Clemens Dutt

Notes of the Month*


Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. 12, June 1930, No. 6, pp. 323-332 (3,912 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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India Ablaze—India, and China—Labour Government Butcher—Labour Party Hypocrisy—Deep-rooted Crisis—Salt Swamp—Gandhi’s Arrest—Gapon and Gandhi—“Mob Rule”—A Workers’ and Peasants’ Revolution—“Lynch Pin” of Empire—Second International—I.L.P. Role—“Hands Off India”

The events of the last two months in India are a gigantic demonstration of the working out of the system of British imperialism. They lay bare the shattering effects of the exploiting colonial regime, they expose the naked reality of force and violence by which that regime is maintained, they point incontrovertibly to the intensifying revolutionary crisis which is being created, they prove to all that the soil of India is in very truth beginning to burn under the feet of her British overlords. What has taken place is strongly reminiscent of Russia under the Tsardom in 1905. While the autocracy talks of preserving “law and order,” of the vast benefits of British administration and of the vista of peaceful progress it opens up, its actions speak a very different language. We see, on the one hand, wholesale massacres taking place, the application of martial law, daily shootings and floggings, imprisonments by thousands and, on the other hand, enormous mass demonstrations, troops refusing to fire on unarmed crowds, Peshawar in the hands of the insurgents for a whole fortnight, revolutionary forces taking control of the situation in Sholapur, local insurrections in Chittagong and elsewhere and the beginnings of peasant revolts all over the country.

Many things are still hid by the thick veil of the censorship. It will be remembered that when the Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place at Amritsar in 1919, the very fact of its occurrence was officially concealed for nearly six months. So now, also, it can confidently be stated that there is much happening behind the scenes of which we are not yet allowed to know. Nor has the movement yet reached its height. One thing, however, is clear. India is following the same path as China in being drawn into the mass revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of foreign imperialism. What is taking place in India gives the lie to the fable of the “dumb millions,” “entirely without understanding or need of political philosophy,” as Lord Rothermere benevolently asserts, who refuse to be moved from their placid contentment with the British Raj. It is neither the work of a handful of seditious intellectuals and agitators, as the British Junkers pathetically believe, nor is it the triumph of soul-force and non-resistance looked for by Gandhi and his professed followers. The masses in India, as in China, are being drawn into the class struggle. The essential characters of the revolution exhibit the same forms in both countries. In India, as in China, the role of the native bourgeoisie is that of a paralysing counter-revolutionary force. In India, as in China, the workers come more and more to the head of the mass movement, exhibiting the greatest energy, making the greatest sacrifices (already in India it is safe to say that the majority of those who have been shot down are workers) and showing the greatest potentialities for developing the struggle for national independence and leading it to success. It is highly significant that at this moment the mass movement in China, under the leadership of the Chinese working class, is again coming to the fore. India and China together comprise nearly half the population of the world. It is of decisive importance for the world, therefore, that their struggles are seen to be, not blind anarchic revolts or bourgeois triumphs, but essential integral parts of the world struggle against capitalism, against bourgeois class rule and for the victory of the proletarian revolution.

Against this mass movement in India the MacDonald Labour Government is employing all the weapons of armed dictatorship. There is no talk of Government with the consent of the governed among the British residents in India or in Labour Party circles in England. Such a mockery would be too blatant in the present moment of bloody and merciless suppression. The Labour Party has taken over the “responsibilities of Empire,” and it has to show itself fit to exercise them. Already it has had some practice in Palestine and elsewhere. It can now come before its colleagues in the Second International and boast of a record not to be outdone by any Noske or Zörgiebel. The Labour Government has launched a reign of terror of which the Russian Tsardom might have been envious. There is not even a Duma to raise a protest. The Bengal Ordinance for imprisonment without trial is once more in full swing. The leading organs of the Nationalist Press have been shut down. Aeroplanes, tanks, armoured cars, machine guns and troops take first place in civil administration. The number of those shot down, killed or wounded runs into thousands. The number of arrests is too great to count. Already the jails are overflowing and concentration camps surrounded by electrified barbed wire have to be used as substitutes. The favourite Tsarist sport of flogging is in full swing. Rumours of “military excesses” are strenuously denied. All these things find little mention in the pages of the election programme, “Labour and the Nation,” but they stand out now as the prime characteristic of Labour administration.

