MN Roy

Who Will Lead?

Class Differentiation in the Indian Revolutionary Movement

Date: 1925 (approx.)
Source: Communist International, no.11 (New Series), pp.55-65
Transcription Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Mike Bessler
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). 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 Party of the Cadets is an ephemeral and lifeless Party. This statement may seem paradoxical at a moment when the Cadets are achieving brilliant victories in the elections, when they are standing on the threshold of probably even more brilliant parliamentary victories…The Cadets are not a Party, but a symptom. They are not a political force, but foam rising from the clash of fighting forces mutually more or less counter-balanced… Indeed, they are composed of garrulous, boasting, self-satisfied, narrow-minded and cowardly bourgeois intelligentsia…"

Lenin wrote these words after the Revolution of 1905, when the Cadets were rising in power. History has borne out the prophetic nature of these words. In studying the history of the Indian revolutionary struggle, we find it very instructive to draw an analogy between the Swaraj Party and the Cadets as depicted by Lenin. As a matter of fact, the political character and social composition of the Swaraj Party, which, during the last year and a half, dominated the political stage of India, can be equally characterised by these expressions used by Lenin, in analysing the role of the Cadets in Russia. In the same article Lenin compared the Cadets with worms born out of the decayed carcass of Revolution of 1905, and fattening on that carcass. This rather brutal characterisation can also apply to the Swaraj Party - the replica of the Cadets in India. A survey of the genesis and the political accomplishment of the Swaraj Party will justify this historical analogy. This retrospective glance at history is of great importance at this moment, when the Indian movement has reached the end of the period in which it was dominated by petty bourgeois ideology and by the consequent hesitating tactics in spite of its revolutionary mass composition. The lessons learned from the mistakes committed in the past will be greatly helpful in the coming stage of development in which the foundation of the movement is bound to be shifted on to new social classes, necessitating the crystallisation of new ideology and new organisational forms.

Lenin said that the Party of the Cadets was the growth on the dead body of the Revolution of 1905. Similarly the Swaraj Party rose out of the ruins of a great movement which did not reach such a definite revolutionary climax as the Russian Revolution of 1905, but which was undoubtedly the nearest approach to a revolutionary crisis in India. The collapse of the movement of mass passive resistance commonly known as the Non-Co-operation (or Ghandi) movement, led to the crystallisation of a certain political tendency which found expression in the Swaraj Party. It was the tendency towards liquidating the revolutionary character of the struggle for freedom and bringing the nationalist movement back to the bourgeois politics of reformism.

It should be recollected that the movement led by Ghandi did not suffer a defeat at the hands of external forces. It proved itself to be too powerful for the forces of repression. It succumbed under the weight of its internal contradictions, the heterogeneousness of its social composition, and the weakness of its leadership. In 1921 and 1922 the Nationalist movement became so powerful that the government was thrown into a state of panic. For the first time in the history of the Nationalist movement, the masses of the people were involved in it. The government was so much demoralised by the threatening character of the movement that it was on the point of making large concessions to the Indian bourgeoisie had the latter only had the courage to push a little farther ahead. But this could not be done unless the revolutionary potentialities of the movement were released. The bourgeois leaders, who stood at the head of the movement at that time, however, were not prepared to do this. The threatened overthrow of British imperialism in India, at any rate a serious weakening of its position, was avoided not by a defeat of the Nationalist forces but thanks to the cowardice of the petty bourgeoisie and treachery of the bourgeois intellectuals.

The Non-Co-operation movement was an organised protest against the Reforms of 1919. It embraced all the social elements except those who were directly benefited by the political rights and administrative concessions granted. Bat these rights and concessions were so insufficient that they touched only a very thin strata of the upper classes - landlords, big capitalists, and higher intellectuals. The object of the British government in granting the Reforms was to split the Nationalist ranks - to separate the big bourgeoisie from the impending mass revolutionary movement, ominous signs of which were already to be noticed in the latter days of the world war. The Reforms were successful in winning over the support of the upper classes; but their failure to meet the demands of the petty, bourgeoisie accentuated the discontent of the latter and drove them towards the masses, who were in a state of revolt owing to higher prices and other forms of economic exploitation. These two social classes embraced by far the majority of the entire population. A movement so constituted was sure to be very powerful. In fact it did appear very much so in the beginning. But the cultural backwardness and utter lack of political education on the part of the masses placed the entire movement under petty bourgeois leadership. Consequently a movement, predominated of mass composition and essentially sustained by the first stages of a gigantic working class revolt, became the political weapon of the petty bourgeoisie.

