From Workers’ International News, Vol.6 No.9, September-October 1946, p.272-274.
Originally from Spark, the Indian Trotskyist Journal.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Constituent Assembly conceived by the Cabinet Mission has created a crop of misunderstanding. No one need doubt that the Cabinet Mission’s India plan concedes what can be called the ghost, or at least the phantom, of the real constituent. If it deserves its name, it must needs be a sovereign body, which feature, without a doubt, the Cabinet Mission’s Constituent wholly lacks. Its no stretch of the imagination can one treat it as an instrument of the transfer of power.
The authors of the constitutional document are altogether forgetful of the all-important attribute of a Constituent Assembly in its correct signification. This can be ascribed to the cussedness of the Cabinet Mission rather than to their ignorance. Even the Dominion Constitutions have exemplified the workings of the Constituent Assemblies in a manner fundamentally different from the one offered to India.
The Dominion Constituents have enjoyed a measure of sovereignty, which, it may be assumed, is not quite unknown to the Cabinet Ministers. But strictly speaking even such Assemblies as came into being in the various British dependencies, did not conform to the pattern of classic Constituents. In so far as the Dominion autonomy receives its final seal of sanction from Acts of British Parliament, it is an important qualification of the attribute of sovereignty. If an Act of Parliament is needed to ratify the Constitutions of the Dominions overseas, it is not difficult to see where the real sovereignty lies.
Besides, it lies within Parliament revoke or rescind any such constitution, as it has done at least in one instance. The statute of Westminster recognises Dominion autonomy. But it must not be forgotten that Parliament possesses the power to abrogate it at will.
Yet, the Indian variant of the Constituent is more circumscribed than those of the Dominions which at least devised the Constitutions without extraneous assistance. The powers in the case of the Dominions were much less fettered, for which reasons are not far to seek. In every case, it was the result of a trial of strength between the colonies and the Mother Country.
The British North American Act (1867) was the outcome of a civil war and as such, was wrested from unwilling hands. It was not a prize won for good behaviour. Nor was it obtained on the sufferance of the British. Without violent disturbance Canada could never have won what it did, even though it did not amount to full sovereignty. But the Constituent which comes as a gift from the British Cabinet Mission is of necessary ineffective inasmuch as it cannot possess a vestige of sovereignty.
The Union of South Africa is really the product of the Boer War, which, of course, the South Africans lost. But they won the Peace. The result is that the Autonomy of the Union, as it exists today, is the upshot of struggle, without which nothing has been achieved, even by the Colonies, who have so much in common with the Mother Country. Even the limited sovereignty of the Union Constituent could not have been won without violent efforts.
In so far as the transfer of power in the Dominions is contingent on parliamentary sanction, the constitution making bodies did not have sovereign rights and powers. In so far as they had such powers, however limited, this was the result of bitter struggle. Constitutions in every such case were forged from below although ratified from above, and such ratification as came, was in a considerable measure the outcome of mass upsurge.
The Commonwealth of Australia was the creation of the British Parliamentary Act of 1900 under the stress of civil disorder which in no time would have reached the stage of civil war. It was this danger which accounts for the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia, and as such the sovereignty it possessed was the fruit of an impending civil war.
The Irish Free State was established after a long struggle from 1916 to 1921. The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922 had transferred power to an Irish Constituent even nullified very many terms of the Treaty. The Constituent Assembly in Ireland was subsequent to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and as such it possessed sovereign rights not enjoyed by other Dominion Constituents. In fact, the Irish Constituent made the Anglo-Irish Treaty a dead letter. The transference of power was effected by the Treaty to the Irish Constituent. But in the Dominions the Constitutions were framed before the transfer of power had taken place, and depended for their validity on the sanction of parliament.
The Cabinet Mission in India decrees a Constituent from above without any reference to the people. Any Constitution which is framed can be nullified by Treaty, whereas in Ireland the Constituent nullified the Treaty. Moreover, the Constituent has not been a rallying cry for the masses of the people. It has never been on the order of the day. It is not the result of a trial of strength or violent struggle between opposing forces struggling for mastery. It does not possess sovereign powers, because the Treaty that follows is the most decisive thing. This has no analogy to the Dominion Constitutions, for the simple reason that it can at will be set at naught by the Treaty stipulations, backed by an army of occupation in India.
The Constituent is hopelessly unreal. It is not in fulfilment of an urge of the people. It is virtually decided over their heads. It has never been an issue. It has not even been advanced as is slogan to the masses. The heroic struggle of the masses in other countries centred round the Constituent. But the people of India have so long steered clear of the Constituent. It has a very academic value so far as India is concerned.
In the Great French Revolution of 1789, the Constituent Assembly was a part of the heroic struggle of the masses. It had not merely sovereign rights but it ushered in the French Republic. It was the result of a victorious and successful revolution and as such enjoyed rights which were unfettered. It is a mockery and a delusion to present the Cabinet plan as involving anything which even remotely approximates to the classic Constituent of France.
In Russia, the Constituent was a rallying cry for the masses on the morrow of one revolution and on the eve of another. It was dissolved because it was out-dated by the revolution sail replaced by full-blooded democratic organs of power. The revolutionists supported it so long as it was a progressive slogan, but, by the time the convocation of the constituent had taken place it had become reactionary and counter-revolutionary through and through. It had to be liquidated in the interest of the revolution.
The Constituent Assembly envisaged by the Cabinet Mission resembles the Russian only in its name. It is singularly impotent and singularly ineffective. It is a side-show, utterly irrelevant to the question of independence, which comes, if at all, by virtue of the Treaty between the Union “Constituent Assemble” and the United Kingdom.
It is a strange phenomenon. It is an ingenious invention. It has no analogy to any Constituent Assembly known to history. It can only frame a paper constitution, which will remain a scrap of paper. It is a device to cloak the real imperialist designs and intention of our rulers. It is novel and unique in history, in so far as it is calculates to perpetuate imperialist, exploitation rather than end it.
The Constituent Assembly of the conception of the Cabinet Mission is absurd on the very face of it. There is nothing more deceitful in so far as it appropriates a name- of course, only a name and nothing more – that has summoned millions to heroic self sacrifice. But all the silence of the interested parties will not obscure the fact that it is a poor caricature of the Constituent in other lands. It will not be taken seriously by anyone except a camp follower of the imperialists.
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