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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 47

Nehru’s First Visit to Soviet Union

Tuesday 11 November 2008, by Leonid Mironov

Jawaharlal Nehru’s first visit to the Soviet Union in 1927 was connected with the Tenth Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. His two subsequent visits were in 1955 and 1961, after he became the Prime Minister of Independent India. Of these the 1927 visit has a special importance.

From the early days of the October Revolution, Nehru closely followed the socialist transfor-mations in Soviet Russia, studied her experience, and strove to use it in the interests of the freedom movement in India. To gain a deeper under-standing of the course of the world’s revolutionary process, Nehru studied the works of Marx and Lenin which, by his own admission, substantially influenced his views on the ways and laws of world social development. In doing so, as Nehru pointed out in one of his articles, he was deeply impressed in those years by Lenin’s work, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, and the book written by the American journalist, John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World.

Later, Nehru wrote the following about that period: “We began a new phase in our struggle for freedom in India at about the same time as the October Revolution led by the great Lenin. We admired Lenin whose example influenced us greatly.â€

No wonder he wanted to visit the Soviet Union and see things at first hand. Such an opportunity offered itself in November 1927, when Jawaharlal Nehru, together with his father Motilal Nehru, was invited by the USSR Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries to attend the celebrations of the Tenth Anniversary of the October Revolution.

On November 7, 1927, Jawaharlal Nehru together with his father, wife and sister set his foot on Soviet soil for the first time at the small border station of Negoreloye. There, right at the station, he was welcomed by the local residents.

Many friends of the Soviet Union had come to Moscow in those days. Among them were the French writers Henri Barbusse, Paul Vaillant Couturier, the former captain of the French Army, Jacques Sadoul, who later won world fame as a film director, the 82-year-old Antoine Gueux, who had taken part in the Paris Commune, Revolutionry leaders from various countries like Clara Zetkin, Bela Kun, Sen Katayama, Gallacher, and many others.

India was also represented at the celebrations by some revolutionary and democratic leaders. The newspaper Pravda, the central organ of the Bolshevik Party, in its issue dated November 5, 1927, reported how invitations to Indian democrats had been sent and the reaction of the British colonial aluthorities to them. In a special article devoted to India, Pravda said that the invitations had been dispatched in good time to Indian political organisations, as, for instance, to the Workers’ and Peasants’ Parties of Bengal, Bombay, Madras and Rajputana. These invitations had been intercepted by the British Government, which had not permitted their delivery.

Invitations had also been sent to prominent politicians and public leaders and leaders of the national liberation movement. The delivery of telegrams with these individual invitations had been allowed by the British censor. Published in the Indian press, they caused a “sensation†, as one of the Indian newspapers put it. But as soon as some of the invitees expressed their desire to avail themselves of the invitations, Pravda said, the British Government refused them exit visas.

And yet, in spite of the prohibitory orders of the British colonialists, a few more Indians, besides Jawaharlal and Motilal Nehru, managed to come to Moscow to participate in the celebrations of the Tenth Anniversary of the October Revolution. There were three members of the Anti-Imperialist League, and the well-known Indian revolutionary, Saklatwala, who had arrived in the Soviet Union a few days earlier than Nehru and who, according to Nehru, was at the Moscow station to meet him.

The Soviet press gave much coverage to the visit of Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru. On the eve of their arrival, Pravda published their biographies. The newspaper described them as most prominent leaders of the Indian national liberation movement. Pravda also gave an account of the activities of Jawaharlal Nehru in his capacity as an official representative of the Indian National Congress at the first conference of the Anti-imperialist League, held in Brussels in February 1927. During the stay of Jawaharlal Nehru and his father in Moscow, the Soviet central newspapers kept on informing their readers of the meetings they had and the speeches they made.

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Jawaharlal Nehru was received in the Kremlin by Mikhail Kalinin, Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR. Nehru visited several factories and plants, attended Moscow court proceedings, went to the museum of the October Revolution, the Bolshoi Theatre, and saw V. Pudovkin’s film, “The End of Saint-Petersburg†.

