BHAGAT SINGH’S SOCIALIST INDIA
Portrait: Saqlain Shah
ABHITEJ SINGH SANDHU
Human Rights activist
Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s grandnephew
Shaheed Bhagat Singh as a “true revolutionary” personality, as we
today know or see him, emerged out of a multiple number of
intellectual ‘breaks’ or ‘ruptures’ within his short period of active
political life. He went through a series of epistemological and
ontological transitional phases, consisting of the influences of a
multiple number of political philosophies, and finally took up a firm
stand on one specific political-ideological basis.
Were these transitions from one phase to another both continuous
and discontinuous at the same time?
HOW and WHY did these epistemological breaks/ruptures take
How did those breaks/ruptures shape Bhagat Singh’s ultimate
To deal with these questions, I am going to use some technical
‘tools’ to arrive into a scientific understanding of Bhagat Singh’s
intellectual development, at a time when certain groups are busy
appropriating & distorting his true revolutionary legacy for their
own vested interests.
I am totally indebted to the philosophers, social theorists and
historians, to name a few: Bachelard, Althusser, Frantz Fanon,
Turner, Gennep, Homi Bhabha, Bipan Chandra, Malwinder Jit
Singh Waraich, Jagmohan Singh, Chaman Lal, Syed Irfan Habib,
Datta Desai, among others, for lending me some of the effective
methodology and perception to analyze the revolutionary
LET US GET STARTED, THEN!
Born in a family of patriot-revolutionaries, his first-hand
experiences of the Jaillianwala Bagh (1919), Nankana Sahib
(1921) massacres as well as the distress of the workers and
peasants under British colonial rule led to Bhagat Singh’s
active involvement in the national movement through the
Non-Cooperation movement (1920-22), when he was just
13-14 years old.
The sudden failure of the Gandhi-led Non-Cooperation in
1922 convinced 14 year old Bhagat Singh about the invalidity
of the era of “utopian non-violence”. He started to realize that
Gandhian movements always tend to end either with a failure
or with a compromise with the imperial power.
Bhagat Singh, undergoing an epistemological
break, started to incline towards the creed of
romantic and idealist revolutionism after the
This period (1921-23) embarked during his
Lahore National College days, which was
marked by his scepticism regarding religious
matters. Though he was still a believer and did
not dare to refute the existence of God.
During his college days, he poured himself in the study of history and
politics in Dwarkadas Library in Lahore. He was soon inspired by
the revolutionary movements in America, France, Italy, Ireland and
He literally used to “devour” the books in the library which soon
developed his attraction towards revolutionary struggles and politics.
Bhagat Singh was then engaged in a search for the ultimate theory of
liberation for the suffering humanity. This ‘search’ made him lean
towards revolutionary socialist praxis.
“Liminality”, in anthopological terminology, is a
“threshold point”, where the individual being stands
betwixt one’s previous identity and forthcoming
While Bhagat Singh was in college, he was inside
such a threshold point, where his early Arya
Samajist-Sikh nationalistic identity was confronting
his newly emerging “progressive and revolutionary”
identity, that was being formed through his study.
Around the same time,
Ireland freed itself from the shackles of British colonial rule
through guerilla warfare. A handful of Indian youth, inspired by
republican Ireland and disillusioned in the Gandhian ideology,
formed the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA).
HRA believed in the overthrow of colonial domination through
an armed revolution and establishment of a federal republic. The
HRA called forth for the abolition of all “exploitation of man by
Their ideal was republicanism, and all of the HRA
revolutionaries were god-fearing believers.
Bhagat Singh translated
Dan Breen’s autobiography
For Irish Freedom
in Hindi and published it.
This book had a great impact
in shaping the destiny of the
movement after the failure
of the non-cooperation
Bhagat Singh left his college and home for Kanpur-Delhi in
August-September 1923, after denying the offer of his family
to bring a bride in the home. He joined the HRA in Kanpur in
1923-24. Kanpur, being an industrial city, was then the hub of
communist activities. Bhagat Singh built up contacts with
many significant working class leaders and activists. As a
matter of consequence, his interest towards socialism
continued to thrive.
Soon the Kakori rail ‘robbery’ took place on 9th August, 1925.
