It was in 2012 that I first met Comrade George Gomes. Around that time, we had published the New Wave’s naval mutiny special edition which also featured our stand on the Kashmir question where we also stated our attitude to self-determination.
By Adhiraj Bose – New Wave, India.
Our first contact came around summer of that year when I was in Calcutta. I got a phone call from an unknown number, the person on the other side mentioned he had read our newsletter and was interested to meet us and that he was a member of the Bolshevik Leninist Party. While I had heard of the Bolshevik Leninist Party, I had no idea of who George Gomes was. Earlier, me and my comrades tried to make contact with Vinayak Purohit in Pune, but we found out he had passed away. Ever since we had read about the naval mutiny of 1946 and of the Bolshevik Leninist Party of India, Burma and Ceylon, we were trying to find out any surviving members in India. It was our good fortune that we had found Comrade George Gomes.
Later that year, we visited Comrade George Gomes in his home in Navi Mumbai. I and Comrade Pushkar went to Mumbai together to visit him, we felt excited. It was as if we were connecting with a history of revolution, a history that was forgotten and buried, but more importantly it felt like we wer connecting our present struggle with the struggle of the past. Going from Pune to Mumbai, we could almost imagine ourselves in the time of the BLP and how it would feel travelling from Poona to Bombay in the days of the Raj in a coal powered train, connecting with other revolutionaries in our fight against British Imperialism.
When we met Cde George Gomes, naturally that feeling off elation and excitement was with us. We did not know what to expect and what Comrade George Gomes would be like. The checkered history of the Trotskyist movement in India and the world left a certain apprehension in our mind. Did he retain his revolutionary commitment and perspectives after all these years? Or had opportunism and reaction won him over? With all the pressures and failings the movement had to suffer in its 7 decades of existence, it would be incredibly difficult to keep a consistent revolutionary perspective, but when we started discussions with Comrade George Gomes, he did not disappoint one bit. Here was a revolutionary who remained true to his ideals till the very end.
Comrade George Gomes was born in a fishing village near Tuticorin (modern day Thutookoodi), and went to Sri Lanka for work. It was there in 1946 that he came in contact with Trotskyists in Sri Lanka who convinced him, he later joined the BLPI that year. Throughout his time in Bombay he was active in organizing the dock workers over there. He first told us about his experience of the Naval mutiny of 1946, to which he was a witness. He told us, that the whole country was engulfed in the fire of revolution, workers took over factories, peasants occupied the land. The mutiny of the naval ratings inspired the countrymen to fight against British Raj from Karachi to Calcutta and Bombay to Madras.
When the workers marched, Comrade George Gomes marched with them. He fought beside them as a cadre of the revolutionary party. The party however, did not have the organizational power or capacity to give leadership at a national level. It could only do so much under the difficult conditions those days. Comrade George told us that at its height the BLP had only 300 or so cadre across the then Indian Empire. However, each cadre counted for a lot. The functioning of the party retained democratic character, despite the constraints of underground operation.
Things became difficult after the partition, when the fire of revolution was doused by reaction and the blood of half a million Indians. Globally, this period represented the crisis of Trotskyism, and India was not immune. It did not take long for the opportunist forces to take root and misdirect the nascent Bolshevik Leninist Party, coupled with the rise of Stalinism on the world stage, the victory of communal reaction in India, the ascent of the Congress Party, the BLP was under tremendous pressure. Under all this pressure, the group succumbed to the opportunism of the leadership of the 4th international in the 50s and entered the Socialist party. Comrade Gomes clarified to us, that the party was to be dissolved into the Socialist Party. Simply hearing that felt like a shock to me. I can’t imagine today how the leadership of the party like the BLP could even imagine dissolving it, that too into the Lohiite movement!
Comrade Gomes opposed this move as did others. They left the party in protest. Other efforts to rebuild the BLP did not show much success. Comrade Gomes at the time stayed in Bombay and organized the dock workers. Around the 60s was the most militant phase of the working class movement in India. We were curious to know, how did he in those days fight off the right wing forces, which have come to dominate India today. In particular, was how he fought off the fascistic Shiv Sena. He told us, that the Shiv Sena always wanted to penetrate and destroy the unity of the workers. It was a movement for the bosses through and through, but Comrade Gomes and his organization defied them and successfully. A few opportunists however were drawn to the Shiv Sena.
Later on the decade of the 70s, the Indian left movement was thrown one of its greatest challenges. This came in the form of the emergency declared in 1975. Indira Gandhi had practically suspended all democratic functioning in the country and assumed dictatorial powers. Around this time, there were efforts underway to build a Trotskyist movement in India. However, the confusion in the left in general didn’t have any exception when it came to the Trotskyist movement. A decision was made then, to support the emergency, which Comrade Gomes opposed tooth and nail. However, he was only a minority. The mistake of the Indian Trotskyists was not realized till it was too late.
Later on, comrade Gomes went back to Tamil Nadu to his native city of Tuticorin. He then began organizing fisheries workers in Tuticorin. Later on, he would become involved in the protests against Kudankulam nuclear power plant becoming one of the major leaders in opposing the plant.
We then talked about the present situation of the movement in India. He referred to Wes Ervin’s book on Indian Trotskyism, he disagreed that the movement had come to an end. After the BLP’s break up, the old comrades kept the movement alive, but coming down to the present day, the movement had disintegrated and had no organizational structure anymore. He believed that the need of the day was to unite all Trotskyists into one coordinating organization and rebuild the movement through reunification. In this work, it was essential to link with the world movement as well.
That is when he brought out our newsletter. Apparently, Vinayak Purohit’s widow had passed on copies of these papers to Comrade George Gomes after we had mailed her back in 2010. He was particularly impressed by two points in our programmatic document, called the Bolshevik Leninist Manifesto, firstly that we aspired to rebuild the BLPI and secondly that we intended to build this on a South Asian basis. The question of self-determination was also very important for him, he had read our statement on Kashmir and agreed with the fundamental principles on our position of self-determination.
He was hopeful that we could combine our efforts and build this revolutionary party in India and South Asia. He gave me the contact of Franklyn D’Souza who was linked with the Lute Ouvrier organization based in France and the International Union of Foodworkers. we tried to meet with Comrade Gomes once more in Bombay, when we also met with Franklyn and his comrades from France. Though there were a few agreements, there were major disagreements including the character of India, and the attitude towards China’s occupation of Tibet. Discussions did not move forward, and Comrade Gomes’ health kept failing. Eventually, he could not leave Tuticorin either. Our own situation worsened as well and we could not keep contact.
After several years of sickness and being bed ridden, Comrade Gomes finally succumbed on 27th August 2016. The very last communication we had was when we were about to host our 2nd June meeting, I tried to invite him, but he told us he was bed ridden. We sent him our strategic programme to realize the party we had envisioned, he died before he could give us his response.
He leaves behind a legacy of struggle, but also leaves behind a huge void tthat will be hard to fill. With him, has passed away one of the very few remaining, perhaps the very last living connection of the Bolshevik Leninist Party of India with modern times.