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Satyanarayan Singh, a communist trade union leader who boldly admitted his errors

By Harsh Thakor 

30th January marked the birth centenary of Satyanarayan Singh (SNS). He has been one of the most influential leaders of the communist revolutionary movement in India; has been among the leaders who helped shape this movement engulfing the entire country. Remembering. S.N. was to remember a life of man who unflinchingly defended communism till his last breadth. He played the role of catalyst in confronting revisionism and neo-revisionism and in waging struggle against left adventurism.
Satyanaran Singh, (SN or SNS as he was referred to in his life) was born on January 30, 1923 in a peasant family in village Dhamar, close to Ara, in the then Shahabad district (now in Bhojpur district). It coincided with struggle against British colonialism was sweeping across the country. Young SN was not left untouched and started participating in the freedom movement including in the Quit India movement launched by Congress in 1942 and which was quite strong in Bihar. He also came in contact with Congress Socialist Party (CSP); and with communists working in CSP and joined the Communist Party. He left his studies before matriculation to join the freedom movement like many of his contemporaries who sacrificed their all in the freedom movement. Forced by family circumstances he joined Air Force ground staff.
In 1946 during his training in the Air Force, he daringly refused to salute the Union Jack, the symbol of British colonial rule in India. He was court-marshalled and sentenced to two years’ prison term. Released in 1948 he devoted himself to the communist movement. That was the time when a series of peasant struggles swept the entire country and Great Telengana Armed Struggle sprouted most advanced struggle of the peasantry under the leadership of the then CPI. Young SN worked among the peasantry in old Shahabad district (comprising of Bhojpur, Buxar, Rohtas and Kaimur now) especially among landless and poor peasants. While organizing these peasant sections and rousing them in struggle he relentlessly withstood countless attacks from landlords and their henchmen and in one such attack was mortally wounded.. However, heroically  SN survived and made important contribution to the communist revolutionary movement of the country.
After working for some time in Shahabad district he was transferred to work in Jharkhand (then South Bihar) to primarily work among industrial workers in the region. A large number of workers from erstwhile Shahabad and Saran districts were working in TATA industries in Jamshedpur. At that time workers’ organization in the then South Bihar was expanding on a large scale and their struggles were coming forth in different sectors.  SN, with his prowess in binding with masses and outstanding oratorical skill (for which he was widely acclaimed) soon emerged as an important leader of the workers’ movement in the region. He was among the leaders who shaped the historic struggle of the Tata workers in 1958. The Govt. launched severe repression on this struggle. Forces of the State and Central Govt. including Army were deployed. Four workers were killed and 114 injured by police. SN was arrested along with other leaders in what came to be known as Jamshedpur conspiracy case. He along with other leaders was convicted and sentenced for five years. It was in the course of building workers’ movement, TATA steel workers’ struggle and his arrest and imprisonment in the course of that struggle, that shaped SN into an ever popular and loved leader of workers of the region. In that period SN was active among the workers in coal mines in Dhanbad, copper mines in Rakha, Ghatsila, Moubhandar and Musabani, organized workers of HEC, Ranchi, Sindri Fertilizers to name some prominent ones. He also led movement and organization in other TATA industries and ancillary industries in Jamshedpur.
After his release,  SN again started working in the then South Bihar. At that time a serious ideological political struggle had erupted in the international communist movement owing to the stranglehold of Modern revisionism in the leadership of CPSU (B) and Soviet Union. This struggle was also intense in Indian communist movement. SN was a strong supporter of the revolutionary line being put forth by Communist Party of China under the leadership of Mao Zedong. During India-China War in 1962 SN was among those who opposed Dange’s line of capitulation to Indian ruling classes and opposed national chauvinism being unleashed then. In that period SN spent a good many years in jail. He utilised his long tenure in jail in educating himself politically It is inconceivable that he had received little formal education, having left studies while he was in Ninth standard.
