From Fourth International, vol.3 No.10, October 1942, pp.309-314.
(Another slightly different version is available here)
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.
In our March and April 1942 issues, we published two parts of the program of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party, Indian section of the Fourth International. Below we publish a third part, which is of particular significance for understanding the present struggle in India. The fourth and final part of the program does not deal with India but with the general situation of the international labor movement which led the various workers’ parties and groups which formed the Bolshevik-Leninist Party to affiliate it to the Fourth International.
The program for India was first outlined at a conference in March 1941 attended by delegates from the Revolutionary Socialist League of Bengal, the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of the United Provinces and Behar, and the Lanka Sama Samaja Party of Ceylon. The draft program was then drawn up and submitted to a conference in November 1941, which brought together certain other workers’ groups in addition to those at the March conference. This was followed by full discussion of the draft program in the various groups, while at the same time a Provisional Committee elected by the conference began to function as the leadership of the whole movement. After the adoption of various amendments – particularly to the transitional program here published in its definitive form – the program as a whole was adopted in May 1942, democratic centralization as a single party was established, and the all-India party formally launched in May 1942,on the very eve of the present struggle.
This inspiring event, so auspicious for the revolutionary development of the struggle in India, is especially significant because the party, though just launched formally, includes in its leadership and ranks workers, peasants and professional revolutionists who have stood the test of great mass struggles and imprisonment under the bestial colonial rules of British imperialism.
Since the adoption of this transitional program, the party has been putting forward, beginning with its May Day leaflet, the slogan of “Workers’ Committees of Defense,” to be formed on a factory and chawl (workers’ living block) basis, to act on behalf of the workers in all matters where their lives, livelihood or other interests are endangered as a result of the war.
In reading the transitional program, the reader should note particularly the careful formulation of the program for the agrarian revolution. It was arrived at only after long thought and experience. In addition to the antagonism between peasant and landlord, there also exists in India, in a much more extensive form than was the case in Czarist Russia, the antagonism between hired agricultural worker and employer. What role would this latter antagonism play in the revolution? In the Russian revolution, the agrarian masses – rich, middle, poor peasants and landless laborers – were more or less united and this gave tremendous force to the revolution in the rural areas. Differentiation took place only after the revolution. Will the same thing happen in India? Our comrades have come to the conclusion that it probably will. Although there are 60 million landless laborers, they still share too closely the misfortunes of the hundreds of millions of the peasantry as a whole, to appear in the revolution as a separate force. This fact gives the agrarian revolution in India an extremely explosive character: a century of British manipulation of land relations has failed to secure them any rural allies other than the relative handful of zamindars!
The strategic task of Bolshevik-Leninists in the present period, a pre-revolutionary period of agitation, propaganda and organization, consists in overcoming the contradiction between the maturity of the objective revolutionary conditions in India (accentuated enormously by the present Imperialist World War) and the immaturity of the proletariat and its vanguard. This strategic task is unthinkable without the most considered attention to all, even small and partial question of tactics. It is necessary to help the masses in the process of the daily struggle to find the bridge between the present demands and the programme of the Indian revolution. The Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India stands in the forefront of all day to day struggles of the workers and lends its support to the struggles of the peasantry and other oppressed sections. But it carries on this day to day work within the framework of the actual, that is, revolutionary perspective of the overthrow of Imperialism.
At the same time, the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India puts forward a programme of transitional demands flowing from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the masses and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the overthrow of Imperialism and the conquest of power by the proletariat. This is of particularly great importance in the present epoch, when every serious demand of the proletariat, and every serious demand of the peasantry and wide strata of the petty bourgeoisie is incapable of realization under imperialism (nor in fact within the limits of capitalist property relations and of the bourgeois state). The present epoch is distinguished not for the fact that it frees the revolutionary party from day to day work, but because, it permits this work to be carried on indissolubly with the actual tasks of the revolution. The essence of the transitional demands is contained in the fact that ever more openly and decisively they will be directed against imperialism and the very bases of the bourgeois regime itself. The task of the transitional programme lies in the systematic mobilization of the masses for the revolution under the leadership of the proletariat.
