Communist Double Speak-II
Bhagat Singh was never a Communist
By Chander Pal Singh
“WE oppose terrorism not because of any sentiment on the subject of violence but because we are convinced of its uselessness as a practical revolutionary party ... Individual terrorism is essentially a petty bourgeois policy ... It arises from an exaggeration of the role of the individual, who conduct the attack ... as the mass movement develops and its potentialities as a revolutionary force become clearer, the terrorists tend to some extent to come over the mass movement and such parties developed on the Socialist Revolutionary Party in Russia (or Agrarian Terrorist Party) and, at an earlier stage, the Socialist Republican party in India. But while the policy of terrorism remains on the programme, it tends to absorb all the energies of the most active and self- sacrificing members and quite unnecessarily to deliver over to the police not only themselves but all their fellows. Consequently we oppose it even as subsidiary line of policy.” (Communist Challenge Imperialism from the Dock. Introduction by Muzaffer Ahmad, 1967. pp. 270-71)
Referring specifically to the activities of Bhagat Singh and his comrades, Workers’ Weekly, the weekly organ of the Communist Party in its issue of November 13, 1930, explained the policy of individual terrorism as a psychology of revenge and not revolution (B.T. Ranadive’s Forward to Shiv Varma, Selected Writings of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, 1996, p. 9). As late as December 1951, the CPI viewed revolutionaries as terrorists and denounced their means and methods as as counterproductive and irreconcilable with Marxism. In a ‘Statement of Policy’ adopted by CPI’s Special Party Conference in Calcutta in December 1951, the party elaborated its approach on ‘individual terrorism’ under the heading – ‘Perspective Tactical Line of the Indian Revolution’:
“Individual terrorism is directed against individuals of a class or system and is carried out by individuals or groups and squads. The individuals who act may be heroic and selfless and applauded or even invited by the people to act and the individuals against whom they act the most hated. Still such actions are not permissible in Marxism. And why? For the simple reason therein the masses are not in action. Therein, the belief is fostered that the heroes will do the job for the people. Therein, it fosters the belief that many more such actions will mean in sum total the annihilation of the classes or system. Ultimately it leads to passivity or inertia of the masses, stops their own action and development towards revolution and in the end results in defeat.” (PMS Grewal, Bhagat Singh: Liberation’s Blazing Star, 2007, p. 57)
So when in 1953, People’s Publishing House, the official publishing house of the CPI, published Gopal Thakur’s ‘Bhagat Singh: The Man and His Ideas’, it was nothing short of a U-turn by the CPI. The author concluded that Bhagat Singh shared the understanding of the communist pioneers on the course of Indian freedom struggle. The author rued the fact that though Bhagat Singh was coming nearer to accepting the organisation of workers and peasants for their economic demands as important task along with fight for freedom, through his study of Soviet literature, British gallows denied him the opportunity of carrying out that task and further studying the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. (Gopal Thakur, Bhagat Singh: The Man and His Ideas, 1953, p.42) Shiv Varma (a revolutionary colleague of Bhagat Singh who was now a member of the Communist Party) in his Forward to the book, described it as the first political biography of Bhagat Singh, emphasizing that “Bhagat Singh should primarily be studied as a political figure.” (Shiv Varma, Forward to Bhagat Singh: The Man and His Ideas, 1953) Shiv Varma also disclosed the perspective with which the book was written: “Bhagat Singh was a link between the Revolutionaries of the past and Communist movement of today”. Since then the Left has taken the position that Bhagat Singh’s ideology is more important than his martyrdom and revolutionary activities. Hence this book was the first milestone as far as the Communist claim on the ideology and legacy of the great martyr is concerned.
The mystery behind the sudden Communist volte-face vis–a-vis Bhagat Singh begins to fade away when we remember that early 1950s was the period of many other about-turns on part of the Communist movement in India. Old timers may still remember the Communist’ response to the independence of India by the slogan “Yeh Azadi Jhoonthi Hai” (this independence is a farce) and 15th August observed as a ‘Black Day’.( Devendra Swarup, Did Moscow Play Fraud on Marx? The Mystery of Marx-Engels’ Articles on 1857, 2007, pp. 64, 66, 76) Indian Communists at that time firmly believed that true independence could be achieved only through the armed struggle led by a party of proletariat and therefore they hoped to capture power through armed struggle in Telengana. Then all of a sudden in 1951, CPI celebrated August 15, as Independence Day for the first time, Telengana struggle was formally withdrawn (October 1951) and in the same year CPI celebrated for the first time the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. In the very next year, CPI participated in the first general elections thereby declaring itself as a parliamentary party renouncing the path of armed insurrection.
