When it was Bliss to be a Communist

Between 1936 and 1947, the Communist Party of India grew from a base of few hundred cadre to 80,000. During one of the most critical phases of its history, when it supported the British war effort in 1942, the Party actually expanded and brought into its fold people who later became major cultural figures. When the Royal Indian Mutiny took place in 1946, the flags of three political groups were flown on the mutinous ships- that of the Indian National Congress, the Muslim League and the CPI. The then leader of the CPI was also the first person to address Gandhi as the ‘father of the nation’. Given the aura that the party built up at that time, its leader at that time is relatively little known. If his comrades in arms in the party who took over immediately after him had their way, his name would have been completely written off. As it were, they almost succeeded.

There has been little or no remembrance on the part of the CPI and CPM for PC Joshi.

After all, the intellectual decline and current mediocrity of the CPM was achieved at the cost of dismantling the heritage of Joshi, particularly by Pramod Dasgupta.

PC Joshi’s major fault, in their eyes, was that he saw 15 August 1947 as the achievement of Indian independence. An overwhelming majority of the CPI’s leaders at that time felt it was otherwise. Ye azadi jhooti hai, they proclaimed. Faiz even wrote a famous nazm heralding the ‘false’ dawn- jis sehr ka intezaar tha, yeh woh sehr toh nahin.

History, however, proved PC Joshi right. Freedom, blighted as it was, had indeed arrived. But this was not the only manner in which PCJ was redeemed. His advocacy of a Congress- Communist alliance to defeat Right reaction has been by and large accepted even by the CPM, evident in its support for the UPA between 2004-2008. PCJ’s other major contributions- of involving the party cadre in relief work, as in 1943 when the CPI cadres were at the forefront during the Bengal famine, and his ability to branch off a cultural renaissance (IPTA, PWA) have not been surpassed. The communist cadre is rarely involved in any kind of social action nowadays, leaving the field open to organizations like the RSS and religious outfits.

PCJ’s towering personality when he was the General Secretary of the Party is also impressive because of his relatively young age at the time. He was merely 28 years old when he became the general secretary of the CPI. He was later to remark that he might have succeeded in taking the party with him, had he been older. The Party was young and it was not out of place for it to have such a young person at its helm. In a sense, PCJ represented the youthful creativity of the Party before it became mired in a bureaucratic mess.

It is not that PCJ was without faults other than the lack of experience owning to his youthful age. A few of PCJ’s faults are glaring- his stress on bringing the ‘best’ intellectually equipped (read Cambridge educated, upper caste) youngsters into key positions, his inability to carry his peers along with him, his admiration of Stalin and his ignorance of caste. Indeed, nearly the entire leadership of the CPI was Brahmin (Joshi, Dange, Adhikari, BT Ranadive and so on) or upper caste (Hindu or Muslim). Whatever be his weaknesses, he shall forever remain the youthful face of the Party in its years of infancy. His all too mortal flaws pale in contrast to the amount of injustice done to him and his memory.

PCJ was forcibly removed from his post in 1948 and the dogmatic BT Ranadive took over. That was the start of the line of armed struggle inherited from the Telengana movement. Within two years, the Party faced reversals. The CPI was banned, its leadership was forced to be underground and party cadre was at the receiving end of the newly formed Indian government. By the time the Party came out of the left sectarian line in 1951, it was much more than bruised. It was mauled. Membership had declined from a peak of 90,000 in 1948 to a mere 9,000.

The CPI then accepted the reality of Indian freedom, though with a bloodied face. The CPI, and later the CPM, continued to sideline PCJ as well as what he stood for, contributing to their decline as a political force and their ideological appeal.

PCJ’s biography has finally been written by the historian Gargi Chakravartty and was released on the birth centenary of PCJ on 14 April 2007. It has been published by the National Book Trust which is currently headed by Bipan Chandra. Both deserve credit for bringing out this slim and illuminating book. I have only one small quibble, in that there seems to be no reference to the work done on the early years of PC Joshi and the CPI by Shashi Joshi and Bhagwan Josh in their three volume study Struggle for Hegemony in India.

Readers are referred to a more detailed review of the book by Daya Verma.

5 thoughts on “When it was Bliss to be a Communist

  1. good read. but communists have stooped thinking these days. And why to worry about them. there are others doing good ‘chintan’ and action.

  2. it is good to see the review of the book at the site. indian communist leadership could not think of applying communism in indian condition and so they are laggards despite such heroic dedicated cadres and martys. they do not remember their own leaders and in most of cases expelled them. this is communist disease. it is the commuist parties which has solution to the indian problems. now that there is no CPSU or CPC, communist should unite themselves at one platform instead of accusing fingers at one another. but it is easier said than done. they can not come at one platform. may i be proven wrong

    1. As you put it, it is easier said than done. IMHO, the existing communist parties will be overtaken by other forces, notably the ones based on identity.

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