It was late in December that the Indian students of the India Military School at Tashkent decided to send this writer and Abdul Majid to Moscow for theoretical training. And Abdul Qadir Sehrai who was neither in our first batch nor in the second—and who had come with Iqbal Shaidai—was made to join us much against the wishes of the Indusky Kurs group, as he was a great favourite of the Roy family.
Moscow at that time was the Mecca of Revolution and the asylum for all the revolutionaries of the world. January 1921 was the period of Soviet triumph all over the fronts where the Red Army had successfully crushed all attempts of the world imperialists to throttle this young Socialist State.
The train carrying us from Tashkent to Moscow was in all respects a luxurious one. Every compartment was well-heated by central heating apparatus; cabins were well furnished, and each cabin had four sleeper berths with good cushions, pillows and blankets.
There in the company were M.N. Roy, Abani Mukerjee, Mohamed Ali and Mrs Evelyn Roy. The three or four days of the journey were spent in political discussions in which the leaders abused every Indian political leader of the time and between us (Majid and myself on one side) and the four assisted by the Roy family favourite, Abdul Qadir Sehrai, there were severe alter-cations till it was decided to drop the unsavoury topic. And this dropping of the topic was to Mukerjee’s great satisfaction since he preferred to buy and eat every good thing at every halt. He bought several eatables which were not to Majid’s taste nor mine.
The first glimpses of Moscow were enchanting. The beautiful churches with their golden spires and pinnacles shone in the snowy background all around. Moscow is the home of 1200 beautiful churches where every believer could go and pray and commune with the God. But even these 1200 Churches were no good for Svetlana who had to go in search of a God in the land of Uncle Sam.
The leaders here landed at Hotel De Lux and we were sent away to Hotel Delovoi Dver with the proviso that every day early in the morning we would have to reach Lux for our lessons and for our meals. In a word, we were lodging at Delovoi Dver and boarding at Lux. And Hotel De Lux at the time was the place where the meetings of the ECCI (Executive Committee of the Communist International) used to take place now and then in the common room of the hotel.
There was another student—a German—besides us. And he was Willie Munzenberg, a youth leader of Germany and later on a famous figure in the political struggle of his country.
This writer would like to quote here from his small pamphlet written in 1953 and designated by the publishers as I met Stalin Twice:
“We studied Economics, Politics, Trade Unionism—We did not know much Russian, and we were being coached by Fineberg, the famous economist, M. Borodin, Tom Quelch and several others and attended military classes in the afternoons. We were boarding at Hotel Lux and lodging at Delovoi Dver. Both these hotels were the rendezous of world Communist leaders like Katayama from Japan, Tom Quelch from Britain, Kuusinen from Finland and several others.
“Zinoviev used to visit this place at least once a week. Tomsky, Quelch and the Hungarian Raccocci and Bela Kun were permanent residents of Hotel Lux. Karl Radek used to drop in every now and then….”
First Meeting with Lenin
Occasionally there were excursions organised for us, and often we used to be included in the excursions for the foreign visiting delegates from the West and sometimes from the East. It was on an occasion like this that this writer first saw Lenin at close quarters in the Kremlin.
And this first impression of Lenin is described in his first book published in December 1927, after the writer’s release from his first incar-ceration in connection with what was then known as Bolshevik Conspiracy Case (Kanpur).
This first meeting was a simple handshake when Lenin greeted the delegtion from a foreign country standing before the door of his working room, which was sparsely furnished and had not any luxurious furniture; the only picture hanging in the room was that of Karl Marx. A twinkle in his eyes that is what the writer remembers of Lenin and his disarming smile.
It will be correct to say that the writer first caught the glimpse of Lenin in February 7, 1920 while attending the funeral of Prince Kropotkin, the famous anarcho-Communist leader. This was in Moscovis Trade Union Hall. This Trade Union Hall was known in Tsarist days by the name of Nobles’ Club.
These two glimpses of Lenin cover the first half of the year, 1920. The third and final one was when the writer attended a meeting in the Trade Union Hall somewhere around July 1921, when Lenin defended the N.E.P. ( New Economic Policy) which was introduced to re-organise the country’s economy in the transitional period, from the old order to the new.
