tagore and Vivekanada never called for a radical transformation of society through struggles.
Lala Hardayal’s article ‘Karl Max, A Modern Rishi’ appeared in The Modern Review in March 1912. He was one of the Indian revolutionaries in exile. Born in 1884, he belonged to Delhi, got educated in Delhi and Lahore with a brilliant academic carrier. In England he came in contact with Shyamji Krishna Varma, spreading revolutionary propaganda among the Indian students of UK.
Rama Krishna Pillai of Kerala published a short biography of Karl Marx in Malayalam; first book on Marx in an Indian language. He made significant contribution to socialist ideas in Kerala during his short life. He died at the age of 38.
In the Gujarati magazine, “Navajivan” an article on Karl Marx by Ambalal Patel was published just one year before the great Socialist Revolution in Russia. In this article, the author stressed on the call made by Marx ‘Workers of the world, Unite: you have nothing to lose but your chains.’
It was the period when the workers of India were forced to live in inhuman conditions and toil for 17 to 18 hours a day for paltry wages.
It was then that the socialist ideas took roots in India.
Foundation Conference of the Communist Party of India
The first conference, that was also foundation conference, was held in Kanpur on December 26-28, 1925. Satyabhakta took initiative and invited all communist groups to meet in Kanpur (UP), where Bolshevic Conspiracy case was already in progress. Dange, Muzaffar Ahmad, Shaukat Usmani were among the accused.
Satyabhakta first announced his intention to set up a Communist Party in Hindi Daily Aaj of July 12, 1924.
The foundation conference of the CPI met at Kanpur on December 26, at 7 pm. The Indian National Congress was also having its session at Kanpur then. In fact, the first session of the Communist Conference was held in a special pandal built near the venue of the Congress session itself.
About 60 delegates besides 1500 observers took part in it and prominent among them were S.V. Ghate, Muzaffar Ahmad, K.N. Joglekar, K.S. Iyengar and R.S. Nimbkar.
Chairman of the reception committee of the conference was Maulana Hasrat Mohani and Singaravelu Chettiyar was the president. Maulana Hasrat Mohani was the first to move a resolution for complete independence at the Ahmedabad session of the India National Congress.
When the central committee of the CPI was constituted at Kanpur Com. Ghate and Janki Prasad Bagerhatta became general secretaries. Later on Bagerhatta left the party and S.V. Ghate remained as general secretary.
From 1926-27 onwards the CPI took up the task of building a militant trade union movement and initiating the Kisan movement.
Communists also functioned within the Indian National Congress and backed its radical section.
The communist pressure on Indian National Congress that kept growing with time was quite fruitful. It was due to this pressure that Gandhiji agreed to consider the complete independence question. In 1928 in Calcutta, Gandhiji made a solemn promises to do this in 1929.
In 1929, the government launched the famous Meerut conspiracy case against the entire leadership of the young CPI.
Jails and detention camps were very useful for having debates and convincing the national revolutionaries, popularly called terrorists. Marxist ideas and literature were made available and classes were taken. The result was many of them joined the CPI after their release from prison.
Among them were the heroes of the Ghadar movement like Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, Santosh Singh, Kartar Singh Sarabha and Gurmukh Singh, colleagues of the immortal martyrs Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad, Ajoy Ghosh, Shiv Verma. Disciples of Surya Sen of Chittagong Armoury Raid fame Ganesh Ghosh and Kalpana Dutt (later was married to P.C.J.) and hundreds of others convicted or otherwise joined the CPI.
Courageous soldier of the Garhwal Regiment Chandra Singh Garhwali, who refused to obey the order to fire at peaceful Satyagrahis in Peshawar during the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930 and ordered his unit to ground arms, also found his place in the CPI. Irabot Singh, who led several anti-feudal upsurges and was called the hero of Manipur also joined the CPI. The famous Andaman prisoners also joined the CPI after their release.
