MN Roy

Bourgeois Nationalism

Date: August 15, 1923
Published: Editorial in Vanguard, Vol.3. No.1
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Mike B.
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We are told by a friend that our critique of bourgeois nationalism is resented by many a sincere revolutionary nationalist because the latter think that this criticism reflects upon their honesty. Let it be said at the very beginning that our revolutionary duty does not permit us to spare the feelings of any particular body which directly or indirectly acts contrary to the interests of the Indian masses. We believe that the revolutionary nationalists, who are inspired by the noble ideal of national liberation, and who during the last two decades have amply proved their readiness to suffer for this ideal, are also with us in the desire to protect the interests of and secure happiness and prosperity for the masses. Correctly understood, our criticism, therefore, should not offend these honest idealists; on the contrary, the object of this criticism has always been to point out, above all to them, the motive behind the apparently plausible acts of the upper classes.

It seems that the misunderstanding arises from the term bourgeoisie. The correct socio-economic definition of this term is evidently not asked for. It is looked upon as a purely western commodity which has no place in India. In short, this term awakens in the average Indian a good deal of prejudice, which is kept alive by the subtle propaganda of the upper classes. Instead of looking for the class in our society which corresponds to what is called the bourgeoisie in the West, the common term `bhadralok' is taken for the synonym. Hence arises the misunderstanding. Of course, the term 'bhadralok' also is essentially applicable to the upper classes; and in that sense it does correspond to the 'bourgeoisie' of the West. But the term `bhadralok' now embraces such a variety of social elements that it is incorrect to use it as the synonym for the word 'bourgeoisie', which has a very definite significance.

The term `bhadralok' literally means a cultured person, - something like the English 'gentleman'. Certainly it has an indirect economic basis, inasmuch as culture has been so far available only to people enjoying certain economic privileges. The Indian term, however, is not so clearly economic as is 'bourgeoisie'. The latter is a French word which was originally applied to the propertied townsmen, and carried with it all the power and privileges that were the monopoly of the propertied townsmen in the eighteenth century. Therefore, although essentially there is not much difference between the significance of the two terms, commonly not exactly the same thing is understood by them in the places they are respectively used.

The objection to the term 'bourgeoisie' and particularly the criticism levelled against the philosophy and politics of this class, is based upon this difference between the superficial meaning of the two terms. It is perhaps thought that the Indian upper classes do not care for material things; their superiority is cultural, they are intellectual aristocrats. This is precisely the doctrine whose hypocrisy we mean to expose. It is useless to quarrel over terms. It matters very little whether the term `bhadralok' exactly means the 'bourgeoisie' or not. What does matter is that there is a class in India which for all intents and purposes does occupy the same place in Indian society as the bourgeoisie does in the western countries. All the elements included in the general term `bhadralok' may not and in fact do not belong completely to this class. It is also true that the relation between this particular section of the 'bhadralok' and the masses is not the same as the relation between the masses and others who are also called `bhadralok'. Still more the relation between this particular section of the 'bhadralok' (the section which precisely corresponds to the bourgeoisie) and the other sections which are also called 'bhadralok' is hardly to be distinguished from the relation subsisting between the former and masses. So what is to be noticed is not the loose use of a particular term, a use which has to be made for clarity and in the absence of any more suitable term - but the social composition of the class referred to by this term. If this is done, our friends, the nationalist revolutionaries will not have any reason to be offended by our criticism of bourgeois philosophy and politics. They are offended because they think that our criticism is against them; and since they do not possess the attributes which are the object of our criticism, it is quite logical that they should resent our attitude. In fact, what we persistently point out is how the class, from which the revolutionary nationalists hail, do not enjoy any of the rights and privileges that are supposed to belong to a 'bhadralok', and how the intellectual assets they are so proud of, are nothing but a commodity which is to be sold at the doors of the property-owning upper classes in return for an insufficient means of livelihood. Therefore, our criticism ought to help the revolutionary nationalists see things as they are, instead of wounding their pride.

The reason for this resentment on the part of the revolutionaries, if really resentment is there, is that they consider themselves members of the class which we call the bourgeoisie. Now, in the light of the noble sentiments which move these nationalists, it is not possible to count them among those whose patriotism is manifestly that of property, and whose theory of nationalism, as we will show presently, does not correspond with the welfare of the majority of the people who constitute the nation. We say, at the risk of incurring their displeasure in the beginning, to those who must eventually be with us: 'Do not be so proud of your "bhadralok" descent, look at your real position closely with a realist's eye and you will see that you do not belong to the bourgeoisie, the present-day "bhadralok" that counts'. In scientific social language, we say to the revolutionary patriots who want the freedom, not of a certain section, but of the masses of the Indian people: `You are de-classed: economically you have no place in the ranks of the bourgeoisie - you belong to the exploited working class; it is only the prejudice of birth, of tradition that does not allow you to have this realistic view of your position; materially you are an exploited worker pure and simple; spiritually you are bound hand and foot by the subtle propaganda of the upper classes, who are very much interested in keeping alive your prejudice against the 'illiterate mob', so that the union of intellectual worker and manual worker will be delayed as much as possible. Such being the case, why should the class, which does not enjoy any of the rights and privileges that go with property, be active or passive supporters of the politics of bourgeois nationalism?' The revolutionary patriots have nothing but their prejudice to lose. If they can do it, they will appreciate our critique of the bourgeoisie, and will see that this critique does not in the least reflect upon their honesty.

