Bhagat Singh: Terrorist or a Communist?

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By Akhar Bandyopadhyay

Marxism has always spoken against acts of Terrorism. Marxism has always said that by killing imperialist or capitalist individuals, nothing fruitful would be achieved. (Ref. Leon Trotsky’s ‘Why Marxists Oppose Individual Terrorism’:

The famous Marxist revolutionary, Bhagat Singh- was hanged (23rd March, 1931) because he, together with his comrades, was accused of killing an English policeman named John Saunders (17th December, 1928). For a time, it would seem that John Saunders is an individual, and murdering him would be against the basic tenets of Marxism; and it would also seem for a moment that Bhagat Singh was not really a Communist, rather a so-called “terrorist”.

This term – “terrorist” is being annexed at present with the name of Bhagat Singh by many authoritarian and pseudo-nationalistic right-wingers. In reality, Bhagat Singh was against terrorism. He himself said that he was not a terrorist, rather a revolutionary; he also said that we cannot gain anything through acts of terrorism. So how a man like this killed an individual?

The answer lies in a poster written by Bhagat Singh himself after murdering Saunders. In it, it was written:

“We are sorry to have killed a man. But this man was a part of a cruel, despicable and unjust system and killing him was a necessity…. This Government is the most oppressive government in the world.”


“Do not injure the feelings of a downtrodden and oppressed country. Think twice before perpetrating such diabolical deed, and remember that despite ‘Arms Act’ and strict guards against the smuggling of arms, the revolvers will ever continue to flow in-if no sufficient at present for an armed revolt, then at least sufficient to avenge the national insults.”

Saunders was killed only to avenge the cruel murder of one of India’s most respected leaders- Lala Lajpat Ray. Saunders was not killed for any personal hatred towards any race or nation. Bhagat Singh’s ideology was against “primitive national or racial hatred”. Bhagat Singh was against the system of exploitation which in one epoch takes the name of Feudalism, in another epoch it again comes as Capitalism. But all these are mere supporters of either man by man or country by country exploitation (For Capitalism, it is both).

Let me share something interesting about this. Bhagwan Das Mahore, a comrade of Bhagat Singh, made some important comments on this. Let us read them with attention:

“After [Saunders] murder I met him (Bhagat Singh) with B.K.Dutt, I saw his face, it got fixed in me forever. There were high emotions written on his broad forehead, which I cannot describe. He was upset. His anxiety and uneasiness was seen. He had unlimited respect for human life and its importance and above all its grandeur. No doubt it was Bhagat Singh’s proposal that the nation’s insult on account of Lalaji’s death due to lathi blows be avenged and our meaningful presence be shown to world.

But Bhagat Singh’s face, which always showed its emotions, was pitiable. The spectacle of that worshipper of humanity, which I saw on that day, makes my head bow before him most reverentially and I felt that I should lift the dust from under his feet and smear my forehead with it. Bhagat Singh and B.K.Dutt sitting in a secluded corner, talked for quite some time in the late night. It was clear that their hearts were heavy. Bhagat Singh’s emotions were at peak…”

Great, isn’t it? How simply and quite foolishly we add the tagline of “terrorism” to the “worshipper of humanity”! Pt. Jawharlal Nehru later remarked regarding the murder of Saunders, that:

“Bhaghat Singh did not become popular because of his act of terrorism but because he seemed to vindicate, for the moment, the honour of Lala Lajpat Rai, and through him of the nation. He became a symbol, the act was forgotten, the symbol remained, and within a few months each town and village of the Punjab, and to a lesser extent in the rest of northern India, resounded with his name. Innumerable songs grew about him and the popularity that the man achieved was something amazing.”

Although due to personal bias, Nehru fails to see the non-terroristic attitude of Singh, but he perfectly expresses the thing Bhagat Singh and his comrades uplifted through the murder of Saunders, that is, the national respect for the national leader (or, as Bhagat Singh himself called Lalaji as the “respected leader of 30 crores”).

By studying these sentences, one this is clear- and that is: Bhagat Singh was not a terrorist. We again must remember that he held “human life sacred beyond words” (as he himself described in the statement he made at the court during the Assembly Bomb Case trial).

