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Leftism in India, 1917–1947

Leftism in India, 1917–1947

Second Edition

September 2017 | 228 pages | SAGE Texts

This book provides a comprehensive account of the Leftist movements in India during the most decisive phase of its struggle for freedom. It also describes how the Leftist movements interacted with the mainstream Indian freedom movement led by the Indian National Congress, guided by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and his ideology of non-violence. This ideology directly opposed those who believed in Marxism–Leninism and, naturally, their policies clashed at almost every stage of the freedom movement. These clashes gave rise to dramatic developments, which have been described in this book in their proper context and analysed with scholarly objectivity.

The book traces the early twentieth century socio-political awakening of the bourgeois-democratic class of Indian society, the rise of Left-wing nationalists following the Swadeshi Movement, the activities of the early revolutionaries and the formation of the Communist Party of India abroad, the growth of communism in India, the growth of the Left wing within the Indian National Congress (known as the Congress socialists) and various labour and peasant movements.

Leftism in India, 1917–1947 is an essential reading for students of history and political science, civil services aspirants and for anyone wishing to gain a thorough understanding of the origin of and the early practices of the Left in India. 


Praise for the First Edition
Foreword to the First Edition by Stephen P Cohen
Preface to the Second Edition
Preface to the First Edition
Historical Background
Early Congress, Swadeshi, Moderates and Extremists
Extremists Abroad: In the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany
Bolshevik Wave, Aftermath of the First World War, Marx and Lenin on India
Post-war Discontent, Gandhi and Mass Awakening
Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movements
Grim Economic Scenario, Labour and Peasant Unrest
Ideologies and Orientations
Nature and Genesis of Indian Left
Left Inside Congress
Left’s Disillusion with Gandhian Politics
Marxian Interpretation of Indian Situation
Communism in India
A. Early Years of the Communist Movement: Formation of CPI
The First World War, Hindu–German Conspiracy and Rise of M.N. Roy
Roy, Lenin and Theses on National and Colonial Questions
Baku Congress and Roy’s Revolution Blueprint
Muhajirs Abroad and Formation of CPI
Peshawar Conspiracy Case
Roy and Berlin Indian Independence Committee
Communist Groups in India
Communists at Home and Abroad
Cawnpore Conspiracy Case
Satyabhakta and Indian Communist Party
First Central Committee and Constitution of CPI
Struggle for Leadership: Roy Versus CPGB
Roy on Forming Workers’ and Peasants’ Party
Workers’ and Peasants’ Parties Across Country
Roy’s Expulsion from Communist International
B. Political Wilderness
Simon Commission, Call for Complete Independence and Civil Disobedience Movement
Chinese Experience and Ultra-Left Posture
Organization in Tatters
Roy’s Bid for Leadership
Emissaries of Communist International
C. The Anti-Imperialist United Front
Shift in Soviet Policy and Communist International’s Moderate Line
Dutt–Bradley Thesis
Resurgence of Congress Left Wing
Gandhi–Bose Conflict
Government of India Act, 1935: Congress Left Versus Right
CPI and CSP: Alliance and Cracks
Communist Influence Within Congress
CPI Volte-face: Gandhi over Bose
D. Communist Party of India and the Second World War
Russo-German Entente and Indian Response
Ramgarh Resolution
Cautious Left Line
Soviet–British Alliance and Pro-British Communist Policy
Defection of S.S. Batliwala
E. Communist View of Independence and Partition
Turmoil in Post-war Britain
INA Trials, Navy Mutiny and Cabinet Mission
Cautious Soviet Approach to Indian Liberation
1946 Election Manifesto
Nationality Policy
August Resolution: Extremists Versus Moderates
Silence of CPSU and CPGB
Mountbatten Plan: Soviet and Indian Interpretations
Growth of the Congress Left Wing
Mass Appeal of Gandhi
‘Rationalist Revolt’ of Left Wing
Suspension of Non-Cooperation Movement and Dissent in Congress Camp
M.N. Roy’s ‘Programme’ for Congress
Resignation of C.R. Das and Formation of Swaraj Party
Emergence of Left as a Powerful Group Inside Congress
Formation of Socialist Groups
Birth of Congress Socialist Party
Attack on CSP from Right and Ultra-Left Camps
Defence of Jayaprakash Narayan and Narendra Deva
The Second World War and CSP
Rejection of Gandhi’s Non-Violence Plea
Congress Socialists’ Stand on Negotiation for India’s Freedom
Labour and Peasant Movements
A. The Labour Movement
Crisis after the First World War
Unity Against Oppression
Influence of Russia and Britain and Conflict of Opinion
Formation of AITUC
Gandhi’s Role in Trade Union Movement
Initial Trade Unionism and Political Ideologies
Communism and Trade Unionism
IFTU and RILU’s Control Bid
Moderates Versus Extremists: Split in AITUC
Divided Leadership and Bid for Rapprochement
CSP’s Efforts to Forge a United Front
B. The Peasant Movement
Farmers’ Awakening Following the First World War and Non-Cooperation Movement
Communist International’s Interest in Indian Peasantry
Formation of All India Kisan Congress
Bid to Control Kisan Movement and Triumph for Left
The Growth of Other Leftist Parties
The Forward Bloc
The Revolutionary Socialist Party
The Revolutionary Communist Party of India
The Bolshevik Party of India
The Bolshevik Leninist Party
The Radical Democratic Party
Select Bibliography

