MN Roy

The New Trend of Indian Nationalism

Published: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 6, February 1924, No. 2, pp. 97-105
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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The outstanding feature of the Indian Nationalist Movement during the last half year has been a swing to the right. The programme of militant mass-action, inseparably involved in the Non-Co-operation campaign, has been definitely replaced by constitutionalism. Every tendency of a revolutionary nature has been repudiated. The leadership of the National Congress has passed over into the hands of the upper middle class, whose programme is not to boycott the Government, but to make the way clear for negotiations which will eventually lead to a compromise with Imperialism. The object of the Congress, under the new leadership of the Swaraj Party, has been declared frankly to be the realisation of Dominion status within the Empire. The pseudo-parliamentary institutions known as the Reform Councils, heretofore boycotted by the Non-Co-operators, have been proclaimed by the new leadership to be the most useful field for nationalist activities.

Last year, when the Congress was still controlled by the followers of Gandhi, the right wing, under the leadership of C.R. Das, brought forward the demand for the repudiation of the council boycott. In the Gaya Congress of December, 1922, this resolution was defeated. The right wing, which refused to abide by the Congress decision, constituted itself into a new party within the Congress, known as the Swaraj Party, and began to agitate for the removal of the ban upon the councils.

The new party was composed of the upper middle-class elements within the Congress, and therefore counted among its ranks some of the ablest and cleverest politicians in the Nationalist Movement. The orthodox Gandhists, on the other hand, had nothing concrete to offer which could give new impetus to the movement. They could only repeat the worn-out formulas which had been found miserably impotent in the field of practical politics. By roundly repudiating the militant action of the masses, the Gandhists had forfeited the confidence of the latter. The once-powerful Non-Co-operation Movement had become nothing but a dramatic show. Inactivity and disintegration characterised the movement at this period. Divorced from the masses, the Nationalist Movement had become once again a purely middle-class affair. Under such circumstances, it was but natural that those leaders who could give out a programme calculated to further the interests of the bourgeoisie should carry the Congress with them.

This is precisely what happened. After half a year of bitter recrimination, it was decided to call a special session of the. National Congress at Delhi. This met in the middle of September and gave its verdict in favour of the Swaraj Party. The ban on the councils was raised, and the Congressmen were allowed to contest the coming general elections. This constituted a complete victory for the upper middle class, which is very closely connected economically and ideologically with the big capitalists and landlords, and signalised the defeat and demoralisation of the petty bourgeoisie which had led the Non-Co-operation Movement. The victory of the Swarajists was all the more decisive inasmuch as most of the outstanding figures of the Gandhist wing, which stood for the continuation of the council boycott, came to an open or tacit understanding with the right wing. Mohamed Ali, the chief lieutenant of Gandhi and leader of the Khilafat Movement, himself called upon the Congress to sanction the removal of the council boycott. He even intimated that he did so with the authority of Mr. Gandhi.

The Special Congress at Delhi marked a turning-point in the entire movement. The petty bourgeoisie, which did not find its own interests reflected in the new programme, could not agree with the new leaders, neither could it develop a programme of its own which might command a hearing in the Congress. Had the petty bourgeoisie been bold enough to revive the original Non-Co-operation Programme with full consciousness of its revolutionary significance, they might have re-captured the leadership of the Congress. That is to say, they could have held their own only if they had had courage enough to fall back upon the masses, in order to fight the right wing.

But this is too much to expect from the petty bourgeoisie. It, however, remains a fact that this element, dissatisfied with the Delhi decision, provides a fertile field for the propaganda of revolutionary nationalism.

The two months following upon the Delhi Congress were marked by the election campaign for the new Reform Councils, this campaign being the only sign of nationalist activity. In view of the fact that the six million people constituting the Indian electorate, out of a population of three hundred and twenty million, belong to the propertied upper classes, rich intellectuals, and peasant-proprietors closely related to the landlords, those seeking election could not but commit themselves unequivocally to the defence of the interests of these elements. Therefore, the election campaign has brought out clearly the true nature of the Swaraj Party, which to-day controls the leadership of the National Congress.

Cleared of all the froth and foam of sentimentality with which Mr. C.R. Das originally clothed it, the programme of the Swaraj Party (and therefore of the Congress) has for its main planks: (1) Dominion status; (2) Parliamentary opposition, with a view to forcing the Government to negotiate with the “representatives” of the nation; (3) Protection of private property and development of native capitalism; (4) Defence of the landed aristocracy; (5) Protection of the Native States; (6) Decentralised government.

