R. Palme Dutt & Ben Bradley

Anti-Imperialist People’s Front in India

Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 18, March 1936, No. 3, pp. 149-160 (5,176 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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The Indian national struggle is to-day at a critical point. British Imperialism has succeeded in imposing its constitution of open subjection in the face of the opposition of the entire Indian nation. The first stage of the struggle against it has met with defeat. For the moment there is confusion in the national camp as to the path forward. At the same time the continuously worsening situation and sharpening struggle of the masses of workers and peasants calls ever more loudly for organisation and leadership.

If we look at the world situation we see that all over the world the anti-imperialist struggle is gathering strength and advancing. In Egypt the united mass struggle is exercising powerful pressure on British Imperialism. In China the popular forces of resistance to partition and for national unity and liberation are gathering around the central core of Soviet China, consisting of at least sixty millions who have already thrown off the imperialist yoke. In Abyssinia the entire people is fighting for their freedom with arms in hand and driving back the foreign invader, and the popular forces in all countries are supporting their struggle. In South America the People’s Anti-Imperialist Front is making great advances.

What of the situation in India? (Since the abandonment of mass civil disobedience we see a confusion of forces, and no powerful united movement of resistance to British Imperialism) which rules with more triumphant reaction than ever. Some voices are raised to advocate co-operation in working the new constitution. Others advocate retreat from the political field to concentrate on village industries or on the removal of caste disabilities. Gandhi has proclaimed his retirement from politics. The National Congress, apart from the electoral field, has given up for the time the attempt to direct the struggle, and even in the electoral field is sharply divided on the future policy, to accept office or not to accept office.

The peasants and workers, suffering under ever heavier economic distress, find themselves without united and centralised leadership in their sporadic struggles. Over the past ten years we have witnessed tremendous strike waves and economic unrest, hundreds of thousands of textile workers, railwaymen, jute workers and dockers carrying on insistent strike struggles with heroic determination against wage cuts and worsened conditions. Among the peasantry, the hardest hit section of the population, their inability to meet the demands of the landlord, money lender and collector, results in evictions, strikes and clashes with the armed forces of the government. Alongside this there is terrible mass unemployment seriously affecting not only the workers and peasants, but also the middle class.

How can we transform this situation? How can we unite and mobilise a powerful movement of resistance to British Imperialism and for the needs of the masses? This is the key problem of the Indian situation.

The Indian National Congress will shortly be meeting in Lucknow. The representatives of the main body of the Indian national struggle will have to consider the problems of the path forward. What shall be the programme at the coming elections? What shall be the policy of the national representatives who are elected? What shall be the future line of direction of the national struggle to defeat imperialism? The left wing elements are pressing for a line of irreconcilable struggle against imperialism, for an advance of the programme to reflect the growing influence of socialist ideas, and for the organisation of the workers and peasants as the decisive practical task. The right wing elements are making gestures for unity with the Liberals and other elements outside the Congress, who have abstained from participation in the common struggle and stand for co-operation with imperialism. The discussion will be sharp. The decisions will be of far-reaching significance.

It is at this stage that the present proposals are put forward for the consideration of all who, whether inside or outside the Congress, are concerned for the advance of Indian national liberation.

The First Need—Unity

Every Indian patriot will recognise that the first need for the successful advance of the Indian national struggle, the key need of the present situation, is unity of all the anti-imperialist forces in the common struggle. This is the indispensable condition for the successful fight against the existing and ever-sharpening reaction and oppression.

But what is Unity? Talk of Unity, of the United Front, is to-day on the lips of all. But many different proposals are put forward in its name.

Thus some, as in the recent speeches of Babu Rajendra Prasad, late President of Congress, urge unity with moderate or right wing elements at present outside the Congress, such as the Liberals, the friends and allies of the British rulers, whose programme is one of co-operation with imperialism and entry into office in order to assist the slave constitution to function successfully. Naturally, the Liberals from their point of view, as shown in the recent speech of V.S. Srinivasa Sastri at Madras, heartily welcome such proposals of unity, provided they may maintain their programme of service to imperialism since they have no mass following themselves and only so may hope to win a basis to enter office and carry out their programme.

