COMMUNIST PARTY IN KERALA
One: A New World
Changes in the socio-economic and political sectors in Kerala during the initial decades of 20th century created conditions congenial for the growth of Communist Party.
New strains of thought developed as capitalist transformation laid the foundation for the commencement of social reform movements in various sections of society. At the all India level Vivekananda and others put forward such thoughts. Against this background social reform movements started by Sree Narayana Guru, Ayyankali and others in southern parts of Kerala and by Vagbhatananda and others in northern parts got developed into movements against superstition and bad customs. These evoked a big stirring among the people. An attitude against untouchability and casteism and interest in acquiring modern education were evident among all sections. Pressures for the same started developing in the society. Extension of English education initiated by Christian Missionaries in 1906 and later carried forward by government, rebellion for wearing a cloth to cover upper parts of body, installing an idol at Aruvippuram in 1888, Malayali Memorial in 1891, establishment of SNDP Yogam in 1903, activites, struggles etc. all these became factors helpful to accelerate changes in Kerala society during a short span of time. Movements for liberation from the colonial rule of British imperialism and struggles launched by these movements grew along with them.
It was during this period when social renaissance movements and independence movement were growing that ideas about socialism and Soviet Revolution reached Kerala. Such ideas got propagated in Kerala through the works of Swadeshabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai, Sahodaran Ayyappan, P. Kesavadev and others.
Two: Changing Horizon
During this period against the background of sufferings inflicted by landlordism and imperialism struggles and organizations of peasants and workers against them started emerging slowly. The practice of collective bargaining by working people also started. The peasant rebellion known as Malabar Rebellion of 1921 and consequent political changes highly influenced the independence movement of Kerala.
A number of Kerala youth were jailed during this period for participating in ‘violation of law’ movement as part of independence movement. At this time Kiran Chandra Das brother of Jithendra Das, Kamal Nath Thivari, Sen Gupta, T.N. Chandravarthi and Sarath Chandra Acharya were in Kannur jail and Jayadev Kapur in Vellore jail. Malayalee youngsters got an opportunity at that time to get acquainted with them and establish a link with them. Contact and discussions with them and reading books given by them gave these youngsters a new light. That shook their thoughts. They came to know of many new aspects of political work. This gave a new sense of direction to them. E.M.S writes about it in the following manner:
“It will not be a big exaggeration to say that seeds of left, Congress and Congress Socialist movements were sown at Kannur jail and that too by Thivari.’’
Three: Awakening People
It was youth dissatisfied by the Congress policy which was afraid of people’s advance who were attracted to the socialist idea. At that time there was an atmosphere in Kerala which gave strength to such thoughts.
People were suffering a lot due to persecution by landlords. Against this resistance and organizations were cropping up here and there. In 1935 July a meeting of peasants were held in the Bharatheeya building in Naniyoor in Kolachery Amsom of old Chirakkal Taluk. Kolachery Karshaka Sangham was formed with Vishnu Bharatheeyan as President and K.A. Keraleeyan as Secretary. By September 1935, Karivelloor Karshaka Sangham was formed which represented round Karivelloor, Velloor, Peralam and Kotakkad. With the formation of All India Kisan Sabha in 1936 a new front of struggle was opened in agrarian sector. The Hunger March led by AKG in 1936 July raising the demands of peasants imparted a new vigour to this sector. Following this a number of Karshaka Sangham were formed in Malabar. In 1936 November the first Karshaka Conference of Chirakkal Taluk was held at Parassinikkadavu. In 1937 All Malabar conference of Karshaka Sangham was held in Kozhikode. This awakening among peasants prepared the ground for the advent of a new political movement.
During this period trade unions also started to be formed and strengthened. Global economic crisis of 1929 started creating serious consequences in Indian economy as well. First Travancore Labour Association came into being. Such organizations later became militant TUs. Strikes were organized in Kozhikkode, Kannur, Pappinisseri, Thalassery and other centres which further strengthed TUs. In 1935 May the first Kerala Workers’ conference was held at Kozhikode. This initiative to bring up working class as an independent class force prepared the ground for propagating Communist ideas. During this period coir workers in Travancore got organized and achieved strength. In Kochi organizations like Cochin Sterling Workers’ Union were being formed. Labour brotherhood and TUs of Alagappa Textiles and Sitaram Mills were formed. In 1937 second All Kerala Workers’ Conference was held at Thrissur. This organizational consciousness developed among workers prepared the ground for a new politics.
