Prasad V //
113th birth anniversary of Bhagat Singh (Sept 28), the great revolutionary fighter of Indian freedom struggle is falling at a time when different ideological groups including the extreme right-wing RSS is trying to claim and usurp his legacy. The popularity and respect he got in the Indian psyche is evident from that. Bhagat Singh was not only superfluously influenced by the Russian revolution but thoroughly defended the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat. In the last days of his life he urged his followers to form a communist party in India to lead the worker’s revolution and establish dictatorship of the proletariat. Thus, he is one of the early Marxist thinkers and ideologues of our soil.
Bhagat Singh had been usually valorised for his martyrdom. But usually most of us forget his contributions as an intellectual and a thinker. He not only sacrificed his life, as many did before him and also after him, but he also had a vision of independent India. In his short but intense revolutionary life Bhagat Singh has passed through continuous development in his ideas and contemplation. He started with revolutionary freedom struggle and later embraced anarchism and then to revolutionary ideas, finally reaching Marxism.
‘By Revolution we mean that the present order of things, which is based on manifest injustice must change. Producers or labourers, in spite of being the most necessary element of society, are robbed by their exploiters of their labour and deprived of their elementary rights. The peasant who grows corn for all, starves with his family; the weaver who supplies the world market with textile fabrics, has not enough to cover his own and his children’s bodies; masons, smiths and carpenters who raise magnificent palaces, live like pariahs in the slums. The capitalists and exploiters, the parasites of society, squander millions on their whims.’
They argued that a ‘radical change’ was necessary ‘and it is the duty of those who realise it to reorganise society on the socialistic basis’. For this purpose, the ‘establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat’ was necessary (ed. Shiv Verma, Selected Writings of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, New Delhi, 1986, pp. 74-75).
Bhagat Singh and his comrades in arms transformed to conceptualizing a socialist revolution in India is further evident from the slogans raised by them in the Lahore Conspiracy Case on January 21, 1930. The accused appeared in court wearing red scarves. As soon as the magistrate took the chair, they raised the following slogans: ‘Long Live Socialist Revolution’, ‘Long Live the Communist International’, ‘Long live the people’, ‘Lenin’s name will never die’, and ‘Down with Imperialism.’ Bhagat Singh then read the text of the following telegram in the court and asked the Magistrate to transmit it to the Third International:
‘On Lenin Day we send hearty greetings to all who are doing something for carrying forward the ideas of the great Lenin, we wish success to the great experiment Russia is carrying out. We join our voice to that of the International working-class movement. The proletariat will win. Capitalism will be defeated. Death to Imperialism’. (Ibid., p. 82)
Bhagat Singh was critical to the then prevalent trend of individual terrorism among the revolutionary youth of India. He realised the necessity of mass mobilization and organising workers and peasants. He argued in his final writings that the communist party has to organise the workers and the peasantry. He advocated for organising labour unions and taking up economic demands and sustained struggle as the means to educate the workers and ordinary people. He stated: ‘I am not a terrorist and I never was, except perhaps in the beginning of my revolutionary career. And I am convinced that we cannot gain anything through these methods. One can easily judge it from the history of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. All our activities were directed towards an aim, i.e., identifying ourselves with the great movement as its military wing. If anybody has misunderstood me, let him amend his ideas. I do not mean that bombs and pistols are useless, rather the contrary. But I mean to say that mere bomb throwing is not only useless but sometimes harmful. The military department of the party should always keep ready all the war-material it can command for any emergency. It should back the political work of the party. It cannot and should not work independently’ (Ibid. p. 138).
The family of Bhagat Singh has a revolutionary heritage more than the nationalist background. His father, Sardar Kishan Singh, and his uncles, Sardar Ajit Singh and Sardar Swaran Singh, were all connected with the Bharat Mata Samiti, the oldest revolutionary organisation in Punjab. Ajit Singh, who was initially exiled to Burma in 1907, had to escape from his motherland to Iran, Turkey, Germany, and ultimately to Brazil. To young Bhagat Singh, Kartar Singh Sarava, the Ghadar Party leader, was like a mythical hero. In 1916 young Sarava had become a martyr at an even younger age than Bhagat Singh. So in his formative years, his family and environment had left a deep nationalist and revolutionary impact on Bhagat Singh.
