People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 15

April 15, 2007

Birth Centenary of P.C. Joshi


Recalling An Important Chapter of the Communist Party



Prakash Karat


APRIL 14, 2007 marks the birth centenary of P. C. Joshi who was the first General Secretary of the Communist Party of India, after the all-India Party Centre was set-up in 1934-35. As such he was intimately associated with the development of the Communist Party as an all-India force. Under his leadership, the Party developed its mass base among the workers and peasants; the mass organizations of the students, women and the progressive cultural movement made big strides due to his personal attention. The All India Kisan Sabha and the All India Students Federation were founded in 1936, so also the Progressive Writers Association.


P.C. Joshi was one of the 31 Communist and Labour leaders who were put on trial in the famous Meerut Conspiracy Case. He was the youngest among the accused being only 22. He became the General Secretary at the young age of 28. The 12 years of his General Secretaryship were a momentous period for the party. 


The contribution of P.C. Joshi to the period from 1935 to 1943, when the first Party Congress was held was very important. The Seventh Congress of the Comintern had corrected the earlier sectarian understanding which prevailed. The danger of fascism led to the formulation of the united front thesis. Under Joshi, the CPI came to a better understanding of the general united front against imperialism in the struggle for independence. The period saw the fruitful work done by the Communists outside and within the Congress party. It is in this period that many streams from the revolutionary groups, the Congress Socialist Party and the working class movement joined the Party.


What stands out is the organizing abilities of Joshi. He was an able organizer, indefatigable in his work to bring new people and sections to the Party. The core of the cadre who served the Party at the all India level and in the provinces owed a lot to his personal guidance and nurturing.


P.C. Joshi was also primarily responsible for attracting writers, artistes and people in the creative arts to the Communist movement. Some of the outstanding cultural activists joined the Party inspired by Joshi’s personality and example. Kaifi Azmi, Balraj Sahni, Ali Sardar Jafri, Sajjad Zaheer, Bhisham Sahni, Chittaprasad, Sunil Janah and a host of others joined the party due to his ministrations.


P.C. Joshi was a man of remarkable human qualities. He was free of personal rancour and maintained warm relations with comrades who opposed his views in the years of the inner-Party struggle. He was married to another remarkable revolutionary, Kalpana Dutt, who worked alongwith him in the Party. Another facet of this pioneering Communist was his journalism in the Party publications. Some of the best reportage of the events in the Communist movement appeared from his pen. His moving description of the meeting with the four Kayyur martyrs before they were hanged remains in one’s memory.


When an assessment is made of a Communist leader and his contribution to the movement, it is essential that his life and work be looked at in totality. Joshi, as part of the collective leadership which emerged after l935, has to be given due credit for the building of the all India Communist Party and the development of its mass base. He was at the helm of the Party at the time of post-war upsurge which began in 1945. The Tebhaga movement, the Punnapra Vayalar struggle, the Tripura struggle, the RIN mutiny, the campaign for the release of the INA prisoners and the historic Telengana armed struggle – all took place in this period. The Communist Party emerged as the spearhead of the anti-feudal and anti-imperialist struggles between 1945 and 1948. This was a period when, in the militant struggles against feudalism and the British rulers, thousands laid down their lives. It is in these areas that the Communist movement still holds major influence.


While the Party registered advances, mistakes were also committed in this period. The inability to integrate the international task of fighting fascism with the national task of struggling against British imperialism led to isolation from the national movement in 1942. The advocacy of self-determination for a Muslim nation, was a gross misapplication of the nationality theory, which was subsequently corrected in 1946. It will not be fair to single out P. C. Joshi for all the mistakes of the early period. One of the factors was that collectively the leadership was in thrall of the CPSU. They had an implicit and uncritical approach to the “line from Moscow”. It took another two decades, when the CPI(M) was formed to breakout of this form of “internationalism”. 


The attitude to the Congress party and the new Indian State which bedeviled the Party in later years was presaged by the line put forth by P.C. Joshi. The “Forward to Freedom” resolution of the Central Committee in 1942 did not properly assess the role of the Congress in the run-up to independence. The Party document “For the Final Assault” issued in 1946, corrected the reformist outlook. However, the strategic correction sought to be made in the Second Congress in 1948, did not help the Party as the understanding was itself mired in sectarianism.


P.C. Joshi was a consistent advocate of Congress-Communist unity after independence. It was under his leadership that a section of the U.P. State Committee in 1954 set out the slogan of a “national-democratic coalition government”. He argued for the distinction to be made between the pro-imperialist and pro-feudal forces and the national bourgeois sections. He was one of sponsors of the alternative draft in the 4th Congress at Palghat in 1956 which stated that “an alternative Government of national unity can be brought into being.” This was part of the decade long inner-Party struggle on the programmatic and ideological questions which resulted in the split and the formation of the CPI(M) in 1964. The current of collaboration with the ruling classes on the guise of a national democratic front, was also reflected in the intellectual and cultural arenas, where many who were recruited by P.C. Joshi deserted the Communist Party when the national bourgeoisie came to power. 


Though the CPI(M) was resolutely opposed to the line put forth by P.C. Joshi and his like-minded comrades in the CPI, it will be unhistorical and unmarxist to deny his role and contribution to the building of the Party and developing a Marxist outlook, particularly in the nineteen thirties and forties. As such, he must be ranked as one of the main leaders who built the Communist Party.


In observing the birth centenary of P.C. Joshi, we are commemorating that glorious period of the history of the communist movement, when thousands joined the party and devoted their lives for the cause of the workers and peasants. They faced the repression of the landlords and the colonial rulers; many sacrificed their lives without hesitation suffused by the anti-imperialist spirit and death-defying courage which was imparted to them by the Communist Party.