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Bhagat Singh: Beyond His Popular Image

Pic courtesy Hindu

Pic courtesy Hindu

By Jaspal Jassi

During his jail life, prior to his martyrdom, Shaheed Bhagat Singh had come up as an elegant and talented communist personality. The extraordinary pace of his ideological progress, owing to his deep study catapulted him into the class of the leaders of the country’s communist movement. During the jail period, he had taken upon himself the responsibility of forming the communist party and moulding the revolutionary movement in accordance with the communist objectives and methodology. The draft of the revolutionary program issued by him from the jail, in the last phase of his life just before martyrdom, corroborates this.

Otherwise the communist party was formed in India in December 1925, when Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his compatriots had still not become communists. In the earlier phase of its infancy, the communist party had made good achievements. It had played an important role in giving red colouring to the working class movement. Efforts were made in different provinces for forging links with the people through open platforms of the Kirti Kisan Party and influencing the anti-imperialist national movement. However, the task of organizing, building and projecting the party to the required extent as a countrywide secret center for effective and impressive proletarian leadership had awfully lagged behind. Apart from other reasons group-sectarian tendency of the middle class had played a significant role in it.

Furthermore, much of the energy got consumed in getting itself established as “left wing” of the Congress through the platform of Kirti Kisan Party and other mechanisms. Later on, the Communist International, the Chinese Communist Party and some other communist parties had pointed out the special importance of establishing a distinct and independent identity of the Party. (Source- A pamphlet issued by C.P.I. regarding the guidelines of party history). Perhaps it was a significant reason apart from other reasons responsible for Shaheed Bhagat Singh not coming into the organizational fold of the Indian Communist Party despite having come into the fold of communist ideology. But leaving aside this question of organizational unity of all the communist forces in the country, it is evident that in the final phase of his life Shaheed Bhagat Singh on his own was assiduously engaged in the important endeavor as a communist leader rather than a mere revolutionary nationalist.

The most significant aspect distinctly pointing to the transformation of Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s communist ideals from those of the middle class nationalist follower into a communist personality imbued with proletarian awareness was his bidding farewell to revolutionary terrorism. Some necessary conditions were required for Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s thinking to cover such a distance. The development of his revolutionary personality got materialized through his deep study of the literature of the revolutionary movements of the world as a whole and by grasping it. Even when he had not become a communist in true sense of the term, his views were based on theoretical foundations. He had been influenced by the thinkers and theoretical commentators of the anarchist movements. As a result, his faith got strengthened that when situations demand revolutionary changes, revolutionary terrorist militant actions do play a tumultuous role and arouse the revolutionary force of the masses into action.

In the absence of a communist party of stature in the country, further development of Shaheed Bhagat Singh was dependent on the fulfillment of some essential requirements. One such essential requirement i.e. the contact with the Communist International was not available to him. (When Bhagat Singh was in jail, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army had planned to send some of its important leaders to Soviet Union but this plan could not be executed). The second means could have been, the positive process of the building of the revolutionary class struggle of the basic classes i.e. of workers and peasants. The Hindustan Socialist Republican Army couldn’t avail the opportunity of going through this practice. The third means could have been the process of contact and theoretical discussions with the communist leaders in the country. Shaheed Bhagat Singh did have this opportunity through his contact with the leaders of the Kirti Kisan Party in Punjab but its limitation was that a high level Marxist theoretical explanation was necessary to impress Bhagat Singh. Despite their other merits the leaders of the Kirti Kisan Party in Punjab were not capable then to the required extent for fulfilling this condition. Sohan Singh Josh has admitted that notwithstanding the refutation of revolutionary terrorism they were not in a position to provide requisite explanation of its differentiation from Marxism on the basis of sound theoretical foundations (Source – Sohan Singh’s writing, My Encounters with Bhagat Singh)

In these circumstances theoretical development of Shaheed Bhagat Singh depended on his deep direct contact with Marxist literature, its intense study and his capacity to grasp it on his own. On account of this requirement having been met, during his jail life, and on account of powerful grasping capacity of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, his ideological development took a qualitative leap. One more significant factor played a helpful role in this. Though, owing to intermingled reasons, Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s organization could not pass through the required positive experience of building the worker-peasant class struggle, nonetheless some negative perceptions arising out of their experience did provide a meaningful material for drawing correct conclusions through deep pondering combined with intense study.