By the beginning of 1930s some other useful developments were taking place. Important among them was Nivarthana Agitation in Travancore. That was the demand of people suppressed so far as untouchables and weaker sections for participation in government. This brought to the forefront struggles like proportional representation in government and reservation of jobs. This imparted a new enthusiasm among oppressed masses.
Four: Congress Socialist Party
At this juncture those who got motivated by Soviet Revolution formed Congress Socialist Party. They got enthused by organizations of peasants and workers, their party and their rule in Soviet Union. But they did not know any thing about the fundamentals of socialism or Marxism. E.M.S has assessed the prevailing situation as follows:
“Our understanding about socialist idea was incomplete and hazy. But we tried to spread what we new among the people using the propaganda machinery then available. No substantial knowledge was there about basic tenets of socialism. But we new that Soviet Union was a living symbol of all that. For it was a time that a big and all pervading economic crisis was raging in the capitalist world. At the same time Soviet Union was successfully implementing its first five year plan. Their economic progress was taking place at a pace not achieved by any other country so far. Is there anything more needed to have a good impression of socialism and the bad impression of capitalism? To us who did not have any opportunity so far to make a theoretical study of the fundamental tenets of socialism, it was a fact which was helpful to develop one’s own opinion favoring socialism and to convey it to the people.”
In order to establish a government as was established in Soviet Union the path is to build organizations of peasants and workers, to make them conscious of their rights and to rally them around the national movement. Besides it an organizational chain connecting all units from primary level in the village to the central level was necessary.
Five: Learning and Training
The leadership did not stop with establishing party units. It was necessary to develop political consciousness among the ranks. With this objective reading rooms, libraries, and night schools were established in villages and many attempts were made to educate them. With the same objective Prabhatham weekly was started.
Later a centralized form was given to it. The one month long learning and training camp at Mankada Pallippuram was on these lines. What was done there was physical and mental learning. About hundred people selected from all over the state participated in it.
Those who got trained there conducted classes and training at the district level. Those trained there conducted classes in taluks and later in villages. Thus by giving training and doing learning through out the state a new type of political activity became lively. It became the basis for an organizational set up in Kerala as a whole.
Six: Congress of ordinary people
As decided in the jail they worked with the objective of organizing peasants and workers and rallying them around independence movement. They were able to realise it.
In 1934 membership of Congress in Kerala was about 3000. By 1938-39 it rose to about 60,000. By that time over village units of Congress were formed. By this time active village-town-district and state committees came into being.
A right wing section of Congress was against the Congress organization being expanded up to the basic level and getting into the hands of ordinary people. It was the left wing which brought Congress into the midst of people.
Seven : First Communist Party Groups
While working in Congress and Congress Socialist Party as mentioned above some young political workers got more opportunity to be in touch and exchange ideas with some Communist leaders. On that basis they met many times and carried out discussions. EMS describes his experience then as follows:
“ We had heard during that period that there was an organization called Communist Party. Even that we heard from the leaders of Congress socialist party and the Royists who were opposed to it in various ways. We had read some pamphlets circulated in the name of Communists. We had total disagreement with the main idea in it (Communists were of the opinion that true socialists were to work not inside Indian National Congress but opposing it” (Soviet Union and Communists)
It was CC members of Communist Party P.Sundarayya and S.V Ghate who were having constant contact, meeting and discussions with Kerala comrades in this manner. As a result of such constant contacts extending over two years the first Communist Party group in Kerala came into being in 1937. The members of the first Communist group were P. Krishna Pilla, EMS Namboodiripad, K. Damodaran and N.C Sekhar. They were functioning within the Congress.