Reasons for these dramatic reversals of the Communist approach lie in the shift in Soviet foreign policy with respect to India and also the measures adopted by the CPI leadership to stem the internal strife and steady decline of fortunes. Briefly put, geopolitical compulsions of the cold war, especially in view of American designs on India and the rise of China, another Communist power, forced USSR to take measures to befriend the Indian government. Result was the Stalin’s dictate to the CPI leadership to reverse its anti-Indian state position. At the same time, the new leadership of the CPI under Ajoy Ghosh, in order to stop Party’s isolation from the people, revised its earlier stands on basic issues relating to the legacy of the freedom struggle. In the words of Mohit Sen, a veteran Communist thinker, Ajoy Ghosh made efforts to “turn towards integrating the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism with the specific features of the history, conditions and revolutionary process” in India.(Mohit Sen’s Preface to Bhagat Singh and His Comrades, 1979, p . 14) “For far too long had our national revolution been denied the status of a revolution”, Sen wrote in his autobiography, “It had become fashionable to deride it, especially by Marxist historians who followed the lead of MN Roy and RPD. Gandhi, in particular, was derided as a compromiser, conservative, superstitious leader who put brakes on the revolutionisation of the masses, thereby ultimately helping the British colonialists. He was assessed as being, at best, the representative of the Indian capitalists. Nehru was assessed as his faithful lieutenant who deceived the masses, especially the youth, by his radical speeches and writings.”(Mohit Sen , A Traveller and the Road, 2003, p.154). Similarly, the pre-1950 Communist understanding of the nature of 1857, that of a reactionary and feudal outburst was replaced by “the first chapter of the history of Indian national movement against British imperialism”. (New Age, August, 1957, p. 55)
Beginning with ‘Bhagat Singh: The Man and His Ideas’, the Marxist project on Bhagat Singh progressed tentatively till 1970s and then gathered speed in 1980s. A crucial contribution came from the Soviet side in the form of LV Mitrokhin whose main objective was to establish the impact of Lenin and the October Revolution on the Indian national life through his books – ‘Everest among Men’ (1969), ‘Lenin in India’ (1981) and ‘Lenin and Indian Freedom Fighters’ (1988). In his first book, Mitrokhin devoted a full chapter to establish that Bhagat Singh was reading a biography of Lenin in his last moments. In ‘Lenin in India’ too, a separate chapter on Bhagat Singh—‘The Last Days of Bhagat Singh’ was included in which Mitrokhin attempted to show a deep influence of Marx and Lenin on Bhagat Singh on the basis of the newly discovered jail note book of Bhagat Singh.
Following Mitrokhin, Communist historians and ideologues have relied on the new ‘discoveries’ of Bhagat Singh’s writings while laying greater claims on Bhagat Singh. For example, Bipan Chandra in 1972 expressed the view that “Bhagat Singh and his friends were not great scholars of Marxism but they were not novices either. They had travelled some way and were gradually feeling, studying and thinking their way towards a scientific understanding of the problems of the Indian Revolution.”(Bipan Chandra, The Ideological Development of the Revolutionary Terrorists in North India in 1920’s , B.R Nanda, (ed.), Socialism in India, 1972, pp. 163-189, pp. 174-186.) At the same time, Bipan Chandra admitted that there were a “series of contradictions between their socialist ideology and their work…They merely generated a nationalist consciousness.”(Ibid., p. 187) Seven years later, in 1979, we find Bipan Chandra elevating Bhagat Singh to a pre-eminent place among India’s early Marxist ideologues.(Inroduction to Bhagat Singh: Why I am an Atheist and Introduction to the Dreamland, 1979) In his opinion Bhagat Singh’s writings reveal a revolutionary who is totally committed to Marxism and also has the ability to give it a practical shape retaining all its complexities.(Ibid) Similarly, Shiv Varma in his memoirs ‘Sansmritiyan’ (1969), opined that Bhagat Singh was a pioneer among revolutionaries to move towards socialism but it did not mean that Bhagat Singh had comprehended all aspects of Marxism. But in his compilation of selected documents of Bhagat Singh (Selected Writings of Bhagat Singh) in 1986 Varma revised his estimate by saying that intense studies in jail and discussions ultimately made Bhagat Singh a confirmed Marxist just near his end. On the basis of a newly discovered version of a document dated 2nd February 1931, Shiv Varma concluded: “Bhagat Singh comes out openly for Marxism, for communism and for a communist party” (Shiv Varma, ed., Selected Writings of Bhagat Singh, 1996, p. 42)
In 1984, CPI leader AB Bardhan wrote a 31 page booklet Bhagat Singh: Pages from the life of a Martyr for the All Indian Youth Federation activists. Bardhan made extensive use of Bhagat Singh’s prison note book to prove that Bhagat Singh’s faith and conviction underwent a remarkable modification in the direction of becoming a Marxist from a revolutionary terrorist. About Bhagat Singh’s final destination, had he escaped the gallows, Bardhan wrote:
“It is more than evident that Bhagat Singh was steadfastly evolving from a ‘revolutionary terrorist’ to a ‘Marxist’. Fate did not provide him with opportunity to demonstrate his maturing into a Marxist- Leninist. But the course along which he had set his ship of life would assuredly have brought him in the Communist Movement, as it did to most of his colleagues, had not his life cut short in its prime by the British hangman’s noose.” (A. B. Bardhan, Bhagat Singh: Pages from the life of a Martyr, 1984, p. 27)
From the early 1990s, a shift in the Left stand on Bhagat Singh can be clearly noticed. From here onwards, Left writings do not merely portray him as a symbol of socialism and anti- colonial resistance alone. They are also using his iconic image to fight their political battles against ‘neo- imperialism’, globalization, communalism (read Hindutva) and even among themselves i.e. between the parliamentary Left and the supporters of the Naxal movement.