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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 1, December 26, 2009 - Annual Number 2009

Ajoy Ghosh: The Creative Marxist

Saturday 26 December 2009, by Anil Rajimwale

The year 2009-10 is being celebrated as the birth centenary of one of most outstanding Marxist theoreticians and Communist leaders of the world communist movement, Ajoy Ghosh. That provides us an occasion to trace some of his most lasting contributions to independent India broadly, and the Indian communist movement in particular.

Ajoy Kumar Ghosh was born on February 20, 1909. We will not go into his biographical details, as they have already appeared in many places. He passed away on January 13, 1962, at the age of only 53, after suffering from TB for nearly twenty years, but the short period, when he was at the helm of the party, covered an entire era of the Indian communist movement, coming out of disruption and disintegration to become one of the foremost political entities in the country. Ajoy Ghosh’s contribution in this transformation was phenomenal.

Chief Characteristics

His greatest strength lay in his a clear Marxist vision and theoretical direction. He would overcome the most difficult situations through theoretical generalisations and their resolution.

In the late 1920s-early 1930s, he sailed for some time with the underground revolutionary movement of Bhagat Singh and others. But he never fully fell for it, and soon came to the conclusion that such a movement, cut off from the movement of the working masses, and based entirely on secret armed squads, could only fail and never succeed. Bhagat Singh was another revolutionary who came to the conclusion that the path he was following was entirely wrong; there is no doubt that had Bhagat Singh lived, he would have joined the communist movement. Chadrashekhar Azad’s death, a result of betrayal by some others in the group, and the break-up of the HSRA (Hindustan Socialist Republican Association) gave a final blow to the anarchist revolutionism. And among those who dealt the blows was Ajoy Ghosh himself, who was evolving into an effective Marxist theoretician and a mass Communist and TU leader.

New India and Crisis in Communist Movement

The Indian Communists heartily welcomed the hard-won freedom of India in 1947. The trend under the leadership of P.C. Joshi considered it as a completion of a stage of the national liberation revolution. Joshi had already become a national figure, a great achievement for a Marxist. Had this trend continued, the position of the Communists in India would have been completely different; perhaps they would have been the leading national force, as in Vietnam and China.

But the very achievement of freedom produced a contradiction in theory. This had been partly reflected long before in the Lenin-M.N. Roy controversy on the colonial countries and the position and role of revolutionary forces therein. The controversy had been very skilfully resolved by Lenin in his thesis on the bourgeois democratic revolution.

But the controversy erupted afresh. There were attempts to remove PCJ from the leadership in 1946 itself by the Left sectarian elements. Thankfully, they did not succeed. The ‘gone over’ thesis returned: Stalin and some others long back had said, the bourgeoisie in the colonial countries had ‘gone over’ to imperialism. Lenin said a firm ‘no’ to this thesis.

But the seeds of Left-sectarian infantile disorder, which had remained dormant, sprouted again, and became a disease. Can the bourgeoisie really lead the country to independence? Can other progressive forces cooperate with it in this endeavour? And can an independent nation be built with the non-working classes in power?

India produced a unique situation. It began creating a nation with a deep-rooted political democracy, a generally progressive path of socio-economic development, a strong infrastructure-based economy, a powerful public sector, an independent foreign policy, an open mass media, multiparty system, mass democratic rights, open mass movements, etc. In other words, all that Marx had visualised as preferable conditions for mass and democratic advance.

Many of these rights were achieved under the pressure of mass movements. Yet they were taking shape when the bourgeoisie of a backward country was in power. What should the Communists do? How to advance?

A section of Communists was totally confused! From their point of view, all this simply was not possible in post-1947 India. Therefore this section chose to declare everything as a hoax. Democracy and basic change could only take place under the leadership of the working class (represented by the Communist Party), or not at all. Elections were a hoax, they said. But the subsequent developments proved they were not a hoax: it was through the ballot box, backed by mass movement, that the Communists came to power in Kerala in 1957.

Thus there was a Left-sectarian, adventurist backlash in the form of the infamous BTR line in 1948-50. It smashed the Indian communist movement to smithereens. The rest is quite well known.

Communist Revival and Ajoy Ghosh

Ajoy Ghosh never gave in to such immaturity and childishness, which went to prove that the Leftwing petty bourgeois ‘revolutionism’ was the best way to smash the revolution. The ultra-Left disorder had never been cured. The Communists managed to cause damage to themselves precisely at a time when the country was advancing.

The “Three Ps Letter” of Ajoy Ghosh, S.A. Dange and S.V. Ghate pointed out that there was a better, creative and healthy way to deal with the contradictions of the situation. The contradictions contained the seeds of communist advance.

The BTR leadership was removed in 1950, replaced ultimately by Ajoy Ghosh and his team. In fact he represented replacement of the pre-war outdated concepts by new ones in accordance with the new situation generated by the movements of freedom and democracy. That was till Maoism made a renewed attack on the world communist movement. Today Maoism itself has been disowned by the Communist Party of China.

Ajoy Ghosh’s period (1951-62) was an eventful one, that of revival of the communist movement and an assertion of Marxist creativity. The party gradually began to come out of the morass of isolation and self-destruction, to become by the late 1950s, a national force. It was a novel experience for a Communist Party—to play a constructive and national class role, rather than a ‘destructive’ one assigned to them by tradition. The understanding of the “Three Ps Letter” gradually evolved into a creative application of Marxism in the concrete Indian conditions. The speeches and writings of Ajoy Ghosh reflect this dialectical combination of national and class analysis. A Communist Party cannot become one in the real sense unless it had a national outlook and national vision. This is particularly true of a backward, colonial country, now a developing one.

