‘I Believe My Name is Not Unknown in India’: Emma Goldman and the Indian Revolutionary Movement, 1909-1925

In January 1909, the British Department of Criminal Intelligence (DCI) was concerned that the famous anarchist Emma Goldman would visit India to support the Indian revolutionary movement. According to their reports, she had letters of invitation from ‘“Hindous” in British Columbia’ to the leaders of the movement in India, and she would give a few talks in India on her way back from Australia. ‘The Arch Priestess of Anarchy’, as the DCI report refers to Goldman, never made it to India, but she did take an interest in the Indian revolutionary movement at the time.

Emma Goldman

Mother Earth

As editors of Mother Earth, Goldman and Alexander Berkman reprinted articles from the New York-based Indian nationalist journal Free Hindusthan in 1909, covering the repression of free speech, the imprisonment and deportation of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Aurobindo Ghose and Chidambaram Pillai, among others.

In July 1909, the Indian nationalist Madan Lal Dhingra assassinated political aide-de-camp Sir William Curzon Wyllie in London. Dhingra was quickly apprehended and sentenced to death. Goldman compared ‘the legal farce of “judging” the Hindu student’ to the ‘judicial murder of Robert Emmet’. ‘Indeed’, she noted, ‘the comparison is highly appropriate, since British rule in India to-day is, in all essentials, an exact replica of the conditions of Ireland in Emmet’s time’.

When Shyamaji Krishnavarma defended the assassination in The Indian Sociologist, the publication was suppressed and its printers sentenced to jail (Krishnavarma lived in Paris, outside the jurisdiction of the British Government). The British anarchist Guy Aldred assumed printing of the journal and was quickly arrested, tried and imprisoned as well. ‘Evidently the boasted English liberty of the press’, wrote Goldman, ‘is no less a humbug than its “free” speech’. Making comparisons to the deportation of Johann Most and Vladimir Burtsev, the subsequent ‘Savarkar Case’ was covered extensively in the pages of Mother Earth too: ‘The English governing class is supposed always to have had respect for the right of asylum. It should, therefore, be bound by honor to set Savarkar free. But no trust is to be reposed in the governing class’.

These issues of Mother Earth were proscribed by the Government of India, as were Goldman’s essays ‘Anarchism: What It Really Stands For’, ‘Patriotism: A Menace to Liberty’, ‘Lectures on the Dynamics of Modern Drama, and Six Propaganda Lectures’, and ‘Syndicalism: The Modern Menace to Capitalism’.

Goldman and the Ghadar Party

Lala Har Dayal, IWW member and co-founder of the Ghadar Party in 1913, accompanied Goldman on her tour of the US West Coast in 1912 and 1913. Faced with deportation from the US in March 1914 on account of being an anarchist, Goldman commented in Mother Earth: ‘Har Dyal, one of the biggest intellects of India, has long been a thorn in the side of the British government because of his effective work in spreading revolutionary ideas among his fellow countrymen. Many attempts have been made to silence Har Dyal, both in India and in this country. And now the English government seems to have succeeded in persuading its lackeys in Washington to do its dirty work’. Har Dayal was released on bail and fled to Switzerland, where he became involved with the International Pro-India Committee and mingled with Egyptian anti-colonialists, Turkish nationalists and Italian anarchists.

From 1915 to 1917, Mother Earth carried several features on the Ghadar Party, and Ram Chandra, editor of the Hindustan Ghadar, often contributed to the paper. Writing on press censorship in India and the power of propaganda, Chandra stated that: ‘Hindu journalism from abroad has been consistently the champion of the underlying truths of modern culture, namely Democracy and Science, as opposed to Medievalism, which stood for blind faith, tradition, status and privilege’. When he and fifteen other Indians were arrested in San Francisco in 1917, Mother Earth noted that: ‘We feel confident that war or no war, the Hindu revolutionists in America will continue their propaganda for the liberation of India, and against all iniquity and injustice, as will all other true revolutionists in America’.

In Berlin

Goldman herself was deported from the United States in 1920 and eventually ended up in Berlin in early 1922. In post-Russian Revolution Berlin, she and Berkman became close friends with the American author Agnes Smedley. Smedley had also been in contact with the Ghadarites in the US, and was now living with Virendranath ‘Chatto’ Chattopadhyaya.

Smedley, agnes
Agnes Smedley

Smedley wrote to Goldman that ‘the Indian movement is not an Anarchist movement, or even a Socialist one. It is, from the social viewpoint, reactionary and nationalistic’. Similarly, Goldman wrote in her autobiography: ‘Chatto was intellectual and witty, but he impressed me as a somewhat crafty individual. He called himself an anarchist, though it was evident that it was Hindu nationalism to which he had devoted himself entirely’. Nevertheless, Smedley also confessed to Goldman that ‘Often I think that he is of far more value than I am; everybody knows that – all of you Anarchists and revolutionaries, all of the Indians’.

