The impact of Bolshevik Revolution on South Asian politics


The 1917 Russian revolution had a great impact on South Asian political movements and leaders. DW talks to renowned Pakistani social activist and author Harris Khalique about its relevance today.

DW: What impact did the Russian Revolution have on anti-colonial movements in British India?

Harris Khalique: I find it interesting that while Karl Marx looked at British colonialism in India during the 19th century with a different lens and saw it as an agent for bringing modernity to a decadent and feudal country, the Marxist-Leninist Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 was looked at most favorably in British, French and other colonies.

In British India, the 1917 revolution not only inspired and influenced secular movements, it had a similar impact on faith-based movements and political organizations. Even before the Communist Party of India (CPI) could formally take roots, there were religious scholars like Maulana Hasrat Mohani and Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi publicly owing allegiance to the international socialist movement.

They emphasized the inherent nature of deep connections between nationalism, freedom and class struggle. Over the next few decades – between 1925 and 1947 – from CPI to Progressive Writers Association to Indian Peoples Theater Association to the trade union federations, a solid left-wing anti-colonial movement was galvanized.
Harris Khalique Schriftsteller aus Pakistan (Privat)


‘In British India, the 1917 revolution not only inspired and influenced secular movements, it had a similar impact on faith-based movements and political organizations’

Why did the communist parties fare well in post-partition India and not in Pakistan?

One obvious reason is the near-absence of any modern industry in Pakistan at the time of the country’s creation and the other reason is the Pakistani government’s decision not to dismantle the traditional feudal structure for agricultural production, unlike what the Indian government did soon after independence.

Besides, the Communist Party and its organs were proscribed by the Pakistani state very soon after independence. This was followed by the imposition of martial law, which was supported by the US. Not only that Pakistan mostly remained aligned with the US and the West during the Cold War, it was hardly a democracy where all political voices are allowed a space. Communists were seen as pro-Soviet and persecuted.

In later years, as Pakistan drew closer to communist China, some pro-Chinese parties and peasant movements were allowed to operate. Consequently, these initiatives led to the rise of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party around 1970.

The Pashtun areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan had a strong communist movement. How did that happen in such conservative places? And why did Pakistan consider them a threat?

It certainly was a strong progressive and liberal movement with Pakhtun nationalist imperatives which was pro-Soviet. It was not a communist movement, strictly speaking. For instance, Bacha Khan, the great Pakhtun leader and reformer, was a Gandhian and not a communist. But he remained pro-Soviet and saw the support of the USSR crucial in realizing the rights of Pakhtuns.

Please also note that Pakhtun areas are tribal and consequently more egalitarian in nature than some other parts of Pakistan like Punjab and Sindh which remained thoroughly feudal and classist. Even the middle classes here represented conservative thought and, in fact, still do. It was natural for the Pakistani state to see any pro-Soviet linguistic or nationalist movements as a threat to a pro-US unitary state.

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