Shapurji Saklatvala

Who is this Gandhi?

Source: Labour Monthly, July, 1930, Vol. 12, No. 7
Transcription/HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). 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 bourgeoisie of the world who have been startled by the work of Lenin are making a tremendous noise everywhere about this “great ” Gandhi as if he were some divine being above the ordinary human being. This outside world praises him and adores him for his two words: non-violent movement. The working class should better know the whole history of Gandhi. He has his good qualities which certainly are rare amongst political adventurers of modern life, and especially among members of the British Labour Party and other European Social Democrats. All such politicians manage to increase their wealth and their luxuries in life, and they all become little tin-pot aristocrats. Gandhi is the opposite. He throws away all material goods and wants no luxuries. Living in an oriental country of illiterate masses, and knowing very well how religion is used by every ruling class for mass suppression, he mixes a lot of religious sentiments with revolutionary phrases, and so poses as an object of worship amongst the masses in India. In this guise Gandhi professes indifference to material wealth, but he loves human admiration to an unbounded degree. The intoxication of mass worship has benumbed all his senses for physical discomfort. He also has physical courage and a dictatorial mind which will remain unchanged from external pressure till he himself rapidly changes it from contradiction to contradiction.

In his young days he went to South Africa to assist the Indian colonials who were badly oppressed by the British and the Dutch. He never made the slightest attempt socially and politically to unite the Negroes and the Indians together for the overthrow of the white man’s tyranny. He cultivated a separatist mentality among the Indians based on religious superstition and social snobbery. Whenever the humiliation or the suffering was too great for his Indian followers he gave them a dose of Tolstoy’s philosophy. Every now and again he sang songs of praise for the British Empire, and actually made people believe that there was love and justice in the hearts of imperialist rulers and capitalist employers. He left the poor Negroes alone and wasted his time in bothering with detailed grievances of small Indian merchants and traders. Whenever some vulgar favour was shown by the British master towards a few rich Indians in South Africa, Gandhi would burst out into a song like the Empire’s nightingale. He ignored the fact that South Africa belongs to the negroes and that the white tyrants were a small minority, and were the worst type of exploiters, gold hunters and diamond diggers.

Then burst out the Boer War. Gandhi observed all the intrigues of Chamberlain, Rhodes and Dr. Jameson. Every student of politics knows that the British War on the Boers was one of the foulest acts in the history of wars. Gandhi went from place to place asking Indians to be loyal to the British war-mongers and actually wanted to assist them. The disarmed Indian merchants had the reputation of having no military spirit or fitness. So he made a Red Cross Battalion out of them and sent them to help in that wicked war. His non-violent spirit and Tolstoy’s philosophy did not urge him to come out and oppose the war even as much as Lloyd George did in London. He had not sufficient understanding of the meaning of the war even to advocate that the Indians, if they had to help, should help the Boers.

After the Boer War and after the South African Union. Gandhi made a great hero in his heart and mind of General Smuts. He knew that General Smuts had finally betrayed the liberty of his own nation, he knew that General Smuts was an exploiter of the lands of the Negroes, he knew that General Smuts became a faithful servant of the Empire as soon is he was given a big position in it, though he had told his people that he was going to fight against the British to a finish. Gandhi’s worship of General Smuts grew so high that when General Smuts declared his policy of perpetual slavery for Indians in South Africa, Gandhi declared it was the Magna Carta of the poor oppressed Indians.

After this he left South Africa. When he was in London the world war broke out. Gandhi was a fresh arrival in London where there were many old Indian residents. The young Indian students in London had been agitated with revolutionary teachings from 1906, and the British Government had managed to get several of them pent to India, some of whom were then hanged and others were imprisoned from five to twenty years. In his usual desire to be a leader everywhere, he came forward as the leader of the Indians in London and issued a circular once again asking all the Indians to fall in under his leadership and to serve the British Empire in the world war. He was shrewd enough to guess that Indians young and old would have to accept his proposals from fear of being known to the Government as disloyal. But he was mistaken. The Indian residents in London laughed at him and condemned his sycophantic act. Some fifty poor Indian students hurriedly joined him and their had two or three years of humiliating time for repentance. On his return to India at a Recruiting Meeting at Kaira in 1916 he exhorted every Indian to join the British Army, and he openly declared that India’s liberty was to be won on the battlefields of Belgium murdering the Germans.