The supreme task of the Indian proletariat is the conquest of power and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. But, to fulfil this task the proletariat must, as a pre-condition, lead the peasantry and other democratic petty bourgeoisie to the overthrow of British imperialism, the liquidation of landlordsim and the abolition of the Native States. This is the only road in India to the proletarian dictatorship. The struggle for the revolutionary achievement of these democratic tasks can go forward only under the leadership of the proletariat and will necessitate the most resolute struggle against the Indian bourgeoisie and their petty bourgeois agencies in the political movement.
Hence, the Indian situation not only demands that the Indian proletariat advance by all the means within its power its own class struggle against capitalism, imperialist and native alike. It is also imperative that the proletariat should participate actively in the wider national political movement, with the aim of wresting the leadership of the anti-imperialist struggle from the hands of the reactionary native bourgeoisie, and further that it should give its fullest support to the developing peasant struggle against landlordism, thereby laying the foundations of the revolutionary worker-peasant alliance, which is the absolute pre-requisite of the victory of the Indian revolution.
The necessity to participate in the national political movement does not, however, in the least imply a policy of mass affiliation (individual or collective) to the Indian National Congress which, though predominantly petty bourgeois in composition, is completely dominated and led by the Indian bourgeoisie and functions as the servile instrument of its class policies. To regard the Congress as a “National United Front,” or to entertain any illusions whether of capturing the Congress from the bourgeoisie or of successfully exposing its bourgeois leadership while remaining loyal to the Congress, would be fatal to the independence of the proletarian movement and its assumption of political leadership, and would serve only the reactionary interests of the bourgeoisie. The Bolshevik-Leninist Party therefore, denounces the Indian National Congress as the class party of the Indian bourgeoisie, and calls upon the workers to place no trust whatever in the Congress or its leaders. This does not of course absolve Bolshevik-Leninists from the task of doing fraction work (of course, in all cases under strict party discipline) within the Congress, so long as there remain within their folds revolutionary and semi-revolutionary elements who may be won away from these organizations. Nor does the Bolshevik-Leninist Party follow a sectarian policy with regard to such activities of the Congress as are progressive. It will discern the progressive acts of the Congress and support them, but critically and independently, without confounding its organization, programme or banner with the Congress for a moment. “March separately, strike together” – must be the watchword of the policy of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party in relation to all progressive actions under the aegis of the Congress, to every oppositional and revolutionary action undertaken against British Imperialism. At the same time the Bolshevik-Leninist Party must put forward its own slogans, foresee the inevitable betrayals of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois leaders, warn the masses against them, and this gain the confidence of the masses on the basis of their revolutionary experience.
The slogan of Constituent Assembly has been widely accepted by many political organizations in India as the central slogan of the anti-imperialist movement. But this slogan, conceiving of an intermediate democratic stage in the Indian revolution, when a democratically elected parliament will have the power, is illusive and deceptive. It is destined in the later phases of the revolution to be utilized by the bourgeoisie and its agents as a slogan in opposition to and for the sabotaging of the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship in the soviet form. Hence the Bolshevik-Leninist Party cannot under any circumstances give it unqualified support.
However, the slogan of Constituent Assembly, advanced as a fighting slogan to overthrow imperialism, is capable of assuming a progressive character in the early stages of the revolutionary struggle. In such circumstances, the Bolshevik-Leninist Party will lend its critical support to the slogan, not as one capable of objective fulfillment even for a successful revolution, but as a rallying cry in the specific stage of the struggle. At the same time, the Bolshevik-Leninist Party must advance and popularize its own slogan of soviets. In any case Bolshevik-Leninist Party cannot render any support whatsoever to the fraudulent slogan of Constituent Assembly as put forward at present by the Congress. In the mouths of the bourgeoisie this slogan does not connote the overthrow of imperialist rule but becomes a deceptive catchword signifying their evasion of the struggle; for it is advanced as an aim to be realized without a revolutionary victory over imperialism and dispensing with the need for its overthrow.
