Imprint on freedom struggles

The October Revolution must be seen as an event that profoundly changed the character of the Indian people’s struggle for freedom and for carrying forward the struggle of transforming the political independence of the country towards the economic independence of its people.

Published : Dec 06, 2017 12:30 IST

September 8, 1961:  Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev (centre), Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev (right) at the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow.

September 8, 1961: Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev (centre), Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev (right) at the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow.

The Great October Socialist Revolution and the subsequent establishment of the Soviet Union marked the first advance in human history of the creation of a society free from class exploitation. The rapid strides made by socialism, the transformation of a once backward economy into a mighty economic and military bulwark confronting imperialism, have confirmed the superiority of the socialist system. The building of socialism in the Soviet Union is an epic saga of human endeavour.

The victory over fascism provided the decisive impetus to the process of decolonialisation that saw the liberation of countries from colonial exploitation. The historic triumph of the Chinese revolution, the heroic Vietnamese people’s struggle, the Korean people’s struggle and the triumph of the Cuban revolution had a tremendous influence on world developments.

The achievements of the socialist countries—the eradication of poverty and illiteracy, the elimination of unemployment, the vast network of social security in the fields of education, health, housing, and so on—provided a powerful impetus to the working people all over the world in their struggles.

These revolutionary transformations brought about qualitative leaps in human civilisation and left an indelible imprint on modern civilisation. This was reflected in all fields of culture, aesthetics, science, and so on. While Sergei Eisenstein revolutionised cinematography, the Sputnik expanded the frontiers of modern science to outer space.

Reverses to socialism Yet, despite such tremendous advances, for around three quarters of the 20th century, that too under the most exacting of circumstances and a hostile environment, why is it that the mighty USSR could not consolidate and sustain the socialist order?

There were, generally speaking, two areas where wrong understanding and attendant errors were committed. The first pertains to the nature of assessments of contemporary world realities and about the very concept of socialism. The second concerns the practical problems confronted during the period of socialist construction.

Following the dismantling of socialism in the USSR and East European countries, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), at its 14th Congress (January 1992), analysed this development in detail and concluded that these reverses to socialism negated neither the revolutionary ideology of Marxism-Leninism nor the pursuit of the socialist ideal.

Impact on colonial countries, particularly on India The October Revolution had a profound impact across the world, inspiring new revolutionary movements radicalising people’s struggles, particularly on the struggles in the colonial world for freedom and liberation.

The October Revolution underlined the need for a mass mobilisation, particularly organising the most oppressed classes in the societies of the colonial world, i.e., the peasantry and the working class as an important element in the intensification of the struggle against colonial exploitation. Soon after the October Revolution, the colonial world saw a massive spurt of mass actions across the globe—the 1919 uprising in Egypt, the 1919 March 1st movement in Korea, the 1920 revolt in Iraq, and the 1921 Mongolian uprising leading to the establishment of the second socialist state in the world in Mongolia in 1924. The May 4th movement that began in China in 1919 played an important role in the emergence of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. In India, too, big working class actions broke out in 1919-20.

Lenin’s “Theses on National and Colonial Questions” sharply brought out the integration of the struggles of the colonial people for freedom with the global struggle for emancipation against imperialism. So powerful was this understanding on the national liberation movement across the world that it had made Ho Chi Minh, who was then living in France, to recollect on a later day its impact:

“....a comrade gave me Lenin’s ‘Thesis on the national and colonial questions’ published by l'Humanite to read. There were political terms difficult to understand in this thesis. But by dint of reading it again and again, finally I could grasp the main part of it. What emotion, enthusiasm, clear-sightedness and confidence it instilled into me! I was overjoyed to tears. Though sitting alone in my room, I shouted out aloud as if addressing large crowds: ‘Dear martyrs compatriots! This is what we need, this is the path to our liberation!’ (“The Path Which Led Me to Leninism”, 1960, Selected Works of Ho Chi Minh , Vol. IV.)

Lenin paid a good deal of attention to the task of moulding the national revolutionaries from the then colonial countries into proletarian revolutionaries. He told the young revolutionaries from the colonial countries that they have to:

(a) organise themselves as an independent revolutionary party of the working class, even though the elements of such a class party were then extremely weak in these countries;

(b) have relations of united front with other anti-imperialist classes, including the bourgeoisie;

(c) above all, he pointed out that worker-peasant unity is the axis of the national liberation struggle.

