National Question & Communist International
written by Arup Baishya; getting published on PRAGYAN
The Commune made a German working man [Leo Frankel] its Minister of Labor. Thiers, the bourgeoisie, the Second Empire, had continually deluded Poland by loud professions of sympathy, while in reality betraying her to, and doing the dirty work of, Russia. The Commune honored the heroic sons of Poland [J. Dabrowski and W. Wróblewski] by placing them at the head of the defenders of Paris. And, to broadly mark the new era of history it was conscious of initiating, under the eyes of the conquering Prussians on one side, and the Bonapartist army, led by Bonapartist generals, on the other, the Commune pulled down that colossal symbol of martial glory, the Vendôme Column”.1
The year 1848 was a turning-point in Europe. The defeat of the revolution meant that the national question had to be solved by other means. Marx hoped that the task of resolving national question would be achieved from below by the working class using revolutionary means. Since the proletariat had failed to solve this question by revolutionary means in 1848, it was solved by reactionary means by conservative Prussian Junker Bismarck. Marx always opposed the reactionary Bismarck, but when the latter succeeded in uniting Germany, Marx and Engels reluctantly were compelled to support it as step forward, because it would facilitate the unification of German proletariat. So the ideologically important premise is to see the way in which the national question is resolved, by which class and in whose interest.
The nationality question became more complicated with the emergence of imperialist capital or with the beginning of colonial era. The development of ‘communist mass consciousness’ in the wake of bourgeois role on nationality question in the post Russian-revolutionary period had been neglected and viewed as an organizational task to develop proletarian revolution against capital under the leadership of erstwhile soviet Russia, despite Lenin’s unequivocal emphasis on national autonomy to the point of secession and on bourgeois role on anti colonial – anti imperialist struggle. Lenin always advocated the right of the various national minorities to full autonomy “to the point of secession”, whereas Stalin degraded them to nothing more than “border region” to be retained at all cost, in strictest subordination to the interest of Russia. Invasion of Georgia was mainly carried out by Stalin keeping Trotsky unaware. Lenin agreed to invasion, but urged to ensure that the “Russian bully” would help and not dominate the Georgian revolution. That’s why Lenin wrote in 1922 “the Georgian (Stalin) who is neglectful of this aspect of the question or who carelessly flings about accusation of “nationalist-socialism” (whereas he himself is a real and true “nationalist-socialist”, and even a vulgar Great-Russian bully), violates, in substance, the interest of proletarian class solidarity, for nothing holds up the development and strengthening of proletarian class solidarity so much as national injustice; “offended” nationals are not sensitive to anything so much as to the feeling of equality and violation of this equality, if only through negligence or jest – to the violation of their proletarian comrades. That is why in this case it is better to over-do rather than undergo the concessions and leniency towards national minorities. That is why, in this case, the fundamental interest of proletarian class struggle, requires that we never adopt a formal attitude to the national question, but always take into account the specific attitude of the proletarian of the oppressed nation towards the oppressor nation”. However Lenin’s agreement with the invasion in the first instance is also questionable and seems to be guided by the deterministic approach of overemphasizing the external factors rather than complete reliance on the dynamics of internal forces.
This approach of Stalin had been extended to the international situation then embroiled with colonial and the nationality question and this approach had been persuaded through the organizational setup of comintern.
Stalin’s approach towards national question within the then soviet Russia had its bearing on the communist parties of other countries, as the communist international of which the parties of other countries were members was under the surveillance, patronization & mechanism of control of Russia. On the question of periodisation of history of comintern, historians may differ, but all agree to the fact that the Russification of comintern was complete by 1935 and with that withering away of autonomy of the national section of communist parties and establishment of almost monolithic character of the comintern was also complete.
“ The vast literature on this subject reflects on two aspect of this mechanism : the internal control mechanism which operated within comintern; the external levers of control employed by the comintern to maintain hold over communist parties.
The mechanism of control within the comintern broadly operated along two lines - ideological and organizational. What it meant was every voice of opposition, criticism and difference was simply branded as anti-party and counterrevolutionary, labeled as manifestation of social democracy, Menshevism, Liquidationism or anti-Bolshevism, ideologically validating thereby the suppression and control of any critic in the name of revolution & socialism.
Organisationally, the control devices within the comintern exhibited a high level of complexity, involving centralization and growing Russian domination of Executive committee of the communist international (ECCI), the detail of which are now available” 3
The organizational question was delinked from the crosscurrents of political life in order to ensure firm holds of the ruling faction in the soviet communist party over the comintern. The ideological impatience towards difference of opinion is revealed by the Stalin’s vituperative attack on Rosa Luxemburg through his 1931 letter entitled “On some Question concerning the history of Bolshevism” followed by the liquidation of the heritage of “Luxemburgism”.