The petty bourgeois opposition to the inadequate Reforms was crystallised into a movement to boycott the latter. The concessions made were not broad enough to affect the economic conditions and political disabilities of the middle classes. Therefore, the latter declared their intention not to participate in the reformed administration. Once placed on this basis, the Non-Co-operation movement ceased to consciously express the revolutionary forces on which it was essentially based. The widespread discontent of the masses which encouraged the disgruntled petty bourgeoisie to venture upon a resistance to imperialist autocracy was, however, not to subside because the middle class intellectual leaders failed to give it a militant political form. During the year 1920 and 1921 the entire country was the scene of a powerful strike movement on the one hand and a series of agrarian insurrections on the other. In proportion as the revolutionary forces grew powerful the leaders turned against them. This contradiction between the leadership and the movement led to the collapse of the latter.

The Swaraj Party was the outcome of this collapse. The dissatisfied lower middle class drifted into the turmoil of a revolutionary mass movement without properly appreciating the gravity of the steps they were taking. But the upper strata of the middle classes, which were more consciously actuated by bourgeois idealism, had been from the very beginning aware of the revolutionary potentialities of a movement based: upon an acute mass discontent. They knew that a peasant revolt which was imminent on all sides was detrimental to the interests not only of British imperialism but also of native landlordism. They also knew that the rebellious workers employed in the industries could not be mobilised into a movement of national liberation without at the same time becoming conscious of the economic interests of their class, in which case such a movement would be directed as much against British imperialism as against Indian capitalism. Both of these eventualities, namely, an. agrarian revolt against native feudalism and a strike movement against capitalism, were odious to those leaders of the Non-Co-operation movement who consciously represented the interests of the Indian bourgeoisie.

The mass movement, which struck terror into the heart of imperialism, was sabotaged, repudiated and finally betrayed by the timid petty bourgeoisie which came under the counter-revolutionary influence of the bourgeoisie in proportion as it went away from the masses. As soon as the petty bourgeoisie committed political suicide, the way was clear for the representatives of the bourgeoisie to liquidate all the revolutionary tendencies in the Nationalist movement. The Swaraj Party gathered under its banner those advanced bourgeois elements who could give a co-ordinated and intelligent expression to the hostility against the revolutionary character of the Nationalist movement. These people began by criticising the Non-Co-operation programme as "impracticable." They argued that the Non- Co-operation movement failed owing to the impracticability of its, programme, and concluded that the movement should be given a new programme of "practical politics." The collapse of the movement, however, was not due to any weakness of the programme. On the contrary, it was due to the refusal of the leaders to carry out a programme, although not a few of those very leaders subsequently talked wisely about the impracticability of the revolutionary Non-Cooperation programme in order to justify a reversion to reformism.

The programme of Non-Co-operation was very practical and could be carried out to the great detriment of British Imperialism, had it not been purposely sabotaged by the leaders. It was so practical, that is, it corresponded so much to the objective conditions of the country at that particular epoch, that a very half-hearted propagation of the programme stirred up the masses to a point of revolt. While initiating the campaign for the rejection of the old programme in favour of a new one, C.R. Das (the leader of the Swaraj Party), condemned the Non-Co-operation leaders for having "bungled and mismanaged the movement when the mightiest government was on its knees." This was the case in 1921 when the Executive Committee of the Indian National Congress, on which sat practically all the present leaders of the Swaraj Party, repudiated all forms of mass resistance and ordered a general retreat. (C.R. Das was in jail at that time.) It is true that the Ghandi-ite leaders became terrified by the forces at their command, and called for a retreat when everything was in favour of a vigorous aggressive action. But it is certainly ridiculous to lay the blame of the defeat at the door of the programme when the leaders consciously sabotaged it. The deplorable collapse of the Non-Co-operation movement was indeed the occasion for a new form of struggle with new ideology and under new leadership. What was needed was to adopt more aggressive tactics in order to make up for the ground lost by the mistakes committed and not a retreat straight on the grounds of reformism as was advocated by the Swaraj Party.

