Assessing the success of the Communists in the period till Independence is rather like deciding whether a glass is half-full or half-empty; it all depends on one's perspective. From one perspective one can argue as follows: The Party really got going only after the Meerut-accused were released from prison, which was in 1933. The ages of virtually the entire leadership at that date ranged from the mid-twenties to the early-thirties. In a period of a mere fourteen years this band of young men had built up mass organisations of workers, peasants and students, on an impressive scale; it had set the intellectual agenda for the entire national movement on a whole range of issues; it had led massive peasant uprisings, including the famous Telengana uprising which constitutes the "greatest armed struggle of the peasantry in Indian history." And it had done all this despite severe repression, including long years of incarceration (it must not be forgotten that thousands of Communists who were in the Congress suffered imprisonment during the Quit India movement, right until 1945, as disciplined Congress cadres, despite the Party having opposed the Quit India resolution). All this, together with the fact that by 1947 a nucleus had been set up for what was to prove over the next half-century (no doubt through various vicissitudes) the most coherent, the most dedicated, and the most creative force in the Indian polity, constitutes an impressive achievement.
On the other hand, some would argue that, compared to the achievements of the Chinese and the Indo-Chinese Communist Parties, those of the Indian Communists pale into insignificance. To be sure, the objective conditions were different: unlike their Chinese comrades, the Indian Communists had to face a centralised colonial State; they had to grapple with an extremely complex and heterogeneous society fragmented by caste, linguistic and religious differences; and they had to contend with a bourgeoisie that was far more developed and sophisticated than in any other Asian country. But, notwithstanding all this, the Indian Communists, so the argument would run, achieved less than their historical potential; and they did so because of serious strategic and tactical "mistakes".
The fact of these "mistakes" of course is undeniable and is recorded in Irfan Habib's Sundarayya Memorial Lecture which we publish as the lead article in the current issue of Social Scientist. It is also a tautology to say that the Communists' success would have been greater but for these "mistakes". The real question is: how much greater? How significant in a historical sense were these "mistakes"? This debate, which involves sorting out the "objective" from the "subjective" factors, would continue to rage within the Left and among the scholars on the Left. Two points however must never be lost sight of.
First, while 1947 represented a decisive point in the anti-imperialist struggle, it did not mean the end of the struggle itself. Political independence does not