Of Stalin, Telangana & Indian revolution

Print edition : December 30, 2011

1951, VIJAYAWADA: P. SUNDARAYYA, Maddukuri Chandrasekhara Rao, Chandra Rajeswara Rao, Vasudevarao and M. Basavapunniah after they came out from underground following the government's lifting of the ban on the Communist Party of India. - BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Stalin was glad he was trying to help a revolution in India, because... if it succeeds, almost the world revolution has been won.

The first part of this article appeared in the December 16, 2011, issue. The article presents extracts from interviews with senior leaders of the Communist movement conducted on behalf of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library as part of its Oral History programme. This part features extracts from an interview with M. Basavapunniah.

M. Basavapunniah spoke to Dr Hari Dev Sharma in New Delhi on June 19, 1978, revealingly and with characteristic vigour, on a wide range of topics. He said: The unit of the Andhra Communist Party was first formed in 1934. The founder-member of that unit was Comrade P. Sundarayya. Along with him, Comrade Rajeswara Rao Comrade Rajeswara Rao is now secretary of the all-India Communist Party of India [CPI] besides others.

The CPI was affiliated to the Communist International, like any other Communist Party. Direct link with Moscow was impossible in those days. So our link could be established through [the] British party and the British party (Communist Party of Great Britain) was looking after our affairs vis-a-vis the Communist International. So whether they have discussed it or not, our lines were being discussed with the CPGB from time to time. [Rajni Palme Dutt was the Chief Mentor.] After discussions with the CPGB, we noted the changes that had come about in the war. The changes were: Hitler, who started the war against Europe and against Britain and was on war with America, after June 1941, had directed his battle against the Soviet Union. When he had started the main war with the Soviet Union he also sent a messenger called Gertrude Hessler to England, asking them: In 1939, I began the war against you, it is true. Now I have started war against the Communism. Why don't you compromise with me? This is what his attempts were. In a world developed of things, the war that was fought in the first phase between the two imperialist blocs, one was led by England, America and others and other was by Germany, Italy and Japan. Then we took our position on that.

He went on to dilate quite frankly on the differences that grew up with the Congress. We were under the misapprehension that if our struggle against imperialism was intensified, it might affect the war preparations against fascism. This was exactly a theoretical error that had alienated us from vast mass of the Congressmen who were not bothered about what happened to the Soviet Union but bothered about England. In the first period from 1939 to 1941 until the turn of the war, we were asking them to become active fighters against imperialism. Then they were for individual satyagraha, this and that and not doing anything. When actually this trouble of events came, they became desperate, passed the do and die' resolution. When we were for fighting militantly, they were for a non-violent, individual satyagraha approach. This was how differences arose between us and the other nationalists.

Telangana revolt

Basavapunniah described the Telangana revolt in detail. After the war was over in 1945, this movement in the Nizam's area had taken a very militant form. When we had to fight against the Nizam, his Razakars, his army, his police and all that, then we were compelled to go in for guerilla warfare, armed warfare; and with all these ideas we had to go through Mao's theory of partisan warfare, guerilla warfare, peasant warfare, etc. So it was practical necessities that compelled us to go to a theoretical justification and a theoretical argumentation and learning from Chinese experiences as they came in. So, the other way it is true

[The] Andhra unit took the lead in this respect, because it went into action first, a militant form of struggle, and faced police bullets, repression by the armies of the Nizam and all that. Then the alternative was either to surrender or to resist. Resist by what? When they had brought bharmars, we had to go in for bharmars; when they had brought shotguns, we had to go in for shotguns; when they brought big armed forces, then we had to think how to face them. So this partisan armed squads, armed guerilla warfare, this whole development came from 1946 onwards resistance with sticks, slings, with armed volunteers and subsequently resistance with bharmars bharmars, you understand? You put gunpowder in the barrel and then press it. Its range is only 50 yards. The primitive weapon, which was used in all the States, was called bharmar. So stage to stage, from sticks it went up to .303 rifles and then some machine guns snatched from the enemy. This was the way how the Telangana movement developed. It was only after the movement developed for two years like this, [in] September 1948 the Government of India decided to march in, [in] what is called Police Action. Three days after the Police Action, they started attacking our bases, attacking the peasantry and asking them to surrender the lands to the landlords and deshmukhs from whom we had distributed the lands. From then on the struggle was directly between the Indian government and the peasant militants. These are two phases.