But will this strengthen the anti-imperialist forces? While it is evident that all elements, including from among the Liberals, who are prepared to break with co-operation with imperialism and accept the programme of the national struggle, are welcome to the common front, this can only be on condition of acceptance of irreconcilable struggle against imperialism for complete independence (as already laid down in the Congress programme by the Lahore decisions). It is obvious that a so-called “unity” with the friends of the British, achieved by surrendering the struggle against imperialism, could only weaken the united front against imperialism and not strengthen it.

The Anti-Imperialist People’s Front

From this it follows that Unity cannot be regarded as something abstract, but can only be unity on the basis of the anti-imperialist struggle.

Much as we may desire to see unity of the whole Indian people in the struggle against foreign rule, we have to recognise that there cannot be an abstract “unity” of the entire Indian population, 200 per cent. all sections and classes, against British Imperialism. Some sections have their interest bound up with imperialism, e.g., the princes, landlords, moneylenders, reactionary religious and political elements which live on exploiting communal differences, elements among the merchants and wealthy classes who favour co-operation with imperialism, etc. The cunning British rulers have known how to follow the old maxim “Divide and rule” and build up their dominion on elements of support within the population; and in consequence, in estimating the forces of the national struggle, we have to take into account the realities of the class structure of the population under the conditions of imperialism.

But there can be unity of the overwhelming majority of the population against imperialism, i.e., of all the popular masses who suffer under imperialist rule, and of all the elements from other classes who are prepared to join in the common struggle for national liberation.

What is the necessary basis for such unity of all the anti-imperialist forces, such as can unite all the forces of the National Congress, the trade unions, the peasants’ organisations, the youth organisations, etc on a common platform in a mighty common front?

It is clear that the essential minimum basis for such a grouping is (1) a line of consistent struggle against imperialism, and against the existing slave constitution, for the complete independence of India; (2) active struggle for the vital needs of the toiling masses.

This is the unity of the Indian people we want, the United Anti-Imperialist People’s Front for the struggle against imperialism.

The rôle of the National Congress in Realising Unity

At this point the question will be asked: what is the relation of the National Congress to the Anti-Imperialist People’s Front? Is not the National Congress, as many of its leaders claim, already the united front of the Indian people in the national struggle?

The National Congress has undoubtedly achieved a gigantic task in uniting wide forces of the Indian people for the national struggle, and remains to-day the principal existing mass organisation of many divers elements seeking national liberation. Nothing should be allowed to weaken the degree of unity that has been achieved through the National Congress, and the proposals that are here put forward are only intended to endeavour to find means to assist and extend that unity to a still wider front.

We on the left have many times criticised sharply the existing leadership and tactics of the National Congress. We have found many decisions and policies, such as the calling-off of mass civil disobedience in 1922, at the moment when it was ready to enter on its greatest strength, the uncertain voice on the aim of independence, the wavering in the relations to imperialism, the siding with the landlords against the peasants, the Delhi Pact, the co-operation in the Round Table Conference, the Poona calling-off of the struggle in 1934, disastrous to the true interests of the national struggle and equivalent to surrender to imperialism. We have traced these decisions and policies to the existing dominant bourgeois leadership, whose interests often conflict with the interests of the masses and with the interests of the national struggle. These issues, of the utmost importance for the future, need to be discussed and fought out. But this criticism against particular policies is in no sense intended as a criticism against the masses in the Congress. Our opposition to a particular leadership or to particular policies is only intended to assist the mass army of the national struggle represented by the Congress and to assist and strengthen the national struggle.

The National Congress can play a great part and a foremost part in the work of realising the Anti-Imperialist People’s Front. It is even possible that the National Congress by the further transformation of its organisation and programme, may become the form of realisation of the Anti-Imperialist People’s Front; for it is the reality that matters, not the name.

