People's Democracy

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


No. 45

November 11, 2007



Why To Recall The October Revolution’s Impact


Lenin speaks at the Puttilov Works, May 1917.


Jyoti Basu


NONE can doubt that the Great October Revolution of Russia, whose 90th anniversary we are now celebrating, was a world-shaking event and a turning point in human history. It enabled the establishment of the first socialist state in the world, thereby enabling the implementation of Marxism through statecraft for the first time in world history. The Revolution also had an international impact since it inspired a whole range of radical politics around the globe. It was not without reason that the Revolution was hailed as a source of inspiration for the anti-imperialist protest movement in colonial India.




Comrade V I Lenin, who led the Bolshevik Revolution, was aware of the emerging nationalist stirrings in India. He hailed our 1857 war of independence and had tremendous respect for Tilak and his associates. When the British arrested Tilak in 1908, Lenin wrote in his article “The Inflammable Material in World Politics”:


“But popular India is beginning to stand up in defence of her rights and political leaders. The infamous sentence pronounced by the British jackals on the Indian democrat Tilak … by the lackeys of moneybags evoked street demonstrations and a strike in Bombay.”


As Lenin was confident that the October Revolution would ignite revolutionary forces in India and other colonial countries, he thus remarked in his article on the national liberation movement in the East:


“As a result of the imperialist war of 1914-1918 and the establishment of Soviet force in Russia, the masses are definitely being converted into an active factor in world politics and of the revolutionary destruction of imperialism.”


In 1920, under Lenin’s able guidance, the Second Congress of the Communist International (Comintern, also called Third International) adopted a thesis on the colonial and national question, and it proved to be crucial for the developing nationalist discourses and movements worldwide against imperialism. October the same year saw the formation of the Communist Party of India in Tashkent. From then on, inspired by the October Revolution, India experienced an uninterrupted struggle against colonialism and a simultaneous movement for the establishment of a new social order based on equality and justice.




During the 1920s, inspired by what was taking place in the Soviet Union, activities of a whole generation of youth like Muzaffar Ahmed, S A Dange, Gholam Hussian, S V Ghate and others contributed to the dissemination of Marxist ideology in India. Small groups of dedicated political workers became involved in the spread of Marxian philosophy among the then-on-move working class in Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Kanpur and Lahore. Meanwhile, in 1923, several Indian youth were arrested while on their way back from the Soviet Union, and were implicated in what came to be known as the Peshawar Bolshevik Conspiracy Case.


The growing impact of Marxism and the October Revolution’s lessons on the rising Indian nationalist consciousness alarmed the British Raj. Following the trail of the Peshawar case, in order to nip in the bud the rising communist movement in India, the British government implicated Muzaffar Ahmed and several others in the infamous Kanpur Conspiracy Case. However, the British attempt to crush by brutal force the growth of communist influence in the country miserably failed once again. In December 1925, an open conference of Indian communists was organised in the same Kanpur city. By the beginning of 1926, a nucleus of the CPI’s leadership was constituted to coordinate between the various, hitherto mutually unconnected communist groups in the country. The formation of Workers and Peasant Parties in a number of provinces helped the spread of Marxism among the working class and peasantry, especially in Madras, Bengal, Punjab and the United Provinces. The ideological inspiration for all these political developments came from the October Revolution.


The observance in 1927 of the tenth anniversary of October Revolution generated a new interest about the Soviet attainments among the Indian intelligentsia, especially in Bengal, Bombay and Delhi. This occasioned the formation of small groups of youth who dedicated themselves to spreading the message of October Revolution among the toiling classes in the country. During the anti-Simon Commission agitation in 1928-29, there were stirrings of the Left-inspired labour protests also. Textile workers of Bombay and South Maharashtra were organised under the Girni Kamgar Union; the workers of Madras and South Maratha Railways rose up in protest against their degrading working conditions. In the same period, when the League against Imperialism was formed under the influence of the Third International, the imagination of the Indian youth got further excited. Publications of the time like the Langal, Ganabani, Kirti, Mazdur, Kisan, Spark and Kranti indicate how the young intelligentsia in India were motivated by the socio-economic transformation taking place in the Soviet Union.