An extended Central Executive Committee meeting of the CPI was held in Bombay on May 29-31 in 1927. This conference adopted a brief programme. It stated that the Congress leadership was showing signs of vacillations, so the CPI called upon all its members to enroll themselves as the members of the Indian National Congress and form a strong leftwing in all its organs. The CPI called for cooperation with the radical nationalists.
The meeting made certain changes in the constitution of the party.
Meerut Conspiracy Case (1929-33)
Launching conspiracy cases was a convention of British system which they adopted in India to suppress the revolutionary movements of our freedom struggle. In the famous Meerut conspiracy case, 32 leading communist and working class leaders of India were put its prison. Among them were P.C. Joshi, S.A. Dange, G. Adhikari, Muzaffar Ahmad, K.N. Joglekar, Sohan Singh Josh, Philip Spratt, S. V. Ghate and others. The British did this to suppress the spread of communist ideas in the country, but its result was just opposite. The case instead helped to popularize the ideology all over India.
Calcutta Conference 1933
After most of the prisoners of Meerut conspiracy case were released by the end of 1933, a small conference of the party was held in December, 1933 in Calcutta. Delegates from Bombay, UP, Punjab and Bengal attended and adopted a political resolution as well as new constitution of the party. It elected a new central committee and Dr. G. Adhikari became general secretary of the party.
A meeting of the communist leaders was organised in Surat by the end of December 1935. This meeting was attended by P.C. Joshi, Ajoy Ghosh, R.D. Bharadwaj, Michael Scott and others. In this Surat meeting Com. P.C. Joshi was elected as general secretary of the CPI. Within a few months Joshi established the Central Headquarters of the party at Calcutta.
Ajoy Ghosh was incharge for coordination for western zone, Bharadwaj for the northern zone and S.V. Ghate for southern zone of India.
First English Newspaper of CPI
Joshi started to bring out “The Communist” in English in a cyclostyled from. This was first paper from central headquarters of the party. It contained articles on ideological questions and on united front. Dimitrov thesis on united front came out in 1935. Com. Joshi become general secretary of the party after the 7th Congress of the Communist International held in Moscow in 1935.
Dimitrov thesis and Dutt-Bradley thesis on Indian conditions helped Joshi to formulate his policies and overcome the earlier sectarian positions of the CPI. Com. Joshi made an all out effort to make the party an all India one. Even though the party was formed in 1925, it did not become an all India party in the real sense of the term till PCJ took over as a general secretary of the party.
Under his leadership, the CPI built strong ties with the national movement and its leaders including Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as well as few other top leaders. In fact several top Congress leaders were helping the communist leaders in various ways. Motilal Nehru used to give money to the revolutionaries. Sarojini Naidu helped S.V. Ghate to come out jail.
Central Headquarters at Bombay
After the Congress ministries were formed in the seven provinces of India, the CPI found situation favorable to start a legal journal from Bombay. So the party headquarters was shifted to Bombay in 1938.
There in the central headquarters Com. K.R. and Govind played a very important role in bring out the party literature and also the central organ called National Front.
Party did not have money to buy a printing machine, so Com. K.R. sold his radio shop and went to buy an old press, but still money was not enough. To arrange money, he sold all his belongings including utensils. When the printing machine came, he found many parts missing and made them himself. It was then only that the party organ Naional Front could come out weekly.
That was the devotion of comrades at that time. They were all a devoted lot, sacrificing their lives for the party. Many of them did not marry even. Com. K.R. remained single all his life.
First issue of National Front came out on February 13, 1938 and its price was one anna.
Editorial board members were PCJ, BTR, A.K. Ghosh, S.A. Dange and S. Mehamudu Zzaffer. Joshi was the editor. He had a knack of spotting the best talents in every field and make them contribute their best to the party.
Because of this peculiar knack he got the services of R.S. Naidu, the foremost political cartoonist, D.G. Tendulkar, then freelance journalist cum photographer, and in later days edited Mahatma volumes. He also used the services of artist Chitto Prasad and photographer Sunil Jana.
In July, 1942, the illegal press was closed down and an open press was started bringing out the central organ with a different name, the Peoples War (weekly) in English, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati and Urdu.