Our activities in Moscow consisted of our training, as already described. A new lesson and a new teacher was added to the list. It was the famous Trade Union leader of those times, Reinstein. We used to go to the office from where he was leading the movement.
The ECCI meetings in the Common Room of the Hotel Lux were very interesting occasions, when one could see the world Communist leaders at close quarters. It was interesting to see the tall lanky figure of Karl Radek, the shaggy bushy head of Zionviev and the stern face of Trotsky. And there was also Bukharin with his short stature but with plenty of wit and humour and a brain full of theories. There were many more of these world figures. Who can forget the thick brows and the beavy moustache of Stalin?
There were sometimes interesting incidents in Hotel Lux. And the most intriguing was once when Trotsky come to Hotel Lux. He had no identification papers. The writer also happened to be near the main landing of the Hotel and saw Trotsky arguing with the Red Army soldier mounting guard at the entrance to the stairs. The guard would not permit him and Trotsky would not budge an inch. “I am Trotsky,” said Trotsky, and the guard’s answer was “Nitchevo”. He would not yield to any frowns of Trotsky and insisted that Trotsky should produce some paper to establish his identity. The Receptionist could not intervene as it was a matter of discipline and because the most important figures of the world were engaged in the Common Room of the Hotel discussing problems of world interest.
The compromise that worked was that a telephone ring from the Receptionist brought down Bukharin from upstairs who identified Trotsky and, thus, terminated an ugly situation. This was the Red Army discipline!
And talking of the spirit of the Red Army one should also remember the 1921 incident when Stalin was reviewing the Red Army and conversing with the soldiers. He asked one of them whether everything was all right and if he was happy. On this the soldier bluntly replied, how could he be happy when he had torn long boots and (pointing to Stalin’s) the leader had new shining long boots. Off came the long boots of the leader and exchanged with the torn ones of the soldier’s. Such a thing does not happen anywhere in the capitalist world or in the newly-liberated countries where the leaders more often behave as Maharajas than the elected representatives of the people.
It was exactly at this period in history that a great famine was ravaging the length and breadth of the Soviet Union. And this famine was man-made, inasmuch as the capitalist intervention and the blockade had disorganised the entire economy of the young Socialist Republic: And still the spirit of the people was unbroken and replete with sacrifice.
The peasants of Ukraine (if I am not mistaken) brought a large quantity of victuals to Lenin and appealed to him to accept this gift in the interest of the revolution and use it for himself. Lenin did accept the gift, but as soon as the peasants turned their back, Lenin sent the entire stock to the factories, keeping for himself a small token of the present. These are the human sides of the October Revolution.
It was in the middle of April, 1921 that our studies closed in Moscow. We had learnt the theory and practice of Marxism, we had learnt the materialist interpretation of history, we had also learnt the ABC of Trade Unionism. We had also learnt a little bit of the language. And in our list of teachers we counted also the Balabanovs (husband and wife) who were very much respected in Moscow.
We had also learnt elementary military science and had almost started the machine-gun training—theory first.
Coming back to Tashkent we found that our comrades in the Indian military academy were doing well in all respects.
Iqbal Shaidai and his Khilafat delegation, which had arrived in Tashkent in October-November of 1920, had left for Kabul; of course, leaving their Secretary, Abdul Qadir Sehrai, behind and taking away a new member from our team. This was Zafar Umar Masood, who is reported to have become a Lt. Colonel in Pakistan after the formation of that state.
Aids to Mujahids
And there was another gentleman, representing the Frontier Mujahids who had also come to Tashkent with great plans of furthering revolutionary activities in the tribal area. The group got financial aid for propaganda purposes from the Eastern section of the Comintern. Roy might have mentioned this in some of his writings. The frontierman not only got financial aid for the tribesmen but ammunition as well, which consisted mostly of the Noggin revolvers.
