The Remaking of Muzaffar Ahmad

War, Migration and Alienation in Colonial Calcutta: the Remaking of Muzaffar Ahmad

By Suchetana Chattopadhyay

Suchetana Chattopadhyay is Lecturer in History at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. She completed her doctoral dissertation on Muzaffar Ahmad and the early socialist movement in Calcutta during the 1910s and the 1920s at SOAS, University of London, in 2005. Besides the histories of communism and socialism, her research interests also include urban social history, working-class history, colonial surveillance and imperial masculinity.


This article examines the intersecting experiences of migration, alienation, marginalization and a ‘reshuffling of the self’ for Muzaffar Ahmad (1889-1973) in the colonial metropolis of Calcutta during the First World War, arguing that they were key components in his post-war ideological transformation. A writer turned activist, he went on to become the central figure of a socialist nucleus in the city as well as one of the founders of the Communist Party of India in the early 1920s. The article focuses on the war years and argues that the dialectical interplay between Muzaffar Ahmad’s wartime experiences in his urban social milieu and the political trends which touched the Calcutta intelligentsia during the 1910s was crucial in making him turn leftward. A ‘reshuffling’ of the social self during this period prepared the way for his political transition in the climate of post-war mass upsurge against colonialism and capitalism in the city and beyond.

· © The Author 2007. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of History Workshop Journal, all rights reserved.

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