The programme of Non-Co-operation was to make the administration of the country impossible by withholding all popular support. No foreign government can exist in a country unless it can count upon a voluntary or involuntary support of a considerable section of the native population. This being the case, it is quite conceivable that the withdrawal of all such support will make the existence of a foreign government impossible. The principle points of the programme of Non-Co-operation were: (1) to boycott the new parliamentary budget, set up under the Reforms Act of 1919; (2) to boycott the law courts; (3) to boycott government schools; and (4) to boycott the merchandise imported from Britain. All these items of boycott were preparatory to the climax of the programme - to suspend the payment of taxes and to organise mass disobedience of all laws. It was indeed a very practical programme. It was a very revolutionary programme as well. If put into effect, it would give political expression to the discontent of the masses. There could be no weapon more suitable for pulling down the political and economic structure of imperialism.

From the very beginning the bourgeois leaders desired to avoid any step that might, lead towards this climax. But the Nationalist movement in the post-war period had acquired a predominantly mass character; therefore, slogans embodying the objective demands of the masses could not be totally left out of the programme. Such demands were put forward but in the vaguest possible form. Though nothing definite was ever said as to when and how the "no tax" campaign would be inaugurated, the very slogan "non-payment of taxes" was attractive enough for the peasantry, heavily weighed down by all kinds of rents and taxes. The poor and exploited agrarian masses quickly caught on to this revolutionary slogan, and the nationalist movement dangerously approached a serious revolutionary crisis. This was enough to satisfy the petty bourgeois intellectuals who immediately changed their position. The cardinal point of the new programme was parliamentary obstruction. The plan was to present a series of demands as soon as the Nationalists would be returned to the parliamentary bodies in a majority. Should the government refuse to grant these demands, a policy of indiscriminate parliamentary obstruction would be undertaken in order to make the administration of the country impossible. On the face of it, this programme sounded very radical. It created new illusions for the petty bourgeois intellectuals, smarting in a prolonged state of inactivity caused by the collapse of the Non-Cooperation movement. For them to contest the elections and to enter the Legislature was not the end. They looked for a new period of active struggle when the government would reject the National Demands. The practical development of this struggle obviously depended on the character of the National Demands. The question was whether the demands would be such that the government would find it necessary to reject them, or they would be so formulated that it would not be impossible to find a modus vivendi. The leaders of the Party shrewdly avoided any definite answer to this question. The National demands remained shrouded in radical but vague phrases.

But the parliamentary fireworks failed to come up to their promised grandeur. Owing to the miserably limited franchise, the enthusiasm of the petty bourgeois intellectuals could not make a deep impression upon the results of the election. The enfranchised portion of the population, belonged to the landowning and capitalist classes and to the rich peasantry and higher intellectuals directly under the influence of those classes. Fully conscious of this state of affairs, the Swarajist leaders made it quite clear in their programme that the Party stood essentially for the landed and capitalist interests. But the necessity of rallying the petty bourgeois intellectuals rendered it difficult for them to make the point sufficiently clear. The Swaraj Party won a partial victory at the polls. In one province they secured a clear majority, while in the central legislature as well as in a number of important provinces they commanded a powerful minority. But on the whole, they were not in a position to dictate their terms to the government. This partial victory was a relief to the Swarajist leaders. A greater victory would have been an embarrassment for them. It sounds paradoxical, but such was the case. Because as the circumstances stood they could argue that it was not possible to make the National Demands uncompromising; nor commanding an independent majority, they could not carry those demands, and to secure a Nationalist majority for the demands, the latter must be made acceptable to the right-wing parties. A greater parliamentary victory would have embarrassed the Swaraj Party in that in such a case there would be no excuse for not presenting the full National Demands which would certainly be rejected by the government, and the movement will come back to the same old cross-roads, namely, whether to fight with imperialism or to capitulate with it. Since the Swarajists hated to be at these cross-roads, they preferred a partial victory to the complete victory.

