D. D. Kosambi

Exasperating Essays

The Bourgeoisie Comes of Age in India

The long-awaited publication of Jawaharlal Nehru's book on India [Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, (Calcutta, 1946)], past and present, has in many ways justified the great hopes raised by the author's distinguished record in the struggle for India's freedom, and by his active share in the struggle against war. His career is too well known for further comment here; those who do not know it would be well advised to read his Autobiography as well as this book. No person knows India better than Pandit Jawaharlal. He is able to express himself brilliantly both in Hindi and Urdu, as friends and admirers among Hindus as well as Muslims will admit. Most important of all, he has an intimate acquaintance with the British ruling class because of his education in England. The book in question is, therefore, a damning indictment of British rule in India; but more than that, its ambitious scope includes the history of India culturally as well as politically in a single perspective. The performance is all the more remarkable when it is considered that the work was essentially completed in jail, under the most distressing circumstances, with full consciousness on the part of the author that a struggle against Hitlerism was being waged without his help, though he himself had always been an unswerving opponent of fascism and all that fascism represents. The very fact that so able a personality should be jailed without trial while a considerable number of British agent were foisted upon India to fight the war from the safety of office chairs had an unfortunate result for the Indian population; for while the British officials and a larger number of Indian business men filled their pockets with vast quantities of paper currency, the people at large had the benefit of inflation, famine, epidemics and shortages. To explain just what this means in terms understandable to an American is beyond the reach of any sensitive person who had the misfortune to be an eye-witness of the happenings in India during the war years.

The book cannot be too strongly recommended to the general reader. The present writer wishes to make it clear that he himself is a humble admirer of the author. This is to prevent misunderstanding, for the bulk of this communication is necessarily devoted to pointing out a certain number of flaws. For the ancient history of India, little need be said because such sources as we possess are extremely meagre and their interpretation puzzles even those who have devoted a lifetime to their study; on this score we need not hold the author responsible. In some ways it is unfortunate that he has not had the leisure to study Indian sources more critically and that he has relied so heavily upon comparatively popular accounts by British authors. This, however, may be condoned on the ground that Indian political prisoners hardly have reference libraries at their disposal.

One feature that may strike the reader as rather surprising is a curious attitude towards the much abused term "race"; denunciation of racialism and of imperialism occurs on p. 386f, but on p. 387 we read: "psychology counts and racial memories are long." Just what racial memory means is not clear, particularly in the case of a country that had forgotten the splendid Mauryan and Gupta periods, including the very script of those times; that ascribes almost every cave of any date to the mythical Pandavas; and is capable of pointing out as prince Pratap Sinha, the statue of Outram (a butcher of the 1857 revolt) on the Esplanade at Calcutta. It was noticeable on the contrary that class memories are extremely short, or at any rate strikingly different from what Nehru imagines to be race memories. For example, the British Commissioner of Police in Bombay whose name was execrated for his incompetent or deliberately provocative handling of popular discontent at the end of January, 1946 (ending in a real blood-bath in the working class areas of Bombay) was nevertheless a guest May, along with the Congress ministers, at the ri weddings of the year in Bombay. On p. 431 we read: "old races develop that attitude [of quietism] to life:' Just what this means is also not clear, for ethnologically there is no evidence that any race is older than any other. In fact if the sentence can be taken as applying to the Indian races, it is quite impossible to explain why quietism has been on the wane since 1940 at least, and has given place to the constant ferment of political activity in this country .

Far more serious to the present reviewer is the absence of the question "why." No attempt at history can be regarded as mature which does not, within the framework of the author's ideology, make some attempt at analysis. For the ancient period we find considerable difficulty in explaining certain facts for the simple reason that the facts themselves are not always clear; but for the modern period it seems to me that the author's present approach cannot stand unchallenged. I may go further and venture the statement that this vague use of the term "race," the absence of the question as to why certain changes take place at certain times, are intimately bound up with another remark- able feature of the book, the absence of a class analysis. The author could have asked himself one question with the greatest of advantage, namely, cui bono; what is the class that called for or benefited by a certain change at a certain period of history? This might have clarified one issue noted by the author, that the British have fought desperately and till now effectively against granting India the same kind of social and political rights of which the English themselves are so proud in England. It is quite obvious that the class of Englishmen who fought for the suppression of local governments and civil liberties in India have also fought desperately against the lower classes in England; but when the pressure of the working class in England became too great, the bourgeois front was breached in some one place and a local amelioration was won. Then the losing section of the bourgeoisie necessarily fought for the imposition of restriction against all other owners of means of production and ultimately put a good face on the whole matter, provided that they, the rulers, had granted certain reforms at their own sweet free will. There was comparatively little class opposition from India as the British had taken every care to preserve as much feudal and religious prerogative as possible.

