Stewart Smith

Book Review

India in Perspective


Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 8, September 1926, No. 9, pp. 573-576 (1,815 words)
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Modern India. By R. Palme Dutt.
Sunshine Publishing House, Bombay, 1926.
Price Rs. 2. 12.


My friend Palme Dutt has at last started the right type of political literature for India. The European reader has hitherto looked in vain to have a proper perspective of Indian political demands and leadership that can intelligently explain the wondrous phenomenon of a country of 320 million people unwillingly submitting to a foreign rule that scarcely maintains 100,000 foreign troops in India. Palme Dutt explains in his book how it is done, and why it has been possible. To make it a complete guide, I should have liked to see some telling statistical tables added as appendix. However, there are sufficient figures quoted by the author in the contents of the book to prove his case.

For forty years my Indian compatriots have struggled for “freedom,” all the time marching in the wrong lane. They were seriously following the advice and teachings of their masters in the hope of thereby discovering a way to defeat and overthrow the masters! It was not any genuine native assemblage of Indians that developed into the Indian National Congress. The entire concept of the first Congress was official and British, though the personnel was Indian. It was Lord Dufferin, the reputed diplomat of Imperial Britain, the Viceroy of India, and the Conqueror of Burmah, who first devised the scheme of a “safety valve” for periodical escapement of anglicised Indian opinion, as political ebullitions of a western type were bound to bubble in the hearts of English educated Indians who were necessary to act as handmaids of British Imperialism in India, where numerically the British were badly handicapped. Lord Dufferin discussed his plan with David Hume who “enjoyed the confidence” of Indian public men, and thus the Indian (?) National Congress was conceived and its first session was held. From time to time other members of Imperial Bureaucracy who “won public confidence,” such as Sir Henry Cotton and Sir William Wedderburn; Mr. Yale (a Calcutta merchant), and Mr. Norton, a Madras barrister, remained for years as guiding heads of the Indian Congress.

All the early Congress resolutions are pitiable attempts to apply the doctrines of Macaulay, Bright or Adam Smith to India in order to uplift her peasantry and teeming millions whose average income per head barely reached three halfpence per day! The Congress took pride in the British National Anthem, every fresh University graduate with a touch of political ambition had a walkover seat in its annual session, as a “delegate” from somewhere, where the people of “somewhere” were never troubled to elect any delegate. The presidential speeches, invariably read out and not delivered, and lasting over two or, three hours with considerable oratorical gifts, were amazing annual performances of attempts at reconciling the assertion of British Rule in India as the hand of Divine Providence for the ultimate uplifting of humanity in the whole world, with a list of grievances arising out of the “satanical” rule of a foreign and unfeeling oppressor.

All the political literature one had of India were these presidential speeches, and all the statistics were only general figures of the country’s wealth and trade abstracted from speeches or publications of Finance Members of the Viceroy’s Government. The advent of Gandhism gave a metaphysical leaven to this “loyal and aristocratic” expression, interspersed with scattered revolutionary phraseology. Even Tilak’s fire had died out after his political contact with Annie Besant and George Lansbury. The Swarajist school for a time promised to shed permanently the philosophy of the Imperialist ruler from the politics of the people, and the advent of the Trade Union Congress movement at last brought to light the statistics that really mattered, viz., the actual earnings of peasants and workers engaged in newly planted industries.

As a reaction the old aristocratic Congress mentality gathered its forces outside the Congress, and curiously enough they have found strong support from members of the British Labour Party. Sir Tejbandur Sapru, Sir Sankaran Nair, Sir Ali Iman, the Rt. Hon. Srinivasva Sastri (who openly formed the, Indian Liberal Party, and set about the old job of giving to India a place in the sun through and within the British Empire as a sine qua non condition) find respect, friendship, and complete co-operation from the leading members of the British Labour Party who interest themselves in Indian matters.

Under fear of isolation, the Swaraj politicians are beginning to retrace their steps. At this juncture, I consider Comrade Dutt’s book as a clarion call, both to British Socialists and to the Indian politicians, and Dutt writes as Dutt alone can write. There are one or two imperfections in the data quoted, but on the whole his little book builds a safe plank between India and the world’s proletarian struggle for mass freedom. It seems strange that one needs to be told that India’s freedom must first mean the freedom of the largest numbers of Indians, viz.: India’s masses, her peasantry and workers, and that freedom essentially should be social and economic and not mere political illusions. Our Indian leaders have several times understood this to be so, but they have a vain dream that once they overthrow the foreign yoke, by some nebulous scheme of Dominion rule or Swaraj within the Empire, they would soon procure mass freedom for the peasants and workers. In the first place they have not realised that any effective overthrow of “foreign yoke” can never be achieved without mass strength behind it, and secondly that if they did succeed, even partially, they too like the “political aristocrats” of all lands will be the rulers over the masses, denying to the masses their social and economic freedom, and anxious to preserve the “Law and Order,” which accepts and respects the rights of property of the few even if that means the many must remain propertyless.

