R. Palme Dutt
Source: The Communist, February 25,1922.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). 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.
FORTNIGHT ago THE COMMUNIST warned its readers that the arrest of Gandhi was being prepared.
At the very time when that statement was made, the order to Gandhi’s arrest had actually been written out. (Mr. Montagu’s statement in the House of Commons on February 14th.)
But at this point a new factor entered the situation.
THE COMMUNIST has persistently warned its readers that the real revolutionary power in India will be found to be, when the time of trial comes, not the middle-class nationalist movement, for all its “extremism,” but the toiling workers and peasants of India, who are awakening to a consciousness of the struggle before them.
This warning has been abundantly justified by the event.
Gandhi, not from any considerations of his personal position (he has courted arrest time and again), but from genuine alarm at the certain revolutionary consequences of a struggles, has retreated and abandoned his whole programme. The victory is with the Government, and Gandhi’s arrest is held over, subject to his good behaviour.
The failure of Gandhi repeats in a new sphere and under very different conditions the old lesson of the failure of Kerensky—the failure of the man who calls the masses into movement, but shrinks from the revolutionary consequences of a movement of the masses.
The facts of the case are simple.
In December the Indian National Congress decided on the immediate adoption of the programme of “civil disobedience,” and entrusted Gandhi with dictatorial powers to carry it out. The whole of Anglo-Indian official opinion was in alarm, and the tension of popular enthusiasm was extreme.
On January 17th Gandhi postponed operation for a fortnight, on condition that the Government would release prisoners and enter into negotiations. The Government did neither.
On February 4th Gandhi postponed operation for a week, and gave the Government seven days final notice. The Government refused to move. Meanwhile, the masses grew restive, districts began to act in defiance of Gandhi, and incidents of increasing seriousness occurred.
On February 11th Gandhi postponed operation indefinitely and without conditions.
Like the Triple Alliance strike in this country, the great gun of the Indian movement of “mass civil disobedience,” after being repeatedly threatened and repeatedly postponed, never went off.
The movement, which Gandhi endeavoured to create was a national movement; that is to say, a union of classes, races and religions in defence of a national culture (a pre-machinery civilisation) against the foreign invader. This union he was able for a short period to achieve; because it is the characteristic of a revolutionary epoch in its first stage that it concentrates all forces against the fast-dissolving existing system. The racial difficulty he was ab1e to overcome by common opposition to the white invader. The religious difficulty he was able to overcome by the Moslem awakening to the imperialist threat to the whole Moslem world. The class difficulty he sought to overcome by the common programme of non-co-operation. To the middle classes, the manufacturers and merchants, non-cooperation meant the boycott of British goods; to the industrial workers non-co-operation meant the strike; to the peasantry non-co-operation meant resistance to the grievous burden of the land-tax. There remained outside only the great landlords, the ruling-princes, and the officials or professional place-seekers, who constituted “loyal” India.
But this unity contained within itself latent divergences which were bound to grow and make themselves felt. The great new fact of post-war India is the emergence of the industrial workers’ movement. According to a recent memorandum of the Government of India, there are twenty million industrial workers (industries, mines and transport) in India to-day, or more than twice as many as in Italy, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland combined (Bombay Labour Gazette, Sept. 1921). Of those an important proportion are in large-scale industry. Organisation among these only began after the war and had already reached half-a-million members at the Second All-India Trade Union Congress last December. Far more significant than the necessarily sketchy beginnings of organisation has been the actual mass movement which has developed at lightning speed since the war in the big industrial centres—the spontaneous strikes, mass demonstrations and conflicts with the authorities on an ever-increasing scale. This is the new force which, in conjunction with the first stirrings of the peasants has wrecked the calculations of Gandhi.
For here arises an all-important distinction between the workers’ movement and Gandhi’s movement. It is inherent in the workers’ movement that cannot stop short at non-co- operation; it must go on to attack the control of wealth or fail. Passive resistance is a bourgeois conception: the conception, that is, of one who possesses goods on which to live while waiting for the other side to give in.