Following the event, all the leading revolutionaries (except
Chandrashekhar Azad) of the HRA were arrested, put in trial
in the Kakori ‘Conspiracy’ Case and were sentenced by the
This left Bhagat Singh and the entire HRA into a state of
Bhagat Singh wrote:
“… up to that period I was only romantic idealist
revolutionary. Up til then we were to follow.”
“Why I am an Atheist”, October 5-6, 1930
All attempts by the rest of the HRA revolutionaries to
free the Kakori prisoners from police custody failed.
Bhagat Singh, who was then compelled to assume
the leadership position of the party along with his
“Now came the time to shoulder the whole
responsibility. Due to the inevitable reaction, for
some time, the very existence of the party seemed
impossible. Enthusiastic comrades, nay leaders,
began to jeer at us. For some time I was afraid that
someday I also might be convinced of the futility of
our own programme.” [ibid.]
The state of dilemma characterised by confusion and uncertainty
proved to be the fertile ground for sowing the seed of his future
revolutionary work based on scientific lines and thus it became a
major turning point of his revolutionary career. He later declared:
“Study was the cry that reverberated in the corridors of my mind.
Study, to enable yourself to face the arguments advanced by
opposition. Study, to arm yourself with arguments in favour of your
cult… My previous faith and convictions underwent a
remarkable modification. The romance of the violent methods
alone which was so prominent amongst our predecessors was
replaced by serious ideas. No more mysticism, no more blind
faith. Realism became our cult. Use of force justifiable when
resorted to as a matter of terrible necessity: non-violence as
policy indispensable for all mass movements… The most
important thing was the clear conception of the ideal for which
we were to fight.” [ibid.]
This “cry of study” marked the beginning of an ontological break and
exhibited a sign of epistemological progress in Bhagat Singh’s personality.
It transformed the way Bhagat Singh used to perceive his life and
Some would like to call the “cry of study” after the Kakori phase as a
“spontaneous overflow” or a “sudden outburst”, which occurred at the
“spur of a moment”. But the question of ‘studying’ was already imbibed in
him earlier, at the time of the Belgaon Congress, which later only
manifested itself at a certain situation after the Kakori phase. His earlier
study of revolutionary literature through Dwarkadas Library also had a
commendable role in generating this cry.
In December 1924, Bhagat Singh was taken to the Belgaon session of the
Congress by his father Kishan Singh in order to make him understand that
‘education’ is an essential need for becoming a matured revolutionary
In the Belgaon Congress, the debate between reformist Gandhiji and
revolutionary Shachindra Nath Sanyal based on the question of
“reform or revolution” was in motion. Bhagat Singh kept following the
He also began to hold serious political discussions and debates with his
comrades related to the problem-questions and action-plans of the
forthcoming political struggle. Because as told by Bhagat Singh
“When you have formulated this clear-cut idea about your goals you
can proceed in right earnest to organize your forces for such an action.
Now there are two different phases…
First, the Preparation; second, the Action.”
A Letter to Young Political Workers
After the Kakori phase, Bhagat Singh started to read
in detail about the various ideals of the world
revolution: especially the tenets of Anarchism and
Marxism-Leninism became the major area of his
study. He encouraged his comrades to read about
‘socialism’ as well.
As a result of his study, he made a quick transition
from romantic idealist revolutionism towards
revolutionary anarchism and developed belief in
individual terrorism as well.
Com. Jitendranath Sanyal once wrote: “Except for a short
period as a reaction against the executions in
the Kakori Conspiracy Case, Bhagat Singh was
never a terrorist.”
Com. Shiv Verma has also written that they turned into
‘terrorists’ only within a “passing phase”.
Bhagat Singh himself had written that he was perhaps a
‘terrorist’ only at the ‘beginning’ of his political career. For
matured Bhagat Singh, the history of terrorism is the history
of failure in every country. It was ‘mass-action’ on which he
always used to stress upon.
Besides Marx and Lenin, both Bakunin (1814-76) and Kropotkin
(1842-1921) also had a profound influence on Bhagat Singh’s life and
ideas, after he read some of their works in between 1925 – 1928.
Bhagat Singh’s anarchist inclination (which co-existed with the
terrorist phase) is reflected especially in three of his articles, all
published in Kirti in the May-June-July issues of the magazine in 1928.