“The necessary cementing function of the ruling ideology becomes all the more evident (and significant) if we recall that even its more aggressive variants --- from chauvinism to Nazism and to the most recent ideologies of the ‘Radical Right’ --- must claim to represent the overwhelming majority of the population against the outside enemy, the ‘racially inferior’ minorities, the so called ‘mere handful of trouble-makers’ who are supposed to be the cause of strikes and social unrest (“the enemy within” in Mrs Thatcher’s parlance) etc.4
This ruling ideology is structurally determined to misrepresent the narrow ‘self interest’ as the ‘general interest’ of the society and at times of major crisis, this claim of ‘general interest’ gets exposed as empty rhetoric. For all those who try to articulate the interest of the subordinate classes should not only set out from the premise that there is an alternative, but also define the condition of bringing about that alternative. That is why the socialist project cannot content itself with the negativity of the political revolution, however necessary, but must strive for the intrinsically positive social revolution in the course of which the associated individual can ‘change from top to bottom the condition of their industrial and political existence, and consequently their whole manner of being (Marx). And this is why it must insist, with Rosa Luxemburg, that ‘socialism will not be established by any government, however admirably socialist. Socialism must be created by the masses, must be made by every proletarian.
Evidently, such objectives cannot be released without the work of emancipator ideology through which necessary motivational framework of transforming the social individual’s ‘whole manner of being’ is defined and constantly redefined. Not from about but as a matter of consciously pursued self-activity. 5
The question may arise, if the Russian revolution is considered to be the culmination of ‘the self activity’, how the policy direction could change so radically with the emergence of Stalin at the helm affairs with his overwhelming organizational control without any significant manifestation of popular resistance from below. Someone may argue that Lenin’s democratic stand on National Question could easily be sidelined due to the centralized organizational legacy that prepared the ground for Stalin’s organizational highhandedness. This part of ideological-organisational history and Lenin vs. Luxemburg debate on it will be dealt with separately at a later stage. At this point, it is to be seen how the Russian control in the communist movement sealed the fate of a radical perspective on national question to emerge and to go beyond the ‘ruling ideological’ framework even in the country like India.
The organizational-ideological intolerance, divorce of organizational question from reality, non-adherence to democratic principle, over dependence on the skill & efficiency of the leaders and perceived infallibility of the central policy makers all resulted due to the skewed view on class line and abandonment of mass line and led to the ideological quagmire.
Basing on recent archival finding which remained secret till the Gorvachev regime, Sobhanlal Datta Gupta enumerated the history of Comintern and the Indian Communist in his book titled “Comintern and the Destiny of Communism in India 1919-43”. The national question was first discussed in the comintern’s second congress. The second congress and the Baku congress were the first signal of the Comintern’s growing interest in the East. Sobhanlal asserted that apart from the fall of revolutionary wave in the west, there were very specific Russian factor too which possibly explain this shift. In the neighboring states of Soviet Russia i.e. Turkey, Iran and China, liberation movement were quite active, second, the Bolshevik, while striving to control the former Russian colonies in Central Asia, faced stiff opposition from Armenia & Georgia, which, with the military and political backing of Britain, also struggled to “liberate” Azerbaijan from Soviet rule.
Lenin’s Imperialism (1917), followed by the Colonial Thesis and M.N.Roy’s draft supplementary thesis were both adopted in the second congress (1920). Comintern’s understanding of the strategy and tactics of the Colonial question was summed up in the ‘Directives on the Nationality and colonial’ signed by Lenin. In contrast, M.N.Roy’s position was similar to Trotsky, who believed that “Indian revolution can only be successful on a proletarian revolution”. In the forth congress, Lenin upheld the outlook projected by him at the second congress, which aimed at diametrically fusing the national and class question. The ‘Thesis on the Eastern Question’ adopted by the comintern stated that the ‘refusal of the communists in the colonies to participate in the struggle against imperialist oppression on the pretext of alleged ‘defense’ of independent class interest, is opportunism of the worst kind calculated only to discredit the proletarian revolution in the east”. In the early twenties there were very few in the comintern who appreciated Lenin’s stand.
