Revolutionary Terrorism vs Revolutionary Socialism: Understanding Bhagat Singh’s Ideological Standpoint

Revolutionary Terrorism vs Revolutionary Socialism: Understanding Bhagat Singh’s Ideological Standpoint

Compiled and Edited by: Akhar Bandyopadhyay


‘A new question has cropped up.’ Was Bhagat Singh a revolutionary terrorist as he is being projected by the right wing of India or was he something other than that? I will answer this question in this essay. This cannot be called an essay, but the compilation of the most important quotes regarding this particular topic. I have made this compilation just to show the real character of Bhagat Singh’s ideology. I will present some passages from some of the most notable authors including Bhagat Singh himself. I, myself, have nothing to write as the answer to this particular topic was answered brilliantly by some of those great men whom I am going to quote altogether.

Let’s start and see what Bhagat Singh himself says on this issue:

“Perhaps this is the topic that needs a careful explanation. There is very great probability of my being misunderstood on this subject. Apparently I have acted like a terrorist. But I am not a terrorist. I am a revolutionary who has got such definite ideas of a lengthy programme as is being discussed here. My “comrades in arms” might accuse me, like Ram Prasad Bismil, for having been subjected to certain sort of reaction in the condemned cell, which is not true. I have got the same ideas, same convictions, same zeal and same spirit as I used to have outside, perhaps-nay, decidedly-better. Hence I warn my readers to be careful while reading my words. They should not try to read anything between the lines. Let me announce with all the strength at my command, that I am not a terrorist and I never was, expect perhaps in the beginning of my revolutionary career. And I am convinced that we cannot gain anything through those methods. One can easily judge it from the history of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. All our activities were directed towards an aim, i.e., identifying ourselves with the great movement as its military wing. If anybody has misunderstood me, let him amend his ideas. I do not mean that bombs and pistols are useless, rather the contrary. But I mean to say that mere bomb-throwing is not only useless but sometimes harmful. The military department of the party should always keep ready all the war-material it can command for any emergency. It should back the political work of the party. It cannot and should not work independently.” (Bhagat Singh, From ‘To Young Political Workers’)

Read out loud the bold sentences with attention. Understand what the Sardar meant by the term ‘terrorism’. Actually we have to read one of Singh’s closest comrades to understand their standpoint. Let’s read the whole passage on ‘Terrorism’ from the ‘Philosophy of the Bomb’:

“TERRORISM: THE REVOLUTIONARIES already see the advent of the revolution in the restlessness of the revolution in the restlessness of youth, in its desire to break free from the mental bondage and religious superstition that hold them. As the youth will get more and more saturated with the psychology of revolution, it will come to have a clearer realistion of national bondage and a growing, intense, unquenchable thirst for freedom. It will grow, this feeling of bondage, this infuriated youth will begin to kill the oppressors. Thus has terrorism been born in the country. It is a phase, a necessary, an inevita-able phase of the revolution. Terrorism is not the complete revolution and the revolution is not complete without terrorism. This thesis can be supported by an analysis of any and every revolution in history. Terrorism instills fear in the hearts of the oppressors, it brings hopes of revenge and redemption to the oppressed masses, it gives courage and self-confidence to the wavering, it shatters the spell of the superiority of the ruling class and raises the status of the subject race in the eyes of the world, because it is the most convincing proof of a nation’s hunger for freedom. Here in India, as in other countries in the past, terrorism will develop into the revolution and the revolution into independence, social political and economic.” (Bhagwati Charan Vohra, From ‘Philosophy of the Bomb’)

So Terrorism (and violence), for them, is merely an instrument for instilling fear in the minds of the bourgeoisie class. But it is not all. It cannot achieve the end and it is not the path through which we will achieve the end. Then what was the path for Bhagat Singh and his Comrades?

“Bhagat Singh was not only one of India’s greatest freedom fighters and revolutionary socialists, but also one of its warly Marxist thinkers and ideologues. Unfortunately, this last aspect is relatively unknown with the result that all sorts of reactionaries , obscurantist and communalists have been wrongly and dishonestly trying to utilize for their own politics and ideologies, the name and fame of Bhagat Singh and his comrades such as Chander Shekhar Azad.