We must make it clear, that Bhagat Singh only had an affectionate
“inclination” towards anarchism, though himself he was not an
He had admitted:
“Even having a difference of opinion with them we cannot doubt their
[the anarchists’] sincerity, love for the people and truthfulness.”
Through these articles in Kirti, Bhagat Singh strived to understand
Bhagat Singh said:
“The word anarchism has been abused so much that even in
India, that revolutionaries have been called ‘anarchist’ to make
I think in India the idea of ‘universal brotherhood’, the Sanskrit
sentence vasudhaiva kutumbakam etc., have the same meaning.”
The way in which Bhagat Singh bridged the concepts of
vasudhaiva kutumbakam and anarchism, is a visible example of
epistemological amalgamation, the ‘bringing together’ of
different schools of thought or knowledge-systems, in this case!
How do the concepts of vasudhaiva kutumbakam and
Anarchism have the same meaning?
Bhagat Singh continued:
“The ultimate goal of Anarchism is complete independence,
according to which no one will be obsessed with God or
religion, nor will anybody be crazy for money… There will be
no chains on the body or control by the state. This means that
they want to eliminate: religion, the state and private
We must note that Bhagat Singh’s Delhi Assembly Bomb action on 8th
April, 1929, derived its motivation and inspiration from the French
anarchist revolutionary martyr Auguste Vaillant (1861-1894) and his
famous dictum: “IT TAKES A LOUD VOICE TO MAKE THE DEAF
Vaillant earlier perpetrated a similar type of political action inside the
French Chamber of Deputies or French Parliament on 9th December, 1893.
Vaillant’s slogans before getting guillotined were:
“Long Live Anarchy” and “Death to the Bourgeoisie”!
Apart from his anarchist inclination, Bhagat Singh
also had a deep love for the Russian nihilist
movement at that period of time.
The Nihilist movement launched an attack against all
sorts of primitive rituals , blind faith and
superstitions in Christian-dominated Tsarist Russia.
Bhagat Singh’s article, “Russian Nihilist
Revolutionaries” (August 1928) explicitly supports
In 1925-26, Bhagat Singh and his comrades formed the mass-based
youth organization Naujawan Bharat Sabha (NBS) in Lahore on the
model of Young Italy and based it on socialist principles. The NBS
dedicated itself to the class organization of the workers and peasants.
At the same time, Bhagat Singh has established himself as an author by
frequently contributing articles in various magazines like Kirti, Chand,
Matwala, Maharathi, Pratap, etc., focusing on the role of the
revolutionary martyrs as well as the prevailing social and political
issues like Communalism, Casteism, Religious Fundamentalism etc.
Threatened by the revolutionary activities of the NBS inside the
working masses, the British authorities arrested Bhagat Singh in May
1927 on false charges in connection to the Dussehra Bomb Case. He
was released in July 1927 only after a bail bond of 60,000 rupees was
paid by his father.
Though according to Bhagat Singh’s narrative, he turned into an atheist by
1926, still this claim is refuted by a letter addressed to his friend Amar Chand
after his first arrest in 1927, which finds mention of the name of the
“Paramatma” or God a multiple number of times.
While being born and nurtured in a totally theist environment, becoming an
atheist is truly a ‘revolutionary’ task for an individual, and perhaps only after
passing through few stages of ambiguity and uncertainty such as this, that one
is able to take a favourable stand towards atheism.
Moreover, Bhagat Singh was merely nineteen years old at that time! Let us
salute him for the exemplary courage he has sown in taking up a firm atheist
stand by 1928, when his age was only twenty years, and he never ever deserted
that position after that, not even in the gallows.
His atheism was of the Marxist-Leninist variety, with a broad materialist
perspective, grounded on the fact that “Religion is the opium of the masses”.
The “Felt-hat hero”
Ideologically, Bhagat Singh was
His popular image with a western attire does not
at all entail “black skin with white mask”.
Rather, it was just a ‘strategy’ of the suppressed
man adopted to camouflage his true
revolutionary identity from the colonizers’ gaze.
Bhagat Singh wanted to get complete access over
the colonizers’ space to subvert the colonial
authority itself, by utilizing it for the propagation
of his communist ideal to the toiling masses.
It was just the Leninist line of mixing the ‘legal’
with the ‘illegal’, and playing with them.
