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The myth of the outsider: from Whitehall to Elysium Row, 1917-21.

From the Whitehall Gardens in London to the Elysium Row headquarters of the Calcutta police, the spectre of Bolshevism haunted the British authorities at the end of the First World War and in its immediate aftermath. Drawing for the most part on official intelligence and surveillance records, this article argues that anti-Bolshevik policy-thinking in London was imposed upon, and adapted within, a colonial climate that had distinct racial, class-orientated and gendered dimensions. The organisation of anti-Bolshevik colonial surveillance in Calcutta branched from imperial roots, and it therefore exposed the paradoxes of imperial liberalism and cosmopolitanism during an intensified crisis of empire.

In fact no identifiable left formation was visible in Calcutta between 1918 and 1921. Rather, the response of the colonial authorities was a fusion of advance planning and panic-driven anticipation. The local oppositions to war-induced hardship from below and the stifling political repression that touched daily life in the city towards the end of the war formed the context of such a strategy. They unfolded within the contemporary world-wide wave of anti-capitalism and anti-colonialism. These currents contributed to the urban base of the emerging Khilafat and Non-Cooperation movements. In the coming years, these were to be the chief vehicles of popular upheaval against colonialism. The Khilafat movement was led by Indian Muslim leaders as a display of solidarity with Turkey. It preceded the Gandhi-led Non-Cooperation movement, and in due course was supported by and combined forces with it. (1) The source of the disquiet they caused the colonial authorities was the entry of the masses into the sphere of organised politics and the first major articulations of their demands in the public arena; this would culminate in a strike wave, encompassing Calcutta and its suburbs, in tune with the rest of the globe, during 1920-1. It was against this backdrop of continuous political and social turbulence that the anti-Bolshevik surveillance network in the city unfolded. Born and nurtured during heightened challenges to liberal imperialism, it was a retreat from colonial cosmopolitanism and was manifested through the myth of the outsider.

That sinking feeling in the White Hall Gardens

At four o'clock in the afternoon on the last day of 1917, the British war cabinet met in Downing Street to consider the new Bolshevik regime's peace proposals to Germany. Despite suspicions directed at both the Germans and the Bolsheviks, it was recognised in a climate of war fatigue that the latter sought a 'Just Peace'. However, when the war cabinet reassembled the following day the tone had changed. The Bolsheviks, it was felt, had a programme of their own; inimical to British interests, they were probably advocating the cause of the enemy. This preliminary judgment would henceforth penetrate all such discussions, fuelled from the top and taken up by news agencies to manufacture public consent in the struggle against Bolshevism. Informed by prosaic considerations as well as xenophobic stereotyping, official perceptions and policies were supported and reinforced in the public sphere through networks of newspaper reports and informal rumours. The Bolsheviks were initially projected as Germany's agents, and after the fall of Germany as its successor as public enemy. (In fact, Britain's rulers recognised, as contemporary records show, that the Bolsheviks were not a creation of the Germans, that the Kaiser Reich was interested in crushing them in the near future, and that the Bolsheviks had not artificially fomented the mass upheavals in Russia. Rather, they had given a coherent political direction to the chaotic protests against the tsarist autocracy and a feeble provisional government.)

The anti-imperialist and internationalist appeal of Bolshevism was interpreted as a source of danger to the empire of capital. In November 1918, the month of the armistice, the British government therefore decided, alongside other Allied powers, to invade Russia. A propaganda war against Bolshevism among the 'inflammable' British workers was also deemed expedient. By the following July, however, as counter-revolutionary forces met with reverses, the cabinet was sharply divided. Winston Churchill, the war secretary and a champion of direct military intervention, felt that asking the Bolsheviks for an armistice meant disaster: 'He could not conceive that we could sink so low'. However, Lloyd George, the premier, urged an exit strategy. His position was probably informed by intelligence reports on counter-revolutionary armies, especially the Polish contingents, as being a hopeless, brutish and corrupt bunch of anti-semites and self-seekers who were alienating the local populace and driving them into the arms of the Bolsheviks. Though the British forces were subsequently withdrawn, support continued to be given to Kolchak, Denikin and the Polish forces until they collapsed. It was nevertheless recognised by early 1920 that Britain could not commit troops in Russia since a revolutionary situation had emerged within the Empire due to militant strikes and uproar against colonial rule, from Ireland to Egypt to India.