It may be further suggested that the absence of developed modern capital in the Muslim community as well as the great relative poverty of the Muslims in India might explain (as Nehru does not) both the case against the Muslim League (p. 466) and Muslim backwardness (p. 468) as well as the reactionary attitude of the Muslim upper classes in India. Nehru has himself pointed out (p. 437) that Indian business men demand exactly the same kind of protection in Ceylon which they rightly resent having given to British business interests in India. He is undoubtedly aware of the fact that Indians in South Africa, backed whole-heartedly by the Indian trading community there, are fighting hard for equality; but for equality with the whites and not equality with the Negroes also. The absence of class analysis vitiates the peculiar presentation of provincial differences and growth of industry (p. 392-398). We read that the people of Gujarat, Kathiawar and Kutch were traders, manufacturers, merchants and seafarers from ancient times. Now it is undeniable that the great majority of people in just those districts are definitely not traders, although people from the localities mentioned occupy so prominent a place in the capitalistic section of India today. The reason is that early contact with Mohammedan traders enabled this small fraction to develop early contact with the British and thereby introduced them to a new system of production: that is, production based on machinery and modern capital. The best example of this perhaps is the tiny Parsi community which, in its original situation in Gujarat, was one of the most shamefully oppressed of refugee minorities and is today one of the most advanced, cultured and powerful of communities in India; solely because of their adoption of modern industrial and finance capitalism. On the other hand the case is totally different with the Marwaris of Rajputana (p. 394-96) who did control finance and money-lending in the old days but had no political rights whatsoever. If Nehru will take the trouble to look up the records he will see how often such moneylenders backed the British in the days of British expansion in India. Of course that may not lead him to realise a basic contemporary phenomenon: the change of pseudo-capital thus accumulated into modern productive money. The changeover is now actually so rapid that even the most backward and degenerate of Indians, the feudal princelings, are becoming shareholders on a large scale. The days are gone when shares were issued at a face value of Rs.30/- to be quoted today (1946) at well over Rs.3,000/- or when a stock was issued at Rs.100/-, of which Rs.99/- was given back as a capital repayment, to give a dividend of over Rs.150/- today, being quoted at Rs.2,300/ -. Those stocks had a much longer start in the race for modernisation of industry, but the total volume of such capital was negligible and has now been tremendously increased by the conversion of primitive accumulation as well as by the uncontrolled inflation and profiteering of the war period.

Not only has Nehru neglected to take note of this accumulation, but he has also been unable to grasp just what this quantitative change has done qualitatively to the character of the- Indian middle class, a class which may now be said to be firmly, in the saddle. A few drops from the banquet (generally from the excess profits) have been scattered as a libation in the direction of education, scientific research, and charity; a considerable slackening of the ancient rigidity of manners, and unfortunately of morals also, is duly noticeable. Yet this is nothing compared to the principal characteristic of this class, the ravening greed which is now so obvious in the black market, in enormous bribes spent in making still more enormous profits, in speculation in shares and an increasingly callous disregard for the misery and even the lives of their fellow Indians). The progressive deterioration in the living conditions of our peasant workers (over 50 per cent of the population), of our factory labour and even the lower-paid office workers and intellectuals affords a striking contrast with the wealth that flows into the pockets of the upper middle class, though the gain may be camouflaged by the ostentatious simplicity of white khaddar (homespun) and the eternal Gandhi cap. The new constitution for India, in the gaining of which Nehru and his friends have spent so many of the finest years of their lives in jail, will come only as a recognition of the power of this newly expanded Indian middle class.

Actually the negotiations of the British Cabinet Mission are nothing if not recognition of the position of the new bourgeoisie in India. The old trusteeship theory no longer yields monopoly profits either by investment or by export; the British bourgeoisie which must export and invest has admitted the necessity of coming to terms with their Indian counterpart which needs capital goods. It is surely not without significance that the modern industrialists and financiers contribute to Congress (by which I mean the Indian National Congress Party in this note) funds, while the leadership of the Muslim League is on noticeable good terms with the Mohammedan owners of money in India; it may be suggested that one reason for the conflict between these two middle class political organizations is not only the fact that the Muslim minority forms one-third of the population of the country with less than one-tenth of its wealth, but further that the wealth in Muslim hands is based predominantly on barter pseudo-capital or semi-feudal agrarian production, both of which look for protection to the British.

In the light of all this, which Nehru does not acknowledge explicitly, it is interesting to note his comments on the Indian Communist Party (p. 524 and 629). Nehru does not realize that the Indian Communist Party (never ideologically powerful had in 1941 been suppressed to the point of ineffectiveness and that their increasing force in Indian politics today, though still virtually negligible as against that of the bourgeoisie, is due solely to their having really gone down to the peasant workers and the very small industrial proletariat-two sections of the Indian population among which the Congress and the Muslim League both have much less influence today than they did before 1943. In speaking of the Congress Planning Committee (p. 482-84) it is curious to note that the findings of the committee had apparently no influence whatsoever on the provincial Congress governments then functioning. Nehru might have studied with profit the differences between the Congress programme and the actual performance of the Congress ministries.

