Ram Swarup to the Rescue
I was present in the Second Party Conference of the Communist Party of India which was held in the Maidan at Calcutta in February, 1948. It was some time before this Conference that B. T. Ranadive had taken over from P.C. Joshi the General Secretaryship of the CPI. The Ranadive line, as it came to be known in India, was an adoption of the international Communist line laid down by Stalin through the mouth of his minion, Zhdanov, in September 1947.
The Zhdanov line led to widespread purges in East European satellites of the Soviet Union and the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia. The Communist Parties in India, Burma, Malaya, Indonesia and the Philippines staged violent uprisings. The civil war in China was intensified and it led to Mao’s victory in 1949. The culmination of this line was the invasion of South Korea by North Korea’s Communist armies. Stalin was out to fill the vacuum created by the withdrawal of British power and the demobilisation of US forces from the Pacific.
The large sized stage in this Second Party Conference of the CPI was decorated with portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Marshal Tito. Delegates from several East European and South East Asian countries were present. The Yugoslav delegate was particularly paraded on the stage as a famous warrior who was still carrying a German bullet in his shoulder blade. To me his name sounded like Jagdish. Later on I learnt that he was Comrade Dedeir. Speaker after speaker thundered in a very strong language and called upon the people “to give hell to the bourgeois bastards who had sold their souls to the Anglo American imperialists”.
I was really thrilled and made up my mind to join the Party immediately. A few months earlier I had come quite close to another Bengali Communist who was well placed in the Party hierarchy in Calcutta. He was a friend of my boss and had become my friends also. He had an equally well stocked library. I now approached him to take me to the Party headquarters and get me enrolled as a party member. He fixed up a date on which I was to accompany him for a rendezvous with revolution. And I started looking forward to that date with an eagerness which I had seldom experienced earlier.
But Providence had planned it otherwise. The Communist Party in Bengal was banned exactly on that date. There was a telephone in the groundfloor of the house in which I lived. I had given this number to my Bengali friend in case he ever needed to call me in an emergency. He called me that day. It was early in the morning. I did not know that the Party had been banned. He gave me the great news in very grave tones. His advice to me was not to go anywhere near the Party office or the office of any front organisation and to stop professing Communism in public. A few days later it was suggested to me by my Marwari friend from the share market that as my place was not suspected by the police, it could be used for lodging in a Communist leader from Rajasthan who was expected in Calcutta after a fortnight. I immediately extended a warm welcome to the veteran’s visit.
But destiny was determined, as it were, to deny me that “honour” also. My friend Ram Swarup suddenly appeared on the scene and expressed his intention to stay with me for quite some time. It was his first visit to Calcutta. I was very happy because he was my nearest and dearest in the whole world. I did not know that Ram Swarup had by now come to regard Communism as a very great evil threatening to engulf the future of mankind. There had been nothing in his letters to indicate this decisive turn. He had only warned me that I was too intelligent to remain a Communist for long. But he had also conceded that I was too intelligent not to become a Communist. I had overlooked his warning and taken his concession seriously.
Ram Swarup’s conclusions about Communism were revealed to me dramatically a few days after his arrival when there were some fireworks between him and my Marwari friend who had come specifically to meet a person about whom I had always talked so warmly and so highly. I was unhappy to find that there was very little prospect of my two good friends striking a friendship between them. As I saw off my Marwari friend downstairs, he informed me that he would not allow the Communist leader from Rajasthan to stay under a roof which harboured a man of such undesirable political credentials. I was taken aback. I could never think of Ram Swarup as an undesirable person. But I did not know how to counter the argument. Returning to my room upstairs I asked for Ram Swarup’s opinion about my Marwari friend. He smiled and said: “Well, he is quite thick headed. It seems that no argument can penetrate his skull.” My friendship with this Marwari friend broke down soon after I renounced Communism and we became total strangers.
