Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. 57, No. 3, March 1975.
Publisher: Unity Publishers
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
(In a letter which accompanied the following article, Dilip Bose wrote: ‘I must humbly say that though I was RPD’s fortunate disciple from 1947-54, and had taken him round Calcutta from April 30 to May 3, 1946, I am unworthy of writing this tribute. It is only because of certain aspects of his character (his Indian background, and the influence of his father on his life) that I am prompted to write. All-India Radio had announced on the morning of December 21 the news that he had died. We held a highly successful public condolence meeting, with a large attendance, in Calcutta on January 2, 1975, addressed by Comrade R. Rao, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI), and by Comrade Biswanath Mukherjee, state leader of the West Bengal CPI, I was among others who also addressed the meeting.’)
IT was the first of May, 1946. A big gathering of the workers of Calcutta were holding their May Day meeting in the late afternoon under the auspices of the All-India Trade Union Congress. A tall Englishman, a comrade from Britain, but olive-skinned and therefore looking more like somebody from the Mediterranean countries or from northern India, his eyes very bright behind thick lenses, his voice often rising to the pitch of a roar when making a point, was addressing this meeting. He was bringing home to the working class of Calcutta on this May Day of 1946 the message of international solidarity in the new world that was opening with the victory of the socialist and democratic forces over fascism, and the role of the Indian working class in the coming decisive struggle for national freedom. All this time the sky was getting darker and darker as the storm clouds of one of our nor ’westers, usual in the months of April and May, were gathering in the south-east.
The tall Englishman was our comrade, Rajani Palme Dutt (or RPD, as he is affectionately called and known in India), who had earlier declared in another public meeting of the citizens of Calcutta that this was his first visit to India and Calcutta, where his father was born and his forefathers also flourished. He was visibly moved to say this as the citizens of Calcutta thronged to welcome this scion and bright star of the famous ‘Dutt family of Rambagan of Calcutta’. Incidentally, Comrade R. Palme Dutt’s great uncle was Romesh Chandra Dutt, scholar, novelist and historian of the nineteenth century, whose book on the economic history of the early British rule in India still remains the classic study on the subject from a liberal standpoint.
Comrade R. Palme Dutt was to address another May Day meeting later in the evening in the industrial suburbs of Calcutta, directly organised under the auspices of the Communist Party of India (CPI). We raced to the meeting, braving the storm, later followed by the usual rains, but one of the heaviest downpours even by the standards of our tropics. No proper meeting could be held, and all of us, including Comrade Dutt, were drenched to the skin. We were very worried, rushed him to where he was staying in Calcutta, and made sure he had a hot bath. Luckily he was all right, and the very next morning his first request was to go back to those workers. This he did in mid-afternoon: he held three factory gate meetings with the temperature touching 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
The year 1946 was a stormy one in our struggle for freedom. Earlier, in the month of February, following the revolt of the ‘Royal’ Indian Navy and the armed forces, unprecedented repression was let loose by the British Labour government of Attlee on the Bombay working class, as they had dared to fraternise with the RIN strikers. At the same time Clement Attlee hurriedly despatched the Cabinet Mission to India to negotiate with the national bourgeois leadership of the Congress and the League. The subsequent story is known: it led to the transfer of power to the upper class leadership, though the country was partitioned into India and Pakistan. Comrade Dutt was covering the Cabinet Mission for the London Daily Worker. Being well known in nationalist and other circles far outside the communist movement as a fighter for our freedom, he was much sought after by our press, and he also toured throughout the length and breadth of our land.
His father, Upendra Krishna Dutt, born in Calcutta in 1857, left for England to study medicine as a young man, and eventually settled there. Palme was the family name of his Swedish wife. Rajani (Bengali for ‘night’), so named because he was born at night, was given this first name directly at the request of his family members at home, with whom Upendra Krishna used to keep in regular contact. Upendra Krishna settled as a poor man’s doctor (a sixpenny doctor) in Cambridge, where his modest home was the familiar and favourite rendezvous of Indian nationalist leaders visiting England. The intense controversy round the ‘Moderates’ and the ‘Extremists’ of our national movement (at the time of the Surat session of the Indian National Congress in 1907) found its echo by the fireside of the Dutts in Cambridge. RPD referred to this, in some of his public addresses to the Indian students’ meetings in London, as ‘my first political baptism’.