On November 8, Nehru took part in a festive meeting devoted to the Tenth Anniversary of the October Revolution, held in the Trade Union House. Here is what I was told by Professor Vladimir Balabushevich, a famous Indologist: “Nehru was a little late for the meeting. Nevertheless, when Jawaharlal Nehru and his father, Motilal Nehru, made their appearance in the hall and were introduced to the audience by the Chairman of the meeting, all those present in the hall rose and gave them a warm welcoming ovation. Already at that time, Jawaharlal Nehru was regarded as an outstanding fighter against imperialism and colonialism.â€

Jawaharlal Nehru had many interesting meetings in Moscow in those November days. Besides calling on Mikhail Kalinin, he met A. Lunacharsky, the First Commissar of Education, V. Kuibyshev, Chairman of the Supreme National Economic Council, the Health Minister Semashko, the French writer Henri Barbusse and the German internationalist Clara Zetkin, Sun Yat-sen’s widow Soong Ching-ling, and the Mexican writer Diego Rivera. And how many interesting meetings did he have with workers and peasants!

Jawaharlal Nehru described later all these unforgettable meetings and impressions on returning to India in his detailed and vivid articles on the Soviet Union, as well as in the book Soviet Russia which came out shortly after.

In his articles Nehru strove to tell Indians, truthfully and objectively, about the essence of the October Revolution and the socio-economic changes that followed it. No doubt Nehru was greatly impressed by what he saw and heard. In one of these articles he wrote: “The October Revolution was undoubtedly one of the great events of world history, the greatest since the first French Revolution, and its story is more absorbing from the human and dramatic point of view, than any tale or phantasy.â€

That he was already enthusiastic about the Soviet experiment comes out clearly when he says “it is difficult to feel indifferent towards Russia†, and “it is more difficult to judge her achievements and her failures impartially†. All the world, he said, was watching Soviet Russia, some with fear and hatred, and others with passionate hope and the longing to follow in her path.

Nehru told Indian readers that in Soviet Russia an entirely new political form of state had been set up—the Soviets—which were organs of power by workers and peasants, along with new forms of organisation of industry and agriculture, a new system of education from top to bottom, a new workers’ and peasants’ army, and so on.

Giving his observations of what he had seen in Moscow’s streets, Nehru pointed out that one could not perceive there poverty contrasting with luxury. He was astonished to see M. Kalinin, President of Soviet Russia, wearing peasant clothes and receving a salary that was nearly the same as that paid to his subordinates.

It is only natural that Nehru paid most of his attention to the way problems were being resolved in Soviet Russia, problems that agitated India, too, then. “Russia thus interests us,†he wrote, “because it may help us to find some solution for the great problems which face the world today. It interests us specially because conditions there have not been, and are not even now, very dissimilar to conditions in India. Both are vast agricultural countries with only the beginning of industrialisation, and both have to face poverty and illiteracy. If Russia finds a satisfactory solution for these, our work in India is made easier.â€

Nehru, just like John Reed, was surprised to see the Bolsheviks finding time as early as on the fourth day after the October Revolution, for the introduction of an eight-hour working day for the workers and for formulating policies in the field of education. Nehru saw that in Russia the nationalities problem had been resolved, and he drew the conclusion that the problem of national minorities in India could be quickly resolved but for the oppression of the British colonialists.

The successes of the Soviet people in socialist reconstruction so strongly impressed Nehru that on returning home, he began to popularise socialist ideas. He was firmly convinced that the only solution to the multi-dimensional social and economic problems of India lay along the socialist path. And when he became the Prime Minister of free India, his first step was to lay the foundation of future India on a socialist basis.

More than 48 years have passed since Jawaharlal Nehru’s first visit to the Soviet Union, but it will still be remembered both by Indians and the Soviet people, that this visit was of momentous importance to India for it not only helped to shape the mind and thoughts of one of the greatest statesmen of the newly emerging world, but also in shaping the attitude of the people of India towards the Soviet Union and the October Revolution through his objective writings.

While we observe Nehru’s birth anniversary, we can state with satisfaction that the principles of the October Revolution, which were repeatedly popularised by Nehru in India, have found their graphic expression in the relations between our countries. They have found their embodiment, specifically, in the numerous joint Soviet-Indian projects in the different parts of India, in joint Soviet-Indian actions in the struggle for peace in various international organisations. And, in all these, we constantly feel the everlasting contribution made by the great son of India, Jawaharlal Nehru.

(Mainstream, November 15, 1975)

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