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International Socialism, November 1977


Colin Sparks

India and the Russian Revolution

Editors’ Introduction


From International Socialism (1st series), No.103, November 1977, pp.23-24.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Third (Communist) International was founded in 1919. In the eyes of its first leaders its historic task was to provide a world leadership for the proletariat which could carry the first victory in Russia forward to a successful world-wide victory. The leaders, and in particular Lenin, saw the decisive arena of class struggle as being in the advanced capitalist countries – in particular Germany. But, at the same time, they saw the struggles of the oppressed masses of Asia, Africa and Latin America as an integral part of the battle. This was so commonly held that Lenin could address the 2nd Congress of Communist Organisations of the East, in November 1919, in these terms:

‘It is self-evident that final victory can be won only by the proletariat of all the advanced countries of the world, and we, the Russians, are beginning the work which the British, French or German proletariat will consolidate. But we see that they will not be victorious without the aid of the working people of all the oppressed colonial nations, first and foremost, of Eastern nations. We must realise that the transition to communism cannot be accomplished by the vanguard alone. The task is to arouse the working masses to revolutionary activity, to independent action and to organisation, regardless of the level they have reached; to translate the true communist doctrine, which was intended for the Communists of the more advanced counries, into the language of every people; to carry out those practical tasks which must be carried out immediately, and to join the proletarians of other countries in a common struggle.’ (Collected Works, Volume 30, pp.161-62.)

The reason for this perspective was not at all moralism. The theory of imperialism developed by Lenin and Bukharin in the midst of the first great imperialist crisis showed that it was no longer possible to divide the world up into separate segments: capitalism now held the whole world in its grip. Imperialism was not only imposing crushing burdens of taxation, savage repression and massive exploitation on the masses of the backward countries. It was also changing their social structures, smashing older, pre-capitalist forms and bringing into being a new social class – the proletariat – which was capable of overthrowing the whole of the old order. Independent communist organisation was, then, not only possible but essential throughout the colonial countries.

The implementation of this strategy posed a number of problems. In the advanced countries, it meant a sharp break from the policies of the Second International, which had not, with one or two exceptions, made any attempt to translate the fine words of conference resolutions into activity. Thus, Point 8 of the Terms of Admission into the Communist International (the famous 21 Points) reads:

‘Parties in countries whose bourgeoisie posses colonies and oppresses other nations must pursue a most well-defined and clear-cut policy in respect of colonies and oppressed nations. Any party wishing to join the Third International must ruthlessly expose the colonial machinations of the imperialists of its “own” country, must support – in deed, not merely in word – every colonial liberation movement, demand the expulsion of its compatriot imperialists from the colonies, inculcate in the hearts of the workers of its own country an attitude of true brotherhood with the working population of the colonies and the oppressed nations, and conduct systematic agitation among the armed forces against all oppression of the colonial peoples.’ (Lenin, Collected Works, volume 31, p.209)

This represented a major change from the Second international; so much so that Quelch of the British Socialist Party claimed that workers in Britain would consider it treasonable to assist rising by the colonial masses.

The problem of building Communist Parties in the colonial world was even more difficult. The practical problems were themselves immense. The initial reaction to Russian Revolution was frequently fairly limited. In China and India the response first came from small groups of intellectuals. In South Africa and Indonesia it came from small sections of the privileged white workets. The task of turning these tiny groups into Communist Parties, not to speak of mass Communist Parties, was a difficult one and, quite apart from the organisational problems, there was the political difficulty of the relation of the Communists to existing mass nationalist organisations under bourgeois or petty bourgeois leadership.

It is the opinion of the editors that the Communist International never fully resolved this question, and that the theoretical difficulties underlying it were not cleared up until the period when the Communist International had ceased to be an organ of world revolution. The debate at the Second Congress of the Communist International (1920) on the National and Colonial Question was somewhat confused, and Lenin himself, in introducing the Theses – of which there were two, divergent, sets – stressed their tentative nature.

The theoretical problem was this: the Bolshevik party had been built around Lenin’s theory of the ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’. This theory, specific to Russia, argued that the coming revolution would be, in its social content, a bourgeois revolution, but that it would be carried out by an alliance of proletariat and peasantry. It would, sooner or later, pass over into a proletarian revolution. Lenin abandoned this theory in 1917 for Trotsky’s alternative – the theory of permanent revolution. This had been advanced after the 1905 Revolution and was also specific to Russia. It argued that, given the correct political line, it was possible for the proletariat to take the lead of the democratic movement and, in the logic of the class struggle, to go over directly to proletarian dictatorship.

Although Trotsky’s ideas provided the theoretical basis for the October revolution, neither he nor Lenin explicitly examined the change. Nor did either of them attempt to generalise this theory and apply it to the colonial countries. It was only after Lenin’s death, in the course of the polemic over the strategy of the Chinese Communist Party, in the mid 1920s, that Trotsky was to generalise his theory, but, of course, by that time he was not in a position to command any substantial audience in the International.

The Theses drafted by Lenin on this question for the Second Congress thus offer no general prescriptions for the embryo Communist Parties of the colonial countries. The Communist International gives support to bourgeois-democratic national movements

‘... only on condition that ... the elements of future proletarian parties, which will be communist not only in name, are brought together and trained to understand their special tasks, i.e., those of the struggle against the bourgeois-democratic movements within their own nations.’ (Lenin, Collected Works, volume 31, pp.149-150)

On the insistence of M.N. Roy, the term ‘bourgeois-democratic’ was later replaced by ‘national-revolutionary’.

The alliance between the Communist International and non-proletarian national movements was thus temporary and provisional and was based on ‘the need for a determined struggle against attempts to give a communist colouring to bourgeois-democratic liberation trends in backward countries.’ (Lenin, ibid.) It was, at best, a tactical compromise dictated by the weakness of the local Communist Parties and was based on the clear understanding that the construction of these parties was an urgent task:

‘The Communist International must enter into a temporary alliance with bourgeois democracy in the colonial and backward countries, but should not merge with it, and should under all circumstances uphold the independence of the proletarian movement even if is in its most embryonic form. (Lenin, ibid.)

The importance of the article which follows is that it illustrates very clearly these problems in relation to one important and neglected example – that of India. It raises a number of major points of considerable contemporary relevance. The most important of these are: the motives which lead bourgeois and petty-bourgeois element to which a world capitalist crisis forces splits along the lines of class into such cross-class ‘national’ alliances; the extent to which it is possible for the local bourgeoisie or petty-bourgeoisie to contain and smash independent working-class struggles in the absence of any alternative leadership, diverting it into ‘safe’ channels; the extent to which the revolutionary movement in the advanced countries bear a responsibility to help the development of socialist currents in countries under the yoke of Imperialism.

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