Pace of the development of Shaheed Bhagat Singh during his jail life casts an amazing effect. In the earlier phase of his revolutionary activity, Shaheed Bhagat Singh would, thus, refer to the anarchist leader Peter Kroptkin:

“One such act may, in a few days, make more propaganda than thousands of pamphlets. The government defends itself, bursts in a pitiable condition of anger. But by doing so it provokes new acts of revolt, individual and collective, it drives the rebels to heroism. One act generates the other. Opponents joins the ranks of rebellion. The government is divided into factions. Mutual antagonism sharpens the contradictions. The concessions come very late and revolution erupts … There is no need for more money, organization and literature. A single human with a torch and a dynamite in hand can give directions to the whole world.”

But during his jail life, Shaheed Bhagat Singh makes the following deep comment about terrorism:

“The path of bomb has been there since 1905 and it is a sad comment on revolutionary India. Terrorism is a repentance of revolutionary psyche in not having been able to go deep among the masses. Thus it is also a confession of our failure ….. Its history in every country is a history of failure; France, Russia, Germany, Balkan countries, Spain, everywhere story is the same. Seed of defeat sprouts within it.”

The comment of Shaheed Bhagat Singh regarding “repentance” resembles the comments of Lenin regarding revolutionary terrorism. But Shaheed Bhagat Singh goes further. Significantly he says that in respect of practical results the impact of terrorism and Gandhism on the revolutionary movement is identical in content. Referring to the limitations of revolutionary terrorism he says, even if the revolutionary terrorism succeeds, by applying its full force, in accomplishing “what has never happened in history earlier, even then terrorism can, at the most, compel the imperialist force to compromise. Such compromises would always fall short of our objective — the complete independence. Thus terrorism can squeeze a compromise and an installment of reforms and that is what Gandhism is striving for.”

Basing on the experience of Ireland, Shaheed Bhagat Singh calls revolutionary terrorism “a national idealism devoid of revolutionary social basis”, which “despite all circumstances being favorable may be lost in the quagmire of compromise with imperialism” and he questions the revolutionary intimidators, “Should India still copy Ireland, though it may be possible even then should we”? His overall conclusion is that “Satan of terrorism need not be applauded”.

At that time revolutionary terrorism was not a trend within the communist movement in India. It was represented, generally, by middle class nationalist sections. Nevertheless the above stated comment of Shaheed Bhagat Singh can be compared to some extent with those comments of Lenin which he made regarding the common content of the revolutionary terrorism on the one hand and economism-reformism on the other – as wrong trends within the workers’ movement.

Another glimpse of deep demarcation which Shaheed Bhagat Singh makes vis-à-vis dreamy conceptions regarding the role of revolutionary terrorism in creating revolutionary conditions and initiating revolution is found in the draft of revolutionary program issued by him. In this draft he exhibits the clear-cut awareness that the success of revolution depends on the fulfillment of necessary objective and subjective conditions. He mentions three necessary conditions stated by Lenin for the success of October revolution: political economic condition, mental preparation of the masses, and a trained revolutionary party capable of providing leadership in testing times. For him coming into action for the fulfillment of second and third conditions is the “primary task” of communist activists. He also stresses the forging of program for practical revolutionary activity, “keeping this issue in mind”. He considers “preparing and mobilizing the masses for militant activity” as the primary duty of the activists.

On the question of alignment of class political forces for the revolution in the country as well, the thinking of Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his comrades seems taking significant strides. Regarding the role of workers-peasants as the motive force of revolution, the view point of Shaheed Bhagat Singh has been coming under discussions. His comments regarding danger of “betrayal” on the part of Congress and “Indian Capitalism” has quite often remained subject of discussions. However the important thing is that the writings of Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his comrades seem tending towards examining the role of imperialist capital in the Indian economy as well as its political implications. It has been clearly stated in these writings that with the import of imperialist capital the layer of big capitalists tied in a relation of common interests and servility to it, on the one hand goes on developing and on the other hand the “deterioration” of this layer in respect of defending national interests becomes inevitable. The direction of this thinking of Shaheed Bhagat Singh comes in conflict with the direction of anti-imperialist united front with the entire capitalist class which, later on, determined the limitations of the revolutionary leading role of the Communist Party of India.

The interesting thing is that Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his comrades seem inclined towards the direction of getting free from the conception of considering the entire bourgeois class as a class having common interests. As mentioned earlier, they have used the word “big bourgeois” for the bourgeoisie strung in the relation of loyalty and commonness with foreign capital. On the other hand such comments are there which point towards strangling of the independent development of capitalism in India owing to imperialist domination and thus become indications of the existence of capitalist class having conflicting interests with foreign capital. The behavior of British imperialists towards the company of Gurdit Singh Kamagatamaru has been cited as a significant instance of antagonistic relation between imperialist domination and Indian capital.