Eight: New View Point
Left wing Congress men propagated a new idea of giving shape to a new man. It was an idea formed out of life and experience. They developed a new style which touches the heart of ordinary people.
This is clear from the words of Batlivala who presided over Second Kerala Workers’ Conference.
“When workers demanded rice soup as food, dothi for dress and a dwelling to reside, they are characterized as Communists, Bolsheviks and dangerous people and suppressed. There are no decent word to describe them. They are demanding employment and wage for labour. If they say this much they are labelled Communists, Bolsheviks and those undermining the community. They know that workers are looking to Russia for motivation and models. In Russia now there are no exploiters. There is workers’ rule in that country”.
The presidential address of Prof.N.G. Ranga at the Kotakkad Peasants’ Conference in 1939 pinpointed the new objective. Suffering of peasants will end totally only if the rule of peasants and workers is established. He cited as an example the great improvement that has occurred in the lives of workers and peasants under Soviet rule. A speech by P. Krishna Pilla during those days is another example.
“It has been possible to understand one thing clearly from the workers’ activities till now. There will be no gain till workers get political power. Now British imperialism is exploiting masses by joining hands with vested interests in India. There fore the main task of workers is to do away with imperialism and capture power All workers have to join Indian National Congress which is fighting to demolish imperialism and to achieve independence of India and strengthen political struggle by resorting to general strike. The classification into native states and British India is meaningless. Kings of native states are mere slaves of British government.’’ (From the speech made at the half yearly conference of Thrissivaperur General Factory Workers Union in July, 1939)
The Kerala unit of Communist Party of India came into being two years and a half after the formation of the first Communist Group in the state.
Very elaborate preparations were made for it. The stand of the Congress Socialist Party regarding second world war motivated hastening of the process. About it EMS Namboodipad has written thus:
“When preparations were being made to convert Congress Socialist Party as a whole into Communist Party, during the weeks just after the beginning of the war, a syllabus on Marxist theory was implemented. During the two and half years of undergound work this activity was continued. Leading cadres of the Party were taught authoritative works like Socialism, Utopian and scientific by Engels, What’s to be Done by Lenin and Fundamental principles of Leninism by Stalin. Translation of these and many other books was initiated. Some of these were published for the education of the cadre. The work CPSU (B) History by Stalin was translated in toto and chapters were printed one by one. There was urge from all quarters to learn theory. But only after the party came out of the under ground could that process be continued and taken to a higher level.” (Communist Party in Kerala- Origin and Growth)
Ten: Pinarayi Conference
In 1939 what happened at Parappuram was transformation of one party in to another party. Preparations and discussions for it were carried out earlier. Since it was a secret conference no document about it is available and so the only source is the memory of those who participated in it. EMS has recorded about it as follows.
“An organization was formed earlier in a totally illegal manner. It was not known to many people. But in the conference in a semi-legal situation at the end of 1939 the creation of the Kerala unit of Communist Party was publicly announced.” (Communist Movement: Origin and Growth)
Nobody had recorded all the names of those who participated in Parappuram Conference.
Names that could be collected from memories and articles of various people are given below:
1. P.Krishna Pilla
2. E.M.S. Namboodripad
3. K. Damodaran
4. P.Narayanan Nair
10. C.H. Kanaran
12. Subramanyan Thirumumb
14. Chandroth Kunhiraman Nair
16. Subramanya Shenai
18. William Stelax
20. Kunhiraman Master
21. P.M. Krishna Menon
22. K.Krishnan Nair
23. Vadavathi Krishnan
24. N.E. Balaram
25. Pinarayi Krishan Nair
27. Manjunatha Rao
28. Kongasseri Krishnan
30. P.V. Kunhunni Nair
31. Moyyarath Sankaran
33. Janardhana Shenai
34. George Chadayammuri
38. P.P.Achuthan Master
41. T.V.Achuthan Nair
Eleven : Anti-imperialist Struggle
Party’s attitude to war put the party in Kerala into a difficult position. During those days party was swimming against the current. Congress used it as a weapon to beat Communist Party. They broke all mass organizations into two. Thus their strength was split. They were made mutual enemies. The first assessment of world war by Communist Party was that it was a war between imperialist powers. So Party decided to galvanize anti-imperialist struggle. There was big protest against making India a party to the war. Life of ordinary people was full of suffering due to price rise. Many laws negating civil rights came into force. KPCC gave a call to observe 1940 September 15 as a protest day against suppression. Karshaka Sangham also gave call to hold processions and rallies raising demands of peasants. Peasants actively came forward to implement this call. In places like Morazha and Mattannur people clashed with police. Some police men died. In the police firing at Thalassery Abu and Chathukkutty became the first martyrs. It was after a few months in 1941 March that a policeman died in Kayyur struggle. Comrades including K.P.R.Gopalan were made culprits. Among them four comrades were hanged on the basis of court verdict. This was a time when Communist Party and class-mass organizations led by it achieved substantial growth.
