Periyar’s tryst with socialism – OPINION

On December 13, 1931, Periyar set sail on the French ship,Amboise, from Madras on a voyage that would take him to the Soviet Union and other countries in Europe. As the Criminal Investigation Department observed, “Their visit to Russia was not bona fide, and the lieutenants of [Periyar] have been asked to keep this fact as secret as possible.”

What is referred to in Periyar’s biographies as the European tour took him to the Soviet Union via Sri Lanka, the Suez, Cairo, Athens, and Constantinople. Later, he journeyed through Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, and Sri Lanka.

Periyar maintained a tour diary, parts of which were reproduced in his own lifetime. Many photographs too have survived. In 1997, V. Anaimuthu, editor of Periyar’s collected writings, partially unearthed Periyar’s dairy. Though incomplete, this is the single-most important source of the tour.

The Soviet tour

Heralding his Soviet tour, Periyar published a part translation, in Tamil, ofThe Communist Manifesto. His co-translator, S. Ramanathan, and his young relative, Ramu, accompanied him on this tour.

In Athens they had to wait for two weeks for Soviet permission. It is not clear how contacts were established with the Soviets, but the pass eventually arrived on February 2, 1932. They boarded theS.S. Tchitcherine, and after a seasick crossing of the Black Sea, arrived at Odessa. They took a train at Kiev and reached Moscow on February 14.

Periyar promptly reported to the VOKS, the All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries. No record of what transpired in the first two months of the tour has survived, and we are able to piece together their programme only from fragmentary information.

Soon after his arrival, Periyar made the mandatory visit to the Lenin Mausoleum in Red Square. He visited the Baku oilfields in Azerbaijan, Sukhumi in Abkhazia, and Tbilisi in Georgia. Apart from Leningrad, Periyar also visited Dneprostroi and Zaporizhia — the hydroelectric stations that…

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