When CPI (M) was formed in 1964, SN became part of it. SN was among the prominent leaders in Bihar who joined the CPI (M). He was associated with the state work during CPI (M) period and played an important role in the state CPI (M). For some time he was also Dhanbad district secretary of CPI (M). CPI (M) interlude was however short lived because CPI(M) too followed parliamentary path. Peasant armed struggle in Naxalbari became a turning point in the history of the Communist movement in India and made a distinction between revolutionary Marxism and revisionism and neo-revisionism. SN, waged battle for revolutionary line inside first CPI and then CPI (M), came out in support of Naxalbari peasant uprising and mobilized several comrades in then Bihar (now Bihar and Jharkhand) in support of Naxalbari struggle. He was amongst the contingent of the prominent leaders of CPI (M) from outside West Bengal who came out in support of Naxalbari.
When communist revolutionaries came out or were expelled from CPI (M) they set up All India Co-ordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) in November 1967.  SN was convenor of its Bihar Committee and a member of AICCCR. AICCCR firmly upheld Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought and gave a call to build Naxalbari type of struggles. SN moved to implement this Call in Bihar. Under his leadership Bihar comrades built armed struggle in Mushahari area of Muzaffarpur district. This struggle soon encompassed large rural areas both nearby and distant. From Surajgarha in Darbhanga in the east to West Champaran in the west, Mushahari struggle expanded into a vast zone of struggle. A large number of comrades were martyred in this struggle. SN wrote articles illustrating various features of this struggle. Besides this armed struggle in North Bihar, peasant struggles arose under his leadership in Central Bihar as well from Paliganj in Patna to Kurtha & Karpi (near Jehanabad) and also in other areas of Bhojpur, Gaya and Rohtas districts. SN was fully engrossed in leading peasant struggles in Bihar.
SN was clear that communist revolutionaries should form a Party based on Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong as ideological guide, with programme of New Democratic Revolution and path of Protracted People’s War. He was among those who advocated forming the Party and fought for it in the AICCCR. He refuted the idea that a Communist Party should be built only from cities and struggle of industrial workers. When AICCCR decided to form the Party it was named CPI (ML), a name suggested by SN. SN was among the members of its COC of CPI (ML) with Charu Mazumdar as General Secretary formed on Lenin’s Birthday on April 22, 1969. The Party held its Eighth Congress in 1970 (first after Naxalbari). SN was elected to the Central Committee and Politburo of the Party in 1970 Party Congress. SN played a prominent role in 1970 Congress, drafted Party’s programme and also presented it before the Congress.
With call for Naxalbari type of struggles, armed struggles were built in Mushahari, Debra Gopiballabhpur, Lakhimpur Kheri and Srikakulam, the latter reaching highest intensity in terms of people’s participation. Indian state galvanised all forces at its mercy to crush the revolutionary struggles. The struggling areas were encircled, large contingents of security forces were employed and merciless cold-blooded killings of revolutionary leaders and cadres were executed. Areas of struggle received a crippling blow. This called for intense review of the situation in different areas and constructing correct approach to advance armed struggle and revolutionary movement banking on the rich experience furnished by struggles since Naxalbari uprising. However the leadership could not effectively confront this challenge and abandoned path of protracted people’s war, pursuing Che Gueveraist path.
SN had played an important role as an architect in the struggle against revisionism and neo-revisionism as well as left deviation.. His struggle against ‘Left’ deviation began with criticism of annihilation of rich peasants -equating them with landlords. SN considered this as a deviation of the agenda of New Democratic Revolution. This struggle later delved into other aspects of ‘Left’ deviation including line of individual annihilation of class enemies and organizational expression of ‘Left’ line in the form of individual authority. In the course of this, Central Committee of CPI (ML) was made functional (revived) on November 7th 1971 and SN Singh was elected its General Secretary. SN played a very important role in combating ‘left’ deviation inside CPI (ML) and establishing mass line. However, he too came out of the ‘Left’ line only gradually. A creature of this struggle was Self-Critical Review of the Central Committee of CPI (ML). SN was seeking to establish mass line for adapting path of armed struggle. But the setbacks suffered by the movement left a scarand made some reject the very path of armed struggle. S.N. Singh ideologically refuted such comrades’ positions calling that trend as “throwing baby with the bath water”. Among several articles written by him in that struggle, articles titled “Smash the revisionist onslaught against the Party” is particularly important. This struggle showed that SN relentlessly waged a battle for revolutionary mass line. While he opposed ‘Left’ deviation, in the course of this struggle he was firm against liquidationism and right opportunism.