How can a man who strongly believed in ‘universal brotherhood’ (vishv-prem/vasudhaiva kutumbakam) can ever be a terrorist? Stop accusing true revolutionaries as “terroristic”- those who are accusing him to be one, are the supporters of the existing exploitative capitalist regime. Capitalism is the greatest form of terrorism. Bhagat Singh and others members of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association and Naujawan Bharat Sabha wanted to build a society which “…the sovereignty of the proletariat should be recognized and a world federation should redeem humanity from the bondage of capitalism and misery of imperial wars.” That is, a perfect communist society based on “social prosperity” (Ref. Bhagat Singh’s last petition to the Punjab Governor)

In the same way, the throwing of bombs in the Assembly was meant only “to make the deaf hear” (the capitalists, imperialists, colonialists being deaf), and not to kill or injure anyone. Again, during the historic hunger strike (started from 15th June 1929-ended in 5th October, 1929), the HSRA members proved their indomitable soul-force and their desire for complete independence.

To understand more clearly what Bhagat Singh really wanted, let us read what he wrote in the last passage of the poster thrown in the assembly:

“We are sorry to admit that we who attach so great a sanctity to human life, who dream of a glorious future, when man will be enjoying perfect peace and full liberty, have been forced to shed human blood. But the sacrifice of individuals at the altar of the ‘Great Revolution’ that will bring freedom to all, rendering the exploitation of man by man impossible, is inevitable.”
“Long Live the Revolution.”

From this it also follows that Bhagat Singh was neither a believer in violence nor in terrorism. For him and his comrades,

“…the historical tenacity of the bourgeoisie is colossal… We are forced to tear off this class and chop it away. The Red Terror is a weapon used against a class that, despite being doomed to destruction, does not want to perish.” (Trotsky, Leon)

This cannot be actually ‘individual terrorism’ so-called…but this is the ‘red terror’ which is used to frighten the bourgeoisie class, to instill a sense of fear among them. For years they have used terror to terrorize the workers and peasants…a time will come, when the exploited, the oppressed will rise against these real terrorists. That would be the time when we strategically have to use the method of ‘red terror’. But it should never be attached with the popular meaning of ‘Terrorism’.

Bhagat Singh and all his comrades were also strongly against the Gandhian theory of “Non-Violence”. For them, violence is merely:

“…physical force applied for committing injustice, and that is certainly not what the revolutionaries stand for. On the other hand, what generally goes by the name of non-violence is in reality the theory of soul-force, as applied to the attainment of personal and national rights through courting suffering and hoping thus to finally convert your opponent to your point of view.

When a revolutionary believes certain things to be his right he asks for them, pleads for them, argues for them, wills to attain them with all the soul-force at his command, stands the greatest amount of suffering for them, is always prepared to make the highest sacrifice for their attainment, and also backs his efforts with all the physical force he is capable of. You may coin what other word you like to describe his methods but you cannot call it violence, because that would constitute an outrage on the dictionary meaning of that word. Satyagraha is insistence upon truth.

Why press, for the acceptance of truth, by soul-force alone? Why not add physical force also to it? While the revolutionaries stand for winning independence by all forces, physical as well as moral, at their command, the advocates of soul-force would like to ban the use of physical force. The question really, therefore, is not whether you will have violence, but whether you will have soul-force plus physical force or soul-force alone.” (From the ‘Philosophy of the Bomb’, by Bhagwati Charan Vohra- a close comrade of Bhagat Singh)

That’s the point!

I have shown in brief about Bhagat Singh’s ideological position. More things are needed to say about him. He was a remarkable intellectual and activist at such a young age. He kept clear-cut views regarding his ideology… even by mistake, we can never call him a terrorist. We may obviously call Bush, Obama, Narendra Modi and many other ‘powerful’ capitalists… as the real terrorists who live by exploiting earth and its people.


Websites: ,

Individuals: Prof. Chaman Lal, Prof. Malwinder Jit Singh Waraich, Com. Saurav Kumar and Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay.

This article is published in Socialist Fight: Liaison Committee for the Fourth International‘s Website:

This article has also been published in Socialist Fight’s official magazine no. 23 –


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