Throughout the Gandhi movement these two strands may be observed, working together for a while, but absolutely distinct. If a list be made of all the “incidents ” and “disturbances ” recorded from India in the past two months, it will be found that they fall into two distinct groups. About half are non-co-operator incidents; that is to say, processions, boycotts, public meetings held in defiance of prohibition. The other half are purely workers’ movements; that is to say, strike demonstrations, unemployed riots, attacks on factories, etc., and in some cases peasant movements.
A little further examination of the list will reveal a still more interesting fact. The non-cooperator incidents nearly always result in wholesale arrests. But the workers’ movements are nearly always met by police firing and casualties. A single instance from the same town of Calcutta of two incidents happening within a few days of each other will throw this contrast into relief.
(1) Calcutta, Jan. 24th.—Fifteen Nationalist Congress volunteers engaged in picketing have been arrested. Undeterred by the arrests at the recent prohibited meetings of the Bengal Provincial Congress, the organisers held another public meeting yesterday, and 273 arrests were made.—Times, 28/1/22.
(2) Calcutta, Jan. 27th.—A serious riot, in which 4,000 mill hands were involved, broke out yesterday at the Standard Jute Mills at Titagarh, in the environs of Calcutta, and culminated in the police firing on the crowd, with the result that two rioters were killed and forty wounded.—Manchester Guardian, 31/1/22.
Gandhi’s movement, in fact, has not been one movement, but two. And of the two, it is the workers’ movement that has been the real revolutionary force. It is the industrial workers who, in conjunction with the peasants, will make the revolution in India.
This is the fact which has suddenly stared in the face Gandhi and his fellow Nationalists, who had hoped for a peaceful political passive-resistance movement. It is the realisation of this fact which has made them, after previously having toyed with every form of “extremism,” suddenly shrink back and rush into the arms of the Moderates.
By that capitulation the leadership of the Indian movement henceforth passes to the revolutionary workers. When the next crisis comes, the lead will be with the workers.
Meanwhile what of the position in this country?
The Indian movement will have to decide whether to place its hopes on the official Labour movement or the revolutionary workers’ movement in this country. It is the same choice, translated into a different sphere, as confronts them in their own country.
A great deal has been made of the “gagging” of the Labour Party in the House of Commons Debate on India. But if the Labour Party had spoken, what would it have had to say? Colonel Wedgwood has made this clear for us in his letter to the Daily Herald. Colonel Wedgwood, the Labour spokesman, would have got up to give the blessing of Labour to Montagu. This is what we are asked to believe the Government broke all the rules of Parliamentary procedure in order to prevent.
The suggestion of “gagging” is frankly not credible. Its would have been impossible to gag the Labour Party if the Labour Party had not wished to be gagged. Is it conceivable that in a similar important debate on Ireland, lasting seven hours, and including fourteen speakers, Tim Healy or Larry Ginnell would have let themselves be “jockeyed” by the Speaker in this way? Has a Speaker ever been known to “jockey” the Irish members unless by arrangement through Devlin, Redmond and O’Connor, and with their consent? Or are we intended to infer that the Labour members are the “poltroons” that Galloper Smith has called them?
The fact is, the Labour Party did not speak in the debate on India, because it did not want to speak, and it did not want to speak because it had nothing to say. On the very day on which the debate was held, an article of Colonel Wedgwood, the Labour spokesman, arrived in this country, in which he declared that the mission of the British in India was
“to plant well and firmly British traditions among the new third of the human race.”
Now if this kind of stuff had been telegraphed to India as the official statement of the policy of the British Labour Party in regard to India, it would have meant the final extinction of the credit of the Labour Party, in India.
But the extinction of the credit of the Labour Party in India and of pathetic hopes in its doing justice some day would have meant the final establishment of the revolutionary outlook. It would have meant that the Indian movement would have finally recognized that it must look to the revolutionary workers’ movement, and to no other, for effective support in the struggle. And the day of that recognition is the beginning of the end of British imperialist domination alike in India and in Britain.