This understanding galvanised the national liberation struggle in the entire colonial world. We are familiar more with the struggles of the peoples in British colonies. But in many countries of Africa and Latin America, the French and the Portuguese colonial powers were rattled by the rise of the revolutionary forces seeking independence from colonial rule. In the Portuguese colony, in Brazil and Latin America, the Communists, formed under the inspiration of the October Revolution, played the role of a catalyst in galvanising people’s struggles. In Africa, in countries such as South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, Congo and in almost all other countries in northern Africa, influential Communist parties emerged in countries like Sudan, Iran, Iraq and Egypt.

So powerful was the rise of the national liberation struggles that during the Cold War period, when U.S. imperialism’s global cry was “war against communism”, it came to the conclusion after the experiences in China, Vietnam and Korea that Communists leading national liberation struggles would inevitably lead those countries towards socialism. Hence, it embarked on a diabolic plan in Africa to eliminate such leaders physically. From Patrice Lumumba of Congo to Agostinho Neto, Samora Machel, Amilcar Cabral of Cape Verde to Chris Hani, the South African Communist Party’s leader and commander of its armed wing fighting Apartheid were all assassinated. These revolutionary movements nevertheless continued to liberate their countries or, like in Congo, led to anarchy and permanent strife. The final overthrow of Apartheid in South Africa and the liberation of Namibia are testimony to the influence and inspiration of the October Revolution.

Indian freedom struggle Soon after the October Revolution, cutting across the entire diversity of India, articles and poetry admiring the courage of the Russian people and their determination to liberate themselves appeared across the country in several Indian languages. This served as an inspiration and a cause for greater people’s participation in the freedom struggle through direct mass actions, moving away from the method until then of seeking independence through negotiations with the British. The following quotations from the writings of eminent freedom fighters capture the profound impact that the October Revolution had on the Indian struggle for freedom from British colonialism.

Rabindranath Tagore (1930): “I am now in Russia… had I not come my life’s pilgrimage would have remained incomplete.... The first thing that occurs to me is: what incredible courage! They are determined to raise a new world. They have no time to lose because the whole world is their opponent. If I had not seen with my own eyes I could never have believed that lakhs of people sunk in ignorance and humiliation could not only be made literate but given the dignity of manhood.”

In 1930, in a letter from the U.S. on the Soviet Union: “Nowhere else in man’s history have I seen any lasting reason for good cheer and hope.”

In his deathbed message in 1941, quoted by Jawaharlal Nehru in The Discovery of India : “...the unsparing energy with which Russia has tried to fight disease and illiteracy, and has succeeded in steadily liquidating ignorance and poverty, wiping off the humiliation from the face of a vast continent. Her civilisation is free from all invidious distinctions between one class and another, between one sect and another.”

Lala Lajpat Rai, presiding over the first session of the All India Trade Union Congress in 1920, said: “Imperialism and militarism are the twin children of capitalism; they are one in three and three in one. It is only lately that an antidote has been discovered and that antidote is organised labour. The workers of Europe and America have now discovered that the cause of the workers is one and the same all the world over, and there can be no salvation for them, until and unless the workers of Asia were organised, and then internationally affiliated.... European labour has found another weapon in direct action. On the top comes the Russia workers, who aims to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat....”

Regarding the anti-Bolshevik propaganda carried out in the press, Lajpat Rai wrote in 1920: “When we read the attacks delivered by hypocritical nations against the Bolsheviks, it surprises us to find there is no limit to the hypocrisy and falsehood indulged in by them.” Elsewhere he wrote: “My own experience of Europe and America leads me to think that socialistic, even Bolshevik truth, is any day better, more reliable and more human than capitalist and imperialist truth.”

Mahatma Gandhi, writing on Bolshevism, stated: “...It is my firm conviction that nothing enduring can be built on violence. But be that as it may, there is no questioning the fact that the Bolshevik ideal has behind it the purest sacrifice of countless men and women, who have given up their all for its sake; an ideal that is sanctified by sacrifices of such master spirits as Lenin cannot go in vain” ( Young India , November 5, 1928).