M. BASAVAPUNNIAH. ON the Telangana resistance, he said: "Whereas Sardar Patel was thinking that in 30 days everything would be finished, but it took three years."-THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Sharma: What was the role of the CPI in this? It was obviously the struggle of the people.

Basavapunniah: The CPI was leading it.

Sharma: Do you mean to say that it was forced on you or you took the initiative?

Basavapunniah: We took the initiative in fighting against the Nizam and all his landlords and deshmukhs. The deshmukhs had one lakh, eighty, seventy, sixty thousand acres of land. These were the types of landlords. The peasantry had no rights. Even the tenants serving for eight or nine years had no rights. Anybody could be ejected from anywhere; there was slave labour, forced labour. All these malpractices were going on. We took up the struggle it landed us in a militant struggle of resistance.

Sharma: What about the second phase?

Basavapunniah: The second phase was after the Indian government had come in. The alternative that had posed before us was either to abandon the whole struggle and leave the land and leave the peasantry to its fate or [to] organise the peasantry and resist and demand that these lands must be with us and not allow the landlords to reoccupy the land. This was the question. Then, the Government of India was trying to suppress it with arms. The other alternative before us was either to resist or to surrender. We decided that we must resist to the maximum. So this resistance went on for three years. Whereas Sardar [Vallabhbhai] Patel was thinking that in 30 days everything would be finished, but it took three years. Meanwhile, Sardar Patel had finished himself but the movement itself was not finished.

He added: From September 1948 onwards it was regular armed invasion. It was not a police action. Either the special armed police or the Malabar Police or the Army, nearly 50,000 [personnel] were employed for three full years to suppress the movement. The Indian Army was not more than one and a half lakh or two lakhs [men] in those days. A good part of it was locked up in Kashmir. Other part had to remain somewhere stationary. Then to spare nearly 40,000-50,000 armed forces at one spot was not a small thing. So they concentrated their best and did their worst. Ten thousand people were put as detenus for three-four years; nearly a lakh of people were put in concentration camps for months on end; thousands of women were raped.

Split in the CPI

Issues of theory and tactics arose and divided the CPI. Basavapunniah's detailed account of what followed is authoritative. We had to go into a theoretical discussion whether it was a democratic revolution or a socialist revolution or a people's democratic revolution. Then these questions also came up: Who were the classes in it? Who were the enemies of it? What was the role of imperialism? What was the role of the bourgeoisie? What was the role of the rich peasants? All these questions had come up in a sharp way.

Sharma: Did other units of the party agree with the Andhra reading, or not?

Basavapunniah: The Andhra document was submitted in the month of May 1948. The Polit Bureau was keeping its discussions confined to itself until the month of November 1948. So it was only in the months of November and December 1948 that this reached all the State units. The whole of the year 1949 there was an inner-party discussion going on. By March 1950 the whole cycle was complete and the line that was adopted at Calcutta was proved wrong and we were asked to take the responsibility of the central committee leadership. Then came the question of going and meeting Stalin, and then working out all the lines.

So the party discussion was going on. It was a continuous process. From November and December 1949 when the P.B. document that is, what is called the tactical line was released for discussion, it was under discussion between the Andhra document on the one side and the central committee P.B. document on the other side for a whole year and it culminated in [the] Andhra Secretariat coming into the forefront and taking up the responsibility of working out the line. It was this Andhra Secretariat, which had come into the central committee and the Polit Bureau and all that, [that] had to go to Moscow and seek clarification and all that.