Next I tried to find out if Ram Swarup would hit it off with my Bengali friend. I had talked to him also about Ram Swarup and also given him to read Ram Swarup’s Let Us Have Riots: The Philosophy of Those Who Want to Divide India by Street Riots. We were entertained in the true tradition of Bengali hospitality at the home of this friend one day. But there was hardly any dialogue between Ram Swarup and our host. Ram Swarup simply listened to my friend expounding the new Party line at length. I was intrigued by Ram Swarup’s studied silence. And I asked for his opinion about my friend as soon as we came out of the latter’s house. Ram Swarup said “Well, his commitment to Communism is a pathological condition. It needs to be unravelled.” This was my second disappointment within a few days of Ram Swarup’s arrival in Calcutta.
My Bengali friend was arrested and detained in a camp in North Bengal some weeks later. By the time he came back in 1949 I had not only renounced Communism but had also written against it in some Calcutta newspapers. He came to meet me in our office and said that he had read some funny statements by me. I told him that I was very serious in what I had stated and that perhaps we could meet some day to thrash it out. He showed no eagerness for an argument. That was also the end of another very warm friendship. Our chance meetings in later days have always been a cold and correct affair.
Finally, I arranged a meeting between Ram Swarup and my boss. Both of them exchanged pleasantries and avoided the one subject which I wanted them to discuss. The discussion took place a few days later as my boss was passing by my seat and found Ram Swarup sitting in front of me. It was about the next big world depression and disintegration of the world capitalist system suspected by us Communists to be round the corner at that time. There could be no agreement because Ram Swarup was convinced that another depression would not be permitted by the capitalists who had acquired a fairly good grasp of their economies. My boss gave figures of firms that had gone bankrupt within that year. Ram Swarup requested him to find out for himself and for us also figures of new firms that must have come up during the same specific period. His argument was that in a living economy some firms must be falling sick and going out, and that it did not matter if the reverse trend was also there. It restored a new perspective to the Whole argument. My boss offered no more comments that day. I asked Ram Swarup’s opinion about my boss. He said: “He is much better. He argues with a lot of facts and figures and not with Party slogans.”
A few months passed. Ram Swarup converted me from Communism to anti Communism during those months. I had to go out of Calcutta on a business trip spread over several weeks. Ram Swarup stayed over in Calcutta but was gone by the time I returned. As I met my boss, his first words were: “Your friend is a wonderful man. We spent a lot of time together. I can now see the worth of what he has to say about Communism.” They have been very good friends ever since.
After I had failed to pit my three best Communist friends against Ram Swarup, I had to face him myself and all alone. The discussions spread over several months. Most of the time I repeated Party slogans, sometimes very vehemently. Ram Swarup dismissed them with a smile. One day in my exasperation I struck a superior attitude and said: “We find it difficult to come to any conclusion because I have a philosophical background while you proceed merely from economic, social and political premises.” Ram Swarup enquired what I meant by philosophy and I rattled out the list which I had ready in my mindLocke, Berkley, Hume, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer and so on. Ram Swarup told me that at one time or the other he had studied all of them but had found them irrelevant and useless. I was surprised as well as pained. Ram Swarup explained: “Suppose one knows this philosophical system or that. Does it make a better man out of one in any way? These systems are mere cerebrations and have little to offer towards practical purposes of life.” The word “cerebration” got stuck in my mind and made it impossible for me to read any abstract philosophy any more. I had been very fond of Western metaphysics and epistemology fill that time.
One day Ram Swarup asked me to go to the US Information Library in Esplanade and look up only the documentation in David Dallin’s Slave Labour in Soviet Russia. I had a great hesitation in going anywhere near this library which I had so long regarded as a scat of blatant imperialist propaganda. It was the same sort of inhibition as I had experienced earlier in reading Srimad Bhagvata.
But my curiosity had been aroused. I went to this library like a thief and looked up this book. The documentation, mainly photostats of identity cards issued to inmates of forced labour camps located all over the Soviet Union, was extensive as well as very informative. I was shaken. I suddenly remembered that according to the Moscow weekly, New Times, Molotov had admitted the existence of “corrective labour camps” in the Soviet Union in a UN debate on the subject of forced labour.
