Socialism in India is a political movement founded early in the 20th century, as a part of the broader movement to gain Indian independence from colonial rule. The movement grew quickly in popularity as it espoused the causes of India's farmers and labourers against the zamindars, princely class and landed gentry. Socialism shaped the principal economic and social policies of the Indian government but mostly followed Dirigisme[1][2] after independence until the early 1990s, when India moved towards a more market-based economy. However, it remains a potent influence on Indian politics, with many national and regional political parties espousing democratic socialism.

Small socialist revolutionary groups arose in India in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. The Communist Party of India was established in 1925, but socialism as an ideology gained a nationwide appeal after it was endorsed by leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru. Socialists were amongst the first to call for outright Indian independence from colonial rule. Under Nehru, the Indian National Congress, India's largest political party, adopted socialism as an ideology for socio-economic policies in 1936. Socialists and communists also engineered the Tebhaga movement of farmers in Bengal against the landed gentry. However, mainstream Indian socialism connected itself with Gandhism and adopted peaceful struggle instead of class warfare.[citation needed]

After India's independence in 1947, the Indian government under prime ministers Nehru and Indira Gandhi oversaw land reform and the nationalization of major industries and the banking sector. Independently, activists Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan worked for peaceful land redistribution under the Sarvodaya movement, where landlords granted land to farmworkers out of their own free will. In the 1960s, the Communist Party of India formed India's first democratically elected communist government when it won elections in the states of Kerala and later West Bengal. However, when a global recession began in the late 1970s, economic stagnation, chronic shortages and state inefficiency left many disillusioned with state socialism. In the late 1980s and 1990s, India's government began to systematically liberalise the Indian economy by pursuing privatisation, aiming to attract foreign investment.


In 1871 a group in Calcutta had contacted Karl Marx with the purpose of organizing an Indian section of the First International.[3] 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.[4] The first biography of Karl Marx in an Indian language was written by R. Rama Krishna Pillai in 1914.[5]

Marxism made a major impact in Indian media at the time of the Russian Revolution.[citation needed] 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.[4]

The Khilafat movement contributed to the emergence of early Indian communism. Many Indian Muslims left India to join the defense of the Caliphate. Several of them became communists whilst visiting Soviet territory. Some Hindus also joined the Muslim muhajirs in their travels to the Soviet areas.[6]

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 was ordered to check the imports of Marxist literature to India. A great number of anti-communist propaganda publications were published.[7]

The First World War was accompanied by 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 centers across India, and strikes were organized. In 1920, the All India Trade Union Congress was founded.[8]

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.[9] In 1922, with Lotvala's help, Dange launched the English weekly, Socialist, the first Indian Marxist journal.[10]

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.[11]

A Communist Group was founded in Tashkent on 17 October 1920, soon after the Second Congress of the Communist International by M.N. Roy. 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).[12]

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.[13][14][15]

On 25 December 1925, the Communist Party of India formed at the first Party Conference in Kanpur, then Cawnpore.[16] S.V. Ghate was the first General Secretary of CPI. The conference held on 1925 December 25 to 28. 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.[17] The conference adopted the name ‘Communist Party of India’. Groups such as LKPH dissolved into the unified CPI.[18] The émigré CPI, which probably had little organic character anyway, was effectively substituted by the organisation now operating inside India.

Communist electoral mural in Jadavpur.
Communist electoral mural in Jadavpur.

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 Revolutionary Socialist Party and All India Forward Bloc support them in some states. These four parties constitute the Left Democratic Front.

There are many smaller Marxist parties, including the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), Marxist Communist Party of India, Marxist Coordination Committee in Jharkhand, Janathipathiya Samrakshana Samithy, Communist Marxist Party and BTR-EMS-AKG Janakeeya Vedi in Kerala, Mazdoor Mukti (Workers' Emancipation) and Party of Democratic Socialism in West Bengal, Janganotantrik Morcha in Tripura, the Ram Pasla group in Punjab, and the Orissa Communist Party in Orissa.

Political parties

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.[19] 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.[20]

Following independence, the Indian government officially adopted a policy of non-alignment, although it had an affinity with the USSR. The party's commitment to socialism has waned in recent years, particularly following the assassination of Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi. Elected in 1991, the government of Narasimha Rao introduced economic liberalisation with the support of finance minister Manmohan Singh, who later on became the prime minister of India (2004-2014).

