Skip to content

The History of Leftist Language

CHAPTER 5 - The History of Leftist Language

Leftist language first came to India as the language of Communist imperialism. Its main spokesman was M.N. Roy. In his “India in Transition”, published in 1922, he laid down practically all fundamental formulations which, in due course, became the stock-in-trade of India’s Leftist parties. The language of these formulations is still the language of Leftism.

It will facilitate an understanding of Roy’s formulations if we summarise briefly the background of Indian nationalism as it had developed prior to that period. There are certain key words and phrases used by Roy whichg may cause confustion unless they are clarified in advance.

Two Schools of Indian Nationalism

The freedom movement against British imperialism since the Revolt of 1857 had witnessed a debate between two schools of thought. On the one hand, there were those who regarded British rule in India as a divine dispensation and aspired to remould India in the image of 19th century Britain, particularly in the matter of political institutions. They dominated the Indian National Congress till the Swadeshi Movement swept them away. Roy refers to them as bourgeois liberals, modern intellectuals, radical leaders, moderates, radical intelligentsia and also as denationalised intellectuals – a name bestowed upon them by the opposite school of thought.

On the other hand, there were those who regarded the British rule as an evil imposed upon India by force of arms and who wanted to build a free India on the basis of values and visions enshrined in India’s ancient culture and spirituality. They came to the fore in the Indian National Congress during the Swadeshi Movement and took command of the freedom movement under Mahatma Gandhi. Roy refers to them as orthodox nationalists, rdical nationalists, extremists and Hindu nationalists. He makes a distinction between Hindu nationalism and Indian nationalism which, according to him, is a more comprehensive term.

Fundamental Formulations of Roy

M. N. Roy had been sent abroad by Bengal revolutionaries in 1915 in search of German arms. The Germans did not live upto their promise and Roy, wandered away through China and Japan into the USA where he was positively impressed by modern Western culture and civilisation. Next, he went to Mexico where he came in contact with Communist thought. That cured him completely of whatever love was still left in him for India’s ancient culture. Finally he landed in the Soviet Union in 1920 and became a confidant of Lenin. He functioned as a leading luminary of the Communist International for several years. Roy’s ardour for an armed revolution in India had not cooled. He tried to take a trainload of Russia arms to the Pathans on India’s north-west frontier. A number of muhajrin joined him with great enthusiasm. They had left India during the Khalifat agitation and were looking for foreign arms in order to re-establish a dar-ul-Islam in this country. The plan failed because king Amanullah of Afghanistan, who had promised a passage was bought over by the British and blocked the path of this Communist-cum-Islamic brigade. Ever since, the only hardware that remained in the hands of Roy was his pen which the pushed with great prowess.

Roy pronounced as follows on India’s history culture, people and politics:

  • India had never been a nation before the British conquest. At the time of the British conquest, that is towards the middle of the 18th century, the economic and political evolution of India was such that her people could be called ‘rather a number of nationaliities inhabiting a continent than a composite national unit.’ (G. Adhikari (ed.), ‘Documents of the history of the Communist Party of India’, New Delhi 1971 p. 382 Itatics added).
  • The Revolt of 1857 was a reactionary flare-up of decadent feudalism. “Socially it was a reactionary movement because it wanted to replace British rule by revived feudal imperialism, either of the Moghuls or of the Maharattas. “ (ibid., p. 383).
  • Indian people by themselves were incapable of evolving political consciousness, patriotism or nationalism. “The overwhelming majority of the population lived in villages, steeped in ignorance and submerged in social stagnation. Politics, forms of government national subjugation or freedom remained outside their concern and beyond their comprehension.” (ibid., p. 383).
  • The Western-oriented Indian intellectuals alone were pioneers of progress. “The only section of the people showing any sign of life was the modern intellectuals educated in Western methods and thoughts. These denationalised intellectuals were instrumental in bringing to India for the first time in her long eventful history, political patriotism.” (ibid., pp. 383-84, Italics added).
  • Evolutionary nationalism led by the Western-oriented intellectuals, was a revolutionary movement. “The contittutional democracy or the evolutionary nationalism advocated by liberal bourgeoisie led by the intellectuals spelled doom to the old social heritage and religious orthodoxy. And these revolutionary forces were crystallizing in the Congress under radical leaders whose programme was not to revive the India of the rishis with its contended handicraft workers saturated with ignorance and dosed in the name of religion, but to build a new society on the ruins of the old.” (ibid., pp. 389-90, Italics added).
  • the British Government was the best government which India had ever had in her long history. “This struggle of the radical intelligentsia was not against an effete and antiquated political institution but for the democratisation of the existing government which…was the most advanced that the country had till then.” (ibid., p. 384).
  • Orthodox nationalism advocated by the other school of Congressmen was a reactionary movement. “Orthodox nationalism, in the social sense, was the resistance of forces of reaction against the ominous radicalism of the denationalised intellectuals who led the Congress. The same forces whose military explosion was the Munity of 1857 could be discovered behind the political theories of the orthodox nationalism of half a century later.” (ibid. p. 390 Italics added).
  • Hindu nationalism of Swami Vevekananda was spiritual imperialism. “Although its political philospher and leader were found subsequently in the persons of Aurobindo Ghose and Bipin Chandra Pal, respectively its fundamental ideology was conceived by a young intellectual of petit-bourgeois origin. He was Narendra Nath Dutt, subsequently known by the religious nomenclature of Swami Vivekananda…Like Tilak, Dutt was also a prophet of Hindu nationalism. He was also a believer in the cultural basis should be built the future Indian nation. He preached that Hinduism not Indian nationalism in should be aggressive. His nationalism was a spiritual imperialism.” (ibid. pp. 391-392).
  • The revolutionaries inspired by Swami Vivekananda and the Swadeshi Movement were victims of reaction. “Thus an intelligently rebellious element which otherwise would have been the vanguard of the exploited class in a social struggle had to give in to national pre-occupations nd contribute itself to a movement for the immediate overthrow of foreign rule, not for process forward but in order to go back to an imaginary golden age, the fountain-head of India’s spiritual heritage… In their religiousness and wild spiritual imperialism, they embodied the reactionary social forces.” (ibid., p. 393).
  • The Non-Coperation movement led by the Mahatma Gandhi was exploitation of the ignorance of the Indian masses. “The extremists, now called non-cooperators have had better success than moderates in drawing the masses under the influence of nationalism…But they could not develop the potentiality of the mass movement by leading it in aaccordance with its economic urges and social tendencies. Their tactics was to strengthen the nationalist movement by the questionable method of exhloiting the ignorance of the masses. And the best way of exploiting the ignorance of the masses was to make a religion of nationalism. This tactics led to the apperance of Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi on the political horizon, and eclipse of all other political-socail tendencies in the shade of Gandhism.” (ibid., p. 394)>
  • Gandhism was the most reactionary form of Indian nationalism. “In Gandhism culminate all the social tendencies that have always differentiated the principal tendencies of Indian nationalism. In fact, Gandhism is the acutest and most desperate manifestation of the forces of reaction trying to hold their own against the objectively revolutionary tendencies contaned in the liberal bourgeois nationalism. The impending wane of Gandhism signifies the collapse of the reactionary forces and their total elimination from the political movement.” (ibid., pp. 394-395 Italics added).
  • Finally, Mahatma Gandhi was speaking essentially the same language as was spoken earlier by Lokmanya Tilak, Sri Aurobindo and Bipin Chandra Pal. “Although somewhat unique in its idiosyncracies and fanaticism the Gandhi cult is not an innovation. Divested of the rebellous spirit and the shrewd politician in him Tilak would resemble Gandhi in so far as religious belief and spiritual prejudices are concened. But for his versatility in modern thought and characteristic looseness of conviction Bipin Chandra Pal would perchance join the Mahatma in the passionate denunciation of everything that adds to the material comfort of man. Had he been more of a monomaniac than a profound thinker with metaphysical preoccupations Aurobindo Ghose would subscribe to Gandhi’s philosophy.” (ibid. pp. 396-397 Italics added).

