People's Democracy

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


No. 49

December 14, 2008


Singaravelar: A Great Champion Of Working Class

S P Agasthiyalingam

ON March 1, 1923, the conference of the Congress Party was being held at Gaya. From the podium of the conference, one of the speakers began his speech addressing the gathering as “Comrades”. The conference was spellbound by the thunderous applause from the audience. This injected new blood to the conference. M N Roy describes the proceedings of the conference in the journal Vanguard as follows:

In the backdrop of eminent thinkers of different ideologies participating in the Gaya Congress, the participation of Singaravelar will ever be remembered as an historical event. While even the young bloods and respectable leaders were fearing assault of repression by the government, the 60 year old white bearded man calling himself as ‘communist’ boldly without any fear, attracted the applause of the audience.”

The old man was none other than our Singaravelar. While speaking at the conference, it is the first time he openly demanded `Total Swaraj’ for India. Later in the Calcutta conference, a huge workers rally pressed for the adoption of the above demand. It was only in the Lucknow conference, the Congress party also adopted this demand.

Singaravelar was born in a fisherman's family on February 18, 1860 . With relentless efforts, he studied law. Even from younger days, he was very concerned about society and philosophy. There was narrow caste division in the fishermen community. One group calling themselves as big pattinavar and the other as small pattinavar. In order to break this division, Singaravelar married the other caste woman through intercaste marriage.

He was deeply concerned about caste, religion and superstition and showed keen interest in Buddhism. He started `Maha Bodhi Sangh” along with his friends and was preaching Buddhism. Continuously seeking clarity in philosophy, science and politics, Singaravelar joined political struggles. He led many working class struggles. For the first time in 1923, he conducted May Day celebrations in Chennai Marina Beach and it will ever be remembered in the history of India.

Singaravelar had participated in the organisational conference of the Communist Party held at Kanpur. For that reason, he was charged in the Kanpur conspiracy case. Due to his age and health condition he was placed under house arrest and later released. He had the pride of being the first communist in South India. He started Labour Kisan party in 1923 and brought out a journal, Labour Kisan Gazette.

He was closely associated with Periyar’s self respect movement. He had written so many articles in Kudiyarasu paper published by Periyar, which were in the nature of social reforms with scientific outlook. Periyar adopted 'Erode programme' which was centred around communist principles. Actually that programme was mainly drafted by Singaravelar along with others. Periyar emphasized mainly on social freedom. Singaravelar differed with Periyar on this issue and raised the question. “Whether self-respect movement or dishonour movement? In spite of this difference Periyar wanted to utilise the eminent knowledge of Singaravelar and allowed him to write articles in Kudiyarasu newspaper.

Singaravelar gathered books on various subjects like politics, philosophy, psychology, physiology, economics, general knowledge etc. which were more than 20,000 in his private library. Ameer Haider Khan narrated about the library as under:

Singaravelar’s private library was one of the biggest libraries in south India. Not only that, some portion of the books kept in the Singaravelar’s private library is now available in the Lenin Library, the biggest library in Moscow, under separate section titled as `Singaravelar Library”.



Gandhiji did not realise the 1922 Chauri-Chaura incident was a result of the atrocious activities of the government. He had stopped the non-cooperation movement to condemn the violence. Singaravelar strongly opposed this stand, spoke against it and also wrote many articles. “It is the personal responsibility of those, who led struggles to continuously ignite the feelings of the struggling masses. Once it is stopped in the middle then it will not be possible to create that spirit” - he had stated. After this incident, radical movements started emerging throughout India. Singaravelar also established links with different radical groups. His thinking process was slowly drifting away from the Congress movement.

He was moving towards Communist ideology. He was having a clear cut idea on `Swaraj’. He openly declared his position in Navasakthi daily through an open letter to Gandhiji pointing out several details about “Swaraj”. He said that everyone should be given a piece of land and cultivate the land on his own for food. Everyone should be given free shelter without paying any rent to any landlord. If this guarantee is not available, then Swaraj is of no use. The real Swaraj we want should be created by the people and for the people. Nothing less than that. This was the essence of the article written by Singaravelar under the title “Swaraj for whom”? Even today if we read the article, it appears as a chargesheet against our rulers.

While vehemently criticising Gandhiji’s Swaraj, Singaravelar put forth a master plan of egalitarian Swaraj. He had listed several factors that would contribute to an egalitarian society.

Organising the

working class

While reviewing the public life of Singaravelar since 1917, one can see the significant role he played in the self respect movement as well as in the campaign for social reforms. Because of his revolutionary thinking, Singaravelar quit the Congress party and started a political outfit called “Labour Kisan Party”.