The spokesmen of the Labour Party, whether in the Press or from the platform, do not condemn these things. It is admitted that they are unfortunate, but it is agreed that they are inevitable. Irwin and Benn “deserve the sympathy and encouragement of us all,” as Mr. Lansbury piously remarks. India (which is spoken of as a classless entity, just as the Labour Party says “we scored a success at the Hague,” when it means British capitalism scored a success) is considered to have brought these measures on herself by her refusal to wait and trust in the promise of self-government some day. The Daily Herald May 14) says nothing of shootings, but it says “India is impatient and suspicious,” although “the Irwin appeal is progressive in outlook and wise in tone,” and it asks the Indian political leaders to wait patiently for the Round Table Conference. It is not the terror which is to be deplored, but the intransigence of the Indian leaders. Every step of policy may be directed to strengthening the stranglehold of imperialism, every deed and action may be undertaken at the dictate of finance-capitalist interests, troops, guns, ammunition may be poured into India to carry on the good work of pacification, but reliance must still be placed in the altruistic desire to liberate India. Nor has the Labour Party any monopoly of this altruism. The Manchester Guardian (May 5) declares:—

The average sensible man has read the signs of the times correctly, and his desire is to wash his hands of India as soon as he conveniently can.

Mr. Brailsford, in the New Leader (May 9), says:—

It is only a question of time. The record is closed, all that remains is to make the transition creditable to ourselves, promising to India and peaceful for us both.

The stress, presumably, is to be laid on the word “promise.” The reality is nothing; the desire, the intention, the promise is everything. If Indians can be got to continue to believe that self-government is just round the corner, then the chief aim of a Labour Government has been served. Just as at home, so in India, the Labour Government has to carry out the dirty work of capitalism and, at the same time, get the masses to acquiesce and submit by the pretence that socialist measures will follow.

In the present situation, however, all the juggling with the Simon Commission and the Round Table Conference will not assist. The Simon Report, in any case, however loudly it will be trumpeted when it appears, is already dead, as is evident from the fact that hope is placed not on it but on the results of a Round Table Conference of feudal princes and bourgeois leaders. But even a bargain with a section of the latter will not overcome the present deep-rooted crisis which has its basis in the general world economic crisis. This crisis hits the Asiatic colonial countries like India, which are mainly producers of raw materials, with especial severity. During the past two years prices of raw materials have been steadily falling, owing to overproduction in the circumstances of the world market, and the effect of the American crisis has been greatly to intensify this fall. The masses of peasants and producers of jute, tea, rubber, oil seeds and other crops are thereby more and more reduced to the extreme limit of poverty. Their buying power shrinks more and more, and as Indian industry produces mainly for the internal market it also experiences a prolonged and intensifying depression. At the same time, notably in the case of textiles, it is subject to competition from British and Japanese industry, which increases its difficulties. The peasants find themselves in a hopeless situation, the workers are subjected to wage reductions, rationalisation and unemployment (for example, 20,000 unemployed in the Bombay cotton industry and an even greater number in the Calcutta jute industry), the Indian petty-bourgeoisie are almost equally badly off; and the Indian industrial bourgeoisie themselves suffer from the chronic depression as well as from the whole trend of British finance-capital policy. All the materials are accumulated for a revolutionary crisis. It is a crisis extending through the length and breadth of the country. It embraces both the exploiters as well as the exploited. It stirs up hundreds and thousands previously apathetic and throws them into the political struggle against imperialism. When events take place such as those at Peshawar, where a whole town passes out of British hands for a period of weeks, it is clear that an actual revolutionary situation is created.

The most outstanding fact about the development of this struggle is that such a revolutionary situation was never intended or desired by the existing leadership of the Indian Nationalist Movement. The Indian National Congress leaders, headed by Gandhi, representing the profoundly dissatisfied Indian bourgeoisie, are not part and parcel of the vast mass agitation now shaking the country, however much it may appear that they are the natural leaders and instigators of the present revolt. The whole of the recent events are supposed to have arisen out of the campaign against the salt tax. But when Gandhi raised his signal for the attack on the salt marshes, it was a calculated manoeuvre to lead the masses into the swamp, to create a relatively harmless channel for the irresistible demand for action among the insurgent masses and to prevent the movement taking forms which would immediately carry it beyond the control of the Congress. Gandhi, himself, never disguised his attitude. He frankly states that the aim of his non-violence movement is “to impede the progress of the violent revolutionary.” It throws light on the doctrine of non-violence that at the beginning of the world war he wrote to the Viceroy:—

If I could make my countrymen retrace their steps I would make them withdraw all the Congress resolutions and not whisper Home Rule or Responsible Government during the pendency of the war. I would have India give all her able-bodied men to the Empire; by this very act it would become the most favoured partner in the British Empire.

Gandhi’s slogan of passive resistance was adopted by the Indian National Congress, and his leadership made absolute, as a means to disorganise and disarm the mass movement in the face of British terrorism and violence.