Era of Nehruvian Outlook

Nehruvian vision reflected a progressive endeavour of the people of an emerging nation. It was a particular strategy charting the way forward. It no doubt expressed the aspirations of the rising capitalist and middle classes; but it at the same time represented the progressive aspirations of the masses. It also reflected, to an extent, the objective needs of an emerging nation and its economy, society and polity. Therefore, there were many common points, the points of unity and historical compromise, a historic united front against imperialism and oppression. At the same time, the constituent forces contended against each other. While struggling to deepen the Nehruvian strategy, the Communists sought to criticise it for its serious lapses, and in this course evolve their own strategy. The new national democratic strategy sought to bring together the positives of these strategies. The national democratic strategy sought to go beyond the Nehruvian one. Ajoy Ghosh’s criticism of Nehru, as also of Jayaprakash Narayan, sought to emphasise the creative future.

It is a positive comment on the era that the Communists and the Left today seek to remind the Congress of precisely that Nehruvian legacy which it is trying to dilute, and which attempt is being rightly criticised.

Path of Development

Ajoy Ghosh assimilated all that was new in the Indian and world situation. The CPI became the second politico-social force within Parliament and in the larger society, next only to the Congress. More than that, it is the Communists to whom other political forces and people in general turned for the solution of national and class questions. Public sector, nationalisation, abolition of zamindari and princely privileges, heavy industrialisation, development of economic infrastructure and structures, five-year plans, democracy, the communal-fascist menace, struggle for peace and disarmament and peaceful coexistence, rights of the masses, linguistic reorganisation, Delhi marches and bandhs, liberation of Goa and Pondicherry, friendship with socialist countries, and so on—the Communists were everywhere and at the head of the events, often setting the nation’s agenda.

In the meantime, the CPI restructured itself to play a more effective and meaningful role in the country. Its Amritsar Special Congress of 1958 was a world event. The CPI announced that Opposition parties have a role to play in future socialism, gave up the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat, and adopted a three-tier organisational structure, which is in existence even today. E.M.S. Namboodiripad wrote in the very next issue of New Age after the Amritsar Congress that by so doing, the CPI was only carrying the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi forward.

The CPI along with other progressive forces managed to isolate the communal-fascist and Right reactionary forces; the latter were cornered. Ajoy Ghosh in articles and interviews in 1955 and later made it clear that the CPI would not allow the Rightwing reactionary forces to replace the Nehru Government. The Nehru Government could only be replaced by an unity of democratic forces including the progressive forces within the Congress.

The resolution of the CC CPI of June 1955 was a turning-point in the history of the CPI.

Maoist Offensive and World Communist Movement (WCM)

The communist movement in India was growing in a tandem with the international communist movement. Internationalism had always been a strong point of the CPI. Ajoy Ghosh personally, and the CPI collectively, made singular contribution to the creative development of the Marxist evaluation of the new world situation. Destalinisation, peaceful coexistence, peaceful forms of transition to democratic and socialist revolutions, relationship of democracy and socialism, use of mass media and parliamentary structures etc. were some of the novel features. The world communist conferences of 1957, 1960, 1961, 1969 etc. were important milestones. Ajoy Ghosh, along with others, contributed to this process immensely.

Both Indian and international communist movements were on the verge of a huge break-through.

It was precisely at this point that Maoism struck on the world communist movement (WCM) and CPI. Maoism, as a trend of departure from Marxism, was gathering momentum within the CPC (CP China) and the world over. It was a fossilisation of the old understanding that stood in opposition to the WCM. Having first agreed to the formulations of the world communist conferences, the CPC began departing due to several changes within their party and the country. Today they have given up those positions and have discarded Maoism. At that time, China wanted to be a big power in opposition to the USSR.

Maoism gave a call to split the CPs all over the world in the name of armed revolution—‘proletarian’, ‘socialist’ and what not, and disrupted the WCM. Thousands of youth were misled by this pseudo-revolutionism. The process of disruption continues even today.

Ajoy Ghosh’s Sturggle for Party Unity

Ajoy Ghosh played a crucial role in grappling with the Maoist ideology and its splitting activities. He had to strain hard to keep the unity of the CPI intact, even at the cost of his health. He openly criticised Maoism, whenever the situation warranted. He criticised the activities to split the world communist movement, to go against its agreed understanding, and the attempts at creating tensions on the border with India. He went out of the way to plead with the Maoist leaders of the CPC to refrain from such activities, and went to Peking for this purpose.

The Maoists within the CPI were gaining their strength from international Maoism. Tensions were growing, and it almost seemed that the party would split in 1961 itself. It was the painstaking and strenuous, allout efforts and the crucial speech of Ajoy Ghosh at the 1961 Vijayawada Congress that saved the CPI at that time. He was virtually brought on a stretcher, so ill he was.

This famous speech, as amended and adopted by the Sixth Congress of the CPI (April 7-16, 1961), is known as “New Situation and Our Tasks”. It was a balanced and realistic assessment, and it has been broadly vindicated by the subsequent developments.

Yet, the party split could not be prevented in the coming years. Today, the movement is divided into numerous factions and parties, primarily because of Maoism.

It is a positive development that the CP of China has today dissociated itself from Maoism, ‘Cultural Revolution’ and such other phenomena and unfortunate events.

Ajoy Ghosh died only a few months later, on January 13, 1962, in the course of a hectic election campaign. He has left a deep imprint on history as a Communist of a new type.

Nearly five decades have passed since Ajoy Ghosh left us. The period has proved his theoretical understanding to be broadly correct.

Ajoy Ghosh was a Marxist theorist and a leader of a new era.

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