CC, CPI (ML) under the leadership of S.N. Singh adopted the task of uniting communist revolutionary forces which had been divided mainly in the course of struggle against ‘Left’ deviation and embarked on pursuing principled unity efforts based on revolutionary mass line. He often said “politics, not the parentage should be the basis of unity.” Hence his unity efforts traversed revolutionary forces both from CPI (ML) and outside CPI (ML). Several CR groups united with CC, CPI (ML) led by SN including those from Punjab-Himachal, J&K and Andhra Pradesh. The most important unity of the period was unity between CPI (ML) led by S.N. and APRCP led by C.P. Reddy. “Having reached common understanding between the two parties on all major points of programme, tactics and party building, we have decided to unite into a single party” their Unity statement had stated further expressing the belief that all communist revolutionaries in our country “too will come forward to unite in the CPI(ML).” This unity was followed by unity with a Bihar organization and with Unity Committee, CPI (ML) the latter resulting in formation of PCC, CPI (ML).
While pursuing unity efforts with other CR organizations, SN led the Party into developing class struggle and revolutionary movement. SN also corrected the approach of boycotting the mass organizations especially TUs and party comrades started working among different TUs. However, the focus of the Party remained in the rural areas. However, as the contention of the two superpowers intensified and crisis of India ruling classes deepened, Indira ruling Congress began to crush people’s movements mercilessly. 1974 strike of the railway workers was crushed with the use of Army and severe repression was let loose against struggle of peasants, workers and students. Due to intensification of contradictions among two superpowers, the Indian ruling classes became fragmented. A section of the ruling classes started opposing autocratic rule of Indira Congress and were subjected to grave repression. SN grasped the essence of these intensifying contradictions and led the Party to oppose Indira’s rule and opposed repression against the opposition parties. He said that as long as Indira Gandhi attacks them and they oppose Indira Gandhi, they would unconditionally oppose Indira’s attacks against them.
These contradictions intensified further and led to imposition of Internal Emergency on June 26, 1975. CPI (ML) led by S.N. Singh condemned the “personal despotic rule” of Indira Gandhi and called for united struggle against the Emergency. At that time this thinking was prevalent among many CR organizations that there is no difference among the ruling class parties and hence there was no reason to call for united struggle against Indira’s Emergency rule. Underlying this quandary was an understanding, even now prevalent among some CR organizations that in semi-colonial, semi-feudal country contradictions could not be utilised amongst ruling class parties to confront fascism... S.N. Singh and under his leadership CPI (ML), called for struggle against Indira fascism. For this he was rebuked by both, the ‘left’ and the right. This contribution of S.N. is even more significant as India today is plagued under fascist rule of RSS-BJP and faces the impending threat of full fledged fascism.
S.N. prepared the ground for the struggle for democratic rights. He played an important role in the formative period of PUCL and had been a member of its National Executive. His efforts contributed to bringing the issue of release of Naxalites from prisons into the agenda.
 S.N. had been a prominent TU leader in the then South Bihar. However, boycott of TUs by CPI (ML) for some time eradicated links of leading comrades including S.N. with ordinary workers though a number of communist revolutionary workers from Jamshedpur went to work for the revolutionary movement. Later CPI (ML) corrected this eclectic position and CPI (ML) cadres worked in different TUs as there no subjective conditions lay of communist revolutionaries forming Unions under their leadership and also a large number of cadres in different states were in jail.
After Emergency, S.N. advocated forming a revolutionary Trade Union Centre and such a Centre was pioneered within the Communist revolutionary camp, at its founding conference held in Guwahati in 1978. It was correctly understood for establishing working class unity it was imperative for CRs to build a TU centre as ruling classes have already divided the workers. Unity of workers could only be achieved by intensifying working class struggles and revolutionary TU centre will play an important role in enhancing reach of revolutionaries among workers and establishing unity of workers under concrete conditions of working class movement in India. S.N. also asserted the importance of struggle for federalism and rights of state for the revolutionary movement in India. This was demonstrated in his attitude to Punjab problem when Mrs. Gandhi implemented her catastrophic design. Under his leadership CPI (ML) also corrected earlier erroneous attitude towards elections analysing elections in India as a question of strategy of Indian revolution and asserted Leninist position of participation in elections being a tactical question.