But it is necessary to recognise that the National Congress, as it exists at present, is not yet the united front of the Indian people in the national struggle. Its constitution still leaves out the broadest sections of the masses. Its programme does not yet express with full clearness the programme of the national struggle. Its leadership cannot yet be recognised as the leadership of the national struggle. It does not at present draw out and guide mass activity, but rather acts as a brake upon it.

What is needed, without impairing the degree of unity that has been achieved through the National Congress, is to strengthen and extend this unity to a broader front and to develop to a new stage the organisation and leadership of the mass struggle against imperialism.

Draw in the Masses

The National Congress is at present based, not on the union of all elements supporting the national struggle, but on a restrictive individual membership, with certain limitations of franchise and of a special ideology or “creed,” which prevents it from embracing the broadest front of all who support the national struggle.

The mass organisations of the workers and peasants, the trade unions and peasants’ unions and all similar collective mass organisations, constituting the most important forces of the national struggle are at present outside the National Congress. Only when all these forces are combined, the mass organisations of the workers and peasants together with the National Congress, whether in a united front agreement or by the collective affiliation of these organisations to the Congress, will we have achieved a broad united national front capable of developing as a real Anti-Imperialist People’s Front and drawing behind it the overwhelming majority of the population, the workers, the peasants and the middle classes in a single army of the national struggle. Within such a bloc the working class can increasingly realise its rôle of vanguard, to lead to victory the Indian revolution.

The first aim should therefore be to establish a united front of the National Congress with all the existing mass organisations of the trade unions, peasants’ unions, youth associations or other anti-imperialist mass organisations, in a broad Anti-Imperialist People’s Front on the basis of the struggle against imperialism and its constitution and for organising the struggle of the masses for their immediate demands.

At the same time we should seek to amend the constitution of the National Congress in such a way as to permit of the collective affiliation with delegate representation, of the trade unions, peasants’ unions, youth organisations, etc. This collective affiliation should be carried out not only on an All-India scale (All-India Trades Union Congress to the National Congress), but equally in the provinces and on a district and local scale the whole way through, thus bringing the National Congress into direct and continuous association with the masses. This collective affiliation is important, not only for the immediately existing mass organisations, but for the whole network of trade unions and peasants’ unions gradually embracing wider and wider sections of the masses, which Congress should devote its most active efforts to assist in building up as the strongest pillars of the national struggle.

The possibility of such collective affiliation is illustrated, not only, by the examples of the European Labour Parties, but still more closely by the example of the old national-revolutionary Kuomintang (before the betrayal by Chiang Kai Shek) at the height of its strength when it grouped, along with individual political members, trade unions, peasants’ organisations and the Communist Party, and on this basis swept forward from strength to strength, proving the most powerful and victorious weapon up to then devised for the colonial struggle against imperialism.

While it may take a necessary process of time to carry through the campaign and introduce collective affiliation into the constitution of the Congress, no time should be lost in already setting up on a local, district, provincial, and if possible All-India scale, joint bodies of the Congress Committees, Trade Unions, peasant unions, youth associations, Congress Socialist groups and other groups and anti-imperialist organisations, uniting for the purposes of combining the campaign against imperialism in the Anti-Imperialist People’s Front.

Actually united front bodies have been already set up in localities—not permanent but temporary bodies, which show the possibilities—in places like Bombay, Calcutta and elsewhere. United front demonstrations and meetings were held in Bombay in February last year against the new slave constitution; these and similar actions were supported by Trade Unionists, Congress Socialists, Congress-men, Communists, etc. These actions of course were only the very first signs, but they show the urge for, and possibilities of, the Anti-Imperialist People’s Front.

Democratise the Constitution of the Congress

In order that the Congress shall really become based on the masses, it is not sufficient merely in a formal fashion to draw the mass organisations into its structure; it is necessary to elicit the initiative and responsibility of the masses in the direction and policy of the Congress, so that the policy shall really become governed from below.