After Germany attacked Soviet Union the war assumed an anti fascist character. Till then people were not active in supporting war efforts. It was after Soviet Union was attacked that the first Congress of the party was held at Bombay in 1943. After the Congress party and class-mass organizations were involved in militant actions. After the war in 1946 Telengana struggle, Thebhagah struggle (in Bengal) and Vayalar- Punnapra struggle in Kerala took palace. It was the days when Communist Party attracted the attention and widespread support of people.
It was during this period that Deshabhimani started functioning. The meeting held at Kozhikoode town Hall on 1946 November 14 discussed the acute food shortage. Karivallur struggle on 1946 December 30 was launched on the basis of decision taken there. It was the resistance exerted to prevent goondas of the landlord who tried to take away paddy produced by peasants. Police fixed on 1946 December 3 shows at those who had rallied at Kavumbai hill after police excesses. Five people were killed.
Party carried out a strong intervention in the cultural scene along with such fights. Activities carried out by the party using cultural forms including drama in order to make people conscious of exploitation and suppression carried out by imperialism and land lodism against ordinary people.
Party tried to build class organizations of workers and peasants irrespective of their caste and community and to raise class slogans against bad customs conceived rites and casteist disabilities this abilities based on a class position. Thus party was able to raise the fight against social disabilities to the level of class consciousness. P. Krishnapilla and AKG were participants in the struggle for temple entry at Guruvayoor. Paliyam struggle which took place later was carried out under the leadership of party itself. Mention has to be made of struggles conducted under the leadership of AKG at Payyannur Kandoth for the right of Dalits to walk along the streets. Struggle to establish the right to take bath in the temple pond also was important. This practice of actively intervening in this manner in the struggle for social reform has played a major role in the growth of Communist Party in Kerala.
Twelve : Attainment of Independence and Persecution of Communists
Congress leaders who were panicky at the galloping mass struggles and power of the masses under the leadership of Communist Party wanted to attain power as early as possible. Imperialism came to know of it and tried to split the country on religious lines. Muslim league and one section of Congress leaders yielded to this plan. Party leaders like AKG were in jail even during the days of independence. Many were under ground. This is proof of party being suppressed by British regime and Congress at the time of independence.
Second Congress of the party was held in Kolkota in 1948. Making it as a guise police and Congressmen made a witch hunt of the partymen. Many party activists including prominent leader Moyarath Sankaran were killed in Police custody. During this period there were 1982 firing in various parts of India. 3284 people were killed. Over 50,000 persons were jailed. 82 persons were killed in jails. A large number of people went underground. An important event during this period was Onchiyam firing. It was firing against people protesting against police who had gone to arrest some Communists. During the same period occurred the resistance in Pazhassi-Thillankeri belt. Comrades sleeping in a hut in Munayamkunnu were encircled by police and fired upon. Six comrades died on the spot. There was firing in Salem jail on 1950 February 11. In that firing 19 comrades from Kerala were killed.
Padikkunnu incident is an example of how Communists were confronted with during that period. On 1950 May 4 Rairu Nambiar and Kuttappa were taken from the jail on the plea of sending them to court for bail. Gopalan Nambiar from the police camp was also included in the group. They were taken out to Padikkunnu and asked to raise the slogan Communist Party Murdabad. They did not obey. They were fired upon by the police and killed.
