Indian independence (part 3) – Role of the Communist Party of India during Partition

In the 1940s the Communist Party of India (CPI) was a prisoner of the policies imposed by Stalin on the international communist movement. In backward and colonial countries, Stalin decreed, the movement had to go through two stages – democracy, then socialism. This proved disastrous for the workers of the whole of the Indian subcontinent.

<< part two |

In his previous article Jamil has shown that, far from standing for a unified secular democratic India, the bourgeois leaders of the independence movement based themselves on communalist appeals to the Muslims (Muslim League) and Hindus (Congress). This led directly to the catastrophe of partition.

Could the Communist Party of India (CPI) have made a decisive difference? Here Jamil shows they had their own organisational weaknesses. Above all they were prisoners of the policies imposed by Stalin on the international communist movement. In backward and colonial countries, Stalin decreed, the movement had to go through two stages – democracy, then socialism. In Russia this had actually been the policy of the Mensheviks, successfully overcome by the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution. Jamil has demonstrated that, in India as everywhere else, the ‘progressive national bourgeoisie’ was a myth. Yet this was the non-existent class the CPI proposed to march behind in a ‘Popular Front’.

The policies imposed on the international communist movement by Stalin were normally reformist, indeed counter-revolutionary. But occasionally he lurched into an ultra-left phase as in 1947-48, called the ‘Zhdanov offensive.’ In lurching from right to left, a drunk will at one point be found upright. That is the significance of the correct perception of what was happening in India by the Moscow commentators Dyakov and Zhukov.

In the Indian communist movement, there are different views on exactly when the Communist Party of India  (CPI) was founded. The date maintained as the foundation day by the CPI is 26 December 1925. But the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which split-off from the CPI, claims that the party was founded in the USSR in 1920. During the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s the party was badly organized, and in practice there were several communist groups working with limited national coordination. The British colonial authorities had banned all communist activity, which made the task of building a united party very difficult. Only in 1935 was the party ready to be accepted as the Indian section of the Communist Third International.

The Communist Party of India (CPI) could have acted as a powerful factor in taking up the interests of national minorities in identifying their specific interests and to fight for them within the framework of their struggle for independence. It is true that the CPI arrived rather late historically as an effective political force at a time when communalism had already become a very powerful factor in Indian politics; but even then if they had meaningfully linked up class struggle with the struggle of national minorities since the early 1930s, then the political developments in India could have taken a different turn.

The importance of various national minorities, emphasised by Lenin as far back in the early 1920s, was not properly grasped by the leaders of the CPI, though in their own way they tried to formulate a policy on the national question and unity of India as late as 1942. The CPI could have acted as a powerful factor in taking up the interests of national minorities, but in spite of making some efforts in that direction they floundered on the national question and failed to expose the communal designs and conspiracies of Indian big capital.

Role of the CPI

The CPI failed to inspire and mobilise the people and play an effective role for two basic reasons. The CPI did not extend the national question to properly embrace the various national minorities other than the Muslim religious minority. The CPI depended too much, almost entirely, on Congress-League unity as the outcome of the national minority question and thereby left that question in real terms in the hands of those who were already divided quite decisively as communal parties of the upper and middle class Hindu and Muslim communities respectively.

Thus they failed to inspire the religious, ethnic, linguistic and other minorities, as well as the scheduled castes (untouchables) among the Hindus, in identifying their specific interests and to fight for them within the framework of their struggle for independence. The failure of the CPI was disastrous because they could open separate dialogues with Jinnah and the Sikhs and others on the question of national minorities. But instead, they pursued a policy of uniting the hands of Gandhi and Jinnah as leaders of the two most important and dominated religious communities and depended in a ridiculous manner on the prospect of a Congress-League understanding under the given conditions. It is because of a wrong analysis of the Indian national question and this failure of policy that the communist movement in India suffered a terrible setback from which it has not yet been able to recover.