Bhagat Singh and his fellow revolutionaries were deeply influenced by the October Revolution when they gradually learnt about it. Of this, Comrade Ajoy Ghosh wrote:

“Prolonged discussions took place in our ranks about what to do to break the stagnant calm (following the calling off of the non-cooperation movement in 1922). Socialist literature was trickling in. The triumph of the October Revolution, the consolidation of the socialist regime in Russia and more than anything else, the aid given by the Soviet Union to Asian countries like Turkey and China against imperialist powers attracted us towards the new socialist state and towards the ideas and principles it embodied” ( Bhagat Singh and His Comrades , Ajoy Ghosh).

On January 21, 1930, the following telegram was sent by Bhagat Singh and his comrades from the courtroom where they were being tried in the second Lahore Conspiracy Case:

“On Lenin Day we send hearty greetings to all those who are doing something for carrying forward the ideas of the great Lenin. We wish success to the great experiment Russia is carrying out. We join our voice to that of the international working class movement. The proletariat will win, capitalism will be defeated. Death to imperialism.”

Jawaharlal Nehru was fascinated by his visit to Russia in the late 1920s which remained a lasting influence. He wrote: “For us in India the fascination is greater, and even our self-interest compels us to understand the vast forces which have upset the old order of things and brought a new world into existence, where values have changed utterly and old standards have given place to new.... Russia thus interests us because it may help us to find some solution for the great problems which face the world today. It interests us specially because conditions there have not been, are not even now, dissimilar to conditions in India. Both are vast agricultural countries with only the beginning of industrialisation, and both have to face illiteracy and poverty. If Russia finds solutions for those then our task is made easier.”

Elsewhere he wrote: “They had time even on the fourth day of the revolution, with firing going on in the streets, to establish an eight-hour day for the workers and formulate their policy for a system of popular education. Within a week they had tackled the problem of minorities.”

In the midst of the intensification of the Indian people’s struggle for freedom, Nehru, in his Presidential Address to the Lucknow Congress, early in 1936, stated with firmness and conviction:

“I am convinced that the only key to the solution of the world’s problems and of India’s problems lies in socialism and when I use this word I do so not in a vague, humanitarian way but in the scientific, economic sense. Socialism is, however, something even more than an economic doctrine; it is a philosophy of life and as such also it appeals to me. I see no way of ending the poverty, the vast unemployment, the degradation and the subjection of the Indian people except through socialism. That involves vast and revolutionary changes in our political and social structure, the ending of vested interests in land and industry, as well as the feudal and autocratic Indian princely states system. That means the ending of private property, except in a restricted sense, and the replacement of the present profit system by a higher ideal of cooperative service. It means ultimately a change in our instincts and habits and desires. In short, it means a new civilisation, radically different from the present capitalist order.

“Some glimpse we can have of this new civilisation in the territories of the USSR. Much has happened there which has pained me greatly and with which I disagree, but I look upon that great and fascinating unfolding of a new order and a new civilisation as the most promising feature of our dismal age. If the future is full of hope it is largely because of Soviet Russia and what it has done, and I am convinced that if some world catastrophe does not intervene, this new civilisation will spread to other lands and put an end to the wars and conflicts which capitalism feeds” ( Nehru on Socialism , pages 66-67).

Post-Independence India The impact of the building of socialism in the USSR continued to be an inspiration in the process of building a modern India. Nehru emulated this building process by establishing the Planning Commission in India that drew up plans for the foundations of a self-reliant Indian economy. When the countries of the imperialist West refused to provide aid and assistance for India’s independent industrial development, arguing that India should import the needs for its industrial growth from Western countries, the Soviet Union stepped in to provide both capital and technology for establishing our steel plants and other factories, laying the foundations for a self-reliant economy based on infrastructural development. The aid and support provided by the Soviet Union to India’s defence capabilities is a well-established fact that not only strengthened India’s defence capabilities but also contributed to peace in the region and to the liberation of Bangladesh.

This selfless Soviet aid to independent India led also to the establishment of the emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement in the world, with India playing a major role. India’s emergence as one of the leading countries championing the interests of the developing countries, thus, emerged as a consequence of following an independent foreign policy.