The existing working of the Congress machinery cannot be regarded as democratic. In practice a very small handful of leaders hold absolute control. In particular, the Working Committee, which has the greatest power and takes the most important executive decisions, is not an elected body, and cannot be regarded as representative of the sections of opinion in the rank and file of the Congress. Similarly, in the provinces am localities the degree of control from below is very weak.

An exhaustive overhauling of the constitution is necessary in order it bring it into accord with modern democratic conceptions of a popular party, and to ensure, not only the forms of democracy, but that these shall be realised in the practical working—i.e., widening of facilities for raising issues and putting forward resolutions from the membership prior circulation of agenda with opportunities for discussion, mandating of delegates, etc., active political life and discussion in all the local organisations, electing from below of all committees and officers, etc.

Centralised direction is essential for the purposes of the struggle, but this centralised direction must be on the principles, not of personal dictatorship, but of democratic centralism, i.e., elected from below and responsible to the representatives of the lower organs.

A Clear Programme of Anti-Imperialist Struggle

Then again much requires to be done to establish and ensure universal acceptance of a clear and unambiguous programme of anti-imperialist struggle both in the National Congress and for the whole Anti-Imperialist People’s Front.

At present, despite the decisions of the Lahore Congress on the aim of independence, there is still much confusion even on the central aim. Definitions of the meaning of “Purna Swaraj” are as thick as blackberries on a bush, and cover the most contradictory notions. The latest definition by the Wardha meeting of the Working Committee in September, 1934 (“includes unfettered control over the army and other defence forces, external affairs, fiscal and commercial matters, and financial and economic policy”) goes back on the goal of independence and returns to the pre-Lahore aim of Dominion Status.

It is essential to establish in unmistakable terms the aim of complete independence of India as the unchangeable aim of the Indian national struggle, and therewith the rejection of all compromise and negotiation with imperialism for half measures, co-operation in working the constitution, etc.

Further, it is essential to link up the programme of the fight for independence with the immediate political demands of the struggle against imperialism and with the immediate demands of the workers and peasants for their vital needs.

The details of such a programme could be worked out in common by representatives of all the organisations concerned. Thus for example, such a programme might include:

(1) The aim of complete independence for India.

(2) Freedom of speech, press, organisation, assembly, strikes and picketing.

(3) Repeal of all exceptional and repressive laws, ordinances and anti-labour laws (Criminal Amendment Act, Press Act, etc.).

(4) Release of all political prisoners, detenus and internees.

(5) Against reductions of wages and dismissals of workers; for an adequate minimum wage and 8-hour day; for 50 per cent. reduction in rents and against the seizure of peasant land for debt by imperialists, native princes, zemindars and moneylenders.

The particular immediate demands of the struggle could be worked out and varied according to the locality and the particular conditions and stage.

A central rallying slogan for the whole movement could be provided by the demand for a Constituent Assembly; the conditions under which this demand could be usefully taken up and made the centre of agitation and propaganda are considered later in the present article. A platform of this type requires to be established as the common platform of the Anti-Imperialist People’s Front.

Similarly, the constitution and platform of the Congress requires to be worked out anew in the light of this, laying down in simple and clear form the aim of complete independence, the line of irreconcilable struggle against imperialism and the fight for the needs of the workers and peasants. Such a platform can unite all sincere elements of the national struggle, while excluding only those elements which seek to co-operate with imperialism.

The Tactics of Mass Struggle

A similar clearing is necessary with regard to the basic tactics of the Congress and of the national struggle.