I mentioned my suspicions to my boss. He smiled and asked me to read Victor Kravchenko’s I Chose Freedom which had appeared some time earlier. I now remembered that my boss had offered to lend me a copy of this book a few months ago and that I had turned it down with the contemptuous remark that I did not want to waste my time on imperialist propaganda literature. I borrowed the book from him now and read it non stop. The earlier experience of reading Laski’s Communism was repeated. Communism now lay in shambles all around me. I could now understand why my boss, an enthusiastic Party liner earlier, had shown no enthusiasm for the new Party line adopted in February, 1948. His reading of Kravchenko’s book had considerably cooled his enthusiasm for the Soviet Union. He admitted as much when I questioned him next day.
Kravchenko, an eminent metallurgical engineer in the Soviet Union, had been sent to Washington during the Second World War to look after military supplies under the Lend Lease Programme. He had defected to the West after some time and written this book as his testament to truth about the Soviet Union. The book became very successful because it was very controversial and saw several editions in quick succession in several languages of the world. I myself was to translate and publish it in Hindi. The Communist press denounced the book as well as its author in a very strong language. At the very time that I first read it, Kravchenko was fighting a prolonged defamation case against a famous French magazine published from Paris. The magazine had described him as a drunkard, a liar, a traitor, and so on. The Manchester Guardian was publishing the proceedings of the case in great detail, day after day. An airmail edition of this English daily was regularly received in the British Information Service library at Calcutta.
I followed the Kravchenko case in the Manchester Guardian with great interest. Any lurking doubts that might have remained in my mind about the truth of what Kravchenko had stated were removed by this case. The Soviet Embassy in Paris was participating in the defence by the French magazine on the plea that the reputation of their country was involved. The Embassy made many witnesses from the Soviet Union take the stand in the Paris court. Most of the famous Communists as well as fellow travellers from all over Western Europe were also enlisted against Kravchenko. I was amazed to witness a drama in which while Kravchenko marshalled facts and figures derived mostly from official Soviet publications, in defence of what he had written in his book, a whole battery of Communist bigwigs had nothing better than standard Communist swearology to hurl at him.
One episode was very revealing. It was the Communist contention that Kravchenko was not at all an eminent metallurgical engineer which he had made himself out to be in his book. Kravchenko produced a copy of Pravda in which Molotov had described him by name as one of the most eminent metallurgical engineers being put in charge of the new Soviet metallurgical factory in Vladivostock. Next day Kravchenko’s old professor of engineering from Leningrad University appeared in the court and testified that Kravchenko was indeed a brilliant metallurgical engineer and one of his best students. The professor had left Leningrad in the aftermath of the German invasion and was hiding somewhere in Western Europe to avoid repatriation by the Western powers in keeping with a post war agreement with the Soviet Government.
Another great book which I came across in quick succession was Stalin’s Russia by the famous French Socialist, Suzanne Labin. She had described in great detail all facets of the Soviet Union and documented her version very meticulously from Soviet sources. It was an hairraisilg account. I was now ashamed of myself. Why had I not cared to study the life in the Soviet Union before becoming a rabid Communist? Ram Swarup’s cryptic comment was: “Facts about the Soviet Union have always been known, mostly from Soviet sources. There is not much difference about those facts between the Communists and those who are opposed to Communism. What makes the difference is the way you interpret those facts. And your interpretation again is a matter which very much depends upon your sense of values and the culture from which those values are derived.”
It was a call for an introspection into, as well as a retrospection of my entire philosophical outlook as it had evolved uptil now. I had a second look at Marx who had led me to Communism. I found that Lenin and Stalin were not Marxists at all. They had only used Marxist language to dress up their case, which was quite different. They had reversed Clausewitz’s statement that war was politics by other means to read that politics was war by other means. Marx, on the other hand, was a serious sociologist and economist. But, in the last analysis, his system of thought was derived from the same premises as those of Western capitalism. These premises were a materialist word view, an evolutionistic sociology, a hedonistic psychology, a utilitarian ethics, and a consumerist economy. After all, the Soviet Union aspired to be tomorrow what the United States was today. The goal in both cases was the same an economy of abundance. The Soviet Union had taken the road of State Capitalism and systematic terror, while the United States had left it to the remorseless operation of market forces. Was I prepared to accept that goal as the highest human aspiration? If not, what was the goal which could be held out as a better choice?
I had no answer to this question. I was now in the midst of a philosophical void which was to last for several years. The quest which I thought had ended with my acceptance of Communism was on once more.