Evelyn Roy

Polemics and Discussions

Looking for New Illusions

(6 September 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 59 [37], 6 September 1923, pp. 657–658.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2023). 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.

It is matter fur some surprise that Indian nationalists of the spiritual school have not discovered the great contribution made to the literature of their creed by the celebrated French writer, Romain Rolland. In a series of articles, published early in the present year in the French magazine Europe, under the title of Mahatma Gandhi, M. Rolland describes the progress of the Non-Cooperation Movement throughout the time of Mr. Gandhi’s leadership up to the moment of his arrest, and upon this movement as a background, he constructs an image of the Mahatmaji as a new Messiah, come to save not India alone, but the entire world, and particularly warring Europe, by his doctrine of Suffering, Self-Sacrifice and Soul-Force.

Such an unexpected reinforcement from so distinguished an individual will doubtless add strength to the conviction of those who are already convinced that India’s peculiar mission is to spiritualise the world. To those who have begun to doubt and waver in this food belief, M. Rolland’s articles will bring renewed faith. How can so famous a man be mistaken, they will ask. Having probed the knowledge and experience of the West to its depths, only to arrive at despair and disillusionment, M. Rolland and his school have turned their faces to the East in search of inspiration, and lo! they have discovered a new Evangel. Listen to the tired intellectualism of post-war European decadence:

“In this crumbling world, there is no refuge, no hope. There is no great light. The Church drugs us with soothing and virtuous counsel, but guards carefully against embroiling herself with the powerful; moreover, she gives advice, but sets no example. Vapid pacifists bleat languishingly, and one feels that they hesitate; they speak of a faith which they are not sure oi having. Who will prove this faith for them? And how, in the midst of a world that denies it? ln the only way that faith may prove itself – by action!

“There is the Message to the World, as Gandhi calls it, the message of India: ‘Sacrifice ourselves! The highway to peace is the sacrifice of self.’ This is the message of Gandhi!”

One can imagine how gratified must be Tagore, Arabinda Chose and the whole school of Spiritual Imperialists to read this confirmation of their creed, written in such lyrical words by the master-hand of a French romanticist. Perhaps they would be better pleased had Romain Rolland seen in them, instead of Gandhi, the new Saviour of Humanity, but even in this he leaves ground for hope. Concluding his panegyric on India’s spiritualizing mission, he declares:

“The great religious manifestations in the Orient have a rhythm. One of two things must be; either the Gandhi Avatar will conquer, or will repeat itself – just as, centuries before, came the Messiah and the Buddha – unto the complete incarnation in a mortal demi-god of the Life-Principle that will lead us towards the new stage of the new Humanity.”

So, if India and the world are to be saved by the rhythmical advent of mortal demi-gods, it is high time that one of these spiritual leaders takes up the rule of Avatar, left vacant since the arrest of the Mahatma, and finishes his job. which is, according to M. Rolland, to bring Swaraj to the Indian people by Suffering, Sacrifice and Soul-Force, thus proving to the rest of the world that it can be done. Naturally, when the armed nations of the West behold that great moral victory, they will cast away their weapons and accept the new Gospel, even as they accepted (with ample reservations), the similar gospel of Christ two thousand years ago. M. Rolland speaks pessimistically of the Christian Church as it exists today, but does not despair if a new Church may be founded, to begin anew the work of proselytism. Truly, hope springs eternal in the pacifist breast.

In the eyes of M. Rolland, Gandhi has already scored a moral victory, which will very soon be followed (on this point he is vague but positive) by the granting of Home Rule for India, on the part of the British Government. “I am of the opinion, moreover”, he declares, “that this political ideal (Swaraj) will be attained promptly.” Of course, such a consummation is devoutly to be wished for, and, besides, it is essential to prove his whole thesis, – namely, that Non-violence is superior to Violence, and is the only path to salvation. If M. Rolland can prove that the Mahatma won Swaraj for India by non-violent means, then he hopes also to prove that Europe must abandon her wars and revolutions, in favour of spiritual weapons. “The world is swept by the winds of violence”, he declares, “each people devours the other, in the name of the same principles, which conceal the same interests and the same instincts of Cain: Nationalists, Fascists, Bolshevists, oppressed classes and peoples, oppressing peoples and classes, all claim for themselves, while refusing it to others, the right to be violent, which appears to them the Law. Half a century ago, Force preceded Law. Today it is far worse; Force is Law. One has devoured the other.”

All this is true, and M. Rolland is to be congratulated on having pierced the tissue of lies that, in the name of Bourgeois Democracy, conceals the Dictatorship of the Capitalist class. He does not like it, any more than he likes the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, which exists in Russia. Hence, in order to escape from these cruel realities, he flies to the Orient, whose softening perspectives offer him room for hope that fhere may be found another world, built upon other laws. He suddenly finds in Gandhi a new Messiah, preaching a gospel of Love and Non-Resistance, which sweeps everything before it, evokes a vast popular following, compels a powerful Empire to listen and concede. Here is fresh hope fur the tired intellectuals of war-stricken Europe. They behold in Gandhi a brother-pacifist, a Super-Pacifist, who has translated theory into action, words into deeds, and who has conducted a mighty movement that was heading towards violent Revolution, into the channels of non-violent Non-cooperation, based upon Suffering, Sacrifice and Soul-Force.