Intelligence reports from 1920 also pointed out that the Bolsheviks, though repugnant, were ruling with a degree of mass support. It was also registered that the Red Army had become a highly trained and organised force in the course of the civil war. The idea of negotiating with the Bolsheviks gained ascendancy, and in February 1920 Lloyd George insisted in a speech before the Commons that the civil war in Russia could not continue forever. He advocated future commercial relations to 'bring Russia back to sanity by trade', and declared: 'We must use abundance to fight anarchy'. It was this view that prevailed, and talks began in May 1920 which concluded ten months later with a commercial treaty with the Soviets. (2) The fear of imminent Bolshevik 'invasion' of prize colonies such as India, through the land routes of Central Asia, Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier, was henceforth to be superseded by anxieties over ideological 'infiltration'. But it is with the earlier period that this article is concerned.

The Bolshevik menace

While conservatives debated whether or not to negotiate with their ideological nemesis, there was consensus among all fractions of the ruling class on the pressing need to safeguard the empire from its influence. In-house differences over strategies vis-a-vis Bolshevism thus converged to produce a stable network of long-term intelligence gathering on communism. The voices of moderation took advantage of the extremist voices to legitimise imperialism in rational tones. Anti-Bolshevik surveillance, as the scheme came loosely to be known in official circles, originated in the existing system of policing political opponents, which it now combined with new policies adopted in the wake of the revolution. It was a micro-structure within the wider institution of imperial surveillance. In the propaganda war against Bolshevism, the paradoxes of liberal imperialism unravelled: both clashes with, and simultaneous adjustments to, the more xenophobic forms of self-preservation became apparent. (3)

Bolshevism was projected as an unspeakable and insidious aberration flowing in from outside, and the British authorities promoted it as the root cause of the post-war global afflictions that were besetting the empire of capital, from economic inflation to labour protests. Popular xenophobic ideologies, deplored in secret cabinet meetings, were given currency in the propaganda war against Bolshevism. This exposed the paradoxes of liberal imperialism, which both contradicted and simultaneously accommodated more extreme currents. Institutional and socially widespread anti-semitism was harnessed to depict the Russian Revolution as a Jewish conspiracy. In the official imagination, the unsophisticated Asian counterpart of the cosmopolitan wandering 'Jewish Bolshevik' was the 'Muslim Bolshevik fanatic'. Though occasional reports stressed the need to win over the Muslim populations within the British Empire, at the same time an official endorsement was given to existing racist stereotypes of Islam as a religion of dangerous and seditious agitators. Jews and Muslims, it was emphasised, were the peripatetic carriers of subversive ideologies like Bolshevism, since their transterritorial convictions could absorb the principles of communist internationalism. (5) As one report observed:
   The danger of this [Bolshevik] propaganda consists in the idea of
   internationalism. This theory enables the Bolsheviks to find
   accomplices and allies in the most unexpected places outside
   Russia--in battleships, wireless stations, military barracks, post
   offices, consulates, palatial hotels and mansions. The result is
   that no one holding a responsible position in a non-Bolshevik
   country can be sure that he has not in his employ an embittered
   subordinate, sometimes with a genuine grievance against society and
   a genuine belief in communism as a cure for all the ills in the
   world ... (6)

In official speeches Bolshevism became a virus and an epidemic: a political threat infecting the minds and actions of workers and intellectuals from outside. It was also projected as a strain that could combine with other anti-imperialist currents and mutate into a force of fearsome opposition. A Bolshevik or a supporter of Bolshevism was necessarily an alienated outsider, equipped to infiltrate and corrode the body-politic of a healthy empire. (7) Lenin and the 'Bolshevik standpoint' were described in apocalyptic terms in a confidential report from May 1920, when the Anglo-Russian negotiations had formally begun:
   Lenin has no thought for humanity, no shrinking from the disasters
   with which his policy may afflict it in the intermediate stage. To
   him, leaning upon the rim of the world, wars and pestilences,
   should they come, merely usher in a new age. Compared with the
   establishment of the regime of Individual Liberty and Capitalism
   they are not disastrous, but transitory wisps of cloud which will
   clear. He is not unwilling that they should come, for they are
   among the former things that must pass away. They are instrumental
   merely, to be taken up and laid down like an artificer's tools ...
   One shrinks from the conclusion; but Lenin's inhuman aloofness may
   have set the intricacies of the European situation in a true
   perspective, and his calculation that he will have his way whether
   the peoples fight or refuse to fight, has an appearance of
   foresight which is both disquieting and sinister. (8)