Now let us turn to India. From 1902 a revolutionary wing was built up inside the Congress, under the leadership of Tilak, demanding the overthrow of British usurpation of India. Tilak was twice imprisoned, and the second time it was for six years. The bourgeois Congress leaders were very anxious to wipe out Tilak’s influence in the country when he was in prison. Gokhale, a brilliant university professor who was gaining a reputation as a young and left-wing fighter, came out openly to assist the British Empire. He helped the old Congress leaders to retain their policy and leadership, and all the Indian princes and Indian merchants showered admiration in their turn upon Gokhale. Gokhale died at an early age and was then described as a Mahatma. Gandhi now openly declared that he would abandon South Africa for ever and take Gokhale’s place in India. Thus in place of a dead Mahatma, British Imperialists got a live one. With his revolutionary phraseology and religious slogans he came forward very rapidly. Annie Besant, another religious humbug in Indian politics, assisted Gandhi’s popularity. Tilak had come out of prison but had become a weak old man stricken with disease. He soon died and Gandhi had the field clear in front of him and took the fullest advantage of this. He got all the money and homage and blind faith that he wanted for his political campaign which ended in a fiasco even from the bourgeois point of view. A young and vigorous leader from Bengal, C. R. Das, came to the front, wiped out Gandhism and introduced a more practical policy for winning bourgeois rights. Gandhi retired from the Congress and kept up playing his holy trombone more vigorously than before. Unfortunately C. R. Das died suddenly at a young age.

At this juncture at Madras the Congress adopted severance from the British Empire as its principal creed. Gandhi actually refused to associate with the Congress. Those who know him know that his idea is to be another General Smuts. He will never fight for India’s freedom from the British yoke. He wrote in his paper jesting articles against the Independence Resolution of Madras. He is shrewd enough to know that complete independence for India will soon finish the power of the Indian princes and bourgeoisie and will end in a triumphant revolution of the workers and peasants. He is really shuddering at the thought of a Communist State: his ideal is a Dominion under British guns with Gandhi as the new “General Smuts.” He talks of the Rupee ratio, of protective duties, of handspinning, of prohibition and various other parliamentary shibboleths, but he cannot conceive of a great Indian Union of Soviets in which worker and peasants are supreme, and in which the princes and landlords, money-lenders and dividend earners, have no place at all. What can India’s poor “General Smuts” do with such an idea? As soon as Nehru's Report brought back the British Empire into the Congress, Gandhi came back. As soon as Lord Irwin spoke of a smiling Round Table Conference of the thieves of the Empire, Gandhi rushed his country into it by signing the idiotic Delhi Manifesto. But immediately he found the young blood rising, and he still found the workers’ and peasants’ revolution growing. He thought it better to ride on the back of it than be crushed under it. He, therefore, remained in the Congress with a programme for complete independence and pretended for the time to drop the Delhi Manifesto.

Since then he has been shouting for a compromise, and by dramatic vestures he is striving to force a speedy compromise between the British and would-be Indian bourgeois leaders to stem the growth of proletarian revolution. He selected the Salt Law in March as the point of his attack because he knew that for twelve months the Indian salt manufacturers had been begging the Viceroy for protective measures against the foreign European salt trust—measures which they were very likely to obtain as a price of peace between Indian bourgeoisie and British imperialists. He neglects the revolutionary side of the salt proposition. He does not call upon millions of Indian villagers to expel the special Salt Police from their villages and he does not call upon his own friends, the big Indian salt manufacturers, to refuse to pay the taxes and to go to prison. He does not call upon his propertied and mill-owning friends to refuse to pay income tax and have their property confiscated. He does not support the railway strikers and textile strikers who were shot down, and his Congress Committee has not got a word of praise for the Indian troops at Peshawar who practised true non-violence and refused to shoot down innocent people wanting their liberty from a foreign occupier of their country. By knowing the past of Gandhi, we are better able to follow his present tactics and we shall even be able to guess his future activities.

Some people think that because Gandhi and some of his followers are put in prison, and because they use strong words, therefore they will never again become friends of the British Empire. This is all nonsense. British Imperialists have been able to win back in the past much stronger fighters, such as General Botha and General Smuts, and also Arthur Griffiths and Michael Collins. Workers of the world, let us unite together and break our chains and do not let Round Table Conferences and peace conferences and imperialist conferences add stronger links to the chains round the workers and peasants.

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