Singaravelar was closely associated with M N Roy and the Vanguard journal run by him. M N Roy had put forth his view that it was not good to openly function as a communist party in colonial countries and may function in general name. Hence Singaravelar gave the party a general name. But the manifesto of his party was more like a communist party manifesto. It states:

Comrades and workers, I want to emphasise one point. You are not aware of your valour and power. If you realise yourself, your ignorance will vanish. You are the owner of the world. There was folklore in the far off Ukraine - Russia - a giant called “Vee”. His eyelids were so long that it touched the land. So that he could not see anything other thing than his own image. Then the eyelids were slowly moving up and he could see, so many things beyond the hills, mountains, sea, ocean etc., etc.

Through the Russian workers, workers of India, Asia, Europe, America, Australia and others have united themselves in fraternity. They are resolutely working together for the growth of the comradeship. We communists have confidence in the brotherhood of humanity.

Indian workers will help to strengthen the unity of Humanity. Hence we ask the bourgeoisie to hear our views. Indian workers are more vigilant now. They too are seeing the things that are happening beyond the hills, seas, oceans etc., - like their comrades in foreign countries. The working class around the world have real fraternity. You cannot just ignore them. They know their strength now.”


With Self respect

Singaravelar not only preached the working class but also led them in various struggles and suffered tremendous hardships. Because of his participation in the struggles of B & C Mill, Burma Oil Company, Railway workers etc. the government named him as a notorious agitator in its secret documents. Even while actively participating in the struggles of working class, he strove to raise the spirit of internationalist understanding among the working class. In 1927 when the American government killed two communists, namely Chacko and Vancity, by putting them in electric chair, he fiercely condemned it by holding public meetings.

With the help of Singaravelar, Periyar wanted to spread rationalist movement. At the same time Singaravelar wanted to spread socialist ideas with the support of Periyar. The alignment of both worked well in Tamilnadu. Singaravelar’s dedicated work attracted Periyar much more than Periyar’s policies that attracted Singaravelar. And this is the reason why the influence of socialist policies was predominant in Periyar’s self respect movement. This was the assessment of Professor Muthugunasekaran.

Periyar and Singaravelar passionately opposed religion. They openly declared themselves as atheists. At the all India level both Jawaharlal Nehru and Bhagat Singh pronounced themselves as atheists. Communists are naturally atheists. But they do not put it as a condition to became a member of the communist party. Singaravelar was against religion, caste and God. But there was a difference between Periyar and Singaravelar on this line. Singaravelar used to say, “Every religion supports the bourgeoisie. It perpetuates haves and have nots, creates difference by birth. All are brothers, one God for all - these statements are a humbug if we see what is happening around the world - engulfed with war everywhere.”

Singaravelar negated God and religion ideologically as well as scientifically. In the class struggle God and religious outlooks are helpful only to the exploiting classes, he maintained.

When the conference of self respect movements were held, he openly lauded the events and wrote articles welcoming them. About the Virudhunagar conference he wrote - “when our self respect members are working strenuously for issues leading to knowledge, they must also work with the same broad mind, they should dedicate their service on matters of - means of living, economics. We should oppose imperialism, but should not decry Britishers. We should oppose Brahminism. But should not hate Brahmins. Because of this the self respect movement had nosedived without attaining progress.”

Singaravelar was having a clear-cut understanding on rationalism. He had scientific outlook. Rationalists should not only speak rationalism. Wherever atrocity is committed rationality should be used to fight against it. Rationalism should be applied to eradicate poverty, ignorance, disease, hunger etc. That is the real rationalism, others are imitations, he felt.



Actively associated with trade union activities, party work, ideological propaganda etc, Singaravelar also wanted to associate himself with local bodies to work directly with masses. He insisted Swaraj Party to participate in the local body elections. Even though he was running Labour Kisan Party separately, he was a member of the Congress party also. Those days communists were functioning in such a manner.

Today there is much talk about Panchayati Raj system. But Singaravelar had written elaborately about Panchayat Raj system in his Labour Kisan Party programme, way back in 1923. He talked about three layers - Local Panchayat, Town Panchayat and District Panchayat. He stressed the need to concentrate on education and health by these panchayats.

Singaravelar strongly considered that socialist society cannot be achieved till untouchability is abolished. He says “Fraternity is an empty slogan till casteism exists. A disease cannot be cured by magic, similarly casteism, which is a chronic disease, cannot be cured by fake justice. Those who wear the sacred thread and do customary practices cannot boast of abandoning caste. This fake justice is prevailing in India since a long period.”

He further said, “These caste differences are detrimental not only to our India’s betterment, self respect but also dead against human peace and tranquility.”

Even though Christians and Muslims are not Hindus, they are treated as untouchables by most of Hindus, especially upper caste persons. Hence it is the utmost duty of the socialists to eradicate casteism, which is a wicked, foolish and obscene system. Singaravelar was continuously speaking and writing against evils of casteism and the need eradicate it.

Deeply felt about casteism, Singaravelar said, “The basis for untouchability is poverty. People have no place, water, house education, sanitation - no support from rich people, no protection from Govt. and without finding solution to the above problems we cannot eradicate casteism.”

