Tony Cliff

Conflict in India


Workers International News, Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 27–32.
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The Labour Government leaders make out that the Cabinet mission to India roved their will to give freedom to that country. This is not the case. The Cripps mission in 1942 was not an indication that Churchill’s government was in favour of the liquidation of the Empire. Quite the contrary: at that time the Japanese danger forced the British government to attempt a new means of strengthening the Empire through an alliance with the Indian Congress, the representative of the Indian bourgeoisie. The failure of Cripps’s mission was to a large extent a result of the fact that the Indian bourgeoisie was not convinced that Britain would win the war and was ready if needs be to became the junior partner of Japanese imperialism instead of British.

The British Government is today compelled once again to try and build a strong alliance with the Indian bourgeoisie as, on the one hand, Britain came out of the war much weaker than the USA which threatens to capture the markets of the British Empire, and, on the other hand, the Indian bourgeoisie is relatively much stronger than before. So that in an alliance of British with Indian capitalism, the relative weight of the Indian partners must necessarily be greater than it was heretofore. This makes the Indian bourgeoisie capable of striking a much harder bargain.

The end of the war bore witness to tremendous mass strikes in India. For the first time in the history of India the working class showed itself to be to a large extent politically independent of the Congress. While in 1942 the workers carried out a political strike in answer to the call of the Congress leaders to struggle (a strike the leaders themselves betrayed), today the Indian workers carry out political strikes on their own account.

The Indian National Army trials, the Netaji birthday demonstrations, and, more important than all, the solidarity strike of the workers with the naval ratings, all showed clearly to the Congress leaders that they must hurry to find support in imperialism against the masses. The same mass movements also drive imperialism to come to terms with the Indian National Congress in order to find a more popular support for its regime.



Imperialism does nor intend to rely on the Indian bourgeoisie alone

British imperialism does not intend to do away with those powers on which it has until now supported itself. The occupation army will, continue to encamp on Indian soil: nor will imperialism give up its key positions in the police and secret service.

Furthermore imperialism has so formulated the long term plans and bound, them up with so many reservations that the Interim Government has turned out to be nothing more than a Viceroy’s Executive Council with a changed membership. Lord Addison. Dominion Secretary, could justifiably say: “The powers and duties of the Viceroy will remain as before.”

Another guarantee of British rule is given by the Princes’ States. According to the plan of the Cabinet Mission, these Princes are to have 93 representatives in the Constituent Assembly, i.e. about 25 per cent of all the delegates. They will not be elected by the 100 million inhabitants of these States, but will be appointed by their autocratic rulers.

Further testimony to the reactionary character of the Constituent Assembly – which is British imperialism’s safeguard – is given by the fact that it is not directly nor universally elected. It is elected by the Provincial Legislatures which, on their part, were elected by only that 11 per cent of the population which pays a certain minimum of taxes.

The Cabinet Mission added a further powerful factor to prop up British rule, in the communal electorate. Till now, separate communal electorates have existed for territorial representation in the first ballot, but once representatives were elected, they functioned jointly. Moreover, in the second ballot to the Provincial Legislative Councils, Hindus could till now vote for Moslems, and Moslems for Hindus. This principle was upheld by the Cripps mission. The present Cabinet Mission plan, however, divides each legislature into two absolutely separate groups in both ballots, so that, while formerly there were possibilities of unity between Moslems and Hindus in the second ballot, and there were common electorates even in the first ballot in some cases (the labour seats, Chambers of Commerce, Universities, etc.) now communalism rules supreme.

British imperialism guarantees its rule in yet another way: by the stipulation that the Provinces of India are to be divided into three big groups on communal lines. The “A” group will be a Sub-Federation of all the provinces which contain mainly Hindus. The “B” group will contain Hindus and Sikhs but the Moslems will have a slight majority (19 out of 36 members). The “C” group will be similar in its composition to B group, with a small Moslem majority (15 out of 30 members). Now, according to the British Mission plan, any regulation or law of major communal importance will have to have the agreement of all three groups, as well as a majority vote in each of the two main religious communities. Such a scheme obviously provides the best basis, not for communal peace, but for, the deepest disagreement and communal strife.

Above all these restrictive regulations is the stipulation that no decision of the Constituent Assembly will be valid until there is a treaty between the Constituent Assembly and the British Government. This shows quite clearly what sort of independence the British Government is ready to give to India.