This intimate connection of Comrade Rajani Palme Dutt with India, and his love for our people, must be put in its proper perspective in order to understand the forging of the personality that was R. Palme Dutt. This love for our land and our people he first derived from his father. His dedication of India Today is to be understood not only in its general sense, but as true to the very letter:
To the memory of my father, Upendra Krishna Dutt, born Calcutta, India, October 17, 1857, died Leatherhead, England, May 12, 1939, who taught me the beginnings of political understanding—to love the Indian people and all peoples struggling for freedom.
This was, therefore, the source; Marxism gave it the content; and the form was his lifelong dedicated and selfless work for the communist and working class movement of Britain.
We take this opportunity of remembering and acknowledging with due reverence our everlasting debt to our fraternal Communist Party in Britain. It was another (late lamented) comrade, Ben Bradley, who faced rigorous incarceration for more than five years at the Meerut Prison, along with his Indian comrades, including Comrade S. A. Dange, now chairman of the CPI. And it was after Bradley’s release and forcible deportation back to England that Comrade R. Palme Dutt and Ben Bradley wrote their famous joint thesis in 1936 (known as the Dutt-Bradley thesis, in the history of our CPI) which helped the Party in India to shed its sectarianism and emerge on the all-India scene as a major national-political force and the first party among those then on the left in India.
Comrade Dutt’s India Today, written in 1936-39, first published by Victor Gollancz in a Left Book Club edition in 1940, and banned by the then British imperialist rulers in India, was printed illegally, chapter by chapter in small type, from the CPI’s underground headquarters. Even with the severe restrictions and consequent limited circulation thus imposed, the book had a marked effect far outside the periphery of the communist movement. Comrade RPD later. helped this writer to publish a second edition (1947) from Calcutta.
India Today merits an article by itself. What can be said here is that it is not only a pioneer work, but is the only book which analyses the Indian struggle for national freedom in the context of the whole socio-economic and political structure of India from the first days of British rule in 1757. And, of course, it uses the floodlight of Marxism to illumine the path forward for our national struggle for freedom.
In 1935, when Jawaharlal Nehru (later independent India’s first prime minister for 17 years till his death) rushed to Europe to be present at his wife’s sick-bed as she succumbed to tuberculosis, RFD happened to be living in the Swiss pension where Nehru stayed. The long talks they used to have helped Nehru further in a left progressive and socialist direction, a position which RPD had already been taking, particularly from 1927 during his days in Brussels with the League Against Imperialism. After his wife’s death, Nehru came back to India as the president-elect of the National Congress for its 1936 Lucknow session, and voiced socialism and the need for broadening the base of the National Congress by securing collective affiliation of the trade unions and peasants’ organisations—one of the main points made in the Dutt-Bradley thesis. And this is the tribute Nehru paid to the communists, written at about that time (1935):
... the real understanding communist develops to some extent an organic sense of social life. Politics for him cease to be a mere record of opportunism or a groping in the dark. The ideals and objectives he works for give a meaning to the struggle and to the sacrifices he willingly faces. He feels that he is part of a grand army marching forward to realise human destiny, and he has the sense of ‘marching step by step with history’.
(An Autobiography, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bodley Head, 1936)
No greater tribute has come to a communist from a bourgeois nationalist and anti-imperialist fighter.
We pay our last pronams (deepest homage and regards, mingled with respect) to the memory of Comrade Rajani Palme Dutt, and pledge to carry on the noble work of forging international solidarity of the working class for the cause of freedom and socialism for which he worked till the very last and gave his life.