Smedley and Chatto had a tumultuous relationship, and she often relayed her woes to Goldman. Chatto, of course, had associated with French anarchists in Paris and Luigi Bertoni in Switzerland, and he and Berkman formed a friendship. Chatto and Berkman would discuss and argue like old friends, Smedley wrote to Goldman. It was at the suggestion of Chatto, however, that Goldman sent her manuscript ‘My Disillusionment in Russia’ to Indian publishers in 1924. ‘I believe my name is not unknown in India’, she wrote. ‘Certainly the Indians in America, Russia, and Germany know me well, and will, I believe, be interested in reading a critical analysis of the Bolshevik regime in their own language’. Whether the publisher accepted it is unknown, but Goldman’s article ‘Heroic Women of the Revolution’ was published in Welfare (Calcutta) in 1925, earning her 25 Rupees.

Goldman left Berlin in 1924, but Berkman stayed on. Perhaps through Chatto, he befriended M. P. T. Acharya and sent him books and essays on anarchism. Acharya claimed that he knew Goldman as well, but this is uncertain. Nevertheless, although Goldman never made it to India, as the DCI feared in 1909, she did have some influence on the Indian revolutionary movement.

“Spain! Why?”: Indian Anti-Imperialism, Anti-Fascism, and the Spanish Civil War

80 years on from the Spanish Civil War, and with popular fascism on the rise again across Europe, the United States, and India, we have to bear in mind the ways in which socialists and anarchists came together to fight European fascism. As the British, French and American governments stood aside to allow Franco, with the aid of Hitler and Mussolini, to defeat the republic, the history of such non-governmental resistances are even more pertinent and provide a deeper understanding of the power of extra-parliamentary political organisations.

In the face of British non-intervention, it became clear that fascism easily colluded with colonialism. Moreover, despite attempts to compare and combine anti-fascism and anti-imperialism by Indian nationalists such as Jawaharlal Nehru and V. Krishna Menon, those struggles were largely seen as separate issues by European socialists. Paradoxically, such intersectional struggles have often been overlooked, and the Spanish Civil War remains principally a Euro-American affair in existing historiography, denying the true international character of the International Brigades.

Two months after the Spanish Civil War broke out on 17 July 1936, the Communist International set up the International Brigades to assist the Spanish Republican cause against Franco’s fascist regime. At the same time, the September 1936 Non-Interventionist Agreement signed by 27 countries, including Britain, France and Germany, effectively banned entry of British nationals into Spain. However, in January 1937 British socialists established the British Battalion of the International Brigades, officially named the Saklatvala Battalion, after the Indian Communist MP for Battersea, Shapurji Saklatvala, who died in January 1936.

While this moniker never caught on among the volunteers, Saklatvala’s daughter, Sehri, continued to be involved in the fight against fascism and with the Spain-India Committee organised a ‘For Spain, Indian Evening’ on 12 March 1937. As an example of what Maria Framke calls ‘political humanitarianism’, the Spain-India Committee also donated an ambulance to the war effort and agitated widely among the British left.


Menon, Nehru and Spain

The India League, led by V. K. Krishna Menon, realised that Indian freedom was inextricably linked to other international conflicts such as the Spanish Civil War. At a meeting in late January 1938, Menon noted that “the freedom of the Indian people was synonymous with the freedom of the peoples of the world, and that imperialism and exploitation must come to an end”. To celebrate Indian Independence Day on 26 January – declared by the Indian National Congress in January 1930 – the India League organised a National Independence Demonstration at Trafalgar Square on 30 January 1938 in “solidarity with the Indian, Chinese and Spanish people”. As around 1,200 people marched from Mornington Crescent, “four bands accompanied the processionists. Flags of the Spanish Republic, Irish Republic, Indian National Congress and Sama Samaja Party, and banners with portraits of Subhas Chandra Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, the Emperor of Abyssinia, Chiang Kai-Shek, and ‘La Passionaria’ (the Spanish woman communist leader), were carried”. At Trafalgar Square, the following resolution was read aloud:

“We recognise that the fight against imperialism in India, Burma, Ceylon, in Africa and the rest of the Colonial Empire, is part of our own common struggle for democracy and against fascism and war, and we, therefore, call upon all democratic and peace-loving men and women in this country to consciously ally themselves with and to actively support these struggles against the common foe”.