The British authorities gave Gandhi all facilities not only for the preparation of his campaign but also for the execution of it. Throughout April, Gandhi tried to keep attention concentrated on his salt march, but event after event showed that the masses were not to be diverted. The strike movement began to spread throughout the country. Street fighting took place in Calcutta, followed by the insurrection in Chittagong. Then came the dramatic events at Peshawar. It was clear that Gandhi had ceased to occupy the centre of the picture, his counter-revolutionary activity was being exposed before the mass of workers and peasants. It was at this juncture that the British Government stepped in, so as to give him the halo of martyrdom and to preserve his damaged authority as leader, with the intention of using him later as a figurehead in negotiations. This strategy has been eagerly followed by the other Congress leaders. Gandhi’s various successors, as titular heads of the salt campaign, have made themselves ludicrous by the way in which they have revealed that their sole idea of leadership is to get a comfortable “Class A” sentence of imprisonment which will absolve them from any further responsibility. The passionate courting of arrest by these leaders is definitely a means of avoiding the struggle.

Nevertheless, all the manoeuvres of the leaders of the Indian National Congress have failed to prevent large scale mass actions from taking place. It is of great significance that these actions have taken place without the sanction and in spite of the express disapproval of the Congress heads. The Congress programme was strictly confined to a passive resistance movement against the salt tax alone; an agitation which could be treated by British officialdom and the Press as a rather ponderous joke. But this tone of condescending amusement began to change to one of stern rebuke when it became clear that, as they viewed it, the Mahatma was unable to restrain his unruly followers. What was actually happening was that the workers and peasants were not and could never be supporters of Gandhi’s suicidal doctrines. They simply used the salt agitation as the starting point for big mass demonstrations against the oppression of foreign imperialism. Petty bourgeois supporters of the Indian National Congress cannot understand how the Congress can be regarded as a counter-revolutionary organisation when the gigantic, struggles now unfolding follow immediately on the Congress agitation. Actually, it is precisely this—the launching of a great movement which is then deliberately not led but disorganised, paralysed and driven to defeat—that is the essence of counter-revolution. Is Father Gapon (in his own way, almost another Gandhi) to be considered a leader of the revolution in Russia because he marched the workers to the massacre of Bloody Sunday? The surest way to defeat a mass movement is to head it in order to behead it, as Gandhi showed in 1921, and the General Council of the British T.U.C. demonstrated in the General Strike in 1926.

The movement in India now, however, is far wider and deeper than in 1921, and this is expressed in dramatic fashion by the way in which it has refused to be cramped and bound within the forms prescribed by the Congress ordinances. The astounding and significant characteristic of the phenomena presented by the rapidly developing Indian revolution is the variety of forms which the popular movement has assumed. The Gandhist agitation was exposed and passed by from the very beginning. The attempts at violent suppression led quickly to large scale conflicts, barricades in Calcutta, shootings in dozens of cities, fraternisation with the troops and even seizure of control in both Karachi and Sholapur. Peasant movements sprang into activity in a variety of forms. According to the hallowed term always used by the bourgeoisie on such occasions, the “mob” began to get out of hand, the last stage being reached when “mob rule” replaces law and order. As The Times correspondent says (May 14), in describing the events in Sholapur:—

. . . . Even the Congress leaders had lost control over the mob which was seeking to establish a regime of its own.

The Congress called for a passive “hartal” or stoppage of business as mourning for Gandhi’s arrest, and the mill workers in Sholapur responded by making the first attempts at a revolutionary seizure of power.

The significance of this is enormous for the future of the struggle. It is a portent of the corning Soviet revolution in India. The Congress leaders are pushed on one side. The revolutionary rank and file of the Congress members and supporters join hands with the revolutionary workers in a struggle of a quite different character to that contemplated by the apostles of non-violence. The working class, which has already greatly strengthened its ranks and learnt valuable lessons in the experiences of the strike movement, has everywhere shown itself to be the most active, determined and far-sighted force in the revolutionary camp. From all sides come reports of workers with red flags, hammer and sickle emblems and red uniforms, taking the lead, repudiating Gandhism and rallying the masses for the international working-class struggle against imperialism. The “red shirts” among the peasants of the North-West Frontier, and the reports of peasant actions elsewhere, show that the peasants also are being drawn into the struggle under socialist leadership. Throughout India, the sharpening of the struggle carries with it a struggle of the Indian proletariat for the leading role in the revolution. This is not to say that the workers already have succeeded in taking the leadership. The depth of their class consciousness and the strength of their organisation is not yet sufficient for that. Nor is the National Congress finally exposed in the eyes of the masses as a counter-revolutionary force. But the historical character of the Indian revolution is already laid bare. The living facts of experience have demonstrated that only the leadership of the proletariat can achieve the emancipation of the country from the yoke of imperialism, carry through the agrarian revolution and prepare the way for the socialist revolution. In the course of the struggle itself, the masses of workers and peasants are schooling their ranks and becoming steeled and prepared for the decisive battles ahead.

