M.N. Roy: New orientation in Indian Nationalism (26 April 1923)


M.N. Roy

The Colonies

New orientation in Indian Nationalism

(26 April 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 34 [16], 26 April 1923, pp. 299–300.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2021). 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.

After a spectacular career of two and a half years, the Non-cooperation Movement has collapsed. This eventuality was to be expected. Towards the end of 1921 the movement reached its climax. The revolutionary rank and file overwhelmed the pacifist leadership of the petty bourgeoisie. The ship of Noncooperation was wrecked on the rock of metaphysical non-violence The pacifism of Gandhi, which killed the great mass movement was however, not merely based upon ethical prejudices. Its real basis was respect for “law and order", the debacle of Noncooperation and the later development have demonstrated this.

A great crisis began in the Indian movement when, at the end of 1921, the nationalist leadership refused to countenance the revolutionary mass movement then in its highest tide. This breach revealed the innate weakness of the movement. The government was very quick in seizing upon this confession of weakness and inaugurating a veritable reign of terror which, on the one hand drowned the mass revolt in torrents of blood, and on the other hand, sent the nationalist leaders, including Gandhi, to jail. It was no easy task to suppress the peasant revolt which had spread all over the country like wildfire, although it had been thrown into great confusion by the timidity and treachery of the Non-cooperators. The bloody drama of suppressing the rebellious peasantry is not yet completely over. The echo of the stifled voice of the peasantry in the United Provinces, where feudalism reigns supreme, is still to be heard in the judicial farce called the Chauri Chaura trial, in which 172 men have been condemned to be hanged. In fact, the fire of agrarian revolt is still burning, although its flames may have died down for the time being.

But the government found it easier to suppress the petty bourgeois Non-cooperation movement. There was a time when the government was willing to give serious consideration to the demands of the party led by Gandhi. But as soon as the petty bourgeoisie set its face against any revolutionary action, the nervousness of the government came to an end. All the prominent leaders were clapped in jail one after another. This drastic act of the government met with no serious opposition. At last even Gandhi, the idol of the people, was safely locked up for six years. The admiring followers looked on in dismay and congratulated themselves upon the success of perfect non-violence.

Thus came to a close the first crisis, the issue of which was Violence or Non-violence. A violent revolt of the masses meant a threat against vested interests, and above all against the right of feudal absolutism; the petty bourgeois Non-cooperators clung pathetically to the formula of Non-violence when the whole country was surcharged with the spirit of violent revolution. The inevitable consequence was, that nothing but a series of formulas and dogmas was left of the Non-cooperation movement. The first stages of the great movement ended in a shameful defeat, for which the doctrine of Non-violence is to be blamed not less than the violent methods of Imperialism.

The first period of crisis was solved, not by the evolution of new tendencies inside the movement, but by severe blows dealt from the outside. It was solved by the government repression, which demonstrated for the n-th time that the ethical code determining the guidance of the class-ridden society is not Non-violence, but Violence. In so far as the inner composition of the movement was concerned, the controversy over Violence vs. Non-violence, Physical Force vs. Moral Force, was by no means, over. It only assumed a less ethical and more political appearance. Hence one crisis led up to another and more serious one, which could not be solved by such an easy method as government repression.

The second crisis involved a fundamental political issue. It could not be overcome without a fundamental change in the very theory of nationalism. It demanded a new orientation in the ideology of the movement. The period Of this second crisis lasted almost a year. During this period, the social forces behind the national struggle underwent a process of readjustment. The removal of the personality of Gandhi released many conflicting tendencies that were operating inside the medley of Noncooperation. The petty bourgeoisie was replaced in the leadership by the radical intelligentzia. This revolution in leadership inevitably brought about a change in the ideology of the movement, the first attack was levelled against the metaphysical character of Non-cooperation. The demand of the radicals was that politics should be secularized. The demand took concrete shape in the campaign for the revocation of the triple boycott. Two of the three boycotts, which constituted the political platform of Non-cooperation, had already failed. The boycott of schools and the boycott of law-courts had never been put into practice, except in individual cases and during momentary enthusiasm. So the campaign practically was directed against the third boycott – the boycott of the Reformed Councils. The radical opposition argued that new fields of activities were to be found if the movement was to be saved from inanition. They held up the election campaign as a great opportunity for agitation.

Thus, the deadlock created by the degeneration of orthodox-Non-cooperation, was broken by the demand of the radical intellectuals for some political action. The radicals proved to be more advanced than the petty bourgeois Non-cooperators, in that they condemned the metaphysical degeneration of the national movement, and demanded political activities. But they would not take up the leadership of the movement where it had been deserted by the Gandhites. They wanted action; but they would not countenance revolutionary mass action any more than their political opponents. Therefore the only path they could lead the movement into was reversion to the old methods of Constitutional agitation. They repudiated the petty bourgeois tactics of outlawing the “satanic” government and of retiring in holy indignation into the shell of spiritual isolation. They contended that the government was there. It did not cease to exist simply because the Non-cooperators in impotent rage chose to leave it alone. The Reformed Councils did not fail to assume parliamentary grandeur and serve the purpose of an apology for Imperialism, because they were boycotted by the middle classes. Left entirely at the mercy of the upper classes, the pseudo-parliaments were packed with exactly the kind of elements the government desired to have there. Basing themselves on these arguments, whose correctness could not be challenged by the ethical concepts of the pure-Gandhites, the radical intellectuals pretended to rally all the elements of opposition in the National Congress with their cry for a “change” in the program.

The radicalism of the bourgeois intellectuals went so far as to demand a change; but no farther. A change could lead to the right, or to the left. The decomposition of the Centrist Non-cooperators prepared the ground for a move this way or that. In the absence of a strong and well organized left wing basing itself upon the striking proletariat in the cities and the rebellious peasantry in the country, the radicals led the movement towards the right The revolt against the deadening inactivity imposed by the authority of ethical dogmas was so great, that any prospect of a change in the program was hailed by all the vital elements inside the National Congress. The split that followed gave birth to a new party inspired with progressive radicalism and

promising to be the powerful organ of bourgeois Nationalism. In view of the fact that the Indian movement has not yet passed through this stage, the birth of the new party, which is called the Swaraj (Selfgovernment) Party, has a revolutionary significance. It makes for the clarification of the social forces militating in the ranks of the national struggle. By a chance coincidence, the petty bourgeoisie was invested with the leadership of the movement during an acute revolutionary epoch. The retarded growth of the bourgeoisie is responsible for this anomalous combination. But in proportion as the economic power of the bourgeoisie grows, its political demands cease to be characterized by the old tactics of “praying and petitioning”. On the other hand, through the agency of the radical intelligentzia, the ambitious capitalist class seeks to wrest the leadership of the nationalist movement from the faltering hands of the petty bourgeois revivalists. Thus the birth of the new party signifies the growth of a new orientation in the Indian movement. This new orientation may appear to be weakening the movement for the time being, in so far as it causes a swing to the right; but ultimately it will make for the strengthening of the movement, because a conscious bourgeoisie constitutes an immensely more powerful foe of Imperialism than the degenerated petty bourgeoisie. Moreover, the assumption by the nationalist movement of a dearly bourgeois character will enable the working class to play an independent part in the struggle.

Last updated on 16 October 2021