India’s Communists go to Moscow

The Wilson Center has a great Digital Archive, including a valuable Cold War International History Project. I’ve been trying to learn up on the Indian Left during the Cold War, and came across a couple fascinating documents from a 1951 visit by a group of Indian Communists to Moscow. They’re quite long but really worth reading, as they try to figure out how to best apply concepts like “national bourgeoisie” to the Indian context, seek guidance on navigating their own internal disagreements (i.e. over the priority to be placed on armed struggle), and answer questions from Stalin about conditions in India.

  1. “MEETING OF TOP CPI AND CPSU COMRADES” (a key focus of this one is resolving the situation Rao describes – “serious differences have emerged among us regarding the political line of the party. The disagreements have resulted in a situation wherein the work of the party has come to a standstill”):
    “Delegation representing the Indian Communist Party, including Rao, Ghosh, and Dange, discusses the internal disagreements within the ICP following the party’s Second Congress, stemming largely over the question of armed struggle. Also touches on how the ICP should react to foreign policy issues, including US involvement in the Korean War.”


“Meeting in Moscow between Stalin and Indian Communist Party representatives C. Rajeswara Rao, S. A. Dange, A. K. Ghosh, and [M. Basava] Punnaiah. Stalin responded to a series of prepared questions from the representatives.”

Stalin offers lots of advice; for instance:
“It is very much to your advantage to neutralize the big bourgeoisie and split off nine-tenths of all the national bourgeoisie from it. You don’t need to artificially create new enemies for yourself. And so you have many of them. The big capitalists’ turn will come, too, and, of course, then their turn will come. The problems of a revolution are decided in stages. All stages cannot be lumped together”


“They tell us there [in India] that partisan warfare is completely sufficient to achieve the victory of the revolution in India. This is incorrect.  Conditions in China were much more favorable than in India. There was a trained People’s Liberation Army in China. You do not have a trained army. China does not have such a dense rail network as India and this is a great convenience for partisans.  You have fewer opportunities for successful partisan warfare than China. India is more developed than China industrially. This is good from the point of view of progress but poor from the point of view of partisan warfare. No matter what detachments and liberated areas you would create they would still remain little islands. You don’t have such a friendly neighboring country on which you could rely as a backbone as the Chinese partisans created, having the USSR at their back.

Afghanistan, Iran, and Tibet, where the Chinese Communists cannot yet reach…This is not such a rear area as the USSR. Burma? Pakistan? These are all land borders and the rest are maritime. Therefore you need to look for an alternative [vykhod].

Is partisan warfare necessary? Unquestionably, it is.

Will you have liberated areas and a people’s liberation army?

Will there be such areas and will there also be the possibility of having such an army? But this is insufficient for victory. Partisan warfare needs to be combined with revolutionary actions by the workers. Without this, partisan warfare alone cannot have success.. . . .

The Chinese way was good for China.

It is insufficient for India where a proletarian struggle in the cities needs to be combined with the struggle of the peasants”


“I cannot consider Nehru’s government to be a puppet. He has his own roots among the population nevertheless. This is not the government of Bao Dai…Bao Dai is really a puppet. Hence it follows that partisan war in India cannot be considered the main form of struggle; maybe it needs to be called the highest form of struggle? “

4 books and a special issue to read together

  1. Victor Cha, Powerplay: The Origins of the American Alliance System in Asia. American strategies to restrain its new Cold War allies in Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, fusing together management of international and domestic politics. An IR book with an important comparative politics angle.
  2. Wen-Qing Ngoei, Arc of Containment: Britain, the United States, and Anticommunism in Southeast Asia. How leaders in Malaysia and Singapore maneuvered to build an “arc of containment” against communism both at home and abroad, including skillful manipulation of outside patrons.
  3. Taomo Zhou, Revolution in the Time of Migration: China, Indonesia, and the Cold War. Wonderful book on the intersection of transnational and international influences with domestic political cleavages in Indonesia in the 1950s and 1960s.
  4. Christopher Goscha, The Road to Dien Bien Phu. A fascinating history of the DRV in its early years, organized with a blend of theme and chronology I find particularly well done. Kind of an interesting pairing with Cha – the 1940s and 1950s on each side of the emerging regional political competition.
  5. Eva Hansson and Meredith Weiss edited a special issue of the Journal of Contemporary Asia on “Legacies of the Cold War in East and Southeast Asia.” They also edited a great selection of shorter selections from the issue in the Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia that is freely available to the public; great example of making scholarly work accessible to those without expensive subscriptions or the right university library.