M.N. Roy: A New Phase of the Indian National Movement (18 April 1923)


M.N. Roy

The Colonies

A New Phase of the Indian National Movement

(18 April 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 35 [17], 3 May 1923, pp. 317–318.
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.

The close of the 37th annual session of the Indian National Congress witnessed the orthodox Non-Cooperators, followers of Mr. Gandhi, in the majority and the full confirmation of the Constructive Program adopted at Bardoli in the spring of 1922. The triple boycott of law-courts, government schools and of foreign cloth was to be prosecuted with vigor, the boycott of the Reform Councils was to be maintained, and before the end of April, the Congress leaders pledged themselves and the country to collect 2½ lakhs of rupees for the National Fund and to enroll 50,000 volunteers in the army of Passive Resisters to governmental authority. It was likewise decided by the majority vote, to organize peasant and labor unions under the Congress auspices, and to embark upon individual Civil Disobedience (as distinguished from Mass Civil Disobedience), should the country at the end of this given period be considered fit for embarking upon this step, in the eyes of the Congress leaders. An 11th hour resolution, repudiating all debts henceforth contracted by the government or the Reform Councils, was carried by an enthusiastic majority, and the Congress adjourned without having committed itself to any new step, or repudiating any of the old tactics that had landed it in its present bankruptcy.

The decisions of the Congress signalized the temporary defeat of the strong Opposition faction within its ranks, headed Mr. C.R. Das, the well-beloved and brilliant lawyer-politician and patriot from Bengal, who as President of the Congress, had issued just before its convening, an alternative program embodying many changes in the tactics hitherto pursued by the Non-Cooperators. The most important among these was the abandonment of the boycott of the Reform Councils, and the contesting of the 1924 elections by the Congress Party with the object of entering the Councils to end them or to mend them. The whole struggle of the Congress turned upon this issue, which was supported, not only by Mr. Das and his immediate followers, but by the strong right-wing faction [text missing] rational “Pro-Change” politicians who had long been agitating within the Congress for the abandonment of the boycott of the Reform Councils. Thus Mr. Das, leader of the left-wing Extremists, found himself temporarily allied with the “Responsive Cooperators” of the right-wing faction of the Congress. The complete defeat of Mr. Das’ program led to the resignation of the latter at the close of the Congress as President of that body, and to the formation within the Congress of a separate party, headed by Mr. Das and including the right-wing elements, known as the “Swaraj Party”, whose avowed object was to work within the Congress with the object of obtaining the majority in that organization and to work independently with its own program, for the attainment of Swaraj by non-violent means.

The new party thus included within its ranks incongruous elements of the left and of the right, whose bond of union consisted in the disgust of both factions with the orthodox Non-Cooperators and their moribund tactics, and in the tactics of contesting the elections to the Reform Councils, with the object of entering than to practice obstruction and so force the government either to dissolve the Councils or to concede further reforms. There were however, many revolutionary elements who drew back from allegiance to the new party on account of their dislike of anything even remotely resembling cooperation with the government, as entrance into the Reform Councils seemed to imply, even though qualified as obstructionist tactics. Such elements were represented by the faction within the Congress which, for two years past, has presented a resolution calling for the definition of Swaraj as “complete independence outside the British Empire, to be attained by all possible and proper means”. Such a definition stands in direct opposition to the rather vague Congress slogan of “Swaraj”, which has only very recently been defined by various accredited leaders as meaning Home Rule or Dominion Status within the British Empire. To this latter definition, the Swaraj Party of Mr. Das and his adherents subscribe, and in their recently published program, drawn up in February of this year, it is clearly announced that Unobjective is “complete dominion status”. Thus, there is still room for a republican party standing for the freedom of India from all foreign rule, and such a party has been formed within the past two months by those extremist elements inside the Congress whose resolution calling for complete independence has been twice rejected. This third party is known as the “Independence Party”, which has issued a manifesto and announced its intention of working within the Congress until it obtains, a majority. Its following, however, is much less than that of the Swaraj Party, which claims to control the votes of one-third of lite Congress delegates present in this session just past.