Meeting with Stalin

Sharma: Now, the deputation consisted of Ajoy Ghosh, S.A. Dange, representing one view, and yourself and Rajeswara Rao, representing another. What were the points you placed before Stalin?

Basavapunniah: It was not the question of one point. All the discussions were there on the tactical line: What is the stage of revolution? What are the class alliances? What is the place of the rich peasant? What is the place of landlordism? What is the place of the bourgeoisie? Which section of the bourgeoisie is there? What is the nature of the freedom? Is Independence true or genuine, or otherwise? All these questions which were under discussion were referred to the central committee of the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union] and Stalin. After some preliminary exchanges and discussions, we arrived at certain conclusions. These were incorporated in the new programme of 1951. So it was not one question, there were many questions.

Sharma: The whole theory of revolution.

Basavapunniah: The entire theory as applied to India: What is the Indian society? What is the Indian freedom that we got in August 1947? Whether it is real or fake? Which classes were interested in fighting for Independence and which classes had already been bought over by imperialism or had compromised with imperialism? What is the role of the Congress party? All these questions were discussed. These were the questions in debate inside the Communist Party of India from 1948 to 1950.

Sharma: But it looks very funny that the Communist Party of India could not decide these issues here and they had [to be] taken to Moscow who had very little touch with the Indian situation?

Basavapunniah: It is not the Indian situation. The Indian situation was the situation known. The whole point was how to apply the Marxist general principles and theory to the Indian situation. It is here that we were short of it. As I told you, and I again repeat, after all India is not the birthplace of Marxism and Leninism; their birthplace is Europe. The Russians were the first to apply it and win the victory of the revolution, and they had the moral and. Suppose, in our technological field today where do we go? We have to go either to the Soviet Union or to America or to England. Is anything funny about it? If we are serious about our industry and industrial development, we have to go there. There is no other way. If I am serious about my revolution, I have to go and learn from them. Any refusal to learn from those who are well-versed in the theory is ignorance but not any wisdom. So it is not that there is anything wrong in our going there and seeking clarity. We should. If it is available in my country, I would have availed of it. When it is not available in my country, what am I to do? I have to go anywhere wherever I can get it, to the moon or some place. This is the reality.

STALIN (RIGHT) WITH Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov. They, along with Mikhail Andreyevich Suslov and Georgy Malenkov, comprised the CPSU commission that met the Indian communist delegation.-THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Sharma: What was the solution which Stalin offered for your difficulties?

Basavapunniah: There is no one solution. The solutions Stalin offered or we accepted were incorporated in the 1951 draft programme.

Sharma: Was it different from your assessment of the situation here?

Basavapunniah: Naturally, the question of Stalin's programme, as you call it, or, why should we call it Stalin's programme, it was a programme discussed between our commission and their commission. There they said very plainly: Our knowledge of the Indian conditions is very limited. With the available general knowledge that we have got about some dialectics and some general Marxism and Leninism, we will try to help you. It is for you to accept, amend, reject, do anything as you like. That they said very clearly.' And after that we had a number of discussions and came to these conclusions. These conclusions were again incorporated in the programme and the programme was seen by that commission also. The commission had said: If you are satisfied, we are satisfied.' That is how that programme has to be called, the programme worked out by the CPSU. But really the programme was drafted by us after discussions. But the major corrections were the corrections given by them, but those corrections subsequently proved also many things wrong.

Sharma: Who were the members on their commission?

Basavapunniah: Stalin, Molotov, Suslov, Malenkov.

Sharma: Four. Now, what are your impressions of Stalin?

Basavapunniah: In what respect?

Sharma: As a Marxist, theoretician, as a person?