One thing in the relation of British imperialism with India becomes increasingly clear that today, with the rising class struggle of the workers and peasants in India, the main weapon of imperialist rule cannot be the occupation army or even the Princes, but must be to keep India divided and engaged in communal conflicts. Let us examine this question.



The character of the communal clashes

Despite Jinnah’s declarations that the Moslems are a nation, and despite the Stalinist position of a few years ago to the same effect, all facts go to prove that the Moslems are not a nation. There is no special Moslem economic body different in character to that of the Hindus; nor have the Moslems a common language different from that of their Hindu neighbours. Insofar as their culture varies from that of the Hindus, it is only the result of its backwardness, of its highly religious content.

If so, how is it that today, in the twentieth century, when the death knell of Indian feudalism is sounding, clashes between two religious communities assume such proportions?

The Moslem League has gained a following only during the last decade. Before the world crisis, which affected India severely, the Moslem League was a negligible factor. Even Jinnah was at that time a member of the Congress, and found it necessary to declare in the Legislative Assembly: “I am a nationalist first, a nationalist second, and a nationalist last. I once more appeal to this House, whether you are a Moslem or a Hindu, for God’s sake do not import the discussion of communal matters into this House, and degrade this Assembly which we desire should become a real National Parliament.” At that time communal clashes were very limited and only a few goondahs (mercenary assassins) participated in them, the mass of the people being indifferent to the religious conflicts.

The great world crisis brought with it a change. It drove millions of workers, peasants and urban petty bourgeoisie into activity, and, a revolutionary party not existing, and the rotten policy of the Stalinist party turning them away, into the arms of Congress. Peasant leagues were constituted and sought support from Congress in a struggle against the big landowners. But that Congress will net lead any real struggle against the large landowners is evident from the capitalist social character of its leadership. Many economic ties connect the Indian capitalists with the landowners, and the fear of any deep social change makes them hostile to an anti-feudal revolution. Ghandi therefore, in no uncertain terms spoke against expropriation of the landowners without compensation. The Moslem League took advantage of Congress antipathy to agrarian reform to incite the Moslems against the Hindus in the, two Provinces where the majority of Moslems are concentrated. Bengal and Punjab.

Let us take some examples of this. In 1937, the peasant party of Bengal, the Krishak Proja Samity, approached the Indian Congress with a proposal to build a coalition government in Bengal. The condition for this was that the Congress agree to carry out certain agrarian reforms. Congress disagreed.

The’ peasants in Bengal are in the main Moslems, while the landowners are in the main Hindus. And so the Moslem League took this opportunity of giving demagogical promises of agrarian reforms, thus succeeding in drawing the Krishak Proja Samity into a coalition with it. Needless to say, the reforms were not carried out, as the Moslem League leaders, in the main feudal lords, knew very well that this reform would affect not only the Hindu landowners, but also the Moslem. A similar process took place in Punjab, where the usurers are mainly Hindus, while the majority of the poor peasants are Moslems. Although there are also millions of Hindu peasant in Punjab (as well as in Bengal) the discussion about decreasing the interest on the agricultural debts received a communal coloration. In. Bengal Congress opposes agrarian reform as an opposition party, and they follow the same policy in Punjab, taking even more open responsibility for it, as they are here part of the coalition, government. The only place where the Indian Congress declares itself in favour of agrarian reforms, is in the United Provinces, Bihar and Madras, where the landowners are to a large extent Moslem, while the peasants are Hindu. Nothing, however, is done to implement the declarations. One Congress premier, for instance, declared that he would wipe out the zamindars within five days of. taking office. Five months have passed, and not a thing has been done in this direction. The Born bay government also pledged itself to abolish the zamindar system, but all its activities in this direction have boiled down to the abolition of grazing fees, the construction of a few roads to the villages, the drilling of some wells, and a few other minor reforms.

The fact that, while the working class has not yet become an important independent power, the Indian Congress is against any real agrarian reforms, driving the rising peasantry of Bengal and Punjab into their arms, plays right into the hands of the Moslem League demagogues. It may be said that the turning point in the development of the Moslem League, when it began to gain mass support, came with the establishment of Provincial Ministries in 1937, which compelled Congress to show its real face as regards the interests of the peasants. In 1937, before the Congress Provincial ministries were in power, the Moslem League only secured 4.6[%] of the total Moslem vote in the elections –321,772 out of the total of 7,319,445. And although it was only in 1936 that Jinnah came tack to India, and began his active participation in the Moslem League leadership, because of the awakening of the peasantry and the lack of a revolutionary leadership, he succeeded in a short time in finding a numerous following.

