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Page 1

Chapter 3
‘United Front’ and the Politics of Transformation of National

Movement

Introduction

The years from 1936 to 1940 saw a phenomenal rise in the Left movement in India.

During this period, both the nationalist and Left movements have entered into a new

phase in their militancy. The Indian National Congress recovered from the withdrawal

of the Civil Disobedience movement by accepting to participate in the elections to the

Provincial Legislatures under the Government of India Act of 1935. With its striking

victory in the elections, the Congress established itself as the pre-eminent political

organisation fighting for freedom of India. In this period, the Indian National

Congress came to perform the most interesting and apparently a contradictory role:

both as party of Government and as movement against the government.


During the period from 1936 to 1940, the Left movement in India entered into

a new phase of Socialist unity. The scattered leftist forces, the Congress Socialist

Party, the CPI, Royists, AIKS and other trade unions, formed United National Front

within the Indian National Congress to pose an organised and effective opposition to

the British imperialism and push the Congress towards Socialism. The left wing

leaders, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose were even elected as presidents

of the Indian National Congress. This ascendancy of radical leadership helped the

growth and crystallization of the Left wing within the Indian National Congress. This

phase saw left wing’s struggle to establish its hegemony over the Indian National

Congress and the anti-Imperialist struggle as well.


During the 1930s, the left wing confronted the right wing leadership within the

Congress on several issues. The leftists felt that the Congress led Non-cooperation

and Civil Disobedience movements have failed due to lack of support from the

peasants and workers. The Socialists during this period worked to broaden the scope

of the Indian national movement by drawing the workers and peasants into the vortex

of anti-colonial struggle. They actively participated in several peasants and workers

movements and organised demonstrations and strikes. The right wing Congress

leaders thought that the Indian National Congress was an organisation representing all

sections of Indian society, i.e., the capitalists, zamindars, workers and peasants

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irrespective of internal class contradictions among them. In fighting for Indian

independence, it did not encourage the primacy of any particular class interests and

declared that the Congress stands for class harmony and not for class struggle. These

ideological differences within the INC reached its height in 1939.


It was during the Tripuri session of the Indian national Congress, in spite of

opposition from Gandhiji and right wing, Subhash Chandra Bose was elected as its

president with the support from the left wing. By this time, the left wing established

its hold over the Congress. This led to serious ideological differences within the INC

between the right wing and the left wing. The situation reached such a high point that

the popular expectation was that the INC might split into two groups.


In the Tripuri session, G.B.Pant introduced a resolution to the effect that

Subhash Chandra Bose should select the members of his working committee by

consulting Mahatma Gandhi. However, this time the Socialists disagreed with the

other left wing forces and abstained from the voting on Pant’s resolution. The absence

of Socialists gave majority to the right wing and Pant’s resolution was passed in the

special session of the AICC. Due to non-cooperation from the right wing leaders in

the formation of working committee, Subhash Bose resigned as the president of the

INC and Rajendra Prasad was elected in his place.


Meanwhile, the Communists working under the banner of Congress Socialist

Party started making efforts for the transformation of Indian National Congress as a

left wing organisation, and simultaneously strengthen the CPI as an independent

working class party. After the Tripuri Congress, the internal differences within the

Congress Socialist Party reached to a point of split and the Communists were expelled

from CSP. At ground level by 1939, the Communists have established their control

and leadership over important mass organisations of CSP. With the expulsion of

Communists from CSP, most of the leaders and activists in various provinces joined

the CPI. In 1940s, the India’s struggle for independence came under the influence of

internal ideological struggle for hegemony between Congress and Communists. The

political space that was created by the Congress Socialist Party was by 1940s

occupied by the communists.

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Guntur district were prosecuted by the Guntur District Magistrate and sentenced to six

months imprisonment for publishing leaflets to bring hatred among the people against

the British Government and Capitalists.190


In spite of these repressive measures by the government, the left continued to

organise Workers. The Left demanded the government to fix a minimum salary of Rs.