Alongside the India League, Menon’s friend Jawaharlal Nehru was among the most vocal agitators in the Indian campaign against fascism in Spain. At first he failed to attract any substantial attention in India, but after his tour of Europe in 1938, which included a trip to Spain with Menon, he managed to rally more support. In his pamphlet ‘Spain! Why?’ (1938), he remarked that, “by giving our food-stuffs to the Spanish people, we compel the world’s attention to our view-point”.


Internationalising Indian Nationalism

Despite the relatively few Indians in the International Brigades, Nehru’s campaign against fascism was not lost on all. Gopal Mukund Huddar, one of the few Indians fighting in Spain, joined the International Brigades under the name ‘John Smith’ in October 1937. In early February 1938 he went to Tarazona but, in early April 1938, he was captured by Franco’s army in the battle of Gandesa. Relating his experiences upon return to India, Huddar wrote that, “for another few days we held the hills behind Gandesa. Here we had our artillery, Anti-Tank, Anti-air guns. We held that place in face of artillery shelling for seven hours every day. However in the end we were encircled”.

Signalling the international compositition of the International Brigades, his fellow prisoner Carl Geiser later wrote about Huddar that he “reported on the struggle for independence from Britain of the people of India under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru”. Released from prison in late November 1938, a few receptions were held in London in honour of Huddar, before he returned to Bombay in mid-December 1938. A committed nationalist, the experiences in Spain made Huddar an internationalist. “Spain gave me an opportunity to know Germans, Austrians, Americans, French, English, Czechs, Canadians etc”, he wrote upon return to India. “It is possible now to think internationally and to create international centres for Indian propaganda”.

For an Indian volunteer in Spain to think internationally is to acknowledge the deep links between anti-imperialism and anti-fascism. As we mark 80 years since the Spanish Civil War, it is clear that to learn from history demands a greater understanding of international solidarities in the face of fascism. And, while it took another decade for India to gain independence from Britain, the Spanish Civil War nevertheless marked a significant entry onto world politics and important steps towards freedom for Menon and Nehru.

Revisiting the 1917 Stockholm Peace Conference: Indian Nationalism, International Socialism, and Anti-Imperialism

This essay was originally published as a guest blog post for the University of Exeter’s Centre of Imperial and Global History blog.

As we mark the centenaries of the Russian revolutions (1917) and the end of the First World War (1918), we should remember how these events are connected through the abandoned Stockholm Peace Conference and, given their anti-imperialist narratives, how they impacted the colonial world. Despite the attendance of Indians, Egyptians, Persians and Turks in Stockholm, the scant historical inquiries into this might-have-been moment tend to neglect how such anti-imperial ambitions were tied to world peace (Meynell 1960; Kirby 1974; Kirby 1982; Stevenson 1991).

In the wake of the hard winter of 1916-1917 and following the February revolution in Russia, Danish socialists Frederik Borgbjerg and Thorvald Stauning began discussions about a peace conference to be held on neutral territory, but they needed wider support among the divided Second International. On 15 April 1917, the Bureau of the Socialist International, led by Camille Huysmans, decided to relocate to neutral Stockholm to prepare for an international socialist peace conference to be organised by the Dutch-Scandinavian Committee (van Kol, Troelstra, Albarda, Branting, Stauning). Although the International Socialist Committee, also known as the Zimmerwaldians, also converged on Stockholm in the summer of 1917, they never committed to the Dutch-Scandinavian conference proposal and eventually pulled out. In addition, the Petrograd Soviet bloc made up of Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries, still united after the February revolution, eventually constituted a third strand in Stockholm, now making up the Russian-Dutch-Scandinavian Committee.

Dutch-Scandinavian Committee
Group portrait of the Dutch-Scandinavian Committee: van Kol, Troelstra, Albarda (sitting, l-r), Stauning, Branting (standing, l-r)


As these three blocs negotiated throughout the following six months, the proposed date for the conference was postponed again and again. With Lenin’s return to Russia and the Bolshevik rise to power in the autumn, it became clear that the peace conference would not materialise. Moreover, conflicting attitudes towards potential peace agreements and the question of Turkey’s position within Europe and imperial interventions in the Middle East meant that the British Prime Minister Lloyd George, following the lead of the American government, eventually refused to issue passports to anyone intending to attend the conference, a stance soon adopted by the French and Italian governments, as well.

Naturally, such questions attracted the attention of Persian, Egyptian and Indian nationalists, too. Tying the question of Indian independence to European socialism, Indian nationalists had previously attended the International Socialist Congresses in Amsterdam (1904), Stuttgart (1907) and Copenhagen (1910), but not as official delegates.