The Swaraj Party contains within its ranks all the leaders in the Non-Cooperation movement possessing any personality and influence on the country as a whole, and it embodies the principles of bourgeois democracy, as opposed to the reactionary and metaphysical politics of the orthodox Gandhites. As such, it is bound to command a majority in the 1923 session of the National Congress, and has already commenced an intensive campaign of organization and propaganda throughout the length and breadth of India. So widespread was the response, and so enthusiastic the popular reception given to the leaders of the Swaraj Party, that the faithful followers of sacrosanct Gandhism became alarmed, and overtures for negotiation and compromise were made by the latter to the leaders of the new and more vigorous faction. These overtures bore fruit in several conferences, and at last resulted in a temporary understanding, whereby the Swaraj Party agreed to postpone all independent propaganda for it» own program until after April 30th, the date on which the Congress had pledged itself to collect its fund and enlist 50 thousand volunteers. This temporary truce was to hold good until, at the end of this period, it was seen whether the country was ripe for the declaration of Civil Disobedience, and each side agreed to work in unison until the Congress Committee should announce its decision on this point.

The agreement to compromise means several things. It means, first of all, that the orthodox Gandhites realize that their day is over, and that in order to prevent the new party winning control of the entire Congress organization, it was necessary to temporize and eventually to concede the main points at issue in order to preserve the unity of the Non-Cooperation forces This is a tacit confession that the victory of Gandhism at Gaya was an illusive one. and that the real strength of the movement has shifted from the petty-bourgeois sentimentalists and transcendentalists, to the rationalist politicians of the school of “Responsive Cooperation” advocated by the late Lokmanya Tilak, whose death prevented him from organizing an effective resistance to the spiritual politics of Mr. Gandhi and his disciples.

The compromise means also, that the New Party is unwilling to go to the length of a definite split from the Congress ranks, if it can drag the unwilling followers of Gaudm in its wake. The game of “Responsive Cooperation” is a dangerously opportunistic one, which the present Moderates who accepted the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms as a “stepping-stone” to complete Self-Government, can on occasion play with the government in a very spectacular manner. The decision of the Swaraj Party to contest the elections to the Reform Councils alarmed the Moderates and put them on their mettle to prove that they, after all, had been right all along in their decision to accept the Reform Scheme for what it was worth, and to utilize it for, what it was worth, in order to extract more concessions. On several occasions during the past two years, they have practised obstruction within the Councils with some degree of success, and since the beginning of the present year, they have three times rejected measures proposed by the Government, necessitating the “certification” by the Viceroy that such steps were necessary, for the welfare of the country, and so passing them over the heads of the Legislative Assembly. Thus, the demands for increased railway expenditure and for the expenses of a Royal Commission to investigate the question of the Indianization of the Government Services were refused by the Assembly and passed by order of the Viceroy, while the Bill to protect he Indian Native States against Disaffection, by curbing the freedom of the press was rejected by the Assembly and certified by the Viceroy, while it was afterwards laid before the British Parliament and approved by that body, and so became a law. Even more sensational was the very recent rejection by the Assembly of the official proposal to double the Salt Tax as a means to raise revenue to cover the huge Budget Deficit, now totalling some £100,000,000. This increased burden on the poor people was recommended by the Inchcape Committee, which let the staggering military expenditure off very lightly. The enhanced San Tax was twice rejected by Hie Legislative Assembly, and was thereupon certified by the Viceroy and will go before the British Parliament to become a law in the next months.

Thus, the struggle within the Councils is already laking place, and the prospect of new elections looming up early in the coming year will do much to enhance this opposition of the enthroned Moderates, who are very loth to lose their seats in the Legislative and Provincial Assemblies, to the faction of the Non-Cooperators who have declared for contesting the elections. There is little doubt that the Non-Cooperators lie closer to the heart of the very limited electorate than do the ultra-loyal Moderates, aud that candidates from the Congress or Swaraj Party would stand a much better chance of election titan those from the Liberal League. But that the “Responsive Cooperators” will be able to accomplish more within the Reform Councils by obstructionist tactics than the Moderate Liberals have, remains extremely unlikely. The character of the Reform Councils has not altered, and the government can manipulate those bodies, as well as the elections, to suit its own purposes. It is certain that the Non-Cooperators will not obtain a majority of the seats in the coming elections, so well controlled is the official representation and so complex is the system of communal and special class voting.

However, a break away from the blind alley of spiritual politics has been made, and the Non-cooperation movement is struggling for a new program and new tactics to guide the national struggle. The elaborate Programme and Constitution of the Das-Swaraj Party has been drawn up and laid before the country for criticism, suggestions and approval. It suffices to say that one of its main clauses calls for the “growth and protection of private property” to understand the highly-bourgeois nature of the new party, and its intense class-consciousness. The fact that its program also calls for the organization of peasant and labor unions to help in the national struggle only makes the signs more ominous. It means that the Indian working-class will be consciously exploited by the national movement for its own ends, instead of unconsciously, blindly and sentimentally, as heretofore.

April 18, 1923.

Last updated on 16 October 2021