30 for industrial workers and Rs. 15 for agricultural labourers, to make lawas to give

salaries to workers every week, to fix the working hours for 48 hours per week, to pay

Rs. 10 as employment pension to every person in towns and Rs. 8 in villages, leave

with full salary to pregnant women one month before and after the delivery, one

fourth of the mother’s salary to be given every week for the feeding of the children,

residential facilities to workers with low rates, one month leave with full salary, one

month casual leave, right to strike, recognition to workers unions, to recognize all

industries in which more than four people work as factories, to abolish reduction of

salaries and fines and to repeal Criminal Tribes Act, Trades Disputes Act and several

other anti-workers laws. A conference, which was organized in Nellore under

presidentship of Ravi Adiseshaiah, passed a resolution demanding the Congress

ministries to fulfill these within six months or to give resignations to their positions if

they fail to fulfil the demands.191


Raising the level of consciousness through education and left literature was

seen as an essential aspect of building of working class politics. The socialists

therefore concentrated on the education of workers. The Congress Socialist Party

urged its members, mainly the youth and students to visit the localities of workers and

establish night schools. The socialists also conducted training classes to the workers

on ideological issues. They believed that unless the workers take active part, India

could not achieve its independence. In this struggle for ideological hegemony, the folk

and other forms of theatre were used to reach the workers and raise their

consciousness. The folk performances and plays performed in the meetings and


189 Ibid.
190 Go.No.3218, Law (General) Department, Government of Madras, dated 11th Oct 1935; Also

Go.No.1291, Home Department Government of Madras, dated, 10th July 1936; Andhra Patrika, 9th
August 1935, p.3, 25th October 1935, p.22; Durbha Krishna Murthi, Smrithulu, pp.53-54.

191 Andhra Patrika, 9th March 1937, p.2.

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during the strikes vividly depicted the problems of the workers and their struggle

against exploitation.192


After the formation of Congress Government in Madras, the working class like

other social groups expected that the government would implement measures for the

improvement of their working and living conditions. The government, however, failed

to fulfill the promises made in the Congress election manifesto. This led to several

organized strikes of working class by the left wing. The participation of socialist in

the working class movements antogonised the Congress leadership and the

government. The government tried to suppress the working class movement by

arresting individuals and the socialist leaders. The Congress leadership also tried to

curb the growing left wing hegemony over the working class. In spite of the

opposition from the Congress leadership and the Congress government, the socialists

led a number of working class strikes during 1937 and 1939. It was this active trade

unionism and politicization that made the working class actively participate in the anti

war campaign during 1939-41.


The Left wing organized several strikes of working class during 1937-39 at

places like Tenali, Bezawada, Vijayanagaram, Ellore, Madras, Bandar and Nellore.

The strikes were organized demanding the reduction of working hours, increase of

wages, and compensation for the injuries occurred during work and removal of child

labour from the work.193 The prominent strikes organized by the socialists during

1939 were at Indian Leaf Tobacco Development Company in Chirala194 and Jute mill

workers strike in Chittivalasa.195 In all the strikes, the Congress government

supported the management and refused to help the workers. At some places, the

police resorted to firings on the workers who were on strike. The police firings in

Chirala and Chittivalasa revealed the true nature of the Congress policy towards the

working Class. At this juncture, the dissatisfied youth and workers who did not like


192 C.V.K. Rao, Atmakatha, (Telugu), Part – I, People's Vanguard Movement Publications, Kakinada,

1988, p.226.
193 Y.V.Krishnarao and Others, Andhra Pradeshlo Communist Udyama Charitra, Part-II, 1936-42,

pp.314-315.
194 Fortnightly Report for the first half of Feb 1938, Public Department, Letter from the Secretary to the

Government of Madras, to R.M. Maxwell, Secretary to the Government of India, Home
Department, dated 23rd February 1938; M.Venkatarangaiya, The Freedom Struggle in Andhra
Pradesh (Andhra), Vol. IV, p.746.

