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Fourth International, September 1942


Editorial Comment

[The Working Class of India]


From Fourth International, vol.3 No.9, September 1942, pp.259-261.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


The Industrial Proletariat of India Enters the Struggle – Its Concentrated Economic Power and Political Experience – Why the Program of the Congress Cannot Be the Program of the Workers – The Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India

A great wave of political strikes of the industrial proletariat is sweeping India. Most of the details are suppressed by the totalitarian British censorship and the American press and radio which are closely collaborating with the British. But the essential facts are now known and, as a matter of fact, are beginning to seep out through some of the press commentators. Thus Louis Fischer reports that the 50,000 workers of the greatest industrial enterprise in India, the famous Tata steel and munitions works, launched a political strike on August 21, demanding the release of the imprisoned Congress leaders. Fischer adds:

“The strike wave in India is spreading. The most disturbed areas are the vital mining and factory regions of Behar, Madras, the United Provinces, the Central Province and the Bombay Presidency. In many places the tearing up of rails has completely disrupted railroad traffic. Telegraph service is frequently discontinued and always quite unreliable. Riots and sabotage throughout India are on a much larger scale than the British government in India had anticipated, the semi-official daily Statesman of New Delhi admits.” (The Nation, September 5)

Raymond Clapper adds the following details:

“India has dropped out of the news, but it is an artificial silence. Lack of news from India is caused by the tight censorship ... War production there is seriously crippled by strikes. Steel works, tinplate mills, cotton mills and other establishments have been affected. Railroad traffic was interrupted on one main line, forcing an attempt to move vital strategic material out of India by airplane. One important industrial center was cut off from all communication by railroad, telephone and telegraph for four days …. In other words, the real test between the Gandhi forces and the government evidently is still to come.” (N.Y. World Telegram, September 5)

A Young But Seasoned Proletariat

The Indian proletariat is very young. Only in the last two decades has it emerged permanently from the peasantry, and many proletarians still have direct ties with the villages. The first real impetus for modern industry came in 1914-18, when wartime necessities relaxed the British policy of preventing the growth of factories in India; manufacturing for Britain’s armies, and for the home market hitherto flooded with English-produced goods brought forth the Indian proletariat. Despite Britain’s renewed discouragement of Indian industry after the war, and the narrow domestic market due to the impoverishment of the peasantry, a poverty which fell to starvation levels after 1929, industry (including mining and transportation) developed so that by 1935 there were five million Indian workers in modern plants. Since then war preparations have brought expansion – the extent is concealed by Britain as a military secret – which has undoubtedly added several millions to the industrial proletariat. The specific weight of this class is enormously increased by the fact that the industrial plants, established so late in the development of capitalism, are generally large-scale enterprises, so that the workers are concentrated into relatively few production units.

Despite its youth, this proletariat has had a rich political experience. From its first struggle for higher wages, it learned that behind the employer, whether British or Indian, stands the government with its indefinite detention without trial, lathi-wielding police, troops and bombing planes. From the formation of the All-India Trade Union Congress in 1920, it has been the arena of fundamental political discussion. The workers condemned Gandhi in 1922 for calling off the civil disobedience campaign. Avowedly Marxist programs are familiar to the workers, the “pure and simple” trade unionism of America is alien to them. From the proletariat emerged Marxist parties which, in turn, were the principal leaven in creating the organized peasant movement, the All-India Kisan Sabha (founded in 1936). In 1937-39, during the period of the Congress Ministries in seven of the eleven provinces of British India, when the dominating right wing of the Congress sponsored anti-labor legislation and crushed strikes, the proletariat began to learn the most important lesson of all: the bourgeois character of the Congress. In the bitter conflicts of the unions and peasant sabhas with the Congress bourgeoisie, the Indian proletariat came of age. Since 1937 it has consciously pressed for mass struggle against British imperialism and against the indecision and cowardice of the Congress leadership. The workers forced the Congress Ministries to resign at the beginning of the war in protest against the involvement of India without its consent. Without their pressure the Congress would never have embarked on its present campaign. The workers, with sure instinct, are supporting every Congress step against British rule, but they do so with considerable awareness of the limitations of the Congress leadership and methods.

The Real Role of the General Strike

Since the Lahore Congress of 1929, where Nehru proposed it, the Congress has included in its program of struggle the General Strike. But, as the whole history of the labor movement has demonstrated, an effective General Strike can mean only: (1) a strike called for a specifically limited period of a few days, as a political protest for some limited demand or (2) a strike called without any time limit, with the perspective of paralyzing industry and transportation in order to follow it up with the conquest of state power. The first form of General Strike, appropriate for a limited demand, is obviously inappropriate for the achievement of independence. It has its place today – to demand the release of the imprisoned independence fighters – as a preliminary skirmish which mobilizes the masses. But to win independence, only the second form of General Strike can serve. The Congress leadership, however, has no plan or perspective for following up a General Strike with the seizure of power and establishment of a provisional government. Neither the pacifist wing of Gandhi nor the “left” Nehru wing thinks in such terms. Both are united in seeking what they call “a complete deadlock” – sufficient paralysis of governmental and economic activity to dictate to the British a resolution of the “deadlock” by reopening negotiations on the basis of the demand for independence. In the final analysis, they seek Britain’s agreement to independence.