Well may the pacifists rejoice, whether of East or West. For the first time in modern history, it has been given to one of their creed Io guide a movement according to the principles of Non-violence, well may the Reverend John Haynes Holmes of New York acclaim Gandhi as the greatest man in the world: well may Romain Rolland hail him as the new Messiah. As pacifists, they could not do otherwise; Mahatma Gandhi is their proof, their single illustration, of the efficacy of pacifist theories applied to real conditions. Yet in the midst of their adulation and mystic joy, they forget one single, small, but all-important fact, namely, that the non-violent Non-Cooperation Movement of India, headed by Mr. Gandhi and conducted upon the principles of Suffering, Self-Sacrifice and Soul-Force, has not as yet succeeded in its objective, plainly stated to be the attainment of Swaraj; that its leaders, including Mr. Gandhi and some twenty-five thousand more, were arrested and sent to jail for various terms of imprisonment, many of which have not yet expired; that the movement, seriously crippled by government repression and its own mistaken tactics, has suffered a serious setback in the last fourteen months, and is only just beginning to go forward once more, under the very mundane guidance of Mr. C.R. Das and the Swaraj Party, who have given up all talk about Soul-Force, and are sticking to Non-violence, not as a religion, but as a tactic forced upon them by the exigencies of the situation. Far from being won, “Swaraj” is further away today than it appeared in the critical days of 1921–22, when the gigantic mass-movement of the Indian workers and peasants threatened to break away from spiritual leading-strings and become aggressively revolutionary. It was in that crisis that “Round Table Conferences” were spoken of, between the Government and the leaders; that Mahatma Gandhi toured the length and breadth of the country, a free man, challenging the existence of the “Satanic Government” openly, yet the latter feared to lay hands upon him, lest the rebellious masses rise in his defense. Romain Rolland speaks more truly than he knows when he declares:

“Three years earlier, India would have been soaked in blood by the arrest of Gandhi. But the sentence of Ahmedabad was received by the religious silence of India.” Petty-bourgeois pacifism is full of illusions, and hugs ihein ever more tightly to its breast as the cold blasts of Reality whistle more and more chill. The “religious” silence of India at the arrest of its Mahatma was the silence of inaction, despair and disillusionment; it was the last proof, if proof were still needed, that the non-violent Non-Cooperation Movement, based upon Suffering, Sacrifice and Soul-Force, had divorced itself utterly from the dynamics of mass-energy by adopting the Bardoli Programme, which repudiated all direct action of the masses. Swaraj, which had hovered almost within call, fled away once more like a mocking shadow, and the Mahatma was led off to jail for six years, amid the “religious" silence of India. Let Rolland rejoice, if it please him, in the “moral victory” of Gandhism; that does not bring Swaraj any closer to the Irunger-ing workers and peasants who had followed the Mahatma so blindly .believing when he told them that Swaraj would come within a year – the Swaraj of Non-payment of Rent and Taxes, and a better life for all. Was it not this same Mahatma who denounced the riotous villagers of Chauri Chaura, and ordered them to give themselves up for judgment, which they did, and two hundred and twenty-eight of them were condemned to death! Was it not the Mahatma who called a halt to Civil Disobedience, and who forced through the Bardoli Resolutions, which order the peasants to pay rent to the Zemindars, and which tell the Zemindars that their property-rights will lie respected? Yet M. Rolland, hugging his illusions more tightly to him, exclaims:

“I can scarcely believe that Mahatma Gandhi and the Non-Cooperators would accept association in the same Assembly with European and Indian capitalists. But it appears certain that Indian Home Rule is no longer in question. In one shape or another, it is inevitable. India has conquered morally.”

There are more things in this world of realities than are dreamed of in the philosophy of Pacifism. It appears certain that the Non-cooperators will very shortly sit in the same Assembly with European and Indian capitalists, if the programme of the Swaraj Party is fulfilled. But Home Rule is still far-distant, and Swaraj has become a meaningless term. The advent of a second Incarnation is still necessary to save India, and thereafter the world. The tired intellectuals of Europe are roaming the Orient in search of new illusions to replace the rags of those torn from them by the holocaust of War and Revolution, but they refuse to see there the same inexorable laws that operate throughout the natural world, whether it be East or West. They speak of “moral” victories and “spiritual” battles and the advent of a new Messiah, without knowing whereof they speak, nor caring to know that beneath the talk about Suffering, Sacrifice and Soul-Force, a people of 320,000,000 souls is struggling to free itself from political, social and economic bondage, by any weapons that come to hand. The laws of economic determinism are at work there as here, and the time will come when this mighty people, tired at last of being slaves, will rise and throw oft its shackles, striking great blows for freedom that will shake the world, even as did the great revolutions of the past. When this time comes, heaven help the tired intellectuals of Europe, and the petty-bourgeois pacifists, both East and West, for another, perhaps the last, cherished illusion will be gone!

Last updated on 2 May 2023