People'sDemocracy, the mouthpiece of the CPI (M), has brought out a special number (May 07-13) with the title ?Understanding 1857: The Left Perspective?. This issue carries four new articles currently written by Irfan Habib, Prabhat Patnaik, Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury. It also reproduces four old articles, two written by E.M.S. Namboodripad and B.T. Ranadive in 1987 and two by Hiren Mukherjee and P.C. Joshi in the year 1957. The two articles published in 1857 in an American paper, New York Daily Tribune and attributed to Marx and Engels belong to a different genre which we intend to discuss separately. Here our immediate question is why should the Left perspective stop at 1957? The beginning of the Communist movement in India goes back to the year 1920. Why not this special number present us some glimpse of the Left perspective on 1857 during its thirty-two years long pre-1957 journey? Do they want us to believe that the Left intellectuals had not formulated and expressed any views on the 1857 revolt, in that long duration or is it a case of deliberate omission and suppression to hide something?
Let me draw the readers attention to a book titled India in Transition written by M.N. Roy in collaboration with Abani Mukherji and published in the year 1922 from Geneva. According to an official biography of Abani Mukherji, ?Both Roy and Abani were already Marxists and they, together with Roy'swife Evelyn (Shanti) drafted the first-ever policy statement on behalf of Indian Communists. This was published under the title of ?The Indian Communist Manifesto? on June 24, 1920, in the Glasgow Socialist.? (Gautam Chattopadhyay: Abani Mukherji, Peoples Publishing House, New Delhi 1976, p.17.) ?Those days M.N. Roy was considered to be a blue-eyed boy of Lenin and was a member of the Communist International. Roy and Abani both had attended the Second Congress of the Communist International in Moscow and had jointly founded the first Communist Party of India at Tashkent on October 17, 1920?. Soon afterwards, in 1921 an open manifesto in the name of the CPI was distributed at the Ahmedabad session of the Indian National Congress, bearing at the end the joint signatures of Manbendra Nath Roy and Abani Mukherji ?? This was soon followed by the much more serious book, India in Transition. Once again this bore the joint authorship seals of M.N. Roy and Abani Mukherji? (ibid, pp. 22-23). According to M.N. Roy'sMemoirs (New Delhi, 1964), India in Transition was written and published at the behest of the publication department of the Communist International (p. 553) and therefore, could be termed as the first official Marxist interpretation of Indian history and contemporary Indian society. (See also, Documents of the History of the Communist Party of India, Vol-I (Ed. Gangadhar Adhikari, New Delhi, 1971, pp 140-198, 357-510).
What is the Marxist view of 1857 Revolt presented in this first authoritative publication India in Transition? It says: ?The Revolution of 1857 was nothing but the last effort of the dethroned feudal potentates to regain their power. It was a struggle between the worn-out feudal system and the newly introduced commercial capitalism for political supremacy? and therefore ?the last vestiges of feudal power were shattered by the failure of the Revolution of 1857, which is known as the Sepoy Mutiny.? (Reprint, Bombay, 1971, p 20). To be more explicit, it says, ?The revolt of 1857 was the first serious attempt to overthrow the British domination; but by no means could it be looked upon as a national movement. It was nothing more than the last spasm of the dying feudalism? socially it was a reactionary movement because it wanted to replace British rule by revived feudal imperialism, either of the Moghals or the Marathas. This objectively reactionary character was the reason of its failure. It could not have been suppressed had it been a progressive national movement, led by the native bourgeoisie with advanced social ideas and political programme. But such a movement was impossible in that epoch.? (ibid, p.158 ).
Significantly the two Marxist intellectuals find themselves in agreement with the opinion of the imperialist historian Seeley and quote him approvingly (p. 158-159). They go a step further and pronounce: ?The revolt of 1857 was predominantly a military mutiny brought about by the intrigues of the deposed and discontented feudal chiefs. The people at large had very little to do with it; the majority of them remained passive or helped the British government. The only powerful Indian community with some sense of national solidarity, rendered valuable service to the British. The English system of education introduced in the 30?s, had brought into existence a small class of modern intellectuals who could be looked upon as the forerunners of the national movement of the subsequent epoch. The mutiny found all these intellectuals with modern and progressive thoughts on the side of the British government.? (ibid, p.159).
Further it says ?The failure of the mutiny proved that the intrigues of a backward social force, doomed to death by history, could not realise a national unity in opposition to a foreign domination, which nevertheless, objectively embodied an advanced political thought.? (ibid, p159) The Marxist duo concludes, ?The failure of the Mutiny proved conclusively that the people of India were not united by the old social institutions and religious traditions?that the future of India was to be secured not by the impossible revival of the old order of things but by the birth of a new force arising upon the ruins of the old (p. 161). Endorsing the Macaulayan policy in the field of education and employment, the authors say, ?The object was to foment the growth of a native element which would consciously support the British government as the most beneficial institution?. The wisdom of this policy was demonstrated by the part played by the modern intelligentsia during the revolt of 1857? (p.164).
(To be continued)