This Congress program, it is obvious, is altogether inappropriate for the industrial proletariat. Not only in the sense that revolutionary workers understand that such methods cannot overthrow the British. But also the indubitable fact that the workers cannot carry on strikes indefinitely. The peasant struggles – refusal to pay taxes and rents, etc. – still leave the peasant with the miserable living he wrests from his tiny plot of land. The hartals of the small shopkeepers can go on for a long time while the petty bourgeoisie manages to live off its tiny capital. But the industrial proletariat has neither land nor capital and starves in long strikes. It cannot strike for a year or two of civil disobedience. Moreover, the main weight of British repressions are undoubtedly directed against the workers, for the British can stand the peasant struggles and shopkeepers’ hartals far longer than they can endure the shutdown of the war industries. Every factor, therefore, compels the proletariat to link its strikes with an immediate perspective of overthrowing the British. Life itself drives the working class, beyond the “deadlock” program of the Congress.

Can the Workers Take the Helm?

Can the proletariat assume the leadership of the revolution? Is it sufficiently strong and politically mature? We have already indicated its strength and political experience. Russia too was a predominantly agricultural country and yet the industrial proletariat led the October Revolution. Trotsky tells us that the Russian industrial working class, exclusive of railwaymen and miners, amounted to 1½ millions in 1905 and two millions in 1917. The comparable figures for British India are (roughly) as of 1935: two millions in power-driven factories, one million plantation workers (European-owned factory farms), 400,000 transport workers apart from railwaymen. With the undoubtedly considerable increase since 1935, one can say that the Indian proletariat compares in specific weight to the Russian proletariat of 1917. It is bigger and stronger than the Chinese proletariat of three millions which was prevented from assuming the leadership of the Chinese revolution in 1927 only by the false policy of the Communist Party.

The power of the proletariat is sufficient to enable it to lead the Indian revolution. What it lacks in numbers it can more than make up for by the great masses of the peasantry, whom only the proletariat can offer a program of expropriating the landlords and usurers. The decisive question, however, in India today as throughout the world since the degeneration of the Communist International, is that of the leadership of the working class itself. Will it push forward a firm revolutionary leadership, impervious to bourgeois influences, understanding the full implications of a struggle to the end against imperialism?

In these last weeks the workers have shown that they know how to push aside misleaders. The Communist Party and the Democratic Party of the renegade M.N. Roy are vainly exhorting the workers to refrain from strikes, repudiate the civil disobedience campaign and cooperate with the British for the sake of the “war for democracy.” At the meeting of the All-India Trade Union Congress leadership in February, the Stalinist pro-war resolution had garnered 40 per cent of the votes. It was to be feared that a bloc of the Stalinists and the extreme right wing would be strong enough to keep the trade unions on the sidelines – as the Stalinists had done under ultra-radical formulas during the civil disobedience campaign of 1930-31 – and disgrace the unions in the eyes of the nationalist movement. Fortunately, the Stalinists have been swept aside, at least for the present.

Much more complex today is the relation of the workers to the Congress Socialist Party, founded in 1934 by Congress left wingers, and to those leaders of the Congress like Nehru who call themselves socialists. Today these leaders are urging the workers on to struggle. But at every critical point in the past they have capitulated to the Congress bourgeoisie. The threat of the bourgeoisie to split the Congress at the 1939 session drove the “left” to surrender control into the hands of the right wing, although the workers’ and peasants’ delegations gave the “left” a majority of the Congress. Tomorrow, too, under the pressure of the Congress bourgeoisie, the “Left will hold back the workers.

The Bolshevik-Leninist Party

The best of the Congress Socialists and former Stalinists have drawn the necessary conclusions and have joined the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, section of the Fourth International. The heroic battle of its sister section of Ceylon, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, against outlawry by the British and the armed bands of the planters, is known to every advanced worker in India and has turned their attention to the Trotskyist program. Likewise they know of the Indo-China section of the Fourth International, and its long struggle against French imperialism. Our Ceylonese and Indo-Chinese comrades have given the advanced workers of India shining examples of mass struggles led irreconcilably against imperialism. Under their inspiration the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India was formed in 1941.

It is a young party which is today winning its spurs in battle. It represents the real hope for the future of the Indian revolution. Without the leadership of such a revolutionary party, the greatest conceivable upsurge of the masses can be dashed to pieces, as happened in China in 1925-27. The Congress will no more lead the struggle to the very end than did its Chinese twin, the Kuomintang. Will our comrades find their way to the leadership of the Indian revolution? We are confident that they will, and that when they do, the revolution will go forward irresistibly. We know that they are wholeheartedly supporting and participating in the present struggle, learning from it, and forging in it unbreakable links between them and the worker and peasant masses. How rapidly they will come forward, it is given to no man to say. We must recognize that they are a young party and that their most heroic efforts cannot substitute for the irreducible minimum of time and experience which are necessary to shape and harden a party into the really Bolshevik core of a successful revolution. But they have the program of Bolshevism and the iron will. Their fate will be the fate of the revolution. Only under the leadership of such a party can the Indian revolution succeed in the epoch of the death agony of capitalism.

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