Looking Back

Fifty Years of Frontier

Santosh Rana

In 1967, in the fiftieth year of the Great October Revolution, the Spring Thunder over Naxalbari created a revolutionary upsurge among the workers, the peasants, the students, and youth and revolutionary intellectuals all over India. The peasants were in revolt against the exploitation and tyranny of the landlords, money-lenders and other exploiters. One could hear the resonance of Naxalbari in far-off Srikakulam, Mushahari, Lakhimpur-Kheri, Debra-Gopiballavpur, Birbhum and other places. The students, many of them with brilliant academic achievements, abandoned their career and went to the villages, forests and mines to integrate with peasants, adivasis and workers and build the revolutionary movement.

Naxalbari took place in the twentieth year of India's independence. The freedom struggle in India was greatly influenced by the Great October Revolution. The success of the October Revolution had changed the character of the national movements against colonial rule. These movements acquired new social and economic contents. In "Imperialism : The Highest Stage of Capitalism" Lenin had advanced the idea of anti-imperialist alliance between the proletarian movements in the developed countries and the national liberation movements in the colonies. The Indian peasants exploited by the semi-feudal exploitation of the landlords under a caste based dispensation, started dreaming of freedom from that exploitation. So, with the defeat of the fascist forces in the Second World War, the victory of the Soviet Union and the upsurge of national democratic movements in China, the Indian peasants were enthused and took to revolutionary struggles. India witnessed the great Telengana peasant struggle and the Tebhaga movement in Bengal. Peasant movements burst forth in other parts of India, too, though the scale was not the same.

The longing for national liberation along with democratic transformation of society attracted large number of intellectuals in Bengal and other parts of India towards the freedom movement and the struggle for democracy and socialism. Many of them had upper middle class background and had the advantage of acquaintance with the socialist movement the world over. Many of them had great literary faculties. One such man , of great intellectual capacity and passion for the oppressed masses was Samar Sen, the grandson of Bengal's great literary figure Dinesh Chandra Sen.

After the Naxalbari upsurge, Samar Sen who had earlier published "Now" as a leftist journal for debate on various social and political issues in collaboration with Humayan Kabir, started publishing Frontier, a weekly in English to debate the various issues related to Indian society and Indian revolution. Though intellectually rich, Samar Sen had financial problems and there was no organisation to back him. Some friends came forward contributing articles and may be, financial help. Asok Mitra contributed to Frontier. He also edited a book in honour of Samar Sen, 'The Truth Unites, Essays in Tribute to Samar Sen.'

Frontier, under Samar Sen, took a stand in support of Naxalbari. At the same time, it started publishing articles on the nature of Indian society and revolution. There were many theoretical problems concerning the Indian revolution. The Indian National Congress , which was an umbrella organisation of various classes, was led by the bourgeoisie. What was the nature of this bourgeoisie? Was there any anti-imperialist spirit among them? Or were they compradors? How deep was the development of capitalism in agriculture? Was the situation the same as in China? How to look at the caste question in India, which was a unique feature of Indian society?

People of great intellectual caliber like Asok Rudra, Gouri Prasad Ghosh, Paresh Chattopadhyay, Nirmal Chandra, Amit Bhaduri, Ranjit Sau and others came forward to contribute to Frontier and it turned out to be a space for lively debates on many issues.

By this time, the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries, and later, the CPI(ML) was formed. The leadership of the CPI(ML) thought that there was no necessity for such debates. Whatever the Party leadership decided was the last word in revolutionary theory and practice. There is no relevance for mass movement and mass organisation; annihilation of class enemy is the highest stage of class struggle and beginning of guerrilla struggle etc., no debate on capitalism or on land relations is required. Since large number of urban and rural youths had joined the party it was taken for granted that the party line propagated by the leadership was correct.

Frontier did not join in the chorus. It raised questions on many issues. The party leadership was enraged. Saroj Dutta, writing under the pen-name of Sasanka, wrote: "The Indian ruling classes have three fronts. They are United Front Government, the Eastern Frontier Rifles and Frontier weekly." After the publication of this article in Deshabrati, Samar Sen could easily have been killed by any lumpen squad of Kolkata, who had never heard the name of Samar Sen. Luckily he was not. But the Party leadership shared the views of Saroj Dutta.
Looking backward, it seems clear that such a leadership and such a sectarian line of thinking was bound to fail. How could people who equated 'Frontier' with 'Eastern Frontier Rifles' lead a revolution in a large diverse country of India's size.

After the death of Samar Sen, Timir Basu and others came forth to carry forward the legacy of Samar Sen. They were no giants like Samar Sen but were sincere and had great devotion. It may be that there is scope for improvement.

Autumn Number 2018
Vol. 51, No.14 - 17, Oct 7 - Nov 3, 2018