Social Scientist. v 12, no. 136 (Sept 1984) p. 45.


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SUMIT SARKAR^

The Communists and 1942

A RUN SHOURIE'S four articles in the Illustrated Weekly of India (March 18, 25, April 1, 8, 1984) on the "great betrayal" by Indian Communists in 1942 represent an unusual combination of archival research (more than 800 documents have been used, we arc told) with up-to-date techniques of flamboyant 'investigative journalism'; flaring headlines, photographs, photostats and all. The unwary reader might be tempted to confuse this heady mixture with authentic and original' historical research, presenting at last "what actually happened in 1942". But going through and quoting from a set of documents, however exciting or scandalous, is only a preliminary step in the craft of the historian. A piece of historical reconstruction has to be judged ultimately by the degree and nature of the grasp it reveals over the total historical perspective relevant to the events being examined, the setting against which the motivations and relative significance of particular documents are being necssarily evaluated.

The extent of Arun Shourie*s command over history becomes apparent right from the beginning in the paragraphs on the international situation in the 1930s. Stalin and the Communists, ye are told, were "among the factors that helped Hitler the most to acquire absolute power'9, though Hitler ^eventually turned on the German communists" (my italics). What is never mentioned is that the Red scare was absolutely central to the strategy of Mussolini and Hitler throughout, with Communists branded as anti-national agents of Moscow in a manner which Shourie in his present mood might find pleasantly familiar. The admitted sectarian mistakes of Stalin and the Comintern during 1929-1933 are conflated together with the Nazi-Soviet pact of August 1939 to produce a picture of the 1930s with no room at all for anti-fascist popular fronts and Litvinov's strivings for collective security. Very remarkably, the Western appeasement of Hitler is not mentioned even once. The British and French governments are described with some affection as "indecisive and incompetent and also weighed down by scruples of a sort"—they were allegedly concerned with protecting ^the small nations

*Professor of History, Delhi University, and Senior Research Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum, and Library.



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