Ben Bradley

The Background in India

Source: The Labour Monthly, March 1934, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 173-177
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The acuteness of the long drawn-out world economic crisis of capitalism shook the very foundations of the system, carrying in its wake trade shrinkage and the closing down of factories, and growing ruin in agriculture. The inability of capitalism to run its own affairs without such upheavals is quite obvious, but what is more obvious is the unprecedented increase in the poverty and misery of the masses of toilers particularly in a country like India.

One of the first results of this state of affairs is the large increase in the already huge army of unemployed, the number of textile workers alone at present unemployed in the city of Bombay is round about 80,000. There is not even the question of the Means Test for these unemployed workers, they just face blank starvation. Besides at the same time the capitalists are transferring the burden of this crisis on to the shoulders of the working masses through direct wage-cuts and methods of speeding-up.

In Bombay City during 1933 practically every mill worker had to face a reduction in his wages. The managers and agents of the mills began their attack in January, 1933, and mills were taken separately and the workers’ conditions attacked. This continued throughout the whole of last year. The workers of individual mills put up a brief but determined resistance against these attacks, but in each case they were forced back to work on reduced wages. This was not all, at the same time speeding-up was carried out; the introduction of the three sides and six looms system was forced on the top of lower wages. Thus the workers were made to do more work while unemployment increased. In the Sassoon group of mills the workers were forced to work the three sides six looms on a double shift system, night and day. Yet the position at the end of the year was that out of 76 mills only 50 per cent. of them were working.

What is happening in Bombay City is happening elsewhere: Ahmedabad, Sholapur, Madras, Dhulia, Amalner, Nagpur, Kuria, and so on. In Ahmedabad the workers of the Shorrock Mills came out on strike on December 28th, and those who led the strike were expelled from the Labour Association (Mill Workers’ Union) controlled by M.K. Gandhi for having come out on strike without the sanction of the Union (Gandhi). M.K. Gandhi is at the moment “acting” on behalf of labour on an Arbitration Board on the question of the demand of the millowners of the Bezwada Mills to impose a 25 per cent. wage-cut upon the workers. The majority of the Millowners’ Association of Ahmedabad are National Congress supporters. The Chairman of the Association is a staunch National Congress man and advocate of the use of Swadeshi, which is manufactured in his mills. Mr. Gandhi also advocates the use of Swadeshi because he derives his financial assistance from the millowners. Sheth Chimanlal Parikh, who is representing the Millowners’ Association on this Arbitration Board, is also a wholehearted supporter of the Indian National Congress. Of course, Mr. Gandhi is the Congress, and it is a foregone conclusion what the result of this little discussion on the question of reducing the workers’ wages by 25 per cent. will be. It will not be the first time that Gandhi has advised the workers to accept a reduction in their wages.

The textile workers are not alone; the conditions of all workers in India, as bad as they are, are being still further worsened. Railway workers are being retrenched everywhere as a means for introducing wage-cuts. Retrenchment of municipal workers in Calcutta under a Nationalist Corporation recently led to a strike. The dockworkers in Bombay are also facing attacks upon their conditions. Resistance to the imposition of these new burdens and worsened conditions is met with all the forces of the State, police terror, and goondaism (i.e., beatings-up, manhandling and other strictly “unofficial” but well recognised methods of physical police violence) of the worst type. One such case I witnessed just before I left Bombay, over four thousand workers of the Movarji Goculdas Mills had not been paid their wages for two months—just imagine workers in this country working for two months without being paid their wages! The workers in this mill went on a stay-in-strike on the 27th December last as a protest against this and an attempt to get what was due to them. The millowner immediately called in the police, who charged the workers, including women, with regulation sticks (Lathis), wounding many. Fourteen women workers were taken to hospital. This was how the workers were paid—they were still on strike on the 6th of January, when I left and had not received their wages. Again on the 8th January this year the police opened fire on the strikers of the Sassoon spinning and weaving mill; many workers were injured. These are common occurrences and methods used in India in a frantic attempt to stave off the day of final collapse and to maintain a parasitical system on the basis of exploitation and profit.

About 80 per cent. of the three hundred and fifty odd million population of India consist of peasants. This vast mass of peasantry is everywhere crushed under the ruthless exploitation of the landlord, moneylender and imperialist tax collector; to this is coupled the present position, which make things doubly worse—the ruinous fall in the prices of agricultural, produce. The situation thus produced is one wherein the peasants are utterly unable to pay the rents and taxes, yet in spite of this the rents and taxes are gathered from the peasantry by using most brutal methods reminiscent of feudalism. Sporadic attempts by the peasants in many places (North-West Frontier Provinces, United Provinces, Bengal, &c.) are being made to give organised expression to this intolerable state of affairs by the non-payment of rent and taxes, but these attempts are ruthlessly suppressed with the forces of the State and the agents of the landlords and moneylenders. The result is that the jails are being filled with peasants, who are putting up a heroic stand against starvation and slavery. A typical case is that of the Bhatwaria Riot which took place in 1931, at a time when the Indian National Congress were toying with the idea of a no-rent, no-tax campaign and this is an example of their betrayal. At the present moment an appeal is being conducted in the Allahabad High Court on behalf of 44 peasants of the village of Bhatwaria against the sentences of transportation for life imposed upon each one of them. In June, 1931, the armed agents of the landlords went to this village to collect the rents, the peasants could not pay, the agents then attempted to attack the property of the peasants. The peasants defended their property against the armed agents with the result that a “riot” took place. Some of the peasants were killed, the agents of the landlords were overpowered and they were also killed. The outcome of this was the whole of the village was rounded up and 44 men sentenced to transportation for life.