This image is the symbol of anti-imperialism, a
combined expression of revolutionary spirit!
Bhagat Singh, by September 1928, not only became convinced as an
atheist, but also achieved a sharp inclination towards Marxism-
Leninism, while dropping his faith in the creed of ‘terrorism’
completely. As Shiv Verma puts it, that Bhagat Singh was the first
Indian revolutionary to recognize ‘the call of socialism’ which was so
loudly resounding in the political atmosphere, characterized by an
ever-continuing capitalist commercial crisis that casted a dark
shadow all over the globe.
The reorganization of the HRA to the HSRA on 8-9th September 1928
took place in the Delhi meeting of the HRA central committee, the
intrusion of the word “socialist” thus became a practical and visible
advancement in the ultimate aim of the revolutionary party. This was
all according to the suggestions of Com. Bhagat Singh- the avid
reader, Marxist thinker, writer cum revolutionary.
About this phase, revolutionary Com. Shiv
Verma has written:
“This does not mean that we had completely
understood Marxism or all aspects of scientific
principles of socialism. It was our first step
towards socialism. We had understood the
class-basis of the [existing] society and the
rule of the peasants and workers had become
our aim, but we had yet not understood how
could we achieve this aim…”
“The hope of the proletariat is, therefore, now centred on
socialism, which alone can lead to the establishment of
complete independence and the removal of all social
distinctions and privileges.”
Com. Bhagwati Charan Vohra
Manifesto of the HSRA, 1929
Bhagat Singh wanted to structure the HSRA on the model of a
communist party, which would take forward the final battle
against all sorts of exploitation and oppression.
Bhagat Singh’s matured ideological standpoint was highly influenced by the
Indian martyrs and the earlier revolutionary movements.
To name a few: the Kuka Revolt (1872) and the secular-socialist Ghadar
Movement (1913-15) in Punjab were two of his big inspirations.
Ghadar revolutionary Shaheed Kartar Singh Sarabha was his “hero, friend and
Since the time of his middle and late childhood, he had been reading the
booklets written by revolutionaries like Sufi Amba Prasad, Lala Hardayal et al.
Hardayal was the first Ghadrite to write an article on Karl Marx in India.
Apart from his grandfather and father’s influence upon him, Bhagat Singh was
also deeply impressed by uncle Ajit Singh’s idea of a peasant-based class
struggle. Bhagat Singh was to develop this idea into a progressive as well as
logical understanding of scientific Marxian socialism.
1. His Marxian atheism based on materialist considerations
2. His clear-cut ideas regarding the form of society after
gaining political independence from colonial rule, based
on scientific socialist principles. His fight was not only
against British imperialism, but against the capitalist
system as a whole which inevitably perpetuates such an
exploitative order. He was for the complete
independence of the toiling masses.
He envisaged a classless society or a communist society,
which would be achieved by the dictatorship of the
Bhagat Singh was not talking merely of a political revolution, but
talked of a socialist revolution. As we find in his jail notebook (page
“ A Revolution not Utopian:-
A radical revolution, the general emancipation of mankind, is not a
utopian dream… what is utopian is the idea of a partial, an exclusively
political revolution, which would leave the pillars of the house
The author of the above quote is none other than Karl Heinrich Marx,
the father of communism, of whom Bhagat Singh was an worthy
follower. Bhagat Singh’s theoretical understanding of the Marxian
theory of base-superstructure relation is evident through this citation.
Bhagat Singh’s understanding of ‘imperialism’ as the ‘highest
stage of development of the capitalist relations of production’
or the “highest level of insidious exploitation of man by man”
was fully influenced by that of Lenin’s understanding of the
It is not surprising enough to find a lot of quotes in Bhagat
Singh’s jail notebook from the Communist Manifesto, Marx’s
The Capital and from Lenin’s works such as Imperialism: The
Highest Stage Of Capitalism as well. The jail notebook is a
clear proof of the pattern of Bhagat Singh’s intellectual
development on Marxist basis which he continued in greater
pace while being in jail from April 1929 till March 1931.
