21st April marked the 108th anniversary of the Hindustan Ghadar Party. It was formed by Indian working people in North America to fight for the liberation of India from colonial rule and for a new India in which the labour and resources of our people would not be exploited. At a time when the main political organisation of the Indian capitalists and landlords, the Indian National Congress, was singing the praises of the British monarch and British parliamentarianism, the Ghadar Party set as its clear target the overthrow of the hated colonial rule. In this goal they were inspired by the revolutionaries of the Ghadar of 1857. The new party pledged to complete the unfinished task of Ghadar of 1857. From this objective it never deviated, despite the ferocious repression unleashed against it by the colonialists.
For its irreconcilable stand against foreign rule, for its lofty vision of a new India, and for the dauntless bravery and sacrifice of its fighters, Indian people have always honoured and continue to honour the memory of the Hindustan Ghadar Party.
Despite the great sacrifices made by the Ghadar Party and other patriotic organisations of Indians, the bitter truth is that today our people continue to be among the most exploited and oppressed in the world. The representatives of the Indian bourgeoisie in power today have taken the exploitation of the working people to levels not seen in colonial times. They use even more ferocious methods to put down those who oppose them. In these conditions, honouring the legacy of the Ghadari Babas today means to act like they did in their time – that is, to work tirelessly without thought of self, against those forces that are trying to divide the people and intensify their exploitation and oppression. It means to stand firm and be absolutely fearless before the tyrants and their agents. It means to work wholeheartedly for the regeneration (Navnirman) of India.
The Hindustan Ghadar Party fought for an end to the oppression of our people in India and abroad
As the British colonialists stepped up their exploitation of India in the nineteenth century, large parts of the country faced economic devastation. This led to large-scale migration of our people to different parts of the world to try and earn a livelihood. The colonialists encouraged this, as they needed cheap or forced labour to work their plantations, open new lands, clear forests, lay down railroads and toil in their factories. But wherever our people went, they faced racial discrimination and abuse at the hands of the colonialists and imperialists, and their status as people of an enslaved country followed them.
Angered by their humiliation and by the subjugation of their homeland, patriotic Indians on the west coast of the United States came together to form the Hindustan Ghadar Party in 1913. From the very beginning, the Ghadar Party made it clear that its aim was nothing less than the complete overthrow of British rule in India. Right on the masthead of its famous journal Ghadar, it boldly identified itself as “Angrezi Raj ka Dushman”. The first issue of Ghadar carried the stirring words:
“What is our name? Ghadar.
What is our work? Ghadar.
Where will the Revolution take place? In India.”
The pages of Ghadar as well as other literature produced by the HGP educated and inspired patriotic Indians. It laid bare the nature of British colonial rule in India, explained how the imperialist system of exploitation worked, and outlined the vision of a new India. This showed that the Ghadaris were not only advocates of militant action against British rule, but were advanced in their thinking as well. They proposed a federal republic of the United States of India, in which all its people would be equal. They upheld the unity of all Indian people, irrespective of language, religion or community, in the struggle against the oppressors. They stood for social as well as national liberation, and for an end to poverty and inequality.
At the same time, the HGP also organised the Indians abroad to militantly defend themselves against racial discrimination and abuse. It explained to them how their oppression overseas was directly connected with the subjugation of their homeland. The Ghadar Party activists played a very important role in the Komagata Maru incident in 1914. Hundreds of Indian passengers on a Japanese ship named Komagata Maru bound for Vancouver in Canada were not allowed to disembark after they had made the long voyage, because of the racist laws excluding Indians that had been enacted by the Canadian state. During the period of two months, in which the passengers were forced to remain on board before the ship was made to turn back to India, Ghadar Party activists militantly organised material, moral and legal support for them among the Indian community in Canada.
The activists of the HGP worked tirelessly and skillfully to unite Indians everywhere for the cause of India’s liberation. Its revolutionary networks were active in many places where Indians resided abroad. This included China, Japan, Siam, Malaya, the Philippines, Singapore, Iran, Afghanistan as well as countries in Africa and Latin America. Tens of thousands of copies of Ghadar circulated among Indians in these places and were smuggled back into India as well. Knowing that British imperialism relied on using Indians to carry out the subjugation of peoples in India and other countries as well, the HGP specifically sought to mobilise Indian soldiers and policemen against their British masters. Their work was so successful that whole regiments had to be disbanded and punished by the British for having been corrupted by Ghadar propaganda. In 1914, under the inspiration of the HGP, hundreds of soldiers of the 5th Light Infantry stationed in Singapore mutinied. This was the first revolt by Indian soldiers after the Great Ghadar of 1857.
