Harry Pollitt

In Memoriam—Comrade Shapurji Saklatvala

Source: The Communist International, February 1936, Vol. XIII, No. 2
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). 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.

Editorial Board, Daily Worker;
Communist International lowers its fighting banner over the coffin of Comrade Saklatvala, worthy son of the Indian people, true friend of the working class and tireless fighter in the cause of socialism.

BY the death of Comrade Saklatvala, the Indian people have lost their greatest and most sincere champion, and the Communist Party one of its most devoted and self-sacrificing leaders.

The name of Shapurji Saklatvala was known and honored by the toiling masses the world over, and he will be mourned by millions of oppressed peoples, who appreciated his fight for their liberation and independence from the yoke of imperialism.

Never have the workers of Britain, and the workers and peasants of India especially, had a leader who did so much and who sacrificed himself so much to their service as Comrade Saklatvala.

His amazing vitality, his profound knowledge, his ready and comradely advice, his cultural attainments and his unrivaled abilities as an orator and exponent of the revolutionary principles of the Communist International, leave a wide gap in our ranks.

In very truth we can say of our beloved comrade:

“He died for the workers.
    In life he was one whose
    Love knew no stint, whom
    No fear could appall.”

Only those who have known him intimately can form any idea of the work that he did.

Night after night, year after year, in all parts of Britain he carried out his task of working class agitation, education and organization. Only those who also participate in this understand the ceaseless strain and anxiety it entails. No comrade ever did more of this work so uncomplainingly as Comrade Saklatvala.

No call was ever made upon him to which he did not respond. Be the meeting large or small, it was always the same. Be it near or far it was all the same.

Countless memories flood in upon me as I write. One, of our comrade in 1927, immediately comes to mind when he spoke at a meeting on the Sunday night in Edinburgh, took the night train to Crewe, motored to Ogmore in South Wales for a Miners’ May Meeting in the morning, did a further meeting in Swansea at night and traveled all night, back to Battersea for a committee meeting on the Tuesday morning.

That was how he worked.

Saklatvala was 61 years of age. He was born in Bombay, and educated at St. Xavier’s College in that city. He studied law in England and was called to the Bar.

On arrival in England in 1905 he was persuaded to join the National Liberal Club, but a few months of its atmosphere was enough for him and when he left it he left the Liberal Party behind him forever.

A meeting with Lord Morley was sufficient to disillusion him with Liberal talk of its friendship for the Indian people.

By 1910 he had become one of the most active members of the Independent Labor Party; he was always striving inside the I.L.P. to combat the MacDonald-Snowden influence.

* * *

The great revolution in Russia in 1917 made a tremendous impression upon Shapurji Saklatvala and he became one of the foremost in popularizing its historic significance, and a leader in the People’s Russian Information Bureau.

He also took an active part in the Left-wing group inside the I.L.P. Which in 1919 began the political struggle for the I.L.P. to join the Communist International.

He came to the Communist Party in 1921 with other members of the I.L.P. and became at once a great force inside the Communist Party. Also, of course, this step of Saklatvala’s had a tremendous significance throughout the Indian nationalist and revolutionary movements.

In 1922, although a Communist, he was elected Labor Member for North Battersea. He lost his seat in 1923, but regained it in 1924.

In 1929, he was faced with Labor opposition and was defeated.

In September, 1925, Saklatvala was to go to the United States as a member of the British Delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Conference, but Mr. Kellogg, the Secretary of State, revoked his visa on the grounds that the United States did not admit revolutionaries.

For his activities during the general strike in May, 1926, he was given two months in jail.

In 1927, Saklatvala went to India and was given a reception by the masses wherever he went, such as falls to the lot of few men to get. From India he wanted to go to Egypt, but was refused permission to do so, and on his return to England, the government revoked his permit to visit India again.

He—an Indian of whom all India was proud—was denied access to his own country.

Even the Labor government of 1929-31 refused to remove this outrageous ban on one whose life was dedicated to the cause of his people and the freedom of his country.

* * *

In 1934, Saklatvala again visited the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and was enthusiastically welcomed by the workers in Leningrad and Moscow.

But the proudest moments of his life, he recently told me, were those he spent in Turkestan, Kazakstan and Trans-Caucasia, where for weeks he was enthusiastically greeted by the toiling masses freed from the yoke of tsarism by the great proletarian revolution in Russia.

He saw the new industry, new collective agriculture, new culture and life, that free peoples can develop when once communism has given them their independence and emancipation.

“Oh, Harry, what my people could do in India,” he said, “if only they were as free as my comrades in these autonomous republics of the U.S.S.R.”

This experience seemed to give even Comrade Saklatvala a new and greater energy and impulse in all his later work.

He went with renewed enthusiasm into the struggle for Indian freedom and independence, for solidarity between British and Indian workers, and for unity among all those organizations in India that fight against British imperialism.

On the very day of his death he carried on this work. I know that all Thursday, and to within two hours of death claiming him he had been patiently trying to bring about unity between two groups of Indian comrades in London.

Shapurji Saklatvala was a symbol of the unity of the toiling masses of India and of the British working class against imperialism. In the Soviet Union, in the land of the freed nations, he felt that he was in his fatherland.

One could say that “Unity, unity alone can give our Indian people its freedom” were his last words.

* * *

Saklatvala has gone from our midst. Another soldier of the Revolution has passed on.

We lower our Red Banners before your closed eyes, dear Comrade Saklatvala, we pay tribute to all that you have done and taught us. We are proud that you carried your early work to its logical conclusion by embracing and becoming a fearless exponent of the principles of the Communist International.

You have built better than you knew. Your work will go on.

We swear before your open grave that the Red Banner you held so proudly aloft, the hope and inspiration you gave to millions living in the darkness of imperialist slavery, shall be carried forward to other fights and victories.

We pledge ourselves that your unparalleled devotion and self-sacrifice shall be the example we will endeavor to emulate.

The great Indian people, the peasants of Punjab and of other provinces, the weavers of Bombay and Calcutta, the railroad, mine and plantation workers, their brothers in other dependent and colonial countries to whose struggle for freedom you devoted your life, bow their heads at your grave.

Today in the mining valleys of South Wales, the cotton towns of Lancashire, the shipyard centers of the Northeast Coast, and the factories and shipyards of Scotland, workers mourn and grieve for your passing.

But you will live again in the work that will follow. The workers of the world and the oppressed peoples will unite. They will break their chains.

They will build that new world of which you have been so mighty an architect.