Communists were also active in the Indian independence movement and have played a significant role in India's political life, although they are fragmented into a multitude of different parties. Communist parties represented in parliament are: (statistics from 2019 General Elections) Communist Party of India (Marxist) (3 seats in the Lok Sabha), the Communist Party of India (2 seats), the Revolutionary Socialist Party (1 seat).[21] The former speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee, is a member of the CPI(M). Left Front parties remain an independent faction in the parliament critical of the policies of both the government and that of the mainstream opposition parties.

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.[22]

Noted Indian socialists include the founding leader of the All India Forward Bloc and the Indian National Army Subhas Chandra Bose and the country's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

See also

Further reading

Communism in India


  1. ^ Chandrasekhar, C. P. (2012), Kyung-Sup, Chang; Fine, Ben; Weiss, Linda (eds.), "From Dirigisme to Neoliberalism: Aspects of the Political Economy of the Transition in India" (PDF), Developmental Politics in Transition: The Neoliberal Era and Beyond, International Political Economy Series, London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, pp. 140–165, doi:10.1057/9781137028303_8, ISBN 978-1-137-02830-3, retrieved 4 September 2020
  2. ^ Mazumdar, Surajit (2012). "Industrialization, Dirigisme and Capitalists: Indian Big Business from Independence to Liberalization". Retrieved 4 September 2020.
  3. ^ M.V.S. Koteswara Rao. Communist Parties and United Front – Experience in Kerala and West Bengal. Hyderabad: Prajasakti Book House, 2003. p. 103
  4. ^ a b M.V.S. Koteswara Rao. Communist Parties and United Front – Experience in Kerala and West Bengal. Hyderabad: Prajasakti Book House, 2003. p. 82, 103
  5. ^ M.V.S. Koteswara Rao. Communist Parties and United Front – Experience in Kerala and West Bengal. Hyderabad: Prajasakti Book House, 2003. p. 82
  6. ^ M.V.S. Koteswara Rao. Communist Parties and United Front – Experience in Kerala and West Bengal. Hyderabad: Prajasakti Book House, 2003. p. 83
  7. ^ M.V.S. Koteswara Rao. Communist Parties and United Front – Experience in Kerala and West Bengal. Hyderabad: Prajasakti Book House, 2003. p. 82-83
  8. ^ M.V.S. Koteswara Rao. Communist Parties and United Front – Experience in Kerala and West Bengal. Hyderabad: Prajasakti Book House, 2003. p. 83-84
  9. ^ Riepe, Dale. Marxism in India in Parsons, Howard Lee and Sommerville, John (ed.) Marxism, Revolution and Peace. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1977. p. 41.
  10. ^ Sen, Mohit. The Dange Centenary in Banerjee, Gopal (ed.) S.A. Dange – A Fruitful Life. Kolkata: Progressive Publishers, 2002. p. 43.
  11. ^ M.V.S. Koteswara Rao. Communist Parties and United Front – Experience in Kerala and West Bengal. Hyderabad: Prajasakti Book House, 2003. p. 48, 84–85
  12. ^ M.V.S. Koteswara Rao. Communist Parties and United Front – Experience in Kerala and West Bengal. Hyderabad: Prajasakti Book House, 2003. p. 89
  13. ^ :: Singaravelar – Achievements :: Archived 21 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ M.V.S. Koteswara Rao. Communist Parties and United Front – Experience in Kerala and West Bengal. Hyderabad: Prajasakti Book House, 2003. p. 110
  15. ^ Report of May Day Celebrations 1923, and Formation of a New Party (The Hindu quoted in Murugesan, K., Subramanyam, C. S. Singaravelu, First Communist in South India. New Delhi: People's Publishing House, 1975. p.169
  16. ^ "Foundation of the Communist Party of India (CPI) in 1925: Product of (...) - Mainstream".
  17. ^ Satyabhakta then formed a party called National Communist Party, which lasted until 1927.
  18. ^ M.V.S. Koteswara Rao. Communist Parties and United Front – Experience in Kerala and West Bengal. Hyderabad: Prajasakti Book House, 2003. p. 92-93
  19. ^ "The Role of Law and Legal Institutions in Asian Economic Development: The Case of India : Patterns of Change in the Legal System and Socio-Economy" (PDF). Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  20. ^ "The Constitution (Amendment)". Archived from the original on 28 March 2015. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  21. ^ "Members : Lok Sabha". Retrieved 11 June 2021.