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Socialism in India is a political movement founded early in the 20th century, as a part of the broader Indian independence movement against the colonial British Raj. Socialism shaped the principal economic and social policies of the Indian government after independence until the early 1990s, when India moved towards a more market-based economy.
The socialist movement began to develop in India with the Russian Revolution. However, in 1871 a group in Calcutta had contacted Karl Marx with the purpose of organizing an Indian section of the First International. The first article in an Indian publication (in English) that mentions the names of Marx & Engels printed in the Modern Review in March 1912. The short biographical article titled Karl Marx – a modern Rishi was written by the German-based Indian revolutionary Lala Har Dayal. The first biography of Karl Marx in an Indian language was written by R. Rama Krishna Pillai in 1914.
Marxism made a major impact in Indian media at the time of the Russian Revolution. Of particular interest to many Indian papers and magazines was the Bolshevik policy of right to self-determination of all nations. Bipin Chandra Pal and Bal Gangadhar Tilak were amongst the prominent Indians who expressed their admiration of Lenin and the new rulers in Russia. Abdul Sattar Khairi and Abdul Zabbar Khairi went to Moscow, immediately on hearing about the revolution. In Moscow, they met Lenin and conveyed their greetings to him. The Russian Revolution also affected émigré Indian revolutionaries, such as the Ghadar Party in North America.
The Khilafat movement contributed to the emergence of early Indian communism. Many Indian Muslims left India to join the defence of the Caliphate. Several of them became communists whilst visiting Soviet territory. Some Hindus also joined the Muslim muhajirs in the travels to the Soviet areas.
The colonial authorities were clearly disturbed by the growing influence of Bolshevik sympathies in India. A first counter-move was the issuing of a fatwa, urging Muslims to reject communism. The Home Department established a special branch to monitor the communist influence. Customs were ordered to check the imports of Marxist literature to India. A great number of anti-communist propaganda publications were published.
The First World War was accompanied with a rapid increase of industries in India, resulting in a growth of an industrial proletariat. At the same time prices of essential commodities increased. These were factors that contributed to the buildup of the Indian trade union movement. Unions were formed in the urban centres across India, and strikes were organised. In 1920, the All India Trade Union Congress was founded.
One Indian impressed with developments in Russia was S. A. Dange in Bombay. In 1921, he published a pamphlet titled Gandhi Vs. Lenin, a comparative study of the approaches of both the leaders with Lenin coming out as better of the two. Together with Ranchoddas Bhavan Lotvala, a local mill-owner, a library of Marxist Literature was set up and publishing of translations of Marxist classics began. In 1922, with Lotvala's help, Dange launched the English weekly, Socialist, the first Indian Marxist journal.
Regarding the political situation in the colonised world, the 1920 second congress of the Communist International insisted that a united front should be formed between the proletariat, peasantry and national bourgeoisie in the colonised countries. Among the twenty-one conditions drafted by Lenin ahead of the congress was the 11th thesis, which stipulated that all communist parties must support the bourgeois-democratic liberation movements in the colonies. Some of the delegates opposed the idea of alliance with the bourgeoisie, and preferred support to communist movements of these countries instead. Their criticism was shared by the Indian revolutionary M.N. Roy, who attended as a delegate of the Communist Party of Mexico. The congress removed the term 'bourgeois-democratic' in what became the 8th condition.
The Communist Party of India was founded in Tashkent on 17 October 1920, soon after the Second Congress of the Communist International. The founding members of the party were M.N. Roy, Evelina Trench Roy (Roy’s wife), Abani Mukherji, Rosa Fitingof (Abani’s wife), Mohammad Ali (Ahmed Hasan), Mohammad Shafiq Siddiqui and M.P.B.T. Acharya.
The CPI began efforts to build a party organisation inside India. Roy made contacts with Anushilan and Jugantar groups in Bengal. Small communist groups were formed in Bengal (led by Muzaffar Ahmed), Bombay (led by S.A. Dange), Madras (led by Singaravelu Chettiar), United Provinces (led by Shaukat Usmani) and Punjab (led by Ghulam Hussain). However, only Usmani became a CPI party member.
On 1 May 1923 the Labour Kisan Party of Hindustan was founded in Madras, by Singaravelu Chettiar. The LKPH organised the first May Day celebration in India, and this was also the first time the red flag was used in India.
On 25 December 1925, a communist conference was organised in Kanpur. Colonial authorities estimated that 500 persons took part in the conference. The conference was convened by a man called Satyabhakta, of whom little is known. Satyabhakta is said to have argued for a ‘national communism’ and against subordination under Comintern. Being outvoted by the other delegates, Satyabhakta left both the conference venue in protest. The conference adopted the name ‘Communist Party of India’. Groups such as LKPH dissolved into the unified CPI. The émigré CPI, which probably had little organic character anyway, was effectively substituted by the organisation now operating inside India.
Currently, Marxism is especially prevalent in Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura. The two largest Communist parties in Indian politics are the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India. The RSP and Forward Block support them in some states. These four parties constitute the Left Democratic Front.
At the 1931 Karachi session of the Indian National Congress, socialist pattern of development was set as the goal for India. Through the 1955 Avadi Resolution of the Indian National Congress, a socialistic pattern of development was presented as the goal of the party. A year later, the Indian parliament adopted 'socialistic pattern of development' as official policy, a policy that came to include land reforms and regulations of industries. The word socialist was added to the Preamble of the Indian Constitution by the 42nd amendment act of 1976, during the Emergency. It implies social and economic equality. Social equality in this context means the absence of discrimination on the grounds only of caste, colour, creed, sex, religion, or language. Under social equality, everyone has equal status and opportunities. Economic equality in this context means that the government will endeavour to make the distribution of wealth more equal and provide a decent standard of living for all.
Aside from the Congress and the Left Front, there are other socialist parties active in India, notably the Samajwadi Party, which emerged from the Janata Dal, formed by Mulayam Singh Yadav, former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and Union Defence Minister and now led by his son Akhilesh Yadav, also a former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. It has 5 seats in the 16th Lok Sabha.