ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Russian Revolution, the Third International and the Colonial Question

The establishment of the Communist International and the installation of Soviet power contributed to a new understanding of the colonial question, as revealed in the deliberations of the Comintern Congresses. The setback of the European revolutions largely contributed to the recognition of the crucial importance of the colonial question by the Comintern, ideologically and organisationally. But the relations between the communist parties in the colonies and the metropolitan countries, together with the growing “Russification” of the Comintern, blocked many of its possibilities.

It is customary to study the November Revolution in terms of its European dimension. What remains underplayed is its impact on the struggle of the colonial people. That the revolution opened up completely new frontiers in the perception of the colonial question was manifest in more than one way. First, the Soviet government proclaimed that the Soviet Union stood by the colonial people and would extend all possible support to their cause. Second, the formation of the Communist International (Comintern) in 1919, with its headquarters in Moscow, led to the formation of communist parties in the colonies, and this opened up an alternative route to the liberation struggle of the people in the colonies vis-à-vis nationalism. This needs to be especially highlighted for the reason that this aspect of the November Revolution has not been recognised even by a section of the radical intelligentsia. Thus, Bhiku Parekh, arguing from a postcolonial angle, considers Marx as a defender of colonialism, alleging that he was thoroughly Eurocentric in his understanding, and has not spared Lenin too, the argument being that he, after all, was solely guided by the considerations of revolution in Europe in his reading of the colonial question. This leads to the unilinear outlook that the Western discourse, including Marxism, is, ontologically speaking, an undifferentiated narrative that is prejudiced against the East, ignoring thereby the discourses that have been highly critical of power and domination (that is, Marx) (Parekh 2014: 188–91).

In fact, this raises two central issues involved in the Comintern’s understanding of the colonial question. First, since the Comintern was heavily dominated by the European communist parties, apart from the overwhelming presence of the Russian Communist Party, was the colonial question viewed on its own terms, with reference to its very own specificities? Second, while the communist parties of the metropolitan countries, in principle, were expected to actively support the cause of the anti-colonial struggle, did it materialise in practice?

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Updated On : 7th Nov, 2017

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