J.R. Johnson

Gandhi – His Role in Fight for India’s Independence

(9 February 1948)

Source: The Militant, Vol. XII No. 6, 9 February 1948, p. 2.
Source: PDF supplied by the Riazanov Library Project.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The assassination of Gandhi was political news of the first importance, for Gandhi had become an international figure. His death has provided the capitalist press with an opportunity to wallow in hypocritical and sentimental outpourings of how extraordinary was the success of this religious personality in the hard brutal world of today. But this is nonsense. Gandhi was above all a political leader and it is this that explains his extraordinary career.

The least important thing about him was his theory of non-violence, his saintliness, his love of his fellow-man, etc. What is interesting to observe is how his political personality and methods fitted like a glove the economic and political reeds of the Indian landlords and capitalists.

These two ruling classes were caught, in a terrible dilemma. To ensure their exploitation of the peasants and workers, the Indian landlords and capitalists depended upon the British government. Yet to free themselves from the clutches of British exploitation, which was ruining India, they had no force except the same millions of downtrodden and oppressed.

Political Gift

Gandhi opened a way for them. His political gift to the rising Indian bourgeoisie was his dramatization of the plight of India’s hundreds of millions, and his use of these masses against British imperialism, without, at the same time, ever losing strict control over them. Thus he was able to torment and pressure the British and yet prevent a revolutionary outburst.

Let us grant, for the sake of argument, that Gandhi was personally sincere (that perpetual preoccupation of little minds). With that out of the way, let us see how Gandhi functioned politically.

The organization of the Indian masses by traditional political means was an impossible task. When Gandhi began his work before World War I, the union movement was insignificant. To unite peasants, as peasants, meant uniting them against the landlord. And that Gandhi would not do. His simplicity of life, however, and the way he dramatized it, caught the imagination of the Indian masses. His loin cloth, his spinning wheel, his skillfully timed fasts, his campaigns against the British – these were the means by which he concentrated on himself, and himself alone, the attention and finally the political obedience of scores of millions.

It was this influence over the masses – and not spirituality and fasting – which gave him his enormous power among the hard-boiled, politicos of the Indian National Congress.

Gandhi never alienated the Indian capitalists and landlords. Gandhi might talk against industrialization and spin his few yards of cloth. But every boycott he declared against British goods meant increased opportunities for Indian manufacturers. Gandhi, no doubt, sincerely hated industrialism, but he collaborated with it. Here spirituality capitulated to political expediency.

Gandhi, being against any revolutionary overturn in India, was compelled to be ultra-cautious in his opposition to British imperialism. When, after World War I, the British betrayed their promise of granting self-government to India, the country rose in revolt, the British regime found itself paralysed. It was none other than Gandhi who came to the rescue. With his doctrine of non-violence he pacified India for Britain. Why? Because the violence he had unloosed threatened not only British rule but the native oppressing classes, as well.

Gandhi’s non-violence is worth a little examination. When tens of millions practiced. “civil disobedience,” it could render the functioning of the British government possible. It was an extraordinarily disruptive weapon, without at the same time, being revolutionary. It was ideally suited, however, for the purposes and needs of Indian capitalism.

Force Concessions

World War II once again sharply brought out Gandhi’s role. After the Japanese forces overran Burma, with the support of sections of the Burmese people, British power in India hung by a thread. Gandhi attempted to utilize Britain’s desperation to force concessions. Under his leadership, the Congress Party inaugurated a new struggle against the British. And then again, true to form, the Congress leaders proceeded to quell the mass uprisings of 1942, because these threatened to sweep away not only the British but also the domination of the Indian capitalists and landlords.

Thus Congress again had to come to Britain’s rescue and enable the British raj to weather the worst period.

The wholesale disintegration of British imperialism at the end of the war gave the Indian capitalists and landlords their long sought opportunity. The British were forced to arrive at some sort of settlement with the native ruling classes. Gandhi’s influence among Congress leaders began declining as soon as the agreement with the British was consummated. They no longer had as much need of him as before. They began to act increasingly independently of him. They accepted partition against his bitter opposition. Patel is obviously determined to use strong measures against Pakistan. He is jailing Indian labor leaders. His government is as brutal against its working class opponents as were the British.

The death of Gandhi thus marks the end of a period.

Historically, Gandhi will have his due share of the credit for his struggles against British imperialism. He will also have his due share of discredit for having strengthened the native ruling class against the great masses of the people who alone can regenerate India.

Last updated on 8 October 2020