Mohd. Akbar Khan Qurreshi, leader of our Qafila, from Jabal-us-Siraj to Tashkent, had seen the light. He had realised that the ambitions of military activities on the NWFP frontiers had come to naught and he was not satisfied with mere training in the Indusky Kurs. He wanted to return and be of use to his country in his own way. He as many others, chafed at the behaviour of the Indian leadership. And here again to quote from the pamphlet of the writer: “Akbar Khan Qurreshi had been deputed to India with a mandate to contact the leaders of the Khilafat and Congress movements. The Congress High Command refused to have any truck with Communist Russia, and the question of military aid was rejected. Qurreshi did not get any support from the Khilafat leaders either. Bitterly disappoined and disillusioned, he started on his way back to Russia, but he was arrested while re-crossing the North-West Frontier Province. The only incriminating evidence on his person was the mandate from Tashkent, inscribed on silk, and he tried to save himself by swallowing it. In spite of this, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. While in prison, he wrote out a report of all that had happened in code language and bound it up in a volume of Quran, but the British inercepted it while it was being smuggled into Afghanistan. The result was another sentence—this time for seven years. He spent the entire period of ten years in the Peshawar and Amraoti jails, without even the usual remission given to ordinary prisoners.”
Coming back to Tashkent we had to join the Indusky Kurs. But while the others joined, the author was sent to be treated in Sevastopol sanatorium for a strange disease diagnosed by three Tashkent doctors in a commission. It was diagnosed as enlargement of heart.
And a strange combination of circumstances brought the writer back to Moscow. What happened was that the Hospital train was very slow and the author was advised by the authorities in Samara (now Kujbishev) to go to Moscow and take a fast train from there to Crimea. There were no direct Fast trains from Samara to Crimea. Through their kindness the writer reached Moscow at a time when the preparations for the Third Congress of the COMINTERN were briskly going ahead. And this is how he met the Berlin Group and the stray individuals belonging to no group who had come to seek aid for Indian freedom. Many of these, no doubt, were seasoned revolutionaries with years of revolutionary service to their record.
M. Abdur Rab and M.P.T. Acharaya had taken up their quarters in Hotel Lux. There came Virendranath Chattopadhyaya and Bhupendra-nath Datta; the former was the brother of Sarojini Naidu and the latter was the brother of Swami Vivekanand. Then there were Khankhoji, many Dasguptas, Dr Abdul Wahid, Ghulam Ambia Khan Luhani and Nambiar.
There were two other outstanding persona-lities who belonged to no group. These were Doctor Taraknath Das and Doctor Champa-kraman Pillai.
The ashes of this renowned South India leader, Pillai, were very recently carried to their last resting place by the Indian cruiser, INS Delhi. This was indeed in fulfilment of a revolutionary’s vow. As Free Press Journal of Bombay (September 12, 1966) put it, “In early 1930s Dr Pillai incurred the wrath of Hitler, whose ominous rumblings were just beginning to be heard. In May, 1934, he died of suspected slow poisoning. His body was cremated in Berlin.”
The Free Press Journal refers here to Pillai’s vow: “It was some years after the war (1914-18) that he made a vow that he would one day return to the land of his birth in a powerful battleship flying the flag of the Indian Republic.”
Such was the constellation of personalities of Indian origin who were there in Moscow for the Comintern Congress of 1921.
(To be continued)
Shaukat Usmani (Maulla Bux Usta) (1901-1978) was an early Indian Communist. A member of the émigré Communist Party of India, established in Tashkent in 1920, he was a founding member of the Communist Party of India (CPI) when it wss formed in Kanpur in 1925. He was also the only candidate to the British Parliament contesting elections, while he was residing in India—that too in a prison. He was sentenced to a total of 16 years in jail after being tried in the Kanpur (Cawnpore) Case of 1923 and later the Meerut Conspiracy Case of 1929.This article he wrote specially for Mainstream fifty years ago on the occasion of the October Revolution’s fiftieth anniversary. It was published in July-August 1967. The first, second and third instalments of the article appreared in Mainstream (November 4, 2017, November 11, 2017 and November 18, 2017). This is the fourth instalment. The remaining two instalments will be reproduced in the next two issues of this journal.