With the development of the mass political struggle in India since the beginning of the century, British Imperialism has instituted a system of repressive legislation, progressively inaugrating a gendarme regime not less systematic and ruthless than that of Russian Czarism or German Fascism. Since the commencement of the imperialist war repression has been many times intensified. Even those nominal rights previously possessed by the masses have been openly withdrawn, and a naked rule of terror substituted through the Defence of India Act, administered by a bureaucracy discarding every pretence of constitutional government. The press has been gagged by a series of iniquitous Press Acts and a systematic police censorship of all publications. Rights of free speech and assembly have been so curtailed that they are practically non-existent. Radical and revolutionary political parties are compelled to lead an underground existence. Even the formation and functioning of mass organizations, such as trade unions and kisan sabhas, is seriously hampered by innumerable restrictions on their working, by the persecution of their members, and by the frequent illegalization of the organizations themselves. The right-to-strike no longer exists in all “essential war industries,” and elsewhere is so fettered by arbitrary legislation as to be practically non-existent. Thousands of militant mass leaders have been imprisoned on flimsy pretexts or detained without trial. The restriction of individual movement by means of externment and internment orders has become a commonplace. The spearhead of these repressive actions has been directed against the working class and its allies the peasantry, and they have as their special aim the beheading of the mass movement against imperialism.
The widespread hostility towards British Imperialism among all oppressed sections in India, and the fact that in their economic struggles the masses daily collide with the repressive machinery of the government, gives to the struggle, for democratic rights in the pre-revolutionary stage, an ever increasing revolutionary potency. The Bolshevik-Leninist Party must prepare the proletariat to lead the democratic struggle of all oppressed sections with the aim of directing it towards the general assault on British Imperialism. The Bolshevik-Leninist Party therefore advances the following transitional demands:
- Release of All Political Prisoners
- Freedom of Speech, Press and Association
- Repeal of All Repressive Laws
The struggle for democratic rights assumes a special importance in the Native States in view of the fact that the most elementary civil rights have always been openly denied to the masses of the people by the feudal despotism. These Indian States have long lost all semblance of historical justification and are maintained artificially by British Imperialism solely as bastions of support for itself scattered throughout India. Hence every form of feudal tyranny is tolerated and supported by the British in the Native States, and their rulers have been repeatedly defended by British arms against the revolts of the oppressed masses, especially of the exploited peasantry. The party puts forward as a transitional demand the slogan of the COMPLETE DEMOCRATIZATION OF THE NATIVE STATES. The struggle of the masses in the Native States against their rulers will inevitably draw them into the struggle against British Imperialism on which the rulers are utterly and directly dependent. Consequently, it is impossible to view the two struggles in the Indian States and in British India in cross-sections. Furthermore, the fermentation that the Indian struggle produces and has produced in the Native States, only reinforces the closeness and even identity of the two movements.
Two basic afflictions in which are summarized the increasing absurdity of the capitalist system: unemployment and high prices, demand generalized slogans and methods of struggle.
The Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India declares uncompromising war on the politics of the capitalists which, to a considerable degree, like the politics of their agents, the reformists, aims to place the whole burden of militarism, crisis, the disorganization of the monetary system and all other scourges flowing from capitalism’s death agony upon the backs of the toilers. The Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India demands employment and decent living conditions for all.
Against the bounding rise in prices caused by the war, one can fight only under the slogan of a sliding scale of wages. This means that collective agreements should assure an automatic rise in wages in proportion to the increase in prices of consumer goods.
Under the menace of its own disintegration, the proletariat cannot permit the transformation of an increasing section of the workers into chronically unemployed paupers, living off the slops of a crumbling society. The right to employment is the only serious right left to the worker in a society based upon exploitation. This right today is being shorn from him at every step. Against unemployment, “structural” as well as “conjunctural,” the time is ripe to advance along with the slogan of public works, the slogan of a sliding scale of working hours. Trade unions and other mass organizations should bind the workers and the unemployed together in a solidarity of mutual responsibility. On this basis all the work on hand would then be divided among all existing workers in accordance with how the extent of the working week is defined. The average wage of every worker remains the same as it was under the old working week. Wages, under a strictly guaranteed minimum, would follow the movement of prices. It is impossible to accept any other programme for the present catastrophic period.