It should be mentioned that at the second congress of the CPI in February-March 1948, greatly influenced not only the communist party of India and Pakistan but the history of the entire sub-continent. The central committee of the CPI in the last week of June 1947 arrived at certain decisions which were published as a ‘Statement of Policy’. In that Statement of policy laid their attitude towards Nehru, in that they characterised Nehru as a person who was capable of guiding the democratic movement in India. The statement said, “In the area of building the Indian Republic on a democratic basis, the Communist Party would proudly extend full co-operation.” Extending their policy to Pakistan, they said that the Communist Party also thought that in order to implement any democratic programme in the Sub-continent it was necessary to unite the left of the Muslim League and the Congress.


In order to extend their support to the Congress and Muslim League regimes in Pakistan and India, the Communist Party virtually withdrew all the programmes they were following just preceding independence. They even withdrew the Tebhaga (sharecroppers) Movement in Bengal in November 1947. The CPI made an appeal to the peasants not to initiate any direct action in demanding two-thirds of the crops, because the new government was to be given an opportunity to fulfil their promise. In fact, no promise was ever given to the peasants regarding ‘Tebhaga’ by the new Muslim League in East Pakistan.

It is quite amazing that shortly before the division of India in June 1947, the Soviet theoretician A. Dyakov, in an article called “The New British Plan for India” published in the Soviet paper, New Times, on 13 June 1947, said “the division of the Indian sub-continent is a well-planned conspiracy to keep the sub-continent under the British imperialist control.” He added that by submitting themselves to it the Indian leaders had compromised with imperialism and in this they had been forced by the Indian big commercial interests. Through this arrangement imperialism and commercial interest had tried to sabotage the revolution by dividing the home market between themselves.

Following Dyakov’s article another article by Soviet theoretician E. Zhukov called “Concerning the Indian Situation” was published in which he said more clearly and in a straightforward manner that the Indian National Congress was nothing but a representative of the Indian big bourgeoisie and monopoly capital and in reality Congress entered the reactionary camp. He also said that the bourgeoisie were afraid of the people much more than imperialism.

From the articles of Dyakov and Zhukov it can be said that the Soviet leaders and the CPI were well aware of the situation in India before partition. Despite their awareness of the situation they were still following the Stalinist stance of the Popular Front.

Following the Popular Front stance, the CPI theoreticians totally failed to take into account the very clear power factors and the state of the existing production relations. Thus they failed miserably to analyse the actual situation in India after partition. In the absence of such analysis their political line was full of imaginary ideas and doomed from the very outset. It was nothing short of surrender to the Indian ruling classes. In order to justify their line the Indian communists involved themselves in the stupid exercise of separating Nehru from Indian monopoly capital which he represented.

One of the biggest mistakes of the second congress of the CPI was lumping India and Pakistan together as one unit. Much of their analysis rested on their attitude to Jawaharalal Nehru, a factor totally irrelevant to the situation of Pakistan. It is true that till that time the CPI remained formally undivided, but this did not mean that exactly the same strategy could be applicable to both India and Pakistan.

The relations of the class forces and the strength of the organisation of the working people, the state of the party organisations, as well as the power of the Indian big monopoly capital, of the state and its armed forces, were not taken into consideration at all while evaluating the situation in India at that time. Nothing could be more futile than this blindness to obvious facts, and soon the organisation of the CPI was deeply endangered more by their own stupid acts than by any repressive measure of the governments of India and Pakistan.

Colonial masters

All the problems of minorities survived after partition and there was no sign of any attempt to improve the situation. The partition that both the Hindu and Muslim majorities carved out with the help of the colonial masters to their own advantage, was to the utter detriment of the interests of minorities of all descriptions.

Large scale migrations followed in the wake of partition which happened in its worst form and maddening proportions in West Pakistan and West India, particularly on both sides of the Punjab, where widespread riots broke out between Muslims on one side and Hindus and Sikhs on the other, resulting in the killings of tens of thousands of people and almost a total exchange of population.

The partition of India was, in a very real sense, a game of majorities, and as such the interests of Muslim and Hindu minorities in India and Pakistan respectively, and along with them, the interests of scores of other minorities of British India remained a matter of indifference to the Congress, the Muslim League and the British, who presided over the partition of India.