Bhagat Singh dies very young at the age of 23. His Political thought and practice started evolving very early when he made a quick transition from Gandhian nationalism to revolutionary anarchism. But already by 1927-28, he began to move from individual heroic action to Marxism. During the years 1925 to 1928, Bhagat Singh read voraciously, devouring in particular books on the Russian revolution and the Soviet Union, even though getting hold of such books was in itself at the time a revolutionary and difficult task.

In the 1920s, Bhagat Singh was one of the most well and persons in India on revolutionary movements, anarchism and Marxism. He also tried to inculcate the reading and thinking habit among his fellow revolutionaries and younger comrades. He asserted during his trial before the Lahore High Court that “the sword of revolution is sharpened at the whetstone of thought.” Already by the end of 1928, he and his comrades had accepted socialism as the final object of their activities and changed the name of their organization from the Hindustan Republican Association to Hindustan Socialist Republican Association.

From now on, before his arrest in June 1929 and after, Bhagat Singh’s fury continued unabated. In the process, he brought under critical scrutiny all contemporary views, the character of the contemporary world-wide revolutionary process, anarchism, socialism, violence and non-violence, revolutionary terrorism, religion, communalism, older revolutionaries and contemporary nationalists, etc.

It is one of the greatest tragedies of our people that this giant of a brain was brought to a stop so early by the colonial authorities.”…

“Bhagat Singh’s sympathetic though critical understanding of his predecessors, his capacity to place philosophic and political approaches and ideas in a historical setting and his basic Marxist reasoning also emerge clearly in his discussion of several other issues.”…“Thus the revolutionaries do not glorify violence; revolution is not based on the cult of violence. At the same time, revolutionaries do not shun the necessary violence. Where history and the ruling classes force upon them, they take recourse to it as a “terrible necessity” in order to overthrow the existing social order.

Bhagat Singh simultaneously sees the utopian character of much of early revolutionary thinking, the positive historic role that utopians play in certain stages of social movements and social development, and the inevitable decline of utopias once the revolutionary movement starts acquiring a scientific outlook and philosophy on the basis a “scientific Marxian Socialism”.

Lastly, Bhagat Singh was a critical revolutionary mind in the best traditions of Marx, Engels and Lenin. (Selections from the Introduction to Bhagat Singh’s pamphlet ‘Why I am an Atheist’, written by Prof. Bipan Chandra, published by NBT)

So, Bhagat Singh’s ideological standpoint was that of Revolutionary Marxist Socialism, nothing other than that. Then why did HSRA (Hindustan Socialist Republican Association) and NBS (Naujawan Bharat Sabha) use terrorism as an instrument? They could have instilled fear among the mind of the bourgeoisie class through Marxism and Socialism….then why use terrorism? Because:

“We have been taken to task for our terrorist policy. No doubt, the revolutionaries think and rightly that it is only by resorting to terrorism that they can find a most effective means of retaliation… Terrorism has its international aspect also. England’s enemies, which are many, are drawn towards us by effective demonstration of our strength. That in itself is a great advantage”. (From the manifesto the HSRA)

“Terrorist actions are part of armed struggle. There is a distinctiveness to them: they are random, generally unannounced, intended more to surprise the enemy and the general population and strike awe in them.

A terrorist act is mainly aimed at creating fear in the hearts of the adversary. An act of terror creates an impact that is hugely disproportionate to the scale of the action. It challenges the claim of military superiority of the enemy.

Terrorist acts are also aimed at converting sceptics into followers by assuring them that the revolutionaries hold the real power. As Vohra declared in the essay: “It gives courage and self-confidence to the wavering.”

The writings of Bhagat Singh make it apparent that even when he justified the use of violence and terror, he did not make a fetish of them. If one wants to describe this, it has to be called “revolutionary terror”: terror for the sake of revolution. Terror then is a technique. (It is also used by the state. When the police burns down entire villages, it is resorting to terror.)