The existing ideology of “non-violence,” which is still made a compulsory part of the Congress creed, is to-day a survival which is more and more visibly at variance with the realities of the struggle and less and less corresponds to the outlook of large sections of the national movement. Many prominent members of the Congress, who have formally to subscribe to this dogma as the condition of their participation in its mass activities, to-day privately declare their disbelief in it. This is not a healthy situation. While many sections may still be under the influence of the theories of “non-violence,” to make this a dogma compulsory on all sections is to place an obstacle in the way of the unity of the national front. In fact the experience of the nearly two decades since the war has abundantly shown that the conception of “non-violence” has been used, not merely in opposition to the fruitless policies of individual terrorism or sporadic outbreaks of a minority, but to shackle and hold in all effective mass activity and the development along the lines of the class struggle of the most powerful weapons against imperialism or mass resistance to imperialist violence, and thus leaving free play for the violence of imperialism, has been a dangerous and paralysing influence on the advance of the national struggle and the principal cause of the relative stagnation and failure of advance in India, despite the enormous sacrifices made, compared with other colonial countries. China and Abyssinia have shown how a people fights for its freedom against the imperialist enemy. In Egypt to-day, the higher degree of aggressive mass activity is reflected in the far greater readiness of British Imperialism to offer concessions. It is essential that the Indian national movement should free itself from the paralysing conceptions of passive “non-violence” if it is to defeat its enemy. A sharp, ideological struggle needs to be conducted on this question, but a struggle in the ideological field by way of ceaseless explaining and winning over. This issue should not be allowed to split the national front.

The Congress creed in consequence needs revision in accordance with the real conditions of the struggle. The dogma of “non-violence” should be omitted. The entire emphasis should be placed on the development of the mass struggle, on the work of organisation of the workers and peasants as the primary task in the field of organisation, on the active taking up of the immediate demands of the workers and peasants for their vital needs, and the linking of this struggle with the political anti-imperialist struggle.

Consolidation of the Left Wing

In order to realise the Anti-Imperialist People’s Front and to carry through these urgently necessary changes in the constitution, organisation, policy and work of the National Congress, it is essential that all left wing elements in the Congress should fight in unison on a common platform for these vital needs.

In the past there has been much dispersion of effort, division and mutual sniping between the left wing forces, thus playing into the hands of the domination of the right wing leadership. While it is necessary and desirable that the differences of political outlook and conception which exist between the different groupings should be thoroughly discussed and cleared in comradely discussion, this should not stand in the way of the fullest co-operation and common working on all the issues on which agreement can be reached, both within the Congress and in the immediate daily struggle.

Congress Socialists, Trade Unionists, Communists and Left Congressmen should all be able to unite on the essentials of a minimum programme of anti-imperialist struggle for complete independence of organisation of the masses and development of mass struggle, and of the fight for changes in the Congress constitution, policy, organisation and leadership to forward these aims. The Congress Socialist Party can play an especially important part in this as the grouping of all the radical elements in the existing Congress. It is of the greatest importance that every effort should be made to clarify questions of programme and tactics in the Congress Socialist Party.

It is in this way that the first stage of the Anti-Imperialist People’s Front could be built up already in the common fight, stressing particularly the local, district and provincial basis.

At the same time it is essential to recognise that the task of consolidation of the left wing forces renders more necessary and responsible than ever the rôle and the activity of the Communists in this process, since they have the most responsible rôle to play in ensuring the political clearness of the fight, in pressing forward the drive to unity in action, and guiding the aims of the movement towards the goal of political and social liberation.

Through the consolidation of the left wing forces the first stage of the Anti-Imperialist People’s Front can be built up already in the common fight, particular stress being laid in the early stages upon its development on a local and district basis.

The Anti-Imperialist Front in the Elections

The question of the elections is of cardinal importance for the anti-imperialist front.

On the one hand, it is essential that the clear line of the anti-imperialist front, the line of consistent struggle for complete independence, against all co-operation with imperialism and its constitution, and for the demands of the masses, should be challengingly voiced at the elections, and that the outlook of these vast sections of the national movement must not be stifled.

On the other hand, it is essential that unity of the national front should be maintained against the imperialists and their allies, and there should be no splitting of the vote for the benefit of the reactionary right wing elements outside the Congress who stand for co-operation with imperialism.

The best means to realise this requires the most earnest consideration of all supporters of the national struggle.

