Red Letter
Daily Left Theory. 15 Minutes or Less. Refreshes at Midnight. Next New Reading is June 5.
Supplement to Lenin's Preliminary Draft Theses on the National and the Colonial Questions
by M. N. Roy
Estimated Reading Time: 8 min

Narendranath Bhattacharya, who later assumed the name Manabendra Nath Roy, was an Indian Communist leader. Roy had a leading role in revolutionary movements in India, Mexico, the Middle East, the Soviet Union, Indonesia and China. Like Marx he was both and activist and a philosopher; in fact Lenin called him “the Oriental Marx.”

Roy tried to organize an armed insurrection in India in 1915; founded the Communist Party of Mexico (1919) and the emigré Communist Party of India in Tashkent (1920); rose to occupy the highest offices of the Communist International and led the Comintern’s delegation to China (1927). At the same time he authored such Marxist classics as India in Transition (1922), The Future of Indian Politics (1926) and Revolution and Counter-revolution in China (1930); and founded the organ of the emigré Communist Party of India, The Vanguard (and later The Masses) and edited it for seven years (1922-28).

Lenin introduced his 1920 Report of the Commission on the National and Colonial question before Roy. Here is a brief excerpt of the beginning of Lenin's comments

Comrades, I shall confine myself to a brief introduction, after which Comrade Maring, who has been secretary to our commission, will give you a detailed account of the changes we have made in the theses. He will be followed by Comrade Roy, who has formulated the supplementary theses. Our commission have unanimously adopted both the preliminary theses, as amended, and the supplementary theses. We have thus reached complete unanimity on all major issues. I shall now make a few brief remarks.

First, what is the cardinal idea underlying our theses? It is the distinction between oppressed and oppressor nations. Unlike the Second International and bourgeois democracy, we emphasise this distinction. In this age of imperialism, it is particularly important for the proletariat and the Communist International to establish concrete economic facts and to proceed from concrete realities, not from abstract postulates, in all colonial and national problems.

The characteristic feature of imperialism consists in the whole world, as we now see, being divided into a large number of oppressed nations and an insignificant number of oppressor nations, the latter possessing colossal wealth and powerful armed forces. The vast majority of the world’s population, over a thousand million, perhaps even 1,250 million people, if we take the total population of the world as 1,750 million, in other words, about 70 per cent of the world’s population, belong to the oppressed nations, which are either in a state of direct colonial dependence or are semi-colonies as, for example, Persia, Turkey and China, or else, conquered by some big imperialist power, have become greatly dependent on that power by virtue of peace-treaties. This idea of distinction, of dividing the nations into oppressor and oppressed, runs through the theses, not only the first theses published earlier over my signature, but also those submitted by Comrade Roy. The latter were framed chiefly from the standpoint of the situation in India and other big Asian countries oppressed by Britain. Herein lies their great importance to us.

The second basic idea in our theses is that, in the present world situation following the imperialist war, reciprocal relations between peoples and the world political system as a whole are determined by the struggle waged by a small group of imperialist nations against the Soviet movement and the Soviet states headed by Soviet Russia. Unless we bear that in mind, we shall not be able to pose a single national and colonial problem correctly, even if it concerns a most outlying part of the world. The communist parties, in civilised and backward countries alike, can pose and solve political problems correctly only if they make this postulate their starting-point....

1. To determine more especially the relation of Communist International to the revolutionary movements in the countries dominated by capitalistic imperialism, for instance China and India, is one of the most important questions before the Second Congress of the Third International. The history of the world revolution has come to a period when a proper understanding of this relation is indispensable. The great European war and its result have shown clearly that the masses of non-European subjected countries are inseparably connected with the proletarian movement in Europe, as a consequence of the centralisation of world capitalism for instance the sending of colonial troops and huge armies of workers to the battlefront during the war, etc.

2. One of the main sources from which European capitalism draws its chief strength is to be found in the colonial possessions and dependencies. Without the control of the extensive markets and vast fields of exploitation in the colonies, the capitalist powers of Europe cannot maintain their existence even for a short time. England, the stronghold of imperialism, has been suffering from overproduction since more than a century ago. But for the extensive colonial possessions acquired for the sale of her surplus products and as a source of raw materials for her ever growing industries, the capitalistic structure of England would have been crushed under its own weight long ago. By enslaving the hundreds of millions of inhabitants of Asia and Africa, English imperialism succeeds so far in keeping the British proletariat under the domination of the bourgeoisie.