The world crisis also drove millions of urban petty bourgeoisie to despair. Imperialist rule very much limited the possibilities of the new intelligentsia’s finding work. The result was unemployment among the intelligentsia and very low salaries. A clerk did not receive more than £3 a month. The competition among clerks and among members of the free professions received a communal colouring owing to the fact that those who formerly filled these positions were mainly Hindus, while the newcomers were mainly Moslems. This was a result of the policy of imperialism which prevented the Moslems from receiving an education for a long time, and limited the opportunities for work by restricting the economic development of the country.



Who is responsible for the communal clashes?

The power mainly responsible for communal clashes is British imperialism. It is she, who is responsible for the preservation of feudalism, which is the social background for the influence of religion on the masses. It is she who is responsible for the introduction about a century ago and preservation of the zamindar system, whereby permanent large landowners were put to lord over big estates in place of the former system of tax farmers. The British rulers put Hindus to rule over Moslem peasants and vice versa, thus sowing the seeds of communal discord. It is British imperialism, which is responsible for the competition of the clerks and members of the free professions, which receives a, communal colouring. And it is she who is responsible for the communal electoral system, for the sub-Federation organisation, etc.

And so, to the platitude of the Labour Government that they want to give independence, but the Indians are not capable of ruling themselves, and will cut one another’s throats in communal clashes, we must answer that the occupation army has not yet left India, that the pillars of imperialist rule – the Princes, zamindars etc. – are still in the saddle; and without their eradication the independence of India can only be a fiction.

The task of leading India’s independence of course cannot be carried out by the feudalist Moslem League or by the capitalist Indian Congress.



Congress plays in the hands of the Moslem League.

We have already shown how the attitude of Congress towards agrarian reforms in Bengal and Punjab helped the Moslem League to gain mass influence, The 1943 famine, in which three million Bengalese died of starvation, and for which the Moslem League was directly responsible as they constituted the Bengalese Ministry; would have put an end to this influence, had not the Hindu landowners of Bengal who; were also criminally responsible for the famine, received the protection of Congress.

Congress had another excellent opportunity of undermining the influence of the Moslem League in the struggle of the masses in the States against their Princes. Kashmir has recently come to the forefront in this struggle. There the Moslems constitute over three-quarters of the Population. The Maharajah is a Hindu who receives open support from the Moslem League leader, Jinnah. The leader of the Kashmir mass movement appealed to Congress to intervene on their behalf. It was an excellent opportunity to prove to the Moslem masses the reactionary, anti-popular character of Jinnah and his clique. But. the Congress is afraid of mass struggle. Sardar Patel, one of the most important Congress leaders, stated at the General Council of the All-India States’ People’s Conference in Delhi in June, 1946: “We do not want to start any movement in the States”; and the Madras Congress government did not stop at words, but arrested many who demonstrated in support of the Kashmir people.

The Moslem League is a feudal agent of British imperialism. Congress, in partnership with British imperialism, wrestles for better conditions for Indian capitalism. It may be envious of the influence of the Moslem League, but it cannot undermine it. While the mass workers’ strike at the end of last year and beginning of this, together with the relative strengthening of Indian capitalism during the war as against British, increased the weight of Congress relatively to the Moslem League and British imperialism, the communal clashes, by strengthening the position of the feudal Moslem leadership, can bring a little shift in the triangle of powers – imperialism, the Indian bourgeoisie and feudalism.

If the British Cabinet Mission of six months ago was more condescending towards Congress than the Moslem League, the relation of the British Government to Nehru and Jinnah when they came to London, reflected the relative strengthening of the Moslem League through the communal riots. But British imperialism must be very careful not to press Congress too hard, as it can go over to direct action against imperialism, which, however inconsistently the Indian bourgeoisie behave in such action, can open the door to the intervention of the workers and peasants. The threat of mass action is Congress’s strongest and weakest card in its wresting for concessions from British imperialism.