195 G.O. No. 1493, Public (General) (Confidl.), Department, Government of Madras, dated 31st August
1938.

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the mass organizations of Congress Socialist Party. With the expulsion of communists

from the CSP, majority of the members of the CSP and its frontal organizations went

to CPI. The Communists with their active propaganda among all these sections, all the

mass organizations of Congress Socialist Party came under the control of Communists

after the expulsion of Communist party from the Congress Socialist Party.

The United Front strategy advocated by Comintern yielded good results for

the communists in Andhra. The communists, who were continuing their activities

under severe repression of the government up to 1935, used the cover of Congress

Socialist Party to escape from repression. Several communists were appointed as in-

charge of Congress committees at taluk and district levels. Because of their

ideological clarity, compared to other left wing groups, the communists were able to

win over the cadre of the CSP into CPI.

With their active propaganda among workers, peasants and other sections of

the society, the communists were able to broaden the social base of the national

movement. The communists thought that bourgeois leadership dominated the Indian

National Congress. With a view to bring pressure on the leadership to adopt more

radical programmes and finally to replace the bourgeois leadership of the Congress

with proletariat leadership, the communists mobilized workers, peasants, students and

other sections of masses under Congress banner.


In the early years of the united front, several progressive minded congressional

representatives also supported the communists. They used to preside over the socialist

conferences and some of them provided financial and other material support for the

socialists to carry out their activities. The Congress leaders supported and admired the

Soviet Union and the Russian revolution was given warm welcome. Congressional

representatives translated Maxim Gorkey’s Mother and several other books on

Marxism into Telugu. Marxism found a ready welcome and no strong Marxist

intellectual current developed in the nationalist ranks until 1937. However, after 1937,

the rise communist influence in the Congress alarmed the Congressmen and they

maintained hostility towards communists. Nevertheless, the communists on the other

hand wanted to maintain Unity of nationalist forces and compromised with the

Congress leadership on several occasions when the Congress took a number of

decisions against the wishes of the left wing.

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It was during the period of united front the real foundations of Communist

Party was made in Andhra. The communists remained as a small force until the

formation of United National Front. The activities of the communists were limited to

Industrial working class and the agricultural labourers. However, with the entry of the

rich and middle class peasant background youth into the communist movement, the

CPI started looking into the problems of rich and middle peasants. The activities of

the CPI among the peasants were intensified after the formation of United National

Front. With this, the CPI got complete hold over the peasant movements and most of

the peasant nationalists joined CPI after 1940. It is argued that the rich peasant

background of the CPI leadership and its attachment to the peasants cause finally

forced them to adopt the New Democracy Theory proposed by Mao, even before its

success in China.


It was during the period of united front for the first time the communists were

able to organise the peasantry, working class, students, youth, women and other

sections of the people on class lines against British imperialism and bourgeois and

capitalists. They organized several struggles of working class, peasantry and students

and attracted those sections into the fold of CPI. The revolutionary party can say this

period as a period of accumulation forces. James Petras in his articles ‘Socialist

Revolutions and their Class components’375 said that the primary task of the

revolutionary party was accumulation of forces. For that, it has to attract different

sections of people into its fold. It has to organise struggles to solve the demands of

those sections. During the period of united front, the CPI followed the same and

became a strong force in the political scene of Andhra by the end of 1940. Several

important leaders of the Communist Party in Andhra who played active role in CPI

after 1940 joined the CPI during the period of United Front.


Some of the Communists treated the united front strategy of CPI as betrayal to

the proletariat interests. Forty years after the united front, a section of the communists

who broke away from the CPI (M) in 1967 felt that the foreign mentors misguided the

CPI.376


375 James Petras, “Socialist Revolutions and their Class Components”, New Left Review, No. 111,

September – October 1978, p.37.
376 Suniti Kumar Ghosh, India and the Raj, 1919-1947: Glory, Shame and Bondage, Vol. Two,

Research Unit of Political Economy, Bombay, 1995, p.170.

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