According to Singaravelar, caste and religion are for protection of exploitation. “One must understand that the caste, religion, property rights are fortress constructed by the capitalists to safeguard their wealth, hegemony, privileges etc. and if the gates of these fortress are not opened we cannot achieve socialism. If the inhuman condition of crores of people are to be improved then the fortress constructed by the capitalists should be demolished.”

In order to break open the gates of the fortress, philosophy, politics and everything else should be used exhorted Singaravelar. He keenly observed the problems of casteism and untouchability. But at the same time he firmly believed and told that without finding economic equality the roots of casteism cannot be uprooted. As long as upper caste chauvinism is there, the untouchability will continue, he stressed.

Singaravelar was a poineer to Periyar in terms of lending his voice for the women’s liberation. Economic inequality is the basis for women’s enslavement. Economic equality is the solution for women’s liberation. Virginity is always stressed for women. Prostitution is an ill for the society, he stressed often.

Axe on


Singaravelar firmly considered that the only weapon to axe the religious superstition and its customs and conventions is science and every sensible person should use it. He had shown keen interest to take the scientific knowledge to Tamil people. He wanted to demolish everything that is obscurantist like - astrology, horoscopy, belief in devil and demons etc.

As there was no journal during that period to propagate science, he started a monthly magazine called Pudu Ulagam (New World). In the first issue of this journal be wrote an editorial as follows:

As there was no journal in Tamil to take pure science to the masses, majority of the people do not understand the correct path of science and hence suffer from malicious nature of caste, religion and superstition. The innocent people are afraid of solar eclipse and lunar eclipse without knowing the real reason for the same - like the horse, goats, bullocks etc. that fear shadows. The demand for a science magazine “New World” will fulfill the demands of a science magazine in Tamil and to enlighten the common man in science.”

When he started the magazine, Singaravelar was 76. Even at that age, he wanted to spread scientific outlook to the masses! While conducting his propaganda against God and religion, he adopted scientific approach. He had written several articles on evolution of world quoting Darwin’s philosophy.

Usually it is charged that atheists, social reformers criticise only Hinduism. Singaravelar was different from such reformers. He was criticising superstitious ideas in all type of religions - Budhdhism, Islam and Christianity.

Singaravelar did not see, science, philosophy, politics etc., separately. He intermingled everything because of his Marxist scientific understanding. Hence all his writings were focussed on the welfare of downtrodden people in the society. Such a Marxist approach deviated him from other thinkers like Periyar and he was unique.

a multifaceted


Singaravelar proved his uniqueness in three streams of movements i.e., Congress, Self respect movement and Communist movement. But his approach was focussed towards working class with class outlook and hence he was following communist principles and preaching them till his death.

In the initial stages, he started Mahabodhi Sangh and preached Buddhism. But at later period he criticised the unscientific and conservative principles in Buddhism. When Ambedkar converted to Buddhism, he disagreed with it stating that any conversion to any religion was of no use for the suffering dalits. “Even if the conversion takes place he will be treated like coolies of farms. Budhdhism is not against untouchability, poverty and inequality etc.,”

Singaravelar had repeatedly written and spoken on the principles of communism, the life of Karl Marx and his philosophies. He was always admired by the developments of newly formed Soviet Russia which was a beacon light for the society. He explained to the Tamil masses in a simple way about Karl Marx and Lenin. His love towards communism and Lenin was not an emotional one but with a real sense of understanding.

When he wrote condolence message on Lenin’s death he stated, “The historical revolution won by Lenin through his politics, ideology and philosophy in his own land may one day vanish because of the vested interest of some section of the people. But it will revive once again and spread throughout the world. Finally it will lead to the betterment of working class throughout the world.” What a long term perspective. What a remarkable prophecy. He wrote an article on Global Warming in 1934 with much concern. His scientific outlook was very vast and extensive. He bothered about everything that was harmful to humanity and it was under scrutiny by Singaravelar.

Singaravelar upheld the banner of Marxism through out his life knowing well that it is the only path for the salvation of people from exploitation. He repeatedly emphasised that Marxism is the only remedy for all the miseries in the world. Singaravelar wanted to retrieve the society from the evils of caste, religion and superstition with the help of science.

On some issues he joined hands with Periyar and his self respect movement and on some other issues he differentiated himself from self respect movement. He did not blindly oppose Brahminical ideas. While opposing religion and God, he applied scientific ideology. His ultimate goal was to find out ways to provide, food, employment, education, health, entertainment etc to the people and he tirelessly worked for that cause till his death.

Singaravelar lived for 86 years from 18.2.1860 to 11.2.1946, and excepting his childhood and his old age, when he was bed ridden - he dedicated his life of more than 60 years for the awakening and emancipation of working class in Tamilnadu and India. The last meeting he attended was the conference of Madras Press Workers Association. In that meeting, he said “I am 84 years now. I stand here to do my duty to the working class. I do not like anything more than standing one among you.”

The above words uttered by Singaravelar depicts his dedication and fervour for the struggles of the working class. The communists must realise that scientific approach and relentless struggle is needed to attain the goal of socialism for which Singaravelar strived through out his life.