One also needs to remember that Singh and his friends were deeply inspired by Russian revolutionaries, who used the method of terror in their struggle against the Tsar.” (From, written by Apoorvanand )

“The HSRA leaders worked for a militant mass revolution and had no illusions about violence or terrorism. Any terroristic activity was described as an ‘action for propaganda’ and was not merely a desire for shedding human blood. The revolutionaries were not trigger happy but believed only in surgical bloodshed. Through these actions, they wanted to awaken the masses from their slumber so that they may rise and shake off the yoke of slavery.” (Pg 120, From S. Irfan Habib’s book ‘To Make the Deaf Hear: Ideology and Programme of Bhagat Singh and his Comrades’)

Let us read some passages from the most debated book of Prof. Bipan Chandra to understand the intellectual standpoint of Bhagat Singh more clearly:

“A voracious reader, he was one of the most well read of political leaders of the time. He had devoured books in the Dwarkadas Library at Lahore on socialism… his shirt pockets always bulged with books which he constantly offered to lend his comrades. After his arrest he transformed the jail into a veritable university. (Pages 254-255 from Bipan Chandra’s book ‘India’s Struggle for Independence’)

“Bhagat Singh had already, before his arrest in 1929, abandoned his belief in terrorism and individual heroic action. He had turned to Marxism and had come to believe that popular based mass movements alone could lead to a successful revolution.” (Pg 255, ibid)

“Bhagat Singh also saw the importance of freeing people from the mental bondage of religion and superstition. (Page 258, ibid)

Bhagat Singh was a great innovator in two areas of politics. Being fully and consciously secular, he understood more clearly than many of his contemporaries, the danger that communalism posed to the nation and national movement. He told his audiences that communalism was as big an enemy as colonialism.” (Page 257, ibid)

Why again and again accuse Bhagat Singh of being a ‘Terrorist’?? He was not a terrorist. On the contrary, Singh achieved a stronger, brighter intellectual conviction towards Marxism and Socialism at such a young age. He did not believe in god, nor in (so-called) ‘violence’ and nor in (so-called) ‘Terrorism’. Read Christopher Jaffrelot’s essay on Bhagat Singh (…) and think deeply. The answer will be answered by your own mind. And I may say (by remembering Prof. Chaman Lal and S. Irfan Habib’s important claims and responses to this particular topic) to those educational institutions who are projecting Bhagat Singh’s ideology in extremely wrong light, please read the letters and essays written by Bhagat Singh and his fellow comrades and start teaching the true ideology of these martyrs in your classrooms

Once Bhagat Singh wrote, that : “In our [court] statement we explained in detail what we mean by “Long Live Revolution” and “Down With Imperialism”. That formed the crux of our ideas. That portion was removed from our statement. Generally a wrong meaning is attributed to the word revolution. That is not our understanding. Bombs and pistols do not make revolution. The sword of revolution is sharpened on the whetting-stone of ideas. This is what we wanted to emphasise. By revolution we mean the end of the miseries of capitalist wars. It was not proper to pronounce judgement without understanding our aims and objects and the process of achieving them. To associate wrong ideas with our names is out and out injustice.

Let me repeat after him…that ‘…to associate wrong ideas with our names is out and out injustice.’

The people of this country! Let us together unite to stop this ‘injustice’!

 “…his (Bhagat Singh) views need to be bracketed with the classical Marxist understanding which has always held that as the ruling classes do not allow – and have never allowed in the history – a peaceful revolutionary transition, the revolutionaries have to build a ‘physical force or armed wing’ which can resist the violence unleashed by the ruling classes and their state. Bhagat Singh (and Vohra) in ‘Philosophy of Bomb’ differentiate between ‘violence’ and ‘force’, the former being used by the ruling classes, the oppressors or the state to perpetuate exploitation and their rule, while the later being the resistance put up by the exploited or oppressed people and insist that what they were resorting to was ‘force’ and not ‘violence’. He lays special emphasis on the point that ‘the role of the armed wing is to assist the revolutionary (communist) party in its political work and that it should not function independently.’ Now one may contest this line of political thought, not on the grounds that Bhagat Singh was a ‘terrorist’, but by accepting that he was a Marxist!” (Datta Desai, From ‘Revisiting Bhagat Singh: Ideology and Politics’)

We will achieve the end. We will fight till the end. Misappropriations will be deleted from the history of humankind. Only Humanity will survive.




Akhar Bandyopadhyay, in behalf of the ‘Bhagat Singh Study Circle’



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