We would suggest that the anti-imperialist bloc, constituted on its programme of complete independence, no co-operation with imperialism, and active struggle for the demands of the masses, should seek, agreement with the existing leadership of the Congress (within which the Congress Socialists, grouping the radical elements, represent already a substantial minority of roughly one-third of the forces and a potential majority), to run its candidates directly on this programme in a certain number of seats (or to be able to include them as a group with their specific programme within the Congress panel), as recognised candidates of the united national front, co-operating with the Congress candidates in other constituencies who run on the official programme. The details of this arrangement will need careful working out; but with goodwill on both sides, such an arrangement should be possible.

Every effort requires to be made to prevent a splitting of the national front in the elections; but such unity should not be utilised to stifle the left wing forces of the anti-imperialist bloc.

The Constituent Assembly as the Central Slogan of the Struggle

In order to concentrate the struggle against the slave constitution imposed by the British Government, we cannot rest satisfied with the negative programme of rejection of the constitution and refusal of co-operation, but must counterpose our positive slogan.

Corresponding to the existing stages of the movement, the time is now undoubtedly favourable to launch as our central slogan the demand for the convening of a Constituent Assembly based upon a universal and equal franchise and direct and secret ballot. In the past there has been much discussion on the slogan of a Constituent Assembly. On the one hand, it has been presented in such a form as if the existing National Congress were to be regarded as already the Constituent Assembly of the Indian people. On the other hand, it has been presented as if it were to be regarded as an alternative to the aim of Soviets, as the political aim of the Indian Revolution. Both these outlooks are incorrect and require to be combated. But this necessary criticism of misleading conceptions has given rise to the alternative danger of the conception that the slogan of a Constituent Assembly is as such and at all times inadmissible and in inevitable opposition to the aim of Soviets. This would be a serious misunderstanding; the example of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution has shown how, in a given situation, the slogan of a Constituent Assembly can be a most powerful mobilising force which can be combined with the propaganda of Soviet Power as the ultimate aim.

Is the situation now in India such that this slogan of a Constituent Assembly would be a correct slogan of action for the coming stage? Yes. At a time when the British Government is imposing its new constitution of slavery upon the Indian nation, and preparing its mockery of elections from which the voice of nine-tenths of the people is excluded, and the remainder barred from effective representation with any power to their representatives it is essential to spread broadcast, in opposition to the line of imperialism, the demand for a Constituent Assembly freely elected upon a basis of universal suffrage. In putting this forward the Communists will in no wise weaken their propaganda for the aim of Soviet Power. The Constituent Assembly is a slogan for mobilising the masses at the present stage of the struggle.

But at the same time it is necessary to explain on every occasion on which the issue of a Constituent Assembly is raised, both within the National Congress, and in mass propaganda, that a real Constituent Assembly can only be realised as a result of a broad movement of the masses of the people in active struggle. The significance of the slogan of a Constituent Assembly is as a mobilising slogan of the mass struggle at the present stage. As such it should become the central slogan of action of the present stage of the national struggle and of the Anti-Imperialist People’s Front, uniting all the partial and immediate struggles it this central political fight.


The need for the speedy realisation of the broadest Anti-Imperialist People’s Front in India is the more urgent, not only for the reasons of the situation now existing within India, but in view of the whole international situation as it is developing and affecting India. The war question is now of burning urgency. The Italian war on Abyssinia, alongside the ever-extending Japanese aggression in China, is the signal of the advance of imperialism to a new world war. The sympathies of the Indian people are warmly united with the Abyssinian people in their resistance to the Italian war of aggression, and with the Chinese national struggle against Japanese, and all other imperialists. But at the same time it is necessary to sharpen the struggle against the war preparations of British Imperialism, which fall with merciless heaviness on the Indian masses. The imminence of a new world war makes more than ever necessary the unity and readiness of the national front in India.

In conclusion, it should be stated that these proposals are put forward for the consideration of all supporters of the struggle for national liberation in India as an attempt to trace the main outline of the path of advance in the present immediate situation and with the given relations of forces The realisation of this next stage of advance, the realisation of a broad based, all-embracing and powerful Anti-Imperialist People’s Front should rapidly open the way to new perspectives for the Indian national movement.