If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands, inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish. “Realizability” or “unrealizability” are in the given instance a question of the relationship of forces, which can be decided only by the struggle. By means of this struggle, no matter what its immediate practical successes may be, the workers will best come to understand the necessity of liquidating capitalist slavery.
The Bolshevik-Leninists stand in the front-line trenches of all kinds of struggles, even when they involve the modest material interests or democratic rights of the working class. They take active part in mass trade unions for the purpose of strengthening them and raising their spirit of militancy. They fight uncompromisingly against any attempt to subordinate the unions to the bourgeois state and bind the proletariat to “compulsory arbitration” and every other form of police guardianship.
At the same time the Bolshevik-Leninist Party resolutely rejects and condemns trade union fetishism. Trade unions, even the most powerful, embrace no more than 25% of the working class in any capitalist country, and at that predominantly the more skilled and better paid layers. This percentage is even smaller in the colonial conditions of India. For, the inability and unwillingness of the imperialist and Indian bourgeoisie alike to grant concessions has hindered the development of a stable trade union movement, and repression, with which every attempt at independent proletarian organization is met, is a formidable obstacle to the growth of trade unions. The more oppressed majority of the working class is drawn only episodically into the struggle, during a period of exceptional upsurges in the labor movement. During such moments, it is necessary to create organizations, ad hoc, embracing the whole fighting mass: Strike Committees, Factory Committees, and finally, Soviets.
Therefore the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India should always try not only to renew the top leadership of the trade unions, boldly and resolutely in critical moments, advancing new militant leaders in place of routine functionaries and careerists; but also to create in all possible instances, independent militant organizations corresponding more closely to the problems of mass struggle against bourgeois society; not stopping, if necessary, even in the face of a direct break with the conservative apparatus of the trade unions. If it be criminal to turn one’s back to mass organizations for the sake of fostering sectarian fictions, it is no less so to passively tolerate subordination of the revolutionary mass movement to the control of openly reactionary or disguised conservative (“progressive”) bureaucratic cliques. Trade unions are not ends in themselves; they are but means along the road to proletarian revolution.
During a transitional epoch the workers’ movement does not have a systematic and well-balanced but a feverish and explosive character. Slogans as well as organizational forms should be subordinated to the indices of the moment. The leadership should respond sensitively to the initiative of the masses. Sit-down-strikes, the latest phenomena of this kind of initiative, go beyond the limits of “normal” capitalist procedure. Independently of the demands of the strikers, the temporary seizure of factories deals a blow to the idol – capitalist property. Every sit-down-strike poses in a practical manner the question of who is the boss of the factory – the capitalist or the workers?
If the sit-down-strike raises this question episodically, the factory committee gives it organized expression. Elected by all the factory employees, the factory committee immediately creates a counterweight to the will of the administration. The prime significance of the factory committee lies in the fact that it becomes the militant staff for such working class layers as the trade union is usually incapable of moving into action. It is precisely from these more oppressed layers that the most self-sacrificing battalions of the revolution will come.
From the moment that the committee makes its appearance, a factual dual power is established in the factory. By its very essence, it represents the transitional state because it includes in itself two irreconcilable regimes: the capitalist and the proletarian. The fundamental significance of the factory committee is precisely contained in the fact that, they open the doors if not to a direct revolutionary, then to a pre-revolutionary period – between the bourgeois and the proletarian regimes. That the propagation of the factory committee idea is neither premature nor artificial is attested to by the fact that sit-down-strikes have already taken place in India. Waves of this type will be inevitable in the immediate future. It is necessary to begin a campaign on favor of factory committees in order not to be caught unawares.