Continued Cannonade

Gandhism did not wane nor did the reactionary forces collapse immediately as anticipated by Roy in 1922. They continued to dominate the Indian political scene for another two decades and more. On the other hand Roy was expelled from the Communist International in 1929 for a number of counter-revolutionary crimes. But Roy’s formulations and language became the bedrock of Leftist stance and slogans for all time to come. This happened because these formulations were not a product of any original thinking on Roy’s part. His own mind was too poor for such a performance. He was only repeating, parrot-like, the standard language of Communist imperialism as he had learnt it from Lenin.

M.N. Roy’s place as the mentor of the Communist Party of India was taken over by R. Palme Dutt of the Communist Party of Great Britain. He had already fired his first fusillade against Mahatma Gandhi in his Modern India published from London in 1926. “Gandhi failed,” wrote Palme Dutt “as the leader of the national struggle because he could not cut himself loose from the upper class interests and prejudices in which he had been brought up. The spirituality of Gandhi is only the expression of this class interest. All parasitic and propertied classes have to weave around themselves a fog of confused language, superstition, tradition religion, revivalism etc. in order to hide from the masses the fact of their exploitation.” (p. 72).

Two years later, the Sixth Congress of the Communist International declared a vertiable war on Gandhism. In an enumeration of “ideologies among the working class inimical to Communism,” it proclaimed: “Tendencies like Gandhism in India, thoroughly imbued with religious conception, idolize the most backward and economically reactionary forms of social life, see the solution of social problems not in proletarian socialism but in a reversion to these backward forms, preach passivity and repudiate class struggle, and in the process of the development of the revolution become transformed into an openly reactionary force. Gandhism is more and more becoming an ideology directed against mass revolution. It must be strongly combated by Communism.” The Communist hysteria against Mahatma Gandhi went on mounting till R. Palme Dutt wrote in 1931 that “To all that is young and generous in India the name of Gandhi is an object of cursing and contempt, the name of Judas.” (Labour Monthly, London,, May 1931,, p. 264).

Percolation of the Poison

The language of Communist imperialism was borrowed, lock, stock and barrel, by the Congress Socialist Party which was formed inside the Indian National Congress in 1934 under inspiration from Pandit Nehru who was tallest among the native converts. Unlike the Communists, the Socialists had no organisational or financial links with the Communist International which had by now become a full-fledged instrument of Soviet foreign policy. But they agreed with the Communists in their evaluation of Indian history, society, culture and current politics. The only point on which the two differed was the personality and role of Mahatma Gandhi. The communists regarded him as the “cleverest bourgeois scoundrel.” The Socialists, on the other hand, had admiration for his qualities of head and heart and were convinced that he alone could mobilise the masses in the struggle for national liberation.

The Socialists have travelled far and in a different direction since those days of dalliance with Communism. But their disenchantment is confined only to forms of polity and society. They have never been able to cure themselves of their love for the Leftist language in the context of Indian nationalism. They continue to us such Leftist terms as communalist, chauvinist, fascist, revivalist and reactionary towards all those who regard Hindu society as the core and mainstay of the Indian nation. All this has landed them in a love-hate relationship with the Communists. They feel irresistibly drawn whenever the Communists dangle the bait of a united front before them. But they feel uncomfortable when the Communists reveal their true character as servitors of the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party of India itself has split into several factions. The struggle between Stalin and Trotsky which ended with the latter’s defeat had led some small groups to part company with the Communist Party. The scars, however, were too small to show. It was the breach between the Soviet Union and Red China in the sixties which really splintered the Communist Party into several factions.

On the other hand, some groups which left the indian National Congress at different times and for different reasons have moved closer to the Communists. The Forward Bloc founded by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was the earliest to do so after years of bitter feud with its future friends. In later years Sanjay Gandhi’s supremacy in the Congress not only stopped Communist infiltration and take-over of the Congress but also forced some fellow-travellers out of it. Today, these exiles sing the same songs as the Communists.

Taken together, the Leftists in India constitute a far-flung phalanx which may not be solid within but which presents a united front without. It is easy to spot them because they adorn themselves with labels like communist, democratic, Leninist, Marxist, radical, revolutionary and socialist, etc. in different permutations and combinations. There is little hope that they can ever come to power without direct intervention by the Soviet Union. But their potential for purveying the poison of Leftist language is considerable. Indian nationalism, which remains their topmost target, has to guard against them.