The Indian Stalinists

During the Stalin-Churchill honeymoon that lasted throughout the War, the Indian Stalinists were openly against the struggle for the independence of India, and they flirted with the Moslem League leadership. Their leaders discovered that there is a Moslem nation and that the Moslem League represented its struggle for liberation. They nursed the programme of Pakistan while declaring that the mass strikes of the workers and general upheaval of August 1942 was a fifth column machination of the Japanese. With the deterioration of the relations between the Stalinist bureaucracy and British imperialism, the Indian Stalinists began to chant a new song. Incapable of leading an independent class struggle, they shifted their loyalty from the Moslem League leadership to the Indian Congress. At the beginning they were afraid to make this shift direct, particularly as their members had been expelled from Congress, because of their betrayal of the August 1942 anti-imperialist struggle. They therefore began to speak of the necessity for “Congress-League Unity”. (As if the unity of reactionary feudalists and reactionary capitalists can benefit the masses in any way.) But this was only a stage in the complete swing over from the Moslem League to Congress. On 7th July, the Indian Stalinist leader, P.C. Josh, wrote that it is “Only when the Congress puts its case on an entirely just basis that the Muslim masses will see through the tactics of their own reactionary leadership in relying upon the British, and the Congress will be able to get their support over the heads of their own leaders, if they resist.” Pakistan was forgotten; Congress-Moslem League unity was forgotten. What remained was hope in the Congress leadership. When the Congress leaders showed clearly that their face was not towards struggle against imperialism but towards alliance with it, the Indian Stalinists began to fawn upon the “left” wing of Congress, the Congress Socialist Party.



The immediate reaction to the communal massacre

What was the reaction of the different parties in India to the communal riots in Calcutta?

The Moslem League called for Pakistan and meanwhile sat with folded arms while the slaughter continued. Three days of bloodshed passed before the Government of Bengal, composed of members of the Moslem League took steps to bring about order. One would have thought no police force existed.

Congress demanded the intervention of the British Army and the use of force, despite the fact that this would strengthen imperialism’s hold over the country, and would serve as a big propaganda card in the hands of the “freedom-loving” Jinnah. The British army came, not in answer to Congress’s call, but when it suited it to come – after three days of slaughter and the deaths of thousands. It is also significant that the British Governor of Bengal, who understood, as did everyone else, the great possibility of the outbreak of communal riots on the Moslem League’s Direct Action Day on 16th August chose just this time to be away on leave.

Neither the Moslem League, nor the Stalinists put forward the one and only means of smashing goondahism: the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ militia.



The way out

The recent communal clashes in Bengal, which had repercussions elsewhere (especially in neighbouring Bihar), testify first and foremost to the shakiness of the positions of the feudalists, which drives them to employ the most extreme means of preserving themselves. The communal clashes thus serve not as a sign of the vitality of the old class regime, but of its senility. At the same time the wide support for the Moslem League demonstrates the awakening of the masses of peasants and urban petty bourgeoisie to the class struggle, at a time when the only possible revolutionary leader of this struggle lacks maturity.

The logic of the objective conditions points in an indubitable way to the only means eliminating the roots of communal conflicts – the revolutionary class struggle, the conscious organisation and direction of the urban and rural masses.

Only the class struggle of the workers, Hindu and Moslem alike, can build real unity and overcome all communal differences. The agrarian revolution will unite all the poor peasants against all the landowners. In the tremendous territory of India, with its variegated population , the building of unity must be based on the broadest local activity. The only form of organisation which unites a high degree of centralisation with active, broad decentralisation is the Soviet, which alone can deal a death blow to separatist movements. The organisation of the masses in Soviets is a precondition for the victory of the agrarian revolution, for the victory over foreign and local capitalism. The struggle against British imperialism and its agents (the Princes, feudalists and capitalists) must be concentrated around the slogan of a real Constituent Assembly elected by the whole people directly, and based on the masses organised in Soviets and armed in their militia.

The British workers must understand that Attlee’s freedom for India is only a faked freedom. They must struggle for the evacuation of the British army from India; for an end to the economic control of British imperialism over the key industries of the country; for the liquidation of the British Civil Service; for an end to British Government support for the Princes and feudal leaders, and its opposition to universal franchise.

In India the struggle to maintain the unity of the country and to destroy the tendencies of communal disruption falls on the shoulders of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party which is struggling to unite the broadest section of the toiling masses for complete independence from imperialism and for a new social order which holds no place for the capitalists and landowners.

Our comrades have proved capable of building the nucleus of the Revolutionary Party under the terrible conditions of imperialist oppression and war. They will be capable of the further tasks which history has thrust upon them.

Last updated on 18 June 2021