Apart from it, in the jail diary of Shaheed Bhagat Singh a lengthy reference is there from an article of Bipin Chander Pal. In this writing the concerns and aspirations of those Indian capitalists are addressed who see the import of foreign capital in India as colliding with their own interests. Leaving aside the discussion as to what extent the so called radical leaders within the congress did or did not represent the layer of this capitalist class, it is noteworthy that this writing, while explaining the meanings of sawraj, connects it with the right of severe restrictions against the import of foreign capital in the country, goes to the extent of “won’t allow the English to enter the country”, it considers the wholesale recruitment of Indian representatives in the bureaucracy as meaningless if the conditions of the state administration and its policies remain intact, and it also claims that getting free from the strangling restrictions Indian capitalism can defeat British capitalism in global competition and it can reach out to attain the status of parallel “Indian imperialism” . This reference noted with deep interest by Shaheed Bhagat Singh, combined with his comments regarding “big capitalists”, brings forth the seeds of approach of making differentiation within the Indian capitalist class on the basis of basic relationship of economic interests that it has with imperialism.

It was this very differentiation in awareness which through the experience of Chinese revolution got itself reflected in Mao Tse Tung’s thought in the form of distinct marking of contrasting class features of the comprador bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie and which became the basis of the direction of united front with national bourgeoisie while making the comprador bourgeoisie as the target. Of course, the leadership of the Communist party of India has also been making differentiation between the “left” and “right” wings of Indian capitalist class but this differentiation was being made on the basis of the role of different sections of this class rather than their character. The class interests of the entire bourgeoisie including the big bourgeoisie were being seen as in conflict with foreign imperialism. The section that was being declared as the right wing was the one which was considered prone to running away from the defence of the interests of the entire “Indian capitalism” which were considered conflicting with and independent of imperialism and to the danger of succumbing before imperialism. According to such a conception the whole bourgeoisie becomes an intermediate class with dual and vacillating character and no section of which remains the target of revolution as a reactionary class.

In this context, the marking of big bourgeoisie by Shaheed Bhagat Singh as tied to the imperialist interests becomes quite important. This marking contained the seeds of differentiation from the course adopted by Communist party of India, marching on which it had been offering all its might to the strengthening of the congress platform considered by it as the anti-imperialist national united platform.

In his effort to outline the course of Indian revolution a great importance was given by Shaheed Bhagat Singh to pre-empt the danger of the possible betrayal of the anti-imperialist revolutionary movement by the big bourgeoisie and its congress representatives. Hence the special urgency for Shaheed Bhagat Singh for the creation of people’s own party i.e. the Communist Party in order to confront this danger. A Party, free from the illusions regarding the role of congress and big capitalists, and able to intervene properly and timely in the revolutionary situation and taking the reins of revolution in its hands, may lead it to victory

However, certain ideological limitations were yet to be overcome. Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s warnings about the betrayal by capitalist class and Congress were partly influenced by his objective of seizing state power through revolution and utilizing it immediately for the establishment of socialism. On the basis of his Marxist understanding he had already rejected the objective of establishing capitalist state modeled on European countries and America. The concept of anti-imperialist anti-feudal revolution in the imperialist dominated countries under the leadership of working class, as not being a proletarian dictatorship or solely of a worker-peasant state, instead being the common democratic dictatorship of all revolutionary classes and the concept of a united front of all revolutionary classes including the national bourgeoisie for such a revolution, got distinctly established later on through the experience of Chinese revolution.

The important writings of the Communist International regarding the question of revolution in the imperialist-dominated countries were not then accessible to Shaheed Bhagat Singh. Lenin had been emphatically affirming in connection with the imperialist-dominated backward countries that socialism cannot be immediately imposed upon these countries. He made another significant affirmation that the readymade books of Marxism cannot serve the purpose of the communists of these countries. They would have to chart out their own concrete course for their revolutions by grappling with their conditions. Of course the leadership of the Communist Party of India did give weightage to these warnings by Lenin against “imposing” communism but it failed in charting out a correct course for the Indian revolution through hard mental labor. Instead the Lenin’s warnings became for it the justification for forming united front with the big bourgeoisie loyal to imperialism, in the name of anti-imperialist united front and even for accepting its leading role.

