Clemens Dutt

The Indian League for Independence

Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. 11, January 1929, No. 1, pp. 22-28 (2,356 words).
Transcription/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 foundation on an All-India scale of the Indian League for National Independence adds a new body to the already numerous nationalist organisations and groups existing in India, and a significant factor for the course of the struggle between the proletarian and bourgeois elements for the leadership of the fight for national emancipation. Until its session in Madras, at the end of 1927, the Indian National Congress, which claims to represent the central stream of the nationalist movement, had never pronounced its goal to be the complete national independence of India. The aim of national independence, although repeatedly put forward since the war by a small radical group, was never endorsed by the Congress, ostensibly on the ground that it was too dangerous to express openly or that it was not necessary or practicable, but really owing to the influence of the middle-class nationalists who entertained hopes of establishing harmonious co-operation with the British bourgeoisie in the capitalist development of India and the exploitation of the Indian masses.

Events since the war and the collapse of the non-co-operation movement led by Gandhi have had a shattering influence on these hopes, and the influence of the middle-class leaders has been correspondingly undermined. British imperialism has been successful in maintaining its monopoly of exploitation, its whole policy has been directed towards strengthening its own stronghold in most direct opposition to the needs and demands of the Indian bourgeoisie. The appointment of the Simon Commission, in complete disregard of Indian nationalist opinion, with its obvious aim of introducing reforms into the British administration of India which would enable the British bourgeoisie to consolidate their hold over the country, compelled the Indian bourgeois nationalists to adopt a stronger attitude of opposition. The National Congress was influenced in the same direction by the knowledge that the Indian proletariat was growing in strength and was awakening to independent political activity, that a renewed outburst of revolt on the part of the pauperised peasant masses was becoming more and more likely, and that the impoverished intellectuals and petty bourgeois elements were more and more being faced with the alternative of revolutionary struggle or passive submission to economic ruin. Under this pressure, the Indian National Congress at Madras passed a series of semi-revolutionary resolutions, declaring the goal of the Congress to be complete national independence, declaring against assistance for British imperialism in a future war and for support of the International League against imperialism. At the same time, the Nationalist representatives in the Legislature Assembly and in the Provincial Legislative Councils refused to take part in helping the work of the Simon Commission.

The last year, however, has seen a further development and differentiation in the Nationalist Movement, both in the direction of a move to the Right and of a move to the Left. The upper sections of the Indian bourgeoisie became frightened as a result of the rapid development of the working-class and mass movement. Within the last half-year there has taken place a notable modification in their attitude towards the Simon Commission. All the Legislative Councils have now, after all, appointed Committees to sit with and work with the Simon Commission. At the same time an All-Parties’ Conference, representing all sections of the Indian bourgeoisie, including the Liberals and Independents who stand outside and to the Right of the National Congress, has adopted a proposed Constitution for India which is based not on independence but on the granting to India by the British Parliament of so-called Dominion status within the “British Commonwealth of Nations.” That this conference was presided over by Dr. Ansari, the President of the National Congress in 1928, and its constitution drafted by a committee headed by this year’s president, Mr. Motilal Nehru, is eloquent testimony of the make-believe character of the Independence resolution of the National Congress in the eyes of its own leaders.

The proposed constitution, embodied in the Nehru Report, which is supported by these Congress leaders on the plea that it represents the greatest common measure of agreement as to India’s demands among all the sections of the Nationalist Movement, is naturally governed by the need of obtaining the agreement of the most Right-Wing sections. The constitution has been put before the Simon Commission and, in effect, represents a form of co-operation with the latter. It is explicitly a capitalist constitution and its capitalist character was especially emphasised by the adoption by the All-Parties’ Conference of a special resolution inserting a provision in the document that “all titles in private and personal property enjoyed at the establishment of the Commonwealth are hereby guaranteed.” Thereby the supporters of the Nehru Report are committed to a drastic pledge given in order to reassure the big landlords that the Nationalist Movement does not intend to take any steps to deprive them of their property or to divide up their land, and to reassure the British bourgeoisie that their investments and claims to exploitation shall be regarded as a sacred trust by the Indian bourgeoisie.

Under these circumstances of a flagrant abandonment of the Congress declaration on Independence, during a period of growing revolutionisation of the masses, the Left-Wing leaders in the National Congress were compelled to come out more openly in support of the independence slogan. The contrast between the Nehru report and the declared goal of the National Congress led to a raging controversy on the respective merits of “Dominion status” and “complete independence,” which became a first-class debating issue for the nationalist Press and for political meetings. Those who disagreed with the moderation of the All-Parties Conference came out with the proposal to establish an Indian Independence League to press for their point of view in the country at large. Yet it is a remarkable and significant feature of the situation that the sponsors of the League, with few exceptions, were themselves participants in the All-Parties Conference. The League, in fact, has its origin in the statement read at the All-Parties Conference by Jawarlal Nehru, the son of Motilal Nehru and acknowledged leader of the younger radical section in the National Congress, a statement endorsed by the signatures of thirty other Congressmen present. They proclaimed that they were supporting the All-Parties’ Report for the sake of unity without giving up their adherence to the Congress goal of independence in support of which they proposed to form a special organisation.

There was a quick response from all parts of the country. First of all, an organisation was formed in Madras headed by Srinivasa Iyengar, under whose presidency the National Congress had first passed the independence resolution, and who alone, among the prominent leaders had refused to take part in the All-Parties Conference on account of its rejection of independence. Later, after a Nationalist Conference in the Punjab had decided that it would support both independence and Dominion status, and Dr. Ansari, the Congress President, had explained that acceptance of the Nehru Report did not prevent Congressmen from maintaining their own standpoint in favour of independence, Mr. Iyengar has also come round to this accommodating view.

