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October Revolution and the Indian Struggle (1986)

A document from 1986 collection of articles "Studies in Indo-Soviet Relations"

With his usual insight, Lenin along with other socialist revolutionaries was quick to recognise that the struggle of the Indian and other colonial peoples against their imperialist masters was a necessary part of the growth of socialism in the world.

It is significant to mention in this connection that by 1905 the situation in India had ripened for a new stage of freedom struggle and a modern method was evolved, the weapon of economic boycott, in place of the earlier technique of protests based on religious and other compulsions.

The advance of the freedom movement in India during 1905-1907 was, in fact, a part of the worldwide wave of progressive forces, following the defeat of Tsarism at the hands of Japan. This led to a far reaching and lasting effect on the consciousness of the Indian people. The initial success of the first Russian Revolution further strengthened the resolve of the Indian people to do or die. In this background, the national ferment against the British rule, typified by the general strike of the Bombay textile workers in 1905 — the first political action of the Indian working class — was entering a new phase.   

The Russian Revolution had taken place precisely at a time when the Indian freedom movement had begun to acquire the status of a mass movement, though its objectives and goals were still only vaguely defined. It is also understandable that at this stage the mass sympathy for the Russian Revolution was generally articulated by the leaders of the middle classes, they being the main instruments of the developing national movement. Hence, these were the people who were most influenced by the revolution. But as the efforts of the Soviet people for building a socialist society began to unfold themselves and as the Indian national movement started broadening its mass base, the convergence of interests of the Soviet Union and the n rations of the colonial and semi-colonial people against imperialism came to be widely accepted by the leading forces and personalities of the national movement in our country.

Lenin demonstrated that the era of great upheavals in Asia ushered in by the first Russian Revolution (1905-1907) augmented the European experience with the rich experience of "the heroic democracy of the masses in the Asiatic and semi- Asiatic countries”. And a further development of Marxism was inconceivable without the generalisation of this new experience gained in the East. It was Lenin who did the necessary theorising. He considered the major achievements of both the Russian and world cultures, and thoroughly analysed and critically appraised all the accomplishments of socio-political, philosophical and scientific thought and the tremendous experience of the international liberation movement. Working out the theory of imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism, Lenin examined and generalised the extensive historical, political and economic material directly relating to the countries of the East. His theory of liberating the colonial nations was the result of a profound study of the concrete socio-economic situation, cultural and historical traditions and ideological and political trends obtaining in the Oriental countries. Lenin was thus able to predict that national-liberation movements would, in the future, inevitably introduce many specific and diverse features of their own.

This is what Lenin wrote in his last years: “Our European philistines never even dream that the subsequent revolutions in Oriental countries, which possess much vaster populations and a much vaster diversity of social conditions, will undoubtedly display even greater distinctions than the Russian Revolution”.

History convincingly corroborated Lenin’s prediction. The collapse of imperialism’s disgraceful colonial system, along with the entire course of social development, is a striking illustration of the vitality and creative power of Lenin's teaching.

India, one of the largest countries of the colonial world, particularly attracted Lenin’s attention from the viewpoint of theoretical analysis of the era of awakening of Asia. It was lit India that a population of millions of people was subjected In the most brutal colonial oppression; it was there that the British colonialists shamelessly plundered the country’s national wealth, and it was there that the conditions were ripening for the outbreak of a mass movement against foreign domination.

Therefore, even at the outset of his political activity, Lenin turned directly to the recent history of India to discern trends and perspectives in the development of the liberation movement in the 20th century. In one of his early articles written in 1900, Lenin, in examining the colonial policy of the European bourgeoisie, pointed out that the oppressed peoples would step up their resistance to that policy. He cited the 1857-59 anti-British war of independence as an example.

Lenin’s interest in India, however, deepened during the era of the awakening of Asia, when popular discontent and movements were suppressed with brutal repressions. In 1908, in his well-known article, “Inflammable Material in World Politics”, he illustrated his point with the events in India. Lenin then wrote: “In India lately the native slaves of the ‘civilised’ British capitalists have been a source of worry to their ‘masters’. There is no end to acts of violence and popular which go under the name of the British system of government in India. Nowhere in the world — with the exception, of course, of Russia - will you find such abject mass poverty, such chronic starvation among the people”.

Of course, Lenin did not write solely about the colonial plunder of India and the ruinous consequences or this policy for the Indian people. He studied the methods to which the British colonial authorities resorted in exploiting and plundering the country. With the advent of the imperialist era, these methods changed drastically. Alongside the export of goods, the export of capital was acquiring ever greater proportions, the imperialists’ search for raw material sources intensified and contradictions between the imperialist plunderers rivalling for spheres of influence and the so-called “economic territories", i.e., colonies and dependent countries, became more Lenin placed India first among the largest colonies which were mercilessly exploited by financial capital. The import of British capital and export of raw materials from India were swiftly expanding and assuming unprecedented proportions.

Among the methods of colonial oppression in India, Lenin singled out the deliberate preservation of the feudal ownership of land, semi-feudal relations in farming and medieval forms of exploitation of the peasantry, retention of one-third of the country's territory of the so-called native states where feudal despotism was entrenched, as well as the caste system which hampered the development of social relations. In terms of the economy, British imperialism tried in every way to restrain the growth of those Indian industries that could successfully challenge similar industries of the metropolitan country. In his Notebook on Imperialism, Lenin stated that Britain stifled industrialisation and emphasised that the British rule in India was dictatorial and autocratic and that India, with its population of nearly 300,000,000, was being plundered and harassed by British bureaucrats.

Lenin showed, however, that even sophisticated methods of colonial oppression could not guarantee British imperialism a quiet rule over India. Although the British were armed to the teeth, they were greatly concerned about the loyalty of their own colonial army which consisted mainly of Indians. “The chief danger of the Sepoy uprising (1857), Lenin remarked “lay in the native army going over to the insurgents”.

The October 1917 Socialist Revolution in Russia gave a fresh impetus to the anti-imperialist movement in the colonial countries of the East. The influence of its ideas on national sell- awareness was truly invigorating because, in the first place, the example of the peoples of Russia who had done away with the power of the capitalists demonstrated to the colonial nations that “weak as they may be, and invincible as may seem the power of the European oppressors, who in the struggle employ all the marvels of technology and military art — nevertheless, a revolutionary war waged by oppressed peoples, if it really succeeds in arousing the millions of working and exploited people, harbours such potentialities, such miracles, that the emancipation of the peoples of the East is now quite practicable”. 

Lenin noted that if the first Russian Revolution of 1905-1907 helped awaken Asia, the 1917 Socialist Revolution stirred the peoples of the colonial and dependent countries to a resolute action for their independence.

After the First World War, when the Indian national movement assumed a mass character under the leadership of Gandhiji, Lenin started paying special attention to the practical problems of the movement. Lenin met the Indian revolutionaries and discussed with them the problems of the Indian national movement. On November 23, 1918, a year after the October Revolution, Lenin received the Kheiri brothers, Jabar and Sattar, representatives of Muslim emigrants who had joined the revolutionary movement. Some Indian scholars too visited Moscow in this period and evinced keen interest in the programme of the Soviet Union.