Basavapunniah: It is not a question of my having any impressions of Stalin in those four or five sittings we had with them. My impression of Stalin goes to all the histories, the beginning of the Russian Revolution in 1917 and his contribution to it. Subsequent to Lenin how Stalin had become the Secretary, how he had functioned as the Secretary, what the PBC had done, how Leninism he had codified. All these are substantial grounds on which I could have a picture of Stalin. So my four-day stay with him or conversation with him was not going to make any change that way. Personally if you ask me what my impressions are, I would say: In the beginning I thought that this would be rather inconvenient to such a big man, the world's biggest authority, should sit in a commission; it restricts our freedom, exchange of views, etc. We may have to accept what all that he says. But in the very first meeting, after 10 minutes the atmosphere he so created in the discussion was such that we could be as free as amongst us and we never felt in the whole conversation, the whole period we were staying, say, in the four or five meetings we were having with him, any difficulty of that nature. So it goes to the credit of Stalin to give that confidence to us: You are equal; you can discuss freely; there is nothing to worry.' This is one impression.

The second thing is that he was very glad that he was trying to help a revolution in a country like India because after the victorious Chinese revolution and the Russian revolution, if the Indian revolution succeeds, almost the world revolution has been won. So he was very glad to contribute whatever he could contribute to the success of the Indian revolution. That is why he was very willing to help, and he was happy to help. After all the discussions were over, he again repeated: Your party is sovereign. There is no more the Communist International. That is dissolved. From one centre we cannot run the international communist movement. That is why you are at liberty to follow your own independent line. Understand this, amend it, accept it, reject it. That is all for you to decide. You are sovereign.' These are the words he had said. From this, it appeared, to me at least, he was very modest and, in spite of some of the hardest debates we had with him, he was not upset. He argued with us. We counter-argued with him. On many points we had joined issue with him. So it is not a question of our asking and his giving some advice and then our accepting. No. All of us had very strong discussions with him, and the whole record of our discussions was reported to our central committee. The questions and answers were there. From the questions and answers these have been also reproduced in Sundarayya's book on Telangana perhaps you will understand that we did not simply accept what he said. We discussed. Ultimately we might have accepted because he was a big authority on us. That is another thing. But it is not a question of simply, like yes-men, accepting without any discussion. No. This is my impression of Stalin.

Sharma: Was he fluent in English?

Basavapunniah: No. He understood English but he was not doing conversation in English. Because these were very subtle theoretical questions, very appropriate words, appropriate phrases must be used. In a language in which I have no authority and I have no complete grip over it I should not use it. That is why he was speaking in Russian and there was simultaneous translation.

Sharma: All of them spoke in Russian. Basavapunniah: All of them spoke in Russian. Sharma: And you spoke in English.

Basavapunniah: We spoke in English. There was a regular translation. But all of them know English. I tell you, working knowledge of English was there for all of them but they could not express; they had not sufficient grip over the language.

Sharma: What was the impact of his personality on you?

Basavapunniah: Impact means?

Sharma: For example, his keenness in discussion.

Basavapunniah: As I told you, our impression of Stalin was not formed in one day by seeing him or discussing with him. Our impression of Stalin was there since 1934, when we had joined the Communist Party and we began to read the literature, began to read his works, began to follow his works in the Soviet Union and began to follow his feats in the war against fascism. All those were our background impressions of Stalin. That is why we were not novices, in the sense, to have afresh in Stalin's assessment; we were having the assessment of Stalin earlier also, but only we were having a personal idea of meeting him, discussion with him.

Sharma: But, you see, a person who reads and listens about one person, forms some sort of an impression. Now, when you met him, did you find that impression correct?

Basavapunniah: What is that correct which you ask, tell me?

Sharma: For example, he was a great leader of the Soviet Union, an eminent Marxist. You have a certain impression of the personality that he must be very intelligent, have full grasp over the situation or Marxism.

Now, when you had an opportunity to discuss with him, how did you find him?

MALLU SWARAJYAM (LEFT) and other members of an armed dalam, which took part in the Telangana struggle.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Basavapunniah: As I told you, as far as my finding is concerned, he appeared to be very modest. He did not make any pretensions that he knew everything. He said: I know very little about India. What we know is general Marxism, Leninism and dialectics. From that general understanding we try to help. It is for you to accept, amend, reject.' These ideas show that he was not presumptuous; he was modest.