‘We are in debt to Professor Satyabrata Rai Chowdhuri for writing this excellent overview of the Indian Left. This will be a very useful book for experts and for people who want an overview of the Left. His book is especially welcome because of its wide scope. Let us hope that he is planning a successor volume that will bring this remarkable story of communism in India up to the present day.’ 

Stephen P. Cohen,
The Brookings Institution

‘Professor Rai Chowdhuri has to be congratulated on such a comprehensive coverage of not only the Communist Party history but also the Left movements in general in India. I also like his interweaving of the history of the mainstream nationalist movement with a history of the Left. There are not many books which cover the same ground and this one, I am sure, will stay a standard reference work for a long time.’ 

Meghnad Desai,
London School of Economics and Political Science

‘[This book is] one of the most lucid, nuanced and comprehensive accounts of the role of the political Left in Indian nationalism I have ever read. While many other scholarly accounts have commented on the heterogeneity of Leftist movements in India, few have attempted to delineate in such detail and with such clarity every hue, every highlight and every shade in the entire spectrum of Left politics in the era of high nationalism from 1917 to 1947. It is a task of commendable magnitude accomplished by a distinguished scholar. It will serve as an invaluable resource for both undergraduate and postgraduate students of Indian political history.’ 

Debjani Ganguly,
Australian National University

‘Leftism in India, 1917–1947, is an excellent account of the political manoeuvres and theoretical ruminations of Indian radicals during the last thirty years of the liberation movement … [The] book is an attempt to interweave a study of the mainstream nationalist movement with not only the trajectory of the Communist Party of India, but that of the Left wing of the Indian National Congress.’

New Politics, USA

‘It is a welcome addition to the existing literature, both for its comprehensiveness and the discussion its critical conclusions could generate.’ 

The Hindu

‘The volume is definitely a significant contribution to the history of the Left movement in India. One would expect Rai Chowdhuri to come out with a successor volume that will cover the history of the communists in India and their transformation, if any at all, up to the present day, especially in the backdrop of Deng Xiaoping’s famous dictum: “To be rich is glorious, that is the Marxism of today.”’

The Statesman

‘It is necessary to know the early history of the Left in order to make sense of its politics today…this book brings it alive with detailed and objective accounts. The author captures remarkably well the complex milieu in which the communists and other Leftists struggled to find an identity for themselves.’ 

The Telegraph

‘The book is a history of the nationalist struggle for decolonisation told from the standpoint of the Left in India, as well as an evaluation of the role of Leftism in this struggle. The result is a useful study of the impact that the communists and the Left wing of the Congress had on each other…. Rai Chowdhuri covers in great detail M.N. Roy’s role in introducing ideas of Marxism in India, Jawaharlal Nehru’s encounter with Fabian socialism, the emergence of working-class parties in urban centres and the Congress socialists’ resolve to stay within the Congress but fight for radical socio-economic changes. The very fact that this is a history that looks at different aspects of Leftism in India together must be welcomed.’ 

Economic and Political Weekly

‘This is a useful reference book that highlights a rather neglected but a significant aspect of Indian politics in the early 20th century. Indeed, by tracing the origin of the Left movement in the era of the national Independence struggle, the author demonstrates how and why the Left movement came to acquire the shape it had in an Independent India.’

Journal of Asian and African Studies (SAGE Publications)

‘This may well be the ultimate work on Indian Leftists covering a tumultuous period—from when Lenin seized power in Russia in 1917 to when India gained freedom in 1947.’

Indo-Asian News Service

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ISBN: 9789386446183