The methods proposed for the realisation of this programme are eminently bourgeois. Constitutional opposition has become the main pivot of the movement. The plan is to capture a majority of the elective seats, then to bring in a resolution on Self-Government. If the Government rejects the resolution, a policy of obstruction will be adopted to make government through the councils impossible. This all sounds quite plausible until we examine the facts. First, the Swaraj Party, though scoring notable victories in the elections just terminated, have failed to capture more than about a third of the seats. The conquest of a majority, upon which hangs the success of the entire plan, will be possible only when the bourgeoisie as a class stands solidly behind the Congress, that is, when the Congress has become quite frankly the representative of the upper classes. Secondly, a parliamentary majority, even when secured, will be of no avail unless the Congress is ready with a plan of extra-parliamentary action at the time when, as is inevitable, its resolution is rejected. The two cannot go together because extra-parliamentary action implies a revolutionary movement based on the masses—a movement which will not be tolerated by the bourgeoisie. Therefore, the logical evolution of the new Congress programme will be full-fledged constitutionalism, which means going back to the stage which existed previous to the inauguration of the Non-Co-operation campaign in 1919.

Though the Swaraj Party has failed, in the recent elections, to secure anything like a majority, a number of its candidates have gained seats at the expense of prominent moderate and loyalist leaders. The men at the head of the Swarajists could not have had any illusions about the results of the elections; they knew quite well that they could not obtain a majority by themselves. Therefore, already before the election campaign was fully begun, they sought coalition with the left wing of the Liberal Party—the former leaders of the National Congress and representatives of the big bourgeoisie and progressive landlords.

Although such a coalition has not been formally accomplished, the parliamentary fraction of the Swaraj Party will be strongly diluted by out-and-out bourgeois members, who have been given the stamp of the Party during the elections in spite of the fact that most of these men never took any direct part in the Nationalist Movement. Their adhesion has been bought at a rather high price, since they do not subscribe to the tactics formulated by the Swarajists. In order, therefore, to retain them in its fold, the Swaraj Party will have to modify its parliamentary tactics. Thus the plan of “wrecking” the councils, of which so much has been talked, becomes totally problematical, since first of all there is no Swarajist majority, and, secondly, those who have been elected as Swarajists do not all unanimously subscribe to these tactics. What then can be left to the Congress led by a party in such an equivocal position, but to become, for all practical purposes, a party of the bourgeoisie, given over to constitutional agitation with the object of driving a bargain with Imperialism?

This shifting of the Nationalist Movement on to purely bourgeois grounds leaves the lower middle class and the masses out in the cold. But unrest is still acute among these elements, and the cause of this unrest cannot be removed short of a complete revolution. With the shattering of all its illusions, one after another, the petty bourgeoisie is in a pitiable condition; but there is a large unruly element within its ranks, the element which was the original vehicle of revolutionary expression in this country during the first period. These are the de-classed intellectuals, with absolutely nothing to lose but their prejudices. The collapse of the Non-Co-operation Movement and the reversion of the Congress to the old methods of constitutionalism have thrown these revolutionary elements back on their own resources, which, however, are not very great. They have returned to terrorism, which time and again has proven itself futile.

But the idealism and determination of this element are undeniable. Given a well orientated political leadership they are sure to give a better account of themselves. In view of the intellectual backwardness of the masses, it becomes historically necessary that the initial leadership of a truly emancipatory movement should come from these de-classed intellectuals. The cadre of a working-class party must be recruited for some time from its ranks. The clarification of the class-character of the Congress has made this task easier. The rapid development of bourgeois nationalism is dissipating many reactionary social and economic doctrines, which have until now confused the vision of the lower middle class of India.

Along with its contemporary, the Non-Co-operation campaign, the Khilafat Movement has also died of inanition. The dangerously reactionary tendencies embedded in this movement gradually paralysed its superficial political efficacy, and since last year led up to the religious and communal conflicts that have of late assumed such serious proportions in India as to put the nationalist leaders at their wits’ end. Particularly in the northern provinces, where the Moslem population predominates, communal conflicts have become a veritable civil war, which is backed by the reactionary elements of both communities and deftly encouraged by the Government.

This logical development of the extreme fanaticism aroused by the Khilafat Movement led to the organisation of the All-India Hindu Sabha, in which all the reactionary tendencies of the Hindu community are crystallised. The avowed object of this Hindu organisation is the defence of its own community. Many prominent Congress leaders take an active part in supporting this reactionary Hindu movement—a fact which has given a handle to the Moslem clergy, landlords, and loyalist officials in their attempt to show up to the Moslem masses the “irreconcilable” hostility of the Hindus. A spirit of fanaticism, fomented by intense agitation for the defence of religion and social traditions, such as the Khilafat Movement called forth, can be easily diverted in any direction from which the attack upon religion is alleged to emanate. The Khilafat Movement has thus degenerated into a revival of the acute rivalry between the two great Indian communities. The result, so far as the Nationalist Movement is concerned, has been disastrous.

On the other hand, the bottom has been knocked off the Khilafat Movement as such by the march of events in Turkey. When the news filtered through that the Turks, who have been held up as custodians of the Khilafat, have themselves repudiated this antiquated institution, the task of maintaining the enthusiasm of the Indian Moslems on this issue became more and more difficult. Then it is not generally realised that very few of the real leaders of the Moslem community adhered to the Khilafat campaign. They merely “lay low” until the enthusiasm of the masses, aroused by quite other causes than the “Khilafat wrongs,” but exploited by Khilafat enthusiasts, had subsided. These leaders have now started a campaign in favour of reconciliation with England. They have revived the old arguments, namely, that Moslems are in a minority in India, and that self-government on the principle of popular representation will put them under Hindu supremacy. Therefore, they argue, Moslem interests should be treated as a separate issue. Attempts made to revive the All-India Moslem League, which was a rival organisation to the National Congress until its absorption by the latter after the Lucknow Compact of 1916, are but other indications of the exceedingly shallow foundation upon which the “Hindu-Moslem unity” (founded upon the Non-Co-operation-Khilafat agitation) rested.

