Evelyn Roy

The Colonies

The Forces Beneath
the Present Lull in India

(15 September 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 79, 15 September 1922, pp. 595–596.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2020). 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.

The sudden disappearance of India from the world press since the arrest and conviction of Mr. Gandhi to six years imprisonment, would seem to indicate that the revolutionary movement there has come to an abrupt end, after a spectacular and sensational career under the banner of non-violent non-cooperation. Events in India during the past five months seem to confirm this theory. Since the Bardoli Resolutions of the National Congress Committee, passed in April as the result of an outbreak of mob-violence on the part of some non-cooperating peasants of the United Provinces, the slogans of Mass Civil Disobedience and Non-payment of Rent and Taxes, have been dropped from the Congress Program, and instead, the so-called Constructive Program has been put forth, whose main clauses were the spinning, weaving and wearing of Rhaddar or homespun cloth by the Indian people, the peaceful boycott of law courts, reform councils, government service and schools, and the removal of untouchability of the lower castes, and of the drink evil. This purely reformist and non-revolutionary program, urged upon the Congress Committee by Mr. Gandhi just before his arrest, constituted a decided retreat in the face of Government repression and the rising tide of mass-energy, expressed in the form of bloody riots, strikes and peasant risings throughout the country. The Congress leaders were no less terrified than the Government by the threat to life and property which the growing revolutionary consciousness of the peasants and workers implied, and two clauses of the Bardoli Constructive Program urge, first upon the peasants and then upon the landlords, the necessity of preserving law and order and of safeguarding the rights of private property.

This strategic retreat and complete disavowal of the masses by the nationalist leaders completed the break between the popular unrest based on economic causes, and the purely political agitation of the Congress Party. The arrest and conviction of Mr. Gandhi severed the last thread which held the masses and the nationalists together. For the past three months, this complete divorce of the mass-energy from the Congress, has become more and more noticeable, while at the same time, the Congress itself has been thrown into confusion by the growth and development of internal factions, of right and left tendencies, which only the dominant personality of Mr. Gandhi had held in check for so long.

The incarceration of the latter gave free play to these splitting tendencies, whose leaders have been conducting guerilla warfare behind the closed doors of the Congress Committees. At first chaotic, the opposition has at last resolved itself into several distinguishable elements. The right wing leaders, who represent the left-wing of the cooperating Moderates, are preparing to rejoin the latter within the new Reform Councils, and abandon the National Congress altogether, unless it revises its program in keeping with their own ideas. There are two left-wing tendencies. One, centered in Maharashtra, constitutes a strong and compact group which agitates for repeal of the Boycott of Councils clause, and participation in the coming government elections on the slogan of “Responsive Cooperation”. This means abandonment of the Non-cooperation idea of the Extremists and the consent to work hand-in-hand with the Government to the extent that the latter concedes reforms, and the refusal to cooperate when the Government denies concessions. In principle, this “left-wing” opposition differs very little from the platform of the Moderates, who accepted the Montagu-Chelmsford Reform Scheme of 1919 with the idea of attaining to home rule within the British Empire by gradual stages. Another, and smaller left-wing element, composed of the younger and more revolutionary spirits in every province, is crying for the repeal of the Bardoli Program of Construction and a return to the aggressive tactics of non-violent non-cooperation, including civil disobedience, non payment of rent and taxes, picketing of foreign cloth-shops etc. This group also puts forward the demand to organize Indian labor, both in the factories and on the fields, to support the Congress program, and to include within the latter the redress of some of the most crying economic grievances of the city and peasant workers.

The Congress Centre represents the orthodox adherents of Mr. Gandhi. They stand for fulfillment of the Constructive Program until the Indian people have proved, by self-discipline, that they are fit to inaugurate further steps of the non-cooperation campaign, in a strictly peaceful manner. Any revision of the Constructive Program of Bardoli is, they argue, an act of treason to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi, and of disloyalty to the Congress. The center is the party of stagnation, which is being buffeted between right and left.