The rising tide of protest politics influenced by Marxism and the growing appeal of the Soviet leadership among the toiling masses of India induced the British Raj to once again come down heavily upon the communist activists. In March 1929, thirty-three leading figures of the growing communist movement in the country including Muzaffar Ahmed, Dange, Mirajkar, P C Joshi, Ben Bradley and Philip Spratt (the last two were sent by the Communist Party of Great Britain) were arrested from different parts of the country and implicated in the Meerut Conspiracy Case. Interestingly, mere presence of Lenin’s works and other Soviet publications in the possession of the accused was taken as a crime and these were produced as exhibits in the Meerut case to prove the charge that they were conspiring against the Raj.




Despite these repressive British measures, progressive politics --- nourished in the tradition of the October Revolution --- continued to make its presence felt in India.


In 1927, Rabindranath Tagore went on an historic visit to the Soviet Union and was tremendously impressed by the revolutionary transformations going on in the Soviet Union. In his Letters from Russia (Russiar Chithi), he even remarked that his life would have remained incomplete if he had not undertaken that trip to the Soviet Union. Tagore’s favourable impressions about the Soviet Union greatly moulded public opinion in Bengal in favour of the revolutionary tide in the aftermath of the October Revolution.


Besides the CPI, organisations like the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association led by Bhagat Singh gave voice to the Indian people’s protest against the Raj while kisan unions raised their voice against colonialism as well as feudalism. During the 1930s, especially in the wake of the Great Depression, Oudh in the United Provinces, Kishoreganj and Sylhet in Bengal, parts of Bihar and North-West Frontier Provinces emerged as strong centres of peasant upsurges. It was during this period that such leaders of protest politics as Swami Sahajananda Saraswati in Bihar, Maulana Bhasani in Sylhet and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in North-West Province rose to prominence.


It was out of this new politics of protest that in 1936 organisations like the Students Federation, the All India Kisan Sabha, the Progressive Writers Association and still later the Indian People’s Theatre Association were born.


Later, during the prelude to the transfer of power --- the stormy period of the 1940s --- the message of the October Revolution proved to be the major driving force behind the post-war anti-colonial, democratic upsurge in Bengal and other parts of India. Particular mention may be made here of the RIN naval mutiny, the popular upsurge against the INA trials and the students revolt against imperialist depredations in Indochina. This “Almost Revolution” period of 1945-46 reached its climax in the Telangana and Tebhaga movements. All these upsurges drew ideological inspiration from Marxism-Leninism and the practical lessons of the Great October Revolution.




In the post-independence India, the popular struggle for building a democratic, secular and socialist society also got sustenance from the lessons from the October Revolution and the socialist transformation in the first socialist state of the world. It is thus evident that today, when we stand at the crossroads of a new age, are getting tormented by the threats of globalisation, consumerism, individualism, erosion of the state’s role in public welfare activities and religious fundamentalism, we can’t but look back to the Great October Revolution in order to develop our struggle for a new order based on equity and justice.


Perhaps the best way to remember the glorious October Revolution, therefore, is to recall its importance in developing the anti-imperialist and democratic movement in colonial India and to ponder how the lessons of that watershed in human history can guide us today in making India a better place to live in.


No doubt the debacle of socialism in the USSR and other East European countries came to us as a rude shock and we came to know about the serious mistakes having been committed there during the period of socialist construction. In the name of correcting the distortions, however, they abandoned the very proletarian class character of the state and the leading role of the Communist Party.


Our party has attempted to analyse the reasons, implications and impacts of these serious mistakes committed by the CPSU and to draw proper lessons from them. The matter was discussed in detail at the 14th congress of the CPI(M) (Chennai, January 3-9, 1992).


There is no doubt that there was a serious dearth of proper ideological education in the USSR and East European socialist countries. I also felt it during my visits there. I first visited the USSR in the year 1957 and went there several times thereafter. Though I forget the exact year, I can still recollect an experience in Russia. I was crossing the Black Sea aboard a vessel that was a German Nazi ship earlier. The Soviet army had got hold of it during the Second World War. There were nearly 2200 passengers aboard and almost all of them were going to spend their holidays. They were busy with playing and swimming but I found nobody was interested in reading a newspaper, though there were important news items on the 5-year plan and on the return to the Earth of a Soviet astronaut. I asked my interpreter about the reason. He replied that as the people were on their way to spending holidays, they were in no mood to go through the newspapers. They would see one only later, after their return, and that too only the items on financial benefits. I was dumbstruck and then could not understand the whole thing. Now I feel that the tendency had already set in even by that time.