The leaders of both communities stand dismayed at the turn of events, which anyone with an ounce of foresight might have foreseen. Being unable to find a solution, they evade the issue, while the bitter communal conflict eats into the very vitals of the Nationalist Movement. The only solution of the present impasse lies in the total abolition of separate communal organisations, such as the Khilafat and Hindu Sabha, and placing the agitation among the masses more on a nationalist than on an extra-nationalist or communal basis—more upon the economic struggle than upon religious fanaticism. It is only by pointing out the identity of their class interests, as distinguished from sectional or communal ones, that a real and permanent unity can be established by the Indian masses.

This fact is strikingly demonstrated by the development of this semi-agrarian, semi-religious movement of the Sikhs in the Punjab, which developed as a local or rather a provincial issue, due to the failure of the National Congress to place it on a nation-wide basis. In this case, too, the bourgeois leadership sabotaged at every step the revolutionary tendencies of the movement, thereby seriously weakening its immense potentialities. The Sikh peasantry responded to the cry for “Reform of the Shrines,” in the hope of gaining access to the temple lands. The Shrine Reforms Committee, controlled by the lay landlords (as distinguished from the clergy they were seeking to oust from control) and capitalists, did its best to confuse and sidetrack the dynamic forces of mass action that underlay and gave strength to the entire movement, While the rank and file were demonstrating their firm determination to carry on the fight to a finish, the Committee entered into negotiation with the Government and the Shrine authorities. Hoping to arrive at a compromise, the Committee suspended practically all militant activities, whose efficacy had been the only means of inducing the Government to negotiate. The latter was not slow to seize upon this internal weakness of the movement and rebuffed the Reforms Committee’s overtures towards an understanding.

The result was a schism in the movement. The most militant section launched on a premature campaign of violence, which could only take the form of spasmodic and entirely ineffectual terrorism. The Government came down upon this element with the heavy hand of repression. On the other hand, its attitude towards the other elements in the movement likewise stiffened. The Reforms Committee started once more a campaign for mass demonstrations against the action of the Government. The latter replied by declaring the whole movement to be illegal and putting it under ban. More than three hundred of the most prominent Sikh leaders were arrested, including all the members of the Reforms Committee, while the organs of extremist Sikh opinion were suspended and their offices closed. The Government dared to take these drastic measures, which met with little or no opposition from the Nationalist Movement, because it judged the situation correctly. The National Congress, torn by communal and factional strife, was not in a position to come to the aid of the Sikhs; even had it been strong enough to do so, it had never understood the revolutionary significance and potentialities of the Sikh Movement, and would have opposed them, had it done so, even as it opposed the mass movement that threatened to overwhelm the constitutionalism of the Non-Co-operation Movement. Under no conceivable circumstances will the Congress, as at present constituted, subscribe to the slogan of “Land to the Peasant,” which is the only objective cry for the Sikh Movement if it aims to hold its own against Government persecution and to realise its programme of Reform of the Shrines.

The programme of political independence, placed before the National Congress last year and repudiated by its leaders, has been taken up by a considerable section of the left wing, and a definitely worded resolution brought before the provincial conference of the United Provinces this year, defining the Congress objective as being “complete independence from all foreign rule,” was adopted by a large majority. A study of the nationalist Press makes it clear that the ideology of the Indian movement is undergoing great changes towards the Left, no less than towards the Right. While until recently the programme of the National Congress was characterised by vague generalities about “Swaraj,” to-day there is no political party in the country worthy of the name that does not contain clauses in its programme concerning the social and economic welfare of the masses. In every province, large masses of the petty bourgeoisie are looking for a new leadership. The slogan “Alliance with the Workers and Peasants” is rapidly gaining ground. A prominent Congressman, in moving the resolution on Labour Organisation in the Provincial Conference just referred to, came out openly and denounced the National Congress as the organ of the bourgeoisie, and called upon the revolutionary nationalists to throw in their lot with the masses. An ever larger body of opinion in the country holds to the idea that mere political freedom, without a complete social and economic revolution, will be a meaningless and futile phenomenon.

Thus the struggle against Imperialism is ever widening, and the element of class-conflict is being ever more clearly revealed and developed within the framework of the Indian body politic, as the political ideology becomes clarified and the Nationalist Movement divides itself into two streams -- one “constitutional” and compromising; the other, by dint of economic pressure, ever more revolutionary and uncompromising in its struggle against a two-fold enemy, Foreign and Native Capitalism, which tend to unite in the end. Upon the future development of this struggle, and its ultimate outcome, hangs the fate of the three hundred millions of the Indian proletariat and peasantry.


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