The socialist programme of expropriation, that is, of political overthrow of the bourgeoisie and liquidation of its economic domination should in no case during the present transitional period hinder us from advancing, when the occasion warrants, the demand for the expropriation of certain key branches of industry vital for national existence or of the most parasitic group of the bourgeoisie.
The difference between these demands and the muddle-headed reformist slogan of “nationalization” lies in the following:
The party actively supports all concrete struggles of the peasantry against exploitation and oppression, including struggles for the reduction of land revenue and rent, reduction of debt and the abolition of feudal dues, forced labor, serfdom etc. It participates in the activities of Kisan Sabhas and all genuine peasant organizations as representatives of the revolutionary proletariat, popularising its own programme in relation to the peasantry, and seeking to lay foundations of the worker-peasant alliance which is the indispensable condition of the victory of the Indian revolution. Above all, it seeks to expose the reactionary role of the Congress and to wean away the peasantry from the influence of the bourgeoisie, pointing out that not one of the fundamental demands of the peasantry will ever be conceded by the bourgeoisie and that it is only with the leadership and assistance of the proletariat standing in opposition to vested interests of all the exploiters, that these demands can be fulfilled. The party seeks to link up each concrete struggle of the peasants with the general political struggle against imperialism – a task rendered easier by the direct role of repression and extortion played by the imperialist bureaucracy. Finally, the party will pay special attention to the interests of the more oppressed and down-trodden sections of the peasantry, and, as these layers increasingly come to consciousness, will help them to formulate and come forward with their own special demands.
In the initial phase of the agrarian upsurge, the slogan of ABOLITION OF LANDLORDISM WITHOUT COMPENSATION is likely to rally behind it the middle peasantry drawing with them considerable numbers of the more oppressed sections of the peasant masses. The party accordingly advances this slogan.
The abolition of landlordism alone, however, will not meet the needs of the lowest and most exploited layers of the peasantry (agricultural laborers and landless peasants). But as the struggle develops, these sections will become increasingly articulate and will come forward with their own demands involving a more thorough-going solution of the agrarian problem. Accordingly, in proportion as the agrarian struggle deepens with the coming into consciousness of these layers, the party increasingly advances the slogan of LAND TO THE TILLERS OF THE SOIL, which connotes a more thorough-going and radical redistribution of the land.
The party puts forward the slogan of LIQUIDATION OF AGRICULTURAL INDEBTEDNESS, which is capable of uniting all sections of the exploited peasantry in the agrarian struggle.
The rank and file of the Indian Army is recruited almost exclusively from the peasantry and increasingly from its more depressed and backward strata. By a policy of carefully segregating the army from the mass of the population and of making invidious distinction between so-called martial and non-martial races, British Imperialism attempts to keep the army immune from the political ferment in the country. The soldiers, however, being mainly peasants in uniform, are naturally sensitive to peasant demands and cannot fail to be affected by an agrarian upsurge in the country. Since the attitude of the soldiers is of decisive importance in every revolution, the Bolshevik-Leninist Party must face the urgent task of widespread revolutionary propaganda (against imperialism and the imperialist war and on the land question) in the Indian Army. It must link up this propaganda with the concrete grievances of the soldiers – the unsatisfactory conditions of service, their despatch for wars abroad, etc. This task, which has been immensely facilitated by the increased accessibility of the soldiers in the prevailing war conditions (the quartering of troops amidst the civilian population, frequent movement of troops, etc.), becomes all the more urgent with the heavy recruitments that are increasingly being made for the purposes of the imperialist war.
However, under the very strict conditions of discipline that obtain in the army, the possibility of carrying on partial struggles is practically non-existent. The vital need is for a broad central slogan which will provide a focal point for all the specific demands of the soldiers, and thus rally them at a time when the repercussions of the class struggle in the country or the lowering of the soldiers’ morale through military defeats is breaking down the discipline of the army. Accordingly, the Bolshevik-Leninist Party, whilst carrying on the widest revolutionary propaganda among the soldiers by all means within its power, advances the transitional slogan of SOLDIERS’ COMMITTEES to put forward all demands of the rank and file and to act on their behalf.
