Obviously these Communist intellectuals considered the 1857 Revolt a reactionary movement without any popular support and national character. In their view, those who supported the British government represented the progressive forerunners of nationalism. This view is the very antithesis of the present-day Left perspective on 1857. They emphatically state, ?Orthodox nationalists of a later period looked upon and interpreted the rebellion of 1857 as a great struggle for Independence. This tendency betrays the grave danger of reaction which is contained in the nationalism built on religious basis. No Indian nationalist who stands for the social progress of his people and who struggles for political independence as a step towards that goal, would be treading the right path by clinging to the sentiments that lay behind the revolt of 1857, which was not merely a military effort to overthrow the foreign domination. It was provoked by a fierce spirit of social reaction, being a revolt not against the British government in particular, but against the advance social and political ideas it embodied?the ideas, which were hailed by the intellectual middle class of India?.? (M.N.Roy and Abani Mukherji, India in Transition p.p159-160).
In the light of these observations coming from the two pioneers of the Communist movement in India how do we describe the present-day Left perspective articulated by Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury, A.B. Bardhan and Dipankar Bhattacharya (CPI-ML)etc. ? if not as rabidly ?reactionary? ?anti-progressive? and to say the least, ?anti-national?? In self-defence they could say who cares for the views of a man like M.N. Roy who drifted away, became a renegade and revisionist and lost his credibility as a Marxist?
Leave aside M.N.Roy, but what about the celebrated Left intellectual Rajni Palme Dutt (1896-1974) popularly known as R.P.D. in the Communist circles? Who among the Left intellectuals and Communist leaders dare question the authority of R.P. Dutt as a Marxist? Born, educated and settled in England R.P.D., as founder of the Communist Party of Britain, and as Editor of The Labour Monthly, was seen as the foremost Marxist intellectual of his time. For many decades he acted as the guide and philosopher of the Indian Communist Party as well as a bridge between the CPI and the CPSU. His magnum opus India Today published in 1940 was regarded as a reference work for an authentic Marxist interpretation of Indian history and politics. Gangadhar Adhekari, a top Left theoretician acknowledged that India Today ?inspired and reared a whole generation of early Marxists.? (Marx and India, PPH, 1968, p.17)
What is the Left perspective on 1857 presented by Rajni Palme Dutt in his classic India Today? (First published in 1940) Unlike the present-day ?Left perspective?, Rajni Palme Dutt doesn'tsee in 1857 a peasant revolt. He writes, ?It was the decaying reactionary elements, the discontented princes and feudal forces, which led the opposition, whose leadership culminated and floundered in the revolt of 1857. No force was then capable of leading and voicing the exploited and oppressed peasantry; and the revolt could only end in defeat.? (India Today, Manisha, Calcutta, 1997, p.195)
Elaborating it further Rajni Palme Dutt says, ?The rising of 1857 was in its essential character and dominant leadership the revolt of the old conservative and feudal forces and dethroned potentates for their rights and privileges which they saw in process of destruction. This reactionary character of the rising prevented any wide measure of popular support and doomed it to failure.? (ibid, p.306)
He reiterates, ?The Revolt of 1857 was the last attempt of the decaying feudal forces, of the former rulers of the country, to turn back the tide of foreign domination.? As has been already pointed out, the progressive forces of the time, of the educated class representing the nascent bourgeoisie supported British rule against the Revolt. The Revolt was crushed, but the lesson was learned. From this point the feudal forces no longer represented the main potential menace and rival to British rule. (ibid, p.440)
Obviously Rajni Palme Dutt'sviews on 1857 are in no way different from the views held by M.N. Roy and Abani Mukherji in 1922. He also considers 1857 a feudal outburst without any peasant participation and popular support. He also holds it reactionary and anti-progressive and therefore doomed to failure. In his view also, the section which supported the British government against the Revolt represented the progressive patriots in Indian society.
Quite naturally, Jawaharlal Nehru was swayed away by the powerful propaganda and the first glimpse of the Soviet Union in 1927. According to EMS Namboodiripad (Nehru: Ideology and Practice, Delhi, 1988 pp. 20-24), he returned to India as fellow traveller and was very fond of using Marxist jargon. Nehru chose to depict the 1857 Revolt in his Glimpses of World History (first published in 1934-35), as ?The last flicker of feudal India against a modern kind of industrialised capitalist state? Penguin Edition 2004, pp. 479-482), and later in his The Discovery of India (first published in 1946) he reiterated: ?Essentially it was a feudal outburst, headed by feudal chiefs and their followers and aided by the widespread anti-foreign sentiment.? (Edition 1983, p. 323). Although he had moved away from his earlier position and opined that ?it was much more than a military mutiny and it spread rapidly and assumed the character of a popular rebellion and a war of Indian independence.? (ibid, p. 323). Echoing the pre-1957 Marxist perception, Nehru wrote: ?There was hardly any rational and unifying sentiment among the leaders?. It is clear however that there was a lack of nationalist feeling which might have bound the people of India together. (ibid, p. 324). Here we find a close similarity in the views of M.N.Roy and R.P. Dutt on one hand and Nehru on the other.
But why should Prof. Irfan Habib, who with his AMU team after the desertion of disillusioned Bengali intellectuals, seems to have assumed the role of the official historian of the CPI(M) use Nehru as a whipping boy for his earlier views on 1857 as a ?feudal outburst?? Interestingly Prof. Habib is maintaining a studied silence about the very detailed and explicit views of the official Marxist intellectuals like M.N. Roy and R. Palme Dutt quoted above, whom Nehru was simply echoing.
After having presented here two authoritative intellectual samples of pre-1957 Left perspective on 1857 we are faced with the questions, ?Where are the roots of this earlier Left perspective, what brought about an abrupt reversal in this perspective and when??
(To be continued)