The nationalism of the Ghadar Party was not a narrow one, but embraced the struggles of peoples everywhere against injustice and oppression. For instance, activists of the Ghadar Party, at great risk to themselves, infiltrated the ranks of Indian soldiers and police serving in British regiments in China and convinced whole detachments to refuse to fire on the Chinese. “Oh Brother”, read a poem in Ghadar ki Gunj, “do not fight in a war against the Chinese. Beware of the enemy. He should not deceptively instigate you to fight your Chinese brothers. The enemy splits brothers and makes them kill each other. The people of Hind, China and Turkey are real brothers.” Ghadar Party activists contacted activists and leaders of anti-imperialist and progressive struggles in other countries and worked together with them.
The HGP had a sound understanding of international geopolitics. When World War I broke out, they immediately saw this as a golden opportunity to strike against the British colonial rulers at a time when they were under pressure. They gave the call to their activists and supporters to go back to India to take part in armed insurrection against British rule. In a short time, thousands of Indians returned from abroad. They made contact with other anti-colonial fighters in India and made preparations to launch armed rebellion. Unfortunately, due to treachery, the British colonialists got to know about the plans and launched a pre-emptive attack against those involved. Between 1915 and 1917, hundreds of Ghadar heroes were rounded up, exiled to penal colonies in the Andamans, sentenced to rigorous imprisonment or executed.
The British thought that they had stamped out the Ghadar Party. However, this did not happen. Members and activists of the Party continued to actively mobilise Indians in India and around the world to fight against British imperialism. They did not give the colonial rulers a moment’s peace.
Following the victory of the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, many members of the Ghadar Party were greatly inspired by the ideals of socialism and communism. The program and vision of the party expanded to embrace the idea of a new India free from all capitalist and imperialist exploitation where the people would be the masters of their own labour and resources. Their work and thought had a great impact on revolutionaries like Shaheed Bhagat Singh and other revolutionary organisations. It made an important contribution to the growing crisis of British rule in India.
The aspirations of the Indian people for real freedom were betrayed by the bourgeoisie that came to power in 1947
One thing that stands out in the work and activity of the Hindustan Ghadar Party is that it was based on the support of ordinary Indian workers, peasants, soldiers and patriotic intellectuals. The other thing that is crystal clear is that it completely rejected the path of compromise with the oppressor, of trying to find accommodation with the colonial state or the imperialist system of plunder and exploitation. The party fought for a complete break with this system and for the establishment of an India built on new foundations.
This was in total contrast with the activity of the bourgeois nationalist organisations, led by the Indian National Congress. The Indian bourgeoisie, through its organisations, at all times sought to find a way to work with and within the colonial system. Insofar as it opposed the colonial state, it was only to come to power itself and carry on with the loot and plunder of the Indian people. In 1947, it was this class that came to power.
That is why, despite the enormous sacrifices and struggles waged by patriotic and revolutionary forces like the Ghadar Party, the aspirations of the Indian people for a complete change in their conditions did not materialise. The new bourgeois ruling class preserved the structure of exploitation and oppression of the toiling people set up by the former colonial rulers and developed it even further. They incorporated the oppressive colonial laws and regulations into the legal system and Constitution of the new Republic of India. The Westminster parliamentary system, in which different parties of the bourgeoisie take turns to rule over and oppress the people, was adopted and further refined.
The times are calling for renewed dedication to the ideals of the Ghadaris. We must struggle to break with this rotten system of exploitation and oppression and to build a new political power that truly belongs to the working people of this country. Our future lies in laying a new foundation for Indian society, a new State that can usher in far-reaching social and economic changes in the interests of the masses of people and not for the profits of a handful of exploiters. The Communist Ghadar Party of India calls on the Indian people to wage this struggle with the same courage, persistence and boldness of the Ghadar fighters, so that the dream of a new India free of all forms of exploitation and oppression can be realised.