Do we not remember the sentiments that, two decades ago. brought nationalism out of the narrow circle of those engaged in prosperous liberal professions or occupying comfortable government posts? What was the ideal of those pioneers of new nationalism who challenged the right of the then Congress to speak in the name of the nation? The sentiment was of rebellion against the miserable condition to which the masses had been reduced by the foreign ruler. The ideal was to feed the hungry, to enlighten the illiterate. Not the English High Priests of Constitutionalism, but some native rebel or other, for example Bankim Chatterji, was the inspiring genius. The sight of a hungry, ignorant, oppressed people was the moving force. Therefore, the story of the Ananda Math fired the imagination of our revolutionary patriots. The cry was, rob the rich to feed the poor. In another part of the country, the vision of Sivaji leading his mountaineers fired the popular imagination. This is the basis of revolutionary nationalism, which concerns itself with the fate of the broad masses of the people. So far none of the political parties, that have at one time or other appropriated the title of fighting for the national interest, have stood upon this basis. The reason for this deviation has been insistently pointed out by us. It has not been an involuntary deviation. Exigencies of class interest demanded it. And here comes the difference between bourgeois nationalism calculated to further the interests of the upper (and specially capitalist) classes, and revolutionary patriotism based upon the noble ideal of securing happiness and prosperity for the majority of the people.

When the bourgeoisie, actuated by the desire to advance its own class interest, betrays the cause of honest patriotism, it certainly becomes imperative that every sincere patriot gets over the prejudice of being a bhadralok and takes his stand on the road of a clear revolutionary fight, which will lead to the realization of the ideal that burns in him. Failing to do so, he naturally identifies himself with the bourgeoisie, and therefore deserves to be called a hypocrite.

Now let us see what way the various schools of bourgeois nationalism are following, in order to judge if that way conforms to the ideal of sincere patriotism. In a recent article called the 'Bolshevik Menace', the Bengalee holds up our programme as positively harmful to the interests of the nation. After quoting the particular clause which calls for giving the land to the tiller, this organ of the merchant princes and landed barons writes:

`It therefore, behooves all owners of property and wealth, all professional men, all sane and sober patriots, all apostles of education and culture to combine and guard against this incipient danger which threatens to sap the very foundation of the social structure, and paralyse the activities of a young and rising nation'.

The entire article is full of such choice sentiments which can be found expressed abundantly in the press of the big bourgeoisie. Any programme that proposes to curtail in the least the vested interest of the upper classes is condemned in the name of the nation, and the patriotism of the nationalist lower middle classes is invoked to rush to the defence of the rights of property against the exploited and expropriated masses. Does not the idea of honest patriotism warrant an unconditional denunciation of this brand of nationalism? Are we wrong in calling upon the revolutionary nationalists to sever all connection with these patriots of property, and to forget their illusion of intellectual superiority, an illusion which only renders them the involuntary defenders of this brand of nationalism?

One more instance. The Swaraj Party is headed by men whose patriotism is supposed to be above suspicion. Here again, it is not individual idealism but class interest that rules supreme; and the situation has to be met as a class. The Swaraj Party proposes to enter the Councils and put forth a demand for 'real self-government' on behalf of the nation. In order to do it, they must have the mandate of the electorate, which is hardly one half per cent of the population. And who constitutes this electorate? Overwhelmingly, the propertied upper classes. Therefore, it is quite conceivable what will be the nature of the 'real self-government' demanded by the Swaraj Party. Here is what the Tribune (an organ of the Swaraj Party) says: 'by compelling the government to become really constitutional, in other words, to accept the people, that is the electorate, as its only true master'. This is the political philosophy of the party in a nut-shell. The interests of the electorate, that is the infinitesimal minority, are taken for national interests, and so soon as the government takes these interests into consideration it will become really constitutional. Upon this achievement of national self-government, the representatives of this minority will rule over the country in the name of national welfare and democracy!

Is it not a monstrous lie to say that any one of the above parties or some other of similar nature can receive the loyal adhesion of those who honestly desire the welfare of the masses? Is it not a deplorable mistake for the revolutionary patriots to consider themselves allied in any way with the classes that deceive the nation for their own interests? This is what we mean by the nationalism of the bourgeoisie.


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