Sooranad incident during this period was another illuminating chapter of fight against landlodism. What led to the incident was the issue related to catching fish from a public pond. During this period a series of such fights and struggles attended with great sacrifice occurred.
It was just before the first general elections in 1952 that the party has declared legal and comrades jailed without any trial were released. Because of sacrifices made by comrades confidence of people in the party increased during the period. In the first general elections the party could win more seats than all parties other than the Congress. Communist Party candidate Ravinarayana Reddy had a bigger majority in the country than even Prime Minister Nehru. Party got majority in Alappuzha municipality and Malabar Districts Board to which elections were held on later date. Party representation in the Travancore-Cochin Assembly increased in succeeding elections.
Thirteen : party comes to power in Kerala
It was during this period that agitations and struggles for reorganization of states on linguistic basis were conducted and the central government was forced to concede the demand. Kerala state was formed. In the first elections conducted to the state Assembly in 1957 March Communist Party and its independents secured a majority. Cabinet was formed under the leadership of EMS Nambudiripad which implemented a new approach and new style of work in relation to land reforms, labour relations, education, development, decentralization, minority rights and other matters. Large sections of people were satisfied with these reforms. Vest interests were dissatisfied with these development using whom Congress organised “Liberation struggle”. On the plea that the state government could not control the struggle the Central government dismissed that government unconstitutionally on 1959 August 31. Though in the ensuring elections in 1960 March the three party alliance consisting of Congress, PSP and Muslim League won, the fame of the first Communist ministry lingered for a long time. What is generally highlighted as the main achievement of that ministry is that it developed a new path as far as governance and developmental policies are concerned.
Fourteen : Inner party struggle and split
In the fourth party Congress held at Palakkad in 1956 differences of views became acute in relation to the approach to be adopted to Congress Party and party programme. Existing party programme was dropped. Since there was no unity of opinion regarding the new programme to be adopted, undivided CPI functioned till 1964 without a party programme. There was a big difference of opinion inside the party in this period in the matter of assessing Indian situation. These who adopted a right wing position put forward the idea of forgoing unity with Congress. Those who formed CPI(M) later on could not accept this revisionist idea of class collaboration. This was the basis of party split in 1964. The difference of opinion developed between Soviet and Chinese parties on ideological issues at the international level also contributed to intensify the difference here. Soviet party supported the faction which later became CPI.
The struggle against revisionist leadership was a serious intervention by Indian Communists to apply Marxism-Leninism to the objective conditions of India. The Seventh Party Congress of CPI (M) held at Kolkata put forward a clear policy in this matter. But the central government adopted a stand of putting behind bars a large number of leaders of CPI(M) When the Polit Bureau was about to meet in Thrissur within two months after the Seventh Congress. All PB members except Joythibasu and EMS were under arrest. This arrest was before the mid term elections to Kerala Assembly which was held in 1965 February. These arrests were made by charging them Chinese agents. In this background vast majority of candidates chosen by the party submitted their nominations from jail. Party had to face that election in such a difficult situation.
Still in the midterm elections held in Kerala in 1965 after the party split CPI(M) became the single largest party securing 40 seats. CPI could secure only three seats. With this election it was established that people of Kerala were with CPI(M). But even though CPI(M) was the single largest party Governor did not allow CPI(M) to form a cabinet.
Party succeeded in carrying out a fight against right deviation that developed in the Communist Party. But along with this a left deviation also made its appearance in the party. One section put forward the opinion that party should follow the position of Chinese Communist Party. They argued that Indian bourgeoisie were having comprador character. They put forward also the argument that mass movements and intervention in parliamentary politics was not necessary. They later came to be known as CPI(ML). In the Burdwan Plenum in 1968 the resolution clarifying party stand on international issues was adopted. At that time Chinese Communist Party too was not prepared to recognise CPI(M) which adopted a revolutionary strategy suited to the India situation. CPI(M) had to confront with their open opposition. From 1968 onwards for a decade the party had to face opposition of both Soviet and Chinese Parties. With people’s support they could withstand the attack of these parties.
