Indian Communists and Trade Unionists on Trial: The Meerut Conspiracy, 1929-1933

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The Meerut Conspiracy Trial, 1929-1933

The Meerut Conspiracy Trial, 1929-1933

The Communist Party has been a freely elected governing party in India more times than anywhere else in the world and it remains a mass party in India to this day. The Meerut Conspiracy Trial was an early turning point in its history
John CallaghaUniversity of Salford

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Indian Communism and trade unions on trial, the Meerut treason trial, 1929-1932

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On 20 March 1929, thirty-one people, suspected of either communist or trades unionist affiliations, were arrested across India, including Bombay, Calcutta and Poona. They were to be shortly followed by a thirty-second person - Hugh Lester Hutchinson - in June of the same year. Collectively, they were charged under section 121A of the Indian Penal Code, of conspiracy to deprive the King of the sovereignty of British India." Ever since the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917, there grew a ubiquitous fear within the West of the spread of communism via Moscow's chief manifestation, the Comintern (Communist International). Indeed, it had long been suspected by the India Office that the Comintern had instructed the three Britons charged in the trial - Philip Spratt, Ben Bradley and Lester Hutchinson - to travel to India with the specific task of engendering a revolutionary espirit de corps within India's own growing trades union movements. More than this, however, the Meerut trial also demonstrates an indigenous expression of anti-colonialism from which, it could be argued, the British authorities were ultimately unable to counter. Given the highly protracted nature of the trial, public sympathy for the accused and imprisoned grew rapidly and the following documents add weight to this assertion. Collectively drawn from the British Library, Labour History Archive & Study Centre and Working Class Movement Library, the following documents bring together an array of differing, and balanced, perspectives on both the trial itself as well as its consequences for British imperialism as the sun was beginning to set on the Empire. Accompanied by an online guide and scholarly introduction to the collection by John Callaghan, professor of Politics and Contemporary History, University of Salford.

Contents

Indian Communists and Trade Unionists on Trial: The Meerut Conspiracy, 1929-1933...

Containing 10,201 pages belonging to 54 documents housed in 4 volumes...

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Volumes

Selected India Office Records

The following documents, drawn chiefly from the IOR/L/PJ/12 series held at the British Library, illustrate the establishment's reaction to both...

Ben Bradley papers

Benjamin Francis Bradley (1898-1957) was a communist metalworker, born in Walthamstow, who was sent to India to promote militant trade...

Selected files from the William Gillies papers

William Gillies (1885-1958) was the first International Secretary of the Labour Party between 1920 and 1944. These selected files, housed...

Miscellaneous books and pamphlets relating to the trial

The material here offers analytical and autobiographical accounts of some of the chief accused in the Meerut trial, namely Philip...

Insights

  • The India Office Records are official records relating to communism, trades unions and surveillance upon those thought to be involved in either of those movements in India. Details of the trial and appeal also feature.
  • The Ben Bradley papers are unofficial records of his activities before the trial and of the trial itself. Bradley's letters to his family include details of attempts to secure evidence and funds for his defence.
  • The William Gillies papers include resolutions and evidence of support from the labour movement in the UK. They also include correspondence from the Trades Union Congress and League Against Imperialism.
  • Two of the books written about the trial were written by men who had been on trial at Meerut. Other books and pamphlets that relate to the trial were written by supporters while it was ongoing.
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