There is no evidence at all that the Congress as constituted today is in the remotest danger of drifting (like its planning committee) towards socialism. With the Muslim League leadership, of course, it is difficult to observe anything except pure opportunism and reaction. Without going deeper into the statistics or capital investments, it may be stated-and verified by a reference to the newspaper advertisements of the period-that the years 1937-39, when the Congress ministries ruled, show in their particular provinces a considerable number of new enterprises being started. The investor certainly demonstrated his confidence in the Congress, whether or not the British and the Congress Planning Commission gave any attention to that aspect of the matter. Of course this cannot compare with the almost explosive increase in capital today.

In dealing with the stirring events of August, 1942 (p. 579f.), Nehru has given the parliamentary side of the question in a straightforward manner. The external observer, however, may be struck by one noteworthy point which has not even been visualized in the book. When the All India Congress Committee met at Bombay, the members knew that arrest was imminent and most of them had prepared for the event by setting their family affairs and personal finances in excellent order against all contingencies that might arise for the next year or two. What strikes this writer as remarkable is that not one of these worthy and able delegates, though aware that the British adversary was about to strike, ever thought of a plan of action for the Congress and for the nation as a whole. The general idea was "the Mahatama will give us a plan", yet no especial impression was made by the Mahatma's speech just before the arrests-though that address to the assembled delegates on the eve of an anticipated popular explosion is not only not revolutionary in character, nor a plan of action of any sort, but seems, when taken objectively, to be on the same level as a comfortable after-dinner speech. Why is it that knowledge of popular dissatisfaction went hand in hand with the absence of a real plan of action? Does it mean, for example, that the characteristic thought then current among the Indian bourgeoisie had in effect permeated the Congress leadership? One may note that on a class basis the action was quite brilliant, no matter how futile it may have seemed on a national revolutionary scale. The panic of the British government and jailing of all leaders absolved the Congress from any responsibility for the happenings of the ensuing year; at the same time the glamour of jail and concentration camp served to wipe out the so-so record of the Congress ministries in office, thereby restoring the full popularity of the organization among the masses. If the British won the war it was quite clear that the Congress had not favoured Japan; if on the other hand the Japanese succeeded in conquering India (and they had only to attack immediately in force for the whole of the so-called defense system to crumble) they could certainly not accuse the Congress of having helped the British. Finally, the hatred for the mass repression fell upon the thick heads of the bureaucracy, while having the discontent brought to a head and smashed wide open would certainly not injure the Indian bourgeoisie.

In this connection we may again recall Lenin's words that "only when the lower classes do not want the old and when the upper class cannot continue in the old way then only can the revolution be victorious. Its truth may be expressed in other words: Revolution is impossible without a national crisis affecting both the exploited and the exploiters." You look in vain in Nehru's book for any recognition of the undeniable fact that, in 1942, while the toiling masses had begun to taste the utmost depths of misery and degradation, the Indian bourgeoisie was flourishing as never before. War contracts, high prices, the ability to do extensive black-marketing, had given the financiers and industrialists what they wanted; furthermore even the lower, middle classes who had normally been the spearhead of discontent in India had begun to experience an amelioration because of the great number of new clerical and office jobs created by the war and the expanding war economy. Taking cognizance of this and of the further truth that the British in India had consistently allowed investors to make an increasing amount of profit in this country, one may be able to account for the lack of a plan in 1942 and for the successive deadlocks that followed in spite of mass pressure in the direction of revolution.

History has thrust upon Nehru the mantle of leadership of a very powerful organization which still commands a greater mass support than any other in India, and which has shown by its unremitting and painful struggle that it is determined to capture political control of the entire subcontinent. But will Nehru's orientation towards Marxism change when the interests of the class which now backs Congress so heavily diverge from the interests of the poorer classes; or will his lack of a class analysis lead only to disillusionment? It would be silly to proclaim that Mahatma Gandhi, than whom no more sincere person exists, is a tool of the capitalists in India. But there is no other class in India today, except the new bourgeoisie, so strong, so powerfully organized, and so clever as to exploit for its own purposes whatever is profitable in the Mahatma's teachings and to reduce all dangerous enunciations to negative philosophical points. This bourgeoisie needs Nehru's leadership, just as India has needed the class itself. As I read the omens, the parting of the ways is clearly visible; what is not clear is the path Nehru himself will choose in that moment of agony.

Science and Society (New York), vol. X 1946, pp. 392-398.

The OM thesis at this time was that the British would never transfer power to the Indian National Congress. The OM solution was that the Hindus and the Muslims, somehow equated to the Congress and the Muslim League, should unite to throw out the foreign imperialists. The question of the class structure behind the two parties was never openly raised, perhaps because the writings of W. Cantwell Smith led the OM to believe that the Muslim League was, in some mysterious way, at heart anti-British and on the road to socialism. One sure test of effective anti-imperialism, namely how many of the leaders were jailed or executed by the rulers of empire, was not applied. The intransigence and the open alliance with the British, so profitable to the leading personalities in the League, and the insistence upon the "two nations" theory were dutifully ignored. No emphasis has been laid upon the total disruption of advanced peasant movements in the Punjab and in Bengal by the 1947 separation of Pakistan. For that matter, the OM had dismissed the Satara peasant uprising (patri sarkar) of 1942-43 as pure banditry.

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