Philip Spratt

India on the Eve of Revolt

Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. 11, May 1929, No. 5, pp. 285-288, (1,371 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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[Comrade Phillip Spratt, well known in India for his activity on behalf of the workers’ and peasants’ movement, in this article written only a few days before his arrest, clearly foresees the development of the present repression.]

New wave of revolt is sweeping over India. Almost at the same time we hear of the arrest or conviction of hundreds of working-class strikers in Madras, Calcutta and Bombay, a crop of arrests for sedition and murder in the Punjab, a series of prosecutions for sedition in Bengal. The Simon Commission tours round the country leaving behind it a trail of broken heads. The Assembly is presented simultaneously with three startling new essays in repression, the Trades Disputes Bill, the Public Safety Bill and the Press Bill.

In India, the magistrate’s court, even better than the legislature, serves as the thermometer of public affairs. At the moment both are rising rapidly. There can be no doubt that the political cauldron is well on the way to boiling point.

The most striking feature of the present political movement, as contrasted with the last great wave of the national upheaval in 1921, is its working-class character. The workers themselves are being savagely attacked; the members of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Party were arrested in Calcutta during the Simon boycott demonstration on account of the radical posters they were carrying, and again it is the Workers’ and Peasants’ Party members who are arrested for the Saunders murder (and then, in the absence of any evidence, tried for seditious speeches); two of the Government Bills are simply for suppressing working-class propaganda and activity.

In 1921, the petty bourgeoisie, and, to some extent, the bourgeoisie led the movement, drawing the masses behind them. In 1929, already the working class is in the front rank. This is shown in the most striking manner by the propaganda of imperialism. (Fear of communism, (i.e. of the working class) it is no exaggeration to say, is the leading note of the recent imperial speeches from Col. Gidney to the Viceroy, the European candidates to the Bengal Council and the president of the Jute Millowners’ Association. Langford James, at the European Association Conference, summarised all the warnings and pronouncements.

In this Association there are no two views, I think, on the subject of Bolshevism. We regard it as the most imminent and the most dangerous menace which this country has to face at this moment.

Such statements suggest two questions. Is this fear genuine? And is it justified? (There is no doubt that it is difficult to see reason for the panic of these spokesmen in the actual strength and organisation of the movement.) It is often suggested therefore that this propaganda is a pretence, a scare, like the Zinovieff Letter, and is used at this ticklish time, when the new reforms are on the anvil, to dissuade the Indian bourgeoisie from indulging in any unnecessary opposition.

It will suffice to reply that the Zinovieff Letter was in no way a false alarm from the imperialist point of view. The Government it helped into power smashed the General Strike, crushed the miners and passed the Trade Unions and Trade Disputes Act of 1927—not to mention a host of minor outrages upon the working class. The letter was a fake, but their fear of the British workers was genuine.

Is the fear in the Indian circumstances justified then? A theory is gaining currency among a wide section of the population which certainly would deny it. Prof. Benoy Kumar Sarkar, for example, argues from a mass of data that India is two generations behind industrial Europe. Banking finds itself “numerically, functionally as well as morphologically, somewhere near the level of world-progress attained by the pioneers of modern industry and commerce say about 1886 or even 1870.” The first Indian Trade Union Act of 1926 is to be compared with the legislation of 1871-6 in England and of 1884 in France. Even the ideology of present-day India is that of Europe in the ’sixties and ’seventies.

This is the theory of the Indian bourgeoisie. For it points to the future they desire—one of rapidly growing industry and rapidly swelling profits. And as usual, the theory of the bourgeoisie is also of that the labour reformists. Prof. Sarkar puts it clearly for them:—

1927-28. The Peasants’ and Workers’ Party of India is established. The strikes, the Trade Union movements, Factories Act amendments, advances in industrialisation and the growth of joint stock concerns, together with intensive international intercourse on all fronts as well as the political events of the post-war decade, enable Socialism to become a mentionable category for the first time in the organised public life and thought of India. For comparative chronology it is necessary to remember 1875, when the German Social Democratic party was established, and 1881, when the American Federation of Labour came into being, or 1886, the year of the establishment of the National Federation of Syndicates in France. The Indian movements have hardly ARRIVED at these institutions of some fifty years ago but bid fair to be approaching these Eur-American consummations.”

This is the theory—if they have a theory—of the Indian Labour Reformist school. They are looking forward to a generation or two of peaceful progress on the lines of the European labour movement from the ’seventies onwards. The Trades Disputes Bill is only a temporary difficulty like the German anti-Socialist laws. (Labour leaders will be concerned, not with the seizure of power, but with election to Parliament ) they will sit, not in the workers’ soviets, but in the Royal Commission on the grievances of the working classes.

The answer to these conceptions is not very far to seek. It is familiar to all concerned with the cotton industry. Listen to its expression also at the Annual Dinner of the Mining and Geological Association of India:—

Turning to the black spot of the mineral industry, Mr. Chartres said the coal trade was suffering from the same complaint as many of the industries in England to-day—a capacity for over-production and the consequent low sale price of the product. The remedy was in rigid reorganisation to cut production costs.—(Statesman, Calcutta.)

Not much room for peaceful expansion here!

There is no need to discuss the subject any further. Lenin did so quite adequately fourteen years ago. He emphasised that imperialism was the period of WORLD-wide crisis and decay of capitalism. Capitalism has extended its rule and system over the whole earth, and the process of collapse of capitalism necessarily involves in one way or another all countries, including India.

Indeed, there seems to be a certain reversal in the order of progress. The most highly developed capitalist countries, although they show in some cases very clear signs of decay, are not the first to undergo political transformation. Their long accumulated strength still maintains them. Russia was backward compared with Europe as a whole; yet Russia was the first to evolve a Workers’ State. China shows the same possibilities. It was the undeveloped, numerically insignificant working class that took a leading part in China in the Chinese nationalist movement in the post-war period.

The theory of Indian Capitalism and of Indian Labour Reformism is thus unsound.

The path of progress for the workers in India and the path which they will be forced to follow is that of militant struggle, not merely for economic reforms but for political power. In the course of their struggle there will be repression, foreshadowed only dimly by what has gone up to the present. They will be attacked by enemies from all sides, the Government, the bourgeoisie, the labour reformists (the reformists are already talking, if not organising, to split the workers’ ranks).

That is why the Government and its spokesmen are alarmed about Communism, and why they are bringing in, among other things, the Public Safety Bill. Their alarm is both genuine and justified. For not only the Reforms are coming within the next few years, the second great world war, and with it the second stage in the world-wide crisis of Imperialism, will be upon us.