I appeal to my Indian friends who mean well, not to take umbrage at Dutt’s clear and analytical criticism, but to welcome it heartily and sincerely. I should like some Indian political philanthropist to come forward and to order a cheap popular edition of the book under his or her guarantee to the publishers, and to see that a few hundred thousand young Indian students of both sexes get this valuable political textbook. We want political science and not patriotic emotion if we are to free the exploited masses in the oriental world. I hope the Indian Trade Union Congress will get this book translated accurately in the principal vernacular languages, viz.: Urdu, Bengali, Tamil, Mahrathi and Gujrati, and see to it that some educated person makes it his or her business to read and explain the contents of this book to the peasants and workers speaking these different languages. Within two or three years a new mass psychology can be developed in India by this process, and the people of India can be heartened into taking action, where Gandhi failed and Das gave up.

I should also appeal to my British Socialist and Parliamentary friends to cease from misleading my poor countrymen in India, and from giving to the British public a false interpretation of Socialistic aims. Genuinely and absolutely equal rights for Indians within the British Empire, in a capitalist world, are impossible, for if this miracle did happen, the Indians by their overwhelming numbers will soon become the dominant factor in the Empire on the basis of capitalist Democracy. The maintenance of British rule in India must inevitably mean an impossibility of any serious disarmament programme for Britain, and consequently for the rest of Europe who must remain in dread of the total imperial forces of the world-wide British Empire. The Empire in India must mean continuity of Tory and Liberal policy of interference in Egypt, Turkey, Palestine, Persia, Afghanistan, North West Frontier of India, Nepal, Bhutan, and China. Ramsay MacDonald realised it—and quite rightly so—as soon as he had his first interview with His Majesty about the possibility of his taking office as the Prime Minister of the Emperor of India.

Several British Socialists—including our venerable friend George Lansbury—are out for a wonderful scheme for Home Rule for India within the Empire, with the military and foreign policy in the hands of Britain. How will this work out? Indian capitalist politicians will prohibit by law or by unworkable duties, imports of Japanese textiles, for instance, or exports of Indian cotton to Japan or of jute or oil seeds to Scotland, America, Germany, and Italy. These foreign countries will not only complain to Britain, but may adopt retaliatory economic measures detrimental to the workers of Britain. Is Britain to go to war with these foreign powers, or is the Viceroy to lead his army to the Council room in India, disperse the Indian Councillors, establish a military dictatorship, and reverse the above laws?

The Indian Councillors, in order to help Indian shareholders and directors, may create obstacles—and they are not foolish enough not to use their powers thus—in the way British shipping companies trading in Indian cargoes, British coal companies owning mines in Bengal, British textile companies owning jute or cotton mills in India, or with Taylor Brothers taking away gold from India. Is the Viceroy then to protect British merchants by unconstitutionally vetoing all the Indian Bills, or by using his military power?

Comrade Lansbury’s Home Rule Bill for India introduced in Parliament gives power to the villagers themselves to construct their water-works, water-ways, roads, hospitals, and establish universal education, mothers’ pensions, old age pensions, compensations, &c., but all the income that the Viceroy will be compelled to hand over for the above purposes will be about 12,000,000 for about 280,000,000 people, or about 10d. per head, per year.

Is it not perfectly clear that no genuine Socialist can support Imperialism in any form? A false plea is sometimes put forward that Imperialism is also a mild and limited form of Internationalism. This is untrue, it is really prohibitive of fair and even-handed Internationalism. British Imperialism in India must mean a different attitude by Indians towards Britain from what it would be towards France, or America, or China or Russia. If this is not so, why plead for a centralised imperial foreign policy?

Let us hope Comrade Dutt’s book will be made available for readers in Great Britain, America, and Europe, and will be the forerunner of a new political literature on British Imperialism, and on the genuine economic and social rights to freedom of India’s peasants and workers as opposed to those of war-lords, land-lords, and industrial magnates and merchant princes or other princes. I again beg of all readers of THE LABOUR MONTHLY to receive Palm Dutt’s book with a warm welcome, without peevishness against its outspokenness as a critic.

S. S.