The Communist International and the Challenge to British India, 1919–43

Saturday, January 8, 2011
Ballroom C (Hynes Convention Center)
Alastair Kocho-Williams , University of the West of England at Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom
The poster presents, in a visual and graphic format, an overview of the Communist International (Comintern) and the challenge to British India in the years between the First and Second World Wars. The Comintern, composed of world communist parties, but directed by Moscow and subject to the shifting line of the Soviet leadership's foreign policy priorities, formulated an anti-imperial and colonial policy at its 2nd Congress in 1920. As a policy it remained one of the more consistent aspects of Comintern policy, largely as it focused on parts of the world beyond Europe. The poster will display aspects of this policy with respect to the situation in India, the ‘jewel in the crown' of the British Empire, including the parties involved, Moscow's approach to India, and the perceptions of the British Government. The poster will fit with the meeting's theme of ‘society and the sacred', engaging with questions surrounding the sanctity of India as a part of the British Empire, and how the Comintern sought to undermine it. The Comintern challenge to British India presents us with an interesting story relating to the national struggle for freedom from colonial rule in the 20th Century. Although India did achieve independence from Britain, it did not follow the direction that the Comintern had mapped out for it. Ideology became compromised, and debates arose concerning methods for achieving freedom from Britain (chiefly surrounding the issue of violence), religion, and the nature of a potential communist society dominated by a Soviet style dictatorship (in this it mirrors some aspects of discussions on the left in the Spanish Civil War). So too, we are met with issues on the side of the British about how they understood the challenge to India made by the Comintern in terms of how they identified it, and perceived and misperceived the threat. The poster will reflect the multi-dimensional aspect of the topic, and will clearly display some of its complexities. The Comintern's challenge to British India involved not only the Communist Party of India, whose leadership were instrumental in the formulation of the Theses on the National and Colonial Question, and the maintenance of the Comintern's anti-colonial and anti-imperial line, but also the Communist Party of Great Britain, which challenged British imperialism, gave support to Indian communists, and had senior figures who were themselves Indian. This two-pronged approach has made the topic difficult to grasp at times, with multiple discussions taking place at the same time, not always understanding issues in the same way. The poster will draw these threads together, and make it clear how they functioned alongside each other, showing a clear picture of the nature of the Comintern's challenge to British India between the two World Wars.
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