As the party and press grew, in 1943 a lino composing machine was bought. By the end of 1943 the combined circulation of the party organ People’s War was 70,000.
In 1945 there was an attack by certain political opponents on the party office and press. Our comrades fought heroically and repulsed the attack. Same way there was another attack in Delhi on the party office at Asaf Ali Road in October 1962 at the time of Indo-China border war.
First CPI Congress
The first party Congress of the CPI was held in 1943 in Bombay. The party was banned in 1934 by the British. Party was very small. By 1942, number of members went up to 5000. After a year, when it was made legal, there was a tremendous increase going up to 16000. Almost all the top leaders of the party attended the congress except Ajoy Ghosh and Bharadwaj. They could not attend due ill-health. P.C. Joshi in his rousing speech called upon the party to struggle for national unity and national independence.
Comrade Joshi was re-elected as general secretary. Several mass organisations were set up in this period.
In 1942, party committed serious mistakes in its policy and tactical line.
But it was also a fact that CPI conducted number of important struggle in the 40s. All these struggles helped the common man and increased the strength of the party. In the decade of 1936-47, under the leadership of Joshi party played an effective and constructive role. Party was gaining influence and was growing becoming a mass force. By December, 1947, the CPI leadership misunderstood the country’s political, historical situation and misunderstood the mood of the masses. It adopted an unrealistic, disastrous, sectarian, adventurist line in the second congress of the party held in March, 1948. Com. Joshi was removed unofficially even before the second congress. His removal was made official during the congress. Party changed its course and went in the opposite direction.
As a result of this line, thousands of comrades lost their life in the Telangana armed struggle. Adventurism destroyed the mass organisations and the mass base of the party.
This adventurist policy ran its full course in 1948 and 1949.
By 1950 the party was thoroughly isolated and its membership fell from 89,000 to less then 10,000. The then general secretary BTR was removed from his post in May 1950.
Com. Rajeswar Rao took over from him as general secretary for a short period. In this period he installed Andhra line, this resulted in much more crisis in the party.
Then a conference of the party was held in October 1951 and Com. Ajoy Ghosh was elected as general secretary.
5th Congress and Extra Ordinary Conference 1958
This Congress of the CPI was an important congress. It made certain very important changes in its constitution. They took a decision to become a mass party. Organisationally, a three-tier set up was introduced in the party.
Formation of the communist led government in Kerala after the second general elections prompted the party to change its political line. In the second general elections, in 10 out of 13 states, the Communist Party increased its strength.
By the time of Amritsar Congress (1958) the party had two lakh members on its rolls. It was at this session that, for the first time, the party accepted the perspective of possibilities of peaceful transition to socialism in India.
In 1961 party congress witnessed a big clash between two groups. An unofficial split in the party started taking place from 1961 onwards.
Com. Ajoy Ghosh died on January 13, 1962, after that there was national council meeting in April 1962. In this meeting, party added new members to the CEC including Sundarayya, Gangadhar Adhikari, Jyoti Basu, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, H.K. Vyas and Avtar Singh Malhotra. A new secretariat was constituted and its members were S.A. Dange, chairman, EMS Namboodiripad, general secretary, Bhupesh Gupta, Z.A. Ahmad, M.N. Govindan Nair, P. Sendarayya, Jyoti Basu, Surjeet, Yongendra Sharma.
There was no chairman’s post inside the CPI before this. This was done to accommodate both groups or both view points. Com Dange continued as a chairmen of the CPI till April 1981 (Till his expulsion).
Split in the Party
As has been written earlier, in the 1961 congress itself, party was almost on the point of a split, but Com. Ajoy Ghosh avoided the split. So the real split came in April 1964. There was national council meeting from April 10-15, 1964. The split came on the second day, on April 11, ’97, national council members were present with one invitee, and 32 members walked out of the meeting after EMS spoke and farmed a new party called CPI(M). Before this, these was one more split in the CPI in its early days, in 1930. At the time BTR left the party and started a new party called Bolshevik party and the split was taken to the trade union also. He had started Red Trade Union Congress against AITUC.