The phase of Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s jail life was such a phase of his ideological development in which he was addressing the question of concrete revolutionary program for social liberation of the people. Without such a concrete program, “appeal to national sentiments” seemed to him “meaningless”. He was of the view that the effort for “American type Indian Republic” through “national revolution” in the country is unrealistic. He held the view that the bourgeoisie fears workers and peasants, on whom the “national revolution depends”, thus “imperialism” cannot be dethroned through “national revolution” but through workers’ revolutions. “Anything else cannot fulfill this objective”. “We need to keep in mind that neither should we wish for any other revolution than the workers revolution and nor can it succeed”. Masses ought to “be explained that revolution is in their interests and it is theirs. It is worker proletariat’s revolution for the proletariat”. In this light Shaheed Bhagat Singh makes socialistic economic steps the basis for his program for the abolition of imperialism and feudalism. But in the context of such a program the importance of noticing the existence of anti-imperialist capitalism in the country gets diminished.

In the context of above deliberations and Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s capacity to rapidly grasp Marxist literature, the non-accessibility of theoretical material of Lenin and Communist International regarding the revolution in backward countries to Shaheed Bhagat Singh proved to be very significant unfavorable “coincidence”. In the situation of its availability, Shaheed Bhagat Singh would have been confronted with the problem of seeking and shaping the contours of such a revolution, which despite not being a means for the immediate establishment of socialism, should not become the means for the establishment of capitalism rather should become a part of socialist revolution going to happen in the next stage.

In respect of some aspects mentioned earlier, Shaheed Bhagat Singh seemed to be in quite better a position for grappling with the point and in the event of having grasped it to address the question of class alignment for the revolution. His approach tending towards differentiation between different sections of capitalist class, combined with the concept of a revolution taken as an alternative for the capitalist revolution but prior to socialism, had the possibility of attaining distinct importance. “Seizure of political power by the people and for the people” – while putting forward this concept of revolution, Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s definition of the “people” and the “nation” is important. For him meanings of “people” and “nation” are not solely limited to working class. On the other hand he warns that “nation are not the loudspeakers of Congress”. He includes 95% of masses in the “people”. Shaheed Bhagat Singh had before him the model of Russia’s October Revolution as an alternative to the bourgeois nationalist revolution.

In the situation of having obtained the Leninist theoretical material regarding the specificity of revolutions in backward countries, his concept of seizure of political power by the people in the concrete Indian conditions had the possibility of coming forth in a distinct and crystallized form; had also the possibility of being presented as the concept of united democratic dictatorship of all revolutionary classes under the leadership of working class. Such a concept, basing itself on the immediate requirements of the democratic revolution, could have become a positive alternative for the course taken by the Communist party of India regarding the united front with the entire capitalist class. But the history could not get the opportunity to witness, asses and test the probable glimpses of the emerging communist revolutionary talent of Shaheed Bhagat Singh.

It is also interesting to note that Lenin had been especially emphasizing two points to convince the middle class nationalists of the backward countries who were having education in Marxism in the Soviet Union and were going to become communists. One point was regarding the uselessness of revolutionary terrorism and the other point was regarding the uselessness of the efforts to immediately “impose communism” on the masses of backward countries. (Source – Indian Revolutionaries in Soviet Union.) Basing on the strength of his intellectual capacity and available Marxist literature Shaheed Bhagat Singh had attained clarity regarding the first point. On the other significant point required study material was not available to Shaheed Bhagat Singh. His vision of the state of “95%” people; his approach towards liberation from imperialism as based on the program of social liberation; his clarity regarding the loyalty towards imperialism of a section of the capitalist class and his tending towards the existence of the capitalist class having conflicting interests with it; his concept of the building of the communist party as an independent leading force of revolution — these significant elements and his ideological awareness seem to be demanding only the next ideological clue.

This suggestive clue of Lenin that the march of the backward countries towards socialism depends on comprehending and carving specific contours of democratic revolutions of these countries, had the probability of making Shaheed Bhagat Singh “someone else”, had it been available to him in those times when Shaheed Bhagat Singh was yet a youth of 23 years and India was searching for its “Mao Tse Tung”. Just before his martyrdom Shaheed Bhagat Singh was studying a book by Lenin. In his own words he was having “an encounter” with Lenin. Alas! Had this “encounter” been longer! And had it really happened … this thought will keep on always arousing the heart-throbbing curiosity in the minds, discerningly studying Shaheed Bhagat Singh.

However more important for the successors of Shaheed Bhagat Singh today is this comment of Pash that they ought to study Marxism-Leninism further from thereon where Bhagat Singh has left the page of Lenin’s book folded, while going towards the gallows.

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Comment (1)


    Even at a tender age, Bhagat Singh could understand the politics of Marxism and application of Lenin’s thoughts. His profound understanding would have been more useful had he not sent to the gallows by the British imperialists. His followers must surge forward with elaborating his thoughts to modern conditions and only then, his dream of communist society will become a reality.

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