The new League, however, first took definite shape in Bengal, where a group of Congress members, headed by Subash Chandra Bose, ex-deportee under the Bengal Ordinance and Joint Secretary of the National Congress, published a manifesto and provisional programme for the League. The programme was adopted with minor alterations in Bombay and elsewhere. This programme itself expresses in the sharpest and clearest form both the positive and the negative aspects of the new movement and provides a key to the contradictory elements within it. The programme is divided into three sections, headed respectively “economic democracy,” “political democracy” and “social democracy.” Under the second head is the single solitary demand for “complete national independence,” with no further items whatever.

The economic programme is the most important section. It is the most far-reaching in character of any programme yet put forward by a bourgeois nationalist organisation. It has a decidedly socialist tinge. It is lavish in its promises on behalf of the masses. All these things are new in the history of the Indian nationalist movement and reflect the changed conditions of the national struggle. The programme calls for removal of economic inequalities, equitable redistribution of wealth and nationalisation of key industries and transport services. It demands the eight-hour day, unemployment benefit and other labour legislation for the industrial workers and the introduction of a uniform system of land tenure with annulment of agricultural indebtedness and even abolition of landlordism for the peasants. At the same time, the League really champions Indian capitalist interests, as is seen in the revealing proposal that “all disputes between labour and capital management shall be submitted before an impartial board for arbitration with a view to making strikes and lock-outs unnecessary.” Mr. Jawarlal Nehru has himself defended the labour demands as a necessary part of “enlightened capitalism.”

There is no need here to examine the items of the social programme. The programme as a whole is clearly seen to be modelled on the famous tripartite programme of Dr. Sun-Yat-sen with its demands for “nationalism, socialism and democracy.” The socialist tinge of the Independence League largely owes its adoption to the active propaganda of Jawarlal Nehru, who has not only taken every opportunity of stressing that socialism must be one of the aims of the movement, but has also provided the movement with a definite theory of socialist reformism, borrowed from the European social-democratic parties, in relation to the conquest of power. Thus, at the Delhi Political Conference in October, he declared:—

Modern developments of warfare had made organised States terribly powerful. It was impossible to combat the Government by violence. In Europe the new methods of seizing power were based not on violence but on peaceful organisation of workers, peasants and others. That was the only way for India also.

No clearer pronouncement could be required of the essentially non-revolutionary character of the new movement. Jawarlal Nehru, S.C. Bose and the new Left Wing of bourgeois nationalism stand forward not as the representatives of revolutionary socialism but as the champions of reformist social democracy, lavish and exuberant with radical phrase-making but very vague and hesitant when it comes to the means by which their phrases shall be put into practice. It is typical of this attitude that the concrete revolutionary character of the developing mass movement is overlooked and unprovided for. Take, for instance, the developing agrarian revolution, the revolt of the peasant masses against the impossible burdens of feudal, landlord and imperialist oppression. Not only is there no sign that the Independence League is now or will in the future take steps in action to lead the peasants in the struggle, but the fundamental problem of the fight of the peasants against the oppressors is dismissed by the chimerical proposal for the “abolition of landlordism by indemnification.”

The vacillating, petty-bourgeois character of the Independence League as seen, for instance, in its relation to the All-Parties Conference, has been noted above. It is important to notice also its relation to the existing mass movement. First of all, it should be mentioned that the League, which was constituted as an All-India body for the first time in November, 1928, with Mr. Srinivasa Iyengar as President and S.C. Bose and Jawarlal Nehru as joint secretaries, has the support of many prominent Congress workers, but has no mass membership at all. Secondly, it arises at a time when a big strike movement is taking place among Indian workers, when the Indian masses are beginning to enter the arena as an independent political factor and are throwing off their reliance on the leadership of the bourgeois nationalists and reformists, one side of this phenomenon being seen in the growing support given to the new class leadership of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Party. The Workers’ and Peasants’ Party has attempted in action to lead the struggles of the workers and peasants, it has formulated the demands of the masses for economic and political emancipation, it was the first organisation to rally strong popular support for the slogan of complete national independence.

Under these circumstances, it is impossible not to see in the Independence for India League a challenge to the Workers’ and Peasants’ Party, an attempt to regain the ascendancy of the Nationalist bourgeoisie over the masses, which were in danger of escaping from bourgeois influence. It should be noted also that the leaders of the Independence League have never joined or supported the Workers’ and Peasants’ Party, and that such typical leaders as S.C. Bose have played a prominent part in liquidating strikes to the satisfaction of the employers.

Hence, a correct estimate of the new development of the situation in India must recognise not only the intensification of the fight against British imperialism but also the growth of the struggle between the Indian proletariat and the Indian bourgeoisie, a struggle in which the Indian proletariat not only comes into conflict with the Indian bourgeoisie in defence of its class interests, but also fights for hegemony in the national revolution as a whole. The immediate revolutionary tasks which must be accomplished by the Indian masses—the achievement of national emancipation, the destruction of feudalist bondage, the establishment of social and political rights for the workers and peasants—are all tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. There are many stages yet before India can enter upon the socialist revolution. Nevertheless, the present tasks can only be carried out by a movement in which the leading role is played by the proletariat. Petty-bourgeois movements, such as that exemplified by the Independence League, start out with a great display of revolutionary fervour but quickly reveal themselves as tied to the interests of the national bourgeoisie, who will always submit to foreign imperialism when threatened by class revolution of the masses, and when the moment of action comes they collapse like the bubble of revolutionary Gandhism. Their part is played if they help to bring the masses into action. When they begin to hinder the development of revolutionary mass action, they are already a counter-revolutionary force.