In 1922, Gaya session of the Indian National Congress received a document entitled ‘Program of National Liberation & Reconstruction’ carrying the signature of M.N.Roy and Abani Mukherjee in the wake of growing peasant militancy with Chauri Cheura incident and the passivity of Gandhi. On the other hand, Dr. Manilal’s manifesto which was drafted by Dr. Manilal & Abani Mukherjee proposed the idea of a Labour Peasant Party of India for national independence and also advocated abolition of the standing army and the police. It also proposed arming of the masses and the organization of militia, while dissociating itself from Bolshevik and later a party was formed with almost similar program ingrained in Manilal’s manifesto & class demands. But M.N.Roy was against nationalist and tried to persuade the new party to abandon its path without much success. However through M.N.Roy the destiny of Indian communism got firmly anchored in the comintern and its future.
The first organization was formed in 1919 in defense of the cause of the oppressed people of the colonies in the East. Later in 1920, Indian Revolutionaries association (IRA) was formed on the initiative of Abdur Barq and M.P.B.T Acharyaa, following their visit of Soviet Russia in 1919. IRA comprised diverse elements, many of whom had a strong inclination towards nationalism and Pan-Islamism. Yet Lenin had no difficulty in considering the IRA as a possible ally, while formulating the strategy of anti-imperialist struggle. Various documents reveal that Lenin’s approach towards nationalism and non-communist forces was different from comintern in the early twenties and the leader like M.N.Roy whose vision was focused on the premise that the path of revolution and the nationalist path were simply non-negotiable.
Fourth congress was the last congress Lenin attended. After his death in 1924, in the fifth congress there was not much discussion on colonial question. By this time, inner party struggle within soviet communist party was taking decisive turn and by sixth congress Stalin was about to establish his overwhelming control over the party and the comintern. All opposition voices either gradually subdued, maimed or purged. Monolithic nature of comintern and overwhelming control hinged the fate of the communist movement to the soviet party vis-à-vis Stalin’s dictum. The aftermath of the sixth congress witnessed the fall of Bukharin, the removal of Roy for not siding with Stalin in the Stalin – Bukharin conflict and purge of the “right”. The ground was now set for a shift from the strategy of anti-imperialist united front to that of “class vs. Class” which was envisaged to lead the international communist movement by the “proletarian class ruled state of soviet Russia and soviet party” and the transformation of comintern from a platform for interaction of diverse opinion and mutual support with the autonomy of the communist parties to frame their policy on the basis of the country specific objective reality to a monolithic character with full control of soviet party. This paradigm shift was in vogue in the period that followed, namely, 1929-34.
The impact of this line was tragic, if not brutal. In India it led to disaster. Under the influence of the comintern and overwhelming control of soviet party at a later stage, Indian communists were oblivious to the specific character of India reality. Till 1940 Indian communists contemplated India as a single nation. The communist party of India attempted to develop its policy on national question during early 1940s and advocated the formation of linguistic state in the subsequent period on the premise that India is multi-national country. In 1943 resolution affirmed “every section of the Indian people which has a contiguous territory as its homeland, common historical tradition, common language, culture, psychological make up and common economic life would be recognized as a distinct nationality with the right to exist as an autonomous state within the free Indian union or federation and will have the right to secede from it if it may so desire”. 6
After 1947 in the post British period, though Indian communists advocated linguistic states, but it tragically failed to comprehend the overlapping & multi-dimensional identity & consciousness of the Indian people due to their adherence to the Russian legacy of dogmatic deterministic approach and in this context there remained a curious inconsistency in their position on nationality question and subsequently they even bade farewell to the idea of “self determination”. This deterministic approach moulded the ideological mindset of the Indian first generation communists like Dange whose “tunnel vision” about the Indian history led him to overlook the caste reality of India to suggest that Brahman was the ‘commune of Aryan Man’ which was contested by eminent Marxist historian D.D.Kosambi.
Only after the Chinese revolution and the failure of the subsequent Indian peasant upsurge especially that of sixties and the growing rise of community aspiration based on language, culture, caste etc, a section of Marxist-Leninist parties have started looking Indian situation objectively and to theorise the issues at stake on Marxian outlook. However the overall scenario in the Indian communists circle are still mired with dogmatic approach, slogan mongering or manufacturing slogan for petty gains or doing nothing to rally the people around this slogan, strict organizational hierarchy detrimental to the cause of lively debate and of people’s initiative. The Marxist concept of withering away of state does not fit in with the organizational practice of the communists. The ideology behind this organizational practice needs to be debated at length. (To be continued)
(1) Karl Marx: The Civil War in France
(2) Power of Ideology , P13, 53
(3) Comintern and the Destiny Of Communism in India 1919-1943, Sobhanlal Datta Gupta, P19-20.
(4) Power of Ideology
(5) Power of Ideology P 257
(6) Dynamic of National Question In India, Debnarayan Modak, P77