Once in the parliament, the Swaraj Party did not delay in showing its class character. It immediately struck up an alliance with the left-wing of the bourgeois Liberals who had all along supported the government. This alliance was made at the sacrifice of the National Demands, heralded to the country in such radical phrases. The demands were moderated till they were acceptable to the bourgeoisie. The final form in which they were presented and carried through the legislature with the help of a section of the right-wing parties, was limited to the recommendation for certain measures in order to reconcile the conflict between the Nationalists on the one hand and the government on the other. But even this much was not granted by the government, which remained unmoved in its powerful obduracy.

Now the Swaraj Party was obliged to make good its second promise - that of inaugurating the tactics of parliamentary obstruction upon the rejection of the National Demands by the government. Then followed a year of parliamentary skirmishes only to culminate in the bankruptcy of the tactics of obstructionism. The Swaraj Party, in alliance with the left-wing Liberals, scored a series of parliamentary victories, of which great political capital was made by them. But for all practical purposes they were, of very insignificant importance. Undoubtedly this parliamentary opposition could be of some political value if it was coordinated with organised popular resistance in the country. Had the Swarajists really meant to take up a struggle against imperialist absolutionism, they could have organised such a popular resistance in support of their parliamentary activities. They could have done it because the mass discontent which supplied the dynamic energy to the Non-Co operation movement was still in existence and could be brought to bear upon the political situation if a suitable expression was found for it. But the very fact that the Swaraj Party was the political crystallisation of the tendencies which from the very beginning had been hostile to any revolutionary developments, precluded it from taking up any serious struggle.

The parliamentary fireworks ended in a political deadlock when the Legislature of two provinces were dismissed by the government for their repeated refusal to pass the budget. There were but two alternatives, namely, to carry the fight into the country or to surrender before the uncompromising attitude of the government. This deadlock brought about a crisis inside the Party. The bourgeois element, consciously representing the interests of the capitalist and landowning classes, pressed upon the necessity of abandoning the tactics of indiscriminate obstruction in favour of coming to terms with the government; while the intellectuals, still partially under petty bourgeois illusions, stuck to their wordy radicalism. But the Party as a whole steadily gravitated to the right since the intellectuals lacked the courage and the desire to insist upon any revolutionary action.

At last the deadlock is nearing its end, and a compromise with imperialism is in sight. After six months of manoeuvring with the object of finding a formula by which a surrender to Imperialism can be camouflaged, the Party has openly declared its intention to give up its resistance. In the beginning of April a manifesto over the signature of C.R. Das, the leader of the Party, was issued, in which were laid down the conditions for the Party to give up its parliamentary obstruction and accept office. That is, the protest against the Reforms Act of 1919 is liquidated. This attitude of the Swaraj Party was promptly reciprocated by a very reconciliatory speech by the Secretary of State for India, Lord Birkenhead. In answering questions on the prospects of establishing better relations with the Indian Nationalists, Lord Winterton, the Under-Secretary of State for India, stated in the House of Commons that a sufficiently favourable atmosphere had been created, and that an invitation to the Nationalist leaders, including Das and even Ghandi to come to England, was no longer out of the question, although it might be more advisable to let the government of India carry on the negotiations.

Now, what is this favourable atmosphere which is so heartily welcomed by the Conservative Government of Britain? The favourable atmosphere consists of the fact that the Swaraj Party, which until recently appeared as the most recalcitrant left-wing of the Nationalist movement, has categorically renounced all programme of a struggle for independence and unequivocally committed itself to the programme of self-government within the British Empire. All the resistance on the part of the Indian bourgeoisie has ceased. What is wanted is a junior partnership in the exploitation of the Indian masses. Imperialism on its side in this period of history finds it necessary to have the Indian bourgeoisie as a willing ally rather than as an element of discord to be watched always and to be handled roughly when necessary. The period of clash between imperialism and native capitalism is closed. The Swaraj Party was the "foam" of this clash, to quote Lenin's telling characterisation of the Cadets. In the coming period of reconciliation there will be hardly any necessity for the existence of such a Party. Henceforth bourgeois nationalism will be expressed through the constitutional channels of his Britannic Majesty's most loyal opposition.