Operating throughout Europe and the Middle East, the Indian nationalist Virendranath ‘Chatto’ Chattopadhyaya had set up the Indian Independence Committee in Berlin in September 1914, officially attached to the Nachrichtenstelle für den Orient under the German Foreign Office. Sensing the turning tides of the war and attempting to sever ties with the German-controlled Committee in Berlin, he arrived in Sweden in mid-May 1917 on a German visa and, with his long-time collaborator, M. P. T. Acharya, formally set up the Indian National Committee in Stockholm in July 1917. Six other Indians, among them Abdul Hafiz and Taraknath Das, later joined them for short visits, and Lala Har Dayal arrived in October 1918, primarily to care for his ill health at the nearby Saltsjöbaden retreat. In response to this influx, the British Government discussed ‘the possibility of sending a trustworthy Indian to Stockholm who could put the case from a loyalist point of view’.

Chatto and Acharya, residing at Roséns Pensionat on Grev Turegatan, set up office five minutes away on Artillerigatan, and shared the premises with the Friends of Irish Freedom, a New York-based Irish Republican organisation. Carrying out propaganda in the Scandinavian newspapers, and agitating among the European and Russian socialists gathered in Stockholm, the Indians met with the Dutch-Scandinavian Committee on 12 July 1917 – described by Huysmans as ‘the day of the barbarians’, according to Gerhard Höpp – but little came of it. At the meeting Troelstra noted that ‘the Indian question is very important. But it is a diversion’. In response, Chatto protested to Huysmans that, ‘we entertain the hope that International Socialism will rise above the mean and sordid passions of the hour and raise its voice on behalf of all suffering and subject nationalities’.

Their pamphlet Speeches and Resolutions on India at the International Socialist Congresses – a brief summary of resolutions concerning India at the international socialist congresses in Paris, Amsterdam, Stuttgart and Copenhagen – seemed almost redundant after the peace conference was abandoned. Chatto rebuked the manifesto of the Dutch-Scandinavian Committee, writing that ‘the “peace” manifesto lately issued by you has exposed once for all the insincerity of West-European Socialists and justifies us in looking upon the Dutch-Scandinavian Committee as agents of the subtle and cruel imperialism of the so-called Western democracies’.

The Indian National Committee achieved little from their activities in Stockholm, revealing the limitations of international socialism in relation to the colonial question. Nevertheless, Chatto and Acharya remained in the city and continued to agitate among Swedish politicians and in Scandinavian newspapers. Making his living as a journalist, translator and teacher, Chatto also gave Hindi lessons at Stockholm’s Borgarskola – a school for young people in trade or crafts occupation – but the Swedish intelligence service still considered him ‘one of the most dangerous international anarchists’ due to his involvement in the ‘bomb plot of Zürich’ in 1915.

Chattopadhyaya - Stockholm City Archives
Virendranath Chattopadhyaya

Once the First World War was over and the dust of the Russian Revolution had settled, though, the Indians tied their aspirations for independence to the Communist International and relocated to Russia and then, later, to Berlin. Acharya was involved in setting up the exiled Indian Communist Party in Tashkent in 1920, but clashed with the other Indian leader M. N. Roy and moved to Berlin in 1922 to join the Anarchist-Syndicalist International. Chatto, expelled from Sweden in 1921, also moved to Berlin and became instrumental in the League Against Imperialism with Willi Münzenberg.

After the rise of the Nazis in 1930 and on advice of Georgi Dimitrov, Head of the West European Bureau of the Comintern in Berlin, Chatto fled to Russia in 1931 and worked at the Institute of Anthropology and Ethnography in Leningrad. Arrested for treason on 17 July 1937, Chatto was executed in Stalin’s purges on 2 September 1937. In response to Chatto’s arrest, Acharya wrote in The Mahratta that ‘I have no sympathy with the corpse-like discipline of Chattopadhyaya to the Stalinist ideology, but since he is corpse-like and would not change so long as the outer world is capitalist, I assert without any hesitation or fear of being controverted that these charges of being Trotskist or Fascist or any other ist but Stalinist can only be lies’. In other words, giving up on European socialism, the turn to the Communist International, too, became detrimental to key figures like Chatto and Acharya.

Looking back upon the First World War and the Russian Revolution a hundred years on, these events clearly had a great impact upon the colonial world. And, for a brief moment in Stockholm in 1917, it looked like a peace agreement might also alter the course of European imperialism and yield independence to India, Egypt and Persia. This missed opportunity of 1917 nevertheless helped spark continued anti-imperial socialist agitation for decades to come.