Indian Communist Movement: Synthesis of various revolutionary trends The October Revolution has impacted the people’s movement in India in a dual fashion. It impacted the leaders of the Indian national movement in terms of radicalising the movement and moving towards the mass mobilisation tactics of the Indian people’s struggle. At another level, the October Revolution motivated various revolutionary groups operating both within India and from abroad owing to British persecution to come together and form the Communist Party in India. These Indian revolutionaries were operating from various locations in Canada, the U.S., Afghanistan, Germany, Singapore and some other places. In Kabul, a provisional government of Free India was formed in December 1915. Soon after the October Revolution and the third Anglo-Afghan war in 1919, Afghanistan was declared an independent country. These revolutionary groups established contacts with the Bolshevik leaders in Russia. A delegation met Lenin at the Kremlin in Moscow in 1919.

The following was Lenin’s message to this Indian Revolutionary Association of Kabul (headed by Raja Mahendra Pratap): “The toiling masses of Russia follow the awakening of the Indian worker and peasant with unabating attention. The organisation and discipline of the working people and their perseverance and solidarity with the workers of the world are an earnest of ultimate success. We welcome the close alliance of Moslem and non-Moslem elements. We sincerely want to see this alliance extended to all toilers of the world. For only when the Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Persian, Turkish workers and peasants join hands and march together in the common cause of liberation, only then will the decisive victory over exploiters be ensured. Long live free Asia.”

In the very first months after the victory of the October Revolution, Lenin told the Secretary of the Science Academy, S.J. Oldenburg:

“Take for example your subject (Indology). You may think that such things are very remote but they are very close to us at the very same time.... Go to the people, go to the workers, tell them about the history of India, the story of age-old suffering and misery of the millions of unfortunate beings who have been enslaved and oppressed by the British. Then you will see how they will respond. And you too will receive from that contact inspiration for carrying on tremendously important new scientific work and research.”

The group that was operating from Berlin established independent contacts with Russia. And, along with those in Afghanistan and others, they were instrumental in the Communist Party of India being founded in October 1920 in Tashkent. Soon after its formation, on behalf of the Communist Party, Maulana Hasrat Mohani and Swami Kumarananda moved, in the Ahmedabad All India Congress Committee (AICC) session in 1921, a resolution demanding complete independence from British rule. Gandhiji then rejected this. The resolution for “Poorna Swaraj” was adopted a decade later by the AICC at the Karachi session in 1930.

So profound was the impact of the formation of the Communist Party under the direct inspiration of the October Revolution that the British Crown panicked at the possibility of a Bolshevik revolt in India! British colonialism sought to nip in the bud the infant Communist movement by launching a series of conspiracy cases—the Peshawar conspiracy case (1922-23), the Kanpur conspiracy case (1924), the famous Meerut conspiracy case later and a host of other such cases to persecute the Communists.

Ghadar Movement Meanwhile, four years before the October Revolution, the Ghadar movement started in the U.S.’ West Coast on November 1, 1913. Given the conditions of miserable existence in British India, many people migrated to various parts of the world, particularly to East Asia, that is, Malaya, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan, and so on. Since the conditions in these countries were not very prosperous, they turned towards Canada and to the U.S., which were then experiencing an economic boom. These emigrants, however, had to experience abject racial discrimination and were treated with contempt. This was distinct from the treatment that these two countries accorded to the Chinese or the Japanese. These emigrants, mainly from the Punjab, came to the natural conclusion that it was India’s colonial slavery which was the root cause for such discrimination and racial exploitation of the Indians. The struggle against injustices meted out to them thus naturally coalesced with the quest for India’s freedom. Apart from the emigrants, other revolutionaries who left India to live in exile and those who went for higher studies also joined such struggles.

After the brutal treatment meted out to the Indian emigres to Canada on the ship Komagatamaru and after being forced to return, the British opened unprovocated firing concluding that the Ghadarites were confirmed anti-British revolutionaries, killing scores of them in September in 1914. The Ghadarites from various parts of the world returned to India to organise a revolt against the British. This uprising in 1915 was brutally suppressed by the British and a series of conspiracy cases, clubbed together as the Lahore conspiracy case, were instituted, following which 46 Ghadarites were hanged to death and 64 sentenced to life transportation.