The Swaraj Party started its spectacular career with the promise to "end or mend" the present system of British administration. They certainly cannot claim that they have gone very far towards ending the British, domination of India. They have not even made a very serious effort to mend it. The mending has taken place not in the nature of the British government, but in that of bourgeois nationalism.

But now the question is: does this bankruptcy of bourgeois nationalism indicate an end of the struggle for the liberation of the Indian peoples? It certainly does not. It simply means that the struggle against imperialism cannot be carried on to the victory under the leadership of the bourgeoisie. It also means that the nationalist intellectuals may indulge in heroic phrases, but they have not the courage nor the ability to organise and lead the Indian masses in a revolutionary struggle for liberation. But the necessity for the Indian people to liberate themselves from political domination and economic exploitation by British imperialism still remains. The forces of national revolution are not defeated. Only those who stood at the head of the movement up till now have found it profitable to enter into compromise with imperialism rather than to carry on a revolutionary struggle. The anti-imperialist struggle is a historic necessity. It must be carried on, only with the difference that the social foundation of the Nationalist movement will be shifted to a different class. The workers and peasants will not only be the backbone of the nationalist movement in the coming period, they will have to assume the political leadership of the movement as well.

There are very important economic reasons for the political weakness of the Indian bourgeoisie. The basis of pure bourgeois nationalism is the conflict between native capitalism and imperialism. In the present period of capitalist development, this conflict becomes more and more superficial every day. Indian capitalism is so much interlinked with and dependent upon British imperialism, that a serious political conflict leading up to a revolutionary situation has become practically impossible. The superficial character of purely bourgeois nationalism was envisaged by Lenin already at the Second Congress of the Communist International. In his report on the Colonial Commission he said:

"Certain rapprochement is to be noticed between the bourgeoisies of the exploiting countries and of the colonial countries. Very often, probably in the majority of cases, the bourgeoisie of the subjugated countries, supports the Nationalist movement, but at the same time, in agreement with the imperialist bourgeoisie (that is, together with it) fights against all revolutionary movements and all revolutionary classes."

This rapprochement indicated by Lenin in 1920 has gone on very far in India. The general crisis of capitalism in the post-war period induced the British bourgeoisie radically to change its colonial policy. It was found out that the pre-war policy of forcing the colonies to remain in a state of industrial backwardness could no longer be maintained. Consequently it was decided that an industrialised India would be of much more value to British imperialism than the agrarian India of the past. The capitalist development of India is thus taking place not in antagonism to British imperialism, but with the sanction and to the interest of British imperialism. This process of industrialisation renders the Indian bourgeoisie a protege of British imperialism. A protege cannot fight against its protector, although it might not relish its place of inferiority. But this new economic policy of British imperialism which deprives the Indian bourgeoisie of its insignificant revolutionary character, will, however, accentuate the crystallisation of more numerous and more powerful economic forces. It will quicken the class differentiation, thereby liberating the working class from the ideological domination of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie and the reactionary intellectuals. The working class will thus find itself in a position to grow into an independent political force. This process of revolutionising the anti-imperialist struggle will not be so protracted as it appears in view of the present politically backward conditions of the Indian proletariat. The capitulation of the Nationalist bourgeoisie does not by any means remove the fundamental economic causes which make for a chronic discontent among the masses of the population. The bourgeois Nationalists did not give a political expression to this discontent. On the contrary, they did their best to separate the nationalist movement from this fountain-head of revolutionary energy. So the immediate consequence of a compromise between the Indian bourgeoisie and British imperialism will be felt in the development of new forms of anti-imperialist struggle, which will embody the discontent of the toiling masses. In other words, the question of the hegemony of the proletariat in struggle becomes a question of practical politics in the next stages of the revolutionary movement in India.



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