While the myth of the noxious Bolshevik alien was taking shape, the colonial world was gradually becoming acquainted with Bolshevism through hostile news networks based in the West. In Calcutta, the news of the revolution was transmitted by The Statesman, a leading English daily with regular foreign pages and a dedicated European readership. A British film on the February revolution was released for general viewing in Calcutta during April 1917. According to a contemporary account, this celebrated the fall of tsardom and the establishment of liberal democracy. But from October onwards, Russia's revolutionary upheavals came to be condemned in the European newspapers, especially The Statesman. (9)

On 4 November 1917, The Sunday Statesman reproduced cartoons depicting the Petrograd revolutionaries as ridiculous and impractical speechmakers, oblivious to the war raging around them. Another cartoon portrayed Russia as a rustic soldier precariously walking on a tightrope from autocracy to democracy; at any moment he could lose his balance and fall into a chaotic abyss below. Six days later, the news of a 'Maximalist' capture of power hit the headlines. During 7-8 November, hourly news bulletins on the revolutionary events in Petrograd were printed in London, after being transmitted through Reuter's telegrams. In the days that followed, the news offered incredulous glimpses of a world turned upside down--accompanied by optimistic expectations of an imminent Soviet debacle. By the end of November, however, these hopes were dashed. Kerensky, ousted leader of the provisional government, had proved to be a 'tragic failure', while the Bolsheviks--a term which replaced 'Maximalists' and 'anarchists' only in 1918--were engaged in a 'peace-plot'. Other voices of colonial capital in the city were equally morose. The Scottish jute mill-owners, representing one of the most powerful lobbies of European monopolists in Eastern India, felt that business with Russia was suffering just as large consignments of jute were waiting to be shipped. Capital, the foremost mouthpiece of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce, expressed deep disquiet over the separate peace between Germany and Russia following the 'defection' of the Bolshevik government from war 'for many months past'. (10)

Arrangements at Elysium Row

Hostility on the part of the British state and white colonial community encouraged many intellectuals and activists in Calcutta to display a positive attitude towards the Bolsheviks. Among alienated younger members of the city's literary circles, this was especially apparent. Pabitra Gangopadhyay, an impoverished writer from a middle-class Bengali Hindu background, had been dismayed by the loyalty displayed to the imperial war effort by the leaders of the Indian National Congress, the principal organisation and platform of Indian nationalist opinion. He later recalled--in the context of mounting wartime and post-war poverty --participating in the informal political discussions among younger intellectuals in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution; they had welcomed the event precisely because the British government was against it. (11) From the metropolitan to the colonial cities, they belonged to a global generational segment rejecting war, capitalism and empire-building.

Although neither coherent nor organised, this sympathy for Bolshevism was interpreted by the colonial authorities as signs of a potential social tendency for turning left. The Russian civil war was being fought concurrently with the launching of anti-colonial mass movements and a strike-wave in and around Calcutta, and solidarity towards Bolshevism increased and filtered down the social scale. One intelligence report described a meeting held in 1920 in the industrial suburb of Kankinara. A young Hindu speaker, whose precise identity could not be discerned, had delivered a 'fiery' speech there. According to the police he was either a troublemaking outsider from Punjab or Allahabad, working for the Bengal Khilafat Committee, or an unemployed Calcutta clerk. The speaker allegedly told the assembled Muslim factory hands, who formed the majority in that area, that if the people of the country knew what Bolshevism meant, they would welcome it with open arms. The English, he pronounced, trembled at the very name, because they were conscious of their sin. He also stated that the tsarist authoritarianism destroyed by the Bolsheviks had ruled in Russia in the same way as the British in India. And the Bolsheviks were about to take Germany, where the Kaiser's tyranny has collapsed, while they had extended a helping hand to the Amir of Afghanistan so that the latter did not have to bow to the British Empire. Soon they would open a united front with Turkey. The speaker was reported as calling on his Muslim brethren to see the coming together of Muslim powers and Bolshevism as a sign of the future decimation of colonial rule. According to the police agent present, the speech was 'highly seditious and ... delivered in the strongest terms'.

Hitherto, workers at public meetings had not conspicuously armed themselves against the forces of colonial surveillance. The mood of a section of the crowd was consequently depicted by the same agent present as a source of worry:
   ... a little after the 'Panditji' began speaking, some Muhammadans
   moved about among the audience with canes in their hands and when
   enquiries were made as to what they were after they said that they
   were in search of 'khapia police' meaning the CID. They were
   purposely sent to be assured if any CID officer was taking notes,
   for they knew that the Pandit would deliver a fiery speech. (12)