3. Super-profit gained in the colonies is the mainstay of the modem capitalism – and so long as the latter is not deprived of this source of super-profit, it will not be easy for the European working class to overthrow the capitalist order. Thanks to the possibility of the extensive exploitation of human labour and natural resources in the colonies, the capitalist nations of Europe are trying, not without success, to recuperate their present bankruptcy. By exploiting the masses in the colonies, European imperialism will be in a position to give concession after concession to the labour aristocracy at home. Whilst on the one hand, European imperialism seeks to lower the standard of living of the home proletariat by bringing into competition the productions of the lower paid workers in subject countries, on the other hand, it will not hesitate to go to the extent of sacrificing the entire surplus value in the home country so long as it continues to gain its huge super-profits in the colonies.

4. The breaking up of the colonial empire, together with the proletarian revolution in the home country, will overthrow the capitalist system in Europe. Consequently, the Communist International must widen the sphere of its activities. It must establish relations with those revolutionary forces that are working for the overthrow of imperialism in the countries subjected politically and economically. These two forces must be coordinated if the final success of the world revolution is to be guaranteed.

5. The Communist International is the concentrated will of the world revolutionary proletariat. Its mission is to organise the working class of the whole world for the overthrow of the capitalistic order and the establishment of communism. The Third International is a fighting body which must assume the task of combining the revolutionary forces of all the countries of the world. Dominated as it was by a group of politicians, permeated with bourgeois culture, the Second International failed to appreciate the importance of the colonial question. For them the world did not exist outside of Europe. They could not see the necessity of coordinating the revolutionary movement of Europe with those in the non-European countries. Instead of giving moral and material help to the revolutionary movement in the colonies, the members of the Second International themselves became imperialists.

6. Foreign imperialism, imposed on the eastern peoples, prevented them from developing socially and economically side by side with their fellows in Europe and America. Owing to the imperialist policy of preventing industrial development in the colonies, a proletarian class, in the strict sense of the word, could not come into existence here until recently. The indigenous craft industries were destroyed to make room for the products of the centralised industries in the imperialistic countries-consequently a majority of the population was driven to the land to produce food grains and raw materials for export to foreign lands. On the other hand, there followed a rapid concentration of land in the hands of the big landowners, of financial capitalists and the state, thus creating a huge landless peasantry. The great bulk of the population was kept in a state of illiteracy. As a result of its policy, the spirit of revolt latent in every subject people found its expression only through the small, educated middle class.

Foreign domination has obstructed the free development of the social forces, therefore its overthrow is the first step towards a revolution in the colonies. So to help overthrow the foreign rule in the colonies is not to endorse the nationalist aspirations of the native bourgeoisie, but to open the way to the smothered proletariat there.

7. There are to be found in the dependent countries two distinct movements which every day grow further apart from each other. One is the bourgeois-democratic nationalist movement, with a programme of political independent under the bourgeois order, and the other is the mass action of the poor and ignorant peasants and workers for their liberation from all sorts of exploitation. The former endeavour to control the latter, and often succeed to a certain extent, but the CI and the parties affected must struggle against such control and help to develop class consciousness in the working masses of the colonies. For the overthrow of foreign capitalism which is the first step toward revolution in the colonies the cooperation of bourgeois nationalist revolutionary elements is useful.

But the foremost and necessary task is the formation of communist parties which will organise the peasants and workers and lead them to the revolution and to the establishment of Soviet republics. Thus the masses in the backward countries may reach communism, not through capitalistic development, but led by the class conscious proletariat of the advanced capitalist countries.

8. The real strength of the liberation movements in the colonies is no longer confined to the narrow circle of bourgeois-democratic nationalists. In most of the colonies there already exist organised revolutionary parties which strive to be in close connection with the working masses. The relation of Communist International with the revolutionary movement in the colonies should be realised through the medium of these parties or groups, because they were the vanguard of the working class in their respective countries. They are not very large today, but they reflect the aspirations of the masses and the latter will follow them to the revolution. The communist parties of the different imperialistic countries must work in conjunction with these proletarian parties of the colonies and, through them, give all moral and material support to the revolutionary movement in general.

9. The revolution in the colonies is not going to be a communist revolution in its first stage. But if from the outset the leadership is in the hands of a communist vanguard, the revolutionary masses will not be led astray, but may go ahead through the successive periods of development of revolutionary experience. Indeed, it would be extremely erroneous in many of the oriental countries to try to solve the agrarian problem according to pure communist principles. In its first stages, the revolution in the colonies must be carried on with a programme which will include many petty-bourgeois reform clauses, such as division of land, etc. But from this it does not follow at all that the leadership of the revolution will have to be surrendered to the bourgeois democrats. On the contrary, the proletarian parties must carry on vigorous and systematic propaganda of the Soviet idea and organise the peasants’ and workers’ Soviets as soon as possible. These Soviets will work in cooperation with the Soviet republics in the advanced capitalistic countries for the ultimate overthrow of the capitalist order throughout the world.

Communism Is How We Forcibly Break Apart the Organized Power of the Capitalist Class
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