The recent attacks on Lenin’s statues in Tripura were accompanied by the propaganda that Indians allegedly have no cause to honour a Russian communist leader. The majority of Indian people, however, do not agree with this assertion.
Not only communist parties but the majority of political parties, as well as numerous journalists, respected scholars, poets and writers have condemned the attacks on Lenin’s statues. This reflects the deep impression that Lenin and the Russian Revolution have made on the struggle of the Indian people for their liberation.
In the face of the lying propaganda against Lenin which is being circulated in the social media, it is necessary to recall the role of Lenin and of Soviet Russia with respect to India’s anti-colonial struggle. The following issue of Mazdoor Ekta Lehar will address the relevance of Lenin’s teachings for the liberation of our society from all forms of exploitation and oppression.
Lenin and the anti-colonial struggle in India
Comrade Lenin took keen interest in the struggle of the Indian people for liberation from colonialism from very early on. He regularly studied and analysed the situation in India, the nature of British colonial domination here, as well as landmark struggles of the Indian people. He left notes on the revolutionary nature of India’s First War of Independence of 1857, as well as the struggle against the British attempt to partition Bengal in 1905. About this he wrote,
“The British dominate through their policy of ‘divide and rule’…, partition of Bengal by the British is in order to weaken the national movement.”
In 1909, when Bal Gangadhar Tilak was arrested and exiled for six years by the British for his defence of the revolutionary Khudiram Bose in the paper Kesari, Lenin wrote in his article “Inflammable Material in World Politics”:
“The British Liberal bourgeoisie, angered by the growth of the labour movement at home and frightened by the mounting revolutionary struggle in India, are more and more frequently, frankly and sharply demonstrating what brutes the highly “civilised” European politicians … can turn into when it comes to a rise in the mass struggle against capital and the capitalist colonial system ...”
Hailing the rise of the anti-colonial movement in India, Lenin wrote:
“But in India the street is beginning to stand up for its writers arid political leaders. The infamous sentence pronounced by the British jackals on the Indian democrat Tilak – he was sentenced to a long term of exile, the question in the British House of Commons the other day revealing that the Indian jurors had declared for acquittal and that the verdict had been passed by the vote of the British jurors! – this revenge against a democrat by the lackeys of the money-bag evoked street demonstrations and a strike in Bombay. In India, too, the proletariat has already developed to conscious political mass struggle – and, that being the case, the Russian-style British regime in India is doomed! “
After the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919, Lenin again condemned “the mounting brutality of the British, who more and more frequently resort to wholesale massacre and public floggings”. At the same time, he predicted that this increasing brutality of colonial rule, together with the growth of the class of industrial and rail workers, would lead to the maturing of revolution in India.
After the victory of the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, the Bolshevik Party and Lenin saw it as their immediate task to encourage and assist the movement for social and national emancipation worldwide, even though the work of consolidating the revolution within the country faced many formidable challenges. On their part, Indian revolutionaries looked towards Russia as an example and source of inspiration. They were particularly inspired by the Bolsheviks’ open advocacy of the right of nations to self-determination, and their unilateral renunciation of tsarist privileges in other countries like China.
The epoch-making character of the October Revolution in Russia led by the Bolshevik Party and Lenin, was early on recognized by Indian revolutionaries and progressive people of different shades of political opinion. One month before the outbreak of the October Revolution, an article by K.P. Khadilkar in the Marathi monthly Chitramaya Jagat showed understanding of the nature of the struggle being waged by the proletariat of Russia. It said: “A new struggle has started in Russia. The workers and soldiers who actually overthrew Tsardom by a rebellion are the champions of socialism…They are opposed to the capitalist class. This new struggle … is one that is going to envelop the entire continent
Indian patriots did not believe the lies spread by the British colonialists about Lenin and the October Revolution in Russia. Tilak wrote in Kesri: “Lenin was in favour of peace… he only wants justice for oppressed… he is popular among the people and the army because he distributed land amongst the peasantry”.
On February 17, 1920, the Assembly of Indian Revolutionaries in Kabul passed a resolution addressed to Lenin:
“The Indian revolutionaries express their deep gratitude and their admiration of the great struggle carried on by Soviet Russia for the liberation of all oppressed classes and peoples, and especially for the liberation of India. Great thanks to Soviet Russia for her having heard the cries of agony from the 315,000,000 people suffering under the yoke of imperialism. The mass meeting accepts with joy the hand of friendship and help extended to oppressed India”.
Lenin’s reply was broadcast on May 10, 1920.
“I am glad to hear that the principles of self-determination and the liberation of oppressed nations from exploitation by foreign and native capitalists, proclaimed by the Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic, have met with such a ready response among progressive Indians, who are waging a heroic fight for freedom. The working masses of Russia are following with unflagging attention the awakening of the Indian workers and peasants. The organisation and discipline of the working people and their perseverance and solidarity with the working people of the world are an earnest of ultimate success. We welcome the close alliance of Moslem and non-Moslem elements. We sincerely want to see this alliance extended to all the toilers of the East. Only when the Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Persian, and Turkish workers and peasants join hands and march together in the common cause of liberation – only then will decisive victory over the exploiters be ensured. Long live a free Asia!”
Among the Indian political activists abroad, including those exiled by the British, there were several who admired and even met with Lenin. These included, among others, V.D. Savarkar, Bhikaji Cama and Virendra Nath Chattopadhyaya.
Comrade Lenin took the time to meet and discuss the situation in India and the Indian struggle for freedom with several of these Indian activists. Following the October Revolution, Prof Abdul Jabbar Khairi and Prof Abdul Sattar Khairi, met Lenin in his office in the Kremlin on 23 November, 1918. The leaders of the First Provisional Government of India formed by the Hindustan Ghadar party in Kabul in 1915, Raja Mahendra Pratap and Maulana Barkatullah, met Lenin on 7 May, 1919. Others who met Lenin or exchanged letters with him regarding the Indian struggle were MN Roy, Abani Mukherjee and T.M.P.B Acharya, V.N. Chattopadhyaya, Pandurang Sadashiv Khankhoje, G. Ambia Khan Luhani, Bhubendra Nath Datta and Shaukat Usmani.
Writers and poets in our freedom struggle, including Premchand, Subramaniam Bharati, Nirala, were deeply inspired by Lenin and the October Revolution.
On the anniversary of Lenin’s passing, in 1930, Bhagat Singh and his comrades stunned the British court in which they stood, by reading out a telegram bearing their “Revolutionary Greetings to the Great Lenin”. Lenin’s powerful influence on revolutionary and patriotic Indians has continued in the decades after his death. The name and work of Lenin are inseparable from the aspiration and struggle of the Indian people to live free from every form of oppression and exploitation.