The Bolshevik-Leninist Party recognises that students, particularly in India, where, for the most part they come from all strata of a petty bourgeoisie that is fast heading for pauperization and ruin, are a valuable source of cadres for the revolutionary movement. Nevertheless, the student body is not a homogenous one performing a separate social role, or capable of interfering independently in politics. The Bolshevik-Leninist Party can attach no serious significance to the “independent” mobilization of students for the realization of “specifically student demands,” as the Stalinists and other radicals of various shades are attempting to do. The party’s own aim is to draw students into the revolutionary political movement, and with this aim it works in existing student organizations and participates in the agitation for student demands. Nor is it a question of setting up revolutionary student organizations, but of doing revolutionary propaganda among the students. Further, the existing student organizations offer to a limited extent a platform for political propaganda which can reach wide strata of those engaged in the national political movement. Hence, the Bolshevik-Leninist Party will utilise to the full all opportunities of advancing its own programme on the platform of student organizations – not however, as a “student program” but as that of the revolutionary proletariat.
Factory Committees, as already stated, are elements of dual power inside the factory. Consequently, their existence is possible only under condition of increasing pressure by the masses. This is likewise true of special mass groupings, such as peasants’ committees for the seizure of land, soldiers’ committees, etc. that may arise for struggle, the very appearance of which bears witness to the fact that the class-struggle has overflowed the limits of the traditional mass organizations.
These new organs and centers, however, will soon begin to feel their lack of cohesion and insufficiency. Not one of the transitional demands can be fully met under the conditions of preserving the imperialist regime. At the same time, the deepening of the social crisis, enormously accentuated by the war, will increase not only the sufferings of the masses but also their impatience, persistence and pressure. Millions of toil-worn “little men,” to whom the reformist leaders never gave a thought, will begin to pound insistently on the doors of the workers’ organizations. The unemployed will join the movement. The peasant masses, the soldiers, the oppressed layers of the cities, the women workers, proletarianized layers of the intelligentsia – all of these will seek unity and leadership. As the struggle moves ever more openly in the direction of civil war, and as the fullest resources of the counter-revolutionary terror are mobilized by the government, the prime need will be for the co-ordination and centralization of the vast and increasing forces daily awakening to consciousness and struggle.
Such a form of organization is required as will harmonize, co-ordinate and centralize the different demands and forms of the revolutionary struggle. In marshalling the mass forces during this critical period, the working class must necessarily take the lead, guided by its party in adapting the lessons of its own revolutionary experiences in the European and Chinese arenas to the problems of the Indian revolution. The main form of mass organization for the concrete battles to smash British Imperialism in India will be the Soviets; revolutionary councils of workers, peasants and soldiers delegates, elected on the widest possible franchise of the exploited, subject to immediate recall, and therefore voicing with the least distortion the ever sharpening demands of the masses in the struggle. The soviets will concretize the worker-peasant alliance.
Soviets are not limited to an “a priori” programme. The organization, broadening out together with the movement, is renewed again and again in its womb. All political currents of the proletariat can struggle for the leadership of the proletariat on the basis of the widest democracy. The slogan of SOVIETS therefore crowns the programme of transitional demands.
Soviets can arise only when the mass movement enters an open revolutionary stage. From the first moment of their appearance the soviets, acting as a pivot around which millions of toilers are united in their struggle against the exploiters, become competitors and opponents of local authorities and then of the central government. The soviets initiate a period of dual power in the country.
Dual power in its turn is the culminating point of the transitional period. Two regimes, the dictatorship of the imperialist bourgeoisie and the dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the peasantry, stand irreconcilably opposed to each other. The fate of India depends on the outcome. Should the revolution be defeated, the fascist dictatorship of the imperialist bourgeoisie will follow. In case of victory, the power of the soviets, that is, the dictatorship of the proletariat will be established and the road to the socialist transformation of Indian society will be opened.
With the entry of the struggle into the open revolutionary stage the Bolshevik-Leninist Party calls for:
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