Sharma: Did he discuss any other thing also about the Indian situation, apart from the problems of the CPI?

Basavapunniah: The whole question of programme deals with the agrarian question, industrial question.

Sharma: No, other general situation in the country, prospects of the Communist Party.

Basavapunniah: With regards to prospects of the Communist Party, he asked us about the strength of the Communist Party, the movement of the working class, the movement of the peasantry, what was going on in Telangana, how far that movement was widespread, not widespread, etc. All these questions. There was nothing that we left undiscussed; everything was discussed.

Sharma: Did he say anything about the Indian government vis-a-vis the Communist Party?

Basavapunniah: In that very programme, we had given a characterisation about the Indian government and its States.

Sharma: Who had drafted the Andhra Thesis?

Basavapunniah: The Andhra Thesis was drafted by me personally, but subsequently it was the whole Secretariat Rajeswara Rao, Sundarayya, Chandrasekhar Rao, Hanumantha Rao and myself, all these five or six people who were leading in the Secretariat agreed unanimously. They did not blindly follow Mao's line, he explained.

Sharma: But, I think, in the thesis you defend Mao and his thesis on democracy.

Basavapunniah: Yes, Mao and his thesis on democracy, his application of Marxism to the Chinese conditions. I was arguing that our conditions are more akin to the Chinese conditions because of the peasant country, agrarian country, the colonial country, the semi-colonial country, this is the real situation. Whereas Russia was an imperialist country. A revolution in an imperialist country and a revolution in a colonial country are fundamentally different. So the examples taken from the imperialist country may mislead us on a number of questions.

Sharma: And what was [B.T.] Ranadive's stand?

Basavapunniah: That was very clear in the tactical line.

Sharma: And then later on you found when Ranadive was removed, Rajeswara Rao took over.

Basavapunniah: He had resigned.

Sharma: Yes. And Rajeswara Rao took over the party leadership

Basavapunniah: reorganised the whole central committee; the central committee of 1931 was there. Some of them had resigned; some of them were in jail. It was reorganised with some 17 or 18 members. That was temporary, provisional. That was not the final reorganisation. This provisional reorganisation was done in order to seek clarity from the CPSU and Stalin and after that settle the things. It was a stopgap, transitional arrangement. From the day we had come here in April or May 1951 April-May 1951 the new programme had come. This one year our effort was to seek the guidance of the CPSU and get the clarity and the programme, and around the programme the unification of the party to be done. After that part was over, we said, We are not anymore in key leadership. The real head is the secretary; the real head is the Polit Bureau'.

Sharma: And then Ajoy Ghosh came.

Basavapunniah: We were in the central committee and in the Polit Bureau.

Sharma: Did you find the new line quite successful?

Basavapunniah: Which line you mean?

Sharma: The line adopted under Rajeswara Rao's leadership.

Basavapunniah: I was telling you, the line adopted at the third party Congress (1951) proved inadequate, wrong, and the corrections we had introduced in the new programme of April-May 1951 too proved inadequate. Again, after two years, we found that the programme itself was inadequate and it had proved quite wrong also in a number of places. So, ultimately, all these programmes had to be revised and the party had a serious rift, one led by S.A. Dange and Rajeswara Rao and the other by us; what is called the Marxist party had come into existence not one fine morning, as some people say, on this quarrel or that quarrel. A whole process of inner-party struggle had developed and two lines clashed ultimately. This is the result of whole inner-party struggle. If there is anything one has to study why there are two communist parties in India, what were the basic understandings and misunderstandings and differences between them, they have to trace the whole history of this period, from 1948 to 1964, a running thread. What culminated in 1963-64, was the two crystallised lines: one represented by that party, the other represented essentially by us, whatever the resolutions.

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