Soon after the 1915 Ghadar uprising failed, a history-changing event occurred in the triumph of the Russian Revolution in 1917. Comrade Lenin’s and socialist Russia’s wholehearted support for independence to colonial countries attracted the Ghadar heroes and two of them, Bhai Santokh Singh and Ratan Singh, went as delegates and observers to attend the Fourth Congress of the Communist International. Having seen the success of the worker-peasant alliance in the Russian Revolution, the need to organise the Indian peasantry became an absolutely necessary objective. Bhai Santokh Singh returned to India with two objectives, that is, strengthening the revolutionary consciousness of the people—and hence he started the journal Keerti (Labour) in February 1926, both in Punjabi and Urdu—and actively plunging into the Kisan movement. Bhagat Singh also edited Keerti for a few months as he clearly held the Ghadar movement as the first genuinely revolutionary struggle for the freedom of India. Bhagat Singh edited the journal as a continuation of the revolutionary struggle in a new way, that is, revolutionary change through political education and mobilisation of peasants and workers.

With the active support of Lenin and socialist Russia, many young revolutionaries were sent to study at the University of the Toilers of the East, established by the Russian Revolution. The last batch of such students returned in 1936 and plunged directly into the revolutionary struggles, playing a significant role in the formation of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) in 1936.

The various streams of Indian revolutionaries, important and powerful tendencies in Bengal’s revolutionary groups such as Anushilan and Jugantar, the emerging working class leaders from Bombay and Madras Presidencies who forged links with the rural peasantry’s anti-feudal struggles, etc. after the founding of the CPI in Tashkent in 1920, eventually came together at the then industrial city of Kanpur in the year 1925 and established the unification of these streams with the Communist Party of India. This was further consolidated to exert a powerful influence on our freedom struggle.

Soon after the October Revolution, as noted earlier, working class struggles broke out in India in 1919 and 1920. Thousands of workers went on strikes in various working class centres such as Calcutta, Bombay and Ahmedabad. The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) was, thus, established in March 1920 giving shape to organised working class trade union movement in India. Both the AITUC and, after 1936, the AIKS played an important role in galvanising the exploited sections of Indian society, particularly workers and peasants, drawing them into the mainstream of the freedom movement. While the Indian bourgeoisie was mostly engaged in dealing with the leadership, that is, the exploiting sections of various princely states and feudal structures and drawing them into the struggle for independence, it was the communists that played the vital role of drawing in the vast mass of the exploited sections into the struggle. In fact, the struggles over the land question, against the exploitation of the peasantry by landlords, the highlight of which was the armed Telangana peasant struggle in the late 1940s along with the struggles in many other parts of the country, brought on to the agenda of the Indian freedom movement the question of abolishing landlordism in independent India.

The October Revolution, therefore, must be seen as an event that profoundly changed the character of the Indian people’s struggle for freedom and for carrying forward the struggle of transforming the political independence of the country towards the economic independence of its people, that is, the establishment of socialism in India.

It is this struggle for the extension of India’s political freedom towards the economic freedom of its people that defines the current struggles in India. These continue to be inspired and influenced by the October Revolution. This is the democratic stage of the Indian revolution which targets to break the shackles of India’s status as a junior partner of U.S. imperialism and the Indian ruling class’ alliance with landlordism. Both these tasks can only be completed when the present Indian state, under the class rule of the alliance of the bourgeoisie, and the landlords led by the Indian big bourgeoisie is replaced by an Indian state that is led by the working class in alliance with all other exploited sections of the people, thus successfully completing the people’s democratic stage of the revolution.

In our efforts to strengthen the revolutionary struggles in India and drawing correct lessons from the experiences of other countries that are working out their methods to meet the challenges of the present-day world realities, we, in India, need to meet the challenges mounted by the current phase of globalisation taking place in the world capitalist system, the consequent wide-scale socio-economic-cultural changes in general, and, in particular, the sharp rightward shift in Indian politics through the consolidation of Hindutva forces and the sharpening communal polarisation. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to work out the correct tactical line, from time to time in our party congresses, to dovetail our strategic objective and advance the struggle of the Indian people for liberation and emancipation.

In accomplishing this task, in India, the inspiration of the October Revolution continues to be a powerful force.

Sitaram Yechury is the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

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