An astute polemicist and a renowned orator, SN unhesitatingly endorsed participation in people’s struggles. After Emergency, he organized workers of Uranium mines in Singhbhum district. S.N. also supported the struggle of CISF jawans in 1979 for better pay, working conditions and recognition of their Association and participated in support actions. This struggle resulted in clashes when Army attempted to disarm CISF personnel in Bokaro on June 25, 1979 in which several jawans were killed.
S.N. most boldly admitted his errors. When he got convinced his analysis was defective, he never hesitated in admitting his mistakes and offering his self-criticism. In this he was always heeded by Lenin’s advice to communists.”
However, Satya Narayan Singh steered the movement to a rightist course when supporting Jayaprakash Narayan movement in 1974 and prematurely advocating participation in elections in 1977, without sufficient development of the proletarian party. He failed to diagnose the class collaborationist character of JP or bourgeois character of the Janata Party, after emergency. His formulation of anti-fascist front was influenced by Chinese Three world’s theory, forging an alliance with US Imperialism, and sections of Indian ruling class parties. SN Singh sowed the seeds of the rightists trend within the Indian Communist revolutionary movement today, setting a trend of revolutionary groups embracing the parliamentary road .A feature of the movement in his times were the opportunist alliances with Chandra Pulla Reddy in 1974, and split in 1980.D.V Rao made the most accurate criticism of the right deviation of SNS. In that period splits were a routine feature, within the Communist revolutionary camp. He was also aware of the harm that his mistakes had inflicted on the communist movement. Not only he offered self-criticism for his role in the ‘Left’ mistakes while correcting them, he admitted his mistake in 1979-80 split in the then PCC, CPI(ML).
He boldly admitted that it was the rightist approach in his assessment of the international situation which was crucial to formulation of his positions in 1979. He wrote in that tone in his document “Oppose Both the Superpowers” in 1983. While correcting ‘Left’ mistakes, he commited gross errors in late 1970s. Having come to that conclusion regarding his erroneous line in 1979 line he initiated unity efforts with CP led organization. This quality of S.N. i.e. of self –criticism was worthy of great admiration both in avoiding errors and correcting them when discovered or proved.  S.N. was however very firm that unity of CRs should on no way negate organising of CPI (ML) or forming a new Party. He was also aware of the harm that his mistakes had inflicted on the communist movement. Not only he offered self-criticism for his role in the ‘Left’ mistakes while correcting them, he admitted his mistake in 1979-80 split in the then PCC, CPI(ML). He forthrightly commented that it was the rightist approach in assessment of the international situation which was crucial to formulation of his positions in 1979. He wrote in that tone in his document “Oppose Both the Superpowers” in 1983.
In later times like in 1987, CPI (ML) New Democracy re-united CP Reddy-SN Singh factions. Today the chief proponents of Satya Narayan Singh’s line are the C.P.I. (ML) PCC and the C.P.I. (ML) New Democracy. The latter equally upholds CP Reddy, being mainly active in Punjab,Telengana ,Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. Significant supporters of SN Singh’s path were late Santosh Rana and Vhaskar Nandy, two major Communist stalwarts.
CPI (ML)-New Democracy organised Birth Centenary programmes at many centres. in the observation of S.N. Birth Centenary to hold high the struggle against revisionism of all hues, for revolutionary mass line, mobilizing the people for New Democratic Revolution and advancing on the path of protracted people’s war to make NDR victorious in India.
It is regretful a group like CPI (ML) New Democracy fails to properly assess the negative aspects of Satya Narayan Singh or completely extricate from it’s tumours. It makes no sound criticism of his inclination towards parliamentary path creating ground for splitting Communist revolutionary camp or planting seeds for revisionism, the manner he vitiated path of protracted peoples war or new democratic revolution, opportunist unity with Chandra Pulla Reddy and un- Marxist approach in confronting neo-fascism. Infections of his errors continue to vitiate the Indian Communist revolutionary camp. A balanced appraisal has to be evaluated on the contribution of SN Singh.
Harsh Thakor is freelance journalist who has undertaken extensive research on the Indian Communist Movement



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