On Lenin Day (21st January, 1930) the Lahore Conspiracy Case
‘accused’ entered into the courtroom wearing red scarves. As soon as
the magistrate came they raised the slogans of "Long Live Socialist
Revolution", "Long Live Communist International", "Long Live
People" "Lenin's Name Will Never Die", and "Down with
Imperialism". Bhagat Singh then read out the text of a telegram in the
court and asked the magistrate to send it to Moscow. The telegram
written by Bhagat Singh reads:
“ON LENIN DAY, we send hearty greetings to all who are doing
something for carrying forward the ideas of the great Lenin. We wish
success to the great experiment Russia is carrying out. We join our
voice to that of the international working class movement. The
proletariat will win. Capitalism will be defeated. Death to
The last book read by Bhagat Singh was Com. Clara
Zetkin’s Reminiscences of Lenin, which he was not
able to finish. When he was requested by the jail
warder to take the name of the almighty God before
hanging, atheist-Marxist Bhagat Singh declined the
offer and instead passed his final hours by engaging
in a conversation with Lenin. Indeed, the reading of
the Reminiscences, for Bhagat Singh, was like
meeting Lenin in person. As told by Bhagat Singh’s
niece Verinder Sandhu: “Who was closer to Bhagat
Singh than Lenin?”
Bhagat Singh always stood against all types of primitive racial or national
hatred. He was against capital punishment, and was also firmly against the
philanthropic social services or dole-economy.
For him, not to rule, but to pull down the parasitic rulers from their thrones and
thus put a stop to their bloodsucking exploitation should be the main motive-
force of a true revolutionary mass-movement.
Because nationalistic idealism without a definite scientific and social basis is
bound to end up in a compromise with the exploitative ruling class. Mass
mobilization is a “must” for the revolution to succeed.
In Bhagat Singh’s political philosophy, mere nationalistic sentimentalism and
faith crumbles down and accepts defeat at the feet of reason and proletarian
Revolution, according to Bhagat Singh, meant the abolition of the existing order
and its’ replacement by the socialist order. His understanding of revolution was
scientific in its real sense.
Bhagat Singh, more specifically, was for a proletarian
revolution and his vision of revolution was not only
limited to India, but applied to the world over:
“The proletarian revolution is the only weapon of India
to dislodge the imperialist. Nothing else can attain this
object ... the rebelliousness of the masses is the motive
force behind such agitation and militant mass action
alone can push it to success.”
Notes to a Letter to Young Political Workers
February 2, 1931
By the time Bhagat Singh and his comrades happily embraced death in the
gallows of the Lahore Central Jail on 23rd March 1931, they were fully in
support of the ongoing Soviet experiment and the international working class
movement as a whole. Most of Bhagat Singh’s comrades afterwards became
The slogans publicized by Bhagat Singh and his comrades are as follows:
Long Live the Revolution!
Long Live the Proletariat!
Down With Imperialism!
These slogans, forming the “crux” of their ideas, carry with them not even an
iota of ultra-nationalist fervour, communal hatred, casteist prejudice or
fundamentalist dogma, but rather express a longing for revolutionary
change, empathy for the struggle of the oppressed working class on the
basis of humanism and condemnation of the existing imperialist order of
In a letter addressed to Com. Sukhdev, Bhagat Singh wrote in 1930:
“I (and you too) did not give birth to the ideas of socialism and
communism in this country; this is the consequence of the
effects of our time and situations upon ourselves. Of course, we
did a bit to propagate these ideas, and therefore I say that since
we have already taken a tough task upon ourselves, we should
continue to advance it…”
Yes, indeed, “men make their own history”. Though not according to
self-chosen circumstances, but only according to the circumstances
which have been existing already….
Our Bhagat Singh never stopped his efforts to become a Marxist-
Leninist…. His letters, articles and statements reveal that in every
I must say
Shaheed-e-Azam Com. Bhagat Singh was a
“a state of exception”
He was an unique socialist revolutionary, who can be killed,
cut into pieces and burnt by the state apparatus without being
questioned by “the law”.
“Hawaon mein rahegi
meri khayalon ki bijliyan,
Ye musht-e-khakh hai phaani,
rahe na rahe…”
“The current of my ideas will stay in the air,
This physical existence does not matter…”
Urdu Couplet cited by Bhagat Singh in a letter to brother Kultar Singh,
3rd March, 1931
THE WAR SHALL CONTINUE!
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