It is possible at first glance to come to the conclusion that the entire interests of the Indian people are opposed to those of British imperialism. This may be true only in so far as India as a whole is subjected to the economic interests of British imperialism) But in order the better to maintain its hold British imperialism allied itself with the most reactionary elements—the princes, big landlords and moneylenders. It suited British imperialism to make this alliance with this most reactionary and feudal element, it is the policy of British imperialism to keep India as an agrarian appendage. The recent passing in the Legislative Assembly of the Princes Protection Act and the making of Section 121A (Conspiracy) applicable to Indian States shows how far it is prepared to go to cement this alliance. We consider that this group, the princes, big landlords and moneylenders, are the front line of the counter-revolutionary imperialist front in India to-day.

Then we get a group whose interests must he taken note of; this group has been doing most of the shouting, particularly since the war. That is the Indian bourgeoisie, comprised mainly of merchants and industrial capitalists. Whatever opposition this group shows comes from the operation of the policy of British imperialism, which is to subject the entire economic structure of India to the needs and interests of British imperialism; in short, maintaining complete control over the sources of raw material and the market for finished goods, preventing as far as possible any independent development by the control of capital invested in trade, industry and banking. It is this desire of the Indian bourgeoisie for independent development, or at least to obtain a substantial share in the exploitation of the country that produces its nationalist tendencies and apparently oppositional rôle to British imperialism. Its interests, however, are so inter-connected with the big landowners and moneylenders that it cannot, even if it so desired, be consistent in this opposition.

It is from this position that it becomes a counter-revolutionary force sabotaging the revolutionary anti-imperialist struggle. Through its political organ, the Indian National Congress, the Indian bourgeoisie have carried on this counter-revolutionary policy. As I have pointed out the revolutionary upsurge of the Indian masses grew apace from 1928 onwards and to control this movement the Congress placed itself nominally at the head under the reactionary slogans of boycott, khaddar and non-violence, and at certain stages, when forced to it, a call for no-tax campaign. But this taking over of the leadership of the rising revolutionary wave was only to serve the ends of the bourgeoisie and not of the workers and peasants.

In this respect it served two purposes—the Indian bourgeoisie feared the rising revolutionary wave of the masses as much as British imperialism; it was this fear that decided the Congress to place itself at the head of the movement to side-track, localise, disorganise and, finally, betray the revolutionary struggle. At the same time the Indian bourgeoisie felt that while it held the reins in its hands of the rising mass discontent and revolutionary upsurge it would be able to use it as a means for exerting pressure upon British imperialism with a view to making a favourable bargain for itself. Its fear, however, of the rising revolutionary tempo of the masses has always been too great to allow it to make much use of its position, for in spite of the fact that it had the leadership it has time and again withdrawn that leadership when it felt that the masses were about to overstep the limits set by it. (Chaura Chaura, Bardoli, United Provinces no-tax campaign, &c.)It was the fear by the Indian National Congress of the rising peasant movement under the stress of the agrarian crisis, which was deepening in revolutionary character which drove it to call off no-tax Campaign and conclude the Delhi Pact of 1931. It was at this stage that the treacherous rôle of the Congress was once again demonstrated and Mr. Gandhi came out openly as the rent and tax collector of British imperialism and the Indian landlords. Using Mr. Gandhi’s words, he said: “ . . . . they should know that the Congress is a bridge between the people and the Government.” He assured them that the Congressmen on their part will see to it that the Kisans (i.e., peasants) fulfil their obligations to the Zemindars. At the same time he warned the peasants “to reject the doctrine that their holdings are absolutely theirs to the exclusion of Zemindars.”

This has not, and will not stop the peasants from taking action. Jawaharlal Nehru has also been trying to stem the tide with his vague talk of Socialism and Communism. But Gandhi’s opinion of Jawaharlal Nehru, given somewhere about the end of 1933, puts the position clear enough. Mr. Gandhi, while in Madras, gave a press interview and referring to Jawaharlal Nehru’s talk of Communism, he said: “I do not think that he (Nehru) will depart from the fundamental Congress policy without giving ample notice to his colleagues. It is not Jawaharlal’s intention to inflame crowds . . . . It would be a serious loss if the influence of the big hereditary landholder were wholly destroyed.” This is an assurance, if it were necessary, to the landlords that the Congress was looking after their interests. Jawaharlal Nehru has not, to my knowledge, made any statement to the effect that Mr. Gandhi has misrepresented him.

Recently, when a section of the peasantry in the United Provinces began a no-rent campaign, Jawaharlal Nehru, on behalf of the Congress, publicly proclaimed that they were not responsible for these attempts on the part of the peasants to run a no-rent, no-tax campaign.

The long history of continued betrayals of the cause of the working class in their economic struggles by the reformists make it quite clear that the workers must rebuild their militant trade unions. The reformists of all shades must be driven out from their midst. This is being done and militant and mass trade unions are being built in all industrial centres. With the experience of the past six years the political consciousness of the working class has made rapid strides forward. With the continued betrayals of the struggle for freedom from foreign domination the workers and peasants are awakening to the fact that only by their own efforts can they achieve the overthrow of British imperialism.

Such a situation can alone be met by the united mass action of the workers and peasants, under the leadership of the Communist Party. Only by such action can the victory of the masses of exploited workers and peasants be guaranteed against the united forces of the Indian bourgeoisie, landlord, moneylender and British imperialism. The course is clear cut; it is the unconditional overthrow of British imperialism and its Indian allies—keeping in the forefront the banner of the agrarian revolution; and the achievement of National independence and the immediate establishment of a Workers’ and Peasants’ Soviet Republic of India.