The age-long tyranny of British rule in India is acutely menaced. Much more than this, the whole system of British imperialism itself is threatened. The essence of the struggle in India is not over “Dominion Status” or the British monopoly of the Civil Service. The struggle is against the vast system of finance-capital exploitation which converts the population into ruined and starving wage-slaves and peasant paupers, bars all economic, social and cultural advance and exacts a steadily accumulating toll of profit and tribute. The destruction of this system of British imperialism in India strikes a mortal blow at its powers of oppression and exploitation elsewhere. It is in this sense that Lord Rothermere truly says, “India is the lynch-pin of the British Empire . . . . if we lose India, the Empire must collapse.” But his attempt to involve the British working class in the interests of British imperialism is singularly unfortunate. He asks:—

Do electors here at home yet realise that without our Indian trade it would be utterly impossible for the dole and pension services of this country to be maintained?

He wants to suggest that the exploitation of India is carried on for the benefit of British workers. But, in the face of two million unemployed, ruthless wage-cutting, undermined standards and increasing poverty he dare not point to the enviable lot of British workers in general as an example of the blessings of imperialism. So he falls back on doles and pensions. It is an unfortunate reminder, for it has long been notorious that a large part of the tribute from India does go for doles and pensions, though not for the workers, but for the capitalist class. Did not Macaulay half a century ago describe the British administration of India as “a gigantic system of outdoor relief for the upper classes.” In the heyday of imperialism there was, too, a definite “aristocracy” of Labour which could be maintained, bribed and corrupted out of the profits of colonial plunder, but that day is over.

The British workers to-day gain nothing by the bloodstained rule of imperialism. The class that oppresses the colonial masses preys on them also and uses the domination of the colonial peoples as a buttress for its power and a lever for their enslavement. British workers have nothing in common with the Sassoons, Melchetts, Rothermeres and the rest of the capitalists and imperialists with their hangers-on in this country. Among those hangers-on and counter-revolutionary forces, the organisation of the Second International takes the first place. The corrupted reformist section from the working class which directly profits by participation in Empire exploitation has dwindled in numbers, but has become more and more solidly united in defence of its privileged position with representatives of imperialist interests from outside the ranks of the working class. It has developed as a bureaucracy of the Labour Party and trade union leadership, closely linked with the employers and the capitalist state, the apt instrument of capitalist violence against the workers at home and abroad. It forms the core of the Second International.

The most radical elements in the Second International are equally committed to support of imperialism with the most notorious social democrats and cabinet ministers in that body. The representatives of the “Left” section in Britain, in the Independent Labour Party, indulge in half-hearted remonstrances and polite expressions of disapproval against the policy of the Labour Government, but never cease to give it their support. At the India debate in the House of Commons on May 26 there were some revealing speeches. The following is a specimen from the speech of Mr. W. J. Brown:—

I venture to suggest that we should regard it as a cardinal feature of British policy to carry Gandhi with us, for if we do not, we have to face the alternative to Gandhi, and that is organised violence and revolutionary effort.... The policy which the Rt. Hon. Gentleman [Wedgwood Benn] is pursuing ... is not a bad policy, it is a mistimed policy. (Hansard, May 26, 1930.)

Such language needs no comment or elucidation. It breathes the true spirit of the Second International, the spirit of counter-revolutionary manoeuvre.

Against imperialism and its open or concealed instruments and defenders, the class-conscious workers of Great Britain will join issue knowing that in defending the Indian mass struggle they are defending the interests of the international working class. For the events in India signalise the mobilisation for action of the enormous reserves of the proletarian revolution. In alliance with the fighting working class in Britain, these forces signify the death knell of imperialism. Our task in Britain is to see that this unity and solidarity is based not on words but deeds. The Labour Government has to use ever greater and more murderous means to keep the Indian masses in subjection. More and more troops, aeroplanes; tanks, guns and ammunition are being exported, greater and more hideous massacres and brutalities are being prepared. In the present crisis, the way forward for British workers lies through support of the Indian revolution. We must build a nation-wide struggle and set up everywhere “Hands off India” Committees, not merely to stop the sending of guns and the present terror, but for the withdrawal of the whole army of occupation, for support of Indian national independence and the complete liberation of India and for direct assistance to the Indian workers and peasants in their revolutionary struggle.




*  Owing to illness, Comrade R.P.D. has been unable to write “Notes of the Month.”