In 1924 Bhagat Singh went to Kanpur and was introduced to Batukeshwar Dutta, Bejoy Kumar Sinha, Jogesh Chattopadhyay and other revolutionaries by Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, the famous Congress leader of UP. There he became a member of the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA). The constitution of that revolutionary group declared – the aim of the organisation was to establish a federal republican form of government in India through armed revolution…. The fundamental principles of this Republic would be establishing universal suffrage and eradicating the social system in which there is exploitation.
He returned to Lahore early in 1925 and worked for some time on the editorial staff of ‘Kiriti’, edited by Sohan Singh Josh. In March 1926, he established a young revolutionary group known as the ‘Naujawan Bharat Sabha’ which went ahead of the HRA and declared that its objective was to establish “a completely independent Republic of Workers and Peasants in India”. In August-September 1928, at a meeting in Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla Ground the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) was transformed into the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). This happened in the natural process of ideological development of Bhagat Singh. Prior to this Bhagat Singh had read a number of books and articles on the October Revolution. Lenin became his hero. Familiar with the writings of Marx and Bakunin, he critiqued nationalism, anarchism, non-violence, terrorism, religion, theism and communalism relentlessly. “criticism” and “independent thinking” were the “indispensable qualities of a revolutionary” according to him.
Bhagat Singh became an atheist at a time when most Indian revolutionaries were deeply religious. He rejected religion in favour of dialectical materialism with a passionate approach to knowledge. This remarkable tract demonstrates the true revolutionary’s ability to self-interrogate and arrive at rational solutions to the problems of belief and ideology.
Communists Must Orient Their Historical Roots To Bhagat Singh
History of the working-class Movement in any country has a continuity with previous revolutionary movements. But continuity with a Break. Because the content of both the movements are different. Still Indian working-class movement has its origin at the time of its nationalist movement and linked with it. The process of formation of a nation through the unification of all the nationalities of India started centring round the anti- imperialist independence struggle. But the nationalist movement was not free from the influence of religion and casteism.
This happened mainly because the Indian national bourgeoisie was in the leadership of the struggle. Further the development of capitalism and the growth of national independence struggle took place when world capitalism had lost all its progressive character due to development of Imperialism. For that reason, our freedom movement divided into two opposite trends – one compromising with imperialism and feudalism and the other an uncompromising trend. The first trend was dominant throughout our freedom struggle. Due to this, Indian nationalism became religion-oriented and quite naturally it became Hindu nationalism. Because that trend stood for a compromise between the concepts of democracy and religious and social prejudices.
The Hindu nationalism has created its own reactions among other sections of the population. As a result, the Muslim community formed a different trend resulting the division of the country and the death of multi lakhs in communal riots followed. The evil of casteism was also deep rooted and the struggle against that was heavily compromised. As a reaction to that the Scheduled Caste Federation was born.
When capitalism had reached the stage of imperialism internationally, the bourgeois revolution had lost its revolutionary character and turned reactionary. Further it had become a hindrance to progress, restricted scientific outlook and advancement. From then onwards the revolutionary bourgeois humanism of the past started to compromise with religion and all sorts of prejudices. At such a juncture of world capitalism the Indian nationalism developed. Naturally, we find two parallel trends in Indian nationalism. The Indian working-class movement is a continuation of the revolutionary trend in Indian independence movement; but with a break.
Bhagat Singh wrote an article titled Achhoot Samasya (Problem of Untouchability) at the early age of 16 in 1928. Muhammad Ali Jinnah proposed in 1923 to divide the untouchables amongst Hindu and Muslim missionary organizations in the Congress meeting. Bhagat Singh wrote in the backdrop of that. He sensitively put forward the situation of untouchables in those times and offered some solutions. Thus, Bhagat Singh was above any such feelings and fought such evils uncompromisingly.
The communists should be thankful that history has given us such a leader about whom the right-wing forces also are pushed to express their respect. So long as this trend and its supreme idol Bhagat Singh who has reached to the level of communist values and philosophical outlook at a tender age is not adequately respected and the deserving position is not given, we cannot organise the communist movement in our country on the right footing.
Originally published in The Truth: Platform for Radical Voices of The Working Class (Issue 5/ September ’20)