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August 14, 2011

Page: 26/29

Home > 2011 Issues > August 14, 2011

Left politics in India
By Manju Gupta
Leftism in India, 1917-1947, Satyabrata Rai Chowdhuri, Macmillan Publishers India Ltd, Pp 254, Rs 375.00

THE Leftists or those who believe in Marxism-Leninism followed an ideology at complete variance with the Indian National Congress guided by Mahatma Gandhi and his ideology of non-violence during the decisive phase of the Indian freedom moment. As a result, their policies clashed at every stage of the freedom movement, giving rise to dramatic developments which are described in this work.

Leftism in India, after the close of World War I, developed along two main streams, namely communism and democratic socialism. While the first was a projection of the international communist movement controlled at that time by the Comintern, the second corresponded broadly to the tradition of Fabian socialism and represented the most meaningful check to communism in India. Though the character and the course of the movements set in motion by both ideological systems were conditioned by India’s struggle for freedom, the communists could not themselves with the ethos of Indian nationalism in this period. As a result the Leftist party’s appeal lay only with a group of sharply oriented indigenous intelligentsia. It was from this group that the communist movement derived is leadership as well as the intermediate layers of cadres while the vast mass of the population remained alienated from the revolutionary tenets of Marxism. Though this intelligentsia had extensively read Marxist scriptures, they failed to accept its irrelevance to Asian developments. It was, however, the Russian Revolution or the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 that caught the imagination of a section of intellectuals who felt emancipation of India was not possible through “weak and watery reforms of Gandhi” but by a revolutionary mass struggle against British imperialism and its Indian allies.

The Communist Party of India’s nationalist policy of dividing the country into 16 separate states did not find echo in the heats of the people who were tied in “the unifying bond of the Indian ethos.” The Communist Party of India thought that by weaning away the Muslims from the Congress, they would be able to rally the separatists in their favour and capture the nationalist movement. But with the rapprochement between Congress and the Muslim League, the CPI had to face political isolation and neither could it provide practical guidelines governing its attitude towards Pakistan.

The mistake of the Indian communists in regard to adopting a nationalist policy lay in the fact that they tried to reconstruct the compulsion of events at home with the requirements of the international communist movement and constantly looked to Soviet Union for action and guidance.

The author talks of the rise of the different factions of the communist movement and the latter’s role in the freedom movement in detail and their failure at playing a decisive. The communists sought to overthrow the British ruler in India by a violent revolution and transform Indian society root and branch as the October revolution had done in Russia. It worked in Russia but in India the Leftists could not challenge the Indian national ethos.

The last line in the book very concisely and precisely sums up the reasons for the failure of the Leftist movement: “The strength of the Leftist movement lay in its militant zeal and uncompromising devotion to dogma, and curiously, it was from the latter that stemmed its primary weakness, its inflexibility and inadaptability.”

It is a book worth reading if one wants to learn about the reason for the failure of the Leftist movement in India during the given period. It is a nicely written book in lucid language.

(Macmillan Publishers India Ltd, 2/10 Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002;

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