The increasing resumption by former non-cooperating lawyers of their law-practice, the continued existence of Government services and schools, and the undeniable importation of foreign cloth by Indian merchants as shown by the trade-returns of the past half-year, demonstrate more clearly than words the abject failure of the so-called “Constructive Program” to achieve results, and would point to the dire necessity, to leaders less obstinate and more realistic, of adopting some change of tactics which would at one and the same time, hold the majority of the Congress together, and bring back the masses within the folds of the Nationalist Party. But the Constructive Program is still flourished over the heads of the Indian people as the Word of God, and threatens to remain, what it has been since its adoption, the rock upon which the Extremist movement will split to its own destruction.

Meantime, the powerful current of mass-energy which was halted and puzzled for a time by the right-about-face of Bardoli and the arrest of Mr. Gandhi, is gathering a momentum which will break down all obstruction when the tide rises highest. Both peasants and city-proletariat, after a temporary lull in their activities, have commenced a new campaign of strikes, riots and incendiarism which necessitates the strictest Government supervision to control. But, there is a difference between these renewed activities and the former countrywide movement of the masses under the banner of non-cooperation. Then, while the underlying motive force was economic, the avowed goal was political, namely, the attainment of Swaraj or self-government, which Mr. Gandhi promised within one year. Now, the political motive has been dropped, and the struggle has become purely economic, – a struggle for the reduction of hours, the increase of wages, the right to organize on the part of labor, and the incorporation of workmen’s benefits and social reform legislation in the immediate economic program of the class struggle.

With the peasants, the impelling motive force is now as formerly, access to land free of rent and taxes, and release from the grip of the usurer. The accentuation of the class conflict in Indian society, as distinguished from the nationalist campaign, is marked by prolonged strikes on the part of the city-proletariat, and by sporadic revolts of the landless peasantry. Since the beginning of this year, aside from innumerable lesser strikes, there have been several conducted on a nationwide scale, such as the Assam-Bengal Railway and Steam Navigation strikes, declared in conjunction with the exodus of coolies from the Assam Tea-Gardens on account of starvation wages and slave labor conditions; the East India Railway strike, which lasted three months, the Calcutta Seamen’s strike involving 55,000 men and the Jute Mill Workers strike, just ended. Among the peasantry, leaving aside the Moplah Rebellion, which required nine months for the Government to suppress, intermittent revolts are going on among the Akali Sikhs of the Punjab for the possession of temple lands usurped by the corrupt priestcraft and protected by the Government; the Aika or Unity movement among the peasants of the United Provinces and Central India for resistance to rent and tax collectors; the revolt of the Bhils, an agricultural tribe of Central India, and continuous unrest, which at the present writing calls for the presence of special soldiery, among the peasants of Bengal and Madras.

The Government is meeting this widespread economic unrest in two ways – by merciless repression where the movement seems weak and likely to be crushed by armed strength, and by remedial legislation where the economic grievances are so manifest and deep-rooted as to drive the people on to resistance in the face of all opposition. The Factory Act of 1921 and the Oudh Rent Act are two examples of remedial legislation, the one applied to industrial workers, the other to agricultural. At the same time, bands of special police and soldiery patrol the countryside, and a determined onslaught is being made against the right of city-labor to organize itself into unions. Kept labor leaders, employed by the Government, are doing their best to steer the movement into safe channels of reformism.

Powerful political parties, representing the industrial magnates and the rich landlords, are crystallizing under the pressure of events, which are rapidly uprooting the old divisions of Indian society based upon religion and caste. Such political parties, formed on manifest class-lines, can but hasten the day of the formation of a political party of the workers and peasants of India, whose truly revolutionary spirit and urgent economic needs are driving them relentlessly onward towards class consciousness. Despite their ignorance and helplessness born of centuries of exploitation, the strength of the nation lies in these millions of workers, who are growing wise in the process of struggle, and who will gradually put forth new leaders to replace those who betrayed them in the past, and who still seek to betray them.

Last updated on 31 August 2020