Here I recall a telltale episode. The last congress of the undivided CPI was held in Vijaywada in 1961. The inevitability of a split in the party was clear at the congress. Internationally, anti-Stalin propaganda under Khrushchev’s leadership was at its peak. When our Party sent a delegation to Moscow to discuss a few questions with the CPSU leadership, I was a member of the delegation along with Bhupesh Gupta and Gobindan Nair. Comrades Suslov and Panomariev took part in the discussion on behalf of the CPSU leadership. One of my questions irritated Comrade Panomariev; I had asked him about the abandonment of the book, History of the Communist Party of Soviet Union (Bolshevik) written during the time of Comrade Stalin. The book was circulated by the Third International worldwide. Comrade Panomariev angrily replied that in that book Comrade Stalin had written just one chapter on Marxist philosophy and that Comrade Stalin’s “incorrect” analysis of the principle of negation of negation was being amended.


I told Comrade Suslov why they didn’t say anything when Comrade Stalin was alive. Comrade Suslov did not get angry and quipped with a smile: “You will not understand it. Comrade Stalin was not a leader of the Soviet party alone; he was rather a leader of the international communist movement. It was not very easy to say anything against him.”


At that time, Soviet Union was instigating the dismissal of the Albanian government. We asked what the reasons were; it is the people of that country who should decide about it. Comrade Suslov alleged that the Albanian government was campaigning against the USSR and that was the reason behind the Soviet move to topple that government. We were not satisfied with the argument. Later, on our return, we submitted a report to the Central Committee.




I have already mentioned that the CPI(M) discussed the debacle of socialism in the Soviet Union at its Chennai congress in early 1992. We indicated some of its reasons in the resolution adopted by the congress. One of the reasons, to our understanding, was the replacement of the dictatorship of the proletariat by the dictatorship of the party leadership. The people were alienated from the party and the state.


One thing is sure. The socialist system can sustain and develop only on the basis of the people’s growing collective consciousness which, in turn, is based on the material conditions created by socialist construction.


Distortions in the state power’s functioning and its class character under socialism, inability to strengthen and deepen socialist democracy, inability to effect timely changes in the methods of economic management, erosion in standards of revolutionary morality and grave deviations in the ideological sphere --- all these laid the basis for the people’s growing alienation from the party and the state, thus enabling the counter-revolutionary forces, both internal and external, to act in concert towards the dismantling of socialism. Following these reverses, world imperialism led by the USA is demonstrating a new aggressiveness and has got emboldened to dictate its neo-liberal ‘new’ world order.


Here I do not intend to repeat our views on all these tragic events. Yet, suffice it to say, the October Revolution is a lasting source of inspiration for us even today and we believe that capitalism cannot be the last word of mankind. We are confident that a classless, non-exploitative society will be established, however long it takes to achieve it.


The 21st century began with new hopes for socialism. Fortunately, the biggest country in the world, China is constructing socialism with Chinese characteristics. Some other socialist countries like Vietnam, DPR Korea, Laos and Cuba are also progressing despite problems. Cuba has not only retained but strengthened its socialist foundation, despite being subjected to continuous US imperialist pressures. China and Vietnam are continuously strengthening their socialist systems. The Left has registered its strong presence in South Africa and in such Latin American states as Nicaragua, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela and Uruguay.


All these demonstrate the resurgence of the Left in recent times.


We in India have to closely follow the policies of all these countries and, on the basis of Marxism-Leninism, devise our own policies in the concrete situation of our country for the establishment of a classless, non-exploitative society, however long it takes.


Here in India, under the given conditions, we are doing our best to implement pro-people policies in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala. We have also been able to sustain the democratic, secular and anti-imperialist agitations at the national level.

We do believe that not capitalism but socialism is the way towards human progress, and the October Revolution teaches us to move forward along that path.