Non-Congress parties formed multiparty governments after 1967 election in 8 states including Kerala and West Bengal. In Kerala CPIM) was leading the government. In 1969 left parties aligned with CPI(M) in Kerala and West Bengal allied with Congress. During this period party organized peasants and agricultural workers in the state and carried out a struggle for distribution of surplus land demanding that the land legislation brought in by the united front government be implemented. This was another brilliant chapter in the history of political struggles in Kerala. That alliance between Congress and left parties continued during the days of internal emergency till 1979. During this period (CPI(M) and class-mass organizations led by it had to confront with a great deal of suppression and isolation. Many comrades became martyrs. Party grew up overcoming all these.
Fifteen: Left and Democratic Front
Tenth Party Congress held at Jallundar in 1978 December put forth the perspective of forming left and democratic front against Congress and its anti-people policies as also the fascist approach of Congress. In 1979 under the initiative of CPI(M) left and democratic front was formed in Kerala. But it was not on the lines envisaged by the party Congress. There is a lot of difference between the two.
After the break down of Janata government what came up as an alternative to Congress in many north India states was BJP. But because of the approach adopted by CPI(M) in Kerala, BJP could not grow substantially. Taking the all India situation into consideration the 11th Party Congress held at Vijayawada in 1982 put forward the view point that in the Indian context fight against communalism is also important. CPI(M) adopted a plan of action to implement this policy. Proving the prediction of political observers that no party or front in Kerala can form a government without support of communal and community based forces wrong, the left and secular democratic front won elections in 1987, 1996 and 2006. This period witnessed continuous growth of the party and class-mass organizations led by it.
Sixteen: Policies of Globalisation and Resistance to Them
Congress government at the Centre put forth the perspective of a new economic policy by middle of 1980s. It was during this period socialist regimes including USSR broke down. With that development US pushed forward its activities to establish a unipolar world. Policies of globalsation formulated in this background adopted the approach of weakening India’s self reliance and sovereignty. The two major political parties in India, Congress and BJP, supported it. Communist Party started a resistance movement against it. During this period Kerala formulated two types of struggles:
a) Struggles which rally masses against policies of globalization.
b) Attempts to develop peoples’ alternative to globalization using powers available with the state.
Communist Party organized broad resistance during these days against such policies. Worth mentioning is the struggle picketing Taluk Offices for one month. During this period numerous propaganda and agitations rallying people were carried out. Innumerable struggles launched by students, women, youth, peasants and workers were a strong rebuke against such policies. Through them it was possible to develop popular sentiments against globalisation policies.
Party organized interventions to formulate the perspective as to how alternate policies can be given shape to within the limitations. The two Kerala Study Congresses were steps in this direction. The present LDF government led by CPI (M) is going ahead formulating policies on this basis. The new Kerala budget is the latest example. Its policy of increasing public investment and giving emphasis to social security projects has turned out to be a model to the whole country. In this context Party is presenting an approach to overcome even struggles that may be created in Kerala due to the fall out of global economic crisis.
Interventions by the party to resist the onslaughts of communal fascist forces are very important. Due to such interventions carried out to maintain secularism and democracy in society many brave comrades who fell victims to the weapons of retrograde forces lost their lives. There are so many people who lost their lives and those who are living martyrs due to suppression of the state. Their bravery in the fight and self sacrifice are major factors which ensured the growth of Communist movement. What remains the biggest strength of the party is the activities of lakhs of comrades who love the movement as dear as their life. At present an intense effort is being made to debilitate the party by disrupting its leadership. Party is marching ahead by strongly resisting this trend.
It was the Communist Party which raised people of Kerala who were suffocating under the iron grip of landlordism to the pedestal of democratic consciousness, development and organization consciousness. Once this was realised new innumerable struggles were organized under the leadership of the party. Popular support to the party is increasing day by day because this party is always ready to actively intervene in issues cropping up on various occasions and to lead the people in struggles connected with them.