The colonial government in India was prepared for this response. The horizons of post-war political policing had been suddenly expanded when the Intelligence Branch of the Bengal Police and the Special Branch of the Calcutta Police, in their Elysium Row headquarters, had been instructed to watch out for an influx of Bolshevik literature and agents. (13) As the former capital of British India, Calcutta's system of colonial policing was highly developed. One of the official reasons put forward to justify the transfer of the capital to Delhi in 1911 had been the growth of militant opposition to British rule in the city and its immediate surroundings. And even after the shift to Delhi, the central authorities continued to consult officials in Bengal on effective strategies in the face of rising political violence in the form of revolutionary nationalism. It was also in Calcutta that the Russian White provisional government based in London maintained a mission, until this was closed down on grounds of cost in 1919. (14)

The anti-Bolshevik surveillance scheme was put in place from the end of 1919, following discussions between the central authorities in Delhi and local authorities in Calcutta. It was felt that, unless checked in advance, Bolshevik agents and literature would find a haven in a cosmopolitan port-city surrounded by an industrial belt and peopled with workers. Local authorities had reported that the Bolsheviks had not yet arrived, and would only make their presence known once labour became organised, but the centre took no chances. Local intelligence was asked to compile watch reports on activities of individuals and organisations suspected of Bolshevik sympathies. These reports were then incorporated into a confidential monthly bulletin of the Home Political Department in Delhi, which was circulated within India and regularly sent to London. The reports mostly concentrated on the nationalist and labour upsurge and individuals who had little to do with Bolshevism.

The central authorities created two official positions within the Criminal Intelligence Department to deal with the 'Bolshevik Menace'. However, the administration in Calcutta was reluctant to appoint a local 'Anti-Bolshevik Officer'. Instead it proposed the expansion of regular policing and the entrustment of an existing officer with the monitoring of this tendency. There was agreement with the central administrators that Bolshevism could be interpreted in a 'loose way', as subversive ideas and radical actions directed against the existing social order and political authority. Where they differed was on the question of the presence of Bolshevik activists or organisation. Over-emphasising an invisible threat was not favoured, and the Chief Secretary to the Government of Bengal gently chided the central authorities for their 'loose' use of the term:
   I gather that the Bengal Police, at all events, know nothing of any
   emissaries charged with spreading the principles of Bolshevism and
   the establishment of Soviet rule. We have had cases of convicted
   Bolsheviks landing at Calcutta, but I understand there is no reason
   whatsoever to believe that they were charged with any mission.

He also wryly observed that if an officer went around looking for Bolsheviks, local Bolsheviks would indeed appear. (15) Amid boasts by the local police of having personnel trained in the latest methods at Scotland Yard, who were well-equipped to deal with any potential danger, a compromise was reached. (16) Two inspectors were appointed as 'Bolshevik Guards', and watch reports on local protests were regularly sent to the central Anti-Bolshevik officer in charge of collating such news. This step was combined with enforcement of strict passport control at the port of Calcutta. The banning and censorship of imported and locally produced periodicals and books deemed radical were also seen as effective measures. (17)

But the policy of the imperial authorities in London to reduce administrative expenditure, and the consequent slash in secret service grants during 1919-20, was followed by similar moves in India. At the end of 1921, with the reduction of the surveillance budget in India and the conclusion of the Anglo-Russian Trade Agreement, the special anti-Bolshevik scheme was abandoned. (18) This meant that the official posts that had been created at the central and local levels were abolished. However, through the special scheme, the colonial authorities and intelligence services were alert to the possibilities of any left formation in the future, and when a tiny communist nucleus did emerge in the city, the state was already awaiting such a development.

The outsider in Calcutta

During the enforcement of the anti-Bolshevik surveillance scheme in Calcutta in 1920, local intelligence, conforming to the demands of the imperial authorities in London and Delhi, regularly sent reports on suspected Bolsheviks that had been spotted in the docks, neighbourhoods and industrial suburbs. Their targets were generally individual visitors who fitted certain stereotypes in relation to class, race, gender, ethnicity and politics.

The process had in fact begun earlier. In March 1918, in accordance with communications sent from Bombay, the officers and crew of the Russian vessels S.S. Eduard Barry and S.S. Baikal were detained upon arrival in Calcutta, under wartime security acts. The following month, the Marine Department of the colonial government cancelled the internment orders on the fourteen officers involved, but the seventeen sailors accompanying them remained incarcerated. Two of them fell sick, and were removed to a general hospital under orders of detention. (19) Preferential treatment as natural class allies could thus be extended to the officers, while the sailors were seen as potential mutineers from below. Two years later, when the White Russian ship Ural landed in the docks, it was welcomed and refuelled. The three hundred cadets and officers, half of whom were exiles from Petrograd, were described as 'Kolchak's men'. The Englishman, a newspaper catering for the white community in the city, observed in light tones that a section of this cheerful young crew were seen playing music and entertaining European ladies in their saloons. Unable to conceal the uncertainties facing the counter-revolutionary forces, however, the report also described the ship as old, battered and rusty. Loaded with ammunition by the British forces at Vladivostok, it had sailed through Japanese waters and the British colonial ports of Hong Kong and Singapore before stopping for coal at Calcutta on its way to Alexandria. Its final destination was unknown. (20)

No attempt was spared to keep the port, city and region free of the 'Bolshevik Menace', as the deportation of Frank Bilboa and John Burtovich demonstrated. Respectively of Spanish and Russian origin, Bilboa and Burtovich arrived in 1919 on a British merchant vessel, the SS Boverie, along with a mixed crew 'of all nations'. They had previously participated in strikes led by the Industrial Workers of the World at Broken Hill, New South Wales, in early 1918, and, having been sentenced to six months in jail, were detained until November as the authorities pondered ways to get rid of them. After ten months in prison they had been served with deportation orders to Chile, but the Chilean government had refused to receive them, having taken anti-radical measures of its own. The British police in Calcutta were aware that they were arriving and, though sympathetic to the officers of a British vessel, informed them that the ship could not land. According to a statement of the ship's officers, they had tried without success to put the men on other steamers belonging to the same shipping line, and had already separated them from the rest of the crew to prevent the spread of revolutionary ideas; the statement also branded the two as 'well known bad characters', who had been placed on their vessel by the Australian authorities. They complained that because of them the ship had been refused entry at every port. The Deputy Commissioner of the Port Police consequently arrested the two young men under the war-time Defence of India Act, for allegedly carrying on Bolshevik propaganda, and given the 'impossibility of allowing them to remain at large in India'.

Following interrogations and an examination of their papers, the colonial authorities readily concluded that the two were in close touch with Bolshevism, and confirmed the statement of the ship's officers that they were 'dangerous and a menace to the ship'. The papers nevertheless showed anarchist and anti-authoritarian links rather than any clear 'Bolshevik' position, reflecting the wide interpretation made of the term at this point. They were incarcerated at Alipur Central Jail, though the authorities pressed for their transfer to the Ahmednagar military internment camp, which already contained 'prisoners of this type of Bolshevists'. Ultimately, in August, Balboa was put on a ship sailing for Port Said, and Burtovich on one sailing for Shanghai, from where the British authorities intended to deport him to White Russia. Apparently Burtovich resisted this course of action, getting off the ship at Singapore, and the trail of the two strikers faded from official reports after their deportation. (21) The circumstances of their arrival and departure nevertheless suggests that local authorities in the port cities of the colonial and semi-colonial world were becoming increasingly vigilant regarding the 'Bolshevik Menace'. The network of surveillance against political dissidents already existed, but it was expanded at this point to look out for Bolshevism and so-called Bolshevik agents travelling by sea. Fear of transterritoriality among the oppressed was often underlined by phobic perceptions of water; sailors, ships, sea-routes and port-cities were seen as entry-points of an enemy with an ever-changing, liquid, physiognomy.

The volume of reports on Bolshevik agents increased in 1920 since the imperial authorities were specifically asking for them. Through guidelines sent in 1919, closely following instructions from London, on a potential 'ingress' of Bolshevik 'agents' and literature into India, the parameters of anti-Bolshevik surveillance were being set. (22) To keep up with the demand, reports drawing on the experiential and mythic, and bordering on the curious and the fantastic, were supplied by local intelligence agents. Random impressions were rarefied into facts of interest. Slices of daily life, isolated from other mundane aspects, became staples of political policing. They enveloped police accounts in a haze of rumours, hearsay and stereotypes. Versions of events and descriptions of individuals were concocted and embroidered.

The point is perhaps best made through individual examples. In early 1920, a certain Madam Dass was watched for a while. The male gaze of the agents followed her across the city. She was described as a prosperous and 'beautiful' middle-aged lady of Indo-European origin, 'a gift to the nation by a Kashmiri mother and a European father'; but also as being of 'questionable character', having become estranged from her Indian husband, a retired doctor who had worked for the government-run Indian Medical Service. She had visited militant Khilafatist and nation alist figures in the city and wished to join the revolutionary movement. The leaders she had met did not approve of her smoking habit and her manners, and suspected her of being a government agent. But they were still interested in utilising her contacts among emigre Indians. Madam Dass, whose full name was never given, was implied to be a political adventure-seeking femme fatale with shades of Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina and Mata Hari. She disappeared from the dossier as suddenly as she had appeared, and the discussions on her, like so many other investigations, remained inconclusive.

Other suspected Bolshevik outsiders also faded away. Bishop Fisher, an American Methodist Minister, was watched on the basis of an article published by his rival in a New York journal. When he realised he was being shadowed, the bishop complained and the watch was withdrawn. When Artem Arunoff, a 'Bolshevik Armenian', was interrogated in Poona Jail by the 'Anti-Bolshevik' officer, he claimed that three Bolshevik agents, William Rainer, Haji Moor and Ivanoff, were in Calcutta. Subsequent enquiry among the city's small Armenian diaspora yielded little however. Ivanoff reportedly came to Calcutta, was watched and left. Harry S. Durkee, holder of US and Russian passports, allegedly a Bolshevik agent with 'somewhat Jewish features', arrived and left through the port. Preetz, a German textile merchant who had apparently worked in pre-war Calcutta and acted as a Bolshevik representative in Berlin, also became a subject of investigation. Nothing could be found on his local contacts in Calcutta. A confidential report stated that another man bearing the same name had been found, a doctor attached to the Old Mission Church and in the habit of visiting brothels to blackmail the visitors, as well as liquor dens, where he kept 'low-class' company. A report was also prepared on the non-existence of an Esperanto Club in the city, since these were tipped as centres of Bolshevik internationalist intrigue in port-cities such as Shanghai. (23) Tan Pei Yun, a Chinese actor who played the role of a clown but stopped his performances early to deliver a subversive anarchic-Bolshevik lecture, was also expected to land in Calcutta, with its large Chinese community, having travelled through British-controlled Kuala Lumpur with his troupe. There was anxiety that he would sow mischief there, but his arrival was never recorded. (24) Finally, in January 1922, an unnamed 'source' from Moscow reported the arrival in Calcutta of four Russia-trained British Bolsheviks, Whitehead, Keller, Karolinade and Markov. One of them was supposedly missing two fingers on his hand. No-one matching these descriptions arrived. (25)

Potential Bolshevik penetration, following central directives, was seen in the movements of people, money, treasure and literature. The central authorities therefore banned new rouble notes, and the local authorities kept an eye on their possible circulation, even if none was detected. (26) Lenin was personally accused of planning to flood Bengal with forged paper currency, and the Bolsheviks were seen as successors of the Kaiser government in attempting to increase inflation by ruining Britain and the empire with fraudulent money. (27) Jewish jeweller shops in the fashionable business districts of Dalhousie Square and Chowringhee were keenly watched. Intelligence reports had arrived from London projecting Jews as potential carriers of Russian crown jewels, which had been confiscated and put on the market by cash-strapped Bolsheviks. The Perry brothers, Joseph and Nathan, were thus investigated. Joseph was found to have been insolvent for a while, but it was ultimately decided that neither was a Bolshevik. Ele Levy Menashe, arriving by a passenger ship from Rangoon, was also suspected, but instructions on him arrived too late and his luggage had not yet been searched when he left again for Bombay. (28) In 1920, left literature originating from the Third International was scarcely noticed. Publications of the newly formed Communist Party of Great Britain were banned before they could be circulated. (29) Pro-Bolshevik views expressed in the British labour paper the Daily Herald were suppressed when the Government of India prohibited its import during the high-tide of Non Cooperation and Khilafat Movements. (30) The entry of proscribed left literature increased in volume in Calcutta from 1922 with the emergence of a local left network to receive and distribute it. (31)

Conclusions in the gardens of deep reaction

In the gardens of deep reaction, myths could take on lives of their own. The focus on the myth of the outsider to explain post-war sympathies-- conceived and cultivated in the metropolitan surroundings of the Whitehall Gardens and transplanted to imperial outposts such as Elysium Row in Calcutta--operated in a realm of both illusion and practical strategy. The illusion of imperial policy-makers and the consequent recourse to xenophobic stereotypes stemmed from their fixed belief in the perfection of an order that could not weaken or crumble from within. Illusions regarding liberal cosmopolitanism and multiple identities made the British state project Bolsheviks as simultaneously narrow-minded and flexible, as parochial peasants and travelling subversives. This in turn prompted the establishment to variously celebrate and downplay, in unsystematic and contradictory ways, its own claims to sophisticated cosmopolitanism and racist anti-cosmopolitanism. The illusion was also aimed at winning over the subjects of this order when many of them tried to resist capitalism at home and imperialism and colonial capital abroad.

State vigilance in the colonial world had unintended consequences. Bolshevism entered an urban dreamscape. As a utopian vision it was seen as erasing the interlinked webs of scarcity, artificial price rise, wastage of resources, profit, poverty and exploitation and as culminating in the erasure of class, race and caste apartheid; and this could some times be laced with ironical observations on life under the Raj of colonial capital. The Hindu, a paper published in Hyderabad, printed in July 1920 an imaginary dream sequence on the effects of Bolshevism in Karachi. The anonymous author/dreamer narrated that before the incidents mentioned in his dream took place, he had never heard or read anything about the Bolsheviks. When he came to know that the government was condemning them as bad men and was against them, he became afraid. He then journeyed to Karachi in order to obtain a 'charm' for self-protection against their attacks. He was baffled by the unfolding scenario:
   ... changes were being made in the shops, sign board painters were
   at work preparing new boards with the words 'Articles sold at Cost
   Price', 'What is profit? We do not know what profit is'. 'The
   people have no concern with the shop, it belongs to the State'.

      Articles were being sold dirt cheap, the high prices of
   Elphinstone Street had vanished. There was no haggling, people were
   coming and purchasing articles at cost price. Not only these changes
   were evident, I saw servants, who hitherto had been looked down upon
   and wore dirty clothes, wearing good clothes. I asked in a whisper
   where they had attained these good clothes from and learnt that the
   Sahibs had given them, saying that they were no longer their
   servants but their partners and would be treated with respect. On
   reaching the school I noticed a crowd of boys, sweepers, chambers
   and Koris, all had come to be educated, no fees were charged, all
   books were supplied free, and milk was given free to the boys once
   a day. I saw several men going to the Cinema where no tickets were
   being asked for. The Police force had been disbanded, all the men
   having been sent to their homes. No complaints were received from
   the town. I was quite bewildered. I boarded a train and was not
   charged a pie as fare; at the docks a boat was ready, on which I
   noticed the staff of the Daily Gazette and Sachai. The Editor of
   the former on seeing me cried out the Bolsheviks had come and would
   trouble me ... The boat then whistled and I woke up.

The author finished his newspaper feature with the words: 'The Truth or falsity of this is known to God'. (32) The promise of epochal change held out by his 'dream' probably did not end there; the 'outsider' was being actively welcomed, and merging with dispossessed 'insiders' in his vision.

In Calcutta, the myth of the outsider was exposed at the moment of its circulation. In 1920, Mohammadi, a weekly Bengali-Muslim newspaper, observed that the Bolshevik Menace was a myth created by the government, and that the Bolsheviks were not sending agents to organise labour strikes in and around the city; the workers themselves were rising against hunger and exploitation. (33) Nevertheless, certain political and social processes reinforced the imperial construction of a mythic menace. When the left emerged in Calcutta from the experiences of the labour upsurge and receptions of Marxism and Leninism following the Bolshevik Revolution, the state lost no time in projecting its central figure, Muzaffar Ahmad, a former Muslim cultural activist and Bengali journalist, as 'a Bolshevik agent' recruited by M.N. Roy on behalf of the Communist International. (34) The myth of the outsider could be transformed and effectively utilised as a practical strategy to suppress individuals and collectives, the local responses to an international current.


(1.) See Sumit Sarkar, Modern India 1885-1947, Delhi: MacMillan, 1983, pp198-227.

(2.) Cabinet Office Papers (CAB) 1917-21. See 'Minutes of a Meeting of the War Cabinet held at 10 Downing Street, S.W., on Monday 31st December 1917, at 4.0 p.m.'. The cabinet met again on 1 January 1918 at 2 Whitehall Gardens (CAB/23/13). Bolsheviks II: March-November 1917, Political Intelligence Department, Foreign Office, Report dated 5.4. (18) (CAB/24/47). The exchange between Churchill and Lloyd George is recorded in 'Minutes of a Meeting of the War Cabinet, held at 10, Downing Street, S.W., on Tuesday, July 29, 1919, at 10.30 a.m.' (CAB/23/11). See 'Polish Peace Terms to the Bolsheviks' (CAB/24/101). For observations on the Red Army as a trained force, see 'Conclusions of a Cabinet Conference in the Prime Minister's Room at Claridge's Hotel, Paris, on Friday, January 16th, 1920 at 5p.m.' (CAB/23/35). Also A Monthly Review of Revolutionary Movements in British Dominions Overseas and Foreign Countries, No.25, November 1920, Directorate of Intelligence, Home Office (CAB/24/69). For Lloyd George's speech before the Commons and impending negotiations with Moscow, see IB 117/1920. 'IB' stands for dossiers of the Intelligence Branch of the Bengal Police. Also L/P&S/10/886 (1229/1920 Part.1). 'P&S' stands for 'Political and Secret' dossiers of the British Foreign Office. For further details on internal debates and positions on the Russian civil war and trade negotiations within the British cabinet, see Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5, London: Allen Lane, 2009.

(3.) For descriptions and analysis of the architecture of post-First World War imperial intelligence arrangements, see for example R.J. Popplewell, Intelligence and Imperial Defence: British Intelligence and the Defence of the Indian Empire, 1904-1924, London: Frank Cass, 1995; Marku Ruotsilla, British and American Anti-Communism Before the Cold War, London: Frank Cass, 2001; Robert Gregg, 'Valleys of Fear: Policing Terror in an Imperial Age, 1865-1925' in Kevin Grant et al (eds), Beyond Sovereignty: Britain, Empire and Transnationalism, c.1880-1950, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, pp169-90; Suchetana Chattopadhyay, An Early Communist: Muzaffar Ahmad in Calcutta 1913-1929, Delhi: Tulika, 2011.

(4.) Fortnightly Report on Pacifism and Revolutionary Organisations in the United Kingdom and Morale in France and Italy, Secret Report No.25. 4 November, 1918, circulated by the Home Secretary (CAB/24/69).

(5.) Chattopadhyay, An Early Communist, pp118-26.

(6.) A Monthly Review of Revolutionary Movements in British Dominions Overseas and Foreign Countries, No.20, June, 1920, Directorate of Intelligence, Home Office (CAB/24/108).

(7.) Chattopadhyay, An Early Communist, pp118-26.

(8.) A Monthly Review of Revolutionary Movements in British Dominions Overseas and Foreign Countries, No.19 May 1920, Directorate of Intelligence, Home Office (CAB/24/107).

(9.) Satis Pakrasi, Agnijuger Katha (Burning Times), Calcutta: Nabajatak Prakashan, 1982, pp105, 109.

(10.) Indian Jute Mills Association, Report of the Committee for the Year Ended 31 Dec 1917. Capital, 14 February 1918.

(11.) Pabitra Gangopadhyay, Chalaman Jiban (Life in Motion), vol.1, Calcutta: Calcutta Book Club, 1956, pp66-7, 93, 100, 205. For a historical account of the position adopted by the Congress leadership during the war, see Sarkar, Modern India 1885-1947, pp 149-50. For further details on the local reception of left ideas, see Chattopadhyay, An Early Communist, pp76-8, 98-101.

(12.) IB 80/1920 (112/20).

(13.) Home (Pol.) 87/1920. 'Home (Pol.)' denotes Political Intelligence files of the Home Department, Government of Bengal.

(14.) L/P&S/11/136 (P2888/1918).

(15.) H.L. Stephenson's opinion was expressed on 8.12.19. See Home (Pol.) 405/1919.

(16.) Home (Pol.) 405/1919.

(17.) Home (Pol.) 87/1920. Annual Report of the Police Administration of the Town of Calcutta and its Suburbs for the Year 1921.

(18.) IB 106/21(280/21).

(19.) Home (Pol.) 142/1918.

(20.) IB 80/1920(112/20).

(21.) Home (Pol.) 281/ 1919.

(22.) Home (Pol.) 405/1919.

(23.) IB 80/1920 (112/20).

(24.) L/P&S/10/887(1229/1920).

(25.) IB154/22(109/22).

(26.) IB15/1920 (350/1920).

(27.) Subodh Roy (ed), Communism in India: Unpublished Documents 19191924, Calcutta: National Book Agency, vol. 1, 1997, p39. This collection consists of excerpts from Home (Political) reports originating from the Government of India. IB 66/21 (20/21). IB 41/1920 (311/20).

(28.) IB15/1920 (350/1920).

(29.) IB 38/1921(130/21).

(30.) IB130/21(61/21).

(31.) Annual Report of the Police Administration of the Town of Calcutta and its Suburbs for the Year1922. Also Chattopadhyay, An Early Communist, pp99-109.

(32.) The Hindu, 14 July 1920 in IB 117/20.

(33.) IB 117/20.

(34.) See Chattopadhyay, An Early Communist, pp128.
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Title Annotation:Whitehall, United Kingdom and Elysium Row, India
Author:Chattopadhyay, Suchetana
Publication:Twentieth Century Communism
Article Type:Report
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Date:Jan 1, 2014
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