On the canvas of modern Indian history, politics and social thought, Bhagat Singh shines as one of the most illustrious and glorious revolutionary stars. Indeed, his authentic legacy resides in the fact that he was among one of the first and finest Indian revolutionaries and modern political thinkers who adopted revolutionary progressivism in thought and adhered to it uncompromisingly in his political actions.
Bhagat Singh looked at the question of India’s freedom from the vantage point of dialectic/historical materialism and class struggle; in contrast to the populist, narrow, nationalistic vision which un-reflexively aspired to attain ‘self-rule’ without having a deeper sociological imagination to address the structured, oppressive evils plaguing the length and breadth of Indian society.
Unfortunately, till date, the entire mainstream Indian political establishment chooses to look the other way when it comes to addressing the most critical political question – that of ownership of the means of production – which Bhagat Singh posed almost a century back with such sharpness and so presciently. He stated,
“The struggle of India would continue so long as a handful of exploiters go on exploiting the labour of the common people for their own ends. It matters little whether these exploiters are purely British capitalists or British and Indians in alliance, or even purely Indians.”
‘A Letter to Young Political Workers’ is one of the radical documents produced by Bhagat Singh. The radicalness of the content can be gauged from the fact that after Bhagat Singh’s execution it was published in a mutilated form. Indeed, tragically, the document was totally devoid of all ideological references, including to Marx, Lenin and the Soviet Union.
In this text, while appealing to young political workers to organise and agitate along the scientific-socialist political line, Bhagat Singh lays bare the concrete formulation of his theory and praxis of politics. It can be argued that this text, in many respects, is a manifesto of Bhagat Singh’s political programme. Importantly, the text is constantly in conversation with the Communist Manifesto and Lenin’s various writings on revolution. Hence, in this sense, it can be read as a manifesto for an Indian revolution.
In Bhagat Singh’s view, a revolution does not mean mere transfer of political power from one set of rulers to another set of rulers. Instead, a true revolution is about a radical, transformative, paradigmatic shift in the realm of political power, i.e. from the hands of exploitative rulers to the hands of a progressive-revolutionary class. True revolution, therefore, is about the complete overthrow of the existing, oppressive order and the gradual and painstaking construction of a new, egalitarian and socialist order. He states,
“The political revolution does not mean the transfer of State (or, more crudely, the power) from the hands of the British to the Indian, but to those Indians who are at one with us as to the final goal, or, to be more precise, the power to be transferred to the revolutionary party through popular support.”
While addressing the nuances of revolutionary organisational politics, Bhagat Singh renders a solid ideological critique of the Indian National Congress (INC), which had a capitalistic and feudal class character. He holds that INC’s ideology and political programme are inherently incapable of bringing about a revolution since it is structurally an elitist and ‘safe’ project strongly disposed in favour of the British rulers and the Indian capitalists. He exposes INC’s ideological bankruptcy by highlighting Gandhi’s infamous statement: “We must not tamper with the labourers. It is dangerous to make political use of the factory proletariat.”
As a spirited political ideologue, Bhagat Singh courageously attacks the biggest and most ‘sacrosanct’ political currency of the day – Gandhism. He is categorical that the INC never strived to mobilise the working classes of the country. He observes,
“This [INC] is a struggle dependent upon the middle class shopkeepers and a few capitalists. Both these, and particularly the latter, can never dare to risk its property or possessions in any struggle. The real revolutionary armies are in the villages and in factories, the peasantry and the labourers. But, our bourgeois leaders do not and cannot dare to tackle them.”
Bhagat Singh believed that the movements such as the INC, which were essentially struggling for a few, selective reforms and concessions, were bound to culminate into a chequered compromise catering to the class interests of the British rulers and Indian capitalists, and dominant social and economic groups.
Since the text was originally written in the backdrop of the Round Table Conference, Bhagat Singh found an opportunity to air his views about the role of ‘compromise’ in politics. He believed that compromise per se is not problematic if it is tactically utilised in service of the advancement of one’s revolutionary politics.
Certainly, it was uncharacteristic of Bhagat Singh’s popular image – that of a non-compromising, radical revolutionary – when he declared that compromise is a part and parcel of every political struggle, including the revolutionary ones. But, as a mature political ideologue even though very young, he unabashedly and confidently advocates it by thoroughly substantiating his arguments with proper historical examples.
As for the question of political education, Bhagat Singh categorically states that political education of the masses is a prerequisite for the development of any genuine, revolutionary, socialistic political organisation. Considering this, he critically looks at his own political organisation – the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) – and spells out the challenges affecting its organisation and ideology.
Bhagat Singh believed that his party’s political workers who chant the slogan of “Long Live Revolution” were not adequately organised. And, therefore, they were unable to execute the theory and praxis of revolution. If this is juxtaposed with contemporary Indian politics, one can realise that most of the socialistic revolutionary movements have failed to bring about revolutionary transformations due to the lack of political education amidst common political workers and common citizens at large.
Indeed, ‘A Letter to Young Political Workers’ is an immensely invaluable text for all those who strive to bring about an authentic and realistic revolutionary change in India. It is high time that the contents of this text are widely discussed and debated by all those who dream to fulfil Bhagat Singh’s vision and idealism – for a secular, socialist, truly independent, just and egalitarian India wherein